Anticipating the Lord of History

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

PJ Wenzel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(waiting, reality, restoration)

The art of waiting on God’s timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait for the LORD;

                        be strong, and let your heart take courage;

                        wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:14

or in Psalm 25:

                        May integrity and uprightness preserve me,

                        for I wait for you. Psalm 25:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting involved faithful and active obedience and prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What prayers?

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

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

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

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

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

How does he react?

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

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

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

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

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

(PAUSE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoration for the glory of God

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

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

Zechariah was a righteous man who stumbled into unbelief.

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 1:57–80

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

Zechariah was restored to speaking once again.

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

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

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

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

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

Look at verse 68…

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

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

                        for he has visited and redeemed his people

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

                        in the house of his servant David,

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

            [71] that we should be saved from our enemies

                        and from the hand of all who hate us;

            [72] to show the mercy promised to our fathers

                        and to remember his holy covenant,

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

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

            might serve him without fear,

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

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

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

            [77] to give knowledge of salvation to his people

                        in the forgiveness of their sins,

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

                        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

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

                        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me mention to you a final word friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.