The Tempting of Jesus

So tonight I get to teach a Bible Study on the Temptation of Jesus from Luke 4.  This has been a rewarding little study, and I decided to post my informal notes below.  They aren’t as well organized as I would have them be, but hopefully they are helpful and edifying for you as the long weekend awaits!

PJW

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-15

Couple points on the first 15 verses to contemplate before we examine each verse individually:

  1. Satan offered Jesus a kingdom without a cross – later when peter says that surely Jesus wouldn’t die, Jesus replied by calling him Satan and rebuking him! The way of the messiah is the way of the suffering servant.
  2. Jesus was fully man – only a man (a human being) could be tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).
  3. Christ is our supreme example. This is true in three ways:
    1. Jesus used Scripture to shore himself up in great distress and temptation
    2. Jesus knew the Bible and its context backwards and forwards
    3. Jesus did all things “in the Spirit” even when it would have been much easier to abandon all hope and faith in the Father
  4. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeded. Jesus isn’t merely a supreme example to us here; what we see here is that He is the only Righteous One and the true Israel.

There are a great many parallels with Israel and the wilderness that we’ll see pop up here as we examine this passage more. But I want to first read a few of the wilderness passages of Isarel before we get into the text so that we have in our minds what was going on here in the OT in order for the clarity of the typology to shine through as it ought.

The Lord delivered Israel from Egypt with amazing wonders and might:

But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20)

“It was not the Israelites’ moral virtue that caused the Lord to save them from Egyptian bondage; he delivered them because of his mercy and love, which were undeserved and unmerited” (Schreiner, Biblical Theology, Pg. 35). “Israel’s liberation represented their redemption and testified to the Lord’s love for his people” (Schreiner, Biblical Theology, Pg. 33).

Despite all of this, the people of Israel rebelled:

…in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ [32] Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, [33] who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go. (Deuteronomy 1:31-33)

God gave them a gracious covenant, yet the covenant that Moses received on Mt. Sinai, while gracious, revealed a major defect – and that defect was not with the law itself, but with the people of Israel whose hearts were not transformed by the covenant. This fact, and the sacrifices which provided a type of atonement which never cleansed the conscience (see Heb. 10), all pointed forward to the need for a Savior and a Sacrifice that would cleanse God’s chosen people from their sin and restore the fellowship that was obviously breached by that (aforementioned) sin.

The people of Israel failed miserably in the wilderness, but where they failed, Jesus would succeed. Thus we see that at the heart of this passage is the heart of the gospel: it is only by the righteousness of Christ that we are justified.  Only through his perfect obedience are we redeemed and reconciled to God.  This passage, while preparatory for his ministry and mission (which we’ll learn more about in verses 16-30), is also emblematic of his whole mission in that he overcame the world in order that we could bask in his victory, and that He is submissive to whatever God had in mind for Him.  His short life and death was all that was necessary to please God on our behalf, and reconciled a dying world to their Creator.

4:1-2 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness [2] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

Some versions day that the Spirit “drove” Him out into the wilderness. The ESV here describes the action as a “leading”, and I like the forcefulness of the former, but the latter shows how personal the Holy Spirit is. Such language surely gives us reason to believe that of the Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a person and indeed a person of great power – this is God.

Secondly, Jesus is described here as “full of the Holy Spirit” – and in this way He is the model for how every follower of Christ ought to be. We all need to be “full of the Holy Spirit”, and although its probably talking about the fact that Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit, still the sense of it seems to be that He was walking in the Spirit, He was abiding in the Spirit, He was listening to the Spirit. And it was the Spirit who would equip Jesus fully for His mission and ministry here on earth.

Listen to what I’ve copied down (in multiple places in my notes) from Geerhardus Vos who explains the role of the Spirit in the life of our Lord: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

It was Jesus’ submission to the Spirit that brought Him into the wilderness in the first place. God had a plan for Jesus here, and Jesus was willing to follow the Father’s plan to the enth degree. The fact that He was tempted at all, as I mention above, shows that He was indeed man – a real human being.

For as Hebrews 2 says:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. [16] For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. [17] Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. [18] For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)

So God had a purpose in all of this, and that purpose was to deliver us from slavery to Satan and to destroy Satan’s power over us. He had to do this because His desire was not only to save us from sin, but to give us His own righteousness. Hence, the doctrine of double imputation (we give him our sin and he gives us his righteousness).

Geldenhuys says, “As real Man, Jesus could really be tempted, and from His childhood days until the end of His earthly career He was exposed to all the temptations that every human being has to contend with – except, however, those temptations that come from within as a result of the inward original taint or of the influence of former sins.”

Now, before examining the following verses, I’d just lastly note here that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Perhaps there’s a reason for that number, it is the number of completeness and of fullness. When Moses was on the mountain in Sinai with God, he was there for 40 days and didn’t eat anything during that time either. Also, Israel was in the desert for 40 years. So there seems to be a theme here, once again, that where Israel failed, Jesus would succeed.

4:3-4 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” [4] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Interestingly, Satan uses a similar ploy as the one he did in the Garden (of Eden) by questioning the Jesus’ relationship to God. In the garden he had questioned the veracity of God’s word when he said, “You will not surely die” (vs. 4). Here he says “if” you are the Son of God – He questions the relationship and says that Jesus has to prove Himself by doing a miracle on his terms. He’s basically saying that there’s no need for Jesus to deal with this hunger/this trial anymore. Stop waiting on the Lord and just make things happen on your own! Stop living in the Spirit and just use the powers you have as the Son of God. Stop doing things God’s way and live at the end of my cattle prod!

Yet Jesus succeeds where Adam and Even failed – as the ‘Second Adam’ He “is obedient to God in a way that other people – including Adam – are not” (Bock).

And Jesus’ response to this first recorded temptation is essentially that it is more important for Him to wait for the word of the Lord than to eat before the appointed time has arrived. He cares more about His spiritual well being than His physical well being. His flesh is subordinate to His spirit.

This is implied when you realize the rest of the verse he’s quoting goes like this…

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

In other words, the trial in the desert for Israel was a humbling experience to show them that they needed to rely on God and thirst after His word. We need to be hungrier for the Word of God than for chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day!

4:5-8 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, [6] and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. [7] If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” [8] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

Ironies abound here, don’t they! But before we look at that, we have to as this: what kind of kingdom is Satan offering? A worldly kingdom. And the price for that kingdom is not simply a one-time act, but a complete defection from God’s purposes. As Darrell Bock so rightly comments:

Often the temptation is describes as if all Jesus had to do was hit his knees once and all would be his. But he challenge represents a defection from God, and such a defection would have lifetime consequences. Jesus was to give the devil the respect and honor due to God alone. For by bowing down before the devil, Jesus would be accepting his authority and sovereignty. The meaning of the offer was clear: if Jesus would given Satan his heart and bow down before him, Satan would let Jesus rule. It was a high price to ask for an empty claim, but the response would reveal where Jesus’ priorities were.

So essentially, Satan is offering Jesus a kingdom without a cross.

Perhaps Satan didn’t understand this at the time, but “The cross was the pathway to his (Jesus’) exaltation and victory. He has been lifted up and glorified through the cross. Suffering has become the pathway to glory,” says Tom Schreiner (Biblical Theology, Pg. 640).

And this is why we see the close tie between what is going on here and later when Jesus rebukes Peter and actually calls him “Satan” because Peter’s thinking mirrored Satan’s:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [22] And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” [23] But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)

What is Jesus’ primary accusation here? It is that Peter is thinking in the flesh with worldy thoughts. His perspective was not heavily, was it?   Those who are in the world think like the world and are under the rule of this world’s ruler (Satan). But Jesus here in Luke 4 called out Satan’s false choice. Satan couldn’t offer Him a kingdom of any substance! God was the one who owned everything. And because Jesus is the Son of God, this is tantamount to Satan trying to give Jesus what Jesus already owns!

To apprehend this illusion of a kingdom, all Jesus had to worship Satan! No big deal right? Satan was way over his skis on this one! But you see here what he’s doing – he’s pretending that he’s equal with God (which is what got him tossed out of heaven in the first place) and can offer Jesus what it was that Jesus wanted – or what was really rightfully His (a kingdom)!

The arrogance of it! Geldenhuys is right to say, “…the Devil cannot deliver the world’s kingdoms into the power of whosoever he chooses, as he declared in the second temptation. God Himself is, in the final instance, the establisher and dispenser of worldly power.”

Now, of course Satan has been given some power, but all of that power comes from God. He is only allowed to do what he does because God allows it. He is not an absolute ruler of this world, and if there was ever a question about that one only need look at “Jesus’ expulsion of demons” (Block) to see that view doesn’t hold water.

Jesus could well have said “actually since I’m the one who made all this, I’m the one who will be worshiped.” See for example:

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. [11] I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. (Psalm 50:10-11 ESV)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

When we see Satan’s offer here to Jesus we see his and his temptations for what they are – lies, and cheap imitations (illusions, actually) of the real thing!

This reaction from Jesus isn’t what Satan is used to. It seems that today the people in our world gladly worship their idols in hopes that they will offer great satisfaction. They all will do whatever it takes to get an earthly kingdom. But sadly idolatry always leads to slavery and not great freedom and power.

This week Tim Challies sent out a great riff off of CS Lewis’ famous quote about mud pies and the beach. This encapsulates well what our perspectives often are versus what it means to have the mind of Christ:

It is one of C.S. Lewis’ most powerful and most enduring illustrations: An ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. It is a vivid illustration and one that is simple enough to see in the lives of other people—those people who settle for lesser pleasures when the greatest of all pleasures awaits. But I, at least, find it far more difficult to see in my own life. You may find it just as difficult.

  • It is worth asking: What is your mud pie?
  • Is it money? You will never have a bank account rich enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it food? You will never have a meal filling enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it pleasure? You will never have a sexual experience gratifying enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it popularity? You will never have enough friends to satisfy you.
  • Is it stuff? You will never accumulate enough possessions to satisfy you.
  • Is it pornography? You will never find a person naked enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it control? You will never have enough authority to satisfy you.
  • Is it leisure? You will never have enough rest to satisfy you.
  • Is it success? You will never achieve enough to satisfy you.
  • It is freedom? You will never be lawless enough to satisfy you.

And in the light of all those questions and the certainty of the answers, let’s go back to Lewis.

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So it is that Jesus saw Satan’s promises as shallow mud pie imitations of the real thing – and we should too! After all, why spend your life building mud pie kingdoms for Satan when you could be clothed in the rich majesty of the righteousness of Christ for all of eternity?

It’s notable here that Jesus didn’t come to inherit a worldly kingdom bargained for and bought by worship to the Devil, but to inaugurate a spiritual kingdom (and fulfill the everlasting Davidic kingdom – 2 Sam. 7) that would march from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the earth and conquer foe after foe in its wake. His mission and vision for us is big – bigger than ourselves and what we want here and now in the moment. Our mission is to enter into his labor (John 4) and spread His kingdom, not spend endless days in the slave fields of Satan.

4:9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, [10] for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ [11] and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” [12] And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

NOTE on the Scene: Darrell Bock has some great insight on the scene here: “Jesus ends up on the temple’s pinnacle, but the exact locale is uncertain. Some think it is the temple gate, but many think it is the Royal Porch on the temple’s southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kirdon Valley, creating a drop of some 450 feet….According to church tradition, James the Just died from a similar fall from the temple’s pinnacle (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.11).”

As we examine the text from which Satan is quoting, we see it comes from Psalm 91, which says, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you” – here Satan is using scripture very ill indeed. He is twisting it to suit his own purposes – how often do we see that in today’s preaching amongst the popular preachers of our day! But looking at this particular passage we specifically see two things: 1. We see Satan’s capriciousness with human life and 2. We see that he promotes a lifestyle that says “sin first, ask forgiveness later.”

There is a great deal of presumption in Satan’s words. This same temptation though actually works for people today and we’ve seen it again and again have we not? We see people test God by living recklessly and squandering what they have. They pay little heed to their bodies or the gifts God has given them, instead they say “I’ll do things my way and if I’m wrong I’ll just ask God to forgive me.”

And at the heart of this temptation is not Satan’s desire to see God’s power magnified, but rather to see God’s image bearers maligned and killed. Remember, it if Satan’s great desire to kill and harm God’s creation – especially those who are His children.

Of course our Lord doesn’t fall (no pun intended) for the trick. Thus, we see in this third and final test that Satan has been flummoxed and completely beaten. His presumptuousness has been show for what it is, and his twisting of Scriptures hasn’t fooled the Son of Man and the Son of God.

Christ finishes each test exemplifying His role as Prophet, Priest and King – as Henricksen so neatly lays out, “as Highpriest he suffers being tempted (Heb. 2:18); as Prophet he thrice appeals to Scripture (verses 4, 8, 12); and as King he gives battle to his chief opponent and triumphs over him.” I love that!

4:13-14 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. [14] And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. [15] And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

NOTE: here it says he was “glorified” by all, and I have made mention of the way this word “glorified” can be used in my notes on John’s gospel. Commonly we think of the word used to praise God or sing praises to God, or simply the glory of light or radiance that emanates from God’s presence. But in uses like this we see a fuller version of the former idea – but its about more than singing praise. There is this underlying meaning that has to do with pronouncing the virtues or character qualities of a person. You are magnifying so that others can see, what it is that is good about this person. So there is a fuller sense to “glorify” than simply to sing praise, and it has to do with the content of that praise. You are pointing to the why and not simply the who; you are proclaiming the character of God to the nations (so to speak). This brings him glory.

Jesus comes out of the desert triumphant, whereas Moses didn’t even make it out of the desert, nor did the first generation of the Israelites!

The Israelites broke the covenant before Moses even made it down the mountain! They couldn’t get past “Go” before they were in breach of the covenant with God.

But Jesus is the “true Israel”, the one who succeeded where Israel failed. As Burk Parson’s said:

Only Jesus completely fulfilled all of the Father’s righteous laws for Israel. As the only faithful Israelite, Jesus is an Israelite according to the flesh, and He enjoyed all the benefits that come from being born into the nation that possessed the oracles of God. As the faithful Israelite Jesus is the true Israel because He is the true Son of God (Matt. 2:13–14).

Often times in the OT Israel would be called God’s “vine”, and when Jesus said “I am the true vine” (John 15), he was saying that He is the “true Israel” the one who obeyed perfectly and fulfilled the law perfectly in order to give us His righteousness.

Commenting on John’s portrait of Jesus as central to all things, Tom Schreiner says, “He is the true vine – that is, the true Israel. He is the true bread, which in contrast to manna, bestows eternal life” (Biblical Theology, pg. 640).

And unlike Adam, Jesus withstood all temptation – even though, as Geldenhuys says, “He had found Himself in the most unfavorable circumstances when the devil launched his most ruthless attacks against Him, He was nevertheless victorious. What contrast this forms with Adam, who fell although he was living at that time under the most favorable circumstances!”

Adam fell and plunged the race into sin, and Israel failed countless times in the wilderness to love and obey God despite all He had done for them. However, contra the Israelites, Jesus here comes triumphantly out of the wilderness. “His time of preparation and testing was now finished. He had succeeded in the wilderness where Israel had failed. He was God’s obedient Son in contrast to Adam. He commenced his public ministry full of the Spirit’s power; equipped by the Spirit to carry out the will of God” (Schreiner, NT Theology, pg. 443).

This victory was emblematic of his ministry as a whole, and it is because of His final victory at the cross that we can know our own failings are drowned in the deep pool of His success.

NOTE: As we wrap up this section and look into the next, we’ll how Jesus, filled with the Spirit, has transitioned into His mission here on Earth. He has finished the preparatory stages and is now going to proclaim the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and advance the most significant three years of historical narrative and spiritual importance up until and since.

 

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Weekend Reading: July 3, 2014

Happy 4th of July Weekend!  This edition of Weekend Reading is coming to you one day early due to the holiday weekend.  You’ll probably note some lighter reading below, and I hope you enjoy all the articles, videos, and blog posts!

50 years ago today Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill.  Here’s the NYTimes front page and story.

Why Hobby Lobby Matters – Russell Moore on the importance of the Hobby Lobby decision.

Christie on Hobby Lobby – I like to document moments like this because later down the line when we weigh who should be our next President, its good to remember where they stood on important issues. I’ll let you read and judge for yourself if Gov. Christie’s reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling is satisfactory…

43 Inconceivable Facts About the Princess Bride – if you’re a fan of these Buzzfeed lists and love the movie, then you’ll read this to the end and chuckle all the way! h/t Katie Wenzel

May You Live in Interesting Times – RC Sproul, Jr. has a terrific article that I hope you find encouraging.

Charles Krauthammer on the immigration issue – hard to argue with his point.  About a 7 min. video. Best quote, “If fences don’t work, why is there one around the White House?”

If you enjoyed the World Cup (I didn’t watch a single second of it) then likely you’ll enjoy this compilation of GIFs from Tim Howard’s 16 saves in the final (losing) effort.

What is Your Mud Pie?  – Just a fantastic article from Tim Challies who examines how C.S. Lewis’ famous quote still rings true today.

That doggon Russia! – They just vetoed the idea of filming Netflix political hit ‘House of Cards’ in the UN chamber.  Personally I’ve watched several episodes of this show and the best adjective I can think of to sum it up is “raunchy.”

Patriotic Musicals and the Church – a very thoughtful article from Trevin Wax on why younger evangelicals are uncomfortable with the church being so patriotic on the 4th. h/t Parris Payden

Why College Now? – Stephen Nichols writes a piece about taking up the torch of higher education for the next generation. What makes this blog post interesting is that he writes it from the perspective of Jonathan Edwards, and how Edwards’ father (a Harvard Alum) ended up sending his son to a brand new college (Yale) because Harvard had swerved from their original commitment to Biblical standards.

Minute Physics examines whether Legolas could really see 5 leagues away – if you’re not familiar with these videos, check them out, lots of fun!

A Story of Faithfulness – Here is a 25 minute video about how the flagship seminary in the Southern Baptist Convention was rescued from the darkness of liberalism and biblical error.

Reformation Montana – Thanks to Parris Payden who snagged links to Voddie Baucham’s 4 part series on the Christian Family.  Session 1Session 2, Session 3Session 4

Pressing on Toward Maturity – are you stuck in the same routine in your Christian walk.  Check out this sermon I preached this past week.

Four Questions to Keep Close to Your Wallet – the DG blog has a quick and helpful post that should cause us to be introspective about the way we spend our money. h/t Parris Payden

Pressing on To Maturity

For the last two weeks I’ve been preaching a message from Hebrews 5 and 6 to several different churches.  Below are my notes on this passage and I hope you enjoy them!  I would just add a disclaimer that they are my raw preaching notes.  So not every thought is written long-form, there are several footnotes with other thoughts at the bottom, and everything is in bullet form.  It this doesn’t turn you off, then I hope you are able to enjoy the study!

PJW

Press On Toward Maturity

Hebrews 5:8-6:3

Personal Note and Background

This series of verses has had an outsized impact on my own life and walk with the Lord. It was these verses that God used to spur me on to learn more, to read more, to draw closer to the Lord and to teach what I learn to others.  When I read this passage several years ago I thought  (rightly) that “I can’t teach anyone now”, but realized that my inability wasn’t God telling me not to teach, but rather it was Him calling me to learn and grow closer to Him in obedience in order to teach when the time presented itself.

The hallmark of this text is a warning to believers not to live their lives as introverted and covetous people.  We are to be people marked by inward heart transformation and a mind renewed in the knowledge of God, which we can readily share with others.

As Moses says, this Word of God is our “very life” – surely it is worthy of our attention today.

The Text: Hebrews 5:8-6:3

 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits.

I want us to focus on 3 Key Points we must take away from this passage, which we will see rise up again and again in our reading today:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

The Biblical Theology

What the author of Hebrews says here, is not an isolated teaching, but reflects what we see throughout the Scriptures from the immutable plans of God for his image bearers, namely that God desires for us to know Him more intimately and to repent of the sin that hinders us from doing so:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, [46] he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. [47] For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 ESV)[i]

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
(Psalm 145:4-6 ESV)
 

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19] and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:18-19)

***Isaiah clearly has an eschatological purpose here, and I will talk later about how Paul sees God’s glory as currently mediated through the Bible (2 Cor. 3:18)

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:44-45)

***Jesus connects knowing God soteriologically and says it’s the results of His Spirit’s work within us

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

***The work of learning from God the Spirit ultimately brings Him glory, and is His plan for us

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

From the law, wisdom literature, the prophets, our Lord Himself, as well as the Apostle Paul, there has been a call to deepen our knowledge of the Almighty, His ways and His Son, and to lean on His Spirit’s power in order to shine that light[ii] of knowledge to all nations[iii] as well as with our own families and friends.

The Situation/Context – 5:8-10

Now as we look again to the context of today’s passage, let’s once again examine verses 8-10.  The Author is expounding on some deep Christological truths – mostly pertaining to the Priesthood of Jesus – that required a foundational understanding already in place.  We just need to glean a few things to understand the context…

    1. That Jesus, though divine, was fully man and “learned” obedience – vs. 8
    2. That Jesus was perfectly righteous and that righteousness enabled him to be our source for righteousness and salvation – the very fountainhead from which we would derive our right standing before a holy God – vs. 9
    3. That these things contributed to the fact that Jesus is a priest, not an ordinary priest, but one “after the order of Melchizedek” which is an order both eternal and personal in type. There are many OT types but Melchizedek was the only type who represented not simply the offices of Christ (Messiah, King, Shepherd etc.), but also his person (eternal, and without father or mother).

–       Needless to say these great truths – these are deep truths – and they aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to someone still stuck on the basics.  One cannot understand or appreciate the need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, the importance of His being fully man, the significance of Christ’s non-Levitical (and eternal) priesthood, or the typological significance of this enigmatic character Melchizedek if one is still learning the basic truths upon which these are built.[iv]

And so he stops and levels this charge against them (read verses 11-12) 

CHARGE #1 – Dull of Hearing – 5:11-12

–       As we read in verses 11 and 12 its almost as if the author stops mid course as he extolls the virtues of these great truths pertaining to Christ, and has to stop and say, ‘you know, I’d go on here, but its obvious that you aren’t ready for it – even though I have “much to say” still!’   He’s stymied by the stagnation of these church members.

–       They ought to be teachers but instead they need someone to still teach them the basics. They come to church every week and never apply their minds past the elementary truths.  They have regressed.[v] They have become “dull of hearing.” (nōthros – “no-thross” – slow, sluggish[vi], indolent, dull, languid)

–       This is not saying they ought all to be teachers in the sense we have today as one called to preach, but rather they must be able to convey their beliefs to others – this is at the heart of “making disciples” (Matt. 28).

–       John Owen rightly explains that this charge against them isn’t aimed at their being slow mentally, or having a learning disability.  His charge is a moral charge “you treasure not them up in your hearts, consciences, and memories, but let them slip out, and forget them” says Owen.  He continues “The natural dullness of our minds in receiving spiritual things, is, it may be, included; but it is our depraved affections, casting us on a neglect of our duty, that is condemned.”

–       Therefore the principle problem here is not primarily an intellectual one, nor is it a communication problem on the part of the Apostle, rather it is primarily a problem within the hearts of these Hebrews, and within our own hearts as well.

–       “By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interesting in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15). Mark emphasizes that the same malady afflicts the disciples.  They suffered from hard hearts that resisted the revelation of God in Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:17, 21). They failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching, and their failure cannot be attributed merely to intellectual incapacity.” – Thomas Schreiner[vii]

–       In short, the sins of pride, covetousness and possibly laziness are to blame.  We love the world more than we love God.  We love Monday night football more than we love reading the Scripture. We love our hobbies more than our conversations with the Lord.  And where we spend our time and money is an accurate reflection of where our affections truly lie.

–       Matthew Henry says, “It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding”

–       This is why James rightly says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21 ESV)

–       We must also not misunderstand and think that the “elementary truths” are not precious, that is not what the author is stating.[viii]

–       The basics of the gospel are the foundation for understanding greater mysteries appertaining to the gospel, and to what the author is getting at here, namely the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this context, His priesthood.

–       Thus to be “DULL OF HEARING” is to have hearts loaded down with other matters – worldly matters, and minds that are clouded with other priorities. These are sins that block the blood flow and clot the arteries of our faith, causing our thirst for the knowledge of God to dry up.

–       We need hearts whose desires are to follow hard after Christ, not spend endless years on spiritual life support!

And why is this?  Because you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

CHARGE #2 – Unskilled in the Word of Righteousness – 5:13-14a

–       Philip Hughes writes, “The author is now seeking, as it were, to wean them from the debility of the milk-stage, into which they have sunk back, and bring them on to the solid diet of the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, who, as their Melchizedeck, is the King of Righteousness (7:1).”

–       When the author describes the “mature” the Greek word is teleios (tel-ay-oss), which has the idea of something brought to its end, completeness, it is perfect, it is fully grown, it is consummated.

–       The immature are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness.  They don’t know how to handle their Bible, and consequently they are not living a life in accordance with God’s will – they aren’t pressing on toward “completeness” (Phil. 3:12)[ix]

–       This admonition comes in the context of learning, therefore the call is for God’s children to have discernment about sound teaching and a developed taste for the sweetness of God’s Word.

o   Children have a taste for simple foods, simple drinks, and simple deserts.  Adults, however, desire couscous, cappuccino, and Crème Brulee – not peanut butter, apple juice, and popsicles.

–       NOW there are consequences to being “unskilled” in the Word of God. When you are lazy in your learning, you hurt the body of Christ and cause other people (and yourself) pain in at least two ways:

1. You use the Sword of the Word in an unwieldy way and lead others astray, therefore causing great pain and spreading sour milk (to use the author’s dairy term) around the church.

2. You are completely impotent as a comforter to those who are hurting, in need of wisdom, or exhortation.  This means you cannot effectively correct and guide your children, encourage your wife, lead others in a Bible study, or share with those in pain. You’ve essentially benched yourself

–       The “mature” have a right knowledge of God resulting in the ability to discern between good and evil in all things. This “discerning” is shorthand for living in such a way that reflects God’s work within you – it means loving others and God, and is the result of a renewed mind and transformed heart.

–       Being able to discern between good and evil, then, is the fruit of a life transformed by God.  It is the evidence of faith, and the outward reality of a changed heart within us.[x]   And it is God’s prerogative to use the instrument of His Word and Spirit to do this.

But how is that achieved? How is it said that we obtain this discernment?

The Remedy: Discernment Attained by “Constant Practice” – 5:14b

–       Here we learn how this discernment is achieved: by constant practice.  This means, no doubt, that we must be continually abiding in the Word of God if we’re to grow closer to God, and live out lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

–       We would do well to examine what Paul says about the nature of “renewing our minds” and the close connection between being “renewed” and the ability to “discern the will of God.”

o   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

–       Therefore, the discerning Christian/growing Christian is marked by time in Scripture and prayer. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture Reading, Scripture Memorization, Scripture meditation, and prayer.[xi]  We must inculcate His truths into our minds and lives.

–       This means a real application of our time, energy, and even finances to learning the deep things of God. [xii]

–       Let me suggest then that you do a few practical things:

o   Read the Word Daily: spend time taking in several chapters of the word each day.  This is more than simply one or two verses.

o   Memorize Scripture:[xiii] Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”

o   Extended Times of Prayer: Praying for 30-60 min. greatly increases our love of time with the Lord and grows us in unexpected ways.

o   Read Good Christian Authors: Many of us spend our time reading all fiction, or all one field or another.  We need to be diverse in our reading, but first and foremost we need to read good Christian authors (I’m not talking TD Jakes or Joel Olsteen), slowly working our way up to deeper more mature reading.  Start with the modern day Christian classics: Packer’s ‘Knowing God’, Sproul’s ‘Holiness of God’, Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’, and Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’.

–       Furthermore, it is the universal witness of Scripture that calls attention to ITSELF as the instrument by which God changes us and blesses us with a closer knowledge of Him: Consider just a few examples…

o   David begins the Psalms with this important exhortation, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

o   And Paul writes in 2 Corinthians the following, “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 3:18)

–       We behold that “glory” today by reading the Word of God.  The glory of God is mediated through the written Word of God and effectively applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. This is what transforms us by “constant practice.”

–       Matthew Henry rightly states, “The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.

–       And yet again, we must read as much with our hearts as with our minds, applying both to the task.  As C.H. Spurgeon says:

o   “If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart.”[xiv]

And so now you see the thrust of what we’re getting at here.  We have a heart problem when it comes to learning about God and it is only through the implanted Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are changed and transformed. And that leads the Apostle to his final exhortation…

The Exhortation – 6:1-2

–       “Leave” here does not mean “forsake”, for the author clarifies by stating “not laying again a foundation”, in other words you need to start building on the foundation.

–       Imagine a home where the builders laid the foundation, got the plumbing and electrical set in, built the cement blocks structure and decided to take a break…for a few years!  The structure is exposed to the elements until the rest of the house can be built upon it. Rain hits it. Snow sits upon it in winter…and the heat of the sun bakes it in the summer.  Left as it is, water creeps into crevices and freezes, thereby expanding and cracking the cement blocks. The process repeats itself over and over, until finally decay starts to take place.  So the construction crew has to come and rebuild the foundation again.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that these men and women in the church had let that foundation rot and deteriorate over and over and over.  They just kept on rebuilding!  The outline was already in place; they’d done it before.  No problem, just replace those blocks!  We need to build upon the foundation, not become so complacent in our learning that that we’re stuck in a perpetual process of groundbreaking!!!

–       This is not to say that we don’t cherish the foundation, of course. For we continually point people to the foundation points of the gospel – and we too need to be continually reminded about them and revel in their glories![xv]  However, we build upon this foundation in order to plumb the deeper mysteries and glories of Christ.[xvi] 

–       At the heart of the Spirit’s work within us is His desire for us to know Christ more. Not to move on from the Gospel, but to better understand and appreciate the profundity of it glory.

–       We are called to “go on toward maturity”, to bring to fullness that which God has started within us.  We do not do this in our flesh, but in cooperation with His Holy Spirit who applies the Word we read to our hearts (which I will mention more in just a minute)

–       Therefore we must be continually putting ourselves in a position to learn more, to hear the Word more, to pray more.  These are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life!  It is in these things that “solid food” is apprehended and consumed.

Finally, the Apostle does not stop with this exhortation, but goes on to deliver a comforting reminder (read verse 3)

 

The Reminder: God is Sovereign – 6:3

–       Along with the exhortation, the author delivers an indicative statement about the character of God.  You see, God never gives commands (imperatives) without first laying the foundation for the ability to obey those commands.  This ability, this foundation, is always grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God the Spirit working within us.

–       Verse 3 reminds us that all we do, all we strive for, is done by both the permission and the power of God.  He is the one who is cleansing our hearts and renewing our minds and He will give us the faith to press on, and the discernment to do His will. For as Paul says:

o   “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. [2] For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. [3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

–       Furthermore, we can rest in the fact that it is God – the all powerful – who is working within us.  Yet we are exhorted to obey, and held responsible as new creations to work toward holiness.  For as Paul says elsewhere:

 o   Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

–       Therefore we note once again that God desires for us to know Him.  And it is His working in and through us that will help us do so.  Yet we as Christians are responsible to seek His face, to confess our sins, to pray and ask the Lord to change the desires of our hearts and conform our will to His in order that we might be able to discern what is right and that from a changed heart and a renewed mind, we will please and honor Him.

 

Conclusion

And so in all of this we again see the three things I mentioned above:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

My message today has been mostly aimed at those who profess the lordship of Jesus Christ and are followers and believers in His name.  However, if you have been listening to this message and feel a stirring in your heart to know God, then I would implore you to seek Him while He may be found.  Act on that conviction and surrender your heart to His call.  We are all sinners, we have all acted against the law of God which has been emblazoned on our consciences.  We know right from wrong, yet we have spurned the Lord and Creator of all that is right.  All men will one day give account for their behavior during this life.  Only in repentance and faith in Jesus are you able to be saved from the consequences of your sin.  Jesus not only promises (and delivers) forgiveness, He promises and gives a healed heart and transformed life to those who call on Him and believe in His name.  You must trust yourself, your heart and your soul and your entire life to His command.  If you have come to a point where you realize the condemning nature of your sin, and the need for salvation, then I urge you to surrender and be forgiven and receive eternal life in the name of Jesus.

For those of you who have heard this message and are followers of Christ, I urge you to take this calling seriously and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Realize that God is calling you not to a life of intellectual boredom, but to a renewed mind and transformed heart — a mind which sees terrors as joys and trials as blessings.  A mind and heart that look through the gray havens of today to the eternal riches of His presence in heaven.

We can do this, as Christians, by prayerful meditation on the Word of God.  By asking God to change our hearts’ desires to match that of His Son’s.  By continual “hearing of the Word” and submitting your lives joyfully to its teaching.  This will bring you both peace and joy and give you great strength when all else seems to fail.

None of this can be done alone, can it?  That is why we have the fellowship of the church.  And so I admonish you to stir up one another toward good works, toward meditation on the word, toward times of prayer together, and apart.  That you will together as a congregation seek the face of the Lord with all diligence.

We will do this with His great help, and with David we say:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! [9] Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! [10] Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! [11] Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! [12] Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, [13] O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:8-13) 

 

[i] This is also seen in Exodus 33:11, 17 and 18.  Moses is talking to God and God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (vs. 17). This follows close on the heels of verse 11 which stated, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…” So what we see is that God has initiated a personal relationship with Moses (keep in mind this is in the Old Testament, for those of you who think God has somehow changed and is more loving and personal now because of Jesus).  Moses’ reaction is what our reaction ought to be when God changed our heart, “Please show me your glory” (vs. 18b).  Moses’ reaction is “I want to know you more!”  That is the proper reaction toward a God who has entered into a personal relationship with us!

[ii] (Is. 49:6, 60:3)

[iii] Matthew 5:16; Acts 13:47

[iv] Owen is right to cite 1 Corinthians 2 which says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46).  Paul then goes on to say, “ [10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

[v] Hughes makes a wonderful point that the fact that they have “become” dull of hearing means that at one point they were not dull, they have regressed.  Therefore it is not a mental, or intellectual issue he’s dealing with, nor is it a communication problem with what the author is saying to them, rather it is a problem of the heart.

[vi] In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul says, “The Greek word translated “dull” reappears in 6:12 (translated as “sluggish”), suggesting that the danger of spiritual laziness is in view throughout this section.

[vii] This quote from Schreiner is from his New Testament Biblical Theology, Page 512.

[viii] These are foundational truths, as John MacArthur says, “the phrase is equivalent to the gospel of salvation by faith rather than works.

[ix] Again we see the call to Spiritual maturity, which is more than simply “intellectual sophistication” (Sproul). And while none of us will reach our “completeness” in this life, yet we agree with Paul who says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

[x] As Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a)

[xi] I like what Tony Reinke says on reading through the Bible in a year, “Reading the Bible from cover to cover in 2013 is a noble goal. And it’s a goal that positions us well to commune with God. Keep communion as your aim, and remember the words of Scripture are there for us to know God’s heart, to commune with the Living Christ, and to respond appropriately to his beauty and to his voice.”  The thing this passage really stresses as a result of diving deep in the word of God is the ability to have discernment between what is good and what is bad (vs. 14).  But there are obviously many other benefits to spending time in God’s word, which flow from a renewed mind, and a transformed heart.  Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-we-read-the-bible

[xii] I don’t know where to put this, or if it really even fits in, but there is such a stark contrast between our own affections and those of the angels in Zechariah 3.  Here we see that they are completely obsessed with adorning Joshua (the High Priest at the time) with the best robe etc. in order that God will be pleased.  Their minds are continually thinking “how can I please God in my actions?”  They are obsessed with that!  So also was the Apostle Paul.  When you take the entire corpus of his work, his writing, you’ll see a man so transfixed on Jesus that in order to summarize his entire mission to the Corinthians he says that he resolved to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified.  Christ permeates Paul’s writing to such an extent that it would be impossible to read around it.  Paul’s entire lens of thinking was seen through the Lordship prism of Jesus.  Jesus was all to him.  So should it be with us – but this means we must have hearts that are desirous of this and not simply our own obsessions and hobbies.  Everything must play the servant to Christ. All desires and all hobbies, all people and all family must be His second fiddle.

[xiii] Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7). http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-memorize-scripture

[xiv] He says a ton of great things here.  Just a few sentences later Spurgeon goes on to say, “It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.”   http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1503.htm

[xv] Peter O’Brien says it well, “the author is not suggesting that they should leave behind the gospel for some form of deeper or fuller instructions for initiates. There is no proposal here that the listeners should abandon these basic truths. Indeed, the author reminds them of some of the essential elements of the foundation by immediately listing them. His point is that they are not to lay again the basis of elementary teaching, but to make progress by building on it. The solid food they need is a development of the themes of repentance and faith, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment’, in the light of the author’s exposition of the high priesthood of Christ.”

[xvi] In the context of Hebrews 5 the call is to understand better the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.

Most Influential Books Part 2

I’ve begun a short series of posts about books which have greatly impacted my life. I mentioned in the first post that sometimes a book doesn’t have to be brilliant to have a major impact on your life. Sometimes it has to simply have the right message (assuming it is a truthful message, of course) at the right time. I’m a firm believer that books change lives and see us through the bright and the dull and the pain.

For the introduction to the series, and more background you can go here and read more.  In the meantime, here (in no particular order) goes installment number two in the series…

  • The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy – These two need to go together because I heard/read them closely together and so their impact came in tandem. These are both children’s’ books and each one is part of a whole series of Narnia books written by C.S. Lewis. They were two of my favorites growing up and their value has held throughout my life. They enlivened my imagination and taught me to love literature at an early age. From a chronological standpoint the Magicians’ Nephew is first, though Lewis wrote them all out of order, and they were published out of order as well (to complicate matters!).  The whole series is worth reading to your children, if not to yourself, for their literary appeal, and their wonderful storyline.  The Horse and His Boy is such a great story that it can hardly be left off of any fiction list from the 20th century (in my opinion), and the Magician’s Nephew is highly enjoyable – though I think its better to have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and others first.  Only then will you appreciate all the little story clues Lewis drops into the mix (I would point your attention to such things as how the lamppost got into Narnia in the first place…).
  • The Holiness of God – This is a modern classic in the field of Christian books for the layman or average joe. I can’t remember now whether I read this prior to ‘Chosen by God’ or afterward, but it was enjoyable because of the tension that Sproul showed within God’s character between mercy and justice etc. I began to see God not simply as my “celestial bellhop” who comes to me in times of trouble, but rather as the God or all the universe whose majesty is both awesome and awful. In many ways, this book helped dispense of the false god I had mentally built up over the years and replace it with a God whose holiness is beyond what I had ever contemplated. If nothing else, this book will help you worship with a more complete view of who God actually is. And if you’re a newer believer, you’ll grow immensely from this study.
  • The Valley of Vision – Before I taught my first Sunday school lesson at Dublin Baptist Church I was so nervous that I found myself almost shaking. Recently I had come into possession of this book (Christmas present in 2010 from my mom), and I had “coincidently” brought it with me in the car on the way to church.  I have no idea why I brought it – at least I didn’t at the time. Arriving too early for the lesson, I decided to get donuts for the class, and as I sat in the Tim Hortons parking lot in Dublin trying to pull myself together, it was this book that helped me pour my heart out to God and seek His help at that moment. The humility and strength of this prayer book is unparalleled.  It helps me time and again remember how to pray: with all my heart, soul and strength.
  • The Ultimate Sales Machine – I read this Chet Holmes book in 2009/2010 when my business partner and I were learning how to do business and sell etc. When we combined this book with some suggestions and help from a business coach, the book really impacted my approach to sales and ultimately led to the building of a multi-million dollar company. I don’t pretend to be an expert at judging business books, but this one was very helpful to me.
  • Knowing Scripture – This may be one of the most important little books I’ve read prior to much of my teaching. The principles here kept me from making countless errors and committing numerous textual indiscretions!  If you are going to teach a Sunday School, Bible study or just want to get more from the text of Scripture, then this is your book. I don’t think any lay teacher can afford not to read this book.

Stay tuned for my next installment of Most Influential Books…

Temples of the Living God: Maintaining Sexual Purity

Introduction

Almost as soon as I heard that I would be teaching on this topic, the idea hit me to approach it in a different sort of way. Moral, and indeed sexual purity, is something the church doesn’t like to talk much about because it’s uncomfortable. We like to think of this area as off limits, but we can’t do that. You see we can’t have lives that are compartmentalized in that way. Our lives, and indeed our body (and minds) as we will see today, are to be a fragrant offering to the Lord.

Paul says this:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 ESV)

So today I want to look at two reasons why it is God’s will for us to abstain for sexual immorality, namely, that from His perspective, we are His holy temples, and from our perspective, we shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the pleasure and joy only He can bring!

Therefore, it is crucial for us to understand what it means to be a temple of the living God, and what ramifications this reality holds for our lives as Christians.

Examine Yourself

However, before we look at what it means to be a temple of the living God, I want to first look at an important passage in 1 Corinthians 6 which precedes Paul’s own discussion on the matter. He says:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that if you practice these things over and over again and show no sign of repentance, then you need to ask yourself if you’re even in Christ to begin with.  As he says in another letter to the Corinthians:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6] I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

His point here is that if you are behaving this way continually, and show no guilt, remorse, or desire to change your ways, then it is likely that Jesus Christ is not in you.

Therefore, test yourselves. Examine your life.  Do you constantly desire evil?  Or do you run to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ when you sin. Do you live in order to please Him, or yourselves?

If you can’t answer this question in an affirmative way, then you need to consider the cross and what Christ has done for you.  You need to right now repent of your sins and stop walking in the dark – cast those cares upon Jesus, friend.  He loves you, He cares for you, and He is the only one who can set you free from the chains of sin – those chains will eventually drag you down to death and hell.

Now, let me continue on in our lesson…

1. We are Temples of the Living God

Numerous times throughout the New Testament we have Paul, Peter, and Christ referring to our (or even Jesus’) bodies as temples of the living God.

In the case of the first passage we read from Thessalonians, the authors of our study guide point out that Thessalonica was a place of immorality – as were many other places in the Roman Empire.  Their sexual practices were lewd, and some of the worship to pagan gods involved ritual prostitution.  Their temples were polluted and evil places.  Contrast that with the call to purity that God has commanded, and we see a major difference in how these early Christians were going to have to live.

One very good reference to our bodies being God’s temples comes in the Corinthians passage immediately following the passage we read earlier in chapter six, where Paul says this:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ESV)

Therefore we are temples of God for two reasons.  First, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  God of very God who no longer simply meets the high priest behind the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem.  Now He is filling us, teaching us, guiding us and leading us into all righteousness.

Second (and this is very closely tied to the first) we are God’s temples because we are “in Christ.” The verse above says we are “members of Christ.” Because of His headship, and our being “in Him” as part of the mystical body of the church and bride of Christ, we are part of what He is, and we are joined to Him.

Christ is the Fulfillment of the Temple

Let me also elaborate on a point I just made about us being “in” Christ and that making us temples of God because I think this is a special piece of Christology that we need to treasure in our hearts. Keep that fact of us being “in” Christ in the back of your mind for a moment, and let us go to a passage from John 2, and I think what we will see here is that Jesus considered His own body to be the temple of the living God:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 ESV)

NOTE: There is also a prophetic element in the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 in that when Caiaphas defiled God’s temple (Jesus Christ) the physical temple inevitably had to be torn down. God destroyed the Herodian temple in 70 A.D. 

This is why we are “in Him” and why we are considered temples of God, namely we are temples because HE is a temple.  Our identity is in Him and who He is.  We have been adopted and added to the olive tree (Rom. 11).  We have been joined Christ through His amazing cross work and the Father’s plan of adoption.

Called to be Holy Temples

Now, if we are temples of the living God, does it not shed some light upon why Christ calls us to be holy?  This is a theme in the New Testament – you shall be holy for I am holy.

Notice how Paul connects the two concepts:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)

Peter affirms Paul:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Consequently, when you hear the word “holy”, what do you think about?  In his book ‘The Holiness of God’, R.C. Sproul says that when the word “holy” is used of God it can take on “more than just separateness.” He says, “His holiness is also transcendent. The word transcendence means literally ‘to climb across.’ It is defined as ‘exceeding usual limits.’ To transcend is it so rise above something, to go above and beyond a certain limit. When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness…When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way.”

Where does that leave us earthly beings who are called on by God to be “holy?”  Sproul says this, “In every case the word “holy” is used to express something other than a moral or ethical quality. The things that are holy are things that are set apart, separated from the rest. They have been consecrated to the Lord and to His service.

The temple of the Lord was designed to be a place where purity reigned. Where the sacred was held in honor.  Entering the temple meant leaving the profane and entering into the holy.  And like the temple of old, we are called to be different, holy not profane.  Pure and spotless lambs in the shepherds care.  As members of the church, we are by definition the “called out ones” (ecclesia).  We are to be different than the world.  What is the point of this?  Namely this: that the world is not pure and therefore because we are called to be pure, we will necessarily also be different. We are set apart and therefore our calling is to keep ourselves unstained by the pollution of the sin and sinful ideas of the world (James 1:27)

Driving Out Our Sin

In light of this, it makes sense, does it not, that Christ would drive out the moneychangers from the physical temple in order to cleanse it.  During our study of John we talked about this a little bit, but I want to show Jesus’ temple cleansing in a different light.

Let us go back to that passage in John 2, only this time picking up slightly earlier in the chapter:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)

So we also must drive out the sin from our own temples in order that they be used to glorify God.

Therefore, we need to be extremely mindful of the fact that our bodies are a habitation for very God of God, the holy One, the Spirit of the Living God who created all things and spoke the world into existence.  This is the God who dwells in approachable light!  This is the God who, when Isaiah was called into his presence, curled up in the corner and shielded his eyes and realized the disgust of his mouth.

Why did Isaiah realize this sinfulness about himself?  When he encountered God in His glory he learned more about Isaiah I think, than he learned about God.  He realized that in the presence of God all things were revealed.  Nothing remained hidden!

Jesus said that, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

What Christ said about the final Day of Judgment applies even to us today (a good example of Pauline “already/not yet” theology). We have the Spirit of God within us – we can’t hide anything from Him!  And if we pollute our temple, He is going to be grieved and we will know about it!

Therefore, we need to remember to view our bodies as a habitation of the living God. Think also about what kinds of activities went on in the temple during Bible times. There was reading, prayer, teaching, and sacrifices. Well listen to what Paul says in Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

And..

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 ESV)

In other words, “wake up and realize that God is using your mind and your body for His service!”  You were created for God. Augustine said, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you…The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

2. The Motivation to be Holy and Pure

During the Jewish feast of the tabernacles each year, the people would celebrate with joy and march from the poll of Siloam to the temple where they would carry water and pour out the water (and sometimes wine) before the alter into (I believe) other basins there.  On the way, they would sing Psalms and celebrate in gladness.  The temple was a place of joy and celebration, and in many ways it symbolized the peak of intimacy with God here on earth.  It was His dwelling place with man.  So being fulfilled as a human being meant to be in and around the presence of God – around His temple. Worshiping, singing, praying, learning and so on. Being at the temple was a little piece of heaven here on earth: A shallow glimpse of the eternal and the transcendent.

Therefore, we are called to be pure and holy and to treat our bodies as temples of the living God, first because God commands it, and second, because when we devote mind, body and emotions to God as living sacrifices we are joyful and fulfilled. God’s commands are for our joy!

Too often we settle for much less than we were meant for in this world – and the same goes with sexual purity, and sinful rebellion.  We drink of the pleasures of this world and are not satisfied because we are eating poison!

The Psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

John Piper puts it this way:

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

And C.S. Lewis famously said:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

And in our book this week, Randy Alcorn says this:

“I must choose between sexual fantasies and intimacy with God. I cannot have both. When I see that God offers me joys and pleasures that sexual fantasies don’t, this is a breakthrough. But that breakthrough will come only when I pursue God, making Him the object of my quest – and when I realize that fantasies are only a cheap God-substitute. Running to them is running from God.”

And this really is the conclusion of the matter. God has made us to be like His Son.  We bear His image, and therefore it makes all the sense in the world that because we are “in” Him we are also to be temples of the living God. Temples are places of holiness, of otherness, of worship and sacrifice unto God. And finally, we are not going to fully realize what it is to be fully satisfied with God until we give up the paltry things of this world, until we exchange our mud pies for a holiday at the ocean. We need to see God for who He is, our living Head, and we need to see ourselves as His members: mind, body, and soul. Therefore let us act in such a manner that is pleasing to Him, and joyful for us.

Study Notes 8-19-12

This section covers John 6:48-54 and begins with Christ’s reaffirmation that He is the Bread of Life.  I regret that I didn’t record audio from today’s lesson, I simply forgot to do that, but hopefully these notes are sufficient for those who might have missed the lesson today.

6:48 I am the bread of life.

It is perhaps significant that Christ repeats this again and again. And it got me thinking once again about the importance of what He’s saying.  I see an obvious parallel between His desire to feed His sheep and the instructions He left with Peter at the end of this gospel.  He said to Peter:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  –  John 21:15-17

When Christ repeats something it means that its important, in fact, that was a sign of emphasis during New Testament times.  They didn’t bold or italicize words, they simply repeated them.  And what He says to us here three times He also tells Peter three times, namely that He is the Bread of Life, and that Peter (and the church) was to feed on Him and to pass that food along to others constantly and faithfully.

How Does This Look in Your Home?

But what does this look like in practice?  In your life, are you feeding on Christ, and what does that look like?  What it ought to look like is a constant devotion and passion for the Word.  You ought to be immersing yourselves in the Word as much as possible.  Those whom you love, you spend as much time with as possible, and the same is true with Christ.  That means stoking the passions of Scripture reading.  It means spending more time in prayer.  It means meditating on and memorizing Scripture.

6:49-50 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 

Much of this I have covered earlier, but Christ repeats it here again for a reason, namely to bookend this discussion by getting back to his earlier analogy about the nature of fulfillment and eternal life.  As Ryle says, “We must never be ashamed of repetition in religious life.”

At first Christ had given the example of manna, but had then explained the nature of salvation, and now He comes back to explain once again (with the fresh thought of His teaching on God’s sovereignty in mind) how what He said earlier fits into the discussion on His role in their salvation.

One thing that Christ adds here that He hadn’t mentioned earlier, is that, “the bread that I will give for life of the world is my flesh.”

This is simply another way of stating, “mankind can only achieve life through me.  Through my life, death and resurrection I will achieve righteousness and justification and finally glorification for humanity.”

Does He mean all of humanity?  Surely not, for that contradicts what has been said elsewhere (in fact just earlier in His explanation of God’s sovereignty).  But rather the word “world” is used to represent mankind as a race.  He is obviously not advocating universalism.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

I wanted address this particular verse separately.  Christ concludes this section by alluding to His flesh being the life He is giving (an elusion to the cross).  Ryle says, “The thought here is only an expansion of the one contained in the 35th verse…The meaning is that the soul of the man who feeds on Christ by faith, shall never die and be cast away in hell. There is no condemnation for him. His sins are put away. He shall not be hurt by the second death.”

But first let me look at one other thing, namely the nature of the claim as it relates to His person.

Dealing With the Claims of Christ

So many people in our day say that Jesus is a nice man, a good man, in fact.  They say that He was a great teacher, maybe, or that He was even a prophet (as Islam says).  But as C.S. Lewis said, “He has not left that open to us, nor did He mean to.”

Look at His words here.  He says, “I am the living bread…from heaven!”  He says He is from Heaven!  Then, He goes on to say something even crazier (if we are to think of Him merely as a good teacher) and states, “If anyone eats…he will live forever.”  He’s saying that He has eternal life.  You eat of this bread and you’ll live forever!  Do those sound like the words of a “good teacher?”  Do those sound like the words of a sane individual?  No.  If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, the very Deity Himself, then He must be a lunatic because these statements are about as far fetched as any you’ll ever read.

In the course of your work week, or your trip to the store, or your gathering with friends, if someone brings up the fact that they think Jesus was a good teacher, or a good godly man, then you take them to John 6:51 and ask them if these are not the very words of God incarnate.  Because they aren’t the words of a finite man – at least not one we’d consider sane.

We must take Jesus for what He is.  We must realistically deal with these claims and come to grips with the Person of Christ.

6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Once again the Jews get stuck on the metaphor rather than on the meaning of the metaphor.  Their spiritual ignorance is not astounding, for we have seen earlier that they did not have an understanding of the things of God.

For this very reason we must not be surprised when Roman Catholic leaders or television personalities like Pat Robertson who are supposed to be evangelical church leaders advocate for this or that shocking position, or fail to understand the gospel. We must not be surprised when they say things that are quite contrary to scripture.

Why just this week Pat Robertson said to a lady who had adopted children that she shouldn’t be surprised if a man didn’t want to marry her because her kids could “grow up weird” or even dangerous.  Russell Moore rightly condemned Robertson and helps us understand these types of comments better.  He said, “This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.”

There are two possibilities why these supposed leaders – like the Jews of Jesus’ day – don’t understand the gospel.  The first is that they are believers who have been led down a path of man-centered doctrine to a point that they now no longer put a priority on the gospel and have deadened their senses to the teachings of grace.

The second, and perhaps more obvious, is that their fruit reveals their deadness. One who is still dead in sin, will surely not understand the things of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:13).  Jesus told us that in order to see the kingdom of God, we must be born again.  “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:5-6).

In other words, they are not followers of Christ; His Spirit has not quickened them. They are, in fact, part of the church of Satan.  For whoever is not under the control of the Spirit is surely under the control of Satan (Eph. 2:1-3).  Therefore, they will say and do things that are, of course, completely ignorant of what Christ and the Scriptures would say or have us do.

Augustine says that these men are completely unable to hunger for the bread and makes a great connection between the righteousness of Christ, and hungering for Christ, “This bread, indeed, requires the hunger of the inner man: and hence He saith in another place, ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ (Matt. 5:6). But the Apostle Paul says that Christ is for us righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).  And, consequently, he that hungers after this bread, hungers after righteousness, – that righteousness however which cometh down from heaven, the righteousness that God gives, not that which man works for himself.”

What a great connection between our thirst for the righteousness of God, and Christ being our ultimate satisfaction for that righteousness.  Augustine explains a bit further, “God’s righteousness here means, not that wherein God is righteous, but that which God bestows on man, that man may be righteous through God.”

So these men were unable to hunger after Christ the way He was calling them to, and Ryle sums up what I’m saying: “Fallen man, in interpreting the Bible, has an unhappy aptitude for turning meat into poison.  The things that were written for his benefit, he often makes an occasion for falling.”

6:53-54 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. [54] Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Early Church Historical Background

It was said by the Roman authorities of the early church that they were cannibals and atheists (among other things).  They were called cannibals because they participated in the Lord’s Super where they “at of the body and drank of the blood of Christ.”  Now of course we know this is simply an ignorant falsehood, but it was such a prevalent misunderstanding in the early days of the church that it was a main point of accusation and was one of the false reasons Christians were martyred by Roman Caesars. The reason they were called “atheists” was because they didn’t worship the pantheon of Roman gods.

Catholic Misunderstanding of the Passage

The Romanists (Catholics) have taken this verse incorrectly to mean that whoever participates in the Lord’s Super is saved.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.  As Carson says, “…if its primary reference is to the Eucharist we must conclude that the one thing necessary to eternal life is participation at the Lord’s table. This interpretation of course actually contradicts the earlier parts of the discourse, the least verse 40. The only reasonable alternative is to understand these verses as a repetition of the earlier truth, but now in metaphorical form.”

And so it seems obvious that Christ is not talking about a literal eating and drinking.  Though, as Ryle points out:

The plain truth is, there is a morbid anxiety in fallen man to put a carnal sense on Scriptural expressions, where he possibly can. He struggles hard to make religion a matter of forms and ceremonies, of doing and performing, of sacraments and ordinances, of sense and of sight. He secretly dislikes that system of Christianity, which makes the state of the heart the principle thing, and labors to keep sacraments and ordinances in the second place. Happy is the Christian who remembers these things, and stands on his guard.

So when Ignatius (as representing the Papists) says that the Eucharist is “the medicine of immortality”, Carson is right to respond that this view is “ruled out of court.”

A Correct Interpretation of the Passage

So what does Christ mean here?  Perhaps Augustine summed it up best in the Latin phrase, “Crede, et manducasti” which is to say, “believe, and thou hast eaten.”  The full context of what Augustine said is this, “For to believe on Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again. A babe within, a new man within. Where he is made new, there he is satisfied with food.”

I’d further point out that each of Christ’s statements in this chapter are miniature gospel messages.  The amazing truths of the gospel are contained in each vignette.  Here Christ said that by eating His flesh and blood we will have life – not just life here on earth, but eternal life.  “Eating,” means partaking, it means believing in His bodily sacrifice for our sins.  Then it says that not only will we have eternal life, but that our bodies will also be raised up on the last day.  This is a complete gospel.  Take part in My sacrifice by believing in Me and you will have eternal life spiritually and bodily.

Rightly commenting on this verse the puritan Thomas Goodwin said, “Christ is as meat that man feeds on, chews, and digests, and whose stomach works on continually. The man lives on Him everyday; that is the application of faith.”  And Ryle adds, “We need food every day, and not once a week or once a month, and in like manner, we need to employ faith every day.”

Some Examination of American Christianity…Paying Lip Service to Christ

This passage, and Augustine’s commentary in particular, has brought to my mind the nature of our devotion and hunger for Christ here in America.  Christ is calling us to feast on Him, to seek His kingdom first, and says that He is all we’ll need to be satisfied. He is saying that He is sufficient for our life here and in the hereafter. Without saying it, He is ordering our priorities for us – priorities that we often pay lip service to, but don’t actually obey.  I’ve been calling our class to holiness, and we’ve been discussing how to further pursue holiness each day.

And so, I’m sure you’d agree with me, that it is a bit of a snare to us that we often fear getting too spiritual. We fear giving up a certain way of living, or some certain things we do.  For we find freedom in those things.  They may not seem like sin to us, but they may be distractions from a more satisfying life – the life of a Christian. Some might say that I go too far, or that these words might cause some to stumble into asceticism.  However, I’m clearly not advocating that!  The problem the American Christian Church finds in its body is not asceticism, but rather worldliness. We are far less like the Puritans and far more like the Catholics who (mostly) aren’t even Christ followers at all.  They simply play at church (you’d know what I mean if you ever attended a local Catholic service – they have no clue what they’re talking about, aimlessly wandering around in the dark, quoting scriptures completely out of context, mashing them together with other, as if its some kind of children’s rhyming game).

I fear that in today’s world, you might not know the difference between a Catholic and a Baptist if you were to talk with most of them.  Ah, but you say that we know the truth!  So we have the truth on our side. Well, I suppose that’s correct.  But if our outward life doesn’t conform to the holiness God demands of us, then how are we to tell the difference?  And what good is all that knowledge without any fruit. Your knowledge is rotting you from the inside out.

But I won’t let most American Christians off that easy because most Protestant Evangelical Christians in America today only think they have the truth on their side because they know that they are saved by faith and grace, and they don’t have to pray to a priest.  But if you ask them why, they can’t cite a single passage in Scripture, they can’t tell you how this came about, or why the distinction was made in the first place (much less the historical circumstances leading to the rediscovery of these truths in the 16th century).  Most American Christians would rather preach to you that their “free will” is intact than that God is sovereign (foolishness that’s nowhere found in the Bible).  In other words, having the truth doesn’t matter much when you don’t actually know the truth (Heb. 5:11-6:1).  We’ve lost that in America.  We need to get back to a frame of mind that is more humble, and more dedicated to the study of Scripture.  We must devote our entire lives to understanding and teaching these truths to our children and others.

The Importance of the Bodily Resurrection

One of the things that gets lost in the discussion of this great portion of Scripture is the fact that now 4 times Christ has mentioned the bodily resurrection.

This is something (the resurrection) that many of the Jews – particularly the Sadducees – were adamantly against. Paul gives a great deal of time in 1 Cor. 15 to discussing this, and we find that it is extremely important for understanding the plan Christ has for us.  This, if nothing else, shows His sovereignty over His creation.

He is, in affect, saying that God has complete power over life and death.  He will create spiritual life in whom He wishes, and He will raise those people (His creation) to an entirely new kind of bodily life at the resurrection.  There is no part of life on earth or in heaven that God does not control.  There is no part of the scope of redemption – spiritual or bodily – that He does not sovereignty reign over.

Ryle paraphrases, “It is though our Lord says, ‘this bread that cometh down from heaven is bread of such a nature that he that eateth of it shall never die. His soul shall not be hurt by the second death, and his body shall have a glorious resurrection.”  Note the dichotomy between the soul and the body in Ryle’s statement.

This entire discourse has been about salvation, both the nature and the method (and also the benefits) of salvation.  Throughout the discussion Christ has been emphasizing the sovereignty of God.  There is no getting around verses like 37 and 44 here.  In explaining all of this to these people (who are getting more than they even dreamed of asking for), Christ wants them to know that from all eternity He and the Father and the Spirit have had a plan for them.  This isn’t plan B, so to speak.

And in doing so, Jesus is explaining that the resurrection will play an important part in our future.  Christ will grant to us not only spiritual redemption, but also bodily redemption. What God does, He does completely.  He is not content to allow our bodies to remain in the ground rotting in remembrance of past sins and their resulting death.  He will wipe all of that away with the resurrection of the body.  Sin and its traces will be wiped off the face of the earth and all will be renewed.  There will be no sin and no death, and no reminder of the slavery to which we once were held captive!

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. [25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:20-26