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)

9-29-13 Study Notes: I Am the Way

John Chapter 14

14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

The Heart of a Shepherd

It makes all the sense in the world for Christ to continue his discourse here by telling the disciples not to let their hearts fall into despair.  Remember, He has just delivered a very harsh rebuke to Peter, whose heart must have absolutely sunk at Christ’s stinging words.

Therefore, Christ tells them in strong terms not to let their “hearts be troubled”, and subsequently issues a command: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” It seems that what Jesus is saying here is that the antidote to fear here is to trust Him.

D.A. Carson explains that perhaps the best way to understand the word “believe” here is to use the word “trust” given the context. Jesus is calling these disciples (and us as well) to trust Him. This is the solution to their fear. Trusting in God and His Son is letting your heart and mind dwell upon His promises, and taking Him at His word (Is. 26:3; 1 John 4:18). Well did the proverb say:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

And as in so many cases, Christ doesn’t simply issue forth the command as in a vacuum, but goes on to explain what He has said.

John MacArthur makes the point that “Instead of the disciples lending support to Jesus in the hours before His Cross, He had to support them spiritually, as well as emotionally. This reveals His heart of serving love” (cf. Carson who makes the same point). It reminds us of the role of Christ as our great Shepherd.  Consider what He said earlier in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15, ESV)

And this is what was predicted by the prophet Ezekiel:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, ESV)

It is here and in so many other passages that we see the compassion of our Shepherd. We are His sheep, and He looks after us, just as He looked after the disciples. In subsequent generations God would raise up other shepherds to look after His sheep – even unto death.  I am specifically reminded of Ignatius of Antioch, who even on his way to Rome to be tried and executed, wrote seven pastoral letters to the churches and to his friend Polycarp, encouraging them and strengthening them in the faith.

In one of those letters Ignatius wrote:

To what end have I given myself up to perish by fire or sword or savage beasts? Simply because when I am close to the sword I am close to God, and when I am surrounded by the lions, I am surrounded by God. But it is only in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of sharing his sufferings, that I could face all this; for he, the perfect Man, gives me strength to do so.

Surely this echoes of the character of Christ, of whom John says:

…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1b)

14:2-4 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.”

It is not for nothing that Christ has told these men to take heart and believe in God, for He follows this command by announcing a promise that is so full of comfort that it is worth our examination of the saying in-depth.

He Knows You by Name

First Christ says that “in my Father’s house are many rooms.”  This alone tells us that in heaven there will be a multitude of saints. Though we know the truth of the doctrine of election, and the solid fact that Christ has not chosen all men for new birth, yet we see here that the number He has chosen is voluminous. What a comfort to know how effective and bountiful the love of Christ is upon sinful mankind, and to be counted in this group, well, it is something beyond comprehension.

Then Jesus doubles down on the truth of His claims by appealing to His own truthfulness. He basically states that, “if there weren’t many rooms in heaven for you, would I have said so in the first place?” The answer, as we know, is emphatically “no.”

Isaiah closely captures the feeling here:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
(Isaiah 45:22-23)

He can swear by no higher name (Heb. 6:13) because what His name stands for is absolute truth, as we’ll soon see in just a moment…

But first, as we look closely at the end of verse two, we see that when Christ goes away to “prepare a room” it is a very personal, individual task. He has individual persons in mind. Therefore we see here an idea that is contrary to what is taught by Arminians who say that God predestines groups of people in a very general way “in Christ” (His elect Son) but does not effectually choose specific individuals.

Perhaps an example is helpful. When my parents purchased one of their first homes in Oregon City (Oregon), they prepared and furnished each room based upon which child would be living there. My room was blue, with a red stripe down the middle, and had large basketball and car posters of hung up on the walls. My sister’s room was a girly sort of color (probably pink, but I can’t recall) and had all the frills that my mom knew she would enjoy.  In short, each room was personalized. The same principle is true of Christ. He doesn’t simply give grace to a nameless group of people who may or may not accept Christ’s atoning work on the cross. No indeed, Christ had you in mind when He died, and has an eternal plan for you personally. That plan includes work on His behalf here as well as enjoyment of Him here, but also includes an eternal specific ordained plan for you after you die and join Him.

The Way is Not Yet Prepared

Next look with me at verse three, which begins by saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.” John Piper, who delivered a sermon on this passage, is wise to point out that Jesus is going to prepare a place in two senses, and I think he’s right on target here.

First, the way is not yet prepared.  This is not to say that from the foundation of the world God has not already planned that you will be with Him in heaven (Ephesians 1:4-10), or that somehow heaven is in a state of disrepair. No indeed!  The first sense of the phrase here used by Jesus is that, “you cannot come where I am because the way is not yet open! I am about to make a way for you through my death, burial and resurrection.”

Heaven is prepared my friend, but you could not go there until Christ first suffered and died and conquered the power of death. This strongly ties in with verses 5 and (particularly) 6 in which Christ declares that the way to the Father is through the Son.

Now if we take into account the following truths we’ll end up understanding the next part of verse three: 1. From the foundation of the world He has prepared this place for us, 2. Christ must conquer death first before we can come where He is, and 3. He is the only way to this place. This leads us to understand better why He says, “I will come again and will take you to myself” and leads us also to the second sense of the meaning of verse three, which is that Christ is not talking specifically about heaven in this passage, but rather Himself.

Piper says this:

Don’t use this passage of Scripture to show that whe(n) Jesus comes back at the Second Coming he will take you to heaven. It does not say that. It says, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And where will he be when he comes? We will meet him in the air, and he will establish his reign on the earth. And so we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

What this text focuses on in the Second Coming is not a return to heaven but a reunion with Christ. “I will come again and will take you to myself.” Therefore, my beloved disciples, let not your heart be troubled. Trust. Trust me that I am coming for you. I will come. I will take you. And trust me because the dwelling I have prepared for you is my crucified, risen, and glorified self. Don’t be troubled, I will come and take you to myself.

Jesus is focused on Himself here, not heaven. As Morris notes, “Nothing is said about the nature of the place that Christ prepares (vs.1-2). It is sufficient for believers that we will be with our Lord.” Jesus knows that it is His presence that provides ultimate rest, peace, and security, and that is why He turns from discussing heaven to His second advent.

Furthermore, as believers looking back on this time, we can see that contrary to the situation in which Jesus is speaking these words, when He comes back He will do so in power, and a display of glory and brilliance unmatched by anything the world has seen or heard. He points the disciples forward in their minds to a time when His triumphal entry will be nothing short of spectacular!

The Motivation of our Shepherd

Now look at Christ’s motivation for this preparation. He says, “that where I am you may be also.” If you aren’t getting the picture by now, you will certainly understand when you look closely at this portion of verse 3, that Christ has a plan for you, and furthermore wants to have a relationship with you. He does all that He does in order that, at least as it concerns us, He will have eternal fellowship with us, His bride!

Let me bring this home a little more. Many of us long for fellowship and companionship, and many children as they grow up are shaped by the relationships they have with their parents – and with friends at school. Often young people who don’t have many friends are left feeling hurt and abandoned by God and family. We naturally need fellowship and do not like to be lonely.  But Christ is not this way. Yes He also loves fellowship, but He does not need it from us. He already has all the companionship He needs in the eternal fellowship of the trinity. And so we are not fulfilling a need of His here. It isn’t as though He is somehow fearful that He will die and be in heaven bored out of His mind because of the exciting times He’s just left on earth! No! In heaven Christ is forever and continually worshiped and adored! He doesn’t get bored!

So this desire of His to have us be “with Him” in heaven, this entirely God-initiated, God-driven desire is an expression of the depth of the love He has for us. We must keep in view the fact that He made us after His own image, as Augustine said, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

What an amazing thought. You can go away from this text knowing, for certain, that going into the last hours before His death, Christ is preparing mentally for eternity with you! And this theme continues throughout the next few chapters.  We’ll see in chapter 17 that Christ prays that all who believe in His name will come to be with Him in heaven. In the final moments of His life He is more concerned with petitioning the Father for our presence in heaven than He is for His own safety here on earth. And so here we see the overflowing love of God in Christ made manifest in His words. What a great comfort! What a great love He has for us.

Knowing vs. Understanding

Lastly, He finishes this portion of His saying by expressing a sort of realized eschatology. These disciples haven’t caught up yet to the riches of what He is promising them. Their minds are still stuck on the fact that He’s going to leave them, and its deeply upsetting to them at the time. So Jesus says that, “you know the way to where I am going.”  Huh? They don’t know where He is going! And that is expressed by Thomas, who is clinging more closely to some words more than others and isn’t reading between the lines.

Jesus, who knows all things, knows that He has implanted in them the truth of His mission and destination. Even if they don’t realize what He is saying now, they will realize it when the Spirit leads them into all truth (John 16:13). That is why I say it is a sort of “realized eschatology” because Jesus is anticipating that, though they actually know the truth now, very soon they will understand what they already know. They will actually start to piece together the truth He has already imparted to them.

Why do I bring this up? Because so often we only listen to part of Scripture, and very often that part is the part we want to hear. Sometimes we’re too distracted to pay any attention at all. If the disciples had been paying attention they would have understood – at least to a small degree – that their Lord was imparting magnificent truths to them. Now was the time to set aside their emotions and focus on the words of their Lord.

How much more ought we to focus on the words of those in the pulpit who are breathlessly expositing the words of life to us. Yet I find that so often my own mind wanders, when it ought to worship. Let us heed this admonition and the (bad) example of the disciples at this point, and cling to every word of our Savior, always asking the Spirit to help us discern the intended meaning and to root out any sin that may be impeding our growth in grace.

14:5-6 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

First we see Thomas’ reaction of complete confusion.  “What are you talking about Jesus? Have I missed something?” Yes you have. But Jesus doesn’t say that does He…instead He takes the opportunity to teach an even greater truth to them, but one that is not off-topic.

The Sixth ‘I AM’ Statement of Christ in John

What is Jesus’ reaction to Thomas? He says, let me spell it out for you Thomas, if you want to know how to come to me and the Father (who are “one”), you simply must believe in me, for I am the way to the father. There is no other way but through me and me alone. This is also the sixth ‘I Am’ statement of Jesus in the book of John. As a reminder of the others, I have listed them below. As you read through these statements, they lead us to our next point of discussion, namely, that Jesus was continually making extraordinary (and highly) exclusive claims about Himself. The others are as follows:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7, 9)

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (John 10:14)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (John 11:25)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1, 5)

When Jesus says, “I AM”, let us remember that He is not speaking thus in order to point us simply to the adjective (“door”, “shepherd” etc.), but to the pronoun. R.C. Sproul reminds us that the Greek words that are rendered “I AM” in our English translation here are “ego eimi” which means, “I am, I am”. These words bring to mind the sacred name reserved for God the Father in the Old Testament, a name sometimes referred to as the “ineffable” name of God, YHWY. “Ineffable” means simply “too great, powerful, or beautiful to be described or expressed in words” (a combination of dictionary definitions here).

Therefore when Jesus says, “I AM” the way the truth and the life, He is invoking the unspeakably awesome name of God to describe Himself.

The Three-Fold Declaration

Now let us turn to examine specifically what Jesus, the ineffable One says about Himself:

I AM The Way – This is an answer to Thomas, and to all who for millennia would ask, “How is my soul to be saved?” This phrase is so significant that it would soon be used by early Christians to identify themselves with their Lord (Acts 22:4), and it’s no doubt closely connected with his exclusive claims about being the Door of the sheepfold (10:7, 9).

I AM The Truth – He is asserting nothing less than being the embodiment of absolute truth – the standard of what is right and wrong for the entire universe. He is the Word of God incarnate (1:14). Not a word, action, or thought of Jesus proceeds apart from the antecedent reality that it flows from His absolute perfection of veracity.

I AM The Life – He reminds us of a previous declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25b), and, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

The Exclusivity of Christ

For thousands of years the church has stood on the exclusivity of the statements Christ makes in this passage. Despite what many have tried to argue over the ages, Christianity is not a religion that follows a “many paths to God” approach. We believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way one can be saved from sin and death.

Furthermore, it is clear from our understanding of the early church that the Apostles thought of Christ as the only way to be saves.  Look at what Peter says before the council in Acts 4:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11, 12 ESV)

“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord” (First two affirmation of ‘The Apostles Creed’ – emphasis mine)

Also, this is the Apostle Paul’s understanding. He says that without Christ we are alienated from God, and that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and man:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

In his defense of this principle, Christian apologist William Lane Craig lays out the Biblical reason for Christ’s exclusivity – namely, the problem of sin:

Sin is the great leveler, rendering all needy of God’s forgiveness and salvation. Given the universality of sin, all persons stand morally guilty and condemned before God, utterly incapable of redeeming themselves through righteous acts (3.19-20). But God in His grace has provided a means of salvation from this state of condemnation: Jesus Christ, by his expiatory death, redeems us from sin and justifies us before God (3.21-26). It is through him and through him alone, then, that God’s forgiveness is available (5.12-21). To reject Jesus Christ is therefore to reject God’s grace and forgiveness, to refuse the one means of salvation which God has provided. It is to remain under His condemnation and wrath, to forfeit eternally salvation. For someday God will judge all men, “inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1.8-9).

Lastly, later on in his epistles, the Apostle John lays out further (and very clear) teachings about the fact that Christ is the only way to salvation:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. [23] No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3)

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

The Many Paths to God: Contemporary Pluralism

During the first century the church had to deal with many persecutions, but most of those came from the Jews rather than outside governments – like Rome. It was the exclusive nature of the claims of Jesus Christ (that He was the Messiah) that caused Him to be a stumbling block to the Jews, and eventually led Him to Golgotha.

Look at what Paul said to the Corinthian church in his day:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

And so the Jews provided an early impediment to the spread of Christianity, but as we’ve learned in our study of the book of Acts, the more Christians were persecuted the more Christianity spread like wildfire.

However, it is the “folly” of the gentiles (as Paul put it) that we battle today.

Christianity is the only major religion in which its founder claims such exclusive privileges and power. It is also the only major religion in which its followers do not have to earn their way to heaven, rather it is through the work of the God-man Jesus Christ that we will be able to stand on the ‘Day of Judgment’, because it is only through His righteousness that we have access to the promises of God – namely eternal life.

Our more specific problem in our own country today is that of ‘Tolerance’.  So-called tolerance has become code for, “you believe whatever you want to believe, so long as you don’t push your views on me.” There are no moral absolutes: we live in an age of relativism. And somehow we think this is “new” or “revolutionary” or “evolved”, but that simply isn’t the case.  For we read at the end of the book of Judges the following statement by the author:

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

Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But that is why the claims of Jesus are so important in our day. People are looking for truth, they want to know why things are the way they are. And its here that we must not forget the second part of what Christ claimed here, namely, “I am the truth” – He is the ultimate standard for what is right and wrong in the universe.

He reveals what can be known about Himself through both general and special revelation. Here Jesus is specifically speaking to special revelation, meaning, the Word of God. He is the Word incarnate, and all that He speaks is 100% truth.

I really like what James M. Boice has to say about these amazing claims of Christ, “Although they are indeed exclusive, they ought not to be offensive, for they are actually what we most need as human beings. They should be received with joy and thanksgiving.”

Therefore, we must make our appeal in more refined ways – like Paul did in Athens in Acts 17. We must understand the relativism of our culture and the environment we find ourselves in today. But we must not deny what the Bible primarily speaks of, and what Jesus here claims for Himself: I am the only way and the only truth and the only way to life everlasting.

Study Notes 6-23-13: The Greeks Seek Jesus

John 12:20-26

The Greeks Seek Jesus

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.

I think that it might be helpful to note just a few things about this section before we look at the theological and spiritual significance of the event.

First, from what multiple commentators say about the word “Greeks” here, the meaning is not Jewish Greeks from the Diaspora, and not Greeks as in people from Greece necessarily (though it may have included these types of people), but rather it is foreigners as a whole. The term “Greeks” served as a sort of Jewish umbrella term for those outside their own ethnicity (Gentiles).

James Boice comments, “…they were Greeks in the gentile sense, not Hellenistic Jews…” and D.A. Carson remarks, “These Greeks were not necessarily from Greece: as elsewhere in the New Testament, the term refers to Gentiles who come from any part of the Greek-speaking world, possibly even a Greek city as near as the Decapolis.”

Second, John doesn’t give us a time when this occurs. James Boice says, “From my reading of the other Gospels I doubt that it was on the same day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for on that occasion he seems to have returned quickly to Bethany. Perhaps it was the next day…”

Lastly, it is evident that these Greeks are God-fearers. They weren’t in Jerusalem for sightseeing or for the draw of the great marketplace, but rather there were there “to worship.”

12:21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

The significance of the Greeks asking to see Jesus is recognized by every commentator, and is evident in that it “triggers” (Carson) Jesus to declare that the hour has come for Him to be glorified.

As Leon Morris puts it, “Clearly John regards their coming as significant but he does not treat their presence as important. Jesus recognizes in their coming and indication that the climax of His mission has arrived.”

But why is this?

I think it is because it indicates the pregnancy of the historical and biblical timeline as prophesied by God’s prophets according to His plan. The moment where the entire world would hear of the wonders of His plan, and all the nations would be blessed was converging in upon Jesus. The time had come when God would gather from all nations a chosen people for Himself (1 Pet. 2:9).

Of all the prophets, Isaiah has a lot to say about this, so let’s look at a few of those passages so we can see what the Lord had planned from of old:

In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12-13 ESV)

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;

I will take you by the hand and keep you;

I will give you as a covenant for the people,

a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.

(Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV)

…“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to bring back the preserved of Israel;

I will make you as a light for the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6 ESV)

Incline your ear, and come to me;

hear, that your soul may live;

and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,

and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.

(Isaiah 55:3-5 ESV)

In their groundbreaking book Kingdom Through Covenant Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum comment on how the prophets foretell a time when salvation will come back to Israel and spread to all nations, the effects of sin are reversed, and a new creation is consummated:

…among the postexilic prophets there is an expectation that the new covenant will have a purpose similar to the “old covenant”, that is, to bring the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant back into the present experience of Israel, and even more than this, to the nations. The new covenant, then, will bring about the Abrahamic blessing in that it will benefit both Israel and the nations and thus have universal implications…Within the Old Testament, the new covenant is viewed as both national (Jer. 31:36-40; 33:6-16; Ezek. 36:24-38; 37:11-28) and international (Jer. 33:9; Ezek. 36:36; 37:28). In fact, its scope is viewed as universal, especially in Isaiah (in the passages I quoted above). These Isaiah texts project the ultimate fulfillment of the divine promises in the new covenant onto an “ideal Israel”, i.e., a community tied to the servant of the Lord, located in a rejuvenated new heavens and new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). This “ideal Israel” picks up the promises of Abraham and is presented as the climactic and ultimate fulfillment of the covenants that God established with the patriarchs, the nation of Israel, and David’s son (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-28). Furthermore, in the story line of Scripture it is not enough to say that the new covenant merely brings about the Abrahamic blessings to Israel and the nations. One cannot understand the Abrahamic covenant apart from the “covenant with creation,” so, in truth, when the new covenant arrives we have the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises, the reversal of the effects of sin and the death brought about by Adam, and the establishment of the new creation. (pg. 645)

I especially love the anticipation of a new creation in Isaiah 66 and how the plan of God is not limited to one race or people, but to all people everywhere:

And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

“For as the new heavens and the new earth

that I make

shall remain before me, says the LORD,

so shall your offspring and your name remain.

From new moon to new moon,

and from Sabbath to Sabbath,

all flesh shall come to worship before me,

declares the LORD.

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:20-24 ESV)

The reason I wanted to quote such an extended section from Gentry and Wellum has to do with their grasp of the magnitude of the new covenant ushered in by Christ. When these gentiles came to see Jesus, He clearly saw this as a sign that His hour had come, and that soon all the promises and covenants made with His people in ages past, were about to be fulfilled in Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Morris says, “Plainly their coming is important. Jesus views it as evidence that his mission has reached its climax and that he is now to die for the world, Greeks included.”

12:22-23 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. [23] And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Boice says there are two ways in which Jesus would be glorified. First, the Greek’s seeking Him indeed gave Him glory. It showed that He was a significant person, but more than that, it showed that those outside of ethnic Israel who were looking for the light of life thought that perhaps they had found it in Him.

Secondly, and most prominently, Christ would be glorified in His death and resurrection. In His sacrificial atonement, and triumph over the grave, Jesus would show the world the meaning of His coming in plain terms, and put Satan and his army of demons to open shame by triumphing over them (Col. 2:15).

In saying that “the hour has come” Jesus undoubtedly is referring to his death, yet as Morris notes, “…He speaks not of tragedy but of triumph.” And so it is that He sees in His death the anticipation of victory, and that is what is meant by “glorified.”

 

Study Notes 6-9-13: Jesus Anointed at Bethany

John Chapter 12

This chapter begins the final week of the life of Christ.  James Boice has a great summary of what we’re about to read:

The events of this week contain the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the cursing of the fig tree, the Olivet discourse recorded by the Synoptics, the final discourses with the disciples recorded by John, the Last Supper, the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus, and the embalming and burial of the body by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. After three more days the events of this week are climaxed by the resurrection.

12:1-2 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. [2] So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.

It’s perhaps helpful to read Mark’s Gospel as well, to add more context to the passage:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. [4] There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? [5] For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. [6] But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. [7] For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. [8] She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. [9] And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” [10] Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. (Mark 14:3-10 ESV)

We first notice that it is only a short time before the Passover, and Jesus is in Bethany once again. He was dangerously close to Jerusalem, and even though He could have taken a more direct root into the city from Ephraim, He chose instead to go this route and stop here in Bethany. Everything He does has meaning and a reason. He knows fully what is going to happen, and yet He takes His time, and does all things in His own timing.

It reminds me of how He waited for two days before going to raise Lazarus, and we’ll see that as the Pharisees mocked Him on the cross, yet He stayed up there. They saw that as a sign of Him not being in control, but it was actually a sign of Him having full control!  He did all things in His time, for time is God’s doulos!

A Reminder of the Resurrection and Power of Christ

In their midst was a sign of inaugurated eschatology and the great hope for the future that Christ provides. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, was a preview of the power that Christ held over death, not only for His own resurrection, but ours as well.

We need to understand what vital importance the concept of resurrection is to the Christian. Paul says this:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. [20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:19-22 ESV)

J.C. Ryle celebrates this reality well:

If we believe that Jesus rose again, we need not doubt the truth of His Messiahship, the reality of His acceptance as our Mediator, and the certainty of our own resurrection. Christ has risen indeed, and wicked men may well tremble. Christ has risen from the dead, and believers may well rejoice.

It is a beautiful truth to cherish that Jesus has the power over death and hell. It gives us great comfort.  The fact that death will not have the final word allows us to live a life with no fear of the one thing that all men fear. We have not only been set free from our slavery to sin, but also from the end game of all sin (death).

Not only this, but we have been given the keys to loose others from death by the spread of the gospel! We have this mission from Christ who has all authority and is the real power behind our work:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Here sitting in their midst was a living picture of the work of Christ. The works of His ministry could be summed up by looking around this room: men raised from the dead, sinners forgiven, His kingship exalted, His servants learning at His feet.

12:3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

NOTE: “nard” or “spikenard” is an oil extracted from the root and spike of the nard plant, grown in India according to D.A. Carson.  The amount of the nard seems to have been 11 ounces.

To Mary, who gave her expensive “nard” (perfume) to anoint Christ, this was not worthy to be compared to the value of Jesus.

This precious ointment was worth about one year’s salary for people at that time, but Mary used it all in seconds. This was extravagant love. There are times for extravagance, and it is always time for an extravagant manifestation of adoration to Christ. What could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory? – R.C. Sproul

She would have given everything to honor Jesus.  This was the Resurrection and The Life. This was the man who raised her brother from the dead. The great majestic King of kings was reclining at her table and it was not lost on her!  She cast her all before the throne.

J.C. Ryle Comments:

At this very moment she saw Lazarus, alive and well, sitting by her Master’s side, – her own brother Lazarus, whom He had brought back to her from the grave. Greatly loved, she thought she could not show too much love in return. Having freely received, she freely gave.

But more than simply give Him the gift, she served Him in a most self-abasing manner. She took what was the glory of women (her hair) and used it to clean the dirtiest part of man in those days (their feet).  It was an act of humility as well as an act of giving.

Morris comments, “The act is more striking in that a Jewish lady never unbound her hair in public. This was apparently seen as a mark of loose morals. But Mary did not stop to calculate public reaction. Her heart went out to her Lord, and she gave expression to her feelings in this beautiful and touching act.”

I believe that Mary’s sense of her own indebtedness were a strong motivation for these actions.  Those who have a great sense of debt, have a greater sense of gratitude!  This reminds us of the of a similar incident in Luke’s gospel where another woman had anointed Jesus at the house of a Pharisee. This woman was described as a sinner, and after her anointing of Jesus with her tears, the reaction was not a positive one by some of those near Jesus.  But what is Jesus’ reaction?  Listen to this:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 ESV)

Because we have been forgiven SO much, we also ought to love much. Mary had nothing to give that would equal the way she felt about Jesus. Christian, do you feel that way?  Do you act this way?  Do you lavish upon Christ the honor he is due? Are your prayers ornamented with rich adoration and thanksgiving for what he has done for you?

In truth, there is nothing that we can do apart from Christ that would please Him, but the fact that what Mary’s actions did please Christ tells us something, it tells us that she was led be the Spirit to do this and it pleased Christ.

12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

The Reaction of Judas is the Reaction of the World

Judas was a thief, so of course he was angry at this display of selfless giving. Why didn’t this gift come into his wise stewardship first? “It could have been given to the poor!” He protests.  Judas reminds me in many ways of a television evangelist in that he’s stealing the gifts of those who want to see the kingdom expanded. The only difference is that many televangelists are much more open about their thievery: “I need you to give right now, the jet I’ve been flying around on needs to be upgraded!” Judas at least kept it private. This was the man who Jesus says would have been better off never having been born!  How can you trump that?  And yet the Joel Olsteens of the world are even more blatant!

I mention this because it is a modern day plague we face in America – false teachers who value their own success and financial health over the health of the church and the success of the Gospel.

The Great Contrast

Judas’ words smack of dishonesty, but more than that they betray a truth that we need to take note of going forward, namely that what we prize most of all is what is made manifest in this passage.   The world and all those under the control of Satan prize money, success, and luxuries in this life. What do they all have in common?  They are finite.

Ryle’s comments can’t be easily overlooked:

A day is soon coming when a wondering world will see that every cup of cold water given for Christ’s sake, as well as every box of precious ointment, was recorded in heaven, and has its rewards. In that great day those who thought that any one could give too much to Christ will find they had better never have been born.

Compare this to Mary who prized that which is of infinite value: peace with God, eternal life, eternal rewards, forgiveness of sin, and of course our Lord Jesus who is the giver of all these things.

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. [8] For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

It is impossible to see this as some kind of slight to the poor, for Christ had already given much to the poor and the sick during His ministry. Rather this was His way to once again helping the disciples realize that this was a special time in history. This was the short blip on history’s timeline when the timeless One had come to usher in His kingdom and forever change the paradigm of this world. There would be plenty of time for fasting (Matt. 9:14-15) and serving once He was gone. Now was the time to listen, to watch and to learn.

James Boice makes an interesting point about the perspective of Mary.  For some time now Jesus had been telling His disciples that He was going to die in Jerusalem – on the road from Ephraim to Jerusalem He told them this, and yet they didn’t seem to understand His words:

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. [34] And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”(Mark 10:32-34)

Yet Mary seemed to understand exactly what was going on, and Boice says that the reason for this was likely the fact that she spent her time learning from Jesus and listening to Him.  She was at His feet learning and listening.  When I digest this for myself it makes me want to be like Mary. Am I learning at the feet of Christ? In other words, am I in the Word?  Am I devouring His words with the same hunger and eagerness that Mary did? Once I have heard my Lord’s words, do I turn and serve Him the way that Mary did?

12:9-11 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, [11] because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

The Courage of Jesus’ Friends

The first thing that’s apparent here is that this dinner in honor of Jesus was not a private affair, but had become public knowledge.  James Boice comments on how must courage it must have taken for the friends’ of Jesus to hold a public celebration in His honor less than two miles from the heart of Jerusalem at a time when the religious elite were seeking to kill Him.

The Desperation of the Pharisees

The second thing that’s apparent here is just how desperate, and how foolish these religious leaders were. In their desperation they had tried time after time to silence Jesus, to arrest Him, to kill Him, and now they wanted to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus as well. I don’t know about you, but I got a chuckle out of this. The more I thought about it the more I thought, “these guys think it’s a good idea to try and kill the guy who was just raised from the grave? …Ya, that will work!”  But you can see into their demented minds, can you not?  The same motivation that caused the religious leader to ask the Romans to guard the tomb of Christ is the same thing motivating them to want Lazarus killed: if they can expunge these men from the earth, and they go away without any hope of return, then they will be able to confidently mock their power (as they did to Christ on the cross), and triumph over them.  They will be able to repaint the narrative to the people in their own words, and have the last word on the ministry of Christ.

But what happened? They would indeed succeed in mocking Christ, in killing Christ, in guarding His tomb, in beginning to repaint the narrative, and then they would themselves be crushed as their schemes imploded around them. They killed the Author of life (Acts 3:15) but Christ would burst through the power of death and conquer the grave! Did these mere mortals think their scheming would be a strong enough net to cast around the creator the time, space, and all of mankind?  What arrogant fools. Read what Peter said shortly after Christ rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven:

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24)

This same Jesus who has conquered the grave has crushed death to death and will one day loose you from the pangs of death and sickness.  He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. We must live in light of this reality, and give Him the honor He is due, just as Mary did 2000 years ago.

The Attractiveness of a Life Changed by Christ

The last thing we notice here is that Lazarus was a sort of attraction. People were coming to see him – not because of something he’d done, but what had been done to him by the Lord Jesus. James Boice challenges us to ask if the same can be said of us. Primarily it is the Lord who is in us that makes us attractive. It is not anything inhering in me, but the work of Jesus in me that makes me attractive, different, and, in short, like Jesus. I hope the same can be said of you.  Ironically, the firs step to being like Jesus is to surrender and stop trying but rather submit to His will and Lordship. Believe, that is what He wants. Humble yourselves under the might arm of God and allow Him to create in you a new and clean heart.

Acts 13:1-12 Notes

We had a great small group study last night on the first 12 verses in Acts 13.  This is the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey.  The shift from Luke’s focus on Peter to his focus on Paul will lead us through the end of the book of Acts.  In this first section of the chapter we see Paul really coming into his own as a leader in the church – we will also see the last time that Luke uses Paul’s old name “Saul” to describe him.

These are brief notes, but hopefully helpful.  Enjoy!

Chapter 13

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

In the New Testament church there’s a distinction made between prophets and teachers.  Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 12.  The difference, from what I can discern, is that prophets are ones who preach the word of God and teachers are ones who instruct in the word of God. Alistair Begg says that preaching is teaching plus exhortations, “preaching is directive”, he says, “its not a lecture.”

The ESV Study Notes have an interesting explanation as to why Simeon was called “Niger”:

Niger is Latin for “black,” indicating he likely came from Africa, as did the Cyrenean Lucius. (Cyrene was the capital city of Cyrene [sometimes called Cyrenaica], a Roman province in Libya, on the north coast of Africa; see Acts 2:10.)

Lastly, the Herod mentioned here as “Herod the tetrarch” is Herod Antipas according to the ESV notes, and this was the third of five Herods to rule over Palestine.  James Boice describes Antipas in this way:

After the removal of Archelaus, Judea was governed for a time by Roman procurators. But the line of Herod the Great continued through another of his sons who reigned in Galilee until his banishment to Gaul in AD 39. His name was Herod Antipas, and he is the Herod who killed John the Baptist. He emerged in a cameo role at the trial of Jesus Christ.

Each of these men come from different backgrounds, and level of society.  They range from princes/important people like Manaen, to missionaries like Lucius to men of Africa like Simeon. This was a diverse collection of men and women from around the known world.

What is most fascinating to me is how Manaen, who grew up with Herod, went such a different way in life than Herod.  The ESV Study Notes tell us that “Lifelong friend translates Greek syntrophos, indicating that Manaen was a close friend of Herod Antipas and had been brought up with him from childhood.”

This reminds me of how Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s courts, but became the antithesis to everything Pharaoh stood for.  An amazing change in him, and story of two divergent lives, which eventually clashed in a major way. The lives of men are in the hands of God, and surely He steers all things in the direction of His sovereign will and pleasure. He takes men from noble birth and from nothing at all and makes them adopted sons of the kingdom of God.

13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

The role of the Spirit here is complete sovereignty over the entire situation.  He is seen as the one who sets them apart and then sends them (vs. 4).  This is the same Spirit which lives in us today, and He is not silent.  The ages of time have not silenced our God.

The role of men here is four-fold:

–       Fasting
–       Prayer
–       Laying on of hands (like a missionary commissioning)
–       Obedience to the Spirit of God

13:4-5 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

One of the things I really like about this section is that there is organization in the ways of God. God is not a God of confusion, but of order. Note that it is the Spirit that is sending them out, and as a result, we know that they are following God’s instructions in this mission.  Note also that Paul is proclaiming the word to the Jews first. Lastly, look at the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, John is assisting them – they had an organizational approach that involved more than just one or two people. Everyone pitched in. James Boice says this, “We have fallen away from that principle in our time through a pattern of organization in which churches are usually in the hands of just one minister. The people think, ‘Well, he’s the minister. It’s his job to do the Christian work. Let him do it.’  Such churches are weaker as a result.”

13:6 -7 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

This man Paulus was Proconsul. A Proconsul was a one-year appointed position.  The Roman Senate made the appointment, and only those who had previously served as Consul were eligible to serve as Proconsul. Proconsuls were governors of territories, not usually too large from what I can tell. Consuls on the other hand, used to be the most powerful position in the Empire. When Rome was a Republic (before the emperor took over full control) there would be two elected Consuls who would serve at the same time for one year and had veto power over each other. They were elected by the Senate. Consuls stayed as a position under the Emperor, but their power was just limited – essentially figureheads.

13:8-11 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.

The meaning of names and their significance is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments.  The fact that this man was called Bar-Jesus, which means “son of salvation” was an affront to the message of the gospel.  That is why Paul contrasts his name with what he really is, namely a “son of the devil.”

Sproul makes the humorous point that obviously Paul didn’t read Dale Carnegie’s famous book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’!  But he goes on to point out that when Christ addressed the proud religious “experts” He did the same thing.  For instance, here is Christ’s interaction with the Pharisees in John 8:

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45 ESV)

Because of this magician’s positional reality as a son of Satan, he was necessarily also an “enemy of all righteousness” because if we are not with God we are against Him.  Christ makes that clear as well when He tells His disciples, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30).

The natural outgrowth of being under the slavery of sin and the Devil (see Rom. 6) is that you will mimic your leader.  For Satan is the Father of lies (Jn. 8:44).  That is why it says this magician was full of “deceit.”

Lastly, note that he is full of “villainy” as well.  Villainy seems to indicate a sort of strategic approval of evil.  It reminds me of what Paul says at the end of Romans 1 about those with a debased mind:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV)

13:12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

This gentile believing is the beginning of the fulfillment of what Jesus told Paul – that he would stand before kings and princes and proclaim the gospel (find that scripture earlier in acts 9 or so).  It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of both Christ’s words to the disciples in chapter 1 and the Abramatic covenant to bless all the nations in the world.  The following verses are great references:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)

And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:24-26 ESV)

Lastly, notice that it isn’t the Miracles alone that lead to belief – God knows who and when to use these for his glory, but it is the preaching of the Word that leads to conversion.  This reminds me of when Jesus was preaching and healing during His earthly ministry and people were seeing the miracles, but they were equally amazed at His words:

        And many more believed because of his word. (John 4:41 ESV)

The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” [46] The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:45-46 ESV)

Humble as He was Humble

We have just wrapped up the second week of our study on revival, and tomorrow we’ll discuss this in class. But what we’ll specifically focus on is not the examples given in our workbook, but rather the example of Christ. In an effort to focus on Christ, we’ll be closely examining Philippians 2:3-11. My notes on the passage are below.

Philippians 2:3-11

2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The phrase here “selfish ambition” is eritheia in the Greek, which has the meaning of “electioneering or intriguing for office, apparently, in the NT a courting distinction, a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.”

I was drawn to this definition because it reflects something I’m familiar with – politics! In fact a secondary definition according to the Blue Letter Bible is “partisanship, fractiousness.”

In politics it is often necessary to put aside the needs and cares of others in order to advance one’s own agenda. To be partisan is to be highly committed to one’s own vision and agenda – without compromising with others. The way Paul speaks of it here is as the self-centered agenda of one who is only concerned with his or her own cares and well-being.

While it seems obvious that we are to not be “selfish”, it is much less obvious how our actions and thoughts are often self-centered instead of Christ-centered or focused on the well-being of others.

Paul goes on to say that we are to “count others more significant” that ourselves. How do we do this? Paul says to do it “in humility.” That means that accomplishing this will require an attitude that is humble. It might seem then, at first blush, that humility is defined as counting others more important than ourselves…but there’s more to it than that as we’ll see later, there’s also a component to humility that not simply puts others first, but has a more broad understanding of our place in relation to God.

Christian, are you above following in the footsteps of your Lord? Are you too good to do as He did? What He is calling for here is the opposite of all human inclination, namely the attitude of pride. We naturally want only to think of ourselves, while Christ urges us to follow His example, have His mind, and have a mind set on others for the sake of His name.

2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

The beautiful thing about the Christian life is that God does not leave us to guess how we are to behave and obey. But not only does He give us the example of Christ, but His Holy Spirit applies that example to our hearts and minds. That is why He can command us to “have this mind” because He intends to fulfill in us the impossible – through the reading of His word, and prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, God transforms our minds. Our role in this is to not quench the Spirit’s work in our lives and to read and pray. We are to obey.

This is an impossible command without the help of the Spirit. For how can you oh man “have the mind of Christ”? How are you to know what that is? How do you transform your thoughts to match His? Only the Spirit knows what this means precisely, and only the Spirit has the power to enact this transformational process in our lives.

Let us each pray for that powerful work of the Spirit, and for the help to obey and have our minds renewed day by day.

2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

The Incarnation

There is so much doctrine in verses 6-8 that James Montgomery Boice says that in them we learn about “the divinity of Christ, he preexistence, his equality with God the Father, his incarnation and true humanity, his voluntary death on the cross, the certainty of his ultimate triumph over evil, and the permanence of his reign.”

One of the most important doctrines that we get from verse six is that Christ was before He was born as a human: the incarnation. He existed before time began, and He was on a plane (an equal plane) with God. As Alistair Begg says, “In eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit shared coequally in all God is. The Son who was about to become incarnate was possessed of the glory of God, indeed, everything that makes God God. Everything that caused the angels to adore God was there in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we begin there, the impact of what follows is staggering.”

John McArthur says that, “In a simple, brief, yet extraordinarily profound way, it describes the condescension of the second Person of the Trinity to be born, to live, and to die in human form to provide redemption for fallen mankind.”

Other versions of the verse say, “He existed in the form of God…” and MacArthur says the word ‘existed’ “denotes the continuance of a previous state or existence. It stresses the essence of a person’s nature, that which is absolutely unalterable, inalienable, and unchangeable.” He goes on to note that the word ‘form’ is ‘morphe’ which “refers to the outward manifestations of an inner reality. The idea is that before the incarnation, from all eternity past, Jesus preexisted in the divine form of God, equal with God the Father in every way. By His very nature and innate being, Jesus Christ is, always has been, and will forever be fully divine.”

Boice also gives us some good cross references for verse six, pointing out that Christ talked about His equality with God the Father when he mentioned in His high priestly prayer, “the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Even at the beginning of the book of John we see how this doctrine is laid out very plain for us, namely, that Christ has existed “in the beginning” and that he was “with God, and…was God.” Another great reference is Colossians 1:15-17 which states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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.” And my favorite reference, John 8:58, which says, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Boice further sets the scene in heaven for us and has us imagine what must have been the reaction in heaven at the condescension of Christ (something I have long set my thoughts on in other writings). He says, “We must imagine, therefore, that something like rumors of Christ’s descent to earth had been in circulation around heaven and that for weeks the angels had been contemplating the form in which Christ would enter human history. Would he appear in a blaze of light bursting into the night of the Palestinian countryside, dazzling all who beheld him? Perhaps he would appear as a mighty general marching into pagan Rome as Caesar did when he crossed the Rubicon. Perhaps he would come as the wisest of the Greek philosophers, putting the wisdom of Plato and Socrates to foolishness by a supernatural display of intellect. But what is this? There is no display of glory, no pomp, no marching of the feet of the heavenly legions! Instead Christ lays his robes aside, the glory that was his from eternity. He steps down from the heavenly throne and becomes a baby in the arms of a mother in a far eastern colony of the Roman empire. At this display of divine condescension the angels are amazed, and they burst into such a crescendo of song that the shepherds hear them on the hills of Bethlehem.”

Not Grasping Supreme Power

When Scripture says that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” we must understand what this means. It means that Jesus, while still having all of the power and qualities of the immutable 2nd Person of the Godhead, chose to not use them. He set them aside in that He did not choose to be omnipresent, or omnipotent. He in essence still was those things, but did not use tap into their characteristics. MacArthur says, “In becoming man, Jesus did not in any way forfeit or diminish His absolute equality with God.”

I find this term “to be grasped” a difficult one because my mind always runs to using the word “grasped” as a synonym of “understood.” MacArthur does a wonderful job of explaining this word, which is the Greek noun harpagmos (which means to be seized or carried off by force) when he says in his commentary that, “Because Jesus already possessed equality with God, the meaning of ‘to be grasped’ is not taking hold of but of holding on to, or clinging to. He had all the rights and privileges of God, which He could never lose. Yet He refused to selfishly cling to His favored position as the divine Son of God nor view it as a prized possession to be used for Himself.”

That the God of all the universe would humble Himself, and take the form of a “servant” (that is a man – for all men are servants of their creator in the natural order of things), is what dazzled the angels, and what dazzles us still to this day. Oh how deep are the riches and love of Christ and the infinite wisdom and condescension of God the Trinity. How far beyond all measure are His plans and His thoughts. Who can say “I know the mind of God” or “I know His exact will for this and that”? For who can fathom or even deign to identify with the deepness, the fullness, of His love and mercy. He has not only taken on the sinfulness of flesh as an outer garment, He has taken on the sins of the world so that we can have peace with Him. No other way was possible, save this one. No other plan so radical could have been devised by the minds of humanity. No man would or could ever have thought “let’s continue to disobey and sin and as God to become a man and be our sacrifice. Yes, let’s ask the Almighty to die for us.” Such thoughts seem inconceivable, irreverent, and impossible. Yet, that is exactly what Christ did for us.

2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Bearing the Likeness of Men

Perhaps no one better describes what this means than Alistair Begg who, in an article called ‘Wrapped in Humility’, says that what humbled Christ was not what He left behind, but rather what He took on – namely the form of a servant:

“It is not by a diminution that He makes Himself nothing. It is by an addition that He makes Himself nothing. He has not ceased to be who He is. But by wearing the overalls – by pouring Himself into them – He constitutes a completely different entity. HE who is a somebody in His own right has become a nobody in order that HE might serve others. Jesus did not approach the incarnation asking, ‘what’s in it for me, what do I get out of it?’ In coming to earth He said, ‘I don’t matter.’

Jesus, you’re going to be laid in a manger. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jesus, you will have nowhere to lay your head. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jesus, you will be an outcast and a stranger. ‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jesus, they will nail you to a cross and your followers will all desert you. And Jesus says, ‘That’s okay.’

That is what it means. He ‘made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.’”

We also are to be servants. I think of the passage from John 13 where Christ was washing the feet of the disciples:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, [4] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. [5] Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. [6] He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” [7] Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” [8] Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” [9] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [10] Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [11] For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

[12] When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. [17] If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. [18] I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ (John 13:3-18 ESV)

Surely this remarkable passage speaks for itself. Christ not only laid aside His glory, but He took on the form of a servant, a humble position which we often don’t desire to emulate. Yet if the Lord of glory can bow Himself to this level of humility and servanthood, surely we can follow His example with the help of the Spirit.

Laying Aside His Glory

I believe there is great value in understanding that Christ had laid aside His glory for us. Boice talks about how there are two ideas of glory being conveyed in this passage. The first is a description of His inward character; the second is His outward appearance, which He set-aside during the incarnation. It is this outward appearance that He set aside – the Shekinah – while maintaining the inward character of God.

Boice goes on to talk about how Paul (in 2 Corinthians) compares the shining of Moses’ face with the way we now display the glory of God. He says, “In Him you see God’s glory, which means you see God’s character. As you see it, you are changed into the same likeness by the presence of His Spirit in you.”

Jesus Chris became like us in order that we might become like Him”, Boice states in chapter 20 of his commentary on Philippians. I simply cannot get over how much depth there is in these verses and how much truth. It’s a difficult thing to rightly divide so much truth and so much wisdom. It almost seems impossible that Christ would put Himself in such a sinful state, but that’s exactly what He did for us (2 Corinthians 8:9 says He humbled Himself so that through His poverty we would become rich).

2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There’s certainly a specific comparative example here. One is that of death, and the other is that of death on a “cross.” The latter is a death that was not unfamiliar to the men and women of the ancient near east, and was a form of punishment that the Romans perfected during their rule over a massive portion of God’s earth.

In the verses before us we read that the very same God who is God of the universe has condescended to take up the form of a creature, a human. God’s most splendid creature is the human being, and yet humanity has been poisoned. For thousands of years our sinfulness has rotted away the pure nature of our first parents. Through one man sin entered the world, and here we are some 4000 years after that first event and Christ is pouring His holy nature into an unholy, imperfect, poisoned creation. This is the state of our surroundings.

Paul said that Christ finds Himself in this state of humanity, and what is His reaction? Does He burst forth in radiance and glory and allow the throngs of adoring angels to declare His majesty night and day? No. Instead He does the opposite of what His human nature must have told Him to do. He humbled Himself. He obeyed. And by humbly obeying He did the one thing that fallen humanity has failed to do time and again for thousands of previous years. In the beginning of His humanity, throughout His humanity, and the conclusion of His humanity He did one thing we seem to never be able to do: He obeyed God. He did not obey so that He would be rewarded with land, with money, with promotion, with worldly possessions or love. He obeyed because He lived to please the Father, and to bring glory and honor to YHWY. He lived a perfect, obedient life, rejecting the cursing call of sin that His cloth of humanity constantly tempted Him with. He won the battle over sin, and did not give way on the path to Jerusalem, on the Via Dolorosa, on the steps of Golgotha, on the cross itself. As His hands were nailed to the wood, He nailed the final victory and the deathblow to death itself and once and for all in a grand, humble, horrible moment of mercy conquered humanity’s sin and its hold over man’s destiny.

Now, if Christ did not put himself above obedience, dear Christian, shall we? Do we say within ourselves “I am going to obey all that I can, but there are just some things that I can’t commit to doing.” Christ, the very Son of God, the One true authority on this planet, did not have this attitude. Paul is calling us to submit our entire lives to obedience. This is so radical, so hard, and so difficult for me to do. There is nothing I want more (humanly speaking) than to please and obey myself. I want to do what I want to do. Sound familiar?

Therefore my prayer for you and for myself is that we ask for God’s help in surrendering in brokenness and humility to what it is He wants us to do. I pray that we emulate our Lord Jesus Christ and love others more than ourselves, and to love the Lord with all of our hearts, minds, and souls.

2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the reward of Christ, and in it we have our own reward and hope. This is the end of the narrative that started out in verses 6-8 so bleak. In the end, Christ is raised from the dead, and glorified. This speaks not only of the past and current situation of Christ’s reign, but also of His future reign when it says “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” We know that right now this is not the case. Millions rebel against God and His Son. Yet we see here that eventually all will either serve Him willingly and joyfully, or be made to acknowledge Him in shame.

I love what Spurgeon says about this passage, he says, “this is a very bottle of cordial to the lip of the weary Christian, that Christ, after all, is glorified.”

Hebrews 2 speaks volumes on this front:

[8] putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. [9] But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. [10] For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. [11] For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Hebrews 2:8-11 ESV)

Therefore what is the “end game” of all of this humility? What is the point? What is the purpose? The purpose for Christ was the bring glory to God the Father – the thing God cares most about, perhaps, is His own magnificent glory. And because we are to love that which Christ loves and hate that which He hates, we must therefore turn our minds toward valuing the glory of God more than we do now, which means we must value the reputation of God while we are here on earth.

The Reputation of Christ on this earth has been maligned more than any other public figure in the history of creation. Yet it is this reputation, this man, that we are called to identify with. We are not to be ashamed of Christ or His Gospel (Romans 1:16) because it is He who changed us, who saved us, and who called us from darkness into His marvelous light. Peter puts it this way:

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

The great triumph of this verse is the articulation of the reality that even though Christ humbled Himself during His incarnation, He will one day be seen for the glorious king His is. One day those who spat among Him, and those who continue to do so now, will bow their knee and be forced to acknowledge His kingship.

Therefore humility will one day give way to public exaltation.

We see a shadow of this principle in the proverbs and other parts of Scripture where we are told that if we humble ourselves God will exalt us. What does it mean to be exalted? It means to take our rightful place beside Christ in His glory. It means to be identified with the glorious Son of God.

Sometimes exaltation leads to suffering in this life because we are identifying with Him and the world hates Him, so they will cause us to suffer. But take heart, He has overcome the world (John 16) and our exaltation will be public and in Him.

We can no rejoice in the reality of this truth, and the fact that one day He will bring all things to a close, all of history and all of sorrow, all of pride and all of sin. In that day, we will be publically exalted with Christ.

1/20-1/27 Study Notes

Chapter 11

11:1 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. 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).

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.”

Usually we think of giving God glory by praising Him. But here 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 flory – 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. (NASB)

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 see some of this we can perhaps see some of what it is that He is working in our lives through the difficulties 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 f 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 backs up what Piper is saying. Just a few weeks ago we read from John 10:17 the following:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

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!

The reason I bring this up is because it shows the deeper purposes of God in Christ for you. 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 natre 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.

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 that going back to the Judean area meant extreme danger.

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 we live one day with Christ forever after this world has been remade and renewed, there will be no sickness and no darkness. In fact there will be no sun because the Son 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.”

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).

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 can either stay beyond the Jordan and enjoy a vibrant ministry (10:40-42), or He can fulfill the will of the Father and accomplish His ultimate destiny and mission here on Earth.  He can save Him own life, or the lives of countless millions.  Had He been but man, a mere mortal, 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 of this kind (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.

Study Notes 1-13-13

10:30 I and the Father are one.

The Shema in Deuteronomy six is echoed here.  The ESV Study Notes explain this, and also why it is that this would have caused such an angry reaction:

Jesus’ claim that I and the Father are one (i.e., one entity—the Gk. is neuter; cf. 5:17–18; 10:33–38) echoes the Shema, the basic confession of Judaism, whose first word in Deut. 6:4 is shema‘ (Hb. “hear”). Jesus’ words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus’ unity with the Father is later said to constitute the basis on which Jesus’ followers are to be unified (John 17:22). As in 1:1, here again the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity emerge: “I and the Father” implies more than one person in the Godhead, but “are one” implies that God is one being.

One thing I especially note here is how the people expect a non-divine messiah.  They ask Him the question about His messianic role in verse 24, but they didn’t do it in order to bait Him into claiming deity so that they could then stone Him. Instead, they had a misconception about the nature of the messiah. They felt it would be a man – a great man yes, but not the Son of YHWY!  This is not at all what they expected, so the idea of deity and the divine nature of Christ had not entered their thinking, and, apparently from this text, it was very difficult for them to wrap their head this truth.

There are some who would say that what Jesus articulates here is nothing more than the fact that He and the Father are “have the same mind” on things. In fact, this is the very argument that two Jehovah’s Witnesses made before me today at my door. When I presented them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, they recoiled at the idea that Jesus was preexistent and that He and the Father shared the same deity.

But this is why it is so important to read our Bible’s “for all their worth” as John MacArthur would say. For in the very next verses we see the reaction of those who were listening to Christ at the time, and its’ is a violent hatred. They do not seek to stone Him simply because He claimed to have the same mind as God, they understood the fullness of what Christ was claiming. He was claiming nothing short of equality with the God of the universe. James Boice says, “Is Jesus God?  That is the great question of John’s Gospel. Is He fully divine?  In this verse, Jesus declares that He is, doing so in just six words.”

10:31-35 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. [32] Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” [33] The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” [34] Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [35] If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—

First we see the reaction here of the people, and it is one of anger and violence.  We talk about why that is in the paragraphs above. But notice that Jesus’ defense appeals to two things: His words and His actions.

His Actions

There has been no greater healer and lover of mankind than Jesus Christ. During His time here on earth He practically banished sickness and diseases with all the miracles He was performing (see MacArthur). John himself states at the end of his gospel “…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).”

Boice comments, “Christ’s works should lead men to faith in him. It is as simple as that.”

Sproul comments, “Why did Jesus bring up His works again? I believe it was an ironic question. Jesus’ miracles had already well attested that He was from God and should have mitigated against any charge of blasphemy. But the Jewish authorities gave no credence to the miracles or to Jesus’ claim to be God. They could admit no evidence except that which they beheld with their eyes – that Jesus was a man, and therefore could not be God…The eternal second person of the Trinity, who from all eternity was very God of very God, became man. He took upon Himself a human nature. God made Himself man. But the Jewish authorities accused Jesus of being a man who made Himself God (or represented Himself as God). They got it completely backward.

His Words

But the men listening to Him wanted to bypass this defense and go straight to what Jesus had said just moments earlier.  “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

Jesus, in His graciousness, defends Himself here as well.  In so doing, He quotes Psalm 82:6 which states:

You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;

The full context of this quote must first be understood in order to see what Christ is saying here. God has been addressing the Judges of Israel and the people of Israel and is rebuking them.  Here is the full Psalm:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: [2] “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah [3] Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. [4] Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” [5] They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.[6] I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; [7] nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”[8] Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (Psalm 82 ESV)

There are a few possibilities as to whom God is addressing as “gods” and “sons of the Most High” and DA Carson says these are: Judges of Israel, Angelic powers, or Israel as a nation at the time of the giving of the law.

Most people I have read think that the context assumes that God is talking to the Judges/leaders of Israel.  But Carson says, “the chief difficulty with the assumption that John 10 understands Psalm 82 in this way is that Jesus characterizes those who are addressed in Psalm 82 as those “who whom the word of God came.” Although this expression could refer to the word that came to the (alleged) angels in the Psalm, there is good evidence that Jewish leaders understood all of Israel to be the people to whom the word of the Lord came.”

Carson then argues, rather convincingly, that Christ has all of Israel in mind when He says that they are “sons of the Most High.” He says, “This interpretation is strengthened when it is remembered that Israel is also called God’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:21-22), generating a typology which Jesus has already claimed to have fulfilled.”

So what does all of this mean? What is Jesus saying here? Well, Christ isn’t trying to defend His deity here in full, but rather pointing out that He has said nothing wrong – His words are not blasphemous.  For if the terms “sons of the Most High” can be used to speak of mere mortals, how much more so ought Christ to speak of Himself as the Son of God.  For He is the very image of God, and is the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15).

Sproul explains:

By citing this verse, which gave evidence that some mere mortals were called gods, Jesus was not implying that He was a mere mortal too. That’s not the way the argument was going. This is a “lesser to greater” argument. Basically Jesus was saying to His adversaries, “If it was okay in the Old Testament time for people who were mere mortals to be called gods, how much more legitimate is is for the one who is God incarnate to be called God?”

Scripture Cannot be Broken

If we were to rephrase this in today’s terms, we might say, “scripture is fully inspired and accurate and because God is immutable, His word will not pass away.”

Later on, Christ was take this accepted principle and apply the same authority and divinity to His own words:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:33; cf. Matt. 24:3 and Mark 13:31)

This is one of those small phrases that we take for granted today, and perhaps Christ’s hearers also took for granted. But it is wise perhaps to sit and ponder the everlasting nature of the words of God and of Christ. I believe that for all eternity we will rejoice at the words of the Bible and of Christ. We will never see a day when the things Christ has spoken will fall away because He is eternal, and everything He thinks and says and does is eternal and has eternal ramifications.

What we do and say and speak has eternal ramifications as well, and though we don’t have the authority of Christ’s words, we have His words in our hearts to share with others. These words have power – real power for salvation (Rom. 1:16).  That is why we must be cautious in how we use our tongue and our words, and realize that when we speak there will be fallout for generations to come either for good or for bad.

More to the point though here, Christ says these things to make a specific point and Carson paraphrases it well, “It is reprehensible to set aside the authority of Scripture, the Scripture whose authority you yourselves accept, just because the text I have cited seems inconvenient to you at the moment.”  As Ryle says, “every word of Scripture must be allowed full weight, and must neither be clipped, passed over, nor evaded.”

This would have shot like a bullet through their heart and pierced their pride!

10:36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

This verse really fits in as part of the larger text above, but I separated it off because in it there is another truth that we need to ponder, and that is the mission of the Son.

Notice how He says, “the Father consecrated and sent into the world.” First we see the divinity here of Christ, of course.  He is saying the He came from heaven – we can deduct this from His words “send into the world” because we know that Christ was not made, He was begotten. He pre-existed before time began.

But more than that we see that God consecrated Him.  What does that mean?  It means to have been set aside for a holy mission It means that Christ came into the world for a purpose.  I love what Paul has to say about this purpose in his letter to Timothy:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. [17] To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

Carson remarks that this passage “points to Jesus’ entire mission as the Father’s emissary, a mission culminating in the cross, resurrection and glorification.”

10:37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; [38] but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” [39] Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

Here it seems that Christ is calling them to ponder afresh the works He had done throughout His ministry. He is challenging them to meditate on all that He had done – it had been fully two and a half years now that He had walked among them.  There were plenty of things that they had seen or heard of Him doing.

But why should they do this? Carson explains:

The reason why the Jews should reflect on His deeds is that the might learn and understand that the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. This is offered in explanation of v.30, which provoked the running debate of vv.31-38. As a theme, it will not be developed thoroughly until 14:10-11; 17:21. There is between the Father and the Son what theologians call a ‘mutual co-inherence’: each is ‘in’ the other. This mutual co-inherence is the grounding of the teaching of 5:19. More important, it extends, in some derivative sense, to embrace believers, who are ‘in’ Christ while he is ‘in’ them.  However precious such teaching might be to later believers, it was further evidence of blasphemy to those who first heard it.

What Carson is getting at here is that we, like the Jews of Christ’s day, ought to ponder the beauty of what it means to be ‘in’ Christ and to abide in Christ. Of course we’ll learn more about that in the chapters to come, but for now it is wise for us to think on the fact that Christ’s claims are not for Himself alone. What He is saying affects us. He alone is God, but He has invited us into that family from which He came to save us. He has condescended not only for salvation but for adoption.  He has bestowed within us the down payment of that adoption (His Holy Spirit) that daily reminds us of who we are in Christ, and what He would have us do.

This mystery is too beautiful not to contemplate. I hope it causes you to worship as it does me.

Finally, the parallels between how this discourse ends and the way chapter eight ends are hard to miss:

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 8:58-59 ESV)

When I think of this passage I realize again how soverign God was in all things during His incarnate life on earth. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man as He walked this earth. He knew our pains and our desires. He felt the anguish of physical torture. He knew the pains of hunger and of nights with no sleep. Here men are seeking to catch Him and arrest Him. His emotions must have been on high alert. I cannot pretend to know how Christ felt at this time, but I do know He felt.  If this would have happened to me I would have been scared. I would have run for my life, perhaps leaving behind my mission for good. But that’s not what Christ did. He may have alluded these men here, but we know that it didn’t stop Him from preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps it sounds trite, but this is such a courageous example. It sounds trite only because of the fact that we know who Christ was and what He was capable of.  But let that not persuade you that He didn’t not feel as a human feels. Indeed I imagine that the hurt and anguish running through His soul at this moment was great.

I do not compare His emotions to mine, for I would have been consumed with myself and my own safety.  I image He was consumed with hurt over the blindness and lostness of Israel. He cared so deeply for His people that He would return again in the face of constant death threats (this was the fourth time, according to MacArthur, in the gospel of John that people had picked up stones to kill Jesus) as we see here. What a love Christ had for His people and for the Father.  That love is what drove Him to finish the mission, to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and to ultimately die on a cross.

10:40-42 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. [41] And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” [42] And many believed in him there.

It is perhaps significant that as Christ’s ministry draws to a close, He returns to the place where it began, where John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  Evidently the ministry of John had moved mightily in the hearts and minds of those whom God gave him to minister to.

Leon Morris speaks to the fruit of John’s ministry:

…his influence lived on. People still treasured his words, and acted on them. This final mention of John in this Gospel at the same time sounds a note of high praise and puts a definite stress on his subordinate position. It is high praise, for it affirms that his witness to Jesus was true, and true in its entirety. But there is subordination, for John did no miracle. His function was solely to bear witness to Jesus.”

James Boice takes another tact on these closing verses and suggests that we ought to consider the three things that were going on.  First, people were coming to Christ to listen to Him preach. Second, they were considering what He said carefully. Third, they were placing their faith in Christ – they were believing Him.

Boice points out that in this peaceful place, Christ ministered to “many” men and women before the dawning of the storm of His final trip to Jerusalem. We also, he points out, must learn to meditate in a quiet place upon the things of God, and he quotes Spurgeon, “Surely, heaven is worth a little thought if it is to be gained.”

As the 10th chapter of John comes to a close, John MacArthur captures the larger scope of where we are in Christ’s ministry: “So Jesus’ public ministry closed with one last rejection by the very leaders who should have hailed Him as the Messiah. Their rejection foreshadowed His final rejection a few months later, when the people, under their influence (Matt. 27:20) ‘cried out, “away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him”’ (Jn. 19:15)”

Study Notes 11-4-12

John 8:21-30


8:21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”

In the 7th chapter John records that Jesus said something very similar:

Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” (John 7:33-34)

There are similar elements, but in 8:21 Jesus is more explicit by what he means by “where I am you cannot come” (7:34), because in 8:21 he says this but it’s preceded by the words “you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.”

Can there be any more stinging indictment from the lips of Christ?  In fact, its less of an indictment than a grizzly prophecy. These are the kinds of words that ought to give us chills and fill us full of urgency. The lives of those who are so full of themselves, so sure that they are going to go to heaven, and yet they are not saved…those lives are in peril.  Unless one has humbled himself to repentance and place their faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ they risk their souls – what Jesus says plainly enough here is that these Pharisees were going to die without coming to peace with God.

When the Son of God makes a remark like this, its wise for us to take note, and fearfully realize the stark realities of Hell.  These are the kinds of comments that ought to be burning every man’s conscience who has read this gospel but not yet yielded to the Lordship of Christ. If that is where you stand today, then surely the Lord Jesus’ words have just a full a consequence for you as they did for his hearers then.

Furthermore, it is not as though He is telling them that they will seek him correctly.  For we know that all who seek Christ in faith are given the opportunity to become sons of God. But such is not the case here, as Calvin remarks:

Christ does not mean, therefore, that they sought him by the right way of faith, but that they sought him, as men, overwhelmed by the extremity of anguish, look for deliverance on every hand. For unbelievers would desire to have God reconciled to them, but yet they do not cease to fly from him. God calls them; the approach consists in faith and repentance; but they oppose God by hardness of heart, and, overwhelmed with despair, they exclaim against him.

8:22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

Ferguson talks about how ironic it is that these Pharisees think He’s going to kill himself, when they are the ones who will kill Him.  He will indeed offer up His life, but it will be voluntarily for the sins of man.

Calvin remarks, “Shocking stupidity! But thus does Satan infatuate the reprobate, that, intoxicated with more than brutal indifference, they may throw themselves into the midst of the flame of the wrath of God.”

8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. [24] I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

Here Christ delivers the gospel message plainly.  Under a potential “double meaning” of the Greek words for “I AM”  (ego eimi), there is also the instruction of what is needed for eternal life: believe in who He is.  They must have faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is what the ESV notes say:

At one level may simply mean “I am the Messiah” or the one “sent” by the Father (or, in view of v. 12, “I am the light of the world”). The Greek phrase egō eimi simply means “I am” and is used in an ordinary sense in 9:9 by a man Jesus healed. However, John is fond of using words with a double meaning (see notes on 3:144:1011:50–51;19:19cf. also 3:7–8) and this verse is one of several that hint at a connection with God’s statement to Moses in Ex. 3:14, “I am [Gk. Septuagint: Egō eimi] who I am.” See notes on John 6:208:58.

It is not clear, however, that Jesus is making a veiled statement about His deity here.  There is some disagreement about this. Calvin disagrees with it being a direct statement of deity, but rather says that it makes more sense that He is pointing to His office of Messiah for mankind, and that all men ought to look to Him for salvation.  I think this is splitting hairs a bit myself, being as it is that all men look to the Messiah who, as it turns out, is from heaven.  I think though that Calvin means to say that the Jews didn’t expect the Messiah to be the Son of God, and so that when Jesus refers to “I am” in this context and in the previous verses just prior, He is saying specifically that He has come to fulfill the office of the Messiah, the role expected to be fulfilled by a man sent from God – though no one knew that the man sent from God would actually be God Himself incarnate!

But let me move to the heart of the verse at hand…the thing we need to note here is how Christ says that He is from above and they are from below. And so the Pharisaical concept of the Messiah was about to be reinterpreted (correctly) in Christ. Calvin’s commentary on the matter is simply full of wisdom that it is worth quoting in length here:

Under the words, world and beneath, he includes all that men naturally possess, and thus points out the disagreement which exists between his Gospel and the ingenuity and sagacity of the human mind; for the Gospel is heavenly wisdom, but our mind grovels on the earth. No man, therefore, will ever be qualified to become a disciple of Christ, till Christ has formed him by his Spirit. And hence it arises that faith is so seldom found in the world, because all mankind are naturally opposed and averse to Christ, except those whom he elevates by the special grace of his Holy Spirit.

Thus the natural man is opposed to the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14) – we are naturally at enmity with God and will not submit to Him (Romans 8:7).

I can think of no more plane indication of deity than for Him to indicate that He came down from heaven and was not of this earth. “You are of this world; I am not of this world” – this statement was so bold, so direct, and so amazing that it could lead to nothing more than the bewildering question they asked of Him next…

8:25-26 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. [26] I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

Now we come to it.  These religious leaders are starting to get the idea that He is either crazy, or who He said He is…but since the latter never entered their minds, the former is creeping up on them as a possibility.

Their question reveals all: “Who are you?” – in direct reaction to Him saying “I am not of this world.”

The next thing Jesus says is that He has a lot of say and judge about these people, “but”, He isn’t doing that right now, it’s not His primary mission.  His primary mission is to “Declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

So once again Jesus enumerates His mission – right now He is not come to judge the world but to save the world.

The “him” in this case is the Father – which we’ll see in the next verse…

8:27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.

Why wouldn’t they be able to understand what it is that Jesus was talking about?  Well we’ve talked about this in the past.  Their minds were darkened, and they were “blind guides” and therefore they couldn’t see what it was that He was speaking of here.

It’s so vital to understand this truth: before the magnificent and gracious work of the Holy Spirit we are all dead in our sins.  That means that we cannot perceive divine truth.  We can’t understand it – just as these men here couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying.

John repeats this over and over and over again – obviously it’s an important principle!

8:28-29 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. [29] And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

There’s just so much to unpack here…

First Jesus eludes to being “lifted up”, and in this case it’s a similar reference as He made in 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is a reference to Him being lifted up on the cross.

Jesus had to die – that was the only way for men to be reconciled to God. That was the only way for the gracious plan of God, that He had foreordained to occur, to be fulfilled.  James Boice says that not only was it necessary for Him to die because of God’s plan and because His was the only life that would be able to really atone for sin, but that His was the only death that would truly draw men to God:

Moreover, it was necessary for Christ to die also because nothing but a crucified Christ will draw men to God. Nothing but this will eve draw men to hear preaching. Liberalism does not draw men. The cults do not draw men in great quantities. Men and women will not long attend a man-centered religion. But preach Christ crucified – preach him in the power of the Holy Spirit – ad men and women will begin to come to him. They begin to leave their comfortable homes in the suburbs and come to city churches, where they would have come for no other reason. They begin to take weeks of their vacation time to attend seminars or attend Bible conferences. At time they will even mass in the millions as they did in Korea for the Billy Graham crusades in that country.

Preach any Christ but a crucified Christ, and you will not draw men for long. But preach the gospel of a Savior who atones for the sins of men and women by dying for them, and you will have hearers. Moreover, as Christ is lifted up, many of those who hear will believe.

The second thing is that He said to them that only then will they know that “I am he” – and this reference to being “he” Jesus uses in other areas to denote false Messianic claims (Mark 13:6l Luke 21:8), and here is using to indicate His own proper and correct fulfillment as the Messiah.

The third thing is that Jesus reiterates to them that He doesn’t speak of His own authority, but rather His authority has been given Him (all of His message have been given to Him) by God the Father. Thus, His words are truthful and full of authority and must therefore be listened to.

The fourth thing is that Jesus says something so magnificent and so significant that it would be wise to spend time looking closely at it.  He says, “he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.” What an amazing thing.  I think it is easy to slip into a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ.  Sometimes we forget His deity, and His humanity and they work together and yet are not mixed together. He is fully God and fully man. And as God, He shares communion with the Father – they are One. Just because He was walking the earth as a man doesn’t mean that He somehow broke communion with the Holy Father.  And that is what we see here.  Furthermore, these words echo a promise that Christ left for us, namely that wherever we go, He will be with us. We often take solace in this fact – and rightfully so.  For if Jesus Christ treasured this reality, so much more ought we to do so.

Fifthly, and lastly, we see Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father described here.  He says of His own righteousness, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” Surely Christ is the perfect man, the righteous fulfillment of the law, and what Paul called the “second Adam.”

What an amazing unfolding of truth! Let’s look at this closer in summary as it relates to how the early church – particularly Peter – understood His words.  First, He starts by foretelling their sin and what they would do to Him, and in so doing He point forward in time to the crucifixion.  In Acts 2 in his speech at Pentecost, Peter looks back and recounts what the people did to Jesus by murdering the “Lord of Glory”, and then goes on to share the resurrection, and then the gospel which is that if we believe in this Jesus and trust him for life then he will indeed give us that life!  In this instance, we see that Jesus preaches a gospel going forward instead of backward as Peter did.

Jesus says in affect that “you will crucify me, then and only then will you realize what you have done.” How will they realize? Because Peter and his other apostles will tell them.  How?  By the power of the Holy Spirit. How can they do that?  Because God is with them just as Jesus promised at the conclusion of Matthew’s 28th chapter. Not coincidently, we read here that the Father also never left Jesus (cf. vs. 29), and so it is that Christ Jesus will never leave us!  Furthermore all things that he is speaking here are from the Father – just as all things that Peter and the apostles spoke were given them from Jesus through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus spoke on authority from God the Father, so the apostles spoke not of their own authority but with authority of Christ by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, just as Christ’s mission was to reveal the plan of the Father, so our mission is to reveal (by preaching) the plan of the Son in the Gospel. The two are One, and their plans are one in the same. We are instruments of righteousness to share this plan to all ends of the earth (Romans 6, Acts 1).

8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

The result of this powerful testimony is that “many” believe in Christ.  Not surprising whatsoever given the powerful nature of these words. For the word of the Lord will not return void – Isaiah said this hundred of years before Christ walked the earth.  Here is exactly what he said:

“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11).”

This is a great promise. The promise is this: God will accomplish exactly what He planned on accomplishing. There is nothing that can thwart His great purposes. What a comfort to us when we preach Christ crucified and many do not believe. Many will believe, but unless they understand what only the Holy Spirit can show them, they’ll never follow Christ.  Just as these men would later seek after Christ and not find Him.  They’d be seeking for the wrong reason. In their judgment they will reach out like the rich man did in Luke 16, but they will not be saved.

But for those who trust in Christ, for those who put their faith in Him and the glorious gospel of grace, they will indeed be saved for all eternity.

Study Notes 10-21-12

Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evil Trap for a Young Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legal Trap for Jesus

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

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

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

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

Jesus Write in the Sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is Forgiving:

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

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

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

Christ Issues a Challenge:

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

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

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

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

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