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.

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Imprecatory Prayers?

With all of the study that takes place each week in the lead up to teaching a section of scripture, I often stumble across really good teaching by theologians and pastors whose mind is far more developed than my own. I greatly admire men like G.K. Beale, James Hamilton, Tom Schreiner, and D.A. Carson to name a few. I may not agree with them on every point, but often their wisdom and insight into passages of Scripture is very edifying.

The past few weeks/months I’ve been reading and studying closely the book of Revelation. In my notes on this site I’ve shown how the prayers of the saints in chapter six (the 5th “Seal”) actually serve as a catalyst for the judgments that God sends upon the earth. The power of prayer, and God’s ordination of it as a means through which He works, is plainly seen in these verses. But it leads to an interesting question: should we pray these kinds of imprecatory prayers? And if so, how ought we to think about and go about this?

In his commentary on Revelation, James Hamilton provides some wonderful insight that has been profitable for me, and perhaps would be worth your time to consider:

If you have ever wondered whether you should pray the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms, let me encourage you to look again at the way the martyrs pray for God to “avenge” their blood in 6:9-11. You bet you should pray those imprecatory prayers. Pray that God would either save His enemies, those who oppose the gospel and the people of God, that He would bring them to repentance, or if He is not going to do that, that He would thwart all their efforts to keep people from worshiping God by faith in Christ. Pray that God would either save those who destroy families and hurt little children or thwart all their efforts and keep them from doing further harm. Those prayers will be heard. Pray that God would either redeem people who are right now identifying with the seed of the serpent, or if he is not going to redeem them, that he would crush them and all their evil designs. God will answer those prayers.

Amen!

 

Reminding People of God’s Reality

Last week I was asked to give a devotional for our church’s deacon meeting. I used the time to issue the following challenge – perhaps it will be edifying to you as well.

Reminding People of God’s Reality

I want to suggest that most of us get caught up in a reality of our own making so easily, and for so long, that it is often difficult to see God’s reality. This is especially true for those who are suffering. It seems more and more often that as I minister to the body of Christ, that men lean on the shallowness of watered down devotionals, and trinkets of the Word of God taken out of context and plunked down in ‘5 easy steps to happiness’, or ‘how to successfully arrange your day by God’s word.’

Too often have I visited a sick person who has wandered through unsatisfying pages of tripe, when he needs the richness of God’s unvarnished Word. It is your mission to bring that richness to their lives.

Yet, by His grace He has given us several means through which we may see His reality more clearly. Some of these include sharing a testimony from our own lives. Sometimes God uses great literature with rich stories of adventures in other words to bring back a wandering mind into the realities of His governance over this world. Very often though, He uses the traversing of a great wilderness where all good things seemed stripped away, to bring us to nothing in order that we would be reminded that we have everything we need in Him.

Some of the people we are ministering to do not want to spend time in God’s Word. They do not know it, or they have too often allowed the words of men – mostly weak kneed and watered down devotionals – to come between them and the words of God.

When they encounter the Word of God in all its brightness, they are brought back to reality – a reality of God’s making. They realize both judgment and grace. This is the best and most effective way to bring someone back to reality. Yet for the unwilling, there are these other more subtle ways of grace that God uses as “first steps” back to His glorious word.

Well-written fantasy, or allegory, can do just that. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein wrote in such powerful prose that readers are transported from their world to another. In this other world they once again recognize the principles that rule our own world.

Tolkein wrote clearly about this saying…

“The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.”[1]

In Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, a conversation ensues between Lucy, Edward, and the Christ-like character Aslan, which brings out similar truths:

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”[2]

But not everyone we minister to will have this literary background. Sometimes we find people so lost in despondency, and in the desert of their own suffering, that the only escape for them is the few hours of restless sleep they glean every night. We catch them, as it were, in the wasteland.

And it does no good to nurture the idea that God did not ordain their circumstances. Indeed, that is the lie which undermines our very ability to comfort them. Rather, we must point them to the truths of the gospel, and bring them to the only one who can anoint them with the balm necessary to salve their scabbed and worn feet from the desert walk.

It is in the desert where God trained Israel to have affection only for Him. It was in exile that great leaders were born. It was out of Egypt that God called His Son.

For as Samuel Rutherford points out, in a reference to Hosea 2:

I rejoice that He is come and hath chosen you in the furnace; it was even there where ye and He set tryst; that is an old gate of Christ’s. He keepeth the good old fashion with you, that was in Hosea’s days (Hosea 2:14). “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her to the wilderness and speak to her heart.” There was no talking to her heart while He and she were in the fair and flourishing city and at ease; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allureth her, He whispered into her ear there, and said, “Thou art mine.”[3]

No matter what these “first steps” are, they are God’s gracious gifts to bring back wandering sheep to His fold.

It is our mission as leaders of the church to set that truth in front of them. That truth is this: All you are going through now is not meaningless. It is preordained by God in Christ so that you will treasure Him and His reality above all things.

Therefore my charge to you as leaders is to prevent nothing from coming between the people you are ministering to, and the great realities of the gospel of Christ. Do not let the watered down devotionals of our day, which are often Christ-less and bloodless, be your first line of defense. Take up great allegory from titans of literature, take up great writing from the Puritans, take up experience from God’s work in your own life and show how He has been faithful. Yet above all, take up the Word of God, and use it to shake men and women from the false realities of their own making. Shine truth into their lives in vivid colors and clearly written phrases. Do all you can to showcase the bloody, costly, gracious, glorious gospel of Christ, and in boldness and gentleness pour love into the lives of those you minister to in the weeks and months ahead.

I’ll just close with some thoughts from John Piper to those who are suffering, and the importance of preaching God’s Word to themselves in the midst of the wilderness:

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.[4]

 

footnotes

[1]J.R.R. Tolkein, ‘On Fairy Stories’, http://www.rivendellcommunity.org/Formation/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.pdf?utm_source=Desiring+God&utm_campaign=b5ec8d8fa5-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da5f8315b-b5ec8d8fa5-99744309

[2] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, As quoted on goodreads.com, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3349054-the-voyage-of-the-dawn-treader.

[3] Samuel Rutherford, ‘The Loveliness of Christ’, Pg. 64-65.

[4] John Piper, as found on desiringgod.com, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-song-for-the-suffering-with-john-piper

Thomas Confesses Jesus as Lord: John 20:24-31

Here are my notes for John 20:24-31. These form the conclusion of my notes on the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel.

20:24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

There is now no doubt that the person who stood amongst them was, in fact, Jesus. They wanted to tell others – and rightfully so. One of the people they tell is Thomas whose reaction is to deliver a withering statement of unbelief.

John goes out of his way to give us the details of this interaction for a reason.

The implacability of Thomas draws a vivid contrast to what the reader has just learned. Thomas seems to be so stubborn as to demand that unless God met his own conditions, he wouldn’t believe. This is hubris only humans are capable of, and unfortunately it offers us an uncomfortable and unvarnished window into our own souls.

During the most difficult of times our minds often become warped and bitter. Frustrated at our circumstances we make demands of God, which He sometimes yields to for the sole purpose of entailing on us a stiff lesson. At times God is so desirous to show us our own depravity that He actually grants our infant-like demands. Such was the case with Thomas. He would soon get more than He bargained for, and be so deeply knifed by the Spirit that His submission to Christ’s Lordship was immediate and forthcoming.

Not that I speak of any harsh injustice on God’s behalf, rather He sometimes cuts us most deeply by pouring over us His unrivaled affection, thereby revealing to us our own sinfulness and His own comparative faithfulness and charity.

20:26-29 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [29] Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Lord’s Timing

It wasn’t until 8 days later that Thomas actually saw the Lord. In the Bible we have many times where numbers play a significant role. What I mean is that they “signify” something. The number 7 usually signifies “completeness” or “fullness”, and I’ve heard R.C. Sproul say that if 7 is the fullness, then 8 must represent the overflow of that – almost a one-upping of that idea (to paraphrase his thoughts).

Not to read too much into this, but Thomas didn’t get to see the Lord right away. Instead he had to wait not simply a week – 7 days – but 8 days. He had to wait until it was well past time for him to see the Lord. While everyone else probably discussed every detail of the Lord’s first appearance, Thomas was left out. His attitude of unbelief festered as the Lord waited until the right time to appear again.

I don’t think its wrong for us to remember that this is how the Lord works. His timing is not always in alignment with our timing!

In fact, the very timing of His coming into the world was perfectly selected by the Lord. Paul notes this in Galatians:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

And of course we see this in our own lives as well. How often do we look at the lives of others and say, “Well if I had there money, or their experience, or their children, or their husband, then things would be different! When will God give me those things?” And until then we hold out in unbelief. We don’t believe His promises because He hasn’t acted in our timing!

Getting What We Want

We don’t know how this scene played out emotionally, or have the benefit of watching the reactions of Thomas and the others, but I wonder if Thomas believed right away at this point or not. My guess is that at this point he didn’t have to touch Jesus to believe. Yet he still was commanded to put his hands into the wounds. Jesus was going to make him go through the motions of his own request. Therefore, by the time Thomas exclaims “My Lord and my God!” it seems possible that the declaration came through tears of shame.

Jesus’ words are not of comfort, but rather of rebuke for Thomas and a lesson for us all. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”

This is the very definition of faith.

The author of Hebrews would later write, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

In other words, faith is trust in God that He is who He says He is, and will do all that He has said He will do. And in the fullest sense of Jesus’ words, those who believe are indeed “blessed” because they will receive eternal life. This is what He said before His death:

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

What Stands in Our Way?

Knowing that we have been called to believe in Christ – in His saving work, and also in the promises articulated for us in the Bible, I think it very worthwhile for us to ask the question: What is standing in the way?

The reason its worthwhile to ask this question stems from the fact that, like Thomas, we all battle unbelief from time to time. In fact, John Piper would say that unbelief is really at the root of many of our sins. It is unbelief in “future grace”, as he says in his book ‘Battling Unbelief’:

The “unbelief” I have in mind is the failure to trust in the promises of God that sustain our radical obedience in the future. These promises refer to what God plans to do for us in the future, and that is what I mean by future grace. It is grace, because it is good for us and totally undeserved. And it is future in that it hasn’t happened to us yet but may in the next five seconds or the next five thousand years.

For the Christian the promises of God are spectacular. They relate to our immediate future, before this minute is over, and our eternal future.

Therefore, its important to remember to fight the fight of faith every day, equipping ourselves with the truth of God’s word, and trusting to what is unseen.

Paul reiterates this truth in 2 Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The Gospel is Not Neutral

And now we come to the thesis statement of our author. For many pages and lessons now I have pointed out that these verses are the foundation and the reason for why John wrote his gospel. He is not an indifferent historian; he has an agenda. And that agenda is spelled out in such certain terms that commentary seems almost superfluous.

Nevertheless a few words are appropriate.

First, one of the things that has always struck me about verse 30 is that John, and the other gospel writers, actually didn’t record all of the things Jesus did. They didn’t even get all the miracles down on paper.

Later John will say, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

This man Jesus was doing so many miracles that they couldn’t all be written down! We know, however, that those God intended for us to know were recorded. Everything written was written for our benefit by His gracious foresight.

Remember, these acts were not simply one-on-one clandestine doctors meetings. These were public healings. Let your mind be awed over His majesty as mediated through His miraculous healings. Surely this was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).

Someone once asked me, “Why do you think Christianity spread so quickly and to so many people?” My answer was two-fold. 1) Anyone who rises from death and spends 40 days teaching people all over the country in mass audiences is going to cause a major stir and 2) anyone who heals this many people for three years is going to cause a major shift in the cultural landscape of the day (not to mention the physiological landscape!).

Secondly, just as John was not a neutral observer, so we also cannot be neutral observers. It is impossible to hear this message of the gospel and remain “neutral” because the gospel divides. It divides people because it convicts us of our sin, and exposes our darkness with the light of truth. Jesus said:

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! [50] I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! [51] Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. [52] For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. [53] They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)

So the gospel is truth that cannot be responded to in a neutral way – you either reject its claims or embrace them, but there can be no in-between.

This is clearly articulated in chapter three:

Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. [34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. [35] The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:33-36)

For those of us who have accepted the truth of the gospel, let us read John’s thesis statement with joy, knowing that these things were written with us in mind! For those who might be reading this and do know claim a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, then I urge you to bear these things mind – look at what this man did and what He said. Can there really be any doubt that this was the Son of God?

The Call of Gideon

This past Thursday our small group took a look at Judges chapter 6 wherein we learn of the call of Gideon.  Gideon was a man who no one would have picked as the next rescuer or “Judge” of Israel.   The plight of God’s people in this chapter is dire.  They are suffering under cruel oppression, and their hearts are as black as can be.  They have no desire for true repentance, and only seek deliverance for the sake of freeing themselves from their foreign enemies.

As the group studied the passage, we hit on three major themes in the chapter:

  • True Repentance = True Freedom
  • A fresh look at God’s holiness and how we encounter that today
  • It is very often that God uses our weaknesses to teach us about Himself and bring Himself glory

Below are my notes from the chapter, I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction

Chapter 6 introduces us to Gideon, who is listed in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith along with Deborah and Barak and Sampson in the following context:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Heb. 11:31-34)

Gideon is a most unlikely hero, but actually takes up a lot of space in the book of Judges – in fact, as Morris notes, 100 verses are spent detailing his story, which is more than any other Judge in the book.

The scene is set in the first few verses of the book where we find the situation for Israel is not a good one.  Dale Ralph Davis comically comments about the plague of Midian:

For seven years they (midainites) left Israel no ‘sustenance’ or means of sustenance. The same scourge and terror every year: invade from the yeast, cross the Jordan, hit the bread basket in the Plan of Jezreel, sweep southwest as far as Gaza in Philistian, practicing their clean earth politic. Seven years of it. You are hungry, poor, and tired. Every year, as sure as income tax, Midian’s buzzards come.

It’s in this frustrated, beaten down state that our story begins, and where God intervenes in a way that, at first, is unusual…

6:1-2 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.

The cycle of sin is beginning again –isn’t this familiar! The people once again do what is evil in God’s sight, and this time they are given into the hands of Midian.  Note the total sovereignty of God here.  Many times in our own lives we have bad things happen to us but we say ‘this isn’t from God’ – but how do you know?

We know that God is not the author of evil, and yet we know that He uses evil people and circumstances to bring about His good will for our lives (Rom. 8:28).  We know that He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32) in order that His glorious purpose would triumph through Christ’s death.

The Israelites, however, were not holy, righteous, or in anyway obedient to the Lord.  And God punished them in order to bring them back to Himself (Heb. 12).  

6:3-5 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.

Note that Midian was not interested in political control of Israel, rather they were interested in simply plundering the nation of its resources.  Israel became their food pantry and its inhabitants nothing more than nice in the cupboard who fled to holes in the mountain at the first sign of trouble.  Indeed in the eyes of Midian, they were simply pests who needed exterminated.

6:6-10 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

This is the most devastating situation Israel has ever faced.  They are completely impoverished and are scratching a living off the rocks of the land (cf. Tolkein).  They have been driven by their circumstances to final cry out to the Lord.  But what do they get in return?  They get a sermon instead of salvation (cf. Keller).

Before God will deliver them from their enemies He wants them to understand very clearly why they have been punished and “brought very low” at the hands of Midian.

It is significant that God didn’t simply raise up a judge to save them right away.  Instead He wanted to make sure they heard His word and knew His heart.

This is the way it is today, is it not?  We need to hear the word of God and listen to what the Spirit has to say through His inspired Word. It is the Word which is necessary for correction and rebuke and encouragement. It is our very life, as Moses was fond of saying:

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

And the author of Hebrews connects the living and active word of God to its ability to give the Christian rest and peace – but also adds a warning that it is by this word we will be judged:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13, ESV)

Godly Grief

In Tim Keller’s study of this book he rightly calls us to recognize that there is a difference between repentance and regret.  Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)

The difference between worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow and repentance are vast. Their outward manifestations are similar, to be sure.  But the motivation for each is different.  A worldly sorrow mourns over the things that have been lost by the circumstances brought about in our lives, whereas a Godly sorrow mourns over the sin itself and the dishonor and rebellion shown toward the God who saved us.

The beautiful thing about true repentance is that it allows us to get past the sin and sorrow of past failures, unlike worldly regret that lingers and places the shackling burden of guilt around our necks.

Keller says this, “When we realize that God has forgiven us and we haven’t ‘lost’ Him, we feel that earthly results are rather small in comparison. We say: I deserved far worse than what happened. The real punishment fell on Jesus, and will never come to me. 

The natural follow up question we need to ask ourselves is this: What are we sorry about and why? And do we need to truly repent of those things instead of just feeling regretful about them?

6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.

What we find here is that the Israelites were so fearful of the Midianites that even the common tasks of beating out wheat was done undercover.  Gideon is beating out the wheat in a winepress – obviously not the most convenient place to do this task, but it was likely not the first place a Midianite would search for grain on a raid of the countryside. 

6:12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 

I think it’s pretty crucial here that we recognize that Gideon wasn’t that big of a deal.  He’s probably not being modest when he later says that he’s the least of all in his father’s house.  Yet the Lord says that he’s this mighty man of valor – that’s a pretty amazing title!

Wouldn’t you love to be known as a man or woman of valor?  What is it in him or about him that gives the Lord reason for assessing him this title?  The answer is…nothing.

As we’ll see in later chapters, the story of Gideon is the story of God using the weakness of man to accomplish His ends.  Note that verse 12 says, “the Lord is with you” in conjunction with “O Mighty man of valor.”  It is these two ideas that go hand in hand.  The fact that the Lord is with Gideon is the very reason why he is going to be mighty in battle. Chapters 7 and 8 confirm this for us.

In addition, there is a correlation between verses 12-16 and verse 34 where we learn that God “going with” Gideon is going to be in the form of the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s presence with Gideon that allows him to accomplish all that God has set before him.

Now we have the advantage of knowing what comes later, but Gideon did not, so his own lack of might is exposed (ironically) by this statement and he reacts…

6:13-16 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

Gideon has made the mistake that so many of us make during out own struggles.  He equates the difficulties with the Midians as meaning that God isn’t with them.  This simply isn’t the case – which is both reassuring and terrifying.

We need to understand that God has sent the Midianites to plague Israel – God is meticulously sovereign here.  He is using the decedents of Moses’ second wife to bring about utter destruction and calamity and He is doing it with eyes wide open. God is in that place alright, He is in Israel throughout her pains and throughout her oppression.  His arm of judgment has swept through the land in an effort to bring Israel to her knees in true repentance.

We often struggle with the idea that in the worst times in our lives God is with us.  It doesn’t feel like He’s with us. It doesn’t seem like He would want us to go through this evil or that trial.  But the worst evil in this world cannot blink an eye or bat an eyelash without permission from the throne room of God.  Think of Pilate and what Jesus said to him:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11, ESV)

Therefore God will use evil to accomplish good and use the weakest and least accomplished as His instrument to do this.

6:17-21 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” 19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.

It’s worth noting here that this angel of the Lord seems to be a Christophany and not simply an angel like Gabrial.  The text indicates that this is “the angel of the Lord” but also says, “the Lord said to him” in verse 16.  Not only this, but in verses 17-21 the angel seems to be accepting of the offering that Gideon makes.  As a rule angels don’t accept offerings or worship from men.

Later on we’ll see Gideon ask God for a sign of the fleece, and I’ll just address that briefly here.  Why is Gideon asking God for signs?  Does this justify our asking God for signs?

First, Gideon is asking God for confirmation of His presence and of His plan.  He wants to make sure that this is really God and that He will really be with him.  He is asking God for divine revelation of His holy character.  He isn’t putting God to the test as we commonly think of it (think Satan’s testing of Jesus in Luke’s gospel).

Dale Ralph Davis says, “Gideon shows how highly he values Yahweh’s promise by wanting to be sure it is Yahweh’s promise…Gideon proposed that his offering become the laboratory for God’s assuring sign.”

This is why we can’t ask for similar things from God.  Our motivation is usually something like this (paraphrasing Tim Keller), “God I really want to get this job, so please have them call me today if it is your will that this happen.”

Gideon isn’t asking for help making decisions.  He’s learning more about the character of God – he’s asking God who He is, and seeking to learn more about Him.

6:22-24 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

There are many parallels with Moses and Abraham here, as noted earlier, but when we read of Gideon’s reaction to the revelation of God’s presence with him, he shouts aloud something that reveals his knowledge of God from Moses’ own experience.  We read in Exodus 33 the following account:

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20, ESV)

So not only does Gideon realize this, but he also understands that he has seen the Lord face to face – not in the fully revealed splendor of His glory, but in a way that even Gideon could understand.  Likely He was clothed in appearance as a man.

We read time and time again in Scripture that when people encounter God their first reaction is one of woe.  They immediately realize that they are sinful, unholy people and that God’s grace has come upon them.  This is true for Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Mary, Paul and here we see it in Gideon.

As Davis says, “Here is an amazing paradox. Gideon must have assurance of Yahweh’s promise, but, when the assurance comes, it terrifies rather than fortifies him.”  Such is the case when we encounter the holy. As Davis continues, “This sort of talk (vs. 22) is strange to us, because we have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.”

Note also how in each case of God revealing Himself to these Godly men and women, He has a task for them and reveals to them that He is going to use them for something extraordinary – here God is revealed as a God of peace and grace.  It is not that Gideon didn’t deserve to die, but that God spared him in His grace.

I wonder if we need to step back sometimes after spending some time in the Word and get a deeper understanding for the holiness of God.  This is the God who is said to be “a consuming fire” who “dwells in unapproachable light.”  Paul describes Him in this way:

…keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:14-16, ESV)

The magnificence of His presence is something we often take for granted.  It is right, therefore, to spend some time in awe of who God is, and who we are. Sinners before the throne of grace, saved by blood – and saved as Gideon was for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).

6:25-27 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. 

So Gideon obeys the Lord and follows the commands God gave him.  But he does so in the middle of the night.  I think it’s interesting that he would do this.  I mentioned earlier that God shows meticulous sovereignty over this situation and here is another example of that sovereignty.

God knows the character of Gideon, He knows what he will do and how he will do it.  Gideon is certainly a coward for not immediately obeying God in broad daylight and he allows fear to rule his life – fear for his life actually probably kept him alive for God’s task and allowed the people in that area to see that God was moving and stir them to recognize that something was afoot.

Just as God knew that Joseph’s dreams would provoke the young man toward pride and a propensity toward annoying his older brothers and father, God also knew that Gideon would be too cowardly to cut down the Baal in broad daylight.  God uses the weaknesses and sinfulness of His children to accomplish His will.  He plans and ordains all things – and that means all things.

6:28-32 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

Isn’t it ironic how all these people get upset and want to kill Gideon for what he did in tearing down there alters?  This mob was standing up for Baal, but as Joash points out, if Baal was a real powerful being he should be able to take care of himself, thank you very much.

So Joash stands up for his boy, and I find this really commendable.  There seems to have been at least some honor in this family or at least in this man, despite the fact that he was a man who worshiped multiple deities!

Anyway…the irony is that God is the one who in this story has vowed to stand up for Israel.  God is the one promising to be with Gideon as he leads Israel to victory of its’ enemies, and God is the one who will empower Gideon…as we’ll see soon in verse 34.

SIDE NOTE: The ESV Study Bible has a nice blurb on Asherah and what it was, “Asherah may function as both the divine name for a particular goddess or, as in these verses, refer to sacred wooden poles erected at places where she was worshiped (vv. 26, 28, 30; cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 17:16). Most frequently, these sacred objects are called “Asherim” (e.g., Ex. 34:13; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Kings 17:10). 

6:33-35 Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Now the scene is set and things are coming into motion.  We read that the Midianites and their buddies the Amalekites along with other nomads from the East are all ready to raid the breadbasket of Israel.  They’ve all gathered together and are encamped in Jezreel, which is north of where Jerusalem sat, and southwest of the Sea of Galilee.  This is really close to home for the Israelites, and so once again their crops and their daughters were in peril.

However, as the author is describing the situation, he bookmarks Israel’s impending doom by noting that the Spirit of the Lord had “clothed” Gideon.  What does this mean, “clothed”?  I think the best way to understand it is “empowered supernaturally.”  As Block notes, “if anything positive happens to Israel in the book of Judges, the credit must go to God.”  And so, “the same Spirit which possesses the divinely called deliverer compels the recipients of the summons to respond to his call.”

In his book ‘God’s Indwelling Presence’ Tom Schreiner (citing James Hamilton) says, “The Old Testament speaks of the Spirit “rushing upon” someone not to describe a conversion experience (e.g., the expression is not used of Abraham or Rahab), but rather the Spirit’s empowering leaders who will deliver the nation.” 

6:36-40 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

As I mentioned earlier, Gideon’s test of God is not like our test of God.  Yes it seems that Gideon was testing God out of unbelief and probably fear (for he was not a warrior and was about to lead an army into battle).  But what Gideon seems to be getting at here is a search for the character and power of God.

Gideon deeply desires to ensure the God is with him, and that God will be the one doing the fighting on their behalf.  Even though it seems silly to ask God for these signs, we see Moses do the same thing in Exodus 4.  One of the ways I think we can know that Gideon was asking with deeper motives was God’s gracious response toward his request.  Gideon was weak, and needed to know that God would be with him, for without God there’s no way that this man would be able to conquer his enemies.

As we continue on in our study over the next several chapters, we’re going to see that one of the major themes of God’s empowering use of Gideon is His desire to use those who are weak to accomplish great things in order that He might get all the glory.

It is no different today.  We need to learn that, as JI Packer says, “weakness is the way” of God, and as Paul says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)

Can You Pray for an Hour?

This past Thursday evening at our small group Bible study, we spent time simply in worship and prayer.  We read from Psalm 145, and we sung music to the Lord.  Then we took the remainder of our time to simply pray for all that was going on in our church, our small group and our nation.

During that time I challenged the group to consider praying on their own time for one hour in a single sitting. The reason I did so was because I have personally benefited from extended times of prayer, and know how wonderful that time can be.

Inevitably the question came up “how will I be able to pray for that long? I’m not sure I have enough to talk to God about for that long…” This innocent question is actually rather insulting when we consider the greatness of the God who we are addressing, however it is the first question I had myself several years ago as well. Therefore, I thought it would be profitable to mention a few ideas of how to enrich (and prolong) your time with the Lord:

Begin by Asking for Forgiveness – The first thing we ought to all do when we pray is to confess our sins before the Lord. If you have just confessed “generally” your sinfulness in the past, ask the Lord to bring to mind specific people and instances where you have wronged or been in the wrong. If there are instances that come to mind where you have wronged someone, I would encourage you to stop and call that person and ask for forgiveness. Then go back to your prayer (Matthew 5).

Pray for Humility and Faith – I know that there are some people who feel as though pride is not a big part of their lives, and that they also have faith – at least enough to believe in Jesus. I am here to disavow you of the notion that you don’t struggle with unbelief and pride because EVERYONE struggles with both of these items, even if they manifest themselves in different ways. You may not be a very haughty or arrogant person on the outside in speech, but you might be making very arrogant decisions every day with your life and not realize it. You might take life for granted and feel like certain things are “owed” to you. In a similar way, you might believe that Christ died for you and you have faith from Him to trust that is the case. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t acting out of unbelief on a regular basis. For instance you might feel sorry for yourself and be having an internal pity party about something – perhaps a lost job, or something else. You might be guilty of both pride and unbelief. Self-pity is pride masked as sadness, and it tells God that we don’t believe in His ability to provide for us, or that He has complete control over all things.  As you pray, ask God to reveal these sinful attitudes and for His help to overcome them.

Use Sunday School or Small Group Prayer Requests – our group sends these out in an email format, and your group may do something similar. Perhaps you have been in the habit of writing them down. But how often to do you really sit and pray over them? I would suggest printing them out (as opposed to viewing them on your phone which can lead to distraction) and praying over each concern and praising God for each praise. Also, pray for the people on the list in your own words, asking God to continue to work mightily in their lives, conforming them to His Son’s image.

The same idea holds true for those at your church – grab the church directory and start praying through the names! This is like a virtual prayer walk through the halls of your church.  As you begin to lift up individuals (some of whom you may not know very well if at all) you will come to appreciate all the God is doing in the lives of those who makeup your local body of believers.  Perhaps this experience will also spur you on toward getting to know these people more!

Pray for our Nation – This is something that is often urged, but few take the time to actually execute on the plea. When we lift up our nation, perhaps you ought to consider also looking beyond the normal request for just our President and Congress, and consider the people as a whole. As Americans we are falling into spiritual and moral morass. Pray for revival and for people to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. Also, pray for our troops and the local leaders who govern our townships, cities, and villages. Pray not only for wisdom, but for their salvation.

Pray for Boldness – When Peter was released from prison in Acts 4 he joined the group of saints who were already praying for him. What did they ask God for? For boldness to continue the work of God. We also need to ask God for boldness, and discernment and for opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Acknowledge His Attributes and Work in Your Life – One of the things we can do as we pray for extended periods of time is to worship God and praise Him for all of His divine attributes.  Ask Him to give you insight as to how you can know Him more intimately, and to reveal His character to you through His Word. Take time to recount to God all that He has done recently, and in past years to bless you, and mature you. Thank Him for being Him! 

Use Scripture in Your Prayer – We are so trained to close our eyes during prayer (usually for the sake of concentration and to lessen distraction) that we often forget that its not a sin to pray with our eyes open! If you can get comfortable praying in this way as you spend time alone with God, then you can open up your Bible and pray certain passages to Him, acknowledging His greatness, His sovereignty, and His grace. Using the Psalms for this is a wonderful experience.  I find it best to know passages ahead of time so that I’m not searching the Scripture during my prayer time. As you begin to do this, you’ll likely see the benefit of memorizing Scripture so that when you don’t have your Bible nearby you can still repeat God’s truth back to Him in humble adoration for all that He has done for you and for the church.

Pray for Your Pastor – I think that sometimes we spend more time emphasizing the need to pray for our nation’s leaders than our church’s leaders. I would encourage you to spend time lifting up the pastoral staff, elders, deacons, and sunday school teachers in your prayers. These people are God’s servants and are spending their time, talents and treasure serving you and the body of Christ every week.  I am also convinced that for this reason they also get more spiritual attacks than the average Joe.  So lift them up and thank God for their work. Ask for protection for them and their family. Ask God for Him to reveal ways in which you can serve them or encourage them – consider dropping them a note to say that you prayed for them today.

Pray for Your Wife and Family – Perhaps this is one that doesn’t need to be mentioned, but sometimes we spend our prayers for these loved ones asking for the same thing over and over again “health, success, safety” and so on. Spend time in this extended period of prayer thinking over each person and asking God for specific things, and for spiritual growth. Ask God to help you serve them better. Ask God to show you ways in which you can help them grow, and ways in which you have failed them and need to ask for forgiveness.

Pray for the Fruit of the Spirit – In Galatians Paul lays out a list of what a Christian ought to look like, and he calls it “the fruit of the Spirit” because it is the Holy Spirit who is working out these beautiful traits in the Christian life (i.e. its not you who are responsible for this transformation). Ask God to help develop your character in order to become more like His Son Jesus, specifically taking inventory of reach “fruit” and asking God for help with specific fruit which may not be so evident in your life.

Conclusion – These are just a few ways you can spend your hour of prayer, I’m sure there are many others I’ve missed here, but I wanted to jot down a few to get your wheels turning!  It is a beautiful thing that God has allowed us to spend time with Him in this way. I’ll close by quoting Theologian Bruce Ware on this matter:

To know the riches of God and the poverty of our human lives is one of the key foundation pillars for prayer. As we pray in humble dependence, God grants from the storehouse of his treasury. And as we are enriched by God, we then give to him our heartfelt thanksgiving and honor and worship. It is the heart of God to give, so he calls his people to ask. 

Study Notes 2-10-13

John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus

11:28-29 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers.  When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8.  This is a trait of a true follower of Christ.  When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey?  Or do we hesitate?  Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord?  Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus.  May we do the same.

11:30-32 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.  They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites.  What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve!  He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.

11:33-36 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Compassion for His Sheep

If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.

Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ.  It’s not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of human emotion that simply cannot be held back.

And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.

Why is this His response?  It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses.  I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that.  He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us.  He enters into our sorrows with us.

We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”

So the Lord was upset on several levels.  The scene is a complex one.  He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.

You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come.  Christ came to change all of that.  And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant.  This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier.  A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope.  There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that day of judgment.  But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul.  And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

Joined with Christ

Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.

I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.

Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God.  A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us.  He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears.  He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.

I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!

The Impending Victory

But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we exist in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer.  We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ.  So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all!  That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt.  It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.

11:38-40 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” [40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).

Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).

SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.

This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.

I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.”  John explains in his epistles that:

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 3:2).

So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.

For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him?  It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.

How is it that we behold His glory here?  We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts.  This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous!  Our doing is our beholding.  And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.

This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important.  That’s consequently why I teach expositionally!  I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that.  He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person: His glory.

11:41-42 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”

There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion.  It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.

Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention.  For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead.  Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.

11:43-44 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are several key points that we see here.

First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures.  We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.

Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again.  And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)

Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”