You Follow Me – The Conclusion of John’s Gospel

Tomorrow morning it is my aim to conclude a three year long study of the book of John. I leave the study with over 500 pages of notes, a few piles of books and commentaries on the gospel of John, and a mind and heart that have been changed for the better by studying these passages.

It is a very humbling thing to get to the end of such a large book and feel you’ve still got a lot to learn. The depth of John’s gospel is just astounding – it is made all the more astounding when you read how he ends it!

I hope you enjoy these final notes on the 4th Gospel.

PJW

You Follow Me

 Introduction to the End of John’s Gospel

In the final scenes of John’s gospel we find that the author does not follow a strict chronological timeline. John isn’t concerned to give an exact timeline of events in proper sequence, but to give a theological and spiritual conclusion to his book.

This makes sense when we remember that his aim was spelled out like this:

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

The pleasure of reading this gospel has been that Jesus is front in center in John’s writing. John displays Jesus in such a way that His teachings speak for themselves. Yet John also adds editorial comments in here and there, guiding the reader toward a fuller understanding of both the circumstances and Jesus’ teaching.

This same modus operandi holds true for the final few verses of John’s gospel.

21:18-19 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” [19] (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

It seems that Jesus is speaking here to Peter about the fact that he will one day be crucified. It took quite a long time (3 decades) for this to materialize, but eventually Peter did die a martyr’s death just as Jesus had predicted (and ordained!).

Carson probably has the best explanation on this and says Bauer had it right long ago:

Bauer proposed long ago that this ‘stretching’ took place when a condemned prisoner was tied to his cross-member (the patibulum: cf. notes on 19:17) and forced to carry his ‘cross’ to the place of execution. The cross-member would be placed on the prisoner’s neck and shoulders, his arms tied to it, and then he would be led away to death. Despite the fact that many reject this explanation (Carson note on Schnackenburg), the most detailed study of crucifixion in the ancient world describes just such horrible variations on this grisly form of execution (Carson footnote on M. Hengel, Crucifixion).

21:20-22 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Here Peter wants to know his end, and why it is that He should suffer a death that is horrific – why not someone else? What about the other guy?

The first thing of importance in this passage is that Jesus’ power and authority is made manifest when He says, “if it is my will.” Remember Christian that it is the will of this Man that rules the universe. The word of Jesus upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3) and, like the Father, all that He wills to do comes to pass.

Job acknowledged this, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

And certainly this puts the words of Isaiah in mind (these are what I first thought of when I read this):

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:8-10)

Therefore Jesus begins His response to Peter with a reminder of his own authority.

Secondly, He is blunt with Peter, in affect telling him to “butt out!”

I think that John Piper’s blog post on this is just terrific. Below is extended excerpt of his words:

Jesus’ blunt words—“None of your business, follow me”—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. Sometimes when I scan the ads in Christianity Today (all ten thousand of them), I get discouraged. Not as much as I used to twenty-five years ago. But still I find this avalanche of ministry suggestions oppressing.

Book after book, conference after conference, DVD after DVD—telling me how to succeed in ministry. And all of them quietly delivering the message that I am not making it. Worship could be better. Preaching could be better. Evangelism could be better. Pastoral care could be better. Youth ministry could be better. Missions could be better. And here is what works. Buy this. Go here. Go there. Do it this way. And adding to the burden—some of these books and conferences are mine!

So I was refreshed by Jesus’ blunt word to me (and you): “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a very hard word. You will die—painfully. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life of fruitful ministry, will he get to?

That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.

  • What is it to you that David Wells has such a comprehensive grasp of the pervasive effects of postmodernism? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Voddie Baucham speaks the gospel so powerfully without notes? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Tim Keller sees gospel connections with professional life so clearly? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Mark Driscoll has the language and the folly of pop culture at his fingertips? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Don Carson reads five hundred books a year and combines pastoral insight with the scholar’s depth and comprehensiveness? You follow me.

That word landed on me with great joy. Jesus will not judge me according to my superiority or inferiority over anybody. No preacher. No church. No ministry. These are not the standard. Jesus has a work for me to do (and a different one for you). It is not what he has given anyone else to do. There is a grace to do it. Will I trust him for that grace and do what he has given me to do? That is the question. O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!

I hope you find encouragement and freedom today when you hear Jesus say to all your fretting comparisons: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

I find Piper’s analogy or paraphrase or what-have-you, to be perfect – especially in light of the fact that Driscoll just this week resigned in shame from his own church. We often put people on pedestals and puff them up in our minds, but they are just men. They are just as human as we are.

We could all no doubt substitute the names “driscoll or wells” for our own friends and contemporaries. For we often look at our Christian friends and see the grace God has bestowed on them and perhaps feel somewhat inadequate comparatively. Yet this is the very thing Jesus is correcting in Peter.

Carson says that Jesus’ reply to Peter is basically to say, “mind your own business.” Calvin says, “Christ intended to put his hand on his disciple, in order to keep him within the limits of his calling. ‘It is no concern of yours,’ says he, ‘and you leave that to my disposal’ think only about yourself, and prepare to follow where you are called.’”

Herman Ridderbos says, “What applies to both disciples is the call to follow Jesus, each with his own destiny. For Peter it means he will complete his life like the “good Shepherd” in self-offering for Jesus’ flock. For the beloved disciple this means his continuing witness until the coming of his Lord in glory.”

We who are God’s children are dealt with individually. In fact, this says something of the individuality of the Christian walk. We often rightly emphasize the need for corporate worship, corporate sermons, and fellowship. But there is also a part to Christianity that is very individual, very personal. That is what we are seeing between Peter and Jesus here.

Personal Reflection

It is not easy to leave this section without reflecting on God’s call on our own lives, and how often we find ourselves in comparative moments where perhaps we would rather be someone else. Yet God calls us each to walk our own individual walks, and endure our own trial, not coveting those without similar ordeals or circumstances.

But more than this is the great comfort that in our trials, and indeed in every circumstance, it is Jesus who wills these things. It is not left to us to guess whether or not Jesus is allowing this or that, or whether He knows of our trials. There is no room for that loose of an interpretation. Jesus is presented here (indeed He presents Himself by His own words) as the One who “wills” all that comes to pass.

Indeed as Paul has said:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

21:23-24 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” [24] This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Who is this “We”?

A quick textual note is necessary before beginning the final look at these verses. In verse 23 the author seems to be taking some corrective action in order to mitigate the misnomer that Jesus had meant the beloved disciple would not die. Rather, Jesus just said he would “remain” (meno), and in this context it didn’t mean he wouldn’t die, but that he would continue in his work on earth until he died in the way God had thought best.

Many scholars dispute the identity of who the “we” refers to in verse 24. Ridderbos thinks its people who made up those around John, but not John himself (or at least to include John and the apostles with him). But Carson goes through every option and notes that it must refer to John himself, the author and also the “beloved disciple” as included in this and as the one writing it.

Even though this seems awkward, it’s no more awkward than John referring to himself in the third person the entire time! I am convinced that this is the most likely reading of the passage, most especially because in 1:14 John is says, “We have seen his glory.” That seems to fit the same writing style/motif.

More can be read of the comparative views in Carson (pages 681-685).

The Purpose of This Gospel

All of this gets back to the reason John wrote this – to show the greatness of Jesus, and give those who read this book an opportunity to believe and find life – eternal life – with Him.

This is why the author has taken such pains to explain, comment, rebut, and go in-depth in many areas where the other gospel writers did not. John’s mission dominates his narrative and the choice of his excerpts from Jesus’ life and ministry.

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

The Greatness of Jesus

To end his commentary on the gospel of John, D.A. Carson frames the last verse as containing matter related to “The Greatness of Jesus” – a very apt header. Carson says:

The Jesus to whom he (John) bears witness is not only the obedient Son and the risen Lord, he is the incarnate Word, the one through whom the universe was created. If all his deeds were described, the world would be a very small and inadequate library indeed.

It is as if John has identified himself (vs. 24), but is not content to focus on himself, not even on his veracity. He must close by saying his own work is only a minute part of all the honours (sic) due the Son.

John’s gospel is truly unique. It is a theological gospel – and perhaps no one captures that theological (and even philosophical) thrust better than Ridderbos in his own summary of the book:

What we are confronted with in this Gospel, as a matter of faith, is the salvific breaking down from above of the boundaries by which our thinking and acting are circumscribed (cf. 3:5). The confrontation, however, is not with a “higher reality” as such, one that would merely relativize our reality. The confrontation is with the entry into our reality of the glory (“the name,” 17:6, 26 etc.) of God and with the “signs” of the “life” for which God once created and still continues to destine the world (1:4) – just as he who was “in the bosom of the Father” revealed that name and that life to us by his words and deeds (1:18) so that “by believing in that name” we may have life (20:31).

Surely this is the case. The breakthrough, indeed the “invasion”, if you will, of the kingdom of God in the lives of mankind is significant in John’s gospel. It is the telling of the sovereign God breaking into our reality/our consciousness in a way He had not done to fore. He physically walked and dwelt among us. Not as a pillar of fire, a burning bush, an angelic vision, but as a man born of a virgin, growing up as a boy under the law, and coming to maturity as a human being.

The wonder of this increases ten-fold when we realize the goal of God was to save men. The lengths He went to do this, and the wonder we feel when these truths come into focus is the permeating reality that soaks every sentence, every graph, and every chapter of John’s gospel.

He began by ushering us into the presence and purpose of God:

The Word Became Flesh In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18)

And left us to worship:

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

William Hendricksen ends his own commentary by quoting the familiar words written by a Jewish poet named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai in 1050 A.D. and later put to music by F. M. Lehman:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade: To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.

Calvin says God used men to make a careful selection of the material from Jesus’ life in order that (He) “might make known to us all that God knew to be necessary for us, who alone is wise, and the only fountain of wisdom; to whom be praise and glory for ever. Amen.”

I hope your study of this gospel has been as profitable as mine. It has left me humbled, and appreciative of all God has given us in His word.

 

Study Notes for John 19:1-16a: ‘Behold the Man’

Here are my (rough) notes for John 19:1-16a. As a side note, there aren’t as many written out parallels with Is. 53 as I will likely reference tomorrow while teaching this. I will not be back to teach for another two weeks. In the meantime, I hope these notes are edifying to you, and that you see the sovereign hand of God in every step of Jesus’ final hours before death.

ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri
ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri

John Chapter 19

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. [2] And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. [3] They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

As we read these words, those of Jesus come to mind: “For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:32-33)

I just note this passage again, as I did previously, and as I will do in the future, because as these things happen to Jesus I want to keep in the forefront of our minds that Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him. The “flogging”, the “mockery” and the “shameful” treatment is already taking place. The rest is soon to come.

With that in mind, a few notes on what was going on here. The flogging of someone who wasn’t proven guilty was pretty common. In America in the 21st century, we have this concept of being presumed innocent until proven otherwise. What is so despicable about so much of the media attention that surrounds modern trials is that in the minds of the public innocence and guilt is obscured, and justice is whatever people’s emotions dictate. This is what is means to make a “mockery” of justice.

What we are seeing here is mockery at its zenith.

Of course the purple robe is intended to signify royalty or importance. Purple was expensive, and was held in high regard. In Acts 16 we read of a lady named Lydia who was a clothier of some kind, and Luke goes out of this way to mention that she dealt with “purple” cloth:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:11)

By looking at this fact, and the other clues in the passage, Pastor Matt Chandler says its safe to assume Lydia was a wealthy, successful lady who catered to the upper class (that final part is my own assumption).

The crown of thorns, and what kind of bush these came from, is a subject of debate. Easton’s Bible Dictionary takes the view that the thorns were not very long or painful, but could be easily made into the crown described by John and the other gospel writers:

…our Lord was crowned with a, in mockery by the Romans (Matt. 27:29). The object of Pilate’s guard in doing this was probably to insult, and not specially to inflict pain. There is nothing to show that the shrub thus used was, as has been supposed, the spina Christi, which could have been easily woven into a wreath. It was probably the thorny nabk, which grew abundantly round about Jerusalem, and whose flexible, pliant, and round branches could easily be platted into the form of a crown.

Fausset seems to agree upon the pliable nature, though not the type of plant:

Christ’s “crown of thorns” has been supposed to have been made of the Ramnus nabeca (Hasselquist) or the Lycium spinosum, probably the latter (Sieber). To mock rather than to pain Him was the soldiers’ object, and they took whatever came to their hand first. The dark green was a parody of the triumphal ivy wreath.

Whatever the nature of the crown, it made a mockery of the kingship of Jesus. And I am personally reminded that those who suffer mockery for the sake of Jesus will eventually win the “crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Lastly, and I was struck by this, the Romans struck Jesus with their hands. I really think that at this point they weren’t working to inflict pain as much as make a mockery of Him. I began to think about the thoughts and emotions that go through a person’s mind before inflicting any kind of blow upon another person. Usually human beings react in anger to being hurt, or are defending their honor or another’s before taking a swing at someone. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. These men have not been wronged by Jesus, nor have they likely even heard of Him before. To them, He’s just another Jew.

What do I bring this up? Because it displays the nature of mankind. Man is in a depraved and evil state from birth. His nature is twisted, and his motives are selfish and turned against his Maker. Environment (so-called “nurture”) can lessen or increase the outward effects of sin, but it’s effects are there on the heart – branded, as it were, from birth.

Ironically, these are the types of men Jesus came to save. He came to save us from ourselves.

NOTE: There is a lot of debate among the scholars as to the nature of the beating administered here. There were three grades of beating (cf. Carson) that the Romans administered, and this one was likely the least severe, with the intent to simply appease the Jews – this of course didn’t work. The most severe beating is the one which involved the famed ‘cat of nine tails’, each “tail” having bits of metal or bone embedded into the ends. The bones and metal chips would land in the flesh, and then rip the flesh off, thus exposing the body’s internal organs and bones after a time. This third degree of beating was likely what Jesus received after being formally and finally condemned by Pilate (we aren’t quite there yet in the narrative, and its hard to see how Pilate would have moved to this degree of beating without a final verdict being given).

19:4-5 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” [5] So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

I am reminded of the fakery of this ceremony when I read these words simply because it was typical to adorn a king with certain trappings of the office and then hail him as king before the people. For instance, in 2 Chronicles 23 we read of the crowning of Joash, a very young man at the time:

Then they brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony. And they proclaimed him king, and Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and they said, “Long live the king.” (2 Chronicles 23:11)

When Pilate declares, “behold the man”, he is of course mocking Jesus. But in his words there is a great deal of irony. Jesus is the man. He is the God-man. He is certainly human, and yet the passage is inescapably tinged with His divinity.

All of this occurs despite the fact that Pilate found no guilt in Jesus. I don’t suppose we have a full account of all that was said, but John has included what was necessary to give us a picture of the proceedings.

19:6-7 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” [7] The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Now Pilate once again seeks to release Jesus. The Jews didn’t want Him released, and it is typical that when people are riled up about something they cool down after a while and after seeing their enemy sufficiently humiliated. But for these Jews, Pilate’s humiliation of Jesus wasn’t enough.

Their desires now fully match their father the Devil’s. They want to see Jesus dead, and they begin to cry out for His death with shouts of “crucify him!”

I spoke of this before, and so won’t spend a lot of time on it, but Pilate doesn’t really find anything wrong with Jesus, and he doesn’t feel the need to be involved in killing Him either. But we shouldn’t mistake this for altruism on Pilate’s part. It may be true that his heart was being softened at this moment, but that doesn’t seem likely. What seems likely given the context is that he is simply mocking the Jews.

When Pilate says, “take him yourselves and crucify him” he’s just rubbing in the lack of ability for the Jews to do this because they were under the governance of the Romans. It’s as if Pilate was saying, “go kill him yourself…oh, wait, that’s right you’re under the boot of Roman rule…ya sorry about that!”

Now the response of the Jews shows how laser focused they were in accomplishing their objective. They didn’t blink an eye at the insult of Pilate, for they knew very well that they weren’t allowed to kill anyone. Instead they continue to make the case that Jesus has to die, and therefore the Romans need to be the ones to do it.

Why They Want Him Dead

If you notice here, it’s the chief priests who are demanding the execution of Jesus. Why? Because “he has made himself the Son of God.” Their case is based on theological grounds.

Here’s why I think that its worth taking a minute to pause and reflect on this statement: There have been many liberal scholars, and secular academics, who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, or divine, or anything more than a good teacher, but this assertion simply doesn’t hold up.

This text is “exhibit A” as to why the “good teacher” argument doesn’t hold up: Even His enemies knew what He was claiming. Though they had many other accusations to hurl (i.e. that he intended to destroy the temple), this is the one they come to Pilate with when everything is on the line. Their main accusation is one of blasphemy. Jesus, this man from Nazareth, has claimed to be equal with God.

There are several passages to show this, but one need only look at chapter eight to see an excellent example of the clash between Jesus’ claims and the teaching/leadership of the Pharisees:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:53-59)

So here we have just one example of His clear claim to divinity. And we’ve spoken about this passage in the past, but its important to realize the profundity of these words and how they must have antagonized the Pharisees.

Carson summarizes with great circumspection:

In man contexts that was demonstrably untrue. The anointed king of Israel was sometimes referred to as God’s Son in the Old Testament (Ps. 2:7; 89:26-27), and in some intertestamental sources ‘Son of God’ is parallel to ‘Messiah’ (4Q Florilegium). But Jesus’ opponents rightly recognize that as he uses the title there are overtones not only of messiahship but of sharing the rights and authority of God himself (vs. 1:34; 5:19-30).

19:8-11 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. [9] He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. [10] So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” [11] Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

It’s interesting to read Carson and Ridderbos and others discuss what John must mean by Pilate being “more afraid.” They seem to think that Pilate, like many Romans, was likely a very superstitious man, and that it wasn’t so much that he was convinced or had a strong feeling of Jesus’ deity that this statement confirms.

No, the man Pilate had no clue that Jesus was the God-man, and indeed very God of very God. Rather, he was either concerned that there might be something super-human about him (as in Greco-Roman mythology – so Carson) or he was afraid/nervous about his tenuous position as maintainer of order during the proceedings (so Ridderbos), which were tending toward absurdity and chaos, rather than justice and order.

Jesus then doesn’t answer Pilate – He’s really already answered this question before (see vs. 36) and, as is remarked upon by some, He likely doesn’t see Pilate as a rightful judge in these matters. The silence, of course, is not indefinite. But it partly fulfills what we read in the prophets “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).

Next, Pilate severely aggravated by the silent treatment, flaunts his authority before the One who created him from nothing in the first place.

What is interesting about Jesus’ response is that in our English translations, the word “therefore” seems to act as a connector word to the previous sentence about the nature of how Pilate derived his authority. However, that is deceiving. Jesus is not connecting the authority of Pilate with his lack of culpability/responsibility for the sin of this ridiculous trial. Rather He is making two separate statements.

The first statement leaves us in great awe of the majestic sovereignty of the Lord, and reminds us of the compatibilist viewpoint of the New Testament writers (cf. Carson). God is behind every thing going on in this situation. God is the ultimate source of all authority, and therefore Pilate could not be operating – or living and breathing for that matter – without the express consent and decree of God. Yet this does not rob men of their responsibility to obey God. He is mysteriously ordaining every act of men, yet we are still responsible for our actions.

Secondly, playing off the first statement, Pilate is still responsible for his sinfully unjust trial. Yet the degree of this sinfulness is eclipsed by those men (or man – it is in the singular in the Gk) who delivered Jesus over to him.

I can’t personally decide with certainty who it is that is at issue here – whether it is Caiaphas (as Morris and Carson have deducted), or whether it is the Jewish leaders as a whole (as Ridderbos says – he says that the Evangelist is speaking in a redemptive-historical sense, and thereby the singular use of the pronoun “he” is figurative in a sense). If I were pressed, I would say that it represents Caiaphas directly, and the Jewish leaders and the people as a whole indirectly. Caiaphas was the leader of the Council, and the head of the governing body of the Jews. He represented the nation in a federal sense, one might say (just as Jesus represented a nation so to speak, on the cross – see also John 11:49-52)

The key to this passage is this: God is in control of the large and small aspects of history. He ordains all that comes to pass. Not one evil deed is done without His oversight and permission. Yet this does not excuse wickedness, nor does it deny the culpability of man. Rather it shows God’s mercy and the depth of His mysterious ways that He allows evil to work in its fashion for good. These things will not long be the case, as when He comes back in glory the Lord Jesus will put all evil to death, and will usher in an eternity of joy, peace, and abundant life – that which was inaugurated will be consummated.

19:12-16a From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” [13] So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. [14] Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” [15] They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” [16a] So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Now Pilate has asked once again if the Jews will allow Jesus to be released. Pilate is troubled by this Jesus, and he is annoyed at the petulance of the Jews. Yet he is walking a fine line here, and he’s a smart politician. He won’t allow the Jews to get their way on a whim, as if they rule the province, yet he won’t allow the situation to devolve into anarchy which would cause an even bigger headache for him.

Ridderbos rightly says, “Though he (Pilate) knew from long experience with the Jews the hypocrisy of this sudden loyalty to the emperor, he understood from this renewed mention of the emperor that all further delay was futile and could even get him into trouble.”

Therefore it is at this moment that the Jews play a final card – and an effective one at that. In a statement simply drenched in irony and hypocrisy, they claim that if Pilate releases Jesus he will show himself to be a disloyal subject of the Caesar! In other words, they’re claiming that they are more loyal to Caesar than Pilate is! The Jews – specifically “the chief priests” – solidify their (fraudulent) claim to loyalty by shouting “we have no king by Caesar!”

Indeed they had surrendered all kingship to secular authorities, and by this statement revealed for all to see that they were under the kingship of Satan and his ruling authorities rather than the God they claimed to serve.

What immediately came to mind was the rejection of Samuel in the OT. The people claimed to want a king like all the other nations. But what was God’s interpretation of those events? Here is what He said to Samuel:

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. [7] And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:6-7)

All of this serves to remind us of all that Jesus had to suffer before being crucified. Wrongly accused, Jesus has to go through the injustice of a trial which is nothing but a sham. Then He observes as the people He created in His own image deny His kingship and swear a false loyalty to a pagan worshiping man thousands of miles away, all in an effort to crucify the One sent to save them from their sins.

The terrible irony of of this back and forth between Pilate and the Jews is finally put to rest as Pilate acquiesces to their Satanically inspired desires.

 

John 16:16-24 Study Notes

Here are my notes for John 16:16-24.  This is a neat little passage and I hope it is encouraging to you!

PJW

16:16-18 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

Has it all been for nothing?

Jesus is winding down His farewell and so He says quite plainly that very soon they won’t see Him.  But, as with everything else He has said, there is a silver lining!  They will see Him soon after He goes away.

There is some dispute about whether Jesus is referring to the time between His ascension and His second coming (so Ryle), or whether He is referring to the short time between His death and resurrection (so Morris and Carson).  I have a tendency to think it is the latter because of the context of the entire passage seems to demand it, and because it is the easier reading – not that there can’t be some future allusions here, but I think Carson is right that this is the most natural understanding of the text. This should become more plain soon.

One of the things that marks this passage is the sense that once again the disciples are confused about something Jesus is telling them.  Many are the sayings of Jesus, and their depth is sometimes difficult to plum (Rom. 11:33-36).  Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense that given all that we read thus far about the disciples that they would react this way. We have taken months and months to dive into each section, each verse, and sometimes each word of what Jesus has been saying in this farewell discourse.  The disciples, however, did not have that much time to contemplate these things. Their minds were being tormented emotionally as well.

And receiving one truth statement after another all in such a short period of time must have been really difficult – in fact it seems that its all they can do to slow Jesus down with these questions and try to figure out what in the world is going on here.  I think their reactions are based in fear, and unbelief at what they’re hearing.  They simply can’t process this information at the pace Jesus is giving it to them – combine that with the fact that they don’t really want to process and accept what He’s telling them and you have a recipe for anxiety.

Put yourself in their shoes and remember that these disciples have lost everything – they have left everything as well (Matt. 19:27-30).  They thought that they were doing this for a reason, but now in their fear they begin to wonder if the last three years was completely wasted. Have they forsaken all for naught?

So in a heightened state of nerves and fear the disciples now say question “what in the world is He saying?”  It looks like they are saying this amongst themselves because John tells us in verse 19 that “Jesus knew” which seems to indicate that He knew either by supernatural means (Morris disagrees) or by simply knowing His disciples well enough to have understood/put together what they were saying from what He heard (for He was an excellent judge of character!).

Lastly, we ought to note that their inability to understand the sayings of Jesus has a great deal to do with which side of the cross they are on.  That is to say that everything we understand now, they did not see very easily.

We recognize now with the eyes of the Spirit what was so opaque to the disciples. This is what was predicted in Jeremiah 31:34:

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

It is the Spirit who now teaches us the depths of God’s truth. As Calvin comments, “The prophet (Jeremiah) assuredly does not take away or set aside instruction, which must be in its most vigorous state in the kingdom of Christ; but he affirms that, when all shall be taught by God, no room will be any longer left for this gross ignorance, which holds the minds of men, till Christ, the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), shall enlighten them by the rays of His Spirit.”

After Pentecost everything changed, however, and the apostles were great explainers of the mysteries of God.  Calvin continues, “Besides, though the apostles were exceedingly like children, or rather, were more like stocks of wood than men, we know well what they suddenly became, after having enjoyed the teaching of the Holy Spirit.”

16:19-21 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Gracious Privilege of Knowing the Lord

The first thing that strikes me about this passage and the whole of these discourses when taken together, is that graciousness of the Lord to give us knowledge of any part of His plan.  We talked a little about this when we studied chapter 15, which says:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

It is a very special thing to be called a “friend” of the Lord.  And one of the things that indicates we are friends is His graciously letting us in on the general scope and many details of His plan for salvation and mankind.

Abraham and Moses all experienced this privilege to some degree (Gen. 15:15; Ex. 33:11), but partakers in the New Covenant have an even greater revelation, thus our privileges have been enriched. To that end, we just looked at Jeremiah’s prophecy that says pretty much the same thing in a different way – “they will all be taught of the Lord.”  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not only the mark of Adoption it is the mark of friendship.  The Spirit conveys to us the wisdom of the Lord as revealed in His Word. This is a very very special privilege, which Paul understood when he stated:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)

The Analogy of Childbirth

Any father or mother knows the anxiety and stress and pain that precede the birth of a child. The fears, the nerves, and the unknown are constantly pressing upon you.  But you also know that in that moment, when the baby comes into the world, everything else fades and the joy that fills your heart is so powerful, so overwhelming, that nothing can overcome it.

How beautiful this is analogy is to us, and its beauty is not simply found on the surface, one has to realize that for Jesus to make this analogy He has to know a great deal about the nature of humanity – that same nature is an imprint of the original nature…His nature!

What this means is that Jesus knows what it is like to experience the birth of a new child – because as Creator He experiences this over and over and over again!  Jesus loves His creation.

Now, I think that Jesus’ immediate meaning here is that the disciples will experience great joy upon His triumph over the grave – in this way He is telling them something that will immediately come to pass so that, as with other verses in His farewell discourse, they will believe and have their faith boosted when those things come to pass (think John 20:20 for instance).

I don’t think its wrong to also to see a secondary truth here in that, as Paul says, the whole world is in travail (see Romans 8) until He returns, and our longing and our pain will all subside and be replaced by an inexpressible joy upon His return! (Perhaps Is. 13:6-13 esp. vs. 8 is a good reference here…)  But the primary reference must be in the immediate joy the disciples felt upon the resurrection of the Lord.  Carson explains:

Arguments to the effect that this joy refers to the ecstasy Christians will experience at the parousia necessarily presuppose that grief characterizes them throughout this age until Jesus returns. That will not square with Jesus’ promise of joy to his disciples throughout the Christian era (15:11), still less with John’s report of the disciples’ reactions when they saw the resurrected Christ: ‘The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord’ (20:20).

During this age Jesus is giving new life – through the new birth (John 3) to millions upon millions of souls. And the joy expressed (Luke 15:7) over the re-birth of each soul reverberates through the heavenly kingdom as the joy of a child’s birth echoes in the hearts of new parents.

There is a joy to be found here on earth – in the salvation of souls, the birthing of spiritual babes who have had their eyes opened and will one day be received into the Father’s arms. But even more so is the joy we will have on that day when our images are restored, when the consequences of our union with Christ are borne out in view of all, and we enter into eternal peace with our eternal Father.

Excusus: One of the things I would note here is that the Greek word “world” above is once again Kosmos, and once again it takes on another type of meaning.  In this instance the author doesn’t have the entire universe in mind, nor the entire population of the world, but rather that group of people who rejoiced at the demise of Christ – those who shouted “crucify! Crucify!” might be in mind…So when people jump to the conclusion that Jesus died for the entire world, I would once again point to verses like this and remind them that proper interpretation methods demand us to closely examine the context of the word in order to determine its meaning.

16:22-24 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

A few things to note here – first, Jesus plainly predicts that there will certainly be sorrow upon His departure.  And this is rightly so.  Who would not be sorrowful upon the loss of their Lord? Even though the disciples should be rejoicing, their perspectives are dimmed by their fallen nature and the words of Jesus are not penetrating or taking hold yet.  Only when the Spirit comes will those words transform them into a people who will gladly meet every sorrow for the joy that is set before them.  We have spent some time speaking to this already.

You Won’t Need to Ask…But Ask! 

It seems on the surface that Jesus is contradicting Himself in the same paragraph!  He says that the disciples won’t need to ask anything of Him, but then He goes on to urge them to ask for things in His name.  So what is the deal here?

First, the reason that “in that day” they will not ask anything of Jesus is not because they will have no questions, but rather because what He is saying to them concerning His death, burial and resurrection will be made clear to them. He is contextually addressing the current work He is about to take upon Himself, not saying that they will never have questions ever again – one has to assume that during His 40 days here on earth the disciples asked many questions. For He stayed with them and taught them as we read in Acts:

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

Second, He goes on to urge them to “ask” the Father for things in His name.  So we can rule out that they won’t have needs or questions in yet another way.  Though this second saying is more oriented toward our petition to the Father for all the needs of this life post-Christ’s ascension and less about the specific questions the disciples may have for Him concerning the sayings in this discourse.

The stress on this exhortation is on His mediatorial role. He is saying one the one hand that what He is about to accomplish will be made understandable to them soon, and when they see Him again they will “get it” (Luke 24:8 for one, but much more so post-Pentecost). On the other, He is has stated that there will be troubles and He won’t be with them physically to bar the door, rather He will be interceding in Heaven on their behalf. So it is right that He would urge them to “Ask” for what they will need from the Father.

Excursus: Let me also just mention that Jesus is not saying, “you need to end every prayer ‘In Jesus name, Amen’, (see Grudem’s Systematic Theology chapter on Prayer) rather He is addressing the hearts and intentions of His disciples.  They (and we) need to understand that when we address the Father in prayer, we do so because we have the right to do so, and that right has been won for us by our great Mediator, Jesus Christ.

As Calvin comments, “We are said to pray in the name of Christ when we take him as our Advocate, to reconcile us, and make us find favor with His Father, though we do not expressly mention his name with our lips.”

Lastly, Jesus urges them to “ask” that their “joy” may be made full. This ties it in together. There will be trials, there will be difficulties, He will not physically be with them. BUT, He will be mediating for them, He will be available to them, and the Spirit will teach them all things so that they will understand better the “why.”

This shouts of the heart Christ has for His children.  He desires for His own to have joy.  He does all these things for our benefit.  The trials, the struggles they are for our joy. But so is the availability and mediation of the Son.  Without the latter the former would be joyless.  But because of the promise of eternal life, which the Spirit bears witness to, we can “face tomorrow” as the old hymn goes.

Union with Christ means joy despite tribulation here on earth, with the promise of eternal joy when we are united with Him for eternity.

A New Era

One final thing to note here is that in saying that “until now” you have not asked anything in my name Jesus is saying that a new dispensation, a new kingdom, a new time is upon them.  Something different is about to be ushered in – an entirely new era. As Ridderbos says, the saying “thus marks the change of dispensations: though Jesus has from the beginning pointed out to them the way to the Father and has himself been that way, up until now he has been with them on earth, the place from which their prayers have gone up. HE has not yet been in heaven, the place from which the prayer are answered.”

The entire metaphor of childbirth (a popular metaphor at that time) harkens us back to Isaiah and especially chapter 26 where we read the following:

O Lord, in distress they sought you;
they poured out a whispered prayer
when your discipline was upon them.
17 Like a pregnant woman
who writhes and cries out in her pangs
when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
18 we were pregnant, we writhed,
but we have given birth to wind.
We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.
20 Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the fury has passed by.
21 For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no more cover its slain. (Isaiah 26:16-21)

 

Carson remarks on the passage with brilliant insight:

…‘The birth pains of the Messiah’ refers to a period of terrible trouble that must precede the consummation. It is not unlikely that this verse alludes to this eschatological theme,  only here the intense suffering is borne by the Messiah himself. This interpretation is strengthened by the use of hora (properly ‘hour’ or ‘time’): the word is pregnant with meaning in the Fourth Gospel, and is regularly related to Jesus’ death and the dawning of a new age. This means Jesus’ death and resurrection are properly eschatological events.

Furthermore, the role of Christ as mediator of our personal appeals through Him as our Savior whose blood has provided a way into the holy of holies indicates a time when the temple of the Lord is no longer in Jerusalem but inside His children. This coming directly to the Father through the righteous blood of Christ is a distinction of the church age.

Practically speaking this means we ought to count it precious that we have the privilege of prayer in this way. It is an awesome gift, and a tool that we ought not to neglect or take lightly.  As J.C. Ryle says, “Let the lesson sink down deeply into our hearts. Of all the list of Christian duties there is none to which there is such abounding encouragement as prayer. It is a duty which concerns all.”

Most Influential Books Part 3

This is part three (and final post) in a series on the most influential books I’ve read.  I’ve also listed some “runners up” at the end.  To be honest, there are so many good books that I read each year, that a list like this is necessarily subjective, and its always growing. Not that some books don’t have obvious merit for all people, but I also recognize that some may have had impacted me more than they will you. Not only that – but there’s a good chance that next week I could read something that blows me away and it won’t be on the list. Just this past week I read two books that were pretty darn good – Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel’ and Michael Reeves ‘Delighting in the Trinity’. Nevertheless, I have to draw the line somewhere!

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

11. The Power of Positive Thinking – No one will accuse Norman Vincent Peale of being a theological genius, in fact much of his teaching undermines the basic Christian message that we are all sinner who need a Savior extra nos, but early in my theological awakening I didn’t seem to realize much of his incorrect teaching. So despite a deeply flawed message, God graciously used this book to help me learn two important things: 1. I need to be praying for others regularly and 2. The importance of Scripture memorization. This book literally pointed me back to the Bible’s importance for my physical and emotional well-being. I was suffering a great deal of anxiety and my doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety medication. My stomach was constantly in knots and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the problem…medication seemed like the only option. But when I fervently began to memorize scripture and pray for others and bigger items besides just my own desires, I began to slowly be cured of my anxiety. I stopped taking medication. I was a free man. And its not a big mystery as to why – this wasn’t magic, it was simply allowing the Word of the Lord and the power of the Spirit to become my top priority and renew my mind. The Bible can do that like no other book.  In addition, praying for others got my mind off my own troubles and focused on loving others (even if I didn’t know them). This book helped point me in the right direction. Would I recommend it now?  No way – but its prescriptions, most certainly. In fact if you want to learn more about Peale’s false teaching you can read Tim Challies’ write up on his bio: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale

12. The Loveliness of Christ – During some of my darkest, most stressed-filled days this book has been a balm of healing. I have quoted it, memorized portions of it, I’ve taken it to the hospital multiple times, and it’s been a great tool of perspective in the midst of suffering. It is a small book, but a powerful book. Samuel Rutherford is probably one of the most influential puritan writers of all time, and his influence on me has been significant. If you were to add any one book to your collection as a result of this blog post, this would be the one I’d start with. The book is comprised of probably 100 (small) pages of quotes which are simply excerpts from his letters to other believers. In another way, if you are a Christian, Rutherford’s caring love for others around him ought to be a model for you as you seek to live in a way that is caring and reflective of the Savior.

13. Kingdom Through Covenant – Perhaps no book to date has had such an outsized impact on the way I understand the way in which the Biblical story is put together and unfolds throughout history. It made me feel good to be a Baptist (truth be told), and assured me that I wasn’t giving up any intellectual ground on that score (perhaps an intramural joke there)! It also explained for me a lot of the flow of events in the Old Testament and how they culminate in Christ – especially O.T. promises. This was an important book in my deeper theological development, and for those who have been Christians for a while and have always wondered at the dispensational and covenant approaches (i.e. you are/were head-scratchers like me), then this will prove very fruitful ground for you. You’ll have to ignore all the Hebrew and Greek text that the authors slip in from time to time. They are the scholars in that field and they do that to show their work (like you did in long division in 8th grade). My best advice is to do your best to read around it and not let it bog you down…its well worth it!

14. The Lord of the Rings – Growing up I was somewhat of a stranger to Tolkein’s work. I was aware of The Hobbit (I had seen a play, and perhaps had it read to me by my mom), but had no idea there was more to the story. Finally, while I was in college, my brother Alex introduced me to the story when Peter Jackson’s silver screen rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. I went as a skeptic, and left as a man head over heals in love. Later, in the weeks and days leading up to my wedding, I read The Lord of the Rings almost nonstop. I carried it with me everywhere, and my bookmark was our wedding vows which I was endeavoring to memorize. I still read this book whenever I can, and appreciate its depth and literary value more with each passing year.

15. Henry Drummond – This is not a book, it is an author (is that cheating?). During the 2007/2008 Romney Presidential Campaign I lived on the short sayings of Drummond. He gave me hope that science and Christian intellectualism could co-exist, and helped add perspective to my busy life away from home when I was sad and often feeling lost. Drummond lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century and devoted a substantial amount of time to standing up to the popular new scientific theory of evolution. He had a sharp logical mind, and I think just about anything he wrote is really fascinating.
Runners up – books that have taught me at least one major concept that has stuck with me:

God’s Greater Glory – In this sequel to Bruce Ware’s ‘God’s Lesser Glory’, Dr. Ware explains God’s “meticulous sovereignty”, a concept that has really been important in my own studies over the past year or so.  His Biblical and logical arguments are beyond arguing with from what I can tell of all I’ve read thus far. If you’ve read Chosen by God, and don’t want to blow your brains out with a puritan reading (i.e. Freedom of the Will) on the topic of God’s sovereignty, then this is the next step in your educational endeavors.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – This is a recent purchase and read and makes the list for how much it makes me laugh. It is easily one of the most enjoyable and hilarious books I have ever read! What I love the most about it is its trueness to the story as well as to Shakespeare’s famous writing style (the entire book is written in iambic pentameter).  If you love star wars and literature, this is the perfect combination – but be warned, this book is not to be read in any location where laughing out loud might be frowned upon!

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Jerry Bridges explains “dependent responsibility”, which is the concept that men and women are both responsible for their actions and obedience to God’s laws, while at the same time dependent upon God for help to obey.  The tension here is worked out beautifully, and helpfully.

Give them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick examines parenting using the gospel. It is probably the best parenting book I’ve ever read, and it is easily the most challenging. There aren’t a lot of “to-do’s” from here, but there is a significant philosophical boost and reexamination that will likely take place.  If you don’t yet understand how the gospel fits into everyday life, this is one you must read.

A Case for Amillenialism – Kim Riddlebarger opened my mind to eschatology and taught me to enjoy it and not be scared to study it. I don’t think he’s the best writer, it seems a little clunky at times.  But he is really helpful in this area, and I find myself going back to his book and his blog again and again for wisdom.

The Trinity – Bruce ware explains divine roles better than anyone I had ever read. Especially subordination in role and co-equality in ontology.  If you’ve never understood the Trinity, this book will be huge for you.

The Freedom of the Will – Edwards proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God initiates salvation.  Extremely difficult read though, so don’t read this unless you’re ready to pop a few Advil along with it! In fact, I would recommend not reading this unless you are an advanced scholar whose already read some other puritan works (or even other works by Edwards). But if you are pretty advanced in your reading and understanding of doctrine, then make sure to put this on your bucket list.

Bonhoeffer – This almost made my original list. I read it at a time when I was going through much pain and angst and it helped distract me and keep my mind fresh. It was a very very good book and a very interesting biography.  It will not leave you satisfied though, I warn you there…but I think that is for the best (though I know some who disagree).

The Pleasures of God – Piper explained how it was the will and pleasure of the Father to crush the Son. This concept just blew me away.  He goes into many other “pleasures” of God in this series, and they are worth reading or listening (there is a sermon series) through.

Holiness – J.C. Ryle explained to me that in order to enjoy heaven later I need to pursue holiness now. That concept is meted out over some three or four hundred pages. It was a very impactful book and showed example after example of how men and women from the Bible lived their lives in pursuit of holiness all pointing forward to the One who lived a perfect life of holiness so that when we fail that goodness, that righteousness, is there for us and keeps us in right standing before God.

The 5000 Year Leap – I read this in 2009 (I think) and it was one of the first books to awaken me to how far off course our country has gotten. It’s a great foundational book for anyone trying to figure out for themselves “what’s really wrong with this country?”

The Children of Hurin – This is one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s posthumously published works and probably the greatest thriller/tragedy I’ve ever read hands down. It was published with the help of his son Christopher and if you get the right edition it will have sketches by Alan Lee, which are really good. Just a fantastic piece of fiction.

Knowing God – This classic work of J.I. Packer helped shape a lot of my thinking on the nature of the Christian life.  Perhaps chapter 19 (on adoption) was most influential because it stuck with me the best. You can hardly go wrong by reading this book multiple times until its truth seeps in and helps you better grasp your life’s purpose, and more of who and what God is all about.

Battling Unbelief – John Piper works out some important ideas here in a book that is basically a boiled down version of ‘Future Grace’ and the idea behind the book is that most of our anxiety and sinfulness (and many issues in our lives) derive from a Christian’s failure to have faith in God.  In other words, we don’t believe Him and don’t trust in His promises etc. It’s astonishing how many times Piper is able to get to the root of things in this small book. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to get to the root of the problems facing them each day.

The Story of Christianity Volume I – I read this 500 (or so) page history book last year as part of a seminary class on the history of the Christian church. It was so easy to read and so good that I picked up its sequel (volume II) for reading on my own. What I liked so much about this book was Justo Gonzalez’ ability to simplify complex political and religious issues, and help the reader traverse hundreds of years of history without missing the small things, yet without losing site of the bigger picture.  It’s easily the best volume on the church I’ve read thus far (at least for a beginner like me).

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God – This book is a compilation of essays written about the holiness of God by noted scholars and theologians.  The essay by Sinclair Ferguson entitled ‘Hallowed be Your Name: The Holiness of the Father’ left a lasting impression on me and I refer back to it again and again.

Conclusion: One of the things that is inevitably left off a list like this are the dozens of commentaries and study aides I read each year as I teach through books of the Bible. Men like Carson, Calvin, Ridderbos, Vos, Stott, Augustine, Boice, MacArthur, Morris, Kostenberger, Frame, Schreiner, Grudem, Beale and others who didn’t get mentioned in my book list have been equally influential on my thinking and understanding of life, death, Scripture, and many other topics under the sun. There have also been men and women whose books I have read and have been helpful or enjoyable, but if I listed them all it would take way too long!

But what I have learned is that reading changes lives, it does this in the way that Bruce Ware describes the study of theology: first it changes your mind, then your heart, then the actions of your hands, which in turn affects your habitat.  But it starts in the minds and hearts of those who seek wisdom. You’ll notice that many of my books are theological or Biblically based, and that isn’t because I haven’t read a slew of Gresham or my fair share of Star Wars, and it isn’t because I haven’t read the classic works from Dickens and Dumas (becauseI have), but its because the books that have shaped me, influenced me, and changed me for the better have largely been books whose topic is heavenly, and whose aim is joy in life and after it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the postings – feel free to comment with any questions!

Jesus Beats Death

I year or so ago I had the opportunity to teach through John 11 in my sunday school, and recently – this past Monday – I was able to revisit this chapter and spend two hours going through each verse with a lady’s Bible study group at my parent’s home church.  What resulted from this was a rather lengthy exposition of the chapter, but some refreshed notes which I’ve posted below.  My hope is that these notes will be edifying to those who are interested in seeing how this man Jesus had an amazing power during His earthly life.  He was able to do things no man has ever done.  Consequently, many believed in Him.  Still, even His great acts were not enough for some to trust that He was who He claimed to be.

In John 11 this is what happens.  Jesus performs an amazing miracle, and the reaction is quite mixed.  The man who benefits from the miracle has been dead for fully 4 days. The stench of death was likely setting in, and no one ever though of the man coming back to life. Certainly there was a hope for the future – in what Martha terms “the resurrection on the last day”…but what happened next never occurred to anyone present….

John Chapter 11

An Exposition

Introduction

The main thrust of John 11 seems to be two-fold: to show forth the glory and honor of Jesus Christ as the true Son of God, and to show how Lazarus was a type of Christ – remembering that Jesus would soon triumph over the grave to the glory of God in Christ.

Section 1: vs. 1-16 – The Plans of God for the Glory of Christ

Section 2: vs. 17-27 – Abramatic Faith & ‘Ego Eimi’

Section 3: vs. 28-44 – The Sovereign Power of the Son of God

Section 4: vs. 45-57 – Heart of Darkness: The Power of Unbelief

 

Section 1 – The Plans of God for the Glory of Christ

11:1-2 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

The Bethany mentioned here is not the one across the Jordan. D.A. Carson gives us the background:

This Bethany, lying on the east side of the Mount of Olives less than two miles from Jerusalem along the road to Jericho, has not been mentioned in the Fourth Gospel before, and must be distinguished from the Bethany of 1:28 and that alluded to in 10:40-42. That is why John characterizes it as the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

John’s editorial note in verse two that “it was Mary who anointed the Lord” helps us understand that John is assuming his readers would have heard of this story from the synoptic gospels. It could also be a literary/stylistic devise he is employing to prime the reader for more to come (namely in chapter 12:3).

11:3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Boice makes a good point that the sisters don’t directly make an appeal to the Lord here for help, though that is almost certainly what their goal was…

I do not think that it is fair to say on this basis that no request was implied. Clearly there was the implication that they would like Jesus to come to their aid, and there was certainly the suggestion that he might help them by healing Lazarus. If this is not implied, there was no point even in sending Christ the message. But at the same time, we cannot miss feeling that when they phrased the report as the did – “Lord, the one you love is sick” – they indicated by the form of it that they were seeking his will rather than theirs in the matter.

I suppose it is also necessary to address the fact that some say that by the way Mary and Martha address Lazarus as the one “loved” by Christ, that Lazarus is perhaps the author of this gospel and not John – there are other times, of course, when the author refers to himself as the “beloved” of the Lord.  But this argument unravels in several ways, not the least of which is that the word “love” here is phileo whereas the word the gospel writer uses to describe the Lord’s affection for him is agape.

Lastly, I think what is instructive about this verse is that the Lord spent His days on earth loving others. This was so apparent that it practically dominates the opening sections of this chapter.  Christ called us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and to love our neighbor/others (Mark 12:31). He was not a hypocrite in His teaching, He lived out this love – it was this love that motivated His every action and controlled His every move. It was out of love that He was sent to earth in the first place (Eph. 1:5 indicates His will for our adoption as sons).

11:4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

The Meaning of “Glorified”

What does it mean that God would be “glorified” through it?  We see that Jesus is saying that the reason why Lazarus has been sick  (at this point he has not died) is so that “the Son of God may be glorified.”

In Scripture there are at least three different ways/modes God can be glorified (generally speaking). First is in the revealing of His character, second is in the reflection of His character (among His people), and third is in the praises/worship/acknowledgement/agreement of His people (which is essentially His people agreeing with Him that He is praiseworthy, that He is great etc.).

It seems that, usually, we think of giving God glory by praising Him. But in this account I believe that Jesus is almost certainly referring to the revealing of His person/deity and not specifically seeking praise. To put it another way, He is not going to do the miracle so that He can receive praises from men, but rather to show men that He is praiseworthy. It is to provide further revelation of His character and being as the true Son of God.

D.A. Carson comments:

…the raising of Lazarus provides an opportunity for God, in revealing his glory, to glorify his Son, for it is the Father’s express purpose that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father…The Father and the Son are mutually committed to the other’s glory.

Is that not fantastic?! MacArthur also finds this to be the central theme of the text in front of us:

The most important theme in the universe is the glory of God. It is the underlying reason for all God’s works, from the creation of the world, to the redemption of fallen sinners, to the judgment of unbelievers, to the manifestation of His greatness for all eternity in heaven…Everything God created gives Him glory – except fallen angels and fallen men. And even they, in a negative sense, bring Him glory, since He displays His holiness by judging them.

It is this revealing of God’s character through created things, through His plan, and through His Son that we are to focus on here. Specifically, of course, on the revealing of the glory of the Son, which MacArthur says, “blazes in this passage against a dark backdrop of rejection and hatred on the part of the Jewish leaders.”

The great signs (of which this is the 7th and final in John’s gospel) of this book point to the character of Jesus Christ and His true identity as the Son of God. They also provide us with a solid reason for faith in His word and in our future with Him. Likewise, the miracle that we’re about to read of bolstered the faith of the disciples and those who were near Christ. The primary reason for the miracle (to bring glory to God and Christ Jesus) leads to the secondary reason, the bolstering of our faith.

How Lazarus Points Forward to the Pleasure of God in Christ

Certainly one of the most difficult things for us humans to deal with is the truth that God, in His eternal purposes, has allowed, yea even willed, for terrible calamity to befall those whom He loves.  Spurgeon once preached a message on this passage in John and said this:

The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of human life. Men of God are still men. The covenant of grace is not a charter of exemption from consumption, or rheumatism, or asthma.

We see here that God’s purpose was to use the suffering and death of Lazarus to reveal the glory of His Son. And likewise He can use sickness and death in our lives to both refine us (Ps. 119:71), and glorify Himself. His character is certainly made known in many ways through suffering – just think of all the times that men and women who have endured sickness have testified to the great and glorious character of Jesus Christ.

Certainly the most glaring example of suffering and death being used for God’s pleasure is the example of Jesus Christ’s own passion and death.  The story of Lazarus was not included for no reason at all in this gospel. Rather it is put here to point us to Christ, and how Christ ultimately triumphed over the grave.  We’ll talk more about that parallel in the coming texts, but for now I want to see how God was going to be glorified in the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and how He was glorified and even “took pleasure” in the death of His Son (Is. 53:10).  In that Isaiah passage we read:

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

It is so difficult to understand how God can possibly have taken pleasure in the “crush(ing)” of His one and only Son. We can see how possibly the Father could be glorified at the end game, but to actually be “pleased” to crush Him…that takes on a whole new difficulty for us.  It’s applicable to what we’re looking at here, because I believe it will show us something of the character of God, and if we can catch a glimpse of that, perhaps we can more rightly appropriate what He is working in our lives through suffering and storms.

John Piper explains this passage in the following ways:

One part of the answer is stressed at the end of verse 10, namely, that God’s pleasure is what the Son accomplished in dying…God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son, considered in and of itself, but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his suffering.

Piper continues…

The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for the sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value! The glory of God is of infinite value!

…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory. And in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.

Scripture supports what Dr. Piper is saying.  Earlier in John’s Gospel we read the following:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17)

Piper closes his thoughts on the matter this way:

When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!

I bring this up is because it shows the deeper purposes of God in Christ for you. We see the same thing here with Lazarus, and we see it in our own lives. Just as He took pleasure in bruising His Son, and takes pleasure in allowing you to face difficult trials for both His glory and for your refinement and sanctifications sake.  He does not glory in your pain, but sees past that and rejoices in the glory to be revealed to you – His glory.

11:5-7 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. [7] Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The reason this verse (verse 5) is here is because John wanted to ensure that we understood that Christ’s reasoning in verse four in no way interfered with how we understand verse six.  In other words, it was the love of Christ that compelled him to stay away for another two days, and it was the love of Christ for His Father that motivated His obedience to wait another two days.

Also, it was the love of the Father for us that He allowed Lazarus to get sick because through this He would reveal more of His Son’s glory to His creatures. God reveals Himself to us out of love for us and a desire for us to be ushered into a love relationship with the Trinity as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Specifically, we see in the word “so” at the beginning of verse six, that Christ’s motivation for staying is born out of verse five’s “love” for the Bethany family. This is a bit mind bending, but I think it correlates well with the idea we find in other parts of Scripture that God’s ways are not our ways, and that He does many things that at the time we may not understand.  This could even be discipline or difficulties.

As I was thinking on this passage this week, one of the great passages about love reminded me of Christ’s character here. Take note of 1 Cor. 13:3-7:

Love is patient and kind;

Note the patience of Christ.  He does not rush off to see the family of Lazarus, does not run to comfort them, does not run to perform the miracle. He waits patiently for God’s plan. In His speech to the disciples He is patient and kind.  He abides their foolishness and lack of understanding. He deals with their lack of faith and misunderstanding and selfishness.

love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude.

Perhaps this is obvious, but Christ never boasted in Himself but allowed His truthful teaching, His actions and the testimony of others to glorify Him. Instead of being rude, He is sometimes short and to the point.  But this is not rude.  He is never seen interrupting others, but rather He is always putting others first.

It does not insist on its own way;

We might say that Christ was the one person who deserved to insist on His own way, and yet He submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

it is not irritable or resentful;

Christ was omniscient, and yet the human side of Him never was bitter for what He knew in explicit detail would one day be His demise.  He looked around Himself and was constantly surrounded by incompetence, sin, rejections, and idiotic behavior.  He could have said to Himself ‘I am really dying for this?’ but He did not. Such was the nature of His patience and longsuffering.

[6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Christ was never happy when something horrible happened, but often used difficulties to share the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 13:1-5).

[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV)

Not only did Christ trust in the will of His Father and in the plan they had formulated from before the creation of the world, but He also looked forward in hope (Heb. 12) so that He was able to endure the torment of the cross.

In these ways and many more, Christ is the suffering servant; He is the very heart of love. That is why John can say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), because He saw it embodied first hand.

Jesus obeyed the sovereign timing of the Father rather than His emotions.  We know that He was fully human and we know He was emotional (had emotional ties to Martha and Marry and Lazarus) about this situation. But He never allowed His humanity to prevent Him from making absolutely perfect and righteous decisions.  We know His motivation, as discussed earlier, for this was love. He knew the Father’s will; He sought the Father’s mind on all things through prayer.

In our own lives this means that we need to emulate Christ.  We need to ask for His help to change our desires to match His (1 Cor. 2:16).

How many times have you been prevented from getting something, doing something, going somewhere because of situations or circumstances beyond your control?  I’m sure you can look back at times in your life when you wanted so badly to fly here or go there or do this or that but you couldn’t and perhaps as you look back on it now, it was for the better.  Presently, Kate and I would really like to sell our house.  We’d love to move closer to church and to my work. But there are many reasons beyond our understanding that prevent that right now. I do not think that anything is a coincidence or that anything is out of the control and plan of God Almighty.  Therefore I must patiently wait for His plan to unfold even amidst trial. He waited to come to them out of love, remember.

Lastly, and I touched on this a moment ago, in revealing the nature and character of the Son in this moment we also see His sovereignty. The Father has a sovereign plan, and the Son knows that all things are in the hand of the Father – this is illustrated all the more in verse 9.

11:8-10 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” [9] Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. [10] But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

We should recall that the tension between the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem and Christ was at a boiling point at this time. The Jews were so angry and threatened by Christ’s ministry that they were seeking to kill Him.

So when Christ says, “let us go to Judea again” we can perhaps understand the nature of the disciples concern…they knew full well the danger of what Jesus was suggesting.

Carson comments on the disciples’ response “they are frankly aghast.” But Christ’s response is to remind them that as long as the Father still have work for Him to do, as long as there is life in Him, He will continue to boldly (and obediently) carry out His mission here on earth.  The specific meaning, therefore, of, “are there not twelve hours in the day” is to remind them that the fullness of the days work (His ministry) had not yet faded.  “These verses metaphorically insist that Jesus is safe as long as he performs his Father’s will. The daylight period of his ministry may be far advanced, but it is wrong to quit before the twelve hours have been filled up” Carson comments.

This certainly reminds of 9:4 where Christ says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”  And 9:5 actually ties nicely in with verse 10 here, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Christ once again uses the situation to remind them of a spiritual truth that He is the light of the world. All goodness, all illumination as far as truth is concerned comes from Him. He is the source of truth and understanding of that truth is also a supernatural gift from God.

Lastly, I am personally reminded of the nature of light and how it sort of symbolizes purity and cleanliness – a sort of antitheses to darkness and sickness. When finally go to be with Christ after this world has been remade and renewed, there will be no sickness and no darkness. In fact, there will be no sun because Jesus will be our only necessary light. Apart from the Son there will be only darkness. These comments foreshadow a truth that is so brilliant and so wonderful that we could linger all day upon their glories.

11:11-15 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

It wasn’t a terribly common thing in second temple culture to use the euphemism “fall asleep” for death, but if we scan the entirety of Scripture we see it is actually a very common phrase/word overall – especially in the books of Kings and Chronicles (examples: 1 Kings 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24, 10:35)

The Patience of the Son

Interesting how Christ had to explain to the disciples, at this sensitive moment, what He meant by His words. I can just see Him now patiently repeating Himself so as to make them understand His meaning, and I wonder how many other times He had to do this same thing. These are the kinds of things that make lesser men frustrated to the point of boiling over with anger. Not Jesus. He is as patient and longsuffering as ever.  What an amazing display of forbearance.

This really puts me to shame. I like to think of myself as a patient man – except, of course, when the kids or the co-workers, or someone (anyone) else has really pressed my nerves or my buttons repeatedly. Only then do I feel like I have an “excuse” to lose my temper.  This, to my own shame, was not the example of Christ.

So that You May Believe

The main thing we should take note of in these verses is that what Christ was doing was for the purposes of bringing glory to God (as mentioned earlier), and the phrase above “so that you may believe” does not modify that purpose or even add to it, but rather it explains more specifically how He will be glorified. These are not two separate items. Believing in the Son glorifies God because it gives proper due to who the Son is, and it magnifies Him.

John wrote this entire book for this purpose (John 20:30-31), and Christ’s entire mission was centered on this fundamental goal.  I hope that anyone reading this now understands that Christianity is all about Christ. He is the center of the Bible and indeed of all human history. Life (of the abundant kind) is about believing in Him, in placing full confidence in His words and surrendering to His leadership and direction.

Christ knew that He was going away soon. He knew that soon His great passion would be upon Him. Before He endured the cross, He wanted to shore up the faith of those disciples who had for so long been following His words and His teaching. He knows that they might not fully understand His words, but He knows that His words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).  He knew that millions and millions of Christians would read these words and meditate on His character, and bring Him glory.  Remember, He is not speaking to those who do not believe, but rather to those who love Him. But He wants them to have utmost confidence that He is who He says He is, and so that for years to come they would look back on this moment and fall on their faces with thanksgiving in their hearts.

11:16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Duty vs. Joy

Thomas is called “Didymus” in the Greek, which means “twin” – Thomas is Hebrew for “twin” as well…though no one really knows who his twin was.

I think that so often we underestimate Thomas.  This is the same man who we call “Doubting Thomas”, but we see here that there is more to this man than simply cynicism (though that certainly seems to be a dominant characteristic of his nature).  He has a strong courageous streak about him, and the fact that he was willing to die for/with Christ says a lot (even though we see later that, like the other disciples, he deserts Jesus).

Mostly, though Thomas might be brave – and we can admire that in him – he is also following as a rule. It is his duty, one might say. Ridderbos says, “He is certain the to go to Judea means death for them all. Not following Jesus obviously did not occur to him as an option. But his willingness to join Jesus was a matter of accepting the inevitable, clearly without understanding anything of the joy of which Jesus had spoken, to say nothing of being able to share in it.”

Jesus went to the cross because He knew the joy that was set before him (Heb. 12:1-3), but Thomas went (in his mind) to his death because it seemed like the only dutiful thing to do. While I greatly admire Thomas’ bravery and loyalty, I also want us to see that we follow Christ not out of a motivation toward blind duty, but a “duty” that is motivated by the love He has shed abroad in our hearts (a key concept in ch.15), and for the joy that lies before us in eternity.

The Precipice

This also sets in sharp relief once again just how dangerous it would have been for Jesus to go back to the Jerusalem area.  This is the moment in which life and death decisions are being made.  Christ could either stay beyond the Jordan and enjoy a vibrant ministry (10:40-42), or He could fulfill the will of the Father and accomplish His ultimate destiny and mission here on Earth.  He could save His own life, or the lives of countless millions.  Had He been but man, a mere mortal born as all other men, there’s no way we’d be even discussing this right now. The choice would be obvious. No man would put themselves in harms way like this (almost certain death) for the lives of people who weren’t his family. Ironically, Christ did this very thing in order make those who weren’t His family part of His family by sovereign adoption.   

 

Section 2 – Abramatic Faith & ‘Ego Eimi’

11:17-20 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [18] Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, [19] and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. [20] So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

It was about a one-day journey from where Jesus was ministering across the Jordan River to Bethany near Jerusalem. If Jesus had heard the news, then waited two days, then taken a day to travel to Bethany, that means that by the time the messenger arrived at Jesus Lazarus would have already been dead. This is important to note simply because we see by this timeline that Christ, knowing all that was going on here, did not kill Lazarus by not coming right away.  It isn’t as though His staying away had any affect on the situation materially. I think that is significant because if nothing else, it shows us once again how Christ in His sovereignty and His obedience to the Father’s plan stayed and waited for a specific reason (which we discussed above) and not to put Lazarus through some struggle unnecessarily or sadistically.

The second thing I want to note here is that Martha is the one who comes running to Jesus when word reaches their home that the Lord is on His way, and is nearing the village.

The reason I think this is significant has to do with what we know from other scriptures about Martha.  Martha was the one who was “busy with much serving”, so busy that she didn’t have time to sit and learn at the feet of Christ.  I don’t want to read more into this than is there, but Martha strikes me as a woman of action.  She is always on the move always doing something, she’s a “type A” personality.  So perhaps its only natural for her to sprint out to see the Lord.

But I think we might safely infer from this passage that Martha’s priorities have shifted from ones that are “busy” and self-centered, to ones that are Christ-centered. The old Martha might have said “I need to stay here and be with my sister.” This Martha realizes the centrality of Christ.  This truth is revealed further in the next few verses…

11:21-22 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22] But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

As we look at Martha’s response to the presence of our Lord it seems at first blush that she is placing a tremendous amount of faith in Him, and indeed her faith here is a beautiful thing.  She unashamedly states that, in her opinion, if Christ had been with Lazarus, he never would have died.  “Jesus” she reasons “would never have allowed my brother to die.”

She is not scolding Christ for not being there, but neither is she showing the kind of depth of faith that I first confess I saw. I thought I saw an Abrahamic type of faith – a gigantic faith.  But that is not the case as we’ll see later on, for when Christ approaches the tomb and asks that the great stone blocking its entrance be removed, Martha protests that there would be a stench!

Why is this?  Well I think its because it probably never occurred to her that Christ could or would  raise someone from the dead…perhaps her mind never got that far.  It wasn’t that she was full of despair, as we see in verse 22, for she knew that one day her brother would rise in Christ.  But she didn’t yet comprehend the power of the man she knew as Jesus.  She didn’t yet understand that this man Jesus was not just the Messiah sent from God, He was the Author of life.  The Man standing before her was the one who’s words sent cosmos flying into existence.

Abraham’s faith was of another variety altogether.  Look at how the author of Hebrews describes the faith of Abraham:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, [18] of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [19] He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

You see Abraham understood the nature of God and His will and His power. He was able to grasp the fact that since God controlled both life and death, that God could just as easily raise his son from the dead as he could bring him to life in the womb of a 100-year-old woman.

This is a more informed faith.  It isn’t that Martha’s faith is wrong, it is simply not matured, it simply hasn’t grown into a full-orbed understanding of the character and nature and power of who God in Christ is, and what He is capable of doing.

This, consequently, is why we study theology.  This is why we study the character of God. Because when we face the most extreme circumstances that this life can throw at us, we can do so with a full understanding that the one who walked on the earth and felt our pain and our suffering and our daily irritations is the same One who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the same one who rose from the grave, and is the same one who will one day defeat ALL death and sickness and famine to His own praise and glory.

11:23-24 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Is it not significant that Martha had a better understanding of the resurrection than the Sadducees?  Now it may seem odd to us, who do not have the full picture of the Jewish culture, that Martha would even know such a thing.  But it isn’t a strictly New Testament teaching.  In fact it was common knowledge that there would be a resurrection of the dead on the day of the Lord.  However, as I just mentioned and have mentioned before, the Sadducees were the most secular (if that’s an appropriate word for it) leaders the Jews ever had.  They didn’t believe in the afterlife or in the spiritual realm.

I like how MacArthur points out that Martha seems to have faith that Christ can and will raise her brother on the final day, but doesn’t seem to connect the possibility of Him having the power to raise her brother now. I think there’s something to this.  So often we mentally ascent to God’s power to do this or that, because we’ve read it in the Bible, but we don’t ever think to apply it appropriately to our lives, as if He is somehow neutered of His power 2000 years later.

But this is not the case. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. His power is immutable, as are all His other qualities.

11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Here is another one of the great I AM saying of Christ (the 5th one, if you’re keeping track).  This time He says that He is the “resurrection and the life” – this means that Christ raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life!  What a fantastic claim!

This is really a continuation of the New Birth discussion He had before with Nicodemus in chapter 3.  When Christ says that He is the resurrection and the life, He isn’t saying anything new, He is reiterating that life, true life, comes from Him and Him alone.  He has been given all power by the Father to execute His life-saving mission here on earth (see chapter 5).

In this phrase Christ is claiming that, not only does He have the power to raise lost souls from the dead, but He has a plan for them after that – we were saved from something, but also for something.  Consider Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We were saved “for good works” – not simply from death, but for good works.

Truths We Must First Ascent To…

Is there a phrase that more encapsulates the mission of Christ than this? He is the resurrection and the life, and those who believe that will “never die.”  Could He have been any more blunt than this? YOU WILL NEVER DIE.  Let that reality sink in!

There is such power in this phrase and in this truth. But we need to acknowledge a few things first before this truth can be true there are other truths that we have to ascent to:

  1. That we are all dead spiritually
  2. That we cannot, on our own, raise ourselves from this death
  3. That we need and depend on the life-saving life-giving power of Christ to raise us from the dead and that He does this of His own initiative
  4. That Jesus Christ is the sole source of this power – He is claiming exclusivity here. He doesn’t say, “I am a resurrection” He says He is “the” resurrection!

What Everyone Must Wrestle With…

Lastly, look at what Christ says at the end of His great claim – He asks the question: Do you believe this?  This is the one question that every human being will eventually have to wrestle with. There is no one here that has not had to face up to this question.  We need to all ask ourselves at some critical point, “Do I believe this?”  If the answer is “yes” then you know that Christ is your resurrection and your life. What a wonderful feeling and a wonderful knowledge that is.

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

This so much reminds me of Peter’s great confession when Christ put a similar question to Peter that He just asked Martha.  Here’s how the exchange went:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” [14] And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [15] He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” [16] Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

We are told that this is what saving faith looks like.  Paul says this in Romans 10:

…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. [11] For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. [13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

What is it that Martha is acknowledging here?  A few things…

  1. The Lordship of Jesus Christ – not only over the world and all created things, but over her life
  2. His deity – “you are the Son of God”
  3. That He is the one who can take away sins – He’s the savior of the world (“Christ”)
  4. That He is working out His sovereign plan in the world and in her life and she is surrendered to that plan – “who is coming into the world”

These are the words and component parts of a person whose heart has been miraculously changed by the Holy Sprit.

 

Section 3 – The Sovereign Power of the Son of God

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

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers in John 1 (35-51). When someone’s heart is touched by the words of Christ they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

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

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

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.”

They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites. Rather they knew the character of this man Jesus. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents (John 21:25). He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve – He came to serve Mark 10:45)!

It’s a major clue into how Jesus behaved around others. These women knew the heart of Christ so well, that for them there was no doubt that had He been there, His love would surely have spilled out over their brother. “That’s just who He is”, they probably thought. Their hearts loved His heart.

This explains how we ought to behave – exuding the love of Christ – and how we will be distinguished from the world:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

11:33-37 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” [37] But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

The response of Jesus comes to us packaged in the shortest sentence in Scripture. John simply says, “Jesus wept.”  But we also read that when Jesus hears what Mary has to say, his spirit is “greatly troubled.”  His “troubled” soul is noted at two different points in this passage.

What does this response mean? There are two primary ways to view this:

  1. He has compassion for his sheep, for His children.
  2. He is sorrowful over the unbelief of the people – as in Luke 19:41-44.

I believe that both views are correct.  Let’s take one at a time…

Compassion for His Sheep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation.

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

And, as we see in verse 37, the reaction of these people to Jesus’ weeping is one of unbelief – not trust and faith. That verse helps us understand why Jesus was so indignant.

The Impending Victory

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

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier. An important part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. (We saw the contrast for example between the hope of Christ in the joy to come, and Thomas’ duty-bound devotion in verse 16). There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that Day of Judgment. But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul. And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

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

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

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is filled with a righteous indignation as the Greek clearly implies…again, the English translations are all incorrect).

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

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

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several key points that we see here.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Section 4 – Heart of Darkness: The Power of Unbelief

11:45-48 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, [46] but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. [47] So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. [48] If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

The Power of Unbelief

The reaction to the miracles of Christ is always of interest to me. It amazes me that some who were eyewitnesses of people being healed, and others, like Lazarus, being raised from the dead can cause such different reactions.

Morris comments, “The result of the miracle, as always, is division. Because Jesus is who and he is he inevitably divides people.”

Specifically, it is interesting that some people ran to the Pharisees…Carson says, “One might charitably hope that the motive of at least some of them was to win the Pharisees to the truth, but the contrast set up between those who believe and those who go to the Pharisees suggest that their intent was more malicious.”

Ryle says that these people who ran to the Pharisees had been hardened in heart, “Instead of being softened and convinced, they were hardened and enraged. They were vexed to see even more unanswerable proofs that Jesus was the Christ, and irritated to feel that their own unbelief was more than ever inexcusable.”

This only serves to reiterate the tension Christ was causing within the Jewish establishment, and show forth that miracles alone are not able to soften a man’s heart, “the plain truth is, that man’s unbelief is a far more deeply seated disease than it is generally reckoned” says Ryle.

Only the sovereign grace of God will melt these hearts of stone.

It’s emblematic of the kind of thinking we find in the Jewish leadership of the day that fear governed their thoughts.  And when fear governs your thinking, it’s very difficult to make wise discerning decisions (spiritual or otherwise).

For instance, here they make the false assumption that if Jesus would have continued His ministry that “everyone (would) believe in him.”  This is simply not the case – for even those who saw and witnessed His miracles, including this one, first hand did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.

In fact, if the council knew the miracles were authentic (which it seems that they did) they ought to have followed Jesus.  It wasn’t enough to say “these are the miracles of Pharaoh’s magicians”, but the very reason that the men in vs. 46 came to the Council in the first place was due to the overwhelming evidence before them.  I cannot believe that at this point, for these men, there was much doubt as to the veracity of the miracle(s); the issue was what to do about it. Their murderous response reveals the wickedness of the hearts of these men, and confirms that they were of their Father the Devil (see chapter 8, and Gen. 3:15).

The truth is that unless God does a supernatural work in your heart you will always be dead in your sin and will always rebel against God.  Earlier in John we read Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:

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

Another example of this is found in Acts 8 where we read the case of Simon Magus who was amazed by the miracles being wrought by the disciples of Jesus – so he “believed” in Jesus. But seeing and intellectually assenting to the reality of God’s power doesn’t make you a child of God. What is missing?  The heart change that only comes by new birth.  Only the Holy Spirit can effect that change in a man’s heart.

Ryle says, “The amazing wickedness of human nature is strikingly illustrated in this verse. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that seeing miracles will necessarily convert souls. Here is a plan proof that it does not.”

Political Problems

Once the Jews learn of this latest miracle, their main concern seems to be a political one.  They said, “The Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  They were concerned that the Roman leadership would be disturbed by the commotion of the Jewish citizenry and the potential consolidation of power behind a rebel leader (namely Jesus).  If the Romans, they calculated, thought that there was an uprising among the people, they would move to squash it immediately – perhaps even scatter the Jews and drive them from the land in order to save them the headache of dealing with them as a nation.

What is amazing here, and Sinclair Ferguson talks about this a little, is that we see the Pharisees and Sadducees saying what are “we” going to do about this.  This indicates to us the outlook of the Council’s situation, that even these two groups that hated each other felt the need to work together on this. “They felt like they had to crucify Jesus in order to keep their place in society” Ferguson pointedly states.

11:49-53 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. [50] Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. [53] So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

The opening blast from Caiaphas is (according to Carson) the ancient equivalent of saying “You don’t know what you are talking about!”  Both Carson and MacArthur note how rude this is and Carson is funny here:

“Even so, it is certainly not a reflection of the Dale Carnegie school of diplomacy, and it nicely confirms the judgment of Josephus that the Sadducees were barbarous and wild even toward those of their own party…”

But as Caiaphas gets their attention, he continues on with an idea that is devious and characteristic of his political acumen (he lasted 18 years as high priest which was quite a feet during that time – was deposed at the same time as Pontius Pilate in AD 36).  But what Caiaphas meant to say, and what God used Caiaphas to say here were obviously two different things, and perhaps a little more than irony.

Caiaphas was more astute politically than those around him, and what he was trying to explain here was that if they (the Jewish leadership) played their cards right, they could sacrifice Jesus on the alter of politics and have for themselves a scapegoat to be able to show to the Romans – as if to say to them “hey this man is the one responsible for all the hubbub around Jerusalem, if you get rid of him we’ll all be a lot better off and you won’t have to worry about anyone causing disruptions.” In this way Caiaphas figured he could satiate the Roman authorities growing unrest with the disruptions among the Jewish people.

As Sproul points out though, Caiaphas must have forgotten Proverbs 17:15, which says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Caiaphas’ cold political reasoning seemed shrewd – the ends justified the means. But what Caiaphas didn’t realize (in his “unconscious prophecy” as Morris aptly puts it) is that it was indeed expedient for one man to die for the nation – a scapegoat covered not with the political excuses of sinful men, but with the weight of their sins upon Him.  For as Paul tells us:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. [15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. [18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

It is amazing how God uses the mouths of even the ungodly, or those whom ought to seemingly be uninvolved in the fate of God’s people, to proclaim the great plan He has for His people. His sovereignty led even a pagan king to bring the Jewish people out of exile several hundred years earlier.  Listen to what God put in the mouth of Cyrus:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: [23] “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV)

Furthermore, God’s plans were bigger than just the Jewish nation, for John tells us, “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”  That is to say that it was God’s plan that through the death of Jesus the promise of Abraham might be fulfilled:

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. [5] No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. [6] I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. [7] And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. [8] And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8 ESV)

 And…

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”(Genesis 22:15-18)

Therefore God used His Son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of His people – His chosen people, a holy nation, a people called after His own name. And in so doing He was not simply dying for a Jewish people, but for a people He had chosen from the foundation of the world.  He was going to use His disciples to proclaim this gospel of peace to all the nations in order that He might “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

This process of spreading the gospel and blessing the nations through the spread of the gospel is the same as gathering into one the children of God, because when a person believes in Christ they are united with Christ and are adopted into His family. Sproul says, “It was a blessing that Jesus died, because His death was necessary for the salvation, not only of Jews, but of the elect of the whole world.”

Resorting to Death

It is emblematic of the hand of Satan on these men that their best plan is to find a way to put Jesus to death. For that is the way of Satan.  When all else fails, kill the person who stands in his way.

Make no mistake, Satan desire nothing more than to kill you (Gen. 3:15 speaks of enmity between us and Satan), though his spiritual power is significantly limited now that the gospel has been unleashed upon the nations, he still rules this world.  John tells us of this later:

…and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:3 ESV)

Therefore, because he no longer has the power of the last word spiritually, he will do everything he can to make your life miserable and ultimately rejoices in your death – for that is all he has left.  It is a testament to the grace and power of God that we are protected from the wiles of the Devil and that is why your prayers of intercession for each other are so crucial, for God works through your prayers to thwart the enemy.

11:54-57 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. [55] Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. [56] They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” [57] Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

John MacArthur tells us that Ephraim “was located about four miles northeast of Bethel on the edge of the wilderness, and about a dozen miles from Jerusalem.”

The people prepared for the Passover, and many wondered if there’d be anymore drama – they were looking for the fireworks, they didn’t truly care about Jesus for just a short time later they would shout for His crucifixion.

So Jesus withdrew for a time in order to prepare for the final chapter in His ministry, where He would once again enter Jerusalem, this time for the last time before His grand passion that would serve as the atoning sacrifice for millions and millions of His followers for generations to come, effectively changing the world forever.

Conclusion

This 11th chapter of John’s gospel reveals to us the power and glory of Jesus Christ.  It shows us His deity, His majesty, His obedience to the Father and His love for us.  It also shows that Jesus has power over the grave – and the same Christ who raised Lazarus from the snares of death has also raised us to walk in newness of life, has given us His Spirit as a powerful guarantee of His love, and will one day consummate His union with us by raising our bodies to be glorified in everlasting service to their great Bridegroom.

Study Notes 12-15-13: John 15 Introduction

Chapter 15

Introduction to Chapter 15 (and notes through verse 5)

I continue to be amazed by John’s gospel and how the depth of the theology within its pages keeps me humble.  There are so many truths in each paragraph that a Christian could spend the rest of their lives reading and meditating upon the precepts found here and still not plumb the depths of their beauty.

This factor hits home when you consider stories like that of Corrie ten Boom who spent 11 months as a prisoner of the Nazi’s. In an interview with theological midget Pat Robertson, Corrie expressed God’s continual presence and strength during times of despair:

PAT ROBERTSON: She died there, and in that time God somehow kept you sweet and tender toward Him. How did you do it? How did you keep from being just terribly despairing? What kept you buoyed you up at this time?

CORRIE TEN BOOM: There are circumstances where you cannot do anything. It was only the Lord who has carried me through, and it’s good that I have experienced that. For I have always believed, now I know from experience, that Jesus’ light is stronger than the deepest darkness. And a child of God cannot go so deep; always deeper are the Everlasting Arms that carry you.

While Robertson, of course, asks what it was in Corrie that kept her sane and tender to the Lord, Corrie responds with good theology: it was not her but “only the Lord who carried me through.”

In the last year or so I was able to listen to the ‘Hiding Place’ again on audio book, and was struck by Corrie’s story.  During her time in prison, someone had smuggled in a copy of the book of John’s gospel, and it became a very precious resource for her during those dark times. Amazing how much this gospel account has impacted millions of lives over the last 200 years!

I mention that brief story because in the chapters that follow there is a lot of talk about abiding in Christ, and what it means to do so.  When I think about the story of Corrie ten Boom, I am inspired by our God’s faithfulness to those who abide in Him. No matter where we are, He is with us, and keeps us in His love.

John 15 is primarily a chapter dedicated to extolling to us the nature and virtues of our relationship with Jesus – especially the ongoing and intimate nature of that relationship. Jesus uses the word “abide” in this chapter seven times as part of a command to his disciples to stay in constant fellowship with Him once He leaves. This is only possible for those who are truly His disciples, as we shall see.

We have talked before about the nature of abiding. The Greek word for abide is “meno”, and as John MacArthur says, it “describes something that remains where it is, continues in a fixed state, or endures. In this context the word refers to maintaining an unbroken communion with Jesus Christ.”

15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

OT Background

The first few verses in chapter 15 are startling, and ought to be counted as a warning, and also a great encouragement…depending on where you sit.

First, Jesus gives us a description of the Christian life – it’s an organic, gardening type of allegory (although it is hard to say precisely that it is “allegory” as some commentators have noted) – and He fills in the roles for us so we know who the characters are in this allegory. First, Jesus likens Himself unto a vine.  Not simply a weed which grows up in your garden and gets trimmed or yanked out each spring, but a “true” vine which is the pride and joy of the garden.

The Father is the vinedresser.  The duties of the vinedresser are to trim and prune the branches and keep the entire garden healthy and growing. Then, we see the purpose of the vinedresser described as one who takes branches away which do not bear fruit in order that they won’t keep the rest of the branches from growing.  But also, we read that the vinedresser “prunes” those branches that do bear fruit.

I think that its important to understand the context of this similitude/allegory as far as it is possible to see what the minds of the disciples might have been thinking at the time of hearing Jesus’ words.  In the OT there were many references to Israel being the vine planted by God (Ridderbos cites Ps. 80:9-12, 15; Hos. 11:1; Ex. 15; 19:10; Jer. 2:21).  Now, Jesus seems to be saying that He is the true vine. In other words – that word “true” is setting himself in contrast to something in the past – the vine of Israel. He is the “true” Israel of God (which Paul likens unto the church in Gal. 6:16), the true Vine.

Jesus is identifying Himself as the true church, the true Son, the spiritual seed of Abraham – and this makes sense as we continue to read on and learn that the church is connected to Him as His branches.  The bride (the church) and the bridegroom (Christ) are one flesh (so to speak). We are one body – the body of Christ. Without Him, we can do nothing.

The more one thinks on this, the more one wonders in amazement at the superiority of Jesus of Nazareth. This man who came to be not only the vine, but the “true” vine that would connect us to vibrant life everlasting.

Ridderbos summarizes this way, “The main thing, however, is that Jesus, by calling himself the true vine and, in immediate association therewith, his Father the planter and keeper of the vineyard, applies to himself this redemptive-historical description of the people of God. He thus becomes the one who represents or embodies the people.”

The Intimate/Immanent Work of the Father and our Culture

Before I get too far into each of the activities of the Father as vinedresser/gardener, let me just comment also about the nature of the Father in this allegory. The Father, as vinedresser, is intimately involved in the growth of His church. The vine and its branches represent the church of the Lord Jesus Christ – and it is Jesus who is the center of the church.  The church is joined to Him as a bride and bridegroom are joined together in marriage.

The vinedresser does not sit back and let the church go for hundreds of years, the vinedresser does not take only a passing interest in the vine, rather the vinedresser is deeply concerned that the vine and its branches bear fruit. He is involved in the sanctification process. The Father’s hands are not off the wheel. He is not so aloof on His mighty throne that He has disengaged from the world and its issues – nor has He abandoned His church!

We are told in our post-Christian culture that the myth of God is something we have intellectually grown out of by now (or we ought to have grown out of they say), and in His place we have a sort of neo-rationalism, which I hate to call intellectualism because it pales in comparison to the intellect of yesteryear (due to its embrace of absurdity and contradiction in almost every avenue of life). I also hesitate to call this post-Christian age one of scientific revolution or enlightenment because today’s scientists have so desecrated the scientific method that even the validity of “sense-perception” is thrown out the window for pseudo-science, which, in the end, is just another kind of twisted man-centered faith – it is faith in man and his abilities over all else.

No, culture is neo-rationalism based on man’s abilities and man’s preferences and moving outward from there. It’s an odd time to live in.  Men are really confused about the purpose of life. The most successful people in the world’s eyes cheat, steal (think Bernie Madoff), lie (think just about every politician) and commit suicide (think Hollywood elite) on a regular basis.

It is almost harder now to make an overall judgment about the culture because the culture is so fragmented (partly because of how people are educated – or informed – and the internet age). But I think that its safe to say that we life in a time which can best be described by the author of the book of Judges:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25, ESV)

We act as though we aren’t being watched – with no fear of God before our eyes. As if God has no influence or existence or say or involvement (pick your view).

But that’s not how Jesus describes the Father here in verses one and two. He says that God is actively involved in our lives. His hands are on the vine and He is pruning and clearing out the dead branches. Not only is the Father close to us, but as J.C. Ryle states, we are meant to learn first, from the these verses, that the union between Christ and believers is very close.”  All of our vitality as believers flows from Christ, and without Him we are spiritually dead.  Speaking of believers in this context, Ryle says, “They are what they are, and feel what they feel, and do what they do because they draw out of Jesus as continual supply of grace, help, and ability.

What are the implications of this?  Many. But let’s first examine what is meant in verse two by “pruning” and “taking away.”

He “Takes Away”

In verse six Jesus repeats this warning in more vivid terminology, but the long and the short of it is that the Father, as vinedresser, takes away some of the branches that are not truly abiding in Christ, the branch. These branches that are taken away are false disciples. They are the tares amongst the wheat. They are the ones who profess Christ but have never been born again. They are the ones who use Christ as a self-help guru who fixes them up each Sunday morning – they glean whatever they can from the church’s teaching and employ these ideas along with whatever worldly wisdom they accrue in a sort of modern day self-help syncretism that runs rampant in our culture.

We’ll get more into this when we come to verse six, but needless to say, if you think that you can hide in the church and live a life of “pretending”, know that God sees all things and knows all things. His eyes pierce your mind and heart and He will clear you away from the vine once and for all come judgment day.

If you find yourself now identifying with this false branch, I urge you to stop trusting in your façade and bow before God in repentance.  He will revitalize your life and renew your mind and heart. He is the only one who can truly satisfy all of your hearts desires – trust that He wants to give you abundant life – do it now!

He Prunes

It is not in our sinful nature to receive pruning from God and say “thank you God, I really needed that!” Pruning hurts. It is painful.  But it is also good for us.  I liken pruning unto God’s disciplining us out of love.

The author of Hebrews talks about this:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:3-17, ESV)

In this extended passage, I wanted us to notice that when we are pruned we have reason to rejoice. First, because God wants us to bear fruit.  The end goal is that we will walk more righteously and uprightly before Him and produce the fruit of a life that is completely conformed to the will of our Lord.

Secondly, let’s not forget that when we are pruned it reveals a beautiful truth: we are adopted! We have been added into the family of God – Paul describes this as being “grafted in” in Romans 11 using similar horticultural imagery. This is a blessing and privilege of the highest degree and when we are downcast we need to speak this truth to our souls.

Thirdly, God prunes us because He loves us. We just read that, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.”  So when we are pruned/disciplined, we need to bask in the love of God. We need to thank Him for His mighty hands upon us and trust in His infinite wisdom. He is fashioning you into something beautiful for His kingdom – don’t forget that truth.  Cling to that truth and praise God through the pain knowing that at the end of your life you will be made ready for heaven.

This vibrant truth is captured in John Piper’s most recent poetic publication ‘The Calvinist’ which describes a man whose life is difficult but yet founded upon the truth of God’s sovereignty. These are the final graphs of the poem:

See him now asleep.
Watch the helpless reap,
But no credit take,
Just as when awake.
 
See him nearing death.
Listen to his breath,
Through the ebbing pain:
Final whisper: “Gain!”
 

God prunes all those He loves, and it is a strangely beautiful thing to know His sovereign hand is upon you making you all that He wants you to be for your joy and His pleasure and glory.

15:3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

One of the effects of the word of God is that it cleanses us mind and soul. I recently preached on Hebrews 10:1-18 and one of the main evidences that the author of that book points to for the inefficacy of the OT sacrifices is the lack of conscience cleansing.  Whereas the Holy Spirit, when He comes to abide in you, will certainly cleanse you from your sin, and give you a fresh start.

I love the story that R.C. Sproul tells about his daughter accepting Christ by virtue of an alter call.  He was attending a conference or sorts (I think in Cincinnati) and did not realize that his young daughter had made the trip there (possibly with Vesta, his wife) and was listening to another minister give an invitation after a message.  His daughter responded by coming forward and confessing Christ as her savior.  Dr. Sproul was really concerned that his daughter didn’t know what she was doing, and that she might be making a false confession that might make things more complicated and difficult later on once she understood the Bible more.  But when he got to talk with her afterwards, He asked her about the experience and why she did it and he immediately knew that her faith was genuine – one of the reasons why is due to the way she described how she felt.  She said “I feel clean daddy.”  That is what the Holy Spirit does my friends, He washes us by the power of regeneration – and that is primarily done through the preaching of His word.

Now when Jesus is saying that because of His word the disciples are “clean”, we ought to realize who is speaking – the Word of God incarnate! The statement amounts to a claim to deity, but also serves to remind us of the efficacy of His word. Jesus’ words have the power to cleanse us of our most vile sins.  One of the most beautiful passages that describes this is found in Paul’s letter to Titus:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, ESV)

Lastly, the power of Christ’s word is evident here. His word is the dividing line of all truth – He is truth, He is the Word incarnate! So when He speaks He automatically will parse people into groups: either they aren’t going to believe or they are. Either they will run from the light or they will run into the light.

Ridderbos says, “the special care that the Father bestows on the vine as planter and vinedresser and his making it the ‘true’ fine does not consist of an assortment of secondary actions that support the mission of his Son, but in this mission itself, in the dividing and purifying power of Jesus’ word of authority, which is the word of God himself (and is therefore introduced into the metaphor as God’s own action). What makes Jesus the true vine is that, as the one sent by God, he gathers a community, a fellowship of life, in which his word exerts a redeeming, life-creating, continually purifying, and dividing effect.”

Which leads Ridderbos to state:

…’you are already clean,’ which does not mean they have already attained a degree of spiritual or moral perfection, but that he has so deeply bound them to himself by his word that in virtue of that fellowship they are able and ready to do his word and to bear fruit. 

15:4-5 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 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.

Singular Impotence

I think the main thrust of this passage is that in our own human power there is not the ability to maintain a vibrant spiritual life.  Jesus is the source of our spiritual life.  Without Him, it doesn’t matter how many lies you’ve told yourself, you’re still going to wither away and die.

Therefore, if you think you can do the Christian life alone, you’re mistaken.  If you think you believing in Christ was a one time fire insurance policy, you’re likely going to be very disappointed. If you feel like church is merely an add on to your own personal relationship, and not vital for continuing in the faith, then you’re going to deteriorate under the weight of your own bacteria infested spiritual life.

Beware: we cannot do anything apart from Christ. All good things flow from the Lord God who reigns on high.  This is a reason why our root is now in heaven – so that His blessings can flow from God’s throne to our lives. The chief amongst those blessings is fellowship with God through His Son.

Crazy Busy

I also think that there is a lot that can be said for “abiding” – and we will look more at this in the time to follow as we study the rest of this chapter. But one of the things that I have noticed about my own life, and the lives of many others living in our advanced western culture today, is that abiding is something that isn’t natural to us. We are so “crazy busy” (as Kevin DeYoung’s book states) that we have lost the art of what it means to abide. We are so wrapped up in the things of this world – be it parenting (taxi cab drivers for our kids), technology (our phones!) and the internet (social media) or just wasted time watching TV – that we don’t have time to abide…or so we think.

The truth is much different.  We fritter away our time doing things that really don’t move the needle too much.  Now I’m not advocating against technology or even TV after a long day, but all of this has its place, and its place for the Christian is behind time with the Lord.  “Constant prayer” is not the same as taking time to quieting be unplugged with God. Not that these things can happen all the time, but it needs to happen more than it does in my life, and I’m sure in yours as well. Jesus isn’t asking us to abide, He’s assuming we will – in fact He’s commanding us to do so. It’s a prerequisite.

The Warning of this Truth

The next thing that we notice from this passage is that there is a warning, but also some very comforting truth as a result. The warning is, of course, that if you are not abiding in Christ there is cause to examine yourself and check to see if you are truly in the faith.  Paul mentions this in 2 Corinthians:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. (2 Corinthians 13:5-7, ESV)

Those who love the Lord will surely know they are His. And if you fail to abide in Him, if you hate spending time in prayer and in the word or with His children, then there is good reason to check yourself – are you in the faith? Do you love what He loves?  Or do you love the world more than you love Him…

The Endurance of the Root

Now, the inverse of this rather difficult truth is that if you are abiding in Christ – in the root – then you can have no possible reason for despair!  I love what Ryle says on this occasion, “Believers has no cause to despair of their own salvation, and to think they will never reach heaven. Let them consider that they are not left to themselves and their own strength. Their root is Christ, and all that there is in the root is for the benefit of the branches. Because He lives, they shall live also.”  Contrast that with those who are not in Christ, and you have absolute and total peril. You have condemnation that is certain waiting for them at the end of their hollow lives. “Worldly people have no cause to wonder at the continuance and perseverance of believers. Weak as they are in themselves, their Root is in heaven, and never dies” Ryle says.

How great is the hope of the one whose trust is in the Root of Jesse! How firm is the foundation upon which we stand. Our hope is eternal, and our root is strong.

The Reason for this Structure

Everything that God does has a reason. There is a method behind all that the great Designer of the universe puts into motion.

We don’t have to wonder what that reason is for abiding in Christ – for He tells us: to bear much fruit.  When you think about fruit, what comes to mind?  Derek Stone calls fruit “God’s candy”! So that naturally comes to mind for me. Fruit is symbolic of all that is sweet and good from the land. It is the candy of all growing things. Who doesn’t like fruit!?

And we know from studying the Bible that there is spiritual fruit as well. Paul describes this in Galatians 5:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26, ESV)

Now this fruit only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit – Christ’s indwelling presence among His chosen people, His branches. Therefore it is submission to the Spirit, and constant abiding in Christ that produces this fruit.

Interesting that the end result of this is glory to God.  Like all things that God creates, He calls the fruit of the Spirit “good” – you remember how God looked out over creation in Genesis 1 and said “it is good”? He is similarly pleased with His new creations in Christ – with you.

Ridderbos agrees:

‘For apart from me you can do nothing’ that is, nothing that corresponds to the new life that he bestows and the new commandment that he gives. For without this reciprocal remaining in him and him in them they will fall back on themselves, either in total unfruitfulness or lapsing into the wild growth that is no longer shaped by his word, into activism or idealism that is neither derived from nor directed to him.

You are a new creation in Christ, and He is tilling the land of your soul so that you will bear much fruit in this new land. He is the Vine, and you are the branches. Praise God for His diligent sovereign work of tilling the soil of our souls in order to produce the fruit of the Spirit within us. 

Study Notes from 11/17/13 on John 14:28-31

Below are my notes on the close of chapter 14 of John’s gospel.  I hope you enjoy them, and that they bring you great hope as we look forward to one day seeing our Lord face to face.

PJW

14:28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

Joy in Christ by the Spirit

Here Jesus takes the teaching to another level.  Not only do we find peace in Him, but He also is the source of our joy.  And He is teaching the disciples here that if He doesn’t go away to the Father they will not have that joy. What must have been a very difficult, and even strange, thing to hear for the them, now makes sense to us.  For we know that the Spirit of God brings us Christ’s peace, but also Christ’s joy.

If you loved Me

I almost missed this at first. I had studied this verse for two weeks and, of course, came up with a bunch of notes and thoughts on what Jesus is saying here.  But a small comment from theologian F.F. Bruce got my mind turning about what Jesus says here “if you loved me.”

Bruce says, “The words ‘if you loved me’ in this context imply that love involves some insight into the heart and mind of the person loved and some sympathy with him in hope and purpose.”

The question arose in my mind, “how do I love?” Do I love Jesus because of the benefits He gives me only? Certainly this is a legitimate reason to love Him. But do I love Him because He loved me first?  Do I reciprocate affection to Him because of His tenderness toward me, an unlovable sinner. Do I look within His heart and mind and feel affection for Him because of who He is, and not just what He has done for me?  Now, the two ideas are closely drawn together – works being an expression of the heart.

But think further on this as I did.  I have affection for other beautiful things, and other things or people in this world that I enjoy. My wife is a beautiful woman, and I enjoy spending time with her – but there are times when I peer inside her character and mind and I am warmed because of who she is (or more appropriately who God is making her), and at this realization there is an affection kindled in my heart toward her that cannot be explained only on the basis of what she has done for me. I recognize beauty and I love it.

So too should we recognize (in a much more profound way) the depths of the riches and wisdom of God, the beauty of His character, the grace and mercy and awesomeness of all that He is. This (especially in light of our own undeserving character) ought to kindle within us a love for Him for who He is. He is beautiful.

Trinitarian Roles (a sort of side note, if you will…)

The next thing I wanted to remark on in relation to this passage is something foundational, though only tangentially related to the passage, and that is the nature of the somewhat difficult saying by Christ, “the Father is greater than I.” Herman Ridderbos is right when he declares that Jesus isn’t primarily seeking to teach us about the Trinity here. So this is really a side note to the main discourse of what we’re focused on here. However, I also feel that Christians today trip over verses like this because we haven’t spent much time thinking about the Trinity so when we come to a verse like this it throws us for a loop.

We must understand the difference between roles and essence or ontology if we’re to understand the trinity. In the trinity there are three persons, yet all one essence (one God). Each member of the trinity has a different function, or role – that is why we can rightly say they are unique. The Spirit is not Christ Jesus and Jesus is not the Father, and so on. But within these roles there is a hierarchy. It is something we see throughout the New Testament – especially in the words of Christ Himself.  Jesus is submissive to the Father, but this is not a subordination of his being/essence/ontology, rather, it is a submission to God in role. The Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son who send Him, and He speaks only what He hears, we are told. So in role the Spirit is obedient to the Son and the Father to speak to us what He has heard from them (so to speak).

Therefore, in no way is the Father “greater” in essence than the Son or the Spirit, but rather His role is hierarchically above the other two in the redemptive dispensation (as some theologians would say).

Perhaps the best way to think of this is in the picture of marriage. The man and the wife are both equal in worth and they are equal in substance/essence – that is they are made up of the same material (skin and bone and blood and water etc.). But, within marriage there are roles and the husband is said to be the head of the wife.  The wife is told she must submit to the husband – this is a picture of Christ’s submission to the Father. Likewise, the husband and wife are said to be “one flesh” once married. This symbolizes the oneness we find in the trinity – yet, they are also distinct persons with their own roles.

Obviously any analogy breaks down, and ours breaks down here because we are sinful and do not mirror God in the way that perhaps we are meant to. But the image should be close enough to begin to understand the distinguishing difference between role and ontology/worth etc.

You Want Me to Go Away…

Now, the main thrust of this passage is not simply Trinitarian (or even mainly Trinitarian), but rather it is Jesus’ way of “extending their (the disciples) vision to a higher plane than what they have thus far been capable of, so that, when these things happen, they will not remain behind in despair and unbelief but be in a state of joy and expectancy” (Ridderbos).

So even though this verse gives us another insight into the amazing roles within the Trinity, it is likely not Jesus’ intention here to make a sort of Sunday School lesson for the disciples about the Trinity.  Instead, He is driving at something different, specifically He is trying to get the disciples to understand something that would be seemingly impossible for them to understand at the time: it is better for them if He leaves.

Again, Ridderbos is helpful:

But in the process these words have all too often been abstracted from the line of thought pursued in the text, where Jesus is obviously not concerned to teach his disciples about the nature of his divine personhood or the distinction between his human and his divine nature – or to detract from the glory in which he participated as the Son of God (cf. 5:20f.).  All that is at issue here is what is “more,” “greater,” or “more profitable,” (cf. 16:7) for the disciples: Jesus’ remaining with them on earth or his going away to the Father?

Based on everything we see here, to ask the question is to answer it. Jesus wants the disciples to know that it is to their advantage that he leaves and goes to the Father. And this is because He will be continuing His mission through the work of the Holy Spirit, whom they will be receiving.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t an amazing blessing to be around Jesus, but when you aren’t filled with His Spirit that blessing doesn’t make as much sense.  Let me explain that statement…In the gospels we have numerous accounts of the disciples not really getting what it was that Jesus was doing.  They didn’t fully understand His plan. That changes at Pentecost. In short, in order to enjoy Jesus for all He is we need the Spirit. In order to work effectively in obedience to Him, we need His Spirit. We “can do nothing” on our own.

And so we see here that it is to our advantage that Jesus goes away. And this is perhaps why He uses the description “greater” when describing the Father.  The work that He will do at the Father’s side is ushering in a “greater” work on earth – this accords with what He said earlier that we would do “greater” works than He had done on earth.  The dispensation of the church age (if I may use those words without being misunderstood…) is one in which God is working an even greater work than He had ever done before. Even creation itself has not so fully and clearly revealed His character and heart as the millions upon millions of new creations He has worked in His people since the Son’s death, burial and resurrection.

Had Jesus never sent His Spirit, we would be left here on earth to struggle and fight against sin on our own – a losing battle with no internal confidence/guarantee of hope for the future.

Thus Jesus is here preparing to usher in a new age on earth – this is big big news. And it only makes sense if we understand that the entire purpose from our vantage point is God revealing Himself to us, using us to do His work in the new age (the church age, the end of the age, the new covenant age and so forth) that we really understand the significance of what Jesus is saying here and are then able to “rejoice” as He says we ought to.  Jesus is aiming for us to know and understand the joy that we have in Him and His “great” work here on earth in and through us.

In a personal way, it is as if Jesus is saying, “In order for you to become who I made you to be, I must go away.”  Redemption in this way, only begins at the cross, but continues with the carrying out of Christ’s work within His creatures. This work will be consummated at His coming again when all the heavens and earth will be renewed (Is. 66:22-23).

14:29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.

Here we have one of the beautiful by-products of Jesus’ leaving, and one of the most confusing if taken out of context.  He is saying that in order for them to believe He must go away.  That’s the long and short of it. He is loading them up with a lot of truth now, so that when the Spirit comes He will remind them of everything He has said and then they will believe.

What this ought to tell us is that the Spirit Himself has a special role within the Godhead, namely to quicken people to life and lead them to understanding and belief.

We could see Jesus with our own eyes and behold the miracles, and hear His amazing teaching with our ears, yet without a working of God in our hearts there would be no movement toward God. Seeing is not believing unless that sight is from the heart!

Proof that He is God

One of the things I really appreciate about this verse was something Dr. Bruce Ware pointed out in a lecture on systematic theology, and that is that when Jesus says this, He is basically also claiming to be God.  I have to admit that I didn’t really get that at first.  But Ware pointed out that He is saying all of these things in advance so that later they’ll believe – in Him – and one of the things that God does in Isaiah 41-49 is show that because He can tell them the future, He is God.

So one of the characteristics of being God is that you know the future, and even ordain the future. That is one of the primary arguments God uses through Isaiah to show the people of Israel that their false idols aren’t really gods at all, they are simply wood.  Can wood and gold and silver tell us the future? No. But God can, and here in John 14:29 Jesus is saying that when all of these events transpire in the future, they will know and believe that He is God.

14:30-31 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, [31] but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

The Close of One Age…the Beginning of Another

The first thing we need to note here is the words “no longer”, “for” and “is coming.” These words signal the end of one age and the beginning of a new age (as I’ve hinted out above). This is easy to miss because of the overwhelming nature of the context and content here, but its important, I think, to see that Satan’s “coming” is like a red flag that signals that a series of events is unfolding and that a new age of redemptive history is about to be ushered in.

If you recall, we saw the same thing in chapter 12 when the Gentiles came seeking Jesus (12:20-26) and this sort of set off Jesus to say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Here we see the same thing going on. The hour of the Son of Man’s glorification has come – keep this in the back of your mind as you see Jesus react to this series of events with His purposeful movement toward the cross. Note how He is the one who gets up from the table, He is the one who leads them to the Garden, He is the one who the whole time is in complete control. There is more going on here than just one man’s life; the entirety of world history is changing and will mark the time from his life and death onward as a new age in history – both redemptive and secular.  Such is the import of the events about to transpire.

Ridderbos says of this passage, “It bears the eschatological stamp of the conflict between the kingdom of God and the domain of Satan, the power of darkness (cf. Luke 22:53).”

No Claim on Me

I was listening to a sermon on this section of Scripture by John Piper and he was 100% right on the money. He noted that what Jesus was saying here by remarking that “the ruler of this world” has “no claim on me” is that Jesus was completely sinless. Satan had no “claim” no “hook” (as Piper said) in Him. He had nothing to accuse Jesus of.

John MacArthur and D.A. Carson both agree with MacArthur noting that, “‘Satan has nothing in Me’ explains why the Devil could not hold Him in death. The phrase is a Hebrew idiom meaning that the Devil could make no legal claim against Jesus.”

Leon Morris explains it very simply, “It is sin that gives Satan his hold on people, but there is no sin in Jesus as there is in others.”

But Jesus doesn’t say this to declare that He is righteous and has fulfilled the law.  No, He is saying it in the context of explaining why He must go to the cross. Therefore He is declaring boldly that He isn’t going to die because of sin, or the power of Satan. He isn’t under the control of Satan, rather, He is the one in control!  ABSOLUTE control. Jesus is making His way sovereignly to the cross.  And He wants the disciples (and us by extension) to fully and clearly understand that all that comes to pass does so because He has sovereignly ordained it.

In the next few hours there will be events that spoil the intimacy His followers have enjoyed with Him. It is going to shake them up – in a big way.  They are going to be asking themselves all manner of difficult questions. But Jesus wants to ensure that one of the questions they do NOT ask themselves was whether or not He meant for this to happen.

Historical Side Note…

It occurred to me as I meditated on verse 30 that Christian thought has evolved over the ages on the role of the Devil in the atonement of Christ.  Verse 30 specifically references that the Devil had no “claim” on Christ. Jesus seems to be saying that there was no sin in Him, as I just mentioned.  But furthermore, there was nothing that Jesus owed the Devil. This really gave me comfort during the week as I meditated on the power and preeminence of the Lord.

During the medieval ages there were many who held to what is called the “ransom theory of atonement” in which Christ died to satisfy a sort of debt that mankind had to Satan.  That He was paying a ransom of sorts to the ruler of this world, and that when Jesus died, that debt was cancelled.

The confusion might come from misunderstanding of Colossians two where we read the following:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15, ESV)

With the nature of our sin being framed in legal terminology in such close literary proximity to the explanation of Christ’s triumph at the cross, perhaps people were confused as to exactly whom this sin debt was owed.  But the Bible doesn’t say here that we owed our debt of sin to Satan, rather the offense is framed first in relation to our relationship with God.  Then, Paul refocuses on Christ’s work in verse 15 and speaks of His great triumph over the rulers – of which He disarmed at that time (an important verse for understanding the nature of Satan’s binding and the spread of the gospel in the church age).

Now it can only rightfully be said that we owed God a debt because it is God whom we sin against.  Even though the minds of believers are held captive in a way by Satan, this isn’t to say that He owns humanity in anyway, nor does Christ owe Satan anything – for God by His very nature cannot be said to owe any creature anything since He already owns all things and controls all things.  Rather, the sin debt we owe is to God.  So, as the saying goes, Jesus saved us from Himself, for Himself, by Himself.

This “ransom” theory of atonement was made popular, as I understand it, by Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), but St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) shattered this theory to pieces with his famous work (written while in exile in France) Cur Deus Homo (“why the God-man”) where He explained what have come to call the “Satisfaction” theory of the atonement.  Anselm basically said that when we sin we offend God’s honor.  Because God is greater than us, we have offended a greater being – in fact, because our God is eternal, our sin is eternally offensive. Thus the offense of the sin rises with the honor of the one to whom you have sinned against. Today we speak of “righteousness” rather than “honor”, and perhaps this is rightfully so.  Now, because this sin is so grievous, only God could pay for it – man has no ability to pay for something that is eternal.  However, Anselm pointed out that because the sin was committed by man, it was man that must pay for the sin. But how would this be? Enter the God-man, Jesus Christ.  Jesus had to be fully God in order to pay for such an eternal offense, but He also had to be fully man, or the sin could not have been paid for because it wouldn’t have been legally viable (so to speak).

This position of Anselm’s because orthodoxy, and we still hold it to this day. The verse we’ve looked at above shows us why – it wasn’t Satan who held any ability to accuse Jesus of sin, Jesus was fully righteous (His righteousness would later be imputed to our account).  Therefore, Jesus wasn’t going to the cross to pay Satan off, rather He went to the cross in obedience to the Father, and to that we now turn.

The Command of the Father

The verses above tell us that Jesus obeys the command of His Father – notice the roles here. Jesus is submissive to His Father as an obedient Son. This would be a real problem for us to understand if we had not already discussed how the roles within the Godhead work, and that’s why I brought it up earlier. Jesus is speaking of His humble submission to the role that He has within the trinity. He is submissive to the Father – and what a role model He is for us!

Just as He was submissive to the Father, so we too must obey His commands (John 14:15; Heb. 12:1-2)

Lastly, note why He says that He is submissive – because He wants the world to know that He loves God the Father!

What a contrast between the unbeliever who hates and is at war with God. Remember Jesus’ earlier teaching to Nicodemus:

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:20-21, ESV)

See here in 3:21 where He had said that those who love God want the world to see “clearly” that their “works have been carried out in God.” Those who love God want everyone to know that they love God and that they don’t take credit for their works themselves – they have been carried out “in” God.  That “in” is very important.  It signals to us that what we do we do in the Spirit.

Christ did what He did because He loved God and it gave Him no greater joy than to proclaim loudly to the world that He loved God.  That was His mission. That is our mission.  To love God and to love others.

A Point of Transition

At this point Jesus tells the group that its time to get up and go. Presumably they’re leaving the upper room and traveling to the Garden of Gethsemane. MacArthur notes, “the phrase…signals an obvious transition in the narrative” and “While they walked, Jesus continued His teaching.” But it may not be as “obvious” as MacArthur thinks it is. Though I tend to agree with his conclusion, many reputable scholars say that there are several possible meanings for what Jesus is saying here. In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul lists four possibilities:

This statement would appear to indicate that Jesus and the disciples left the upper room, but it seems that chs. 15-17 take place still in the room. Several options are possible. (a) Jesus gave the signal but some time elapsed before they left the room. (b) They left at once, but Jesus continued His discourse on the way to Gethsemane. This would bring the prayer of ch. 17 into sharp contrast with the agony in the garden. (c) John has arranged his material topically rather than chronologically. (d) The statement of Jesus was a challenge to meet Satan rather than a signal to leave the room (that is, “up then, let us go to meet the foe”).

Whether or not Jesus is leaving the room is hard to say. It seems that from the perspective of this layman that He must be leaving and heading to the garden because of how the flow of the rest of the next two chapters go, but I am certainly open to correction on this point.

I appreciate the humility and God-centeredness of Leon Morris’ explanation:

Most of our trouble is caused by our natural inclination to expect the writer to arrange his material in accordance with out modern standards of logic and coherence. But John has his own standards, and he arranges his work to produce effects in his won way. All theories of dislocation and rearrangement come up against the difficulty that the final redactor must have seen the meaning of the words at the end of this chapter just as clearly as we do. Yet he retained (or created!) the present order. By far the simplest proceeding appears to be to take the narrative as it stands, and recognize a major division in the discourse at the end of this chapter.

Study Notes 11-3-13: John 14:25-27

The following are my notes on John 14:25-27 this this morning’s lesson. One of the most valuable verses that I’ve ever meditated upon personally is verse 27.  I would encourage you to spend time memorizing and digesting that verse – its just an amazing piece of scripture!

14:25-26 “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.

First, a quick note about this word “helper”, which is the term paraklētos – often you’ve heard the Spirit called “the paraclete” in other studies, no doubt.

The interesting thing about this word is that it isn’t used elsewhere to refer to the Holy Spirit. It’s used elsewhere to refer to Jesus, and that is only once in 1 John 2:2. After some study on the word and what various commentators had to say about its use in this context, it seems as though the best translation is “helper”, as the ESV renders the term (see especially Ridderbos). The reason is that words like “comforter” really don’t work for the context here. Of course the Holy Spirit does comfort us, but that’s not the point of the word as its used here to describe the Spirit.

The purpose of the word paraklētos here is to show how the Spirit will be helping the disciples from a knowledge/wisdom standpoint.  It’s specifically going to be aiding them in a way that will be “teaching” them.  My friend, Pastor Tony Romano, called this the gift of “divine clarity.”

Historical Procession

I’ve noted this in previous writings, but this verse (vs. 26) has caused no small amount of controversy due to its implications that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

R.C. Sproul captures some of the particulars of the argument well, “Someone might object that verse 26 says that ‘the Father will send’ the Spirit. That is true, but notice how the Father was going to send the Spirit – Jesus said HE would do it ‘in My name.’ To the ancient Jew, the words ‘in my name’ meant ‘as my emissary.’ Jesus did not say, ‘The Father is going to send the Spirit as My substitute.’ Instead, He said, ‘The Father is going to send the Spirit as My ambassador.’”

And so it is that we confess that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.

The Spirit and Biblical Inspiration

So with that background, let me then turn your attention to why this is an especially important passage. It is here that we learn how the apostles were able to write so accurately about Jesus, and the words which He spoke (even here in this very gospel).  Jesus promises them that the Spirit will “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  Not “some”, not “most”, but “all” that He spoke to them. They would remember it perfectly clear. That is sometimes not considered seriously enough when thinking on the miraculous work of inspiration. Here we have a promise from Jesus that every single thing (“all”) that we hold in our hands in this Bible is exactly what happened.  He is guaranteeing that they will remember it all.  Almost as when a professor says, “don’t take notes I’m going to provide them for you after the lecture is over.”

What an amazing thing this is!  Jesus is going to do it all. He is going to teach them, die for them, rise for them, mediate for them, rule for them, and remind them of every single detail of what He did and what He said.  Simply amazing. He doesn’t leave it to humanity’s strength. He doesn’t “train them to think longer and sharper”, instead He says, ‘you can’t do this but I can and I will.’

14:27 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.

This verse underscores the entire point of Jesus’ discussion with the disciples here: He wants them to be comforted.  It is remarkable that on the eve of His death and the unspeakable torture which preceded it, Jesus is focused on the hearts and minds of his followers.

When we consider this, it is impossible not to begin to glimpse the depths of His love for us. When we go through trials and frustrations, or we know that they are impending, this is not how we behave normally, is it. We have a tendency toward anxiety and unbelief. Not so with Jesus. He completely trusted the Father, and wanted us to know on the eve of His death that we can completely trust Him in the same way.

We also have the benefit of looking back on what happened historically and recognizing that, of course, Jesus was correct. He did rise again. He did conquer the grave. He did defeat sin and death. And because of all of these truths we can rest assured that He will do all of that for us. He is powerful and we have a solid reason to not be afraid and to believe in Him and what He says to us here.

Note also how Jesus contrasts the kind of hope He gives to that of the world. James Boice rightly describes the world’s peace as insincere, impotent, scanty, selfish, and one that takes back what it gave. He adds, “Most objectionable of all perhaps is the world gives for the most part, to those who do not need to do not want the gift.”

The kind that He gives is eternal and infinite, and that is because it is directly tied to the immutable character of God. God’s essential being and all the promises that flow from Him are immutable (unchanging). And because of this we can rely on Him today and forevermore. The world, by contrast, is fleeting. We are told in the Psalm 102 the following:

Of old you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; they offspring shall be established before you. (Ps. 102:25-28)

Study Notes 10-13-13: To Know Me is to Know My Father

14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is the Beauty and Radiance of the Father

First, Jesus is saying here that I am so much like the Father, that once you know me, you will know the Father.

Hebrews tells us that, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3a), and Paul adds, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15a).

John testified that the disciples beheld His glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and Peter said, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16b).

To really understand how Jesus is like the Father is difficult to know. But I think we can assume that in His character (His characteristics and personality etc.), ontology (His being and questions of His eternity etc.) and substance (what His is made of etc.), He is the same as God the Father. This was the subject of much debate in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and was finally settled (for the most part) at the Councils of Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon in 451 where it was agreed upon and affirmed that Christ is of the same “substance” (homoousios) as the Father, although He is a different “person” (this is just a summary and doesn’t do the debate justice, obviously).

His Gracious Self-Disclosure

Secondly, I was struck this week as I was studied this verse by something that Leon Morris said in his commentary on John:

Throughout the Old Testament, as Dodd has pointed out, the knowledge of God is not normally claimed. It is looked for as a future blessing, or people may be urged to know God, but it is very rare indeed to find assertions that people know God (as in Ps. 36:10). John sees this whole situation as changed in Christ. As a result of what he has done (“front now on”) his followers really know God. It is a revolution both in religious experience and in theological understanding.

John provided context for this in chapter one:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)

This is what theologians call “progressive revelation” because God has progressively revealed Himself to mankind. He did so most fully in the incarnate Son, and He continues this work in the abiding Spirit who takes up residence within His children.

As I began meditating upon the heart of Christ to make known the Father to us, and the obvious desire for the Father for Christ to reconcile us to Himself, it just blew me away. Contrasted against my sinfulness who am I to deserve such a gift? Why does He want to know me? How is that possible?

Let us simply reflect on the intimacy Christ has given us with the Creator of all things. That somehow we can have a personal relationship with God, and get to “know” Him. That, in fact, to know Him is what we were created for. These truths just leave me speechless.

This was the mission of Christ, to reveal the Father to sinful men as He had never been revealed before. His gracious self-disclosure ought to bring us to worship, and leave us with thankful hearts today.

Note the Eschatological Shift…Things Are Different Now

Lastly, (and really flowing from point two) the eschatological significance of Jesus’ words “from now on” can’t be underestimated. Like in Romans 8:1 where Paul sees a significant redemptive-historical shift (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”), Jesus says that ‘from now on you will have a relationship with the Father unlike ever before because I have “made Him known.”’

Herman Ridderbos says, “Jesus connects their knowledge of the Father and their life in fellowship with the Father not only to the future but above all to the faith experience they have received in their earthly contact with him.”

Therefore, unlike at any other time in the history of humanity, God’s people will have an unprecedented intimacy with their Creator, and it will come through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Show Us the Father

For the Jews, the ultimate blessing was to see the Father’s face. They lived in the hopes of one day seeing His face. As R.C. Sproul says, “It was as if Philip said: ‘Jesus, we’ve seen some fantastic things – You changed the water into wine, You fed the five thousand, You walked on water…But now, please give us the big one, then we’ll be satisfied. Do just one more miracle. Peel back the veil and let us see the face of God.’”

The sentiment that Philip expresses here is probably best expressed in the Aaronic blessing in Numbers:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.
(Numbers 6:24-27)
 

We also see this in Moses who asked God to allow him to see Him in His glory. Do you remember God’s response? Let’s read it together:

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23, ESV)

This reminds us again of what John said at the beginning of the gospel, “No one has ever seen God (John 1:18a).”  John Frame says this verse “means that no one has ever seen God apart from his voluntary theophanic-incarnational revelation. ‘God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’ (1:18b).”

If the Jews lived longing to see God’s face, how much more ought we who have His Spirit living within us live Coram Deo (before the face of God).

14:9-11 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? [10] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. [11] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

You can just feel the heart of Christ here and I’m sure Philip could as well. It seems to be a tone of exasperation, or at least a gentle rebuke. I don’t think its fair that we judge these disciples too harshly though – would we have been any better able to discern what Jesus was saying? Given the world around them, they were actually picking up ten times more than all the other men who had decades of scholarship and theological training under their belts.

Nonetheless, Jesus gets the attention here of the entire group (the word “you” is plural in the Greek, and so He is speaking to the entire group and not just Philip), and doubles down on what He had just emphasized about the unity of the Godhead.

The Nature of the Trinity: Diversity, Unity, and Equality

Jesus says that, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” and then “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  How are we to understand this correctly and clearly?

First, within the Trinity we must understand that there are three key principles to keep in mind if we are to rightly understand the nature of God: Diversity, Unity, and Equality.

Statements of Unity are obvious in this passage: “The father is in me”, “The father who dwells in me” “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Diversity is assumed in that Christ is referring to a different person than Himself when He refers to the “Father” – for instance He says, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Therefore, we assume that just as there is unity, there is diversity.

Finally, there is also Equality within the Godhead. The Son and the Father and the Spirit are equal in power and being and substance. However, they have different roles. It is to the nature of these diverse roles that Christ speaks when He says “I do not speak on my own authority.” He is not saying that the Father is “above” Him in rank, but rather each person of the Godhead plays a different role in the execution of their redemptive plan. The Son is not subordinate to the Father in rank, but is submissive to the Father in role.

This is difficult to get straight in our minds without slipping into some kind of heretical error, and I’ve found that word pictures always end up leading to promoting either modalism, or some kind of monophysitism.

“Miracles are Christological Sign-Posts”

Lastly, Jesus says that if they can’t find the faith to believe what He is saying about the nature of the Godhead, then at least believe because of the “works.” What does this mean? Why should miracles “convince” them? Well, its not necessarily about “convincing” or showing off power.

As D.A. Carson says:

Thoughtful meditation on, say, the turning of the water into wine, the multiplication of the loaves or on the raising of Lazarus will disclose what these miracles signify: viz. that the saving kingdom of God is at work in the ministry of Jesus, and this is in ways tied to his very person. The miracles are non-verbal Christological signposts.

Leon Morris is also helpful, “Faith on the basis of miracles is better than not faith at all. In John the characteristic of the miracles is not that they are wonders, nor that they show mighty power, but that they are ‘signs.’ For those who have eyes to see they point people to God.”

The power that has been manifested in the ministry of Jesus is evidence that He is not only from God (as even Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin understood cf. 3:2) but that He in fact is God.

14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

It certainly must have bewildered the disciples (at this point at least) to have heard Jesus say that they would do even greater works than what He had done. But as F.F. Bruce says, “His promise indeed came true: in the first few months after his death and resurrection many more men and women became his followers through their witness than had done so during his personal ministry in Galilee and Judea.”

Morris comments, “After his departure his followers were able to influence much larger numbers of people and to work in widely scattered places.”

We will do “greater” works than Him in that we will be spreading the gospel empowered by the spirit to millions of people for thousands of years.

His disciples can do this “because” He went to the Father, namely because He would send “another helper” – the Holy Spirit – which we will shortly discuss.

Some stumble over the idea that the disciples could have done “greater” works than Christ, but once we understand what Jesus means by “greater”, there is no issue here. First, perhaps its better for us to think of “greater” as “more” rather than “better”.  As John MacArthur says, “The greater works to which Jesus referred were not greater in power than those He performed, but greater in extent.”

But secondly, the phrase is not quite so offensive when we realize that it is not as if what we do is superior in anyway to what He did, because what we do is not of us in the first place. Our work is not our work; it is His. It is him who is working through us.

Therefore, when he says “greater works than these will he do” (notice he’s talking to the “believer” and not specifically just to the disciples here in his immediate presence – there is a definite look toward legacy here) he says that because its him who will be doing the works of salvation through us!

The emphasis is not on miracles of healing but on the miracle of salvation, as MacArthur says, “…those physical miracles were not primarily what Jesus had in mind, since the apostles did not do more powerful miracles than He had. When the Lord spoke of His followers performing greater works, He was referring to the extent of the spiritual miracle of salvation.”

And so it is that He will be glorified in and through us. He will continue His work of saving the lost on earth until He comes back again. As Morris says, “…in doing their ‘greater things’ they were but his agents”, and so too are we.  What a great privilege!