Forgiveness and Repentance in Luke 5

Last week I had the privilege of teaching on a portion of Luke 5 that I found really challenging.  The authority of Jesus is clearly shining through the passage, and the response to His work is just as clear.  We simply can’t respond in a neutral way to this man.  If you look at what Jesus is saying, He’s clearly calling us to repent and follow.

I hope you enjoy the notes!

PJW

The Son of Man has Authority to Forgive You

5:17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

The Context

Now Jesus is still presumably in the region of the Galilee. In 5:1 we read that He was “standing by the Lake of Gennesaret” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Also in verse 12 it says the “he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy” and one can assume these cities being described are part of the Galilee region. We know He isn’t in Jerusalem, because verse 17 says that people came from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. Therefore it seems safe to assume given these clues and the general flow of Luke’s gospel, that this passage occurs during the height of Jesus’ ministry as He walked around the small towns of the Galilee.

The Power of the Lord was with Him

In an important editorial note, Luke mentions that Jesus has been empowered with the Lord’s power to heal. This undoubtedly references the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, and specifically in these days as He walked through the region of Galilee healing men and women by His words, and His touch.

I think its important to realize that Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God, and that throughout His ministry it was the Spirit who worked through Him to heal.

In fact, if we turn the Bibles back just one chapter we’ll read that Jesus began His ministry in a similar fashion:

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (Luke 4:14 ESV)

And…

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, [18] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [19] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

This all serves as the context of Jesus’ ministry. He did nothing that could not be described as Spirit-driven.

Now, in the following two accounts I think we’re going to see two main overarching truths:

  1. Jesus is Lord of all and has the authority to heal bodies and forgive sins because He is the Son of Man.
  2. Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t neutral – it’s impossible for us to encounter Jesus and not respond in some way, and the response He’s calling us to is repentance.

Now, the passage…

5:18-19 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, [19] but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

For those who have grown up in the church this is likely a very familiar story. I remember the children’s church papers with the pictures of a man being lowered down through the roof of a small house – much to everyone’s amazement. In fact, when watching reenactments and movies on the scene, it always seemed like the people were more amazed at the fact that the friends lowered him down through the roof than what Jesus had to say!

How were they able to do this in the first place? Well, roofs were very often flat, and most were composed not of tile or concrete but of mud and grass. It would have been fairly easy to scrape away the mud from this roof and get their friend lowered inside. Furthermore, since these roofs were replaced (out of necessity) once a year (at least) it wouldn’t have been like they were destroying personal property in the way we would picture them doing so today.

5:20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Recently I was in Israel and had the opportunity to interact with several folks of Jewish background as we toured around the country. One discussion about this passage came to the fore and our Israeli tour guide remarked that it was the faith of this man’s friends that must have saved him. And, upon a cursory reading, it may seem that this is so. But one only needs to take a scan of the entire NT as a whole to understand that it is the faith of the individual – not any representative – that saves.

And our passage here doesn’t preclude orthodoxy in the least. For Luke tells us that “when He say their faith” the word “their” is likely to include the man who is sick. In fact, it must include that man for the passage to make sense.

Jesus is moved by men and women who cast their hopes on Him. There was no misconception, denial, or kidding about the state of this man. He was paralyzed. His life was miserable, and a shadow of what it should have been. He didn’t live each day fooling himself into thinking he wasn’t paralyzed. His condition was obvious and desperate and he knew it well enough to do whatever was necessary to improve his lot.

It is this attitude of desperation, of holding nothing back, that moved the heart of our Savior.

5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [22] When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? [23] Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? [24] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

What is the issue here? Why are the Pharisees so upset? Because this man Jesus was claiming to be able to forgive sins. It’s one thing to heal a man using medicine. In fact, its something great if a prophet heals a man with power from God Himself! But – BUT – it is another thing entirely for that prophet, for that mortal man, to arrogate to himself that which only belongs to God.

This man Jesus, this dude from Nazareth, this carpenter’s son, just uttered blasphemy, they say. And…they would be right, wouldn’t they? It is wrong for any man to claim for himself the ability or privilege or right to forgive someone else’s sins. Who made them the judge, or the arbiter? Who wronged them that they might extend forgiveness? What business is it of theirs?

All of these are valid concerns if —- IF —- Jesus isn’t who He said He was.

However, Jesus’ actions and word prove His identity. This is a man who – while they question His right to divine judgment – exhibits divine knowledge by READING THEIR MINDS!

There should have been sirens going off at this point. Red flags ought to have been hoisted before their tired synapses.

For this is how God would also prove in the OT that He was indeed God. He was show His superiority over idols, for instance, by explaining His divine omniscience and then calling on the block of wood to do the same. Here’s an example from Isaiah:

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. [22] Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. [23] Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. [24] Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. [25] I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. [26] Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words. [27] I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!” and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news. [28] But when I look, there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer. [29] Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind. (Isaiah 41:21-29)

Jesus says in effect, “I know your thoughts and I am endowed by divine prerogative to forgive whomever I will. In fact I can do so in whatever way I will. I can say whatever words I wish. It’s not in the words, its in my superior authority and will that whatever I should wish to come to pass does simply because I think it to be so.”

THAT is why the Pharisees are mistaken. They didn’t realize they were talking to GOD in the flesh.

5:25-26 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. [26] And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

There are two important fruits we see in the lives of those touched by Jesus. First, men whose lives have been changed by Jesus are obedient to Him. They don’t slave under His law, but rejoice to obey His Word. Secondly, they give glory to the God who brought them out of darkness and into marvelous light. God deserves glory for His work in our lives.

This is exactly what we see in these two verses.

The first thing this man does is “immediately” rise up and obey the Lord Jesus. This is indicative of all believers who come to love the Lord Jesus. This man is a picture – a physical picture – of what happens in the hearts and minds of men who are born again by His Spirit.

Obedience is the fruit of regeneration. Those who love Jesus love His law. They hear the Master calling and they are quick to obey. Why would this man not obey? Jesus has done more than He could ever ask. The first command he receives, therefore, he obeys!

Secondly, when God does something in our lives and the lives of those around us it is right to marvel. It is right to praise Him and to be amazed.

In verse 26 it says that “amazement seized them all” – and their reaction is to give glory to God.

SIDENOTE: One of the ways you can easily recognize a false prophet comes in whether or not they give glory to God or take the credit for themselves. Tragically, history is full of men like Mohammed who elevated themselves to a point far beyond what is Biblical or appropriate. The results have been devastating – hundreds of millions populate Hell’s cauldrons who once thought Mohammed something grand. Such will be the fate of any who fail to recognize the Son as Supreme and repent before Him.

All you whose lives have been touched by Jesus rejoice and give Him glory, for as Fanny Crosby said in her hymn ‘To God be the Glory’:

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Now, onto our last section…

5:27-32 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. [29] And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. [30] And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” [31] And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

What Jesus knew about the physical state of the paralytic He also saw in the heart of the tax collector Levi. The paralytic was a physical example of the disastrous condition of mankind. Since the fall our lives have been marred by sin – both physically and spiritually.

Each of these hemispheres of decay are represented for us in the passage above – both illustrating man’s need, and Jesus’ solution.

I mentioned before that there are two key points we have to take away from this passage, and I’ll bring your attention back to them now:

First…Jesus is Lord of all and has the authority to heal bodies and forgive sins because He is the Son of Man.

The Son of Man has the ability to look inside your mind – He knows your evil thoughts. He knows your selfishness. He knows your crookedness, your stinginess, your self-righteousness. He knows it all. Because He has the power to know it all. He is God. But He also has the ability to forgive it all.

In fact, if you’re here tonight at this prayer meeting/Bible study, you are most likely a Christian. One of the beautiful truths about the Christian faith is that we worship a God who wants to forgive us. This is the overriding characteristic of this passage is it not?

Look at the contrast between the world as represented by the Pharisees, and God who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ heart is forever bent toward seeking and saving the lost. That was us – it could be you! The Pharisees are like the world – they grumble when you are saved, they grumble when you are satisfied in Christ, they grumble when your guilt melts away like ice cream on a hot summer day! They HATE that you’re forgiven and have the gift of peace in your life. They hate that you’ve found peace and a hope for tomorrow.

Not Christ – His heart is ever on your spiritual well being. He is calling, He is tugging, He is nurturing, He is pleading with you. He invites men like you and me to come and surrender and be healed.

Which leads us to the Second point…Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t neutral – it’s impossible for us to encounter Jesus and not respond in some way. You can’t read this story and just say “well, that’s interesting.” It doesn’t work that way.

Well what kind of response does a Christian have to this? What do you think? When you read about these men who are healed and who dine with Jesus, what is your heart telling you? What did Jesus tell them? How did He tell them to respond? What was it about them that was similar?

These men couldn’t have been more different. One’s rich, one’s poor. One’s a powerful tax collector, the other is a weak and lowly member of society. One probably has no true friends (since he’s seen as a traitor to his people), the other has friends close enough to do whatever it takes to help him. The common characteristic is this: They both had a humble and repentant heart.

Jesus is calling us to the same. He’s calling us to repentance: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Conclusion

If you are here tonight and are a Christian, you need to remember what Christ has done for you – you were the paralytic, you were the tax collector. You were DEAD. You were lost. You were bound for Hell, friend.

John Owen sums up the problem we have so well:

How can we possibly believe the promises concerning Heaven, immortality, and glory, when we do not believe the promises concerning our present life? And how can we be trusted when we say we believe these promises but make no effort to experience them ourselves? It is just here that men deceive themselves. It is not that they do not want the Gospel privileges of joy, peace and assurance, but they are not prepared to repent of their evil attitudes and careless life-styles. Some have even attempted to reconcile these things and ruined their souls. But without the diligent exercise of the grace of obedience, we shall never enjoy the graces of joy, peace and assurance.

We need to be like that paralytic in our walk with Christ. Obey – immediately obey. Rejoice for what He has done in your life, take up that bed, and get to work – go live life and share eternal life with others. Unless you are too ashamed…to which Paul says this:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [17] For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

The mark of a Christian is grateful obedience and surrender. It is the realization that you would be bound for eternal Hell had Jesus not supernaturally said to your heart, “follow me.”

Let us search our hearts tonight and repent of our lackluster faith. Let us rekindle the gratitude we once had for our Savior and diligently seek to obey Him each day.

Forgiveness and the Gospel

Forgiveness: Seeking Him Study Week 9

Introduction

During the course of my lifetime, I have had some very cruel and dastardly people try to destroy my livelihood. The nature of politics is that sometimes you evoke the powerful hatred of enemies who will stop at nothing to see your demise. In the midst of these storms I have found that the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the realities entailed upon me by the cross He bore, to be great sources of comfort and perspective for me. In fact, all throughout the Bible we have rich testimony of the lives that God has miraculously changed. Hearts have been softened and people have been forgiven.

And it is to this subject of ‘forgiveness’ that we are turning our attention to this week.

C.H. Spurgeon said, “To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive.”

Forgiveness is a major part of what it means to walk the Christian path, and there are four main points I want to cover this morning:

  • God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness
  • Remembering Sin No More
  • Forgiveness and the Gospel
  • We Don’t Do This Alone: The Power of the Spirit in Forgiveness

For anyone who has lived even a short time upon this earth you know that there will come times when you will be or have been wronged. Furthermore, if you are a Christian, you know that how you respond to these situations says a lot about who you are, and what Christ is doing and has done in your life.

The study we are currently engaged in has focused our attention on personal revival. I think that at this point in the study (9 weeks in) we probably all recognize the importance forgiveness plays in having a right relationship to God and others. When we haven’t forgiven others, we end up obsessing about them and what they have done to us. Our lives are dominated by their actions and not our own purpose for living, which is undoubtedly to love and glorify God and love our fellow man.

God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness

Joseph

On page 176 of our study guide, the story of Joseph is given as an example of how one should live life without dwelling on the past sins of others. Joseph’s motivation for forgiving his brothers was that he didn’t consider himself worthy to be their judge (Gen. 50:20). Certainly he had a proper fear of the Lord, and it is evident that the Spirit of God had softened his heart to be able to (really miraculously) forgive his brothers. Joseph had one bad thing happen to him after another during his lifetime, yet because he feared God, and understood that God was sovereign, he could rest in the knowledge that God would take care of him – even as he languished in prison.

David

Perhaps the best example of forgiveness and acting with a godly heart in the Old Testament was David. His story has personally meant a great deal to me in recent days as I have gone through my own very painful battles of being wronged.

Here is a man who did nothing wrong, yet a crazy man who was filled with jealousy and hatred decided to make it his personal mission in life to crush David. He hunted him down like a dog. Can you imagine what David had to be thinking? Of course you can, because we have Scripture to tell us! Here’s what David wrote during his time on the run from Saul:

[1] Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
[2] my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
[3] When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
[4] In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
[5] All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
[6] They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
[7] For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
[8] You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
[9] Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
[10] In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
[11] in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
[12] I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
[13] For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
(Psalm 56 ESV)

David felt that even though his enemies surrounded him on all sides, and he had done nothing to deserve this, yet the Lord would deliver him. He felt what it was like to be stripped down of all hope in his own power. He felt helpless. And yet his strength and hope was the Lord.

But not only did David draw strength from the Lord, he also found in God the wisdom he needed and the power to forgive the sin of Saul. David was given a special indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, not everyone had this gift, but the Lord was with David and gave him the ability to forgive Saul – a truly supernatural gift.

David had faithful friends to help him and encourage him (1 Sam. 23:16), but it was the power of the Spirit working in his heart that stayed David’s hand from murdering Saul. Here is one such example from 1 Samuel:

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” [2] Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. [3] And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. [4] And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. [5] And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. [6] He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” [7] So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:1-7 ESV)

This is how God works – he softens our hearts to spare even the most vile and horrible people who have wronged us greatly. In that moment, David chose not to “remember” Saul’s sins against him, and not to take vengeance into his own hands.

Remembering Sin No More

The biggest difference between us and our Creator when it comes to forgiveness is that He chooses not to remember (bring to mind) our sins once He has forgiven us. Listen to what He says through His prophet Isaiah:

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 ESV)

We, however, remember people’s sins against them. In fact, in our study guide there’s an indication that if we remember people’s sins and bring them up again verbally or mentally etc. then its possible that we never really forgave that person in the first place. In fact, they go so far as to say that if we can’t “thank God” for these people then we haven’t forgiven them.

I am not sure I’d go quite that far, but I think we need to be sure to truly forgive someone before just “moving on” and putting the matter behind us.

But also, if we find that we have sinful thoughts or slanderous words cropping up about people who we had forgiven years ago, it isn’t necessarily the case that we hadn’t forgiven them, but that perhaps we are “remembering” their sins against them again, and have opened up the wound. We need to forgive them all over again, it seems. This is the weakness of our human flesh – but its also the reason why we need the gospel and the clear teachings of our Lord.

Forgiveness and the Gospel

This brings us to final and most important point. Radical forgiveness is really only possible for us in light of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work within us. David relied on God’s character and sovereignty, but he saw veiled what we see plainly, namely the overflowing mercy of the Lord toward sinners.

When David was judged to have committed multiple sins, his reaction upon being confronted by them was to beg for forgiveness and praise God for His infinite mercy (ps. 51).

When we see what Christ has done for us at Calvary, it gives context to His command to forgive. Listen to what he told Peter:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

Jesus went on to tell the parable of the king who forgave much and the servant who didn’t pass along that same forgiveness to a fellow servant – even though the amount was a pittance compared to what the king had forgiven him. This is what He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)

It is not easy to forgive people who have done you so much wrong, and yet we are called to do just that and more. As I’ve dealt with my own trials as of late, I’ve found that forgiveness is just step one. Step two is to love your enemies. I’m not saying that I’m there yet, just forgiving feels as though its been an amazing feat, but I know that by the power of God working in me I can one day not only forgive, but love my enemies the way Christ did as he hung from the cross.

Listen to our Lord’s words:

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. [33] And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [34] And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. [35] And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” [36] The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine [37] and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” [38] There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:32-38 ESV)

I can’t even begin to imagine the agony He was in at this moment. Set aside the physical agony for a moment, and think about the kind of love this man’s heart had to have to repel the fiery darts of the evil one at this moment.

In the acclaimed epic movie ‘The Robe’, which I recently saw for the first time, the protagonist is a Roman official named Marcellus, who was given the task of crucifying Christ. He was sort of thrown into the situation; in fact he was on his way out of Israel the next day to see his beloved. But something happened to him that day that would not let him go. Eventually, through a series of torments and trials, he finds himself back in the Promised Land and face to face with Peter the great apostle. He begins to see that Christ had transformed the lives of so many people, that genuine love flowed among them, and when he saw the forgiveness of those people for others he surrendered his heart to a new Captain. This is the exchange they had when Peter asked Marcellus to come with him on his next missionary journey:

Peter:…the night Jesus needed my most I denied him…not once but three times. I swore I never knew him…

Marcellus: I…crucified him…

Peter: I know. Demetrius told me.

Marcellus: Then you can forgive me?

Peter: He forgave you from the cross! Can I do less? Now does anything stand in your way? Can you be one of us?

Marcellus: From this day on, I’m enlisted in His service! I offer Him my sword, my fortune and my life. And this I pledge you on my honor as a Roman!

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I say to the glory of God and in utter humility that whenever I see myself before God and realize even something of what my blessed Lord has done for me, I am ready to forgive anybody anything.”

My own heart has been pierced through by many of the enemies flamed arrows because I failed to hold up the shield of faith. I trusted in my own mind and intellect to get me through it. I say to myself “just push through” or “just ignore it” or “this won’t last long”…but then my thoughts turn south…my mind conceives of all that I would do to my enemy if he were in my presence.

Look how Christ was mocked to come down “if” He could. They had forgotten the words of Christ as He was healing:

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23 ESV)

Therefore it wasn’t outside of His power to come down from that cross. But instead He stayed where He was and took the insults and the pain for you and for me in order that we could be forgiven for the insults and pain we hurl at others.

Lastly, I would ask you to look at the world now that you’ve looked at the cross…

The world tells you that you deserve to have your rights intact. The cross tells you to lay down your rights for the gospel.

The world tells you to take revenge and make sure people get what’s coming to them. The cross tells you that God is sovereign and will judge all men according to their deeds (in fact He judged Christ for your sins).

The world tells you that you’re a victim and that you deserve to be heard. Christ tells you to come and lay your burdens down at His feet and beckons you to be strong and courageous, fearing no man, and to live a victorious life!

The world ignores the depravity of all men and tells you that you’re better than those who hurt you and that some people are past being forgiven. The cross bears witness that your sins were so hideous and so heinous that the very Son of God had to be beaten, battered, and killed in a bloody mess because YOU slandered, murdered, thought evil thoughts, said evil things, and upheld your pride through it all.

One more thing…the world tells you that you are the one who was wronged. They’re right. Our Lord knows your pain and sorrow. But the cross tells you that we have ALL fallen short and by the mercy of God we have been saved from what we all deserve – namely hell and eternal punishment. Yet because of the cross, and because of the resurrection, you have been forgiven. Given the fact that your sins murdered the eternal Son of God, don’t you think it’s a good idea to forgive the people who have wronged you?

We Don’t Do This Alone: The Power of the Spirit in Forgiveness

So how is it possible, practically speaking, to forgive the way that Christ forgave us? Well the answer is by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to do anything without His help. He is the One conforming us to the image of Christ. He uses the Word to renew our minds, and convict us, and bring us into “all truth.” Listen to how Christ described the coming of the Spirit:

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. [26] But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [27] Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:25-27 ESV)

It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it possible. The power of God is an amazing thing. Trusting Him to do His work within us is the first step. We need to surrender our lives to His power, and place our faith in Him fully, trusting that He will complete that good work He started within us (Phil. 1:6) – that includes helping us to forgive others as He forgave us.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, [13] bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. [14] And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. [15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. [16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)

Finally, a personal note about this lesson…I have gone through some fiery great trials as of late. I have had my own personal “Saul” hounding me, hunting me down, though I have done nothing unrighteous. The process of forgiving this man has taken me through an excruciatingly painful month or so now, but by God’s grace He is working an amazing work in my heart. I appreciate the prayers and encouragement and wisdom that many of your have lavished upon me. This week I went from despairing of ever feeling love or praise for God or others, to recovering my joy as I forgave my offender. I say “I” but it was most certainly God who worked within me. And just this morning (Saturday) as I was singing a hymn with the kids did I realize fully what God had wrought in my hardened heart. The hymn was ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ and the verse was this:

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

 

When I read, “ponder anew what the Almighty can do” my heart soared again, realizing that God had done a miraculous thing inside of me, and that He still had more plans for my life. He has helped me forgive, and start to love my enemies, and as my heart pondered these things anew, I once again began to rejoice in the sovereign, powerful, efficacious work of the Lord in my life.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Study Notes 10-21-12

Chapter 8

CONTEXT NOTE: There is a great deal of discussion amongst scholars as to whether or not the first 11 verses of John 8 are part of the Canon of Scripture.  After consulting with our own pastor, and with commentators from every age of the church, I believe that it is part of the Canon, although it was not perhaps originally part of John’s gospel and may have been meant to go in Luke’s gospel, or may have been meant to be placed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, while men across church history seem to agree that this was not a passage in the original manuscripts, they almost all equally agree that the passage should be included in the canon.  Here are a few thoughts from wiser men than myself on the matter, and why we ought to still consider this passage as inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore worthy of our consideration and reverence:

Calvin says this, “…it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.”

Our own Pastor Gabbard said, “Even though this passage is not found in the earliest manuscripts, my recollection is that it is in enough later manuscripts to still give it some credibility. I have always taken the position that since God in his sovereignty allowed this passage to be in our Bibles for hundreds of years and it is a beautiful story which is consistent with the character and ministry of Christ, I teach it as the word of God.”

D.A. Carson says, “On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books.  Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius) is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). There narrative before us also has a number of parallels with stories in the Synoptic Gospels.  The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 46).”

MacArthur, speaking to the external evidence says, “The external evidence also casts doubt on the authenticity of these verses. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts, from a variety of textual traditions, omit it.”  But then goes on to say, “It contains no teaching that contradicts the rest of Scripture. The picture it paints of the wise, loving, forgiving Savior is consistent with the Bible’s portrait of Jesus Christ. Nor is it the kind of story the early church would have made up about Him.”  Finally he comments, “The story was most likely history, a piece of oral tradition that circulated in parts of the Western church. (Most of the limited early support for its authenticity comes from Western manuscripts and versions, and from Western church fathers such as Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine.)”

Leon Morris has this to say, “The textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel (of John)…In addition to the textual difficulty many find stylistic criteria against the story. While the spirit of the narrative is in accordance with that of this Gospel the language is not Johannine.”  Morris continues, however, by stating, “Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic. It rings true. It speaks to our condition. And it can scarcely have been composed in the early church with its sternness about sexual sin. It is thus worth our while to study it tough not as an authentic part of Jon’s writing.”

James Montgomery Boice says this, “The difficulty, simply put, is that the majority of the earliest manuscripts of John do not contain these verses and, moreover, that some of the best manuscripts are of this number…Interestingly enough, very few scholars (even man of the liberal ones) seem willing to do this (omit the passage), and the fact that a good case can be made out for the other side, should make one cautious in how he deals with it. I am willing to deal with the story as genuine – though perhaps not a part of the original Gospel as John wrote it (then he lists several reasons which I will not take time to list here).”

Finally, R.C. Sproul says this, “The overwhelming consensus of textual critics is that it was not part of the original Gospel of John, at least not this portion of John. At the same time, the overwhelming consensus is that this account is authentic, it’s apostolic, and it should be contained in any edition of the New Testament…I believe it is nothing less than the very word of God, so I will treat it as such in this chapter.”

I know that John Piper, John Calvin, Ambrose, and many other great pastors and theologians also lay out good and convincing cases for including this passage in Scripture.  And so the task before us is no longer to question the veracity and authenticity of this text as apostolic, but to agree that it is the “very Word of God” as Sproul says, and submit ourselves to its teaching and authority.

The Text

7:53-8:1 They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

The first thing we note here is that Jesus went up on the Mount of Olives after everyone else went home.  This is significant for a few reasons.

First, this is the only reference to the Mount of Olives in John – perhaps a reason to doubt the manuscript here should be included in John and not in Luke or one of the other synoptics.

Second, it reminds us that Jesus was homeless.  In Matthew 8:20 we hear Christ say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” MacArthur notes that we cannot note for certain that He slept out under the stars or whether He went a short distance on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives at the home of Lazurus, Martha and Mary, however, I think it’s a good reminder of the humiliation of the incarnation.  MacArthur also agrees and cites the famous passage from Phil. 2:7-8.

Third, Boice points out that what Jesus normally did on the Mount of Olives was commune with His Father in prayer.  This is something to keep in mind as we head into the text ahead of us.  While Jesus was communing in prayer with His Father, the Pharisees and Scribes were laying a sinful plot to trap Him. Boice says that from a practical standpoint, if we are to imitate Christ in His handling of the situation before us in all the difficulties we face in our own lives, we must also imitate Him in His devotion to prayer.  “Where does this compassionate attitude toward other persons come from in practical experience? It comes only from communing with our heavenly Father. We are personal with others only when we know ourselves to be persons (as opposed to “things”).  We know ourselves to be persons only when we see ourselves as persons before God.”

8:2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.

In classic Rabbinic style, Jesus sits down to teach.  Note also that all the people were coming to Him on their own.  Truth draws people in who have a desire to learn about God – something many modern day pastors would do well to remember as they lay out their church “marketing campaigns.”

8:3-4 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst [4] they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.

Several scholars take time to note how the author puts together “the scribes and the Pharisees” here.  This isn’t a very Johannine phrase – but is one used a lot in the synoptic gospels.

Scribes were also called lawyers and they were experts at reading and writing opinions about the law of Moses.  We ought not to be confused here into thinking that the scribes and Pharisees were one in the same, for they were not.  Scribes were simply lawyers – that was their training and trade.  It is how they made their living.  Pharisees were a political type of party (at least that’s the best way I can describe it).  Not all Pharisees were scribes, and conversely, not all scribes were Pharisees.  In fact, my scribes had strong alliances with the ruling class of the Sadducees.

Now, we note here that this group of people says that this woman has been “caught” in the act of adultery.  What they are inferring is that she has been caught in the very act – not in simply a compromising situation.  Jewish scholars (note Morris, Boice, and Sproul) are clear that in order to be seized on this matter, it would require at least 2-3 witnesses, and all the details of the witnesses had to match exactly.  Thus it was very hard to get into this situation.  For one had to be caught in the very act, and there had to be several witnesses, and their testimony had to agree in every part down to each detail.

8:5-6 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” [6] This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

The Evil Trap for a Young Woman

The text that these guys are referring to is found in a few places.  First, the most notable text for this would have been in Deuteronomy 22:22, which says:

“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

The first thing we note here is that someone is missing from the scene.  Who?  Why the man who committed the act along with the woman!  Perhaps the man got away, though this is unlikely if he was caught in the very act (a requirement of the law as mentioned above) of adultery.  It is also possible that the man was an important person – perhaps on the Sanhedrin council – and the Pharisees didn’t want to arrest him.  There is also the very dark and nefarious possibility that James Boice is right on this and that the man (whoever he was) was involved in the plot to setup this young woman by the Pharisees, and therefore have something with which to trap Jesus.

I can’t think of a more dark and sinister thing than this.  But as we read on here, it becomes apparent, at least to me, that this is probably what these evil men had done.

Now, looking at the language that the Pharisees’ use here, we note that they have a specific intent in mind, a specific form of execution that they believe that Moses commands them to follow – namely stoning.   If we read further on in Deuteronomy 22 we read this:

“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, [24] then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

So we see that this method of execution was reserved only for those who were betrothed and fell into immorality – most of whom were young women and men, probably 13-15 years old.  Therefore, it’s very likely that this young woman was not a prostitute, but a teenage girl that was lured into a terrible trap by these evil men.  They were using her for their own evil purposes.

The Legal Trap for Jesus

Now that we see what this group of evil men had been working on with regard to this poor young woman, we turn our attention to the legal trap that they had concocted for Jesus.

R.C. Sproul explains, “The Romans permitted significant self-rule in the nations they conquered, but they did not allow vassal nations to exercise the death penalty in capital cases…If Jesus were to say, ‘Stone the woman,’ they would run to the Roman headquarters and say, ‘This teacher is advocating that we exercise capital punishment without going through the Roman system.’ That way they would get Jesus in trouble with the Romans. But if He were to say, ‘Don’t stone her,’ they would run back to the Sanhedrin and say, ‘This Jesus is a heretic because He denies the law of Moses.’ No matter how Jesus answered the question, He would be in serious trouble.”

In addition to the issue with Him getting into trouble with the Romans if He were to pronounce the guilty verdict, some Scholars (MacArthur, Boice, Morris among others) think that Jesus would also undermine His ministry which was marked by compassion – and would perhaps even contradict what He said in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Though this might be the case, I don’t think it is necessarily what the scribes and Pharisees had in their minds.  I don’t think their mission at this stage was to simply undermine His ministry, but to find a reason to put Him to death.

Jesus Write in the Sand

The reaction of Jesus to their question is odd – very odd indeed!  There are so many theories on what it is that Jesus wrote that I can’t even begin to list them all here.  Most scholars that I respect say that we simply cannot know what He wrote, and that, as Sproul says, “We have to be careful about speculation. As John Calvin said in his commentary on Romans, when God closes His holy mouth, we should desist from inquiry.”

So I will not spend time on what He might or might not have said.  Needless to say, it further provoked His enemies, who continued to pester Him for an answer.

8:7-8 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” [8] And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

Jesus’ words are masterful.  He doesn’t vacillate between Moses and Roman law (as Sproul notes), but sides with Moses, and upholds the law of the Old Testament without directly engaging in the judgment Himself, and therefore not incurring any legal issues with Rome.

But His words are masterful in other ways as well.  He is actually shedding light on a problem – namely that we are all guilty of sin, we have all fallen short of God’s glory and high standard (Rom. 3:23), and that there is only one righteous judge of the universe who is fit to issue the verdict.  But at the same time, if we are all guilty, and we all deserve to die, how can the law of Moses be upheld while still believing in a God that is good and merciful?

This is the problem that Paul addressed in Romans 3:26 – As Boice points out, “Ho can God be both just and the justifier of the ungodly? From a human point of view the problem is unsolvable.”

But because with God “all things are possible” there is a solution.  Namely that Jesus bore our punishment in His body on the cross.  So that God would be just and not wink at sin (as Sproul is commonly saying) and still punish sin and therefore remain just, while providing mercy for those whom He has predestined to salvation (the elect).  Our punishment has not been excused and forgotten.  That sentence has been carried out – Jesus bore our sentence for us on the cross.

8:9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

These men thought they had trapped Jesus, but now they were so utterly undone by the overpowering nature and truth of His words (and perhaps even His presence) that their hearts melted within them.  One minute they had stones in their hands ready to physically kill someone, the next they were so struck in mind and heart that they had to flee the scene.

James Boice comments “Think of the efforts they had gone through! Think of the plotting! Yet there were destroyed in a moment when they were confronted by the God who masters circumstances.”

8:10-11 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” [11] She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

How can we explain the reaction of Jesus here?  Boice says that His response was characterized by understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and a challenge.  I think he is right on the money with this breakdown (MacArthur offers a similar, though less compelling outline as well).  I will use his outline here but add my own thoughts under each section:

He is Understanding: Jesus knows all circumstances, all hearts, all minds.  There is nothing about this situation that Jesus doesn’t fully comprehend or understand.  He sees the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees, and He sees the heart of the young woman here.

He is Compassionate and Loving: The best way to think about the love and compassion Jesus had for this young lady is to think about how you love your own children.  It’s an unconditional kind of love.  You don’t love them because they are good, or because they are yours (they could have been adopted), or because they are talented or handsome or pretty.  There is an almost divine and unexplainable love you have for them.  Your heart is knitted to theirs in an almost supernatural way.  That is the way Christ sees people.  That’s how He saw this young lady, and that’s how He sees you and me.

Furthermore, that’s how we are called to see others.  We aren’t to use people like these Pharisees did.  What they did was so evil and so dark that we think we never act this way.  But as Boice points out, we are all guilty of using people from time to time.  We treat others as less than human, and we forget how God loves them, and how He loves us despite our deep sinfulness.

Boice says this, “Love is unexplainable. The best you can say is that love is divine and that you love him (others/your children) because God himself has loved us.”

Christ is Forgiving:

I think it may well be said here that Jesus forgave this young lady – for he says that He does not condemn her.  However, we aren’t told specifically if she sought repentance.  I do think, though, that He would not have issued these words if He had not already looked into her heart and seen her repentance.  I don’t want to get too far down the road of speculation here though, for no one can know what is in a man’s (or woman’s) heart.

The most important principle here is that of Christ’s forgiveness not merely for the specific sin in view, but for sin of any kind.

Now matter how disgusting, evil, or hateful, our sin can still be forgiven by the Lord of lords.  Interestingly enough none of the commentators talk about Christ’s view of the Pharisees and scribes at this juncture. Surely if there was ever a group that could have been called Christ’s “enemy” it was this group of men.  But what does Christ tell us about our enemies?  He tells us to love them (Matt. 5:44).  And so none of His enemies receives a stinging rebuke by Jesus in this instance – though they deserved it. Rather He goes right to the heart of the matter, piercing their souls and pricking their consciences with truth that could not be warded off even by the stony defenses of a hardened heart.  What is amazing to me is the thought that not only did Christ love this woman, but He probably had a love for those who were accusing Him (Luke 23:34) – perhaps even some in that group would later repent of their sins and follow Him (Acts 6:7).

Christ Issues a Challenge:

He says, “go, and from now on sin no more.”  Forgiveness is followed by a challenge, and we receive the same admonition as well from Paul who says:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

[5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have had our sins atoned for and we are no longer slaves to sin. This is an important final point. In the garden Adam could choose to sin, or choose not to sin.  We know which way he went.  But he was not a slave to sin as most of the human race is today. When Adam fell into sin, all men born afterwards were born into slavery.  We couldn’t not choose to sin.  We were sinners by our very nature. Such was our state prior to Christ!  Now we, like Adam originally, can choose either to sin or not to sin.  Often we follow the flesh, but as we become more and more conformed into the image of Christ, we choose to sin less and less.

The challenge we face is to crucify our desires of the flesh, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). This challenge is one we can meet with gusto because we have motivation that most people don’t have – we have hope for a wonderful eternity in heaven, and we have the enjoyment and communion with God right now.  In short, we are motivated by the gospel and by His love for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Study Notes 4-1-12

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

  • Immediately following the Old Testament account of salvation, Jesus turns the timetables forward and declares that God’s love for His people hasn’t changed since the days of Moses.  He has prepared a way of salvation, for He is a loving and patient God and not willing that any man should perish.
  • What has become, however, a sad commentary in our current day is that many have distorted this verse and taken it out of context.  Jesus tells us explicitly that in order to be born again, one must be born of “Water and the Spirit” – not of any human work (“lest any man should boast”).   And yet here it seems as though Jesus is saying that He has died for the entire world, and that all we need to do is believe.  Some have taken this verse (incorrectly) to mean that on our own we can make a decision on whether or not we want to believe in Jesus.  Well, we certainly make that decision, but not until we are born again – otherwise we would never desire to choose to believe.  For it is God alone working in the hearts of men, who melts those hearts, who changes those spots, who does a supernatural, miraculous work in our lives in order for us to see the majesty and great value of Christ.

3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

  • In other words, this is not the time of judgment.  That time is coming when Christ comes back, but Jesus didn’t come down to judge the world at this time, but rather to bring salvation and usher in a new covenant with His people.
  • We are so used to thinking of Jesus as a savior, that sometimes we forget that ultimately He will be our judge, and in fact will judge all creation.  We can lose site of the holiness of His character and the reaction that garnered in those who were near Him.  His holy character brought out a sense of reverence and fear in the disciples (Mark 4:41; Luke 5:8), and so it is natural that we hear Him saying here that He didn’t come to judge the world at this time.
  • Note especially 1 Peter 4:5 which says, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  The “living” are those who have been born again to new life, and the “dead” are those who are spiritually dead.  Make no mistake, every man, whether spiritually alive or spiritually dead, will face the judgment of Christ when He comes back in glory.

3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

  • We know from our own experiences that there are some who will never believe.  And those who do not place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are “condemned already.”  As MacArthur notes, “while the final sentencing of those who reject Christ is still future, their judgment will merely consummate what has already begun.”
  • I will offer a paraphrase here based on what I understand Him to be saying: “every human being is born already condemned and if you don’t believe in Me then you will remain condemned.”

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

  • Jesus pulls no punches here and explains why it is that they will be judged, because “their works were evil.”  Most people we talk to on a day-to-day basis would probably tell us (if they are non-believers) that they are basically “good people.”  Jesus blows this notion up.  There are no “good people.” We have all gone astray (Is. 53:6) and no one does anything that is truly “good” in the eyes of the Holy God we serve (Roman 3:12).
  • But Jesus takes it a step further, He says that not only have men done evil, He says that men “loved the darkness” – we actually love our sin more than we love God.  And this is why we need a supernatural change of heart, and why no man can simply believe upon Jesus without the help of God to open our eyes and get us to believe in the first place.  Paul concurs with Christ in Romans 3:11 when he says, “…no one understands;            no one seeks for God.”  And in Ephesians 2:2 we read that as unbelievers we “…followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  In John 8:44a Jesus says of those who are unbelievers, “you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
  • Sproul says, “Man’s natural tendency is to flee from the presence of God and to have no affection for the biblical Christ. Therefore, if you have in your heart today any affection for Christ at all, it is because God the Holy Spirit in His sweetness, in His power, in His mercy, and in His grace has been to the cemetery of your soul and has raised you from the dead. So you are now alive to the things of Christ and you rejoice in the kingdom into which He has brought you.”
  • Wiersbe puts it this way, “It is not ‘intellectual problems’ that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light.”
  • C.H. Spurgeon put it this way, “there is no man so ignorant that he can claim a lack of intellect as an excuse for rejecting the gospel…it is not any lack or deficiency there (in the mind).  The nature of man has become so debased and depraved that it has become impossible for him to Christ without the power of God the Holy Sprit.”
  • It is evident by this passage that if it were not for a supernatural work of God in our hearts, we would never choose God.  That God the Holy Spirit must act in regeneration and then give us the gift of faith before we would ever choose Christ.  This is because we always choose our strongest inclination at the time (this is the “will”, it is the “mind choosing” as Jonathan Edwards would say), and our strongest inclination is always the darkness/sin until the Holy Spirit brings us to the light.
  • These good works that we carry out are said to be “in God” in verse 21 and this reminds us of what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We know that our own good works are filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6), but that Christ works in us to perform good works for His glory.
  • The most important thing that I see laid out here by Christ is the nature of eternity and the coming judgment.  He begins the chapter by explaining how one might be born again – by supernatural operation of the Spirit.  Then He explains that He has authority from heaven to give this gift.  Furthermore, He says that there is no other way to see/enter the kingdom of heaven but by this supernatural work of the Spirit. Then He enumerates the second step of the salvation process (faith), as well as the role of the Son in the redemption of human souls.  So He explains then what humanity must do in order to partake in this salvation (trusting upon Him by faith), and reminds them in no uncertain terms that the wrath of God/His judgment lies on whomever does not trust in the Son for salvation (cf. 3:37).  Finally, He reminds us of our own inability to inherit the kingdom due to our wickedness and love of sin, and that this only occurs within the sovereign and providential framework of God’s work.
  • How do we respond to what Jesus is saying here?  We respond by recognizing the depth of our depravity and our sin, and the magnificence of the grace and glory of God.  Tomorrow when you have a moment, stop and realize how base and repugnant your thoughts and words are, how sinful your mouth has been, how worldly your passions have been and remind yourself of the extent to which Jesus has gone to redeem your soul.  What an amazing Father we have; so gracious, so patient and long-suffering.  We respond to this truth by throwing ourselves upon the mercy of Christ and running to the cross.  You may be a Christian who is haunted by sin, by things you simply cannot conquer, and the Devil wants to remind you of the depth of your sin.  Well simply agree with him, and say, “what of it?!  I have been forgiven.  My standing with God does not depend upon what I do or don’t do but upon the grace of almighty God who has saved me from this state of slavery.”  Indeed.  Praise God for His salvation.

 

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

Today we learned that Jesus came to the world to die for our sins.  We learned that on our own we would never desire to love Jesus, but instead we would keep sinning because we naturally love to sin more than we love Jesus.  But the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to soften our hearts and help us love Him.  Only with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to love Jesus and accept His free gift of salvation.  We also learned that when Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago He didn’t come to judge people but to save them, however, when He comes back He will be ready to judge everyone – both those who believe in Him and those who do not believe in Him.