Anticipating the Lord of History

It’s been several years since I posted anything in this space, and even longer since a regular posting has been in the offing. But today I was encouraged by the thought that, after receiving some feedback in the past few weeks, that these posts are occasionally helpful to folks interested in studying the scriptures and even other matters of a political or theological nature. So in light of that, I’m going to post below a sermon I preached this morning on Luke chapter 1. I hope its enjoyable and enlightening for anyone stumbling across it online.

PJ Wenzel

Welcome to the advent season!  Advent season – the celebration of the arrival of Jesus.

During this advent season, we’re going to be looking at several key figures in the birth narrative of our Lord, with the purpose of walking in their sandals a bit. To see that they were not only narrative furniture in the story of Jesus, but men and women whose lives furnish us with examples of how Jesus’ advent changed them, and how the Gospel transformed their lives and hearts.

Zechariah was one such man.  We’re going to walk through the first part of Luke 1 together, I’m going to read some of the story with you, and because it’s a longer passage, I’m going to make some contextual comments along the way, and then we’ll examine the story from a few different angles. 

So…Luke 1 beginning in verse 5, please follow along with me…

[5] In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. [6] And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. [7] But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Zechariah was a priest from the line of Aaron. Aaron was the brother of Moses, and in the Bible it is through Aaron’s line that the priesthood would be maintained. But not only is Zechariah from this tribe, so is his wife, Elizabeth. It was said in those days that a woman of excellent character was “fit to marry a priest.” But here we learn she is not only righteous in character but is also of the lineage of Aaron, and this would have been thought a double blessing for Zechariah.

Note also that these are older folks. Just like Abraham and Sarah, they are old and unable to have children. From Sarah to Hannah to Elizabeth, again and again in Scripture there is a theme that the Lord delights to show his power and grace in the barren womb. God being glorified in the midst of suffering is also a major Biblical theme, and in the stories of women like Elizabeth, the two themes are beautifully and powerfully woven together. Now, verse 8…

[8] Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, [9] according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

By this time there were so many priests that the line of Aaron was divided up into 24 different divisions, and even those divisions were so populated that if you were chosen for the honor of offering prayers in the temple like this, it’s the only time you’d be able to do it in your lifetime. One and done. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Zachariah – so he is thinking that this is the apex of his ministry on earth.

[10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. [11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. [12] And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. [13] But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. [14] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, [15] for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. [16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [17] and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

[18] And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” [19] And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

[21] And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. [22] And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. [23] And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

Now it was expected that when Zachariah came out of the Temple, he was to stand in front of the people on the steps of the temple and offer to them a blessing. He was to bless them verbally before the Lord. So when he came out and couldn’t speak, he also couldn’t perform this blessing.  Finally we read…

[24] After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, [25] “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

This is the word of the lord. You may be seated. 

There are three different angles to this story we’ll examine:

  1. The first is the art of waiting on God’s timing
  2. The second is ultimate reality belongs to God
  3. The third is restoration for the glory of God

(waiting, reality, restoration)

The art of waiting on God’s timing

I’ve read in so many devotions and so many greeting cards now that the theme of “anticipation” has become a permanent part of my Christmas vocabulary. Growing up we even celebrated Christmas by doing an advent devotional as a family and putting ornaments on a “waiting tree.” 

To be perfectly candid, I didn’t really care for all the waiting and anticipation in the lead up to Christmas. As a kid it wasn’t the decorating and the devotional evenings that I anticipated, it was Christmas morning! Just in case my parents weren’t sure of my feelings, I’m sure I conveyed my righteous anticipation by asking a million questions about presents and refusing to sit still for any length of time.

Despite my mom’s noble efforts, it wasn’t until later that I began to appreciate the themes of “anticipation” and “waiting” and how they reflect the longing of Israel for their Messiah.

Here at the beginning of our advent season together is the perfect time to reflect on those themes, especially as we look at the lives of Zechariah and of Elizabeth. Focusing in a bit more on Zechariah this morning.  

Luke tells us a few important things about this couple: They were righteous, they were old, they were barren, and they were serving the Lord.

When you are young, there are certain dreams you have, which, being young, you assume will just fall into place as life goes on. There is a certain naiveté, ignorance, and maybe even a touch of arrogance about how we start out our lives as adults. But as time wears on, we begin to see that what we assumed about life, what we took for granted would just happen, doesn’t always fall into place the way we thought it might. Am I right?

Francis Schaeffer once said in the context of an essay on art, that for the Christian, our entire life is our greatest work of art, more than anything we ever do with our hands or produce with our minds.  I’m certain that many of you would agree with Samuel Rutherford that we owe a great deal to the file and the hammer of our Lord, but that process of refinement is painful. And perhaps no struggle is more personal and more painful for a married couple than the struggle of infertility.

Now it is not my purpose or intent to open fresh wounds this morning. But here at Veritas while we’ve praised God on many occasions for the great blessing of children in the church, we’ve also wanted to acknowledge and love on those in our church family here who haven’t yet been blessed with a child, or have walked a long and faith-testing road to parenthood. I can attest, with many others I’m certain, how encouraged and built up in the faith I have been by the godly example of the men and women of Veritas who have walked through the difficult seasons – not only of infertility, but of the loss of children. I praise God for your tenderhearted and steadfast example which brings glory to God.

So church we know a little about what these two people have gone through. But when we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth here they are older, and seemingly they have reached a point where giving birth to a child was a distant dream, one that has long since disappeared like a mirage in the desert of Judea.

Now Luke, our author, is a physician by trade, and a very meticulous author. And when he conveys a thing under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, I believe we should take careful note.  He says that this couple was righteous. That they were following all the laws of the Lord.

As they waited. As they anticipated. As they dreamed, as they lived day in and day out – what did they do?  They obeyed.

Friends, this is the first thing our souls need to take away from this account: waiting on the Lord is active. It is not stultifying, it is not siloed, it is not paralyzed.

The Bible is replete with story after story of Godly men and women who waited for the Lord. David practically made it the theme of his life. As in Psalm 27:

Wait for the LORD;

                        be strong, and let your heart take courage;

                        wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:14

or in Psalm 25:

                        May integrity and uprightness preserve me,

                        for I wait for you. Psalm 25:21

Waiting is abiding. Abiding is obeying. Obeying is glorifying the Lord in our lives through word, heart, and deed.

If we want to know what it means to wait I can think of no better passage than John 15 where our Lord told us… “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Notice that there is a “doing” here. Waiting on the Lord requires us to abide in His power while doing His work until He brings about His will for our lives in His own timing, by His own power for His own glory.

At this time in Israel’s history, there were thousands of people waiting for a savior. Para-military uprisings among the Jews were becoming more and more frequent, and the people longed for freedom as a nation once more.

This was a national anxiety felt in the hearts and realized in the daily lives of every Israelite.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were serving the Lord as they waited on Him, and as they prayed for a son and for freedom from Roman oppression.

Now…one of the tremendous marks of a life that waits upon the Lord is that of prayer. A life of waiting on Jesus is a life marked by prayer for the Father’s will to be done.

And in our passage today, we read that it was the angel Gabriel who visited Zechariah in the temple. Gabriel shows up at other points in redemptive history. In Daniel chapter 9 we read of how Daniel was praying to God on behalf of his people.  He was confessing the sins of Israel and appealing to God to rescue them from hands of their enemies and to restore them back to the land – because they were in exile in Babylon at this time. He ends his prayer like this:

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. [18] O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. [19] O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” Daniel 9:7–19

And after this Gabriel comes to him with a remarkable message. He says this:

“O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. [23] At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.” Daniel 9:22b–23

I love this passage! As Daniel waits in exile he is praying, he is obeying the Lord, and the Lord wants him to know that he is “greatly loved.”  As you wait upon the Lord, as you pray to heaven for help in your distress, in your anxiety, in your pain, you, too, are greatly loved.

Waiting involved faithful and active obedience and prayer.

One of the most significant things about our passage today is that it exemplifies how God’s timing often brings us blessings that we could never have imagined. We pray for something over and over for years, but only later realize that in God’s mercy and timing, he withheld that gift in order for something more amazing.

While we may not understand – even in this lifetime – the full extent of what his timing means, we can realize that this is how he works in our waiting.  

Daniel was praying for the restoration of Israel and asking forgiveness for the sins of the people.  Gabriel gave Daniel the vision of 70 weeks – a vision even more amazing and of a higher magnitude than his mind could have asked for. A vision which anticipates not only the restoration of God’s people to their homeland, but how events would culminate in the arrival of a Prince. A prince who would be “cut off” in a sacrificial death for the sins of his people.

God delayed the birth of a son for Zechariah and Elizabeth because he had something special planned.

Daniel asked for a lot but got much more than he bargained for, and timing that he probably wasn’t expecting. So it was with Zechariah. And that is what we’ll see next…

The next thing we’ll consider is the nature of ultimate reality. Ultimate reality belongs to God.

As the priest on duty that day, Zechariah was to be offering prayers on behalf of the nation. So he is in the temple, in the outer area of the holy of holies – only the high priest went in the holy of holies and he did that only once a year – so he’s in this outer area praying. 

Gabriel arrives and tells Zechariah that his prayers have been heard. 

What prayers?

Our minds immediately go to the prayers he and Elizabeth must have prayed a thousand times over the years: prayers for a child.

But his prayers in the temple were more likely prayers for the salvation and redemption of Israel. As I mentioned before this is likely the most important day of Zechariah’s life until now, and he has been training for this, and would want to fulfill his priestly responsibility to the letter, and that meant offering prayers on behalf of the nation.

But the beautiful thing about the answer from the Lord is that it fulfills both the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth for a son, and the prayers of the nation for deliverance. In sending this couple a baby, God is sending the forerunner of the great Savior of Israel, and of the world!

John is to be the herald of heaven’s great King who would visit this world on a mission of salvation.

Only God can weave such amazing answers together. We read this and marvel at all God is doing in this story.  But was that the reaction of Zechariah?  No…

How does he react?

In verse 18 he questions Gabriel saying “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

From his words alone you cannot detect all of what is in this man’s heart. But apparently Gabriel knew enough to know that Zechariah had an unbelieving heart because he says “because you did not believe my words” (vs 20).

What seems strange about this reaction is that here is a man who had been praying for years and years for a son. Here is a man whose wife had longed for a child. How many conversations, how many knowing glances shared over the breakfast table? How many shared moments of pain and frustration?  And here – here is the answer to all his prayers. Decades worth of desires!  And he doesn’t believe. He sees the glory and power of the angel – there can be no doubt about the authenticity of this messenger’s identity. We read earlier, in fact, that Zechariah practically wet himself when the angel appeared! He knows this is a messenger from God!

It can’t be a proximity problem. He is not isolated from the faith community or the outward reminders of his heritage. In fact, he is surrounded by the trappings of his faith. He has the priestly garments on. He’s inside the temple. He’s only steps away from the holy of holies! 

Why the unbelief?  How is it possible that he can doubt!?

(PAUSE)

Let me tell you what I think is going on here. 

Zechariah’s “worlds are colliding”, to quote George Costanza.

His perception of reality, his construction of what is possible, is bound up in the plans, desires, and perspectives of his heart.

What a message for us today. Awash in post-modernism, we hear and read again and again that truth is what you make it. Reality is defined by your own perspective.  So important is this worldview that technologists are in a rush to give us power to create our own AI worlds accessible by simply strapping on a headset.

But ultimate reality belongs to God. You cannot make your own truth. You cannot create your own reality.

Live in your fairy land all you want, eventually that bubble will burst on the rocks of God’s sovereign truth, either in this life or the next.

Zechariah wasn’t a post-modernist by any stretch of the imagination. Yet his reality, his expectations, and the norms which he has set as the lens through which he saw how life works, how God works, were being brought into contact with the plans of the Lord of life and history.

I’ve found that the nature of my own perspective, when not governed by faith based in the Word of God, reveals itself as extraordinarily brittle in times of testing. This is what Zechariah was learning. He had set limits on what God could do; laws by which he expected God to act. And the weight of God’s plans were snapping the feeble bridge of his expectations.

Look at Gabriel’s reaction, he says “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”  He proclaims this gospel, this good news, and hears the words from Zechariah and he’s like “Wait. Wait…what!?” 

Gabriel is trying to reconcile what he lives day in and day out with this man’s reaction, and it just…doesn’t compute.  “Do you know who I am – I see your knees knocking, so you must have an idea.  I mean…I just came from the heavenly throne room…”

There is some discontinuity between what Gabriel knows as true and what Zechariah is willing to believe is true.

Of course, to us, in hindsight, Zechariah’s unbelief looks nonsensical against the backdrop of God’s revealed plans. But…

…we have to ask ourselves…What happens when our prayers aren’t answered in a way we expected? What happens when (in his mercy) God withholds the answer for years? How do we react when circumstances in our lives unfold in unexpected ways?

Do we look for the hand of Providence in the details of life?  Or do we recoil in bitterness and unbelief? 

We may be surrounded by the trappings of faith, and in this season that’s even more the case, and yet have such a contracted and minimized view of the power of God that we look at our lives and say “no…its hopeless. I’m a mess and there’s nothing that can fix this.”  Are we allowing our own narrow view of life’s road to hem in our perspective on God’s capabilities?

Friends, God does not simply stitch together the mess of our lives in order to salvage some kind of decent ending to the narrative.  He is busy in the details.  He is superintending all of reality. Upholding the world by the word of his power, he supervises and intercedes for those who he “greatly loves.”

It’s a wonderful blessing – a good thing – to be surrounded by the people of God and to regularly find ourselves here in this building. But let’s not let our surroundings, our culture, and our doubts construct an artificial view of God. A small view of God. A proud view of God that’s based on our own plans and objectives, rather than faith in his providence, timing, and power.

God’s word calls us to deeper waters: trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5)

Now let’s look past the reaction and to the heart of the message from Gabriel, and how it is “good news” – not only Zechariah, but the whole world.

Restoration for the glory of God

Remember how I said that after the priest would finish their prayers in the temple it was their job to go out and bless the people? Well, the Lord’s messenger puts the kibosh on that. It is as if God is saying “I will not have an unbelieving man speak to my people this day. Not today. Today is the beginning of a special new work.”

For years the people of Israel had been led by shepherds who Jesus would later describe as serpents and sons of Satan. But light is breaking through the darkness, and in a sign of things to come, every tongue will be stopped, and every eye will behold the majesty of Jesus.

Zechariah was a righteous man who stumbled into unbelief.

But this wasn’t to be the end for Zechariah. 

The message that Gabriel brought was “good news” – good news that went beyond the hopes and dreams of this righteous couple. Their son was born for a very specific mission.  Listen to the hints dropped by Gabriel.  Look again at verse 16…

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [17] and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared

That last line may be the most important. It echoes the words of the prophet Malachi, and indicates that their son John will prepare the people of Israel for someone – and that someone is their Messiah! 

Now as the story continues. Turn with me to verse 57 and we’ll read this together…

Luke 1:57–80

[57] Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. [58] And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. [59] And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, [60] but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” [61] And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” [62] And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. [63] And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. [64] And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. [65] And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, [66] and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah was restored to speaking once again.

The long months which held him in mute frustration had also humbled him, and increased his faith, so that when the time came to declare before his friends and nearest relations what the will of the Lord would be for his son, his lips found themselves equal to the restored tenderness of his heart.

And in such a small village, this would have been a major event – especially given the circumstances surrounding John’s birth. Before the New Covenant, before Pentecost, God’s people did not have the gift of the Spirit permanently indwelling them. But this child had been filled by the Holy Spirit from before birth! He even leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came to visit.

Gabriel had said that all of this would happen according to God’s timing.

And I wonder how many moments in the intervening months Zechariah had pondered the timing of God in the events of his life and the life of his people.

His life has been blessed with a baby boy – one who Jesus would later call the greatest man ever born of a woman (Luke 7). Now able to speak, we read that, full of the Holy Spirit, the first thing that Zechariah did was sing out with the following words:

Look at verse 68…

[67] And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

            [68] “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

                        for he has visited and redeemed his people

            [69] and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

                        in the house of his servant David,

            [70] as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

            [71] that we should be saved from our enemies

                        and from the hand of all who hate us;

            [72] to show the mercy promised to our fathers

                        and to remember his holy covenant,

            [73] the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

            [74]     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

            might serve him without fear,

            [75]     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

            [76] And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

                        for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

            [77] to give knowledge of salvation to his people

                        in the forgiveness of their sins,

            [78] because of the tender mercy of our God,

                        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

            [79] to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

                        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke adds his own narrative note, so that we are prepared for what will come in the next part of this amazing story…

            [80] And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Now, throughout church history we’ve called Zechariah’s song of praise and prophesy the Benedictus, which is simply the Latin translation for the first word he speaks: “blessed.”

Zechariah has been restored and his faith strengthened and he wants to give God glory. But more than that, God has filled him to deliver a message.  The good news that Gabriel announced 9 months prior was not simply that he and Elizabeth would have a son, but that God was sending his own Son, and that John’s role is to proclaim the coming of Israel’s Messiah! 

The day is almost at hand.  The wait is almost over. The promises made to David, Abraham, and the prophets of old would be kept.

Zechariah declares that God will be faithful to the promises he made to Abraham. Nations will be blessed. The seed of Abraham will continue in the adoption of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation into the family of God. And God will begin his work of re-creation and renewal by making men and women – his image bearers – into new creations in the model of his son Jesus Christ.

9 months prior in the temple Zechariah would have prayed for the salvation of Israel.

Here, inspired by the Spirit, he declares a salvation not linked to earthly political redemption or military conquest, but of spiritual redemption from sin. Verse 77 is key “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” 

Zechariah says that without the light of life we are walking in the darkness and on the precipice of death’s door. He links light and life and peace directly with the forgiveness of sins and relational restoration with God.

For the people of Israel, certainly for Zechariah, the promises of God were coming into tighter focus, even as their own perspectives on God’s plans were widening.  

You might say that while the occupation of Rome was uppermost on the minds of Jews in his day, what Zechariah’s people really needed was a political solution of another magnitude. They had bigger problems. Diplomatic relations between themselves and the King of kings needed restoration. Zechariah says here that the solution was going to be provided in a “knowledge of salvation” by a “horn of salvation” – more specifically, in the strength of the unbreakable life of the embodied Word of knowledge: God’s own Son. (Acts 2:24 and John 1)

For those of us who have been in a season of waiting, a season where it seemed like our lives are in limbo, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth offers not only comfort, but also a reorientation of our expectations, a reminder of who holds history in His hands, and an opportunity to repent.   

Zechariah was told that everything he had desired for both himself and his people was about to be fulfilled, and though he was found in unbelief, though his entire world was turned upside-down, God in His mercy restored Zechariah for His own glory.

Praise God that His plans for our lives do not stop at the door of our heart’s natural capacity to believe. Praise God that His mercy and providence does not wax and wane on the ebb tide of our emotions, and the short-sidedness of even our best-intentioned plans.

The beautiful thing that we see in the life of Zechariah is that he didn’t get everything he wanted the way he wanted in the time he wanted it. Praise God for that! Praise God for his withholding of the blessings we think we want now – even good things which we know are good things, God sometimes withholds in order to bring us into an even greater plan for our good and his Glory.

Let me mention to you a final word friends.

If you are finding yourself without hope in a season which is supposed to be all about hope, you’re in the right place. This is a message for you.

Anticipation is a theme running throughout the Christmas season, and this seasonal slogan finds its origin in Zechariah’s day (and before) when the people of Israel were anticipating a Messiah, a leader, a savior.

But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us did not rescue us from political oppression or social unrest. He rescued us from ourselves. He rescued us from His wrath. He rescued us from our sins so that we may be brought into his kingdom, into his family.  He did this in his own time. And it looked nothing like what was expected.

Friends we no longer have to wait for salvation. The wait is over.  The great message of Christmas is that salvation has arrived! The Sunrise from on high came to live amongst us. He made himself the lowest of low in order to raise up those who were sitting in darkness. As Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is. 9:2).

That light, that sunrise from on high, is Jesus. Jesus Christ, the son of God, came to rescue a fallen race – you and I no longer wait for salvation – we can receive that now.

I love the gospel of John. He begins his gospel by declaring that the Word of God, the light of the world has come to save men. This is what he says:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12] But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:9–13

Christmas is the celebration that our waiting is over, we can have full forgiveness of sins, by believing that Jesus is who he says he is. That celebration, which begins with our reconciliation to God through faith in Jesus, will be consummated when the great King returns in his time with glory and splendor.

It’s my prayer that you are encouraged by the story of Zechariah, and how God overcame his unbelief, to use him as an instrument of praise and glory. He desires to do the same thing in your life and mine.

The Kingship of Christ

This evening I had the privilege of preaching the final part in a three-part sermon series on the offices of Christ. Tonight’s message was on the kingship of Christ.  Though I did not get audio recorded for the sermon, I hope the text is profitable to you.  Merry Christmas!

PJ Wenzel

Christ Our King

December 22, 2013

Well we are just days from the celebration of Christmas, and this will be the third message I am bringing in anticipation of that celebration.  We have seen thus far how Jesus fulfilled the long anticipated offices of both ‘prophet’ and ‘priest.’

Tonight, we are going to see how the baby born of Mary was destined to fulfill that third and most glorious office of ‘king.’

As we anticipate a wonderful time in God’s word this evening, we remember the eager anticipation with which God’s chosen people had waited for the Messiah.

I pray that tonight we will have our minds renewed and reminded that we live in the time of great blessing, and also a time of anticipation – the anticipation of the return of our great King.

Our Text for this evening is Luke 1:26-33 which is traditionally known in Christendom as ‘The Annunciation.’  Turn with me and we’ll read that and then go to the Lord for His blessing upon our time together this evening.

Exegesis of Luke 1:26-33

1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

For contextual purposes, this is the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, not Mary’s. If we were reading the entirety of the first chapter of Luke’s gospel we would have just learned of the miraculous birth of a baby boy named John to elderly parents Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the context for the statement on the “sixth month” would make more sense.

Nazareth, as noted by many commentators, was 70 miles outside of Jerusalem to the northeast.  To call it a “city” might conjure up incorrect images in our modern minds – there was no Greek word for “town”, so that the word “city” was meant to distinguish between a populated area and a rural area.  Nazareth was a very small, out of the way village that probably didn’t hold more than a few hundred people.  Nazareth was the definition of obscurity itself.[i]

It is perhaps significant that Gabriel is sent “from God” to both Mary and Zachariah.  In this context we see Luke use a description of Gabriel’s origin as being “from God”, whereas in his visit to Zachariah Gabriel himself tells Zachariah where he hailed from:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:19, ESV)

I mention this because I want us to meditate upon the weightiness of this message from Gabriel.

Gabriel is only mentioned twice in the New Testament – both in this first chapter of Luke.  He is also mentioned two other times in the Old Testament, and both of those references come to us by way of the book of Daniel.  Indeed it is Gabriel who announced to Daniel the 70-weeks vision that we looked at a few weeks ago.

As of late, there has been a modern flair up in interest surrounding demons and witches and angels.  This is especially reflected in the different TV shows and movie being pumped out of Hollywood.  I do not think the rise in interest is necessarily godly or beneficial, but stems from a vain curiosity and the desire to sell advertising on TV shows and box office tickets in the theaters.

However, this passage (and others like it) indicates to us that the significance of Gabriel is not bound up in who he is, but rather who he represents and where He came from: the throne room of God.

Angels in the Bible are messengers, and their authority rests on the fact that they convey a Word from God.[ii]  So too Gabriel has come to deliver an authoritative word from the throne room of God.

1:27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

Verse 27 conveys to us that this young woman Mary has been betrothed[iii] to a man named Joseph.  But the most important thing conveyed here is that Joseph is “of the house of David.”  This means that he is a direct descendent of the famous King of Judah, and Jesus would share in that lineage.

In fact, John MacArthur states, “Thus Jesus inherited from His adoptive father, Joseph, the legal right to David’s throne, while His physical descent from David came from His mother, Mary. In every legitimate sense – both legally and physically – Jesus Christ was the Son of David and born to be Israel’s true King.”

For many Israelites, David typified the greatness of Israel. Generation after generation told of the glory of his kingdom, and how God used a mere shepherd boy to unite an independent mix of tribes into a single kingdom under the rule of a single monarch.  What Saul had failed to successfully do in the flesh, David did in the power of the Spirit of God.  David’s kingdom, then, represented all that was glorious about the Israel of yesteryear, and Israelites looked forward to a day when once again a king would sit on the throne of David, but more on that in a moment…

1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

It is evident from Gabriel’s greeting that he intended to convey comfort and calm.  He meets her, as most have aptly mentioned, in an indoor setting, and his appearance and words – despite their comfort – baffled Mary.

Gabriel’s words are indeed astounding.  He conveys that God is with Mary – essentially he’s saying that God will be her fortress and help (which we see reflected in her response – the Magnificat) and that He would never leave her or forsake her.  Matthew Henry ponders whether or not she would have thought of Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).

Those in the Catholic tradition read this verse from the Latin Vulgate translation, which is “gratia plena”, or “full of grace” in English, making the whole of the greeting, “Hail Mary full of grace.”

While modern Bibles more accurately translate this “favored one”, those in the Catholic tradition pervert the intended meaning of the original language by stating that Mary who is “full of grace” is actually the bestower of grace, rather than the recipient of grace.[iv]  In fact, they go so far as to state that Mary is the one in whom all grace is vested, and that Jesus never dispenses grace without her consent (see the most recent catechism of the Catholic Church).

This is a gross distortion of the narrative, and a corrupt perversion of the text that violates the sense of what is being conveyed in order to accommodate an entire system of unbiblical doctrine (Mariology).

Furthermore, I think its safe to say that the Catholic interpretation violates one of the basic biblical rules of interpretation, which is that we don’t use historical narrative to trump the didactic portions of scripture.  Yet that is exactly what the Catholics do here.  They create doctrine where there is none, and ignore the clear teaching of the rest of the NT in order to justify their interpretations.

What is being conveyed here is much more straightforward. Gabriel is announcing to Mary that God, by His own grace and in accordance with the mystery of His will, has chosen this humble girl to carry in her womb God incarnate.  It is God’s favor, not Mary’s which is in view in this verse.

1:29-30 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. [30] And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

The fact that the angel had to reassure Mary not to be afraid ought to give us a clue as to the spectacular nature of this visit. When a messenger from God’s throne room visits you it stands to reason that the moment might shake you to the core.

Mary must also have been acutely aware of her own insignificance and sinfulness. She was a finite human being, and yet God had chosen her for an awesome task.

I love the point that John MacArthur makes: “All genuinely righteous people are distressed and terrified in God’s presence (or, as in this case, one of His holy angels), because they are acutely aware of their sin. Gabriel’s appearance and greeting unnerved Mary; nothing in her brief life could have prepared her for this astonishing event.”

1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

Like the instructions given to Zachariah concerning the naming of John, Mary is also given specific instructions as to what the name of her child will be.

The name “Jesus” basically means, “God saves” – and a more fitting name I cannot think of! In the ancient world the name of a person carried a lot more weight than it does in our current modern culture here in America. The name of a child conveyed, in many ways, the hopes and aspirations of the parents for that baby.  In this case, God had a specific plan for this child, His Son, and the name of the child reflects that purpose: God will offer salvation through the life of the one being born of Mary.
1:32-33 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, [33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

It is an understatement to be sure that Jesus will “be great” (as MacArthur notes, “his life will define ‘great’”).  And with this statement we come to the theological meat of this passage – the kingship of Jesus.  There are so many dynamics and nuances to the kingship of Christ. But tonight I want to simply examine three parts:

  1. The predicted king
  2. The kingdom breakthrough
  3. The return of the king

 

The Predicted King

The Type of King

Before we examine how this king had long been predicted, I’d have us just notice what type of king has been predicted.  Gabriel tells us the child who will be born will not be an ordinary child, but rather the “Son of the Most High. ”[v]

In other words, He will be the Son of God, holy, divine, and completely different than anyone ever born to a woman.  Not only will He be an everlasting king, but also his kingdom will be everlasting.

So He will be a different kind of king with a different king of kingdom.

The Fulfillment of the Davidic Promise

Gabriel also says that the Lord will give this child the throne of his father David. So in human lineage, this child will be a descendent of the family of David, and therefore will fulfill the Davidic promise of an everlasting kingdom/throne – as Gabriel says, “of his kingdom there will be no end.”

For many years the Jews must have wondered at the nature of the promise to David. Naturally, they must have thought that the promise meant the kingdom would never lack a Davidic king – someone from the lineage of David himself. But it had been 1000 years since that promise was given, and hundreds of years since Israel had a king of their own from David’s house.

Obviously God had a different kind of “everlasting” kingdom in mind. Let’s examine the original text of the promise as we try and grasp the significance of Gabriel’s words:[vi]

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:12-16)

For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”(Psalm 89:2-4)[vii]
 
 
The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.” (Psalm 132:11-12)
 

Now, as time progressed, the people of God sinned, their kingdom was torn apart, and they endured exile and every manner of deprivation.  Gone were the glory days of David and Solomon.

Yet despite the fact that the people of Israel had transgressed and broken covenant with God[viii], He reassured them that He would remain faithful to His covenant with David and raise up a king who would save them and “restore their fortunes.”

So during this time the Israelites looked forward with hope that God would one day usher in a kingdom that would save Israel by the hand of this “root of David.”  Several OT prophets gave them reason to hope:

In Jeremiah… 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

17 “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…(Jeremiah 33:14-17)[ix]

And… 

Their prince shall be one of themselves;
their ruler shall come out from their midst;
I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me,
for who would dare of himself to approach me?
declares the Lord.
22 And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 30:21-22)

 

In Ezekiel (one of my favorites)… 

My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28) 

And in Daniel…

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, (Daniel 2:44)

There are many other passages that reiterate the same message.

And when we read the New Testament we find that Peter (Acts 2:24-36) interprets these prophecies and proclaims in no uncertain terms that Jesus of Nazareth is the one who fulfilled them:

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
 

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”
 

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:24-36)

Note that Peter sees Jesus as both Lord and Christ. He is both King and Savior.

From these verses it is apparent that not only was there a predicted King to come from the line of David, but that the man who fulfilled that role is seen by the New Testament authors to be none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

The NT authors do not simply view Jesus as reigning in a spiritual sense, rather His reign is over all of the created order. While it may be difficult to describe the nature of His kingdom, we know it is unlike any kingdom here on earth. And we know that one day what our eyes cannot see now will be consummated in such a way that no one will be able to avoid seeing it![x]

It is to these two topics we now turn…

The Kingdom Breakthrough 

When Jesus walked from town to town He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom of God.”  That He was proclaiming a kingdom, there is no doubt. Here is one example of what Jesus was saying near the beginning of His ministry:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

I believe that the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that when Jesus was “proclaiming” a kingdom, He was inaugurating a kingdom, and that when Gabriel announced to Mary that Jesus would inherit the throne of David, this wasn’t a mantle He would inherit some time in the distant future.

It seems clear to me that given all the times He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” it would be very difficult to argue that Jesus did not inaugurate a kingdom during His earthly ministry.

One very powerful instance in which Jesus proclaims the inbreaking of the kingdom is found in Matthew 12 where we read the following:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:22-28)

Note how the people connect the sovereign work of Jesus to the possibility of his Davidic kingly lineage.  Jesus confirms their thinking.  If He has sovereignty over the demons, then “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Jesus doesn’t say “the kingdom of God will come in my millennial reign” or “the kingdom will one day come upon you” or some such thing.  Rather He states that the kingdom “HAS” come upon you.

This is a message Jesus never abandoned.  In fact He proclaims His kingship right until the day of His death.  In an exchange with Pontius Pilate we read the following:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33-37)

I think that many Christians wonder what kind of kingdom this is. What is the nature of Christ’s kingdom? When Gabriel announced to Mary that her Son would be the heir to the Davidic throne, how are we to understand this?

A King for All Nations

We need to understand that the kingdom Jesus inaugurated was different in scope and character than what the Jews expected.

For instance, we know now that the Heir David’s throne will not only reign over all his people, but in the original covenant with David there are indications that God’s intention is for His king to bring His law to all nations.

In 2 Samuel 7:19 David responds to God’s promise in the following way:

And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! (2 Samuel 7:19)

Peter Gentry comments, “…since the god whom the Davidic king represented was not limited to a local region or territory, but was the creator God and Sovereign of the whole world, the rule of the Davidic king would have repercussion for all the nations, not just for Israel…This, I submit is the logic behind David’s response in verse 19, and this is why he claims that a covenant that makes the Davidic king son of God is the instrument of bringing Yahweh’s Torah to all the nations. David’s own understanding of divine sonship is clearly indicated by his statement in 7:19 that the covenant is God’s charter or instruction for humankind.”

The New Testament ramifications of this are that the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is one not simply for Israel, but for all nations.

Already/Not Yet

Another way the kingdom Jesus inaugurated is different than what the Jews expected is that it has a sort of incomplete feel about it – at least that’s how we tend to perceive it, isn’t it?

As Greg Beale comments, “Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’s kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judiasm. Part of the reason for the unexpectedness is that the kingdom had begun but was not consummated, and this lack of consummation was to continue on indefinitely. This stands in contrast to OT prophecies of the latter days whose events were predicted to occur all at once at the very end of history.”[xi]

In fact, this frustration in understanding the nature of Christ’s kingdom was expressed by the disciples just prior to Christ’s ascension:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

What Jesus is saying here is that the nature of the kingdom during the church age is going to look different – you will perceive it differently – than you probably thought.

Not only that, but the SCOPE and reach of the kingdom would be grander than the disciples first thought.  Jesus wasn’t going to restore the kingdom to Israel and sit down on a throne in Jerusalem, instead He was going to ascend to heaven and sit down on the throne of God and rule over all creation!

Instead of sending armies out from the holy city to conquer His enemies, He was sending fishermen out to conquer evil with the Sword of the Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit living inside them.  He would literally be working His will in and through them while at the same time ruling over all creation from heaven’s highest throne.

Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner says:

It is clear, then, that when Jesus spoke of the future coming of the kingdom, he was not referring to God’s sovereign reign over all history, for God has always ruled over all that occurs. The coming of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed designated something new, a time when God’s enemies would be demonstrably defeated and the righteous would visibly blessed. The future coming of the kingdom relates to the realization of God’s promises of salvation…When Jesus announced the presence of the kingdom, he declared that God was about to bring about the salvation that he had always promised.”

But it would be inaccurate to describe Christ’s reign as only a “spiritual reign.”  And I think that because we cannot taste, smell, see, or physically hear Christ’s kingdom, we have a tendency of describing His “literal reign” as purely “future.”  This is wrong.

It would be more accurate to say that He “literally” reigns over all the created order right now. He “literally” is in control over all of things. We read as much in Hebrews 1:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)

Therefore it is not as though He just reigns in our hearts, nor will He just reign over the world in the future; rather He literally upholds all of creation as we speak, right now.

Therefore there is a very palpable “already/not year” tension to Christ’s kingdom. We can sense that there is more to come, yet we also know that there are wonderful privileges we have right now.

For example, we have received salvation, yet we have not yet realized the consummation of that salvation (we are still in the world). We have been sanctified (set apart), yet we are still being sanctified (made holy).  We are adopted, yet we continue to behave as orphans, and have not realized yet all of the privileges of sonship – including the glorification of our bodies.  Jesus reigns at God’s right hand, and yet His kingdom is not seen physically by the world.

The great Princeton Theologian Gerhardos Vos says, “Although in one sense the inheritance of this world lies yet in the future, yet in another sense it has already begun to be realized in principle and become ours in actual possession.”

Schreiner says, “One of the unique elements of Jesus’s teaching about God’s kingdom is that it is both present and future. When we speak of God’s kingdom as present in the ministry of Jesus, we are not referring to the notion that God is sovereign over all history. Rather, the kingdom is present in Jesus’ ministry in that the saving promises of the kingdom had dawned with his coming. In other words, the OT promises of a new covenant and a new creation and a new exodus were beginning to be fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus.”

He concludes, “In other words, the kingdom is already inaugurated but not yet consummated.”[xii]

Greg Beale says, “The great expected latter-day restoration was beginning through Jesus, a restoration that was inextricably linked to Israel’s kingdom prophecies.”  Emphasis on “beginning.”

Therefore, the kingdom that Jesus ushered in was one marked by salvation and the outward behavior of a people being conformed to His own image. New creations in Christ displaying the fruit of the Spirit are the outward manifestations of this kingdom.  The gospel being spread by the church militant throughout the world and the Spirit of truth exercised through the living and active Word of God are the weapons of the kingdom’s army.  The kingdom is here and is present, Jesus is reigning at the right hand of God over all creation, and His Spirit lives within us testifying to the fact that one day He will come again to conclude and consummate the battle and His kingdom.

That is why Vos can say that, “We assume that he (Jesus) regarded the kingdom as in principle already present, although he regarded the eschatological consummation as still future.”[xiii]

It is to that “future” consummation – that “not yet” I mentioned a moment ago – that we now turn as we conclude our study.

The ‘Return of the King’

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work ‘The Return of the King’ we read of the journey of one Aragorn son of Arathorn who is heir to a kingdom “long bereft of lordship. ”  The kingdom of Gondor has been turned over to stewards – those entrusted to watch over the kingdom until a king returns to lead his people.  The line of kings is thought to be broken, and there are few who even know of Aragorn’s existence.

As evil spreads and begins to manifest itself in Tolkien’s world of ‘Middle Earth’ Aragorn is hesitant to claim his birthright and lead the kingdom of men.  Why? Because he knows of the weakness of men. Men like his ancestors are vulnerable to the corruption of power and he has no desire to be a tool of corruption.  As the saying goes, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Thus, he tarried.

Eventually Aragorn finds his courage in the confidence and hopes of his friends and fellow travelers, it seems.  The tale ends with the consummation of the return of the king and the beginning of the grand session of Aragorn over the kingdom of Gondor.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a similar situation do we not?  We look around and see evil on the rise. The bad is proclaimed as “good.” The forces of darkness seemingly closing in on all sides.

And yet, our King tarries.

However our King, who has possessed absolute power from before time began, is free from any hint of corruption.  Unlike Aragorn, He tarries not due to any inherent deficiency, but because as King over the cosmos He is sovereign over time and the course of history.

Theologian John Frame writes, “…God’s decision is clear: that the history of redemption will take millennia, leaving space for dramatic movements, ups and downs, twists and turns, longings and astonishments. Salvation is to be a great epic, not a short story. God will glorify himself, not by measuring his kingdom in time spans appropriate to human kings, but by revealing himself as “King of the ages” (Rev. 15:3).

His time has not yet come.

Therefore Christ, who reigns now from heaven, will one day consummate His kingdom here on earth. On that day “every tongue” shall confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” – that is to say that everyone on earth will either be forced to, or willingly and joyfully proclaim the kingship of Jesus.

That day will be both awesome, and terrible as Scripture says. The shear revelation of the power of the Lord Jesus in all His glory will terrify all unrepentant humanity.

I fear sometimes that we are so conditioned to think of Jesus as an infant born in a stable, or the kind-hearted healer of humanity that we fail to see Christ in His fullness – we forget Gabriel’s words – “He will be great!”

Certainly His majesty is described well by the apostle John:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16, ESV)

These images ought to evoke fear and trembling into the hearts of finite man. The majestic holiness and splendorous glory of the Son of God on that day will never be rivaled.

So while we recognize the current reign of Christ, we must also internalize and cling to the truth that His reign will one day be consummated.  When He comes again, all enemies will cry in despair while His children shout for joy!

Conclusion 

In conclusion, when Gabriel announced Christ’s coming to the Virgin Mary, he was delivering a message from God Himself.

That message was the announcement of promises soon to be fulfilled, and the inbreaking of a kingdom upon the sons of man.

Tonight we come before the Lord and remember that He is king.  We praise God that after so many years He faithfully fulfilled His promise and sent a King to rescue His enslaved children – though this king did not act like the kings among the children of men. 

This king was meek and lowly. This king came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt.

This King was born to poor parents among dirty animals and the smell of a barnyard, yet would offer the sweetest sacrificial fragrance to the Father.

This King ushered in a kingdom that, though unseen, has freed millions of captives whose lives have displayed the fruit of His kingdom’s power – a power that extends from the heavenly right hand from whence He reigns, to the moment-by-moment interactions of His Christian soldiers.

This King will one day consummate His kingdom, and bring all men into visible subjection to Himself.

In that day, His defeated enemies will wish for rocks and mountains to fall upon them rather than face His wrath, and His children will rejoice with an incomparable joy.

On that day we will remember the prophet Zephaniah’s words:

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth. (Zephaniah 3:17-19, ESV)
 

On that day, His children will once again say, “The King is here!”

Closing Prayer

END NOTES


[i] It is interesting how many commentators describe the obscurity of this small town of Nazareth – especially in contrast to Gabriel’s previous destination which was the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem.  Some note that the “city” of Nazareth being located in Galilee was significant because it was Galilee which was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” due to its proximity to foreign lands and probably its mix of inhabitants.  Some even see this as an early sign that Jesus was born as a Savior to the world and not the Jews alone.

[ii] In his book ‘Unseen Realities’, R.C. Sproul writes about this passage, “So we see, again, the angel functioning both as messenger and as authoritative communicator of the Word of God.”

[iii] As John MacArthur notes, “In Jewish practice, girls were usually engaged at the age of twelve or thirteen and married at the end of a one-year betrothal period.”

[iv] Leon Morris states, “It is, of course, a complete misunderstanding to translate ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’, and understand the words to mean that Mary would be a source of grace to other people. Gabriel is saying simply that God’s favor rests on her.”

[v] Geldenhuys notes that there are no articles in the Greek so that it is just “Son of Highest” which he says is done “in order to indicate the absolute uniqueness and highness of His divine Sonship.”

[vi] There are SO many other scriptures that I could have quoted here. I love, for instance, what is found in Zephaniah 3:15-20 and the emphasis of God being in the midst of Israel, His people.  He is called “a mighty one who will save” and that “he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with loud singing.” So beautiful the picture of the love of our king.

[vii] Later in this same Psalm (89) in verses 34-37 the author beautifully repeats the promise again, “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.  His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”

[viii] Peter Gentry notes that, “Traditionally, theologians have viewed the Davidic covenant as unconditional. It is true that the content of the covenant consists in the might promises made by Yahweh. Nonetheless, as verses 14-15 (of 2 Sam. 7) show, faithfulness is expected of the king, and these verses foreshadow the possibility of disloyalty on the part of the king, which will require discipline by Yahweh.”

[ix] There are so many good passages which anticipate the coming king in the context of a new covenant – one of the anticipatory passages of David’s offspring that I didn’t mention above is in Jeremiah 23:5-8. It is a neat passage which talks about how the people of Israel will one day see a “righteous Branch” raised up from David and that Branch “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” I really appreciate the work of D.A. Carson and Greg Beale who had this passage and several others listed in their ‘Commentary on the New Testament Use of the old Testament.’

[x] I simply cannot accept John MacArthur’s view on the nature of the kingdom.  MacArthur incorrectly states, “The Lord Jesus Christ clearly did not establish His kingdom at His first coming.”  I will endeavor to show in section two of my exegesis on Luke 1:32-33 that Jesus Himself said that the kingdom of God had come.  MacArthur’s view is a distortion of Scripture based on a hermeneutic that must protect his dispensational premillennial view at (seemingly) all costs.  So while I greatly respect Dr. MacArthur’s scholarship on many fronts, its clear that his thinking takes a bizarre turn in his commentary on Luke 1 when addressing this topic.  Not only is he wrong on the aforementioned item, but he distorts the amillenialist view of eschatology by asserting that “the promised kingdom is not limited to Christ’s present spiritual reign, as amillenialists advocate.”  I don’t know who he is reading, but I have yet to find an amillenialist who believes Christ’s reign is merely spiritual and not a reign over all of creation, a real actual sovereignty that exists but will be consummated at His second coming.  All of this distortion is done in an effort to preserve the idea that Christ’s physical reign will be only during the millennium. MacArthur has to virtually ignore all the scriptures that refer to Christ’s current session.  Lastly, MacArthur’s argument against a “merely spiritual” reign is, in fact, what he himself argues!  For he states the following, “Jesus Christ rules spiritually in the heart of every believer and that spiritual rule will last forever because salvation is forever. But that does not preclude the future literal, earthly, millennial kingdom.”  In other words, he believes that Christ’s reign right now is just spiritual!  Really, there is very little difference between his view and that of the amillenialist when it comes to the future and current reign of Christ in that He and the Amill folks both believe in a current spiritual reign of Christ (Despite what he writes in his commentary, for the sake of charity I will give him the benefit of the doubt that if he were here arguing with me he would say that he also believes Christ reigns over creation and all things as well and take steps to qualify his words) as well as a future physical reign of Christ at His second coming.  Obviously after that the time, nature, and location of that reign is highly disputed and MacArthur’s dispensationalism asserts something completely different than the Amill folks he picks a fight with in this instance.  But other than those (important) distinctions, there is no need to misconstrue the views of those who don’t agree with his own (wacko) view.  I took the time to work through this because its important to understand and stand firmly by the fact that when Christ came He DID usher in a REAL kingdom.  Just because that kingdom doesn’t look like what MacArthur thinks it ought to look like doesn’t make it any less REAL and doesn’t take away any of the ramifications of the reality of that kingdom.  These ramifications must be addressed and cannot be simply ignored by blindly looking toward a future kingdom while ignoring present realities. To do this would ignore the significant already/not yet tension that the NT writers (especially Paul and the author of Hebrews) see/describe.

[xi] These notes from Greg Beale are from his New Testament Biblical Theology on page 431 and are actually a part of an excursus on eschatological aspects of the inaugurated end-time kingdom in the synoptic gospels. A very helpful little section of his book indeed.

[xii] Sam Storms has this to say, “Thus the kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God, or his sovereign lordship, dynamically active to establish his rule among men. There are two decisive and dramatic moments in the manifestation of his kingdom: first, as it is fulfilled within history in the first advent of the Son, whereby Satan was defeated and men and women are brought into the experience of the blessings of God’s reign, and second, as it will be consummated at the close of history in the second advent of the Son, when he will finally and forever destroy his enemies, deliver his people and all of creation from evil, and establish his eternal rule in the new heavens and new earth.”  This is just a fantastic summary of the kingdom theology that the New Testament gives us.  I would have included in the main body of the sermon, but there were already so many resources and authors from which to draw that I had to slim the manuscript down a little.

[xiii] Vos’ description of the already/not yet and the kingdom were taken from pages 34 and 166 of an Anthology of his work compiled by Danny Olinger.

Christ our Great High Priest

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

Christ our Great High Priest

December 8, 2013

Key Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading of Text and Opening Prayer

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

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

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

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

  

Exegesis of the Text 

PART 1

The inadequacy of the law’s repeated sacrifices 

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

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

Christ as Antitype

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

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

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

Puritan Pastor and Theologian John Owen said:

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

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

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

The Problem: Never Perfected

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

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

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

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

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

That Horrid Reminder!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Point???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully the Spirit doesn’t stop there…

 

PART 2

The OT sacrifices are superseded by Christ’s sacrifice 

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Pleasure

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

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

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

Anticipating the Incarnation

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Covenant is “Done Away With” 

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

“Sanctified”

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

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

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

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

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

Paul expressed it this way:

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

PART 3

The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood 

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

The Supremacy of Christ’s Priesthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ’s Intercession for Us

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

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

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

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

Christ’s Work vs. Our Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 4

The (supremacy) adequacy of the new covenant 

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

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

The Supremacy of the New Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

10:17 then he adds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Closing Prayer

Appendix 1 – Christ’s Antitypical Role as Priest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix 2 – The Chiastic Structure of the Passage

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

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

Appendix 3 – The Reason for OT Sacrificing

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur says:

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

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

Appendix 4 – The Session of Christ

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

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

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

Martin Luther, commenting on the Psalm said the following:

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

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

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

End Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Holy Night

With each passing Christmas season it seems as though I get more and more excited with its advent (no pun intended), and enjoy each year more than the previous year.  One of my favorite parts of the season are the Christmas songs – not the annoying ones that Congress ought to pass a law against (we can snoop on people’s cell phone conversations but we can’t make “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” go away???), but the ones that move our souls to remember why the season is so special.

To that end, I thought about writing a few few posts about my favorite songs and what makes them so darn good. Hopefully this is the first of several…feel free to comment and tell me what your favorite songs are and why.

Oh Holy Night

I can’t listen to this song without something stirring inside. The song takes us back to that moment of incarnation in Bethlehem better than most musical reproductions of the scene. In the first verse, the scene is set, you hear about the starts, the night, and you are there.

You are also reminded of the plight of man.  Something has gone terribly wrong, and what is about to happen on this night is about to change, well, everything.  The verse says, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.”  What are we pining for?  A Savior.   A Rescuer. The melody takes on a decidedly morose tone meant to cast some sadness on your heart, and remind you what is at stake…the fate of the world.

Then the second stanza breaks in:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, let ever, ever praise Thee
 

This is where I lose it!  Haha!  Seriously though, let me explain:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
 

These chains and the slavery are bound up in one idea, and it comes in a hint from the first stanza – sin.  The whole world is bound up together in one cataclysmic death spiral and we’re spinning out of control toward one not so particularly delightful end.

Jesus, the One whose birth we’re hovering about in our minds eye is the One who is breaking the chains – Jesus is the pronoun “He” here – and He’s breaking both the chains of slavery and oppression (inferring that this slavery isn’t so great, in fact its vile and its destroying us).  But it doesn’t stop there – the writer says that the “slave is our brother”, which could mean so many things, but in the context of the hymn what I think it means is that we are all slaves from the same family now having been redeemed by Christ.  French poet Placide Cappeau who wrote the original lyrics first had a verse which was initially translated, “He sees a brother where there was only a slave, love unites those that iron had chained.”

So the thrust of this sentiment is that we are all in bondage to sin.  It also has overtones that both physically free and physically enslaved all share in the brotherhood of mankind and are all slaves together until Christ redeems those who put their faith in Him.

It always “gets” me to sing that “in His name all oppression shall cease” because the idea here is there is this power – a real power – in the name of the baby being born. Why is that?  Because He is a being born a King!  Kings utter a word and servants obey. They go and do whatever their Lord tells them to do. When Jesus opens His mouth, every syllable necessarily brings forth obedience (think of the wind and waves obeying Him later in His ministry, and the creation coming forth at the beginning of Genesis 1).  It is awful comforting to think that at the word of our King all oppression shall cease.

Finally, the hymn breaks forth into doxology:

Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, let ever, ever praise Thee

 

Paul’s Romans 11 praise echoes in my mind, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Rom. 11:33, 36)

When I sing this part of the verse, I realize that “all that is within us” praising “His holy name” is a call to respond to all the truth the writer has just impressed on our minds and hearts.  That truth is that though the world was lost in the mire and bondage of sin, though the oppression of life had seemed to rule the day, though the entire course of life seemed destined toward eternal misery, yet here is One who will snatch us up from death into newness of life!  This is the day, this is the hour, this is the moment when the “Christ” the “Savior” the “King” has come.

What a great song! I hope you can sing this song with gusto this Christmas as you ponder these profound and glorious truths in your heart.

 

The Innkeeper

John Piper and Crossway Publishing have put together a video for the Christmas season of Piper reading his book ‘The Innkeeper’ – a powerful book.  I read the book earlier this year and really enjoyed it.

The reason I enjoy the book so much is because of the end.  I won’t spoil it for you, but leave you to enjoy it for yourself!

Study Notes 11-25-12

8:37-38 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Who’s Your Daddy?

Now Jesus turns to address their confusion, and while He acknowledges that they are the physical offspring of Abraham, yet they are obviously missing the point, so He uses this as an opportunity to teach them something about Abraham, something about themselves, something about the Himself, and something about the Fatherhood of God.

First let’s address these Pharisees and their relation to Abraham. They may technically be descendants of Abraham by genealogy, but that is missing the point – and they are probably claiming much more.  As Calvin explains:

What they continually claim and vaunt of is, that they are Abraham’s children; by which they do not simply mean that they are the lineal descendants of Abraham, but that they are a holy race, the heritage of God, and the children of God. And yet they rely on nothing but the confidence of the flesh. But carnal descent, without faith, is nothing more than a false pretense.

Furthermore, Paul points out that coming from the seed of Abraham was not necessarily the only qualification for being a spiritual (chosen) child of God (Gen. 21:9-10; Rom. 9:7; Gal. 4:21-31).  Their sinfulness exhibits the very reason they cannot be rightfully called sons of Abraham.

Paul explains that there was a reason why Abraham received his promises prior to Israel even becoming a nation. These people are claiming that they are part of the genealogical nation of Israel – “we are Jews” they are saying.  But they do not understand that the promise of Abraham being a Father to many nations came prior to the existence of Israel.  Here is what Paul says in Galatians:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. [8] And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [9] So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

Calvin further illumines our minds as to what is at stake here:

The state of the question therefore is this: Ought they to be accounted Abraham’s children who reject the blessing offered to them in the word, so that, notwithstanding of this, they shall be a holy nation, the heritage of God, and a royal priesthood? (Exodus 19:6; Joel 3:2.) Christ denies this, and justly; for they who are the children of the promise must be born again by the Spirit, and all who desire to obtain a place in the kingdom of God ought to be new creatures. Carnal descent from Abraham was not indeed useless, and of no value, provided that the truth were added to it. For election dwells in the seed of Abraham, but it is free, so that all whom God sanctifies by his Spirit are accounted heirs of life.

Second, they miss this first point not because they weren’t as smart as Paul, but because His word “finds no place in (them).” This tells us something about them as a people. They are unregenerate haters of God. This is simply the inverse of what He said in verse 31 when He said that His disciples would be ones who “abided” in His word. These people are not His disciples, therefore His word (the very word of God) found no place in them.

Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Thirdly, He makes yet another astounding claim to deity.  I explained earlier how He made a veiled claim at deity when He said in verse 14 “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.”

We had concluded that He was essentially saying that His word could be trusted because He was the Son of God. He had come from God, and was indeed God.

Here is more explicit and says that what He is stating is true because “I speak of what I have seen with my Father.”  This is sort of an escalation in His dialogue from the implicit to the explicit.  Now He is claiming outright to have seen God.

If their minds were able to move as quickly as Christ’s, the Pharisees would have seen that in this short saying Jesus was stating:

1. He has seen God with His own eyes – something no mere mortal can do.  Only the Son can be pros ton theon (with/facing God) and live.

2. He is saying that God the Father is “my Father” – He is claiming divine sonship.

This reminds me of what the angel said to Zachariah in Luke 1:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

The main reason that the angel said he was to be believed was due to what he had seen and heard – where he had just come from, the throne of God. Jesus is saying the same thing here, He is saying that He is testifying to the truth of what He has seen and heard from the God of the Universe Himself, the great I AM.  He has come down from the throne room of the Lord of heaven and earth and is therefore to be believed.

The last thing Christ says, and we’ll get into this a little further down in the chapter, is that there’s a difference between His father and their father.

Clarke cites Lightfoot and helps prime the topic:

From what is here said, it is manifest, says Dr. Lightfoot, that the whole tendency of our Savior’s discourse is to show the Jews, that they are the seed of that serpent which was to bruise the heel of the Messiah: else what could that mean, John 8:44: Ye are of your father the devil, i.e. ye are the seed of the serpent.

8:39-41a They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, [40] but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”

The trust of this passage is that the Pharisees are still completely baffled by what Jesus is getting at.  They don’t quite know where He is going with this line of argument, but they don’t like it one bit.  Jesus is also saying that while they might (rightfully even) claim to be descendents of Abraham, they are not behaving like children of Abraham.  Christ excoriates them for their behavior – particularly their murderous intent.

Therefore, Christ is saying, “you might be physical descendents of Abraham but you are not acting like God’s people. You are trying to murder yet another man who has been sent from God – a man who has heard the very words of God. Abraham never would have behaved in this way.”

This reminds me of what Christ said to them at another time when in the temple:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, [30] saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ [31] Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. [32] Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. [33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? [34] Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, [35] so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. [36] Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:29-36 ESV)

Adoption – A Wonderful Doctrine!

So contrary to the words of those who are under the control of the Devil, the sway of this world, and their flesh are the works of those who are God’s children.

There is a misconception in the world today among many practicing evangelical Christians, and also among many other religions leaders and followers of other religions.  The misconception is this: that we are all “children of the same God.”  You here this kind of language used a lot with the hopes of sounding ecumenical and peaceful and loving toward others.  But we cannot love others if we lie to others.

J.I. Packer clears the air on this in his classic book ‘Knowing God’, he says:

The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. The Old Testament shows God as the Father, not of all, but of his own people, the seed of Abraham. “Israel is my first born son,…Let my son go” (Ex. 4:22-23). The New Testament has a world vision, but it too shows God as the Father, not of all, but of those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their divine sin-bearer and master, and so become Abraham’s spiritual seed. “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ…You are all one in Jesus Christ. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed” (Gal. 3:26-29).  Sonship to God is not, therefore, a universal status into which everyone enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus. (‘Knowing God’ – Chapter 19)

Furthermore, in his first epistle, John gives us more reason to believe Packer’s words:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

God’s love, as described by the apostle John, would not be anything distinguishing or amazing if it were given to all mankind. In fact John makes a distinction between those of the world, and those who are children of God.  That alone ought to dispel any lingering notion of the entirety of humanity being God’s children.

But far apart from what sonship is not, Packer reminds us of the awesome privilege of being called sons of God. What an amazing thing to meditate upon. It is certainly one of the Bible’s most wonderful truths!

8:41b They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

This is a nasty little hint that they are making – essentially some commentators say that they’re hinting that Jesus Himself was born of sexual immorality. I’m not sure if this is because of His unknown origins, or because of nasty rumors spread about Him.  Either way, they are now dipping down past a real debate on the issues and into a nasty exchange of slurs against Jesus.

And this is pretty typical, if you think about it, in a debate when one is losing the high ground.  In desperation the man slipping from his sure debate footing resorts to a personal attack instead of backing up his facts, or exposing his challenger’s premises as false etc. They have no more fact to resort to; they are completely empty of sound argument.

Lastly, we see that their hubris knows no bounds.  In their stupidity, they go so far as to assert that they are children of the Most High. Thus, they have set themselves up for the final lesson of the discourse on the nature of the Fatherhood of God.

8:42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

Jesus reiterates that He came from God, and that God sent Him, which He has stated before. But He also addresses their claim at a familial relationship with the Most High.

John says this later in his first epistle:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10] Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. [11] But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)

These men were still in darkness and therefore they hated Jesus.  Can this be anymore plain? I think not.  Those who are not saved, not born again, hate instead of love.  They persecute instead of protect, they harbor darkness in their hearts instead of confessing their sins to God their Father. The contrast is clear and evident from their behavior – that is the essence of what Christ is saying to them here.

Application…this leads me to look inwardly and wonder at how often I have acted as one who is an unbeliever.  How often, with coolness in my demeanor, have I slandered my brother?  How often have I showed hatred instead of love? What about you? Do you find that you are not showing love to one another? There ought to be nothing but love for all who are believers.  If someone is wrong, if someone has sinned, approach them in love with a sincere heard because you love them. I think so often we grow up cold. We need to never cease to find ways to shower one another in love. Let us think actively on how we can show each other love. Here is what Paul said in Romans:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12] Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [13] Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13)

8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.

This is a repetition of what he said earlier in verse 37 – namely that His word had found no place in them. Not only can they not understand what he is saying, they cannot even bear to hear what he is saying! It causes them revulsion inside.  For what fellowship has light with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14)?

8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Now we come to it, Jesus makes it plane exactly who their father is, and you can bet that they aren’t going to like what He says.  Sometimes I think it’s easy to gloss over this.  We wince a little bit, and then move on. We think, “Wow Jesus, that’s pretty harsh! Did you really have to go that far? I mean you basically said it, you inferred it, but did you have to actually SAY it???”  You bet He did!  You see, when a great truth is being explained in the Bible, the way writers and teachers would make sure that the listener understood a topic’s importance would be to continually repeat the explanation or the key points over and over.

Teachers in Jesus’ day would repeat their key points because, chances are, their listeners weren’t taking notes – they were having to mentally memorize all that they said.  So here we have something that, while it seems harsh (and indeed it is), is an important truth coming from the embodiment of truth Himself.

So Jesus is saying that far from simply living in darkness and not loving His words, they also love to do the will of the one who is the dominant force for evil in this world, namely, the Devil. In John 3 we read a little about this:

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

The next important thing Jesus lets us in on here is a little history about the person we know as Satan. We learn two important things about Satan:

  1. He is a liar – it is in his very nature to be a liar
  2. He is a murderer – and has been from the beginning

Let me address each characteristic.

Satan is a Liar

Lying is Satan’s chief tool.  We read about this all over the Bible, but since Christ pointed to “the beginning” here, let’s take a look at his first recorded (spoken) lie:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” [4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

And so we see here that ever since the beginning of time, Satan has been lying to human beings. Why? Because it is in his character to do so, and because he has an end-goal…which we’ll talk about next…

Satan is a Murderer – and Christ Conquered Him at the Cross

As we continue on in Genesis 3 we read the following:

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”(Genesis 3:14-15)

I have briefly talked about this passage in the past, this is what theologians call the protoevangelium because it is the “first Gospel” message in the Bible. In this passage we hear God cursing Satan, and we learn that Satan’s fate is sealed.  One day he will receive a permanent blow to the head. This will come from the Son of Man – the Christ, Jesus Himself – and indeed this blow came at the cross.

But we also learn from this passage that there is enmity between mankind and between Satan. This word enmity is a war-like word, it is a murderous word, it means “hatred” and is the signaling of war between Satan and the mankind – specifically between Satan and those who are God’s elect here on earth.

As we see above Satan is a liar, but the reason he is a liar is because his intention is to kill all of the offspring of Adam, especially God’s elect. He is a murderer, Christ says, and he has been since he first deceived Adam and Even.

So make no mistake about this: Satan is not interested in simply tripping you up so that you won’t be a kind, gentle person who is nice to their neighbors. No, while that is certainly on his agenda, his goal is your death – especially your spiritual death.

However, when Christ came and died on the cross He dealt a fatal blow to Satan. He conquered sin and He conquered death as well.  Satan, who had the power of death, no longer had that power. Spiritual death was no longer in the cards for everyone. In fact, low and behold, all who were the saints come before were also given the righteousness and life that Christ earned during His life and death here on earth!

This is important to understand. Christ fulfilled this promise on the cross. Satan’s power has been dramatically impugned. Listen to what Christ says:

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)

Elsewhere Christ explains in a parable that He has bound and curtailed Satan’s activity here on earth:

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:28-29 ESV)

John explains this further in his first epistle, and also echoes Christ’s words on Satan’s character:

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

In fact, in both Revelation 12 and Revelation 20 Satan is seen as cast down from his lofty perch, as Christ has come at His first advent.  Robert Strimple explains:

Revelation 12 describes a restraint placed on Satan at Christ’s first coming. Satan wanted to destroy the woman and her child, but could not. Accompanying these events was a heavenly battle in which Satan was cast down from heaven. Might Rev 20 be a recapitulation of his? In both places Satan is “cast down” by an angel or angels.

As a side note, some might wonder, “if Satan has been bound as Scripture says he is, then why are there so many trials and death and such still among the people of God, and in the world in general?”  Strimple explains in outline form:

Evidence that Revelation 20:1 is a Figurative Representation of Christ’s Victory Over Satan at the Cross

  1. At the cross Satan was bound – but not absolutely. Similarly, Rev. 20 says that Satan is bound, but adds: that he might deceive the nations no longer. The word, ethn(“nations”) was used by the Jews to designate the Gentiles. Hence, Rev 20 links Satan’s binding with the arrival of salvation for the Gentiles in the present age.
    1. Jesus did commission the mission to the gentiles (Acts 26:17-18)
    2. Our struggle with evil powers (Eph 6:11-12) is not inconsistent with their being bound: Jude 6, 2 Pet 2:4, Rev 9:14 all speak of the fallen angels being bound, awaiting punishment. But this does not mean that they are not active.

Therefore the blow has been dealt, and the end of Satan will come at the close of the age, when Christ consummates his kingdom and destroys Satan forever.

Christ’s Foreknowledge

Lastly, this may seem obvious, but listen to how Christ talks about “the beginning.”  He is talking as one with authority.  He is talking as if He has been their Himself! As so He was. I don’t know if this was lost on His listeners at the time, but its significant for what we’ll be reading next week, because Christ is leading up to an amazing statement in verses 56 and 58 that is about to blow their minds.

Side Note: One of the things that Jesus is doing here is layering His argument. He gives them a little something, and then a little more, and little by little as He peals back the layers on the onion you begin to realize that He is teaching several very profound truths here one on top of another, and each truth becoming clearer and clearer as He goes, all leading to the ultimate truth which we’ll read about next time in verse 58.

8:45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [46] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? [47] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

In verse 47 we see a repetition of what Christ has said earlier, namely that because they are not from God they do not understand what He is saying. John later wrote in his epistle:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

But there is more ground here that we haven’t covered. Namely, that He is claiming absolute sinlessness, and He is giving them a reason for why they don’t believe them in a way that we ought to meditate upon.

Look at verse 45, but especially the word “because” – if this word were omitted, then we would simply have two factual statements:

  1. That He is telling the truth
  2. That they don’t believe Him

Only when we consider the word “because” are we let into the stinging reason they don’t believe Him, and this reason ties in everything we have talked about earlier with regard to their nature, their not being born again, and the nature of Satan himself.

He says that the reason they don’t believe Him, is “because” He tells the truth! It isn’t that He’s saying that they don’t’ believe Him because they don’t like what He says, or because its antithetical to their behavior or their background or learning. No He is more acute than that.  He is saying that simply on the basis of His telling the truth they weren’t going to believe Him.

Their minds would therefore only accept the antithesis of truth – thus explaining further why their father was the father of lies (Satan). They only accept that which is untruth and when they are encountered with the truth (the very truth incarnate in this case) they reject it outright because it is against all that they are, their mindset, their nature, their habit is against God’s truth, so far are they away from being children of God. They are, in fact, the very antithesis of what God wants for His children.

A Warning to Heed, and a Blessing to the Praise of God

These men could not hear the words of God because they were enemies of God, as you were once as well. If you have heard the words of God and have repented of your sins and become reconciled to God in Christ, you have also been adopted.  That is the message of this passage. The promise of Christ is that for all who hear His words and believe on Him will be saved – and will also be brought into a glorious new family.  Listen finally to the words of Packer:

This free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cross of Calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience – but justification does not of itself imply any intimate for deep relationship with God the judge.  In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God result.

But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption God takes us into his family and fellowship – he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is a greater.

It’s coming up on Christmas time, and this always reminds me of the great gift that God gave the world in His Son. The doctrine of Adoption says that not only do we receive the gift of salvation, but also of brotherhood with Christ and the fatherhood of the Most High.  Lastly, we know that because of this Christ receives us as a love gift from the Father. The elect of God are His gift to His son.  We have been purchased and adopted by the Father. A gift planned for Jesus from the beginning of time! An amazing thought to meditate upon this Christmas season.