How to Come to God

These are notes I wrote today for the passage Luke 18:15-30. I hope you profit by them!

Luke 18:15-30

There are two sections here that I’m going to examine, and even though they hold much of the same teaching from the last section, I’m going to look at them together on their own for the time being.

The first section we see Jesus responding to the disciples reaction of these parents who are bringing their little children to be blessed by Him. His reaction is what we’ll look closely at in a moment.

The second section has to do with a wealthy young man who presents himself before Jesus, and has a question concerning eternal life.

In both instances, we’ll examine Jesus’ reaction to them, what he says specifically, of course, as well as the mindset of how each type of person (the children and the rich man) presents themselves before Jesus.

I believe that from these passages we’re going to learn the following:

  1. Who, or more appropriately, how, can a person enter the kingdom of God. There will be two component parts to this – what God does on our behalf, and what our response to His doing looks like in our lives.
  2. In light of this, what ought our attitudes and mindset about life be? And I mean this for both for Christians and those seeking the kingdom still.

18:15-17 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. [16] But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. [17] Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

It wasn’t an uncommon practice for local Rabbis to lay their hands upon children and bless them. There’s nothing magical about the laying on of hands, rather it is a way to show love for the child, and bring them before God in humility and gratitude.

During my trip to Israel last summer, we spent our Friday evening enjoying Shabbat with a Jewish family. Eventually we came to a place in the evening when the father was supposed to bless their child. It was really neat to see the father’s hold their children close – even the teens – and speak a blessing over them. It was done with hugs and kisses and much love.

This is the scene here – it is very intimate, and very special.

Therefore when the disciples callously attempted to shoo away these parents, Jesus reacted with a rebuke. No doubt the disciples were thinking of their master, and his own well being. They didn’t want him crowded every moment of every day. But Jesus loved his children – especially the youngest of them, and he used this as a teaching moment, as he had so many other times previously.

The principle here that Jesus wants to get through is that the kingdom of heaven is populated by children. There are two parts of this. First, there is the literal part – where he says, “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Heaven, God’s kingdom, will be populated with MANY an infant, many a child who never reached an older age in this life.

For parents who have lost children through miscarriage or abortion, or even through tragedy that comes later, this truth is extremely reassuring.

But as reassuring as this is, this is not the primary theological point that Jesus wants to make. For he continues on saying, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

You can tell he’s about to teach an important principle when he interjects the word “truly.”

Note two things. First He says, “receiving” the kingdom. The kingdom isn’t something you can earn on your own merit. It is not something that enter by your own merit, as we’ll examine here shortly.

Now secondly, what he says about receiving the kingdom is that one must be “like” a child.

What are some of the ways in which a child approaches the topic God that might differ from an adult?

Mainly, a child comes to God with very little in the way of presuppositions or assumptions. They come with the expectation of acceptance, and they come in humility. They aren’t thinking, “I deserve to be here” or “I’m going to be an extra good so I can come to God” – in fact, just saying those things aloud as if they come from a child’s mouth sounds preposterous!

They come in response to a prompting of love – with hearts that are humble and not haughty. Their faith is simple in that there are minimal outside influences vying for their affections.

They don’t overcomplicate things by adding their own ideas of the terms of this relationship into the mix, nor do they cloud their minds with priorities that would inhibit their faith.

This issue of priorities, of affections, is what gets addressed next…

18:18-19 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [19] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

This account is also in Mark and Matthew, so from their accounts we divine that this is a man with wealth, and that he is young. So when we put all that together, we tend to call him, “the rich young ruler.”

Some have speculated that he is the ruler of a synagogue. But whatever his specific status, he is the exact opposite of the children that were previously the subject of our reading.

His question is tending toward eternal life, but he begins by calling Jesus “good”, and it is that adjective that Jesus latches onto as a way of answering His question.

Jesus’ reaction is that no one is good except for God. Some have stated that Jesus is either implying that he is a sinner, and therefore doesn’t deserve the title of “good.” Others say that Jesus is implying here that he is God because only God is good, and he’s using this as a way of drawing out that truth. Others still say that Jesus is just rebuffing the young man’s flattery.

But I agree with Bock that what Jesus is doing here has to be kept in context of everything else he’s stating. He’s basically pointing the man to God, and God’s incomparable character. God is holy – He alone is perfect, He alone is truly “good.” All other men have variable or subjective definitions of what exactly “good” is, but God is the ultimate definite standard for what good really is.

We see this as Jesus continues on…

18:20-22 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” [21] And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” [22] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

When the young man says, “all these I have kept from my youth” he is basically saying that HE is “good”! He is stating that he’s perfectly kept the law.

Have you ever run into someone who believes they are basically a good person, and that they really haven’t sinned recently – some say they have NEVER sinned!

This is the attitude and the mindset of this young man. And Jesus blows it up. He hits him in the heart. When he tells him to sell all that he has, what he’s doing is exposing the man as an idolater – as someone whose priorities aren’t right.

At face value this guy seemed pretty holy – he seemed like a “good” guy, right? I mean, here he is seeking out a local rabbi asking about eternal life. His head is in the game, he’s asking the right questions, he’s crossing the right boxes off, right?

No – wrong answer! What was the problem here? Let’s see…

18:23-25 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. [24] Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! [25] For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now here we see what’s going on, if we didn’t already pick up on it.

What is the difference between this man, and the children who were coming to Jesus?

The main difference was faith and priorities. Put another way, it can all be boiled down to affections.

As I mentioned before, a young child has no affections for this world that inhibit them from hmbly coming before God and asking for eternal life. They represent one end of the life-experience scale.

On the other end of the scale is this rich man – not just rich though, he’s also a “ruler” – heck, he even had youth going for him! He had it all – he was young, and he had both power and wealth. And that’s really it, right? I mean that’s what we want out of life. Sure some might have a difference ratio on the affections meter. They might want 80% wealth and only a little power, or they might be satisfied if they could just control their circumstances and live a moderately good life, so long as they were in control and had the freedom they longed for and the power to make it happen.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in between the children and this rich ruler, with finances and freedom or power (I regard the American middle class idea of Freedom sometimes as equivalent to that of power when it comes to affections).

With that in mind, look at how the man reacts. He has so much to loose, so he walks away. The kids have nothing to loose, so they have no problem coming to God.

Right about now the dilemma might be hitting you just as it hit the disciples: anyone who has lived in this life for a decent number of years will have affections that crowd out eternal truth.

Jesus acknowledges this issue – he says its super difficult to get into heaven if you have riches – hence the saying about shoving a camel through the eye of a needle. There are some who’ve said that this is talking about how camels had to stoop to crawl on their belly to get into the “needle” entranceway of a city. But that’s erroneous. It’s not that Jesus just wants humility, when we approach God, he wants an open hand of faith – as goes the old hymn:

“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling” (Rock of Ages)

This prompts the disciples to say the following…

18:26-27 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” [27] But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

In other words, no merit of your own, no fake humility, no false courage, no amount of good works is going to get you into heaven. What has to happen is a change in your affections. And this only happens by the grace of God. In other words, this kind of faith is the gift of God.

Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 2:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] 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. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

Therefore salvation – entry into the kingdom – is made possible by the power of God. And this is really evident in that most of us prize things that are not heavenly things until God brings us to Himself. Our lives are characterized by a love of anything and everything but God. We love football, golf, cars, shopping, and even our iPhones more than we love God!

But all of that changed for those who have been saved.

What happens next in this passage is that Peter realizes, “hey, this is me! This is our group! We have done this!”

And again, Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.

[28] And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” [29] And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

The natural man’s objection to all of this is, “hey, I like my life! Don’t take my fun away from me. I may not have much, but I have XYZ. So things are pretty good. What’s so great about God that I need to reorient all my priorities and affections anyway?”

This is the difference between the children and the rich man – it’s all about affections. What we care most about. And we make the (wrongful) assumption that the stuff we are aiming for, or have obtained here in our lives isn’t worth giving up.

Jesus blows this out of the water as well.

He says that when you leave all the world behind – even the things that are worthwhile like family – when you put me first in your heart, you will “receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

He is saying that not only is this a matter of eternal life, it’s a matter of living a great live NOW.

Having the right affections will bring about a life that is so much more fulfilling, so much richer, so much better. In other words – you are clinging onto a miserable existence compared to what I am prepared to give you.

For the Christian these words ought to just remind us to re-orient our minds around the truth of the Gospel. It’s so easy in the rush of life to let other priorities crowd into our heart. The way I think of this is that what your mind is occupied with, will eventually occupy your heart. Obviously from here there are physical, day-to-day implications. What you love most you’ll do most.

Jesus redeems the activities of our lives and gives them both a purpose and a perspective.

He helps us see here that by prioritizing Him first in your mind and heart, you can keep perspective over both the good and the bad in life. That’s how Paul was able to say:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

Note who is supplying the power here – it is God. Today, be reminded and refreshed in these truths and don’t let other priorities crowd out the eternal promise that Jesus has for us here.

For those of you who are not Christians, perhaps the message of these passages has really set in sharp relief the contrast between your life and what you value most, and how Jesus has taught us to approach God.

At issue here are your priorities, and what you value most in this life. What do you think most about? What do you spend most of your time on? Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can live your life by your own dictums, your own measure of what “good” is, and then show that measuring rod to God when you die.

What will He say? What will He do? He will respond that only HE is good, and that your works are nothing comparatively. Your priorities were not His. Your heart was not His. He’ll tell you to get lost – and you’ll walk away like this young man did – only you will be walking away for eternity. Thus, you will have squandered a life of joy now, and an eternity of happiness hereafter.

What is required is a heart that recognizes your sinfulness and your low stature before God, and desires (I use that word purposefully) to be made right with Him. The way this can be done is by believing in the Gospel of His Son, Jesus Christ.

By calling upon Jesus, by believing that He is who He says He is, and by repenting of your sins, you will receive this gift of eternal life that alluded the rich young ruler. It’s really simple, but its really hard, nigh on impossible to do without the help of God. Ask Him for that help.

Study Notes: Revelation 1:4-6

1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 

Here John tells us to whom he’s addressing this letter – to the seven churches in Asia. There were more than simply seven churches in Asia (as Voddie Baucham points out), but these might simply be the main churches to whom John has been working/corresponding. In fact, there were many other churches that were equally significant (see Mounce). So we can guess all we want, but I haven’t yet read any convincing argument on why these specific churches would have been picked. It is enough, I believe, that Jesus ordained these letters to be handed down to us today and that He picked these specific churches for His reasons and His glory.

Hendriksen points out that on a map, they form a sort of irregular circle. Ephesus was the closest to John physically, but perhaps also relationally.[i]

I believe (as do others) that its important that the Lord, in His sovereignty, directed these letters written to the number of churches (7) that represent the idea of “fullness” or “completeness” and “perfection” in the Bible. Thereby leading many scholars to believe that while the Lord was certainly speaking to specific churches with specific people during John’s life and in his ministry, He was also speaking the “whole” or “complete” church – the universal church.

Baucham certainly believes this, and Hendriksen says bluntly, “These seven churches represent the entire church throughout this dispensation.” I think of it like this – just because something is used as a figure or symbol doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or had real application in its context. Jesus spoke many words to Pharisees and disciples that had meaning to those people in that context, yet they still hold meaning for us today. The fig tree Jesus cursed was a real fig tree, yet it had greater meaning for many throughout the ages.[ii]

Therefore, while written to specific real churches with real Christians, this letter is still relevant for the universal church, the complete and full church across all geographical boundaries for all time. Just as we still apply the lessons of the gospels and the epistles of Paul to our lives today, so too this letter applies to us today.

He begins with the greeting “grace and peace” and its well that he says “grace” first, for as Beale says in one of his sermons on the text, grace must always precede peace. The greeting is meant as a reminder of the grace they have received by way of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the peace it has brought them not only in this life, but eternally. This greeting is a refreshing way of encouraging the elect and quickly identifying in their minds just exactly who they are and who is writing the letter. This letter is from the Prince of Peace, this letter is from the One who has extended grace to you and saved your lives.

Hendriksen summarizes better than most, “Grace is God’s favor given to those who do not deserve it, pardoning their sins and bestowing upon them the gift of eternal life. Peace, the reflection of the smile of God in the heart of the believer who has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, is the result of grace. This grace and this peace are provided by the Father, dispensed by Holy Spirit, and merited for us by the Son.”

Then we are told from whom the message comes. John describes him as “him who is and who was and who is to come.” I love that because it reminds us that what you’re about to read was preordained from before the foundation of the world, is being currently underwritten and guaranteed, and will be upheld until the end of history. The forthcoming letter’s veracity is built upon the enduring character of God. Not only that, the emphasis on the timelessness of God reminds us again of the timelessness of His Word. By prefacing His message in this way He is reminding them that this word – His word – will be relevant from now until the end of time and beyond, for:

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

As Beale says so well:

The purpose of this revelation is to give the eternal, transhistorical perspective of “the one who is and who was and who is coming,” which can enable them to understand his commandments and so motivate them to obedience (vs.3). Confidence in God’s sovereign guidance of all earthly affairs instills courage to stand strong in the face of difficulties that test faith: this is the point of the OT expression which lie behind “the one who is and who was and who is coming.[iii]

Next we are told that there is another co-author in the Godhead, the “seven spirits who are before his throne.” We’re only four verses into this letter and already we’re going to have to try and understand what is meant by this description. Are there seven literal spirits floating around the throne of God? What is John talking about here? Who are these spirits? What are they?

The key is in the number. The number is used to communicate a concept, an idea. Seven is used to communicate fullness, completeness, as I mentioned earlier. So seven here represents the Holy Spirit in His universal function and mission. 

There is also a close connection between the lampstands we read about in 1:20, and the “seven spirits” as well. We are told in verse 20 that the lampstands represent the church, and Beale sees close ties between verse 4’s “seven spirits” and golden lampstands lit with the fire that stand “before the throne” (before likely meaning a role as messenger):

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God (Revelation 4:5).

If we assume the lampstands/torches are the church and the Holy Spirit is normally symbolized by fire (think Pentecost), then it would make sense for John to say here in chapter 4 that “the seven spirits of God” are the “seven torches of fire” – the idea being that we, the lampstands, are empowered by the Spirit.

Adding to this interpretation is the context of the OT. As I mentioned before, the OT is important for understanding these things because the OT speaks in this language a great deal. Look at what Zechariah writes in chapter 4 of his book:

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”

“No, my lord,” I replied. So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:1-7)

So we see here that God Himself gives the interpretation of the seven lamps with the fire, and tells us that what is going to be accomplished will not be done by mere might or power (of man, presumably), but by the Spirit. The lamps and the olive trees – which we’ll read about more in chapter 11 – are the people of God filled with His Spirit.

Beale explains the context of Zechariah 4:

In Zachariah’s vision the lampstand represented the second temple (the part representing the whole), for which Zerubbabel had laid the foundation. On either side was an olive tree that provided oil for the lamps. Zechariah interprets the olive trees as ‘the anointed ones who are standing before the Lord of the whole earth’ (4:14), that is, as Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel.

The main point of this OT chapter (Zechariah 4) was that even though the temple kept getting delayed by outside forces and opposition, God was calling them to endurance and perseverance. It wasn’t going to be done by their strength alone, however, but by “my Spirit.”

The same is true for us today. We live by the power of the Spirit, are led into “all truth” by the Spirit, and are born again by the Spirit. Therefore once again, the OT helps give us grammatical context for what we’re reading here – it also reminds us that God’s character and methodology for interacting with man has been very similar throughout the Bible. His message and His power haven’t changed.

Revelation, as you’ll soon figure out, is going to repeat the same themes over and over again using OT imagery and OT texts to remind the seven churches – and us – that God is faithful. He was faithful in the OT and is faithful today, and will be faithful in the future.

Lastly, it seems to me that in verse 4 and 5 we have a situation where authorship is connoted. Some have said that these seven spirits are angels, because they seem to be messengers standing “before” the throne. While the note about them standing “before” the throne is a great point and may indicate a sort of messenger or implementer of the message, the same could be said of the Holy Spirit. And when you combine the NT principle that it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking through the Word of God, and making it come to life in our hearts – indeed implementing it and leading us into “all truth”, with the idea that there seems to be an authorial (authorship) role given to the seven spirits, I think we have to lean toward these spirits being the one Holy Spirit in His completeness and perfection.

1:5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 

Verse five extols the attributes of Jesus. Both His priesthood (“by his blood”) and His kingship (“the ruler”) are described in dramatic fashion here. Jesus’ kingship is seen as superior to all other kings of the earth.

This phrase is used in Colossians 1:18 and indicates his kingship and rule. “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).

Mounce is right to note that there is a very rich connection with the Messianic Psalm 89:

And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. (Psalm 89:27)

The phrase is also used in connection to our standing with Jesus. Paul says in Romans 8:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29) 

Mounce concludes, “As the risen Christ now exercises sovereign control, so also will the faithful share in his reign.”[iv]

We’re also told here that Jesus is the one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins” – this is a description of his priesthood, as I just mentioned, but also it reminds us of our former captivity to sin and death. These topics are going to be important in the coming chapters. You see, what this book will do is paint in great detail the vile nature, the horrid reality, of sin and its end – which is the “second death.”

In other words, those who think very little of their sin now in this life, ought to read the consequence of it, and see how God views their sin. God views sin as an abomination. It is a stench in His nostrils. And those who “dwell on the earth” and “refuse to repent” of their sins will one day be “cast into the lake of fire.” That’s a pretty violent end.

The violence of the end for sinners therefore sets in sharp relief that blessing which we read here – He has “freed us from our sins.”

Lastly, notice that Jesus is described as the “faithful witness” – He bears witness of the truth of the kingdom of God. Although Christ is reigning now and has ushered in His kingdom, it is invisible to the world. They do not see it, nor do they desire to seek it.

Like Christ, we are to be faithful witnesses to the kingdom of God, which leads us to verse six. 

1:6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

We are to follow Christ in both His kingship and His priesthood. We realize these privileges even now. This is both present and past – He made us and is making us – is the sense of the text. Interestingly, very similar phrasing is found in 5:10 and 20:6. The latter is that passage on the millennium that so many people are familiar with, and it says this:

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

Now this only really makes sense if we see the millennium as taking place right now. Before the kingdom of God becomes physical for every eye to see, we have to persevere (see Beale[v]).

To understand our roles as priests we need to look at the OT. Exodus 19 says:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:4-6)

The people of Israel were to be a “kingdom of priests” who would witness to God’s character, as a light to the gentile nations. They were a kingdom of priestly, holy, special people meant to show the surrounding nations what it looked like to be in a right relationship with God.

The priest was a mediator between God and people and that is how is how Israel functioned writ large on the earth. They were to be the go-between between God and the nations. They acted in a kingly way and performed priestly functions.

Today we take on this role in a new way. Peter puts it this way:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Mounce notes:

The early church understood itself to be the true Israel and the inheritors of all the blessings promised to their spiritual predecessors. Corporately they are a kingdom (which stresses their royal standing in connection with the exaltation of Christ as ruler of all earthly kingdom), and individually they are priests of God (which emphasizes their immediate access to God as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death).[vi]

We engage in our priestly responsibilities as mediators of the new covenant. We shine as lights to the world by living lives controlled by love, and sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus. As Paul says:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

So we are mediators, priests in this this way. We bring people to God, and help them make peace with God and, as Peter says, “we proclaim the excellencies” of God.

This is likely what Jesus had in mind when He announced the new covenant in John 13:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Similarly Paul in Ephesians 2:

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)

Interesting Side Note: I think it’s interesting how John has written in a sort of parallelism here in verse 5 and 5 as it corresponds to the priesthood and kingship issues. Check this out:

A. “the ruler of kings on earth” 1:5b
B. “has freed us from our sins by his blood” 1:5c
A. “and has made us a kingdom” 1:6a
B. “priests to His God and Father” 1:6b

Obviously the A’s go together and so do the B’s. Now, I’m just an amateur theologian, but this was pretty easy to spot. The idea being that we are following in His footsteps – He is making us after Himself, not by our power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

To What End?

Now what is the purpose of all of this? Why has God made us “priests and kings”? Verse six tells us why: “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”

The reason we are mediators for God is for His glory (see Isaiah 43:7). We do this out of love – we are happy to do this (2 Corinthians 5:14). It is the joy of Christ within us, a changed heart (Ezekiel 36:26) that drives us to extend Christ’s grace to others.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16).

And, as we’ll see even shortly now, this grace, this witness, will often take place during tribulation.

 

Footnotes

[i] Hendriksen, Pg. 52.

[ii] Obviously we want to be cautious not to confuse application with interpretation though. I have found that in trying to give examples of how to think appropriately about prophetic symbolism it is easy to sometimes shy away from a blunt answer because I want to give examples and help get minds to understand where John is coming from. In doing so, however, I find more trouble sometimes than is warranted! We must always be cautious with these matters.

[iii] Beale, Pg. 187.

[iv] Robert Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, Pg. 71.

[v] Beale, Sermon on Revelation 1:4-9, found here: http://www.lanesvillechurch.org/sermons-audio/970112.mp3

[vi] Mounce, Pg.’s 72-73.

3-18-12 Study Notes

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

  • Not only was he a religious leader, but he was on the Sanhedrin Council; the powerful ruling body of the Jews which made civil, legal, and religious decisions (carried out sentences as well – everything except the death penalty).
  • When I think about a similar kind of historical politico/religious council as an example, I think of the Geneva Council during the time of Calvin, which acted as a sort of political-theocratic governing body.

3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

  • There are many aspects to this verse that need to be noted.  Firstly, we see that Nicodemus came to Christ at night…its said by many commentators that he was likely ashamed of being seen with Jesus.  Surely we ought to ask ourselves the question: Are we ashamed of Christ? Do we come to Him by night because you are afraid to ask the questions you have to ask?
  • The second thing is that Nicodemus says “we” here.  By “we”, he probably means ‘we on the Council know that you have to be from God.  We can tell that you must be from God…there’s a consensus building and we know that you must be from God.’
  • Also, they assume that because He is doing these miracles through the power of God…though later some of them would say that Jesus was doing His miracles through some kind of satanic power (John 8).

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

  • When Jesus says that we must be born again, it means that the Spirit of God must bring us to Spiritual life.  He must raise us from the dead (Eph. 2:1-10) and unite us to life in (and with) Christ.  It is the Spirit who makes us alive, and it is life that comes from Christ/in Christ.  So what the Spirit is effectively doing is uniting us to Christ.
  • In order to really appreciate and/or understand what it means to be made spiritually “alive” to Christ, we must first understand the nature of being dead.  Dead men cannot see the kingdom of God according to Jesus.  Dead men cannot be made alive on their own either, as we will see in verse 5.
  • John Piper says that we have a very difficult time understanding ourselves and the depth of our sin in this spiritual deadness.  “No one knows the extent of his sinfulness. It is deeper than anyone can fathom…Our rebellion is so deep that we cannot detect or desire the glory of Christ in the gospel” says John Piper.  “Therefore, if we are going to be born again, it will rely decisively and ultimately on God.  His decision to make us alive will not be a response to what we as spiritual corpses do, but what we do will be a response to His making us alive.”
  • Certainly its important to realize our former state, for as Piper says, “We will never experience the fullness of the greatness of God’s love for us if we don’t see His love in relation to our former deadness.”

As we examine this mighty truth about our former state, it would be wise to look at a few other verses that give more context to this:

  • Colossians 2:13,14 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
  • Ephesians 2:1-10 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
  • Galatians 2:20 says,  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
  • Romans 6:2 says, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

He didn’t understand what Jesus said because he was blind to the reality of the things Jesus was saying.  Dead men can’t understand the gospel because it is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 1).

3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

  • The first thing I want to address here is the meaning of the “water” here.  Calvin notes that “water” is really similar to the New Testament’s use of the word “wind”: “Accordingly, he employed the words Spirit and water to mean the same thing, and this ought not to be regarded as a harsh or forced interpretation; for it is a frequent and common way of speaking in Scripture, when the Spirit is mentioned, to add the word Water or Fire, expressing his power. We sometimes meet with the statement, that it is Christ who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost and with fire, (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16,) where fire means nothing different from the Spirit, but only shows what is his efficacy in us.”
  • To further illustrate the point, the ESV Study Bible notes make the point that, “Wind and Spirit translate the same Greek and Hebrew words.”  Indeed these are meant to convey the same concept.  Calvin certainly agrees with this when he summarizes, “By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit.”
  • John Piper makes several good arguments as to why the word “water” here doesn’t refer to baptism, as some would suppose. He says that the words “spirit” and “water” refer to “a cleansing of the old and a creation of the new.”  Piper argues that even though we are a new creation, we still have the old man, the flesh, and therefore need that cleansing, “If the old human being, John Piper, were completely obliterated, the whole concept of forgiveness and cleansing would be irrelevant.  There would be nothing left over from the past to forgive or cleanse.”  “My guilt must be washed away.  Cleansing with water is a picture of that.”

3:6-7 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

  • Here our Lord enumerates on the contrast between that which is the flesh and that which is the Spirit, and what the differences are.  When He says “flesh” it is to mean the same type of “flesh” that Paul mentioned in Romans 7 – this is the human personality, the human will and mind/heart.
  • Just like a human being is in the flesh by God ordained means, so the Spirit creates in us a new creation, a spirit that was dead is now alive.  And this transformation can only be done by the Lord God omnipotent.  There is nothing in the creative process here that we contribute.  We are given faith and place that faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are saved.  The Spirit takes care of the rest!

3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

  • It’s amazing to think that Jesus, who tells us here that no one knows where the wind comes from or where it goes, was the One who calmed the wind on the Sea of Galilee.  And, of course, the Spirit is not going to do anything that isn’t in perfect harmony with Christ’s mind and the Father’s plan from all eternity.

3:9-10 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” [10] Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

  • And here we find a stinging rebuke of Nicodemus.  The Lord is telling him that these truths are things that he should have known from close study of the Old Testament.  But Nicodemus was not a believer, nor did it seem he was much of a scholar (though that commentary might have been made about many of the ruling class of the Jews during Jesus’ day).

In summary, how do we teach this to our children? 

When we are “born again” it is God’s supernatural work within us to save us from our sins.  The Holy Spirit breathes brand new spiritual life into us and creates a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17) uniting us with Jesus Christ (this includes the promise of being forever in heaven with Him).  Before being born again we are spiritually dead people (Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 3:17) who do not want God or the things of God (Rom. 3:11) and are actually enemies of God (Col. 1:21), slaves of sin (John 8:34, Rom. 6) and Jesus called us children of the Devil (John 8:44).  But God has intervened on our behalf (Eph. 2:4-5) so that we might trust in Jesus. Our part in salvation is to place our faith/hope in Christ for this salvation. We have to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31) in order to be saved.  But even this faith we place in Jesus is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) and happens the very moment that the Holy Spirit regenerates us (causes us to be born again).

Additional resources: ‘Finally Alive’ by John Piper