Introduction to Revelation: Part 5

Today we looked at the classic premil and dispensational premil views of the millennium period spoken of in Revelation 20. I also spoke briefly about the nature of dispensationalism, and its hermeneutic. In my notes (below) I have given a slightly expanded voice to my concerns and why it matters to us today. I just can’t stress enough how important it is that we get our hermeneutics right, and I believe that when we do, our Bibles will lead us away from dispensational views of Revelation, and, well, anything…

Enjoy!

PreMillenialism – Historic

There are two kinds of Premils, the first is historic or “classical” and has been around since the early church fathers (ancients referred to this as chiliasm). The second is dispensational which came into being in the last 200 years. I’ll start with historic premillennialism.

Grudem says:

According to this viewpoint, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of great tribulation and suffering comes on the earth. After that time of tribulation at the end of the church age, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom….some premillennialists take this to be a literal one thousand years, and others understand it to be a symbolic expression for a long period of time. During this time, Christ will be physically present on earth in his resurrected body, and will reign as King over the entire earth.

John Frame sums up what happens next:

They (the early church fathers who were premil) taught that at the end of the present age, Jesus will come and raise believers to be with him. Then he will reign upon the earth for a thousand years, or some other long period of time. During this time (and not until then), Satan is bound in the bottomless pit. At the end of this time, God will release Satan, and at his instigation some on earth will rebel against Jesus (Revelation 20:3, 7-8). But the Lord will put down the revolt and raise all the dead for final judgment. Then comes the new heavens and new earth.

Therefore, according to this viewpoint, Christians will indeed endure a great time of persecution – they will not be raptured away from this tribulation prior to the Lord’s second coming.

Premillenialsim – Dispensational

The dispensational version of premil belief is “more recent (nineteenth century) and more complicated.”[i]

John Frame sets up the view for us:

The key to understanding the dispensational view is the idea that Jesus actually returns twice, making three times altogether that Jesus comes to earth. His first coming was, of course, his conception in the womb of Mary 2000 years ago. At his second coming, at the end of this age, he comes secretly and raptures believers to be with him. The rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where Paul says:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

This is what you read about or have seen in those Left Behind movies with Kirk Cameron (and now Nicholas Cage). As Wayne Grudem notes, “This return is thought to be a secret return of Christ to take believers out of the world.”[ii]

Then there will be a period of intense tribulation – dispensationalists call this the “Great Tribulation” – which will last 7 literal years. Some hold that the rapture of the church will occur mid-way through the tribulation and that the last 3.5 years of the tribulation (seen to be the worst years) will be avoided by the church.

After the literal 7-year tribulation period Christ will come again (for a third time), this time to usher in His kingdom here on earth.

Grudem says:

During this seven-year period of tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to precede Christ’s return will be fulfilled. The great ingathering of the fullness of the Jewish people will occur, as they trust Christ as their messiah. In the midst of great suffering there will also be much effective evangelism, especially carried out by the new Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will then come back with his saints to reign on the earth for 1,000 years. After this millennial period there will be a rebellion, resulting in the final defeat of Satan and his forces, and then will come the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and the beginning of the eternal state.[iii]

That is their system in a nutshell. But both Frame (leans postmil) and Grudem (a classic premil guy) wisely note that one of the things that makes this form of premil unique is the way they separate the Jews from the church, basically saying that these are two separate and distinct peoples with two separate and distinct futures. To me this is one of the most unbiblical features of the dispensational system.

Grudem additionally notes that, “Another characteristic of pretribulational premillenialism is its insistence on interpreting biblical prophecies ‘literally where possible.’ This especially applies to prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Israel. Those who hold this view argue that those prophecies of God’s future blessing to Israel will yet be fulfilled among the Jewish people themselves; they are not to be ‘spiritualized by finding their fulfillment in the church.’”[iv]

Issues with the Dispensational View

I believe each view has strengths and weaknesses. However, I admit openly that I loathe the dispensational view (not those who believe it, but the view itself) for its absolutely wacky and misleading hermeneutic. I single it out because it’s the most popularized view of the church today, and many in the church don’t know of the alternatives.

The two main distinctives of this view are its futurist bent (i.e. with regard to the millennium and the tribulation period), and its separation between the future destinies of Jews and the Church respectively.

Much of these issues stem from their “literal” hermeneutic. To ignore context, symbolism, figures of speech, allegory, and word pictures is to throw out common sense and discard sensus literalis to the dustbin.

As it concerns the “spiritualizing” of the promises to Israel and those promises being fulfilled (at least partially) in the church. It’s important to realize that our framework for understanding the role of the church with regard to its fulfillment of OT promises is given to us by the Apostle Paul who not only called Christ “Israel” but also called the church the “true Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) and said that the church – the elect – were Abraham’s offspring In Romans 4 and Romans 9 Paul says that it’s the elect by the promise of God who are Abraham’s offspring). This same apostle also maintained that the Jews would eventually be grafted back in to the church (Romans 11). He used the comparison to a wild olive tree. He never spoke of two trees, only one with the two different branches. Additionally, the Bible doesn’t speak of two brides of Christ, only one – the church. Are we to think that the church is Christ’s bride and that the Jews are, well, just another group hanging around on the outside of the eternal marriage?

There are further consequences – major consequences – not the least of which is a complete misunderstanding of Jeremiah 31:31 and subsequent (and necessary) disregard for Hebrews 8. If this passage only applies to Israel in the future, then the new covenant hasn’t been ushered in, and we aren’t a part of it. You can see how important it is to get the hermeneutic right when we read our Bibles. I will address this momentarily.

Under the dispensational hermeneutic the future will also look, well, very odd. There will be rebellion after Christ has physically reigned on earth for 1,000 years – which means there will still be sin even though Christ will be here on earth – so apparently we’ll have to wait awhile for that problem to be solved. Also, if there’s sin in the millennium, why not death? Sin leads to physical decay and death, so how is this to be dealt with?

Needless to say there are issues with every viewpoint – because we can’t perfectly understand the future and what God has for His people. That’s why He’s God and we’re not! I don’t believe we’re meant to know every detail of the future and how things will exactly play out.

Why this Matters to Us Today 

I mentioned Jeremiah 31:31 above because I believe that dispensationalists inadvertently undervalue the new covenant and the victory Christ achieved on the cross. Again, I don’t think this is their aim, but it’s the consequence of their hermeneutic. This actually really matters to us today because this view of the Bible has consequences for how we view our own salvation, and previous promises that we claim to be ours right now.

In recent years some within their camp have realized there are issues with creating such a dichotomy between the church and Israel. This is why some now call themselves ‘Progressive Dispensationalists’ because they are starting to see that many of these promises made with the “House of Israel” in the OT are actually being fulfilled in the church – chief among them is the promise of a New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read of a prophecy concerning the new covenant[v] that I’m sure many of you have read or heard before. Listen to the words of Jeremiah, made with the “House of Israel” but now being fulfilled in His church:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Why am I bringing this up now in the context of our study on Revelation? Because how we view the Bible in Jeremiah (and other books) has an affect on how we view and read Revelation. Having a literalistic hermeneutic not only ruins Revelation, it stultifies and obscures other vital prophetic passages, and the Jeremiah passage is just a great example of this. I said earlier that “hermeneutics matter”, this is just one example of why that is so, and why I want to caution anyone who holds to a dispensational view of this book.

 

Footnotes 

[i] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1089

[ii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg.’s 1112-1113

[iii] Grudem, Pg. 1115

[iv] Grudem, Pg. 1116

[v] Bruce Ware is in this camp and in his Systematic Theology I lectures at SBTS he gives the Jeremiah 31:31-34 passage as one of the glaring passages which simply can’t be gotten around.

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The Glory of the Lord Transforms Us

This past Sunday evening I preached a sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.  The audio is below.  This has been such an important text for me in my growth and understanding and I hope you also enjoy the sermon.

My introduction and four point outline is also below for the sermon.

God’s Grace Working Through God’s Glory to Renew God’s Image in Man
He is gracious in His plan, glorious in His application, and His teleos is our restoration

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Introduction

I’ve titled this sermon ‘God’s Grace Working Through God’s Glory to Renew God’s Image in Man’.  This passage of scripture, particularly 3:18, has had an outsized impact on my spiritual life.  It has shown me more about the operation of the Lord than many books on the topic of sanctification. It shows that He is gracious in His plan, glorious in His application, and His teleos is our restoration.

One of the things you’ll notice about this message in particular, is how much Jonathan Edwards has impacted my thinking, and at times it may seem as though Edwards himself is preaching the sermon and I’m only the one who was dictating. Well that’s fine by me, because no one in the last few hundred years has better expounded upon the glory of Jesus Christ as Jonathan Edwards.

I’ve broken the passage into four parts, and they are as follows:

  1. The Supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant
  1. Only Through Faith in Christ is the Veil of Unbelief Removed
  1. The Ministry of the Spirit in the lives of New Covenant Believers
  1. The Process of Sanctification will find its Teleos in Glorification

The goal is that we will see more clearly the glory of the Lord in His Word and pray that the Spirit will apply that to our hearts.

Relying on the Supernatural Power of Christ for Life and Strength

Below is a sermon I preached this past week on John 18:1-27.  It is the story of Peter’s three denials, and the power of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The weakness of man contrasted so clearly against the backdrop of Christ’s majestic power is hard to miss.  I hope you find the notes enjoyable!

Impotency and Sufficiency: Relying on the Supernatural Power of Christ for Life and Strength

Chapter 18:1-27

Introduction/Overview

The more I read this section of Scripture, and the more I prayed about this message, the heavier the burden became to examine with you a few very simple, yet profound truths this morning.

First, the hopeless, helpless condition of Peter and all humanity who might try and save themselves – and indeed there is a need of saving.

Second, the majestic power of Jesus displayed in the saving power of His gospel. His very name brings men to their knees, and His triumph is through tragedy – and so also can yours be if you trust in His power and not your own.

Background

Now in the lead up to the events we’ve just read about that transpired the morning that Jesus Christ was captured and taken prisoner have been enumerated in chapters 13-17.  It has been a few months since you studied these passages, so let me just remind you that Jesus had come into Jerusalem riding on a colt – people triumphantly praising His arrival, which John details in chapter 12.

Then, John records an extraordinary series of teachings from Jesus to His disciples in the final hours of His life before the early morning events we read about in chapter 18.  These final chapters (13-17) are called his “farewell discourses”, though chapter 17 is really just a prayer between Him and the Father. This prayer is typically called ‘The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.’

And having spent time on this already, I will not review all that was said, except to remind you that in that prayer Jesus explicitly prayed for His disciples, and not for the “world.”  He makes special mention of those who He came to save, and makes intercession on their behalf.  You really get the feeling from chapter 17 that there is a plan that is unfolding hour by hour here, that the Father and the Son who is filled with the Spirit are working in complete coordination on the unfolding of their glory in a way that will seem terrible and confusing to any bystander unacquainted with Jesus’ teaching.

The main thing to realize coming into this chapter is that Jesus is in complete control over that plan, and over every hour and indeed every moment of His life. As Jesus has already told us in chapter 10:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18 ESV)

Now, let’s get into the text before us…

18:1-5 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. [2] Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. [3] So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. [4] Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” [5] They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.

The Context

The brook “Kidron” is the Hebrew name for “Cedron” and means “dark waters”, and as A.W. Pink says is “emblematic of that black stream through which He was about to pass.”  The brook was on the east side of the city and eventually flows into the Dead Sea.  It runs between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives some 200 feet below the base of the outer court of the Temple – it was on the west side of the city that Jesus was crucified (Pink/Josephus/Carson).

Pink notes the fulfillment of a few OT types:

…in crossing the brook Cedron, accompanied by His disciples, another Old Testament type was most strikingly fulfilled. In 2 Samuel 15 (note particularly verses 23, 3-, 31) we read of David, at the time of his shameful betrayal by his familiar friend Ahithophel, crossing the same brook; crossing it in tears, accompanied by his faithful followers. So David’s Son and Lord, crossed the Cedron while Judas was betraying Him to His foes.

So Jesus, having retired to a garden for prayer, to commune with the Father, is approached by a band of men led by Judas the betrayer. John doesn’t give all the details that the other gospel writers do here, and I think James Boice is right that he doesn’t do this because his goal is not to focus (as with Luke) on the humanity of Christ (sweating blood for instance), but rather on the power of the Son of God.

The number of men here is likely to be around 200 or so.  From the Greek text the word “cohort” usually is meant 1,000 men including cavalry, but the noun used here is speira which “can refer to a ‘maniple’ of only 200 men, and it is not necessary to assume that an entire maniple was present” (Carson/MacArthur).  The size of the group is an indication of the caution the Romans had during feast days when they would consolidate their troops in Jerusalem and garrison them at Antonia (Carson) in order to control any uprisings among the Jews.

In any case, the way that John has laid out the text here is to show that Jesus is in control of all of these events. Note that He picks the place where He will be found.  He doesn’t try to run to a new secret location knowing that Judas is on the loose etc.  No.  He goes to a familiar place, and knows full well that Judas will certainly find Him and fulfill a plan laid long before the foundation of the world.

Notice also that Jesus is the one who begins the confrontation with the soldiers. He initiates the conversation.  Though the scene must have been frightening, a mob of men with torches and weapons in the middle of the night, Jesus isn’t caught off guard or surprised by the arrival of this band of men.

John’s point about the knowledge and planning of the Son couldn’t be made more clear, “knowing all that would happen to Him,” John tells us that Jesus was in the drivers seat.

As John MacArthur says, “The apostle skillfully demonstrates that the shameful, debasing things done to Christ failed to detract from His person, but rather offered decisive proof of His glory.”

Some Practical Takeaways on Suffering

As we see Christ face the cross with utter certainty that the Father is with Him (John 17), we can take with us the promise that He is always with us no matter where we go, or what we go through (Matt. 28). Come what may, be it the loss of a loved one, or of a job, or whatever, He is with us, guiding our life with meticulous sovereignty (Ware).  Do you think God is taken by surprise by any of this?

He knows the details of your life because He ordained the details of your life. Even the sickness and the death. Even the loss and the letdown. God planned it all from before the world began.  And if you are not a Christian then you have no lens to properly view these events. They are foggy, and disheartening, and potentially even devastating. Without the eyes of Christ you are driving 80 mph through dense fog all the while hoping for the best and yet still surprised when you hit a pole.

Death and sickness and tragedy will come – we are promised they will come. But we who have Christ must view these events in their proper perspective – not simply as allowed by God but ordained by Him for our good and His glory. That is another sermon altogether! But needless to say that the God whose hand was in the suffering and death of His Son is also in your life – not just to make you appreciate the good times, but to fashion you after His Son in order that you might have true joy both now and forever in heaven.

18:6-11 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. [7] So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” [8] Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” [9] This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” [10] Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) [11] So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

PART 1: The Power of the Son of God

Now we come to passage that is so majestic and so profound in its display of Christ’s power that I can hardly find the right words to describe what we read here.

The mob is looking for the man Jesus. They obviously don’t know which one He is.  But Jesus readily identifies Himself as who they are looking for.  And He does this by stating “I am he.” This phrase is ego eimiand it is undoubtedly the open declaration of Jesus as Jehovah.

Throughout Scripture, the revelation of the name of God and the glory of God has had a similar affect on men. It is the beautiful glory of His holiness which confounds men.

In Isaiah 6 the response of Isaiah to the holiness of God is similar:

[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  (Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV)

Isaiah cowered in fear. When Isaiah behold the glory of God he was exposed and saw, perhaps for the first time, not just who God is, but who he was (Sproul).

The revelation of the name of Christ is the revelation of who He is. He isn’t just saying, “I’m the dude you’re looking for”, He’s saying, “I AM who I AM”, He is disclosing to them the personal name of YHWY.

What happened here is hard to explain, but I believe it’s a preview of what Paul says will happen when Jesus returns:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

In that day men will either voluntarily bow in humble joy, or they will hit the dirt simply out of necessity.  This is what happens here.  The overpowering presence and revelation of the Son of God brings them to their knees. There are no choices here. All those who boldly proclaimed headship over their lives will suddenly realize the oxygen they suck has been a precious gift from the one who upholds all the planets by the power of His word (Heb. 1:1-3).

Such is the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we need to take away from this passage.  He is supreme. His power is so exacting, so overwhelming that at the mere mention of His name soldiers, criminals, and traitors eat the dirt their bones were fashioned from.

When they enter his airspace (so to speak) in that garden, they are on holy ground. They have dared to come before the burning bush without taking off the sandals, and in their ignorance and impudence they’ve come to apprehend the One who fashioned the cells of their existence. So we see here that the character and majestic holiness of Jesus is bound up in the name, and the revelation of this is too much for the finite soul to really process. It’s like a lightening storm that overwhelms your home’s circuits. The power is invisible to you but for a flash of light and then the power surges through all your electronic gear until your stuff is completely fried by the magnitude of that power.

Jesus, who has dwelt with the Father in unapproachable light from eternity past has cracked open a smidgen of His glory and it’s enough to level a mob.

Simply incredible.

Remember this in the coming weeks because when you think of the power of Jesus leveling a mob simply by the revelation of His name, you will begin to realize the obvious: He could easily have skipped the whole dying on the cross thing if He so desired.  And that’s the key word, is it not?  DESIRE.  Oh how different His are from ours!  Oh the infinite power, infinite knowledge bound up in the person of Jesus. Yet He allowed Himself to be taken as a lamb to the slaughter …for us! That’s His mission. He wields His power and knowledge with wisdom and His plans are never foiled.

Therefore, it was the purpose of Christ to surrender in order that He might conquer for our sakes.  Which leads me to my next point…

The Purpose of His Command

In the midst of this whole confusing scene, Jesus is obviously still in complete control, to the point where He issues and a command that the mob let His disciples go.  And, they do! Of course they do – for it is obvious who is controlling this situation…the man without a club, sword or staff.

But why?  In order to find the answer we need to flip back to chapter 17 where Jesus says this:

[12] While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12 ESV)

Here He is speaking of the disciples. But He goes on:

[20] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

That’s us!  That’s you, that’s me!

The purpose is so that his prayer and plan might come to pass for us. Even in the midst of all this seeming chaos, Jesus is getting everything He wants. There’s no coloring outside the lines here.  The picture is coming together just as He has foreordained, and that includes the gracious provision to allow His disciples to make it to safety, and bring us safely home to heaven.

This might be something that you recall from the final discourses as well, but in the hours leading up to Jesus’ arrest and betrayal, He is not focused whatsoever on His own impending pain, but on taking care that He imparts all the knowledge necessary to His disciples. He cares more about comforting them and keeping them from harm than saving His own skin. John perhaps encapsulates this best early in chapter 13 when he states:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

The Powerlessness and Futility of Our Efforts…

As we continue on, remember the power He displayed here, and marvel at His obedience. All of this when compared to Peter’s feeble efforts at saving his master surely puts our own human strength into focus does it not?  Peter’s rush to “do something” in the moment turns out to be the wrong thing. It is not that Peter is not valiant, or courageous, for perhaps he is…though I suspect he acted out of fear.

But what John is highlighting here by leaving this part in about Peter is to say that humanly speaking we try so very hard to be in control.  We lash out against the breakers as they come crashing down on our beachhead, as if we can stop them by our own power.  The futility of man and the power of God stand in contrast to each other, as we’ll see further in this next section, but the antithetical parallels with man in our fallen state are striking.

A.W. Pink notes some of the differences between Adam in the Garden of Eden, and Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane…

    • In Eden, Adam and Eve parleyed with Satan; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought the face of His Father.
    • In Eden, Adam fell; in Gethsemane, the Redeemer conquered.
    • In the one Adam fell before Satan; in the other, the soldiers fell before Christ.
    • In Eden, Adam took the fruit from Eve’s hand; in Gethsemane, Christ received the cup from His Father’s hand.
    • In Eden, Adam hid himself; in Gethsemane Christ boldly showed Himself.
    • In Eden, God sought Adam; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought God!

18:12-27 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. [13] First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. [14] It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

[15] Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, [16] but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. [17] The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” [18] Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

[19] The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. [20] Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. [21] Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” [22] When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” [24] Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

[25] Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” [26] One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” [27] Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

A Mockery of Justice

Jesus has been taken away and in this passage of Scripture is brought before Annas and then before his son in law Caiaphas. Annas is not currently the high priest, but has been in the past, and is so powerful that he is actively involved in the affairs of temple and his son in law’s administration of things.

In his commentary on the book of Acts, Martyn Llyod-Jones gives some great background on these men:

Caiaphas, the high priest, was just a Sadducee write large.  It was his job to preside over the Sanhedrin. Annas, the father in law of Caiaphas, had been high priest but had been deposed by the Romans. The Jews, however, still regarded him as high priest. Both Annas and Caiaphas were well in with one another. Also present were john and Alexander, but we know nothing about them.

There were two trials – one from the Jews, and one from the Romans. John’s narrative isn’t as concerned with the trials as it is with Christ – who is He, and what is His mission.

There were two trials, one Jewish and one Roman. The former began with informal examination by Annas (18:12-14, 19-23), possibly while members of the Sanhedrin were being hurriedly summoned. A session of the Sanhedrin (Mt. 26:57-68; Mk. 14:53-65) with frank consensus was followed by a formal decision at dawn and dispatch to Pilate (Mt. 27:1-2; Luke 22:66-71). The Roman trial began with a first examination before Pilate (Mt. 27:11-14; Jn. 18:28-38a), which was followed by Herod’s interrogation (Lk. 23:6-12) and Jesus’ final appearance before Pilate (Mt. 27:15-31; Jn. 18:38b – 19:16). (Carson)

It has been said by many who are experts in the Jewish law that these trials of Jesus were a sham.  They were actually illegal trials meant to ram through a decision based upon fear and hatred of Jesus.  The man Jesus was a threat to the socio-political stability of the Jewish state, and he needed to be dealt with.  That was the reality, and in the minds of these worldly priests, the ends justified the means.

PART II: The Weakness of Peter and Mankind

The way that John tells the story is really interesting. He weaves the denials of Peter in with the first part of the Jewish trial of Jesus.  So that the reader sees the paths of each man side by side, as it were. And Peter’s denial is set off against the meekness of the Lamb, sent to the slaughter.

While Peter is sinning, Jesus is obeying. While Peter is denying, Jesus is embracing who He is and why He came.

What should we take away from this?

Primarily this, that the good intentions of men are not enough when everything is on the line.

Remember who Peter is now…this is the man who became the boldest proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the early church. Look at what we read in Acts 4:

[12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

[13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:12-13 ESV)

The power of God was with Peter, look at what Luke tells us in the next chapter (Acts 5):

[12] Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. [13] None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. [14] And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, [15] so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:12-15 ESV)

Yet…in his flesh Peter cannot own Jesus. When push comes to shove, he cannot and will not embrace or associate himself with Jesus at this point.  WHY? Well, we know enough about Peter to know that it isn’t simply because of a weak disposition within Peter.

Peter cannot and will not embrace Christ when the rubber meets the road because he is a fallen man and does not have the restorative power of the Holy Spirit working actively in his life.

Remember what side of the cross Peter is on. The difference between Peter after Pentecost and before is manifested in a big way here in John 18.  Peter is given the chance to identify with Christ, with His Lord, and instead of doing so He cowers.

C.H. Spurgeon explains the phenomenon:

Why is it that Christ Jesus is so little beloved? Why are even his professed followers so cold in their affections to him? Whence arise these things? Assuredly, dear brethren, we can trace them to no other source than this, the corruption and vitiation of the affections. We love that which we ought to hate, and we hate that which we ought to love. It is but human nature, fallen human nature, that man should love this present life better than the life to come. It is but the effect of the fall, that man should love sin better than righteousness, and the ways of this world better than the ways of God. And again, we repeat it, until these affections be renewed, and turned into a fresh channel by the gracious drawings of the Father, it is not possible for any man to love the Lord Jesus Christ. (‘Human Inability’, 1858)

This is where we find Peter, and this is where we find ourselves apart from the grace of Christ.

We are fallen men and women.  Sin is not simply what we do, it’s who we are – we are sinners. And to be a sinner, part of Adam’s fallen race, is to be without hope apart from the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us of these truths in Romans 5:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. (Romans 5:12-15)

But the power of Christ, endued to rebels, aliens, and blasphemers transforms by the Spirit of God, and conforms (us) from a product of the first Adam into the image of the Second. As Paul says:

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. [17] Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ESV)

Jonathan Edwards put it this way:

…it is the discovery of this divine excellency of Christ that makes them constant to Him: for it makes so deep an impression upon their minds that they cannot forget Him; they will follow Him whithersoever He goes, and it is in vain for any endeavor to draw them away from Him.

What Would You Have Done?

So because of the fall our natural state is one of deadness spiritually, and we naturally hate the light of the Gospel (John 3:19-21). Yet, there are many people who read of the fall in Genesis, and they think, “If I were there I would have done better!”  But that’s just the thing – you wouldn’t have done better.  Likewise you might think that if you were in the courtyard that night you wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus.

Well let me tell you, without the Spirit of God strengthening you, you would certainly have failed, just like Peter did.

Adam represented the very height of creation in the garden, yet he still sinned.  Peter was the most courageous man in the band of 12 – heck, he just cut off the ear of a guard! But his false courage was exposed when the rubber met the road, and yours would have as well.

Apart from Christ we are all lost.  We are blind men boldly marching in midnight toward a fiery grave. Ignorant of our fate we relish and proclaim a fool’s independence.  We affectionately treasure our world while spitting on the One who created it for us. This is our condition apart from Christ (Romans 5:10).  What a horrific state of affairs!

These realities are expressed in Peter and in the lives of millions of lost people around the world.  They’re in our neighborhoods, they’re in the grocery stores, they’re not just in India they’re in your Bible study!

***Chapter 18 ought to remind us how much Christ prized us and how little we prized Him. If Adam represented us in the garden, Peter represented us in the courtyard: Liars.  Frauds. Cowards.  Apart from Christ in the dark night of his soul, he flees into the darkness of night leaving the Prince of Light to single-handedly parry with the heaviest concentration of evil ever seen on this earth. And parry He does…much more than this He overcomes! …but that’s for future Sunday mornings!

Our Need and His Love

Our need is now obvious. If you were in the garden, in the courtyard, at the temple, you would also have betrayed Christ.  So our need for salvation cannot be met by our own efforts to cling to Christ. We don’t have the strength – when it comes down to it, we don’t even have the desire!

In these parallel accounts we see first the power of Christ, and also the weakness and failure of Peter.  But we know how the story ends, do we not? Jesus restores Peter, forgives Peter. And that same arm of restoration has been extended to us, as Paul says in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Theologian R.C. Sproul says “The passage also teaches us, especially in light of Peter’s later restoration, what kind of people Jesus died to save. He had no need to die for people who are sinless, for there are no such people. Have gave Himself for people who have it in them to betray Him, people like you and me. However, He will never betray those on whom He sets His love, but will love them faithfully for all time.”

Surely if this passage shows us anything it is the contrast between our Lord’s power and our power, our Lord’s disposition and our natural disposition, our natural desires and His heavenly desires.  Surely His love looks greater and greater the more we look at Peter and our own souls.

This is where He finds us.  Praise God He has not passed us over, but has shed His grace and mercy upon us, the underserving, the helpless, the hopeless in order that we may be given a hope that will never fail.

What is Our Response to These Things? 

Therefore, how do we rightly respond to these truths?

If you have not come to know Christ personally as your savior, if you have not been made alive from the spiritual death to which you were born into this world, then today is the day of salvation. Now is the time to bow to the ground and kiss the Son, submit to His Lordship.

Jesus’ gospel is simple and life changing. In verse 11 we read that He was going to drink of the “cup” that the Father had for Him.  That cup was filled with the wrath that rests on your soul right now if you aren’t a Christian.  John says earlier in chapter 3:

[36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

There is everlasting life and peace with Jesus. There is joy and eternal bliss that has been reserved for those who trust in Him now.  Jesus doesn’t promise an easy road, but He promises life instead of death. You aren’t guaranteed another day or another hour of life. I pray that you will submit to His love and His lordship today.

For those of us who are children of God, saved from the wrath of the Father because of the work of Christ on the cross, we must not miss the importance of this text.

Today let us remember the beautiful thing about the gospel – Jesus does all the work. The same power that leveled an angry mob upholds us through the darkness and pain of life, and vanquishes our enemies. You no doubt have difficulties you’re battling today.  Are you leaning on your own strength?  Or are you resting in the name of the Son of God.

Peter thought he had it together, he thought he had the stuff to succeed.  But he learned the hard way that leaning on Christ is the only way to make it through this life.

For those of you who are believers, we must cling to the promises of God, and abide in His truth, knowing that He is faithful. In order to do that, we must be knowledge about what He says in His Word. Therefore, let me give you four things to take away from this passage:

  1. We must trust in His promises as Jesus trusted in the Father until the final breath of His life. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says it best:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

  1. We must fill our minds with His word. Speak it when you lie down, and when you are out running errands. And as you meditate on and memorize the word of God, pray to the Lord and ask for His help to understand it and deeply engrain it in your mind so that when you face a “Peter Moment” you will have the sword ready to go.  As Paul says:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [18] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV)

  1. Put your mind and efforts into serving Him and others in obedience and with love through thick and thin. Those who are selflessly serving others bear those “Peter moments” better because they are grounded in the reality that others are more important, and that their citizenship is in heaven. Peter was so wrapped up in his own welfare that when it came to dying for Christ he was far from ready. Remember the words of Paul in Philippians:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:4-5 ESV)

  1. Lastly, when the crisis comes, do not lean on your own understanding as Peter did here (Prov. 3:5), but trust in the Lord even when you can’t see for the night that is closing in around you.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [6] In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Samuel Rutherford said, “My shallow and ebb thoughts are not the compass Christ saileth by. I leave his ways to himself, for they are far, far above me…There are windings and to’s and fro’s in his ways, which blind bodies like us cannot see.”

We must therefore look to the power of the Man in the garden, and realize that we can trust that He is who He says He is. Make yourself weak in your own eyes, and trust in His strength – the strength of the great I AM who sustains you and the whole world. Lean on His promises and trust that He is who He says He is.

Let’s close by examining the great words of Paul in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

            we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

 

Most Influential Books Part 3

This is part three (and final post) in a series on the most influential books I’ve read.  I’ve also listed some “runners up” at the end.  To be honest, there are so many good books that I read each year, that a list like this is necessarily subjective, and its always growing. Not that some books don’t have obvious merit for all people, but I also recognize that some may have had impacted me more than they will you. Not only that – but there’s a good chance that next week I could read something that blows me away and it won’t be on the list. Just this past week I read two books that were pretty darn good – Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel’ and Michael Reeves ‘Delighting in the Trinity’. Nevertheless, I have to draw the line somewhere!

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

11. The Power of Positive Thinking – No one will accuse Norman Vincent Peale of being a theological genius, in fact much of his teaching undermines the basic Christian message that we are all sinner who need a Savior extra nos, but early in my theological awakening I didn’t seem to realize much of his incorrect teaching. So despite a deeply flawed message, God graciously used this book to help me learn two important things: 1. I need to be praying for others regularly and 2. The importance of Scripture memorization. This book literally pointed me back to the Bible’s importance for my physical and emotional well-being. I was suffering a great deal of anxiety and my doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety medication. My stomach was constantly in knots and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the problem…medication seemed like the only option. But when I fervently began to memorize scripture and pray for others and bigger items besides just my own desires, I began to slowly be cured of my anxiety. I stopped taking medication. I was a free man. And its not a big mystery as to why – this wasn’t magic, it was simply allowing the Word of the Lord and the power of the Spirit to become my top priority and renew my mind. The Bible can do that like no other book.  In addition, praying for others got my mind off my own troubles and focused on loving others (even if I didn’t know them). This book helped point me in the right direction. Would I recommend it now?  No way – but its prescriptions, most certainly. In fact if you want to learn more about Peale’s false teaching you can read Tim Challies’ write up on his bio: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale

12. The Loveliness of Christ – During some of my darkest, most stressed-filled days this book has been a balm of healing. I have quoted it, memorized portions of it, I’ve taken it to the hospital multiple times, and it’s been a great tool of perspective in the midst of suffering. It is a small book, but a powerful book. Samuel Rutherford is probably one of the most influential puritan writers of all time, and his influence on me has been significant. If you were to add any one book to your collection as a result of this blog post, this would be the one I’d start with. The book is comprised of probably 100 (small) pages of quotes which are simply excerpts from his letters to other believers. In another way, if you are a Christian, Rutherford’s caring love for others around him ought to be a model for you as you seek to live in a way that is caring and reflective of the Savior.

13. Kingdom Through Covenant – Perhaps no book to date has had such an outsized impact on the way I understand the way in which the Biblical story is put together and unfolds throughout history. It made me feel good to be a Baptist (truth be told), and assured me that I wasn’t giving up any intellectual ground on that score (perhaps an intramural joke there)! It also explained for me a lot of the flow of events in the Old Testament and how they culminate in Christ – especially O.T. promises. This was an important book in my deeper theological development, and for those who have been Christians for a while and have always wondered at the dispensational and covenant approaches (i.e. you are/were head-scratchers like me), then this will prove very fruitful ground for you. You’ll have to ignore all the Hebrew and Greek text that the authors slip in from time to time. They are the scholars in that field and they do that to show their work (like you did in long division in 8th grade). My best advice is to do your best to read around it and not let it bog you down…its well worth it!

14. The Lord of the Rings – Growing up I was somewhat of a stranger to Tolkein’s work. I was aware of The Hobbit (I had seen a play, and perhaps had it read to me by my mom), but had no idea there was more to the story. Finally, while I was in college, my brother Alex introduced me to the story when Peter Jackson’s silver screen rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. I went as a skeptic, and left as a man head over heals in love. Later, in the weeks and days leading up to my wedding, I read The Lord of the Rings almost nonstop. I carried it with me everywhere, and my bookmark was our wedding vows which I was endeavoring to memorize. I still read this book whenever I can, and appreciate its depth and literary value more with each passing year.

15. Henry Drummond – This is not a book, it is an author (is that cheating?). During the 2007/2008 Romney Presidential Campaign I lived on the short sayings of Drummond. He gave me hope that science and Christian intellectualism could co-exist, and helped add perspective to my busy life away from home when I was sad and often feeling lost. Drummond lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century and devoted a substantial amount of time to standing up to the popular new scientific theory of evolution. He had a sharp logical mind, and I think just about anything he wrote is really fascinating.
Runners up – books that have taught me at least one major concept that has stuck with me:

God’s Greater Glory – In this sequel to Bruce Ware’s ‘God’s Lesser Glory’, Dr. Ware explains God’s “meticulous sovereignty”, a concept that has really been important in my own studies over the past year or so.  His Biblical and logical arguments are beyond arguing with from what I can tell of all I’ve read thus far. If you’ve read Chosen by God, and don’t want to blow your brains out with a puritan reading (i.e. Freedom of the Will) on the topic of God’s sovereignty, then this is the next step in your educational endeavors.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – This is a recent purchase and read and makes the list for how much it makes me laugh. It is easily one of the most enjoyable and hilarious books I have ever read! What I love the most about it is its trueness to the story as well as to Shakespeare’s famous writing style (the entire book is written in iambic pentameter).  If you love star wars and literature, this is the perfect combination – but be warned, this book is not to be read in any location where laughing out loud might be frowned upon!

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Jerry Bridges explains “dependent responsibility”, which is the concept that men and women are both responsible for their actions and obedience to God’s laws, while at the same time dependent upon God for help to obey.  The tension here is worked out beautifully, and helpfully.

Give them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick examines parenting using the gospel. It is probably the best parenting book I’ve ever read, and it is easily the most challenging. There aren’t a lot of “to-do’s” from here, but there is a significant philosophical boost and reexamination that will likely take place.  If you don’t yet understand how the gospel fits into everyday life, this is one you must read.

A Case for Amillenialism – Kim Riddlebarger opened my mind to eschatology and taught me to enjoy it and not be scared to study it. I don’t think he’s the best writer, it seems a little clunky at times.  But he is really helpful in this area, and I find myself going back to his book and his blog again and again for wisdom.

The Trinity – Bruce ware explains divine roles better than anyone I had ever read. Especially subordination in role and co-equality in ontology.  If you’ve never understood the Trinity, this book will be huge for you.

The Freedom of the Will – Edwards proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God initiates salvation.  Extremely difficult read though, so don’t read this unless you’re ready to pop a few Advil along with it! In fact, I would recommend not reading this unless you are an advanced scholar whose already read some other puritan works (or even other works by Edwards). But if you are pretty advanced in your reading and understanding of doctrine, then make sure to put this on your bucket list.

Bonhoeffer – This almost made my original list. I read it at a time when I was going through much pain and angst and it helped distract me and keep my mind fresh. It was a very very good book and a very interesting biography.  It will not leave you satisfied though, I warn you there…but I think that is for the best (though I know some who disagree).

The Pleasures of God – Piper explained how it was the will and pleasure of the Father to crush the Son. This concept just blew me away.  He goes into many other “pleasures” of God in this series, and they are worth reading or listening (there is a sermon series) through.

Holiness – J.C. Ryle explained to me that in order to enjoy heaven later I need to pursue holiness now. That concept is meted out over some three or four hundred pages. It was a very impactful book and showed example after example of how men and women from the Bible lived their lives in pursuit of holiness all pointing forward to the One who lived a perfect life of holiness so that when we fail that goodness, that righteousness, is there for us and keeps us in right standing before God.

The 5000 Year Leap – I read this in 2009 (I think) and it was one of the first books to awaken me to how far off course our country has gotten. It’s a great foundational book for anyone trying to figure out for themselves “what’s really wrong with this country?”

The Children of Hurin – This is one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s posthumously published works and probably the greatest thriller/tragedy I’ve ever read hands down. It was published with the help of his son Christopher and if you get the right edition it will have sketches by Alan Lee, which are really good. Just a fantastic piece of fiction.

Knowing God – This classic work of J.I. Packer helped shape a lot of my thinking on the nature of the Christian life.  Perhaps chapter 19 (on adoption) was most influential because it stuck with me the best. You can hardly go wrong by reading this book multiple times until its truth seeps in and helps you better grasp your life’s purpose, and more of who and what God is all about.

Battling Unbelief – John Piper works out some important ideas here in a book that is basically a boiled down version of ‘Future Grace’ and the idea behind the book is that most of our anxiety and sinfulness (and many issues in our lives) derive from a Christian’s failure to have faith in God.  In other words, we don’t believe Him and don’t trust in His promises etc. It’s astonishing how many times Piper is able to get to the root of things in this small book. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to get to the root of the problems facing them each day.

The Story of Christianity Volume I – I read this 500 (or so) page history book last year as part of a seminary class on the history of the Christian church. It was so easy to read and so good that I picked up its sequel (volume II) for reading on my own. What I liked so much about this book was Justo Gonzalez’ ability to simplify complex political and religious issues, and help the reader traverse hundreds of years of history without missing the small things, yet without losing site of the bigger picture.  It’s easily the best volume on the church I’ve read thus far (at least for a beginner like me).

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God – This book is a compilation of essays written about the holiness of God by noted scholars and theologians.  The essay by Sinclair Ferguson entitled ‘Hallowed be Your Name: The Holiness of the Father’ left a lasting impression on me and I refer back to it again and again.

Conclusion: One of the things that is inevitably left off a list like this are the dozens of commentaries and study aides I read each year as I teach through books of the Bible. Men like Carson, Calvin, Ridderbos, Vos, Stott, Augustine, Boice, MacArthur, Morris, Kostenberger, Frame, Schreiner, Grudem, Beale and others who didn’t get mentioned in my book list have been equally influential on my thinking and understanding of life, death, Scripture, and many other topics under the sun. There have also been men and women whose books I have read and have been helpful or enjoyable, but if I listed them all it would take way too long!

But what I have learned is that reading changes lives, it does this in the way that Bruce Ware describes the study of theology: first it changes your mind, then your heart, then the actions of your hands, which in turn affects your habitat.  But it starts in the minds and hearts of those who seek wisdom. You’ll notice that many of my books are theological or Biblically based, and that isn’t because I haven’t read a slew of Gresham or my fair share of Star Wars, and it isn’t because I haven’t read the classic works from Dickens and Dumas (becauseI have), but its because the books that have shaped me, influenced me, and changed me for the better have largely been books whose topic is heavenly, and whose aim is joy in life and after it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the postings – feel free to comment with any questions!

John 3:16 in its Context

Last night I preached a message from verses John 3:16-21 in our evening service and I’ve posted both the notes and the audio below.  The notes seem extensive, but that’s only because I’ve included footnotes here for your edification.

My goal was to show that salvation is from first to last from God and by God, and that He alone deserves glory for salvation.

Introduction to the Passage

God is the One responsible for our salvation from first to last.  He saves us for Himself, by Himself, from Himself.  In contrast to our love for sin, His love is seen as extravagant. His salvation is provided at great cost, and in a way of His own choosing – there are no other paths up the mountain of God.

3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [i]

Context and Background

John 3:16 may perhaps be the most famous Bible verse in the world.  It has been quoted more times than any other verse, and it is well known to both pagan and Christian alike.

Yet this verse is also one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted verses in Scripture.  It is used to justify all manner of incoherent and incorrect doctrine, especially Universalism and Pelagianism. But as we’ll soon see, this verse must be read in its context if we’re to truly appreciate and understand our Lord’s message.

Prior to this verse, the Lord Jesus has been the one speaking, but many scholars believe that John 3:16 is actually John now commenting, and given the flow and narrative of the passage, I believe that this is correct.

Verse 16 comes on the heels of an Old Testament account of salvation being reapplied by Jesus as he turned the timetables forward to show how the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness foreshadowed His being lifted up on the cross.  Prior to that, dialoguing with a Jewish elder, Nicodemus, Jesus explains that all salvation is predicated upon the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit – you must become a new creation (born again) in order to be saved.

There are three things that this verse teaches us.

  1. That the world lies under condemnation from its own sin
  2. That God’s love and plan for salvation extends far wider than simply to the people of Israel
  3. That Jesus is the chosen instrument through which mankind will be saved from eternal damnation

1. Bound for Destruction

The first thing this verse assumes is that people in the world have the wrath of God abiding on them – otherwise there would be no need for a Savior.

The words, “whoever believes in him should not perish” assume that there will be some who do perish, and that had Christ not come into the world all would, indeed, perish.

Later in the chapter John explicitly spells this out:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

So the assumption is that the entire world is doomed for hell unless God does something.  If God doesn’t break through, then we won’t be saved.  We’re all perishing physically, and the larger context of the chapter addresses the nature of the soul and our need for eternal salvation.[ii]

2. What in the World?

The second point is mind blowing – and its also where people get tripped up in Universalism.

John here says that, “God so loved the world.”  In the gospel of John, the apostle uses the word “world” in at least 10 different ways:

The word world (Greek: Kosmos) appears 185 times in the New Testament: 78 times in John, 8 in Matthew, 3 in Mark, and 3 also in Luke. The vast majority of its occurrences are therefore in John’s writings, as it is also found 24 times in John’s three epistles, and just three times in Peter.

John uses the word world in ten different ways in his Gospel.

1. The Entire Universe – John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5
2. The Physical Earth – John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25
3. The World System – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 (see also similar usage in Gal 1:4 Paul)
4. All humanity minus believers – John 7:7; 15:18
5. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere – John 12:19
6. The Elect Only – John 3:17
7. The Non-Elect Only – John 17:9
8. The Realm of Mankind – John 1:10; (this is very probably the best understanding of the word “world” in John 3:16 also)
9. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) – John 4:42
10. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) not those in small private groups – John 7:4[iii]
 

It’s sometimes difficult to know what meaning of “world” the apostle is going for, but the context always provides the answer, and simple logical deduction helps us stay away from incorrectly applying the wrong meaning.

Our task isn’t made any easier when we realize that throughout the rest of his gospel John sets the “world” over against the things of the Spirit.  That is to say that we are “called out” of the world, we are to not to our minds on the things of the world, and even that the world will “hate us.”

Knowing all of that, I think that the best way to understand the word “World” here is that is refers to all mankind – Jews and Gentiles.  The apostle knows that the Jews are familiar with the love God had for them as His special people, and Jesus’ relating to them the story of Moses and the bronze serpent would have certainly reminded them of God’s loyal love for them (hesed), all of this is contrasted with John now saying that “God so loved the world” – this would have set alarm bells ringing for his audience.  And it should do the same for us.

What he is saying is that God’s plan of salvation is wider than simply the Jews. In fact that is what Jesus meant when He said He would “draw all men to Himself.”  The cross is for Jew and Gentile alike.

All nations will call Him blessed.  Indeed it is a sign of the inbreaking of the kingdom that God’s love is mentioned so broadly.[iv]

Sadly, there are many people who incorrectly associate Christ’s saving work with the entire world, as if all the world will be saved simply because this verse says that God loved the world.  This is a grievous error. I’ll say more about that in a moment…

3. Jesus is the Way

Thirdly this verse tells us that Jesus is the intended way of salvation for all those who believe upon His name.  John later would say this in his epistles:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Believing on the name of Jesus is believing in what that name represents – salvation.  It is believing that Jesus is who He says He is, and has done what He says He has done.  It is treating His message with seriousness, and laying hold of His promise of eternal life by faith.

The verse says that we get eternal life by “believing”, not by doing, not by working.  Similarly, God doesn’t love the “world” because the world is inherently good.  Indeed we’re told the opposite.  God loves the world despite the fact that the world is evil.  Before you are saved you are not good at all – you are a child of the Devil (John 8) and you are an enemy of God (as Paul argues in Romans).

Therefore your are called to believe – and that faith, that belief, is the instrument by which you obtain your salvation.  Listen to what Jesus says later to the masses in John 6:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29, ESV)

There is no “work” to be done – that’s already been done by Jesus.  You simply need to trust that it has, and repent of your sins.

What this Verse Does NOT Say

Because it is such a popular verse, people often use this verse as a proof text for universalism – this is probably mainly because A. Jesus doesn’t claim in this verse exclusivity and B. Because the “world” is mentioned earlier in the verse it must therefore mean that Jesus has in view that everyone in the world will be saved by His death. ,

Well first, although John isn’t saying in THIS verse explicitly that Jesus is the “only” way to salvation, I believe that it is implied simply by the context.  Furthermore, John and Jesus say time and time again that Jesus IS the only way to salvation. For example:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

Secondly, if one examines the verse closely, it is plain that John isn’t saying that God loves the entire world unto salvation. Quite the opposite.  John clearly infers that Jesus came to save those people who would believe upon His name.  The implication is that some will not believe up on His name.

The verse simply says that God loves the world, and that Jesus came to die for those who would believe in Him.  It doesn’t say God sent Jesus to die for the entire world. It doesn’t say the entire world would be saved. It does not describe the intricacies of the new birth.

Conclusion

What Jon 3:16 does say is that God loved the world, He has extended His saving love to more than simply the Jews – to men from all tribes, tongues and nations.  And He has provided us a way of salvation – through His Son Jesus Christ.  For the world sits under the judgment of God for the wickedness and sin debt that we owe Him can never be paid back on our own.  Therefore, in His great love, He has sent a way of salvation –the only way of salvation, and that comes in the person and work of Jesus Christ and belief upon His name.

3:17-18 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

I think there are two tricky things here. First, the idea that the “world” will be saved through Him, despite the fact that we just heard John use the word “world” to refer to a wide group of people, all humanity in fact, we now hear him use the word “world” in a more selective way – those who will be saved.  So the word “world” is here used to refer to those achieving salvation – the elect.

The second tricky topic here is the idea of judgment and condemnation and how it seems that verses 17 and 18 might not square with each other.

As far as condemnation goes, John says that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world – yet in verse 18 we read that those who don’t believe are condemned!  Is John contradicting himself?  May it never be! It’s more straightforward than we think.

John is simply saying that Jesus’ first advent was not the time of judgment, but rather of salvation – a time to usher in the kingdom of God.

Later, in John 5, Jesus says this:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:22-24)

1 Peter 4:5 says, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  The “living” are those who have been born again to new life, and the “dead” are those who are spiritually dead.  Make no mistake, every man, whether spiritually alive or spiritually dead, will face the judgment of Christ when He comes back in glory.

So…what does it mean when John says they are “condemned already?”

It means that there are some who will never believe. Those who do not place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are “condemned already.”  As John MacArthur notes, “while the final sentencing of those who reject Christ is still future, their judgment will merely consummate what has already begun.”

I will offer a paraphrase here based on what I understand John to be saying: “every human being is born already condemned by their own sinfulness and if you don’t believe in Jesus then you will remain condemned.”

Therefore, “Condemned already” is another way of saying, “the wrath of God abides on him.”

This takes discernment, but it will be illuminated (no pun intended) as we read verses 19-21 because while Jesus had not come to “judge” the world, the very effect of His coming exposed the darkness of this world – a world filled with people already under condemnation and headed for damnation. And those who do not believe in the name of the Son of God will not be saved from that condemnation.

3:19-21 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Problem 1: We Love Our Sin

The question we raised a moment ago about “condemnation” is now answered by the apostle, and what he has to say is frightening to say the least.

Why do we sit under condemnation?  Because “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light.”

Judgment in this case is the obvious result of exposure.  It is not a courtroom, or a white throne in revelation; it is the exposure of Christ’s ministry of truth upon the wicked hearts of mankind.  That exposure testifies to one thing, according to John: man loves the darkness.  They love their own sin.[v]

Apart from Christ, before you are saved, you love sin – in fact you cannot NOT love your sin.

This isn’t the only place we read this in the Bible. Listen to what God says to Isaiah about the hearts of men:

These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;
I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and bring their fears upon them,
because when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes
and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 66:3-4, ESV)
 

Our deeds are evil, and we love our sinful ways. Our natural tendency is not to love the light but to run from it, to hide from it and hate it.

Problem 2: Our Works Are Evil

Shocking claim number two comes in verse 20. The apostle says we don’t want to come into the light because we don’t want our deeds exposed.  When you pull back and remember that we’re talking about the light of the Gospel of Jesus here – remember John 3:16 anyone? – you add two and two together and see that we have a serious issue here.  Like cockroaches, we are described as running from the light, not running to the light!

Those who have not been born again by the Spirit of God run as fast as they can from the gospel.  They don’t want to hear that they are sinners and that their sin is wrong.  They don’t want to hear that their lives are headed for eternal hell.  They don’t want to follow Christ.  Not only that, but they don’t want to leave their old way of life!  They like their sin.  They like who they are (or so they say).

Most people we talk to on a day-to-day basis would probably tell us (if they are non-believers) that they are basically “good people.” I bet you hear that all the time, don’t you.  But Jesus doesn’t accept this, does He? What we read here is that we naturally RUN from the light.  He is saying that there are no “good people.” We have all gone astray (Is. 53:6), no one does anything that is truly “good” in the eyes of the Holy God we serve (Roman 3:12).

We read in Romans 3:11 that “…no one understands; no one seeks for God.” And in Ephesians 2:2 we read that as unbelievers we “…followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  In John 8:44a Jesus says of those who are unbelievers, “you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

Theologian R.C. Sproul says, “Man’s natural tendency is to flee from the presence of God and to have no affection for the biblical Christ. Therefore, if you have in your heart today any affection for Christ at all, it is because God the Holy Spirit in His sweetness, in His power, in His mercy, and in His grace has been to the cemetery of your soul and has raised you from the dead. So you are now alive to the things of Christ and you rejoice in the kingdom into which He has brought you.”

Pastor Warren Wiersbe puts it this way, “It is not ‘intellectual problems’ that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light.”

C.H. Spurgeon adds, “there is no man so ignorant that he can claim a lack of intellect as an excuse for rejecting the gospel…it is not any lack or deficiency there (in the mind)…through the fall, and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it has become impossible for him to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Sprit.”[vi]

The Dilemma

So we are faced with a dilemma, aren’t we…we read the glorious offer of salvation (“For God so love the world”), and all we need to do is believe in Him and we’ll be saved. Yet at the same time John describes our character as fallen, in love with the darkness, naturally enemies of God (Romans 5:10).

The issue here is that we see the offer of salvation, but in our natural state we don’t see it as glorious.  Plenty of people understand the ABC’s of what Jesus did.  Plenty of people have heard the gospel, but not everyone sees it as glorious.  And this is what Paul sums up in 2 Corinthians 4:4:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)

The Solution

What can be done?  How can anyone be saved?

The answer is that this: we need a supernatural change of heart. For no man will ever call upon the name of the Lord without the gracious help of God who opens our eyes and shows us the glory of the light of Jesus for what it truly is.[vii]

Later in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes it in this way:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV)

In order for anyone to believe upon Jesus, God must sovereignly intervene.  He initiates a love for us that softens our hearts, and draws us to Himself.

First, Jesus initiates a love for us – and then expects us to follow His example:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:16-17, ESV)

His love is poured out upon us through His Holy Spirit. He brings us out of darkness into His marvelous light by His sovereign initiating love.

In so doing, He softens our hearts with this love. Remember, He is the Lord of all the earth, He is God and He sees and controls the hearts of all men (Prov. 21:1, Ps. 33:13-15, Phil. 2:13).

Perhaps the most famous example of this is found in Exodus when God is said repeatedly to have “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex. 4:21, 7:3, 10:20, 27, 11:10 and so on).  Paul reminds us that:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:17-18, ESV)

Note: When Scripture talks of God’s “hardening our hearts” it cannot mean God is creating evil that isn’t already there. In fact, if we think carefully about what John has been saying in verses 19-21 we will see that our natural disposition is to love the darkness. It is only by God’s grace that we aren’t completely turned over[viii] to these desires in the first place.[ix]

Nevertheless, the Bible makes clear that we are still held responsible for our actions and our choices. Just the fact that there is a hell and a heaven and a final judgment showcase this obvious truth. And while we may not fully understand why God chooses to work this way, I praise God that He is who He is, and that He has intervened in my life.  I praise God that though I am a sinner, Christ died for me.  Though I loved the darkness more than the light, He has turned my heart toward Him. He opened my eyes to see the gloriousness of the gospel.

Those Who Do What is Right

In the final verse we find that those who do “right” are okay coming into the light.  In fact, they love the light!  These are people whose lives have been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are people who used to hate the light, and run from it.

What is remarkable about these people is that they have been turned from sinners who love their sin, to those who love to give glory to God for anything good they do.  This is what is meant by, “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Christians who carry out the fruit of their salvation in love toward others give glory to God.  For they know in their hearts that any good they do is completely and totally owed to the sovereign work of God.

In Conclusion

What we learn from this passage of Scripture is that salvation is from first to last of God, by God, from God, for God – it is all of God.  He deserves all the credit.

I cannot get Paul’s words out of my mind, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”…for me.  For you.  You were lost.  You were dead.  You were faithless, hopeless, and on a grim march toward eternal death when He snatched you off that path and plucked you like a “brand from the burning” (Zech. 3)!  Praise God for his love and grace and the gospel which reminds us everyday that He has saved us for Himself, by Himself, and from Himself.

How Do We Respond?

How do we respond to what John has written here?  I hope you respond by recognizing the depth of your depravity and your sin and that apart from Christ you were a wretch without merit enough to last one hour before the Holy One.  I hope you see the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and the magnificence of His offer to you this evening.

If you are a Christian and you have become puffed up in your walk. Then I plead with you – repent of that sin.  You have no merit on your own.  Furthermore, you weren’t the one who ordained salvation, and neither will you have to maintain it.  You have been swept up in unspeakable grace, a never-ending grace, a love so powerful that it will never let you go.

If you came here a skeptic and have felt your heart strangely warmed but our Lord’s offer of eternal life, then I encourage you now to repent of your sins.  Cast away your pride and your old life and trust in the salvation that comes from believing in the name of Jesus Christ.  He is faithful, He will lift you out of the mire you find yourself in and set your life upon solid footing for eternity.


[i] Old verse 16 notes that I didn’t get to include: What has become, however, a sad commentary in our current day is that many have distorted this verse and taken it out of context.  Jesus tells us explicitly that in order to be born again, one must be born of “Water and the Spirit” – not of any human work (“lest any man should boast”).   And yet here it seems as though Jesus is saying that He has died for the entire world, and that all we need to do is believe.  Some have taken this verse (incorrectly) to mean that on our own we can make a decision on whether or not we want to believe in Jesus.  Well, we certainly make that decision, but not until we are born again – otherwise we would never desire to choose to believe.  For it is God alone working in the hearts of men, who melts those hearts, who changes those spots, who does a supernatural, miraculous work in our lives in order for us to see the majesty and great value of Christ.

In his book ‘Chosen by God’ RC Sproul says this about John 3:16 and the distortions mentioned above, “What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing. The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ.  A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind.  What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved.”

What this verse does teach us is that God has prepared a way of salvation (eternal salvation) for the whole world – people from every tribe and tongue and nation will have a way to be saved.  God doesn’t not discriminate based on sex, age, race, and ethnicity.  And that is the great love of our undiscriminating God.  God has showed both common grace to all of mankind in that He’s allowed a way of salvation at all, and a more specific and particular saving grace to those whom He chose to save before He made the world.

Lastly this verse teaches us how people are saved: by believing in the Son of God. A very straightforward proposition, however, just like not everyone would have been saved by the copper snake, not everyone is saved by Christ’s sacrifice.  The copper snake had the power (efficaciousness) to save all/anyone who looked at it, as does Christ.  But not everyone would look at the copper snake, and not everyone will look to Christ.  Christ has been lifted up for all the world to see, His salvation has been made manifest and millions upon millions of men have known of what He did, yet millions continue to scoff at the olive branch of reconciliation that God handed down from on high.

[ii] Article 4 of the First Head of Doctrine from the Synod of Dort says it best, “The wrath of God abideth upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it, and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith, are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.”

[iii] This list was taken from reformationtheology.com.  The specific link can be found here: http://www.reformationtheology.com/2009/04/world_johns_ten_uses_of_the_wo.php

[iv] In fact, we as gentiles ought to praise the God for including us into his promises.  Listen to what Paul says in Romans 15:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
 
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
 
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
 
12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:8-13, ESV)

[v] In ‘God’s Greater Glory’ Bruce Ware explains: “Both Jacob Arminius and John Wesley agreed with John Calvin, who in turn agreed with Augustine, on this point (although many in the Arminian tradition have departed from the view of the founders of Wesleyan Arminianism). These men all agreed that sin has resulted in human nature being unable, on its own, to do what pleases God or to obey (from the heart) the commands of God.”  Ware actually cites Paul in Romans 8:7-8 where the apostle says that the desires of the flesh are set against God, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

[vi] This is taken from a sermon called ‘Human Inability’ from three different paragraphs. The full text is found here: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0182.htm

[vii] Bruce Ware talks about how people see Christ intellectually, but they don’t see him as glorious.  It’s a different way of saying what Spurgeon says about the corruption of the intellect. He calls this critical realism, and it’s a via media between rationalism and fideism.  The text that harmonizes this for him is 2 Corinthians 4:4 – a text I use above.

[viii] In fact, when God does “turn us over” to our own desires, they aren’t good, and the outcome is horrific!  Paul tells us as much in Romans chapter one:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:24-25, ESV)

Paul says God “gave them up” or “turned them over” to their own desire multiple times in this passage.  The truth that this conveys is that when human beings are allowed to have everything they naturally want, those natural desires are evil and rebellious – not loving and seeking after the will of God.

[ix] R.C. Sproul has a marvelous explanation of this, especially as it pertains to Pharoah in his book ‘Chosen by God’.  Also, in his book ‘God’s Greater Glory’ Bruce Ware tackles this same text in Exodus with great wisdom and care.

John 15:9-11 Study Notes – Getting Joy from Obedience

Here are my study notes from yesterday morning’s lesson.  We spent some time talking about joy in life, and how big of a deal it is that in this section of Scripture Jesus reveals His desire for us to have joy.  That’s a far cry from the stoic detached God we hear about from critics of Christianity!  I hope you enjoy these short notes, and that this week you are challenged to think especially on verse 11.

Blessings,

PJW

 

15:9-10 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

The Awesomeness Meter…Broken

I think there are basically 6 points to verses 9-14 that need examined.  But first, I can’t move on to look at these general themes without noting something in particular about verse nine – as I was looking at this verse and the whole section I just couldn’t get over Jesus saying that He loves us (note the past tense there as if he’s always loved us) “as the Father has loved me.”

What this ought to tell us is something about the relationship between the Father and the Son, and also something about how much Jesus loves us.  I’m not sure how much it would help to prattle on here about this, because every explanation or description I think of to describe it seems to make it seem trite in comparison with what I know Jesus is describing.

Think of it this way: when God does something, He does it in a BIG way.  Not size-wise, but in terms of awesomeness.  Think of the awesomeness meter being broken!  Okay, now that the picture is in your head, realize that the intensity and depth of His love for the Son is going to match that depth and intensity that the Son has for us.  If that doesn’t blow your mind I might as well quit teaching now!

Its this kind of truth we need to lay as a foundation stone for our understanding of Christian doctrine.  Let me give you an example of why….if someone asks you if you can loose your salvation, or if Jesus is really with you in a trial, or if God is really in control of all the details of your life, or if Jesus really died specifically for you, and so on…you can answer in the affirmative because you have a foundational understanding of how much Jesus loves you.

  • Jesus doesn’t loose any sheep – He’s too powerful and loves you too much
  • Jesus doesn’t abandon you – He loves you too much
  • God the Son is in control of all things and that includes all the details in your life – He loves you too much not to be involved
  • Jesus really did die for you – because He loves you as much as the Father loves Him

I think you probably get the picture!  Paul got the picture also, and that’s why he could write the following:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The Mark of a Christian

So the first part of verse 9 is foundational, and as we examine verses 9-14 I want to look at the mark of discipleship and what enables us to obey.  Christ is primarily here concerned to show what life in the vine looks like, and to exhort His disciples toward that life which will reflect their relationship with Him.  Just as it was the purpose of ancient Israel to be a light to nations and show forth the glories and joy of living in true relationship with God, so too is it our privilege to be a light to the world and show others what true communion with God looks like.

I want to explore these truths under six headings:

    • Disciples Obey
    • Disciples Obey Because Jesus Obeyed First
    • Disciples Obey and get Joy as a Result
    • Disciples Obey because they love Jesus
    • Disciples Love Jesus Because He First Loved Them
    • Disciples Are Called to Radical Obedience and Love

Notice that there is a sort of ascending or building house of truth here…

Disciples Obey

Jesus says that the result of being united with Him is that we will bear fruit. If you are in the vine then you will bear fruit – so what does that look like? It looks like obedience.

The mark of a true disciple of Christ – a born again believer – is that they will bear the fruit of obedience to the commands of Jesus.

That is why Jesus can confidently assert, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Keeping the commands results from abiding in Christ.

If you are consistently not obeying Christ’s commands, then there is good reason to wonder if you are truly saved and numbered among His sheep. It is a simple fact that those who have been converted become a new creation, and that new creation behaves in ways that are different than those who are not “in” Christ.

Of course the sanctification process is slow – painfully slow sometimes! – but we know that what God began He will be faithful to complete (Phil. 1:6).

Disciples Obey Because Jesus Obeyed First

Note now from verse 10 that Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything that He didn’t first accomplish. He is the “righteous branch” (Jer. 23:5) and is not only our example, but also paved the way for us to be capable of obedience. That’s what Jesus is saying when He says, “Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

These are the two truths we must internalize here:

  1. Jesus obeyed first and is our example of how to live in righteousness and truth
  2. Jesus’ obedience means that even when we fail we will still be righteous in the eyes of God

Jesus was just as human as we are, tempted as we are, and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15; 2 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5), and Jesus’ obedience has been imputed to our account (Rom. 4:22-25) in order that we might become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

The result of this obedience is not only the ability to obey through the power of the Holy Spirit, but the beautiful truth that when we fail (and we will) we can boldly come before the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness – with the confidence to know it will be forgiven (Hebrews 4).

Therefore, because Christ’s righteous life ransomed us from a life of sin and corruption, which would have resulted in eternal death, we give Him our lives as an offering. We serve, we teach, we follow Christ – we obey.

As Christians we now follow the example of Christ by the power of Christ.  Just as He obeyed through the power of the Spirit, so we too “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) and obedience to His commands.

Of Christ’s submission to the Spirit Bruce Ware comments:

Although Jesus was full God, as a man he chose to rely not on his own divine nature but on the power of the Spirit. In this way, he lived his life as an example for us (1 Peter 2:21-22), and fulfilled the perfect obedience that Adam had failed to accomplish…As a man, Jesus submitted fully to the Spirit, even though in terms of rank, within the Trinity, Jesus has authority over the Spirit.

Likewise we Christians are to submit to the power of the Spirit as we follow the example of Jesus. Romans 6:17-18 describes this beautifully:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, ESV)

15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Disciples Obey and get Joy as a Result

Just as Christ is our example in obedience and walking in the power of the Spirit, so too is He in receiving joy as a result.  Look at what we read in Hebrews 12:

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)

I think this joy is not only something we experience in heaven, but also here on earth.  There is a joy in obeying your Lord – in serving Him with all of your heart.  This is proven by our own experience, is it not?  We obey Christ’s word and someone benefits by our kindness, or our generosity and it thrills our soul!  In this way the kingdom of heaven’s benefits are made manifest in our hearts even before we see that kingdom consummated upon Christ’s return.

This is what is meant, then, by the psalmist’s exhortation, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8)

Obedience to God is not drudgery it is joy, and this is so because it is done in love.  That’s why Jesus said above, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Love is the overarching descriptor that Jesus uses to explain the nature of His obedience to the Father and our obedience to Him.  Without love your obedience is a “clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1) and is completely unprofitable.

As we’ve said previously, love for God and others is a mark of being a Christian. As was mentioned in chapter 13:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Therefore all of this joy springs forth first from a heart that is loving toward others and toward God. Without this love there will be no joy. All of your “righteous” deeds will be like annoying sounds upon the ears of those whom you purport to serve.

A Last Word About This Joy…

There will be sometimes that we obey knowing that it is the right thing to do, and are empowered by God do obey, and yet we don’t experience that joy right away.  It seems like we’re doing something difficult and not something that excites us. But I can only attribute this to our sin nature.

For example, I once told Derek (Stone) that I really didn’t enjoy doing evangelism, but I would sign up to go because I knew it was the right thing to do.  Gradually, I asked for God’s help, and He changed my desires. Am I a gifted evangelist?  No! (I laugh just asking the question!) But boy o boy do I enjoy sharing the gospel when I’m given the opportunity.  What held me back from enjoying evangelism rather than just carrying out my “duty”?  My sin nature.

It is our sin nature that prevents us from being joyful all the time. It is our sin nature that brings millions of Christians to church every Sunday as if it were some perfunctory gathering and not a joyful time of worship.  It is our sin nature that mellows our worship as something mindless and heartless.  It is our sin nature when we think that showing up to church is something special when 90% of our friends are sleeping in.  It is our sin nature that cares more about the style of worship than learning out to worship properly in the first place. It is our sin nature talking after church when we nitpick about the sermon and yet haven’t lifted a finger to serve for months and months.

Don’t be fooled.  You are a sinner, and in this world you will have trouble – and much of that trouble will not be brought on by Satan (as if you’re that important), but by your own sinful self-centeredness.

You will never experience the joy of the Lord if you continue to live in the flesh instead of walking by the Spirit.  Forget yourself and your self-centered schedule and your self-centered dreams, and start reorienting your life around the Son of God. That is my prayer for you this year.

Christ our Great High Priest

Below are the notes from my sermon last night.  I preached on the priesthood of Christ and you’ll find the notes in sermon format.

Christ our Great High Priest

December 8, 2013

Key Points

  • The inadequacy of the old covenant sacrifices
  • The purpose of Christ’s priesthood: once-for-all sacrifice and mediator for His chosen people
  • Christ’s death inaugurated a new covenant adequate to deal with our sins
  • The new covenant entails a spirit led life of Christ-like obedience

We’re going to look tonight at how Christ, in his office of High Priest, has once and for all made a perfect sacrifice for mankind, and how that sacrifice was Himself.

This is part two of a three part series on the offices of Christ; those offices are prophet, priest, and king. During this season we want to both celebrate what was anticipated, and what is.

We want to stir our minds and hearts up again to worship God for the destiny that He had for this child, His Son. Though He was born in a lowly way, He would be called greatest of all men.

Though He came from an obscure part of the world, yet He would fulfill hundreds of Old Testament predictions. And though He was poor, and came from a poor family, He would offer the richest gift in redemptive history.

In short, we are studying these offices of Christ because we need to be reminded that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was the beginning of the most significant work ever done on this earth – yet it was just the beginning.

So let us begin by reading from our text for this evening, which is Hebrews 10:1-18. Follow along with me and see how Christ is our great mediator and high priest.

Reading of Text and Opening Prayer

First things first: What is a priest’s role in the Bible? The priest (under the Old Covenant) was one who represented the Israelites before God.  I mentioned last week that the prophet was one who represented God before His people, and this is just the opposite.  Perhaps you are starting to see that the role of Christ is to be both our representative to God, and also the Father’s representative to us.

The Old Testament priest would yearly offer sacrifices for the atonement of the people, and he would also offer sacrifices throughout the year for specific individuals who came to the temple with their gifts.  We’ll examine this role as we get into the text…

The flow of the Text is like this (cf. Lane):

1-4: The inadequacy of the law’s repeated sacrifices
5-10: The OT sacrifices have been superseded by Christ’s sacrifice
11-14: The Levitical priests have been superseded by Christ’s priesthood
15-18: The supremacy/adequacy of the New Covenant

  

Exegesis of the Text 

PART 1

The inadequacy of the law’s repeated sacrifices 

10:1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

This section of Scripture (10:1-18) is really the encapsulation of two chapters of instruction and explanation about Christ’s sacrificial role, and in many ways these 18 verses serve as a summary statement of that teaching. [i]

Christ as Antitype

This idea of the law being a shadow is important to remember.  In theological terms we call this “typology”, and when something in the OT is a shadow, or a glimmer of the fulfillment in the NT, we say that we have a “type” in the OT and the “antitype” in the NT.  In almost every instance of an OT type, we find the antitype fulfilled in the life and ministry (person and work) of Jesus of Nazareth.

What the Spirit is saying through the author of Hebrews is that the “law”, especially as expressed in the sacrificial system of the OT, is a “shadow” a “type” of something that was “good” that was still “to come.”

That “good thing” is Jesus ChristHe is the “true form of these realities” and the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, and in a broader way, the law as a whole.

Puritan Pastor and Theologian John Owen said:

For he himself first, principally, and evidently, was the subject of all promisesHe was the idea in the mind of God, when Moses was charged to make all things according to the pattern showed him in the mount…every thing in the law belonged unto that shadow which God gave in it of the substance of his counsel in and concerning Jesus Christ.

This is what Paul meant when he said, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17, ESV).

And so the author of Hebrews is telling us that all of the OT sacrifices pointed forward to Christ and found their terminus in Him.[ii]

The Problem: Never Perfected

The bulk of this verse tells us that we have a dilemma on our hands.  The OT Jews were continually breaking the law by sinning, but their sacrifices never perfected them.  There was nothing happening to them spiritually internally. They were not a regenerated people, and the sacrifices they were making did not have the power to regenerate them.

What was the result?  The Israelites continued in their rebellion – they loved the world more than they loved God.   What they needed was not only a sacrifice that would legally put away sin once and for all, but a Priest who would represent them to God when they sinned[iii] (But, as we’ll see, God gave His children even more…)

William Lane says this of the OT sacrifices, “Their ineffectiveness in this regard exposed a fundamental weakness in the cultic provisions of the old covenant. The law was effectively precluded from becoming the organ of salvation.”

10:2-3 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

Now the author begins to build a case for his assertion that in Christ’s ministry as our priest we no longer need the OT priesthood, or the sacrificial system that it entailed. He does this by showing that if these sacrifices were really efficacious, then people’s consciences would have been made clear of sin…however, that wasn’t the case.

That Horrid Reminder!

And so, those OT sacrifices were only temporary, and they needed to be continually redone. They symbolized the continual sin of God’s people. Here in verse three, specifically, you have the allusion to the Day of Atonement, which was simply a shadow of the true Day of Atonement that occurred 2,000 years ago on the cross of Calvary.

This Day of Atonement was a day in which the Jews would offer sacrifices in the holy of holies once per year. It was a day designated for fasting (Leviticus 23:26-32) and the confession of sins (Lev. 16:20-22).

Owen comments, “…the Jews have such a saying among them, ‘That on the day of expiation all Israel was made as righteous as in the day wherein man was first created.”

But the reason the author of Hebrews brings it up here is because those Jews who say that these sacrifices were making them righteous were fooling themselves.  This verse(s) is “a candid acknowledgement that the sacrifices offered each year lacked ultimate efficacy” to cleanse the conscience (Lane).

Not only were the sacrifices ineffective, but also they were a “reminder” of sins every year![iv] That means that in the OT the Day of Atonement was a day of mourning and reminder of the guilt of sin.  And certainly that was a rightful thing to do, to mourn over sin.  We too ought to mourn over our sins (Matthew 5:4). But unlike the Jews, when we look at our day of atonement, we are reminded of the reason we have for celebration!  We look at the cross and rejoice because our sins have been forgiven, once for all. Our conscience can rest easy.

A decisive cleansing of the conscience is a prerequisite for unhindered access to God, and this has been achieved only through the sacrifice of Christ” (Lane). 

10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

What’s the Point???

And if you’re like me, you read this and are asking: “well why in the world would they do all this sacrificing in the first place?  I mean, if it wasn’t going to work, what was the point?”

Well the answer is that the whole purpose of the Levitical system of sacrifice was not to take away sins, but rather to point a coming Rescuer who would later take away sins.

Owen, in his classic 17th century charm, reminds us that the point of these sacrifices was three-fold:

  1. As a reminder of the seriousness of sin (as mentioned above),
  2. As a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ
  3. As a way to display His wisdom and design for future salvation: “These things do evidently express the wisdom of God in their institution, although of themselves they could not take away sin.”

Each time the Israelites made a sacrifice – and especially on the Day of Atonement – they were forced to encounter the holiness of God, and the reality of their own sinfulness. It drove them to repentance and taught them to hope in a future deliverance from the bondage of sin.[v]

Paul explains this in Galatians when he says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).”

And this is why Christ is so much better. And it is also why He had be both divine and human. If He was not fully human in His advent, it wouldn’t have truly been a sacrifice.  If He wasn’t divine, He would have had to continually make the sacrifice!

In sum, because our sin is an offense against an eternal God, payment must satisfy the demands of His eternal character.  This is why it had to be Jesus, the God-man, whose divinity made the sacrifice worthy to blot out our transgression – not simply because our sins were “eternally bad” but rather because they offended an eternally holy God.[vi]

Thankfully the Spirit doesn’t stop there…

 

PART 2

The OT sacrifices are superseded by Christ’s sacrifice 

10:5-7 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, 

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure. 

Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,

as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The Spirit here attributes this quote to Jesus, who is citing Psalm 40.

First, notice the Trinitarian work involved here. It is the Spirit writing the book of Hebrews, it is Christ quoting the Spirit’s inspired work of the Psalms, which says that He, Jesus, is prepared to submit to the “will of God” the Father.

No Pleasure

Now when He says that God took “no pleasure” or that He had “not desired” these sacrifices, what He means is not that God was not pleased in the obedience of the people per se, but rather that the people were misapplying the reason for the sacrifices.  In other words, the sacrifices were never intended to expiate sins, but rather point to the One who would. [vii]

John Owen gives a great parallel example: God commands us to obey Him and that obedience in the New Covenant pleases Him, for sure.  But that obedience of good works of love and kindness to our neighbor is not appropriately applied to our salvation. For good works are expressly said NOT to be the source of salvation in Scripture; so too with the Israelites and their sacrifices.  They misapplied them toward an end that did not suit them.[viii]

And that is what compels God to say ‘I take no pleasure in these sacrifices.’

Anticipating the Incarnation

We can sense the anticipation of the work of the Messiah here. Not simply the anticipation of a Rescuer, but of a great High Priest whose body was prepared by God for sacrifice before the foundation of the world – a sacrifice which will supersede all of the sacrifices that have been repeatedly offered until this point in time.  This is the hope we celebrate at Christmas – the reality of the incarnation.

I love how Athanasius grabs a hold of the reality of the incarnation here and works out what it means for the victory of Christ as our priest and sacrifice, “…this is the reason why he assumed a body capable of dying, so that, belonging to the Word who is above all, in dying it might become a sufficient exchange for all…He put on a body so that in the body he might find death and blot it out”![ix]

Christ coming into this world was not “plan B.”[x]  God wasn’t surprised by the Fall of Adam, and God purposefully designed the OT sacrificial system to point forward to His Son.  The Father always wants to exhibit the Son. He is essentially always saying, “consider my Son”, “look at my Son”, “this is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”[xi]

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight, we ought to be driven to worship by the fact that the Father ordained that this baby, born in utter humiliation[xii] in order to die in utter humiliation, would do so in order to achieve extreme glorification.  His low point was also arguably the point at which He glorifies the Father the most. That’s how God thinks.  That’s how OTHER He is from us.  His ways and thoughts are FAR above our own.

10:8-10 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), [9] then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. [10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 

The Old Covenant is “Done Away With” 

Catch this here: it is the “will” that is the latter, and the “law” that is the former. And so it is God’s “will” that the Son come to earth in that body prepared beforehand in God’s plan and mind, that He would become the fulfillment of the law and offer that sacrifice.  That “once for all” sacrifice.  The merit of Christ’s sacrifice is here on display as eminently more worthy and glorious than that of the OT sacrifices prescribed by the law.

“Sanctified”

Now what does this word “sanctified,” mean? It means two things:

  1. Consecrated or “set apart” for salvation and service to God in this new covenant arrangement.
  2. It can also mean “purified” or “cleansed”[xiii] – but the two ideas usually come together in one meaning – set apart for holiness unto good works.

Christ has purified us from sin by His sacrifice, but He has done so in order that we will obey Him (He is preparing us for obedience which only comes from the Spirit and the Spirit is a sign of the New Covenant’s inauguration).

Lane comments on the action part of “sanctified”: “Christ’s self-sacrifice fulfilled the human vocation enunciated in the psalm. By virtue of the fact that he did so under the conditions of authentic human, bodily existence and in solidarity with the human family, the new people of God have been radically transformed and consecrated to his service.”

Not only has the payment for sins been purchased by our great high priest, but the sacrifice He made inaugurated an age of obedience – His great act of obedience was the climax of a life of obedience and began an era of obedience from his people – not by our own might or strength, but his own indwelling work in us.  He continues his work in and through His new covenant people while ruling from heaven’s highest throne.

Paul expressed it this way:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

PART 3

The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood 

10:11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

The Supremacy of Christ’s Priesthood

Now we move from a specific discussion of the sacrifices into the office of priest itself, specifically the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood, and the supremacy of Christ’s priesthood.

I love how Martyn Llyod-Jones says,Every one of the offerings made by the priests pointed forward in some way to Jesus Christ and what He would do in perfection.”

Note here how instead of referencing that Day of Atonement, which we had read about earlier, the author is referencing the daily sacrifices.  These too cannot take away sins. Also we see that these Levite priests “stand” continually making the sacrifices, whereas Christ has “sat down at the right hand of God.”  This sitting down symbolizes the once-for-all work that He did. There’s no need for continually making more sacrifices because His sacrifice was “once for all.”

These priests had to always be on the ready for whenever anyone would come in to offer their sacrifice for sin. So, as Owen says, “there was no end of their work.”

Christ’s work is, however, much more final than this.  Once His work was done, He sat down at His Father’s right hand with no need of rising to continue on in the sacrificial duty.  As Jesus Himself says in His High Priestly Prayer:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

This, no doubt, testifies to the superiority of the New Covenant.  Christ’s Priesthood and the covenant He inaugurated is better in that His sacrifice is better.  It was everlasting, and was of infinite worth because of the infinite worthiness of the One who offered it.  Yet, as we will see, it was not a universal sacrifice, but a particular one for a particular people.  His intention was not to offer a sacrifice for all of humanity, but for all those whom He came to save – His bride.

Christ’s Intercession for Us

Now, Christ whose sacrificial work is completed has continued on in his mediatorial work – another part of His graciousness and love poured out on our behalf.  And this happens in the throne room of God.

For though (as I just mentioned) His sacrifice was once for all, yet His intercession for us continues, as this verse indicates. That is what verse 12 ought to bring to mind, and it is primarily that which John 17 displays to us in a magnificent way now, seated at the right hand of God, He continually intercedes for us.  Paul makes this crystal clear in Romans 8:

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Lane says, “Jesus’ place in the presence of God enables him to exercise in heaven the ministry of the new covenant. This is the basis of the assurance extended to the community that they possess now full access to God.” 

Christ’s Work vs. Our Work

Perhaps one last thing to take away from this passage is the fact that the efforts of man can never rival the work of Jesus Christ.

Our salvation rests upon the work of Jesus Christ and Him alone.  That is why Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).

Now what is the solution to this?  What “work” do we do that affects anything for us? Jesus has the answer:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:27-29, ESV) 

When we look at Christ’s priesthood, we will see again and again the sufficiency of His work, and it contrasts in our minds (does it not?) that those in the Catholic faith who have sought to add on to His work and His ministry are in grave error.  They have denied the effectiveness of His mediatorial role by adding layers of intercession, from the local priest to the saints who came after Him. They have denied the efficacy and once-for-all nature of His sacrifice by insisting on crucifying Him again at every Mass for the last 1500 or so years.  It is important that we see these distinctions.  There is no room for addition to His work – by anyone. 

10:13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.

This verse is taken from Psalms 110:1 and it is anticipatory of the eschatological promise that one day Christ will bring consummation to His kingdom.

Philip Hughes says it well that, “Future judgment (of Christ’s enemies) is only the application of the final judgment that has already taken place at Calvary.”[xiv]

And to be honest, I don’t know if you can put it anymore plainly than this!  If you are trying to say that someone is “supreme” then there is no better way to say it than to say that all of those person’s enemies shall be made a footstool for them!

It reminds me of the story of Roman Emperor Valerian.  When he became Emperor he renewed persecution against Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Any leaders within the church were to be punished immediately with death. Others were to be moved to the empire’s vast estates where grains were grown (especially in Northern Africa) and enslaved, or forced to dig in the mines.  Interestingly, Valerian died in 259 A.D. fighting against the Persians (persecution stopped almost immediately after he died).  Valerian was captured and killed and then skinned, and stuffed for use as a footstool for the Persian king!  The result was that fear of the Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire because many people blamed the Christians for this outcome and were fearful that by persecuting Christians worse things could come upon their Empire.[xv]

Christ is indeed ruling now.  And we look forward to the day when He consummates the victory He achieved on the cross over sin and death, for on that day all “his enemies” will be completely vanquished. 

10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

So finally here we see the antithesis of what verse one says – namely that the people couldn’t be perfected under the old covenant.  Therefore we have “the rejection of the ineffective ministry of the Levitical priests in favor of the effective ministry of the eschatological priest enthroned in the presence of God” (Lane).

We have talked a great deal of Christ’s priesthood, therefore look with me carefully at two more things.  1. There is a particular people who are being sanctified and 2. Those who are being sanctified are “perfected for all time.”

Note here that the author of this epistle is writing with a group of people in mind. It is not the whole world who is sanctified, rather it is a certain group of people. Who are those people? They are the elect of God. They are His children. They are the subject of the atonement – they are those for whom Christ died.

Secondly, these men and women for whom Christ died are “perfected” for “all time.” “Perfected” simply alludes to “sanctified” or “cleansed” as we talked about when examining verse 10.  This is what we would call “positional sanctification”, and it means that in the eyes of God the Father we are pure, we are righteous and holy. Why?  Because of the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s blood covers us, and causes us to be perfect. How long will this occur? “For all time.”

In Romans 8:30 Paul tells us that once Christ’s love has been set upon us, we are never able to be separated from that love:

…those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Paul talks about those who are “glorified” as past tense.  Not because it has happened in space and time, but because of the certainty that it will happen.  In the eyes of God, it is as good as done because when He promises something He always keeps His word.

PART 4

The (supremacy) adequacy of the new covenant 

10:15-16 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,” 
 

The Supremacy of the New Covenant

The author is saying that Christ’s supremacy in both sacrifice and priesthood are both part of a new covenant – a better covenant enacted on better promises as was stated earlier in the book:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (Hebrews 8:6-7)

More than simply the unparalleled sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, the new covenant gives us something more, namely the indwelling presence of the Spirit who “bears witness to us” and writes the laws of God upon our hearts.

So no longer do we need OT sacrifices – we have Christ.  No longer do we need OT laws – we have the Spirit and the Word incarnate.  Christ has fulfilled and superseded every promise and every type of the OT, and He has given us a new covenant marked by the giving of His Spirit and the obedience of His people – people who can actually love God and others. We are a regenerated people; a royal priesthood of believers; a people called after His own name.

So what is it that characterizes new covenant people for whom Christ died?  Quite plainly, what characterizes the Christian community is the work of the Spirit on our hearts, the fruit of which we see in the lives of those whom He came to save. 

10:17 then he adds,

 “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

First I just want to note the use of the word “lawless” here because it is a very strong word. We forget sometimes of the descriptors that the Bible uses for those who are not believers.  Before you were a Christian you were a “rebel” a “lawless” one (Rom. 6:19), an “enemy of God” and a “dead” man spiritually.  I mention this because its against this backdrop that we must view Christ’s sacrifice, and it makes it all the more valuable as we reflect on these final truths in verses 17 and 18.

Now, the purpose of verse 17 is to tie in the forgiveness of sins with the commencement of the New Covenant. The author is saying here that one of the features of living in the New Covenant is that, along with the law of God being written on your minds and hearts, you Christians will also have your sins remembered by God “no more.”[xvi]

It is the capstone to the blessings we experience as New Covenant believers that we are no longer held in bondage to our sin experientially (vis a vis the holy spirit’s indwelling work), but we are also loosed from the grip of sin legally as well.  So that on the Day of Judgment, we can stand before God knowing full well that He will not count our sins against us.

Therefore, as the chapter began by driving home the inadequacy of the Old Covenant sacrifices, and the nature of the OT saints (that they disobeyed), now we are told of the complete adequacy of the sacrifice of Christ and the new covenant it inaugurates.

No longer will God remember our sins, no longer will we need to go through the painful guilt-laden process of animal and grain sacrifices.  There has been a perfect sacrifice by a perfect high priest.  That sacrifice was the Lord Jesus Christ who offered up His body – He was both the sacrifice and the sacrificer, and now lives in heaven interceding for us as our mediator and priest in the throne room of God. His work: ultimate. His supremacy: indisputable. 

Conclusion

We have reason to celebrate this Christmas.  Christmas marks for us a reminder of the humility and mystery of God, who in the course of His redemptive plan stooped to empty Himself, to set aside His divine glory and take upon Himself the flesh and frailty of a human being.  This season is a reminder of that humility and His ultimate mission – to seek and save the lost.

The message of this passage is clear: If you are sitting here tonight content to believe the false premise that your own merit will somehow grant you a spot with Christ in eternal bliss, then I’m here to tell you that you are sadly mistaken.  Jesus Christ is the only One whose righteousness is worthy to open those doors of heaven. He will not deign to admit any who do not call upon His name and trust in HIS righteousness and His sacrifice alone.  If you find yourself in such a position tonight, then I would beg you to heed the message of the Bible – repent of your sins, and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the only one capable and worthy of saving you.

Closing Prayer

Appendix 1 – Christ’s Antitypical Role as Priest

Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, two Baptist Scholars from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have great insights into Christ’s antitypical role:

…the old covenant is an entire package, within the law-covenant many typological structures are developed which ultimately find their antitypical fulfillment in Christ and the new covenant…

Of course, related to the institution of the priesthood is the entire tabernacle-temple-sacrificial system. All of these institutions not only serve as a means by which Israel may dwell in the land and know God’s covenantal presence among a sinful people. But also point beyond themselves to God’s greater provision of atonement in the servant of the Lord (see Is. 52-53) who will fulfill and eclipse the role of the Levitical priest (Heb. 5:1-10:7-10), bring the tabernacle-temple to its terminus in himself (see, e.g., John 2:19-22), and by his new covenant work achieve full atonement for sin (see Jer. 31:34; Heb. 10:1-18).

Also in his 4th volume on the book of Acts, Martyn Llyod-Jones has several pages of commentary on Acts 7 where he discusses typology, specifically Mosaic typology.  It is really fantastic. He makes allusions to Hebrews 10 there as well.  But here are some of his great quotes from that passage:

Now the word type is interesting. A type is that which foreshadows or forecasts or represents beforehand something that will happen later, which is called the antitype. And, of course, in the Scriptures the type points to the great antitype, Christ.  The use of types is an essential part of the teaching of the whole Bible – it can be said that the Old Testament is a great book of types – and we cannon understand the Bible truly unless we understand this teaching.

The sacrifices and offerings and rituals were all types. They are representations of what would happen in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Every one of the offerings made by the priests pointed forward in some way to Jesus Christ and what He would do in perfection.

…the very exodus of the children of Israel, the deliverance from Egypt into Canaan, has always been recognized as a great type of the salvation that God would send one day in the person of the Messiah whom He was going to raise up.

Before you dismiss Christianity and the message concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as just being an ancient religion, something concocted by men – as we are being told by the humanists and others – you should read the Bible and watch typology – this foreshadowing, this prefiguring of Christ, and the correspondence between the types all the way through. And you will see that there is this one great continuing message from beginning to end.

This purpose of God is a purpose of salvation and deliverance. That is what the types mean.

Appendix 2 – The Chiastic Structure of the Passage

According to Theologian William Lane there is some “symmetry” to this passage – what today’s theologians would term a “chiasm.”  I find these helpful in understanding the flow of the passage, and how the writer is making their argument. In fact, I’ve really based my sermon around these breakdowns, and have seen that most other commentators on the book have broken the section down in this way as well.

A. The inadequacy of the provisions of the law for repeated sacrifices (10:1-4)
B. The repeated sacrifices have been superseded by the one sacrifice of Christ in conformity to the will of God (10:5-10)
B. The Levitical priests have been superseded by the one priest enthroned at God’s right hand (10:11-14)
A. The adequacy of the provisions of the new covenant, which render a sacrifice for sins no longer necessary (10:15-18)

Appendix 3 – The Reason for OT Sacrificing

I really found this to be an interesting study – I had asked myself time and time again “why go through all the machinations of the sacrifice if it wasn’t going to work???”  Soon I began to learn the reason why – it was the obedience (working through faith) of the Israelites to God’s command that He wanted.  Specifically, faith in God that He would redeem them efficaciously one day. They looked forward in faith, and sacrificed in faith.  Their obedience was an outgrowth of this faith and the fear of God.

Because I didn’t get to fit all the thoughts and quotes re: this into the main body of the sermon, here are the rest:

The way that the Old Testament sacrificial system worked is spelled out throughout the book of Leviticus.  Many of the sacrifices that were offered were done so daily, or on a regular basis as different sins occurred within Israel.  But I think what the author of this text in front of us has in mind is more specifically the Day of Atonement.

One of the questions I asked myself as I was thinking on this passage was: if the people were continually making sacrifices for the sins they committed throughout the year, why do a corporate yearly day of sacrifice?  I think the answer lies in the fact that the sacrifices were more about reminding the Israelites of their sin and pointing them to Christ than actually expiating sin (as we have seen above).  So the Day of Atonement was a yearly gathering to remember the sins of the entire congregation (to paraphrase Owen).[xvii]

God didn’t want His people taking sin lightly, and there is always the chance of religion becoming more ritual than true reminder. That really couldn’t happen on the Day of Atonement.  The entire day was based around the reality of Israel’s sin and God’s holiness and mercy.  There was no escaping these truths.

When one goes through the book of Leviticus and sees the kinds of sacrifices that must be made for particular sins, and then reads of the sacrifice for the day of atonement (one goat), it becomes obvious that this sacrifice isn’t enough to cover all the people effectively from an expiation standpoint.  But it is enough to remind the entire congregation of who they are before a holy God. The symbol and the reminder is the key here. These were lessons to lead them to the truth about themselves – they needed a redeemer, they needed God’s Son.

John MacArthur says:

The Levitical system was not designed by God to remove or forgive sins. It was preparatory for the coming of the Messiah (Gal. 3:24) in that it made the people expectant (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10). It revealed the seriousness of their sinful condition, in that even temporary covering required the death of an animal. It revealed the reality of God’s holiness and righteousness by indicating that sin had to be covered. Finally, it revealed the necessity of full and complete forgiveness so that God could have fellowship with His people.

Martyn Llyod-Jones says, “Those sacrifices were by types pointing to the coming of the great anti-type; they did not really deal with sin.”[xviii]

Appendix 4 – The Session of Christ

In verse 12 in our passage the session of Christ is referred to when it says, “he at down at the right hand of God.” In the main body of the sermon it was discussed how this shows forth the finality of his sacrifice (once for all etc.) but it also tells us of His rule and reign over all things. The allusion here reminds us of the fact that Christ came to usher in a kingdom – one that He reigns over right now.

In the process of putting the notes together for this text it became apparent that Psalm 110 was a very important scripture for the author. That Psalm goes like this:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110, ESV)

Martin Luther, commenting on the Psalm said the following:

For nowhere else is Christ prophesied with such clear, plain words as a priest and an eternal priest. It is prophesied as well that the priesthood of Aaron would be abolished. This psalm is yet again and more splendidly extolled in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is indeed a shame that such a psalm is not more richly extolled by Christians.

Therefore I wanted to just take a minute and make note of the depth of theology here and the import of this passage. Like Isaiah 61:1-2 is to Luke 4:16-18, Psalm 110 is vitally important to Hebrews 10:1-18.

Bruce Ware writes, “This psalm, then, is fundamentally about David’s Greater Son who will be both King (vs. 1) and Priest (vs. 4), a dual role that none of the previous king of Israel or Judah could play.”

End Notes

[i] Lane says, “in 10:1-18 the writer elaborates the ‘subjective’ effects of Christ’s offering for the community that enjoys the blessings of the new covenant. Christ’s death is considered from the perspective of its efficacy for Christians.”

[ii] Theologian William Lane says, “Its use (“foreshadowing”) suggests that the function of the law was to point forward to that which was perfect or complete…The contrast implied is temporal and eschatological in character; the law is a past witness to a future reality.”

[iii] Lane says, “the reality only foreshadowed in the law is the actual possession of the people of God through the new covenant.”

[iv] Lane says, “The elaborate ritual was intended to accentuate a consciousness of sins. The solemn entrance of the high priest into the Most Holy Place dramatized the fact that sin separates the congregation from God.

[v] Owen says, “Hereby they became the principal direction of the faith of the saints under the old testament, and the means whereby they acted it on the original promise of their recovery from apostasy.” What he’s saying is that the OT saints had a faith directed forward toward (the future) Christ, and the way they exercised that faith was in the carrying out of these sacrifices.

[vi] It was St. Anselm who first really explained the importance of this, and I can see his influence on a quote from John Piper that I think captures the idea here: “We glorify what we enjoy most and (because of sin) it isn’t God. Therefore sin is not small, because it is not against a small sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore failure to love Him is not trivial, it is treason! It defames God and destroys human happiness.”

[vii] It is remarkable how far Owen goes to pound this into the head of his readers. He gives at least 6 reasons why these sacrifices were pleasing to God in their rightful way, but yet not in the manner in which the Jews might have mistakenly thought them to apply (i.e. expiation of sins).  “God may in his wisdom appoint and accept of ordinances and duties unto one end, which he will refuse and reject when they are applied unto another – So he doth plainly in these words those sacrifices which in other places he most strictly enjoins.” Owen then gives what I think is the best example of why this is so form a NT perspective: “How express, how multiplied are his commands for good works, and our abounding in them! Yet when they are made the matter of our righteousness before him, they are as unto that end, namely, of our justification, rejected and disapproved!”

[viii] Owen says, “there was such an insufficiency in all legal sacrifices, as unto the expiation of sin, that God would remove them and take them out of the way, to introduce that which was better, to do that which the law could not do.”

[ix] I actually got this  quote from Philip Hughes’ commentary and shortened it up to fit the sermon. He’s got a lot more here from Athanasius’ De Incarnatione.

[x] Owen calls this, “the federal agreement between the Father and the Son as unto the work of the redemption and salvation of the church.”

[xi] I take this way of expressing the Father’s view of the Son from Bruce Ware – this is sort of a paraphrase from his book on the Trinity.

[xii] Hughes rightly says, “he condescends to our estate in the self-humbling act of incarnation, so that the Psalmist’s words, a body you have prepared for me, receive in him a fulfillment which is ultimate and universal in its evangelical significance. The body prepared for the Son was the body he assumed in the incarnation in which he obeyed the Father’s will, even to the death of the cross.”

[xiii] Philip Hughes says, “It is by that will, and that will alone, that we have been sanctified, that is, cleansed from sin and restored to the holy sphere of God’s favor – not, of course, that the will of God is intended apart from action of God in Christ, for, unlike man who, left to themselves, finds that to will and to perform are all too often two different things, with God to will and to do go together.”

[xiv] Hughes is really magnificent here.  He also says, “The complete defeat of his enemies is assured, for the supreme exaltation by which the redemption he accomplished on earth as the incarnate Son has been crowned spells the doom of every opponent of his authority.”  Wow! Well said!

[xv] Cf. Dr. Shawn Wright’s lectures on Church History, ‘Introduction to Church History’, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

[xvi] As O’Brien notes, “The perfecting of which our author speaks includes not only the decisive forgiveness of sins or cleansing of the conscience which is the basis of a new relationship with God. Intimately related to and flowing from it is that obedience of the heart which is expressive of a positive consecration to God.”

[xvii] It wasn’t as though their sins weren’t going to be forgiven, for they were in Christ, but the act itself of sacrificing these animals wasn’t taking away the sins it was simply pointing forward to the one who would.

[xviii] This quote is actually from an advent devotional compilation by Nancy Guthrie called, ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.’