Study Notes 8-4-13: Beholding the Character of the Father in the Person and Work of Christ

12:44-45 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. [45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

I think there are probably several points within this paragraph that need examined closely, including justification by faith, Christ as the incarnate Word of God, Christ as the radiance of the character of God the Father, and the duel nature of Christ.

Justification by Faith

Christ begins by calling us to “believe” in Him in order to be saved. And therefore in His statement we find the solution to our eternal problems: believe! Have faith! This is nothing new to us in this study of John, it has been the message of Jesus from the get go. For example, if you look back to chapter 6, you’ll see that some people came up to Jesus and asked what they needed to be doing to be godly and be saved. How He responded must have astounded them:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ESV)

This is justification by faith alone! All you need to do is believe. There is nothing added to it. There are no works of penance, there are no coins to add to the coffers, there are no meritorious pilgrimages, weddings, confirmations, good deeds, NOTHING of that kind is mentioned here by Jesus. Simply “believe in him who he has sent”!

As Paul states in several areas:

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So great is the promise of God, that our response of faith to the words of His Christ, Jesus, will save our souls for all time. By placing our faith in the words of Jesus and believing that He is indeed the Son of God, and died for our sins, we shall live forever with Him and no longer “remain in darkness.”

Most people I know would rather be in a room with light than one filled with darkness. Its hard to get anything meaningful accomplished in life if you don’t know the purpose for which you were created, and you’ll never know those deep and wonderful mysteries outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the confluence of all questions and all answers, and the meaning of life is hidden in His purposes and designs. He is the One for whom and through whom all things have been made – and that includes you!

Christ is the Radiance of the Glory of God

The glory and beauty of the attributes and nature of God are bound up in the person of Jesus Christ, and seen in His works.

This is what is meant by the statement He makes, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” Jesus has labored hard to show us that He is the radiance of God’s glory and that all things He speaks are from God and all things HE does are from God, for He is God! As the author of Hebrews says:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3)

When we take this to heart, we realize that it makes all the sense in the world to place our faith on Christ. Listen to what John Calvin says on this passage:

“The reason why the stability of faith is firm and secure is, that it is stronger than the world, and is above the world. Now, when Christ is truly known, the glory of God shines in him, that we may be fully persuaded that the faith which we have in him does not depend on man, but that it is founded on the eternal God; for it rises from the flesh of Christ to his Divinity.”

The Two Natures of Christ

If I may, just dwell a bit here on what it means that when we see Jesus, we see God the Father. Paul says that, “…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), and Puritan Thomas Goodwin says, “If there were infinite worlds made of creatures loving, they would not have so much love in them as was in the heart of that man Christ Jesus.”

In emphasizing His brilliance and glory, I do not want to neglectfully state that He was also fully man. This simply is an assumed truth by Jesus to his listeners here in chapter 12. He isn’t working to show them that He is human, they already assume He is human. He displays all the characteristics of a human being. The task before Jesus here is to explain that He is also fully God.

And so we must keep these things in mind as we read His words, and understand that the mystery of the incarnation is not without difficulty for us. Christ was both fully God and fully man. As Dr. Joel Beeke has said, “The Western church has always distinguished between the two natures of Christ, who is both consubstantial (homoousios, “the same in substance”) with humanity and consubstantial with God.”

The reason it is important to distinguish between the two natures of Christ is because we must not mar God’s character in a way that brings the divine down to a place where it ought not to be. Both of Christ’s natures were distinct, and both were fully realized (that is to say, that Christ as man wasn’t sub-human, or more than human, He had a weakened post-fall body as we do – see the works of Puritan John Arrowsmith), and yet distinct.

One example why the distinction is important is given us by Goodwin who explains that the two natures, “could not be changed into the other, for God was immutable; and it was impossible that the Nature of Man should become the Nature of God, since the Essence of the Godhead is incommunicable.” Thus, as Joel Beeke points out with the help of Goodwin, “the perfections of Christ’s human nature come infinitely ‘short of the Attributes that are essential to the Godhead.’”

Nevertheless, it is Christ’s goal here to show how He is God, and that when we look upon Him, we are looking upon the second person of the Godhead. This has enormous consequences for how we read and digest His teaching, as well as His works in the gospels.

12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Christ is the Rescuer of Mankind

I love verse 46 because it so well encapsulates the mission of Jesus. He is the pure light, the Rescuer of all mankind, and He has come to save us from the darkness of our sin and sadness.

This is also how we ought to teach our children and others about Jesus – especially as we teach them the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation. We must endevor to show how the entire story of Scripture is about Jesus and His rescue plan.

For example, when we read Genesis, we read about the fall and the promises of God, we must see those promises as fulfilled in Christ and teach that way. When we read Revelation, we must see how Christ is going to come back and fulfill the promises He made during His time here on earth. The entire story revolves around Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus is the Seed who will one day rescue mankind by bruising the head of the serpent, and freeing us from the domain of darkness, He will set us free from that slavery (Romans 6), and bring us into life everlasting.

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

One day there will come forth from Abraham’s body a line of descendents that will bear a king, and that king (Gen. 50) will “possess the gate of his enemies”, and the gospel of that King will bless all of the bless all the nations by bringing them into eternal life – that is the promise of Jesus to all who believe in Him, to the Jew first, and also to the gentile (Romans 1:16).

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12:43-49)

Just as God instituted the Passover meal to help the Israelites remember His delivering them from the slavery of Egypt, so He has given us a Passover Lamb, which is Jesus, who was slaughtered for our sins, and has by His death, burial, and resurrection rescued us from the consequences of those sins and from the death we were to receive as their payment. Jesus has fulfilled once and for all the Passover. God gave the Passover as both a way of remembrance, and a look into the future as a shadow of things to come when He would deliver His people from their bondage permanently!

These are just a few examples of how to see Christ in the Old Testament. He is the center of all history, and has come as our Rescuer. So when we read here that He says He has come to the world as light, we remember John’s words that He is the light, and that light was the life of men! He was from the beginning, and that is why I have stated that the entirety of Scripture is about Him, it is His story.

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

12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

As I have mentioned in the past, the main mission of Jesus during His earthly ministry was not judgment but rather salvation. That being said, the very fact that He is the light of the world necessitates a kind of “judgment” because light is a separating force. You cannot have light and darkness co-existing in the same space. Therefore, the light, by nature of its being, will cause separation from the darkness and this separation is apparent to anyone who is an observer. And so it is that simply by His life and ministry and preaching of the kingdom of God, Jesus brought judgment into the world, even while still having the main mission of salvation.

In the story of Zacchaeus, Luke records Christ’s words for us which give a similar encapsulation of His ministry:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

Just as important as it is to understand what Jesus is saying about His mission to save, it is important to know that He is coming back again, and on that day there will be a separation between those who believed His words and those who did not…

12:48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

His Words are Law

Now Jesus will one day come back and have another mission: the judge the world by what they did with His words. Christ’s mission was that of salvation during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago, but when He comes back His mission will include the judgment of all who did not believe in His words.

Listen to the words of Christ that we studied earlier in chapter five:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:21-24)

This is a fearful and awful thing to contemplate – especially in light of what the erroneous claim that Jesus was merely a “good teacher.” These are not the words of a man without authority. For one who is merely a teacher only, or a prophet only, does not have authority with which to judge the nations based on his words! Which leads us to verse 49…

12:49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. [50] And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

A Question of Authority…

When you look at the words here compared to those I quoted earlier from chapter five, there may seem to be some confusion as to whether Jesus is saying He has authority or does not have authority etc. Keep in mind though, it is not as though He is saying “I do not have authority”, but rather “I have not spoken on my own authority.” So first, at the outset, we must realize that He isn’t saying He has no authority, but rather is using that authority which has been vested in Him by the Father.

Therefore, He is not contradicting Himself here, but rather explaining to us (in the context of the nature of the Trinity) that his mission on earth (2,000 years ago) was to save the lost, to give the words of life (of the gospel of the kingdom), and to do so on the authority of the Father. Whereas His mission upon His return will be to bring those who are His into His consummated kingdom, and to judge the world based on what it did with His words. This will be a judgment based on authority that has been given over to Him – an authority that is His by right and by nature of His Being (it is an authority which inheres in Him by the fact of who He is ontologically – He is God, therefore He has all authority). In the future, upon His return, reigning from His heavenly throne, He will exercise authority as the second member of the Godhead.

It is perhaps difficult to understand why He would choose to express Himself in this way, because He never ceased to be fully God, and it seems like He should always have had authority necessarily simply because of who He is/was ontologically.

However, I think He chose to express Himself this way because He wanted to reveal something of the Trinitarian reality (and how the Godhead was and always is in full agreement with itself), as well as show us the specific connection between Himself and the Father. This would have been particularly helpful for the Jews who were listening to Him and saw Him as simply a man from Nazareth. Therefore, it is not as though He ever stopped being invested with the inherent right to judge, but rather that He chose not to exercise that authority at the time of His first incarnation. This was a voluntary act, and one that fit in accordance with His mission at the time (as stated in Phil. 2…for He moves from a state of humiliation to exaltation as most orthodox theologians have stated).

This passage in Philippians shows us how Christ momentarily set aside His rights in order to accomplish the mission at hand:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Just Another Prophet?

As a sort of side note, I have asked myself this question: If Christ was simply another prophet (as the Muslims and others claim) would He have had the authority to speak the way He spoke here? Can you imagine a prophet or a teacher claiming that he would come back and judge the world by the authority of his words! Wouldn’t that be an amazing claim? These questions have prompted me to realize once again how very seriously we must take the words of Jesus. I cannot simply brush them under the rug as the warnings of another prophet or teacher; He is the Lord of all life and all life finds its source in Him (in a few chapters we’ll see Christ say that He is the “way the truth and the life”).

Beneficiaries of His Work

Lastly, this statement of Christ’s has very practical applications for us today. Look now at the sum of all that we have been studying. First, we see that Christ Himself is the radience of the glory of God, and that for us to behold Him we are beholding the Father. This truth adds heft to whatever it is that follows it. First Jesus has said: I am the ultimate authority in the universe. It therefore follows that whatever He says we must listen very very carefully!

And what is it that He has chosen to follow such statements of authority? The thing He has chosen to say is that which comes from God, the “commandment” as He calls it here. And that commandment is “eternal life!”

What an amazing thing, and this is why it is amazing. He has chosen to use all of the authority vested in Him as God of the universe to express something that is to the praise of His glory, and to the unique benefit of US, namely that we should have eternal life.

Christ has first had us dwelling on who He is, and now He expresses the reality of what we will gain by what He will do for us. All of this is bound up in Him, and that it includes us, and that we are the beneficiaries of His work, is beyond comprehension and very difficult to express adequately. This is why Peter writes as He does in his first epistle:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Study Notes 7-21-13: The Mysteries of God

Notes for John 12:34-40 on the mysteries of God and His hardening of some and quickening of others unto His own glory and for His own pleasure

12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Who is this Son of Man?

What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?”  They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before.  They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!

Lifted Up

Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)

The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)

Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a good idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)!  Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar?  We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.

Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…

During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.

Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.”  The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.

In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.

Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)

These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…

Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:

“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)

And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)

12:37-40 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, [38] so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” [39] Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, [40] “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

The Total Depravity of Man

Let’s just take verse 37 first, for it’s the foundational verse in this series of verses. It states that Christ had done “so many signs” in front of these people, and what was the results? “They still did not believe in him.”  What is John trying to say here? He’s undoubtedly saying that no one in their right mind could see the outrageously wonderful things Jesus was doing and not believe in Him.  Yet, somehow these people “still” couldn’t find it within themselves to believe in him…and that’s exactly how I think its best expressed, they couldn’t “find it within themselves.”

A.W. Pink says:

“Fearful proof was this of the depravity of the human heart. The miracles of Christ were neither few in number nor unimpressive in nature. The Lord Jesus performed prodigies of power of almost every conceivable kind. He healed the sick, expelled demons, controlled the winds, walked on the sea, turned water into wine, revealed to men their secret thoughts, raised the dead. His miracles were wrought openly, in the light of day, before numerous witnesses. Nevertheless “they”—the nation at large—”believed not on him.” Altogether inexcusable was their hardness of heart. All who heard His teaching and witnessed His works, ought, without doubt, to have received Him as their Divinely-accredited Messiah and Savior. But the great majority of His countrymen refused to acknowledge His claims.”

J.C. Ryle says:

“The prevalence of unbelief and indifference in the present day ought not to surprise us. It is just one of the evidences of that mighty foundation-doctrine, the total corruption and fall of man. How feebly we grasp and realize that doctrine is proved by our surprise at human incredulity. We only half believe the heart’s deceitfulness. Let us read our Bibles more attentively, and search their contents more carefully. Even when Christ wrought miracles and preached sermons there were numbers of His hearers who remained utterly unmoved. What right have we to wonder if the hearers of modern sermons in countless instances remain unbelieving? ‘The disciple is not greater than his Master.’ If even the hearers of Christ did not believe, how much more should we expect to find unbelief among the hearers of His ministers? Let the truth be spoken and confessed: man’s obstinate unbelief is one among many of the indirect proofs that the Bible is true”

John is provoking us to ask the questions “why?”  “What is going on with these people that they can see all of these supernatural things and still not believe in Jesus?”  Well, as it turns out, it’s not what is going on with them, but rather, what is not going on within them.

John signals that he’s going to explain when, at the beginning of verse 38, he says “so.”  That word “so” in the ESV is iva in the Greek, which is best transliterated “that” or “in order that” or “so that”, and it signals that the reason for the aforementioned unbelief is about to be given, and it is namely that “the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.”  In other words, “their unbelief has occurred in order that Isaiah’s prophecy would come to pass.”

Well, what is this prophecy exactly? “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” and He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

And the result? “Therefore they could not believe.”  God has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart in order that they not believe.  This is an incredible passage, the closest one I can find that’s comparable is found in Exodus where a series of passages explains that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

How Do We Understand This “Hardening”?

In order to understand this Biblically, we need to first understand what it means for God to harden a heart, only then will we be able to understand verse 44 when we look at that, and realize that God is hardening hearts, and at the same time calling on people to believe in Christ for salvation.  Our feeble minds want to ask, “How can these two things happen in fairness simultaneously?”

We believe that God is pure and holy and perfectly righteous, and there is no evil in Him whatsoever, so that we know that He does not harden a human heart by reaching in and infusing it with evil!  Rather, when scripture talks about God hardening a heart, it is God’s turning us over to our own desires. Without His arm of grace, without His showering us with protection from ourselves, we become completely given over to our own sinful desires. Paul explains in Romans:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28 ESV)

Three times Paul says that God “gave them up”, paradidōmi, to themselves. And what happens? They go from bad to worse. They continue in sin and their minds become more and more depraved. And so when God hardens a heart, all He is doing is allowing us to have what we naturally want, such is the ignominiously depraved condition of mankind’s heart.

God is Still Sovereign Over All…and That Means ALL

Lastly, while we understand that our own desires are naturally evil, and that God can give us up to these desires, we cannot run the fact that He is in complete control over all things. It is difficult for us to understand these truths in our finitude, and we usually like to find ways to vindicate God of some kind of self-perceived problem of God being involved in creating evil. These attempts at theodicy have resulted in the past in many errors, and its not surprising that many of these errors are rooted in an inappropriate view of God and a wildly distorted view of man. In his day John Calvin addressed many of these difficult questions and said (in chapter 18 of book one of Institutes) that we cannot excuse God from involvment in the hardening of men’s hearts simply because we do not understand His reasons. Those who suppose God is not sovereign over all details of our lives suppose incorrectly that he only “permits” things as though He had no control at all. Here is what Calvin says to sum up the matter:

The sum of the whole is this, – since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.

And so it is that God works all things according to His will, even in the lives of those who are not Christians, for nothing is out of His control, nor does He simply take His hands off the situation as if to allow Satan to rule independently. As Calvin points out, “With regard to secret movements, what Solomon says of the heart of a king, that it is turned hither and thither, as God sees meet, certainly applies to the whole human race, and has the same force as if he had said, that whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God.”

Therefore, though this is complex, and difficult to understand, we can know in the final analysis that God does all things according to His pleasure for His glory, and allows justice to be done upon those whose hearts He has turned over to their own evil desires. God does not owe man anything; He certainly does not owe every man mercy for man, in his natural state is depraved and will always seek the darkness and not the light (John 3:19-21).

As Augustine summarizes so well:

Great is the work of God, exquisite in all he wills! So that, in a manner wondrous and ineffable, that is not done without his will which is done contrary to it, because it could not be done if he did not permit; nor does he permit it unwillingly, but willingly; nor would He who is good permit evil to be done, were he not omnipotent to bring good out of evil… (Augustine re: Ps. 111: 2).

In Conclusion…

I think I have clearly stated the truth of God’s work here above, and so I cannot spend much more time addressing the question, but I recognize that this is a difficult concept to grasp.  Just how does God deal with man and why does He do it. But we can know that God is not the author of evil, while still maintaining that He is sovereign and involved in every detail of our lives. We also know that we all deserve Hell for our sins, and if God was not merciful to any of us it would be just for Him to send us to Hell. God is also completely sovereign over whom He quickens unto spiritual life. It is obvious that some go to Hell and some go to Heaven. But why He chooses some and not others is up to Him and not us, for who can question the Lord (Job 38)? It is also true that those evil people who are given over to their sinful desires cannot blame God for the justice they receive – for no one receives what is unjust. Some receive mercy, and others receive justice. Furthermore, we cannot know now why it is that God so chooses to use the evil deeds of men who are destined for Hell for His own glory – as He did when His Son was crucified in a monstrously evil act that has brought about more good than anything ever has in this world. I cannot understand why God chooses to act through these means, or why He allowed evil in the first place, or why He permits any of us to continue on in this life, as we must so often His holy nature by our dreadful sins. I simply know that it is His will and pleasure to do these things the way He does them, and I do not excuse Him from these acts as if He needed an excuse. He is both sovereign and hands-on, and completely just and loving. His ways are far above my ways and your way. His mind is so infinitely beyond our questioning that I dare not probe into His secret counsels. I simply stand in awe and fear of His might and magnificence, and wonder at the depth of His mercy to me, a sinner.

 

Study Notes 12-16-12

9:8-12 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” [9] Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” [10] So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” [11] He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” [12] They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Textual Note: Morris explains that the “NIV’s ‘demanded’ (from verse 10) is a mite strong; the Greek means no more than ‘they said.’

The Testimony

Morris notes that the neighbors were in awe, “They were so astonished at such a cure that some of them refused to believe that this was the man who had been blind.”

He also notes that the man who was healed speaks of Christ in a way that indicates, “he has, as yet, little understanding of his Person. As the chapter progresses we will observe how his awareness of the significance of Jesus grows.”

I love this point from Morris because it connotes the subtlety and writing ability of John.  I never ceased to be amazed at the intricacy of this Gospel. John has so many strong themes, and so many subtle points, that it is a real joy to let the truth written herein soak into one’s mind for continual meditation.

There is no denying that when the man had been healed, people noticed. I find this significant because, as it relates to spiritual blindness, we are all groping in the dark until Christ heals us (1 John 2:11; John 3:19-21). When that happens, it is not something that happens in a vacuum. Baptism is meant to be the first outward showing of the inward change. But as one begins to follow Christ, can there be any doubt that neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and others will be able to see the light of Christ shine through us? There will be something different about those who love and follow Christ.

John says in his epistles that, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him (1 John 2:29).”

And Christ says that we will recognize false prophets because they won’t reflect this change:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17] So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. [18] A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

That is what is meant that we are to be salt and light (Matthew 5) to a dying world (Puritan Richard Baxter first said he would preach as a dying man to a dying world – something echoed by Paul Washer and others as of late in their preaching of the gospel).

Therefore, let us reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5), and shine forth the light of Christ so that they may see our good works and give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).

9:13-14 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. [14] Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

The Neighbors Have Questions…

I wondered at first why in the world these neighbors and friends would have brought the man to the Pharisees. It truly puzzled me. My first thought ran to the story of how the lepers were once cleansed by Christ and he instructed them to go show themselves to the priests (that was part of the law for cleansing) and that perhaps this was the same thing. But I think not, that would have been something the man would have done on his own, and in private. This was more than that.

The second thought that came to mind was that these people ought to have minded their own beeswax! What business was this of theirs? But as I read further into the customs and backdrop of the situation, I found that there is no reason to suppose these neighbors were committing any social taboo here.

In the end, D.A. Carson provided the most satisfactory explanation:

There is no need to ascribe malice to those who brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. They could not have known that the healed man would be subjected to interrogation and expulsion from the synagogue. In a day when almost all events bore religious overtones, the extraordinary healing cried out for comment by the religious authorities – much more so than the way that, in today’s world, after a significant international event millions of people will expect the Foreign Office or the State Department to express an opinion.

In short, John pictures the healed man’s neighbors turning to their local religious leaders and asking them what they should make of the healing.

The Significance of the Fulfilled Sabbath

I think it’s helpful to read the ESV notes on verse 14:

The belated mention of the Sabbath (cf. 5:9 and note on Matt. 12:8) recalls the earlier Sabbath controversy in John 5. Jesus had kneaded the clay with his saliva to make mud, and kneading dough (and by analogy, clay) was included among the 39 classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath (Mishnah, Shabbat 7.2). Jesus’ frequent conflicts with the Jews over the Sabbath suggest that by his coming he is changing the Sabbath requirements (see John 5:17).

Although Calvin seems to think that Jesus purposefully wrought the miracle on the Sabbath to make a point (and indeed He did nothing without purpose), Morris points out that it isn’t as though He seeks publicity on the matter, and only approaches the man after his interrogation with the Pharisees. This is evidence “against” this design says Morris, but I tend to agree with Calvin, because as we all know, Christ did not do anything during His life and ministry that was not specifically designed to be done, and although we must be cautious about reading meaning onto a thing which does not exist, still this controversy over the Sabbath was not a new thing (see chapter 5), and not something Christ avoided.

Sabbath Under the Old Covenant and Overview

There are two important things to understand about the Sabbath controversy in the gospels.  First, the Pharisees misunderstood the nature of the Sabbath under the old covenant.  They had added to it to make is something that it simply was not.  Second, we are no longer under the old covenant, so it is not as if we need to learn from the Pharisees’ mistakes, and correctly keep the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was never meant to simply be a physical rest, but also a spiritual rest.

The word “rest” itself has been misunderstood to mean physical rest, when it really means to “stop” – when God “rested” on the 7th day, it wasn’t as though He needed a break due to exhaustion.  It was because He stopped creating. The reason the Jews had a Sabbath was because it was a time for them to “stop” striving to keep the law and rest in the provision of God for their salvation. Of course they could never fully do this because even keeping the Sabbath was a form of law! So they were striving even in their stopping/resting.

And just as Christ pointed out that the Jews were incorrectly “keeping” the Sabbath during His day (under the Old Covenant), Paul had to show new covenant Christians that they were incorrectly enforcing a law that no longer was in force. To this day we misunderstand the nature of what the Sabbath means

J.C. Ryle, whom I love and admire dearly and who has imparted to me many spiritual truths, is a study in contradictions on this point.  First, he (rightly) sees that these Pharisees are completely misunderstanding the meaning of the Sabbath under the Old Covenant (they have added to the law).  He says:

These would-be wise men completely mistook the intention of the Sabbath. They did not see that it was “made for man,” and meant for the good of man’s body, mind, and soul. It was a day to be set apart from others, no doubt, and to be carefully sanctified and kept holy. But its sanctification was never intended to prevent works of necessity and acts of mercy. To heal a sick man was no breach of the Sabbath day. In finding fault with our Lord for so doing, the Jews only exposed their ignorance of their own law. They had forgotten that it is as great a sin to add to a commandment, as to take it away.

But Ryle completely goes astray after this, for his still applies the old covenant law to new covenant believers! Note how Pharisaical he sounds here:

Here, as in other places, we must take care that we do not put a wrong meaning on our Lord’s conduct. We must not for a moment suppose that the Sabbath is no longer binding on Christians, and that they have nothing to do with the Fourth Commandment. This is a great mistake, and the root of great evil. Not one of the Ten Commandments has ever been repealed or put aside…Whatever men may please to say, the way in which we use the Sabbath a sure test of the state of our religion. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God. By the Sabbath may be found out whether we are in tune for heaven. By the Sabbath, in short, the secrets of many hearts are revealed. There are only too many of whom we may say with sorrow, “These men are not of God, because they keep not the Sabbath day.”

Note those bolded words “by the Sabbath may be found out whether we love communion with God.”  He is saying that by keeping the 10 commandments we show we love God. Nonsense! This is not what we’re told in the New Testament at all!

John says this:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

And what is this commandment?  The commandment of Christ – to love the Lord with all our hearts minds and soul and to love our brother as ourselves.  Not “keep the old law to the best of your ability.” John continues…

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10] Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:9-10)

The New Testament/New Covenant Sabbath

The overarching point regarding the Sabbath is this: the Sabbath was meant primarily as a way to point forward to the spiritual rest that Christ has become for us.

It actually took a little while for this legalism to catch so much fire that it became the norm for us to think that we need to keep a “Sabbath” day, and certainly the puritan writers who were so influential in early American history were very legalistic about keeping a Sabbath.

However, the early church under Roman rule didn’t keep a Sabbath in the Jewish legalistic sense, if for no other reason than they weren’t allowed to.  Certainly these stalwart Christians would have died to obey Christ if this was truly a command worth dying for.  Craig Blomberg explains the context:

…Christians scarcely transferred everything about the Jewish Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  Gentile believers, who comprised the majority of the church from the middle of the first century onwards, had no weekly days in their communities on which to rest. Greeks and Romans had several holidays each month according to the various religious festival calendars they followed. Bu unless one of these holidays fell on a Sunday, Gentile Christians had to work a full day on the first day of the week and squeeze in worship and fellowship with other believers either on Sunday morning before dawn or Saturday or Sunday night after dusk.

Perhaps one of the most important passages on the Sabbath is found in Hebrews where we read of how Christ has become our rest:

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. [15] As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” [16] For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? [17] And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? [18] And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? [19] So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

So already here in Hebrews we see that entering the Sabbath rest is directly connected to obedience – and of course none of these Jews could obey – in fact the entire law was given to show them mainly just that (Romans 3:23).  But the passage continues:

4:1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. [2] For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [3] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. [4] For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” [5] And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” [8] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. [9] So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, [10] for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. [11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 3:14-19; Hebrews 4:1-11 ESV)

So that opportunity still stands for rest – that is what the author of Hebrews is saying. That even though the Old Testament saints failed to enter into this rest by their disobedience, we can now enter into it simply by faith in Christ – not by the works of the law which no man can keep. After all, we are no longer under the law of death.

This is further explained in Hebrews 8:

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. [5] They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:4-5 ESV)

And…

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, [9] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. (Hebrews 8:8-9 ESV)

And finally…

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13 ESV)

Gotquestions.org summarizes this point well, they say, “There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works.” They continue, “Because of what He did, we no longer have to “labor” in law-keeping in order to be justified in the sight of God. Jesus was sent so that we might rest in God and in what He has provided.”

In the Old Testament, Israel had the Sabbath to be reminded to stop and depend on God because of their woeful inability to obey God. It pointed forward to Christ, to a time when one day they would not have to labor to keep His law; one day they would be freed from the curse of the law. Christ would come and fulfill the entirety of the law, and we would “rest” in His finished work.  Our only “work” now is to declare His work by proclaiming the gospel.

The Law Kills…Christ Fulfills

We have a tendency as Christians to fall back into legalism. The Sabbath is no different, and Paul addresses this in Galatians because these men and women fell into the same trap:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. [2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

They were still striving to accomplish all that laid out in the law, instead of resting in the finished work of Christ. They were still forcing people to be circumcised and still following holidays (like the Sabbath) where some did not feel the need follow these for sake of conscience. For we are no longer under this curse as Paul says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

Perhaps the key passage here is verses 24-26:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:24-26)

Note the word “until” Christ came. The law was added and did not annul the gospel promise that was made to Abraham. But the law has now been fulfilled in Christ. Paul puts it this way that “we are no longer under a guardian” (the law). How much more clearly must he state it? We are no longer under the law! Stop trying to keep the law – fulfill the law of Christ as He commanded.

Hebrews 10:1 explains the futility of trying to keep the Old Testament law, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”

I enjoy the insight of my friend Pastor Tony Romano on the matter of the Sabbath.  In an email conversation about this he put it this way:

Foundationally, commanding literal rest is anything but rest-giving, it’s part of the deliberate burden woven into the old covenant (Galatians). The Decalogue is not described as rest-giving in the New Testament scriptures, but as the “letter that kills.”  Yes, they were meant to use the Sabbath as an occasion to be thankful and remember God…because that is right…but the commandment could not produce this righteousness God required of them. That was the whole point of giving the commandment, to show they could not follow it and needed a Savior. The Sabbath ordinance brought death; not life and not rest. They were constantly under the burden of making sure they rested when Sabbath came. I guess that’s the nuance I would add here…the Sabbath is actually not ultimately about physical rest and relaxation, as it finally provided neither. Law creates work, not rest.

Another important passage in this discussion is Colossians 2:16-17 which states:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. [17] These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV)

The ESV Study notes have helpful commentary on this passage:

Col. 2:17 “a shadow of the things to come.” The old covenant observances pointed to a future reality that was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 10:1). Hence, Christians are no longer under the Mosaic covenant (cf. Rom. 6:14–15; 7:1–6; 2 Cor. 3:4–18; Gal. 3:15–4:7). Christians are no longer obligated to observe OT dietary laws (“food and drink”) or festivals, holidays, and special days (“a festival … new moon … Sabbath,” Col. 2:16), for what these things foreshadowed has been fulfilled in Christ.

If the law kills, how does Christ fulfill? In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Christ was on a mission to fulfill these laws completely not abolish them.  He didn’t abolish them because He had not fulfilled them yet. In other words, He is describing His work, not ours.

Commenting on the Matthew 5 passage, Blomberg puts it this way:

It’s an unusual contrast. Normally, if someone says he is not abolishing something, he goes on to say he is preserving it intact. But that’s not how the word fulfill is used in the Bible. In Matthew alone, its most common meaning is “to bring about that which was predicted” or “to give the complete meaning of something that was once only partially disclosed” (for example, 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14).

Therefore, He came to earth to be subject to the law and to complete it in perfect obedience. Then, and only then, could this perfect righteousness of His be imputed to our account. If He had abolished the law and said “I’m not going to obey the law, but do what I want”, He certainly could have done anything since He is God, but the point was to fulfill that which we could not fulfill (to obey what we could not obey) so that His righteousness could be given to us.  Despite our failures, He has completed the task perfectly for us.  But there’s no more task to be completed.  He did that already.  He fulfilled the task’s assignments and we no longer need this guardian of the law because Christ has come to get rid of the babysitter (so to speak) and adopt us into the family. In this way we need no more communion with the law because we have communion with God through the Holy Spirit who is the one helping us obey the commands of Christ, namely to love the Lord and our neighbors as well.

Blomberg, commenting on the Colossians passage, concludes, “Christ’s incarnation is the reality that the holy days foreshadowed. Jesus’ followers come to Him and He gives them rest 24-7, as we would say today, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Our whole lives are a Sabbath rest, foreshadowing our eternal rest (Heb. 4:9-11).

This leads me to the final point in our look at the Sabbath…

We Also Look Forward

Like the Israelites who looked forward to one that would usher in spiritual “rest”, we also feel the tension of the already/not yet in that while we rest in His finished work, His provision, His imputed righteousness, and our adoption, we also long for the day we will see the consummation/realization of this rest (in a physical sense – we will no longer battle sickness and disease which are all the results of the fall and original sin) and the kingdom of earth will become the kingdom of Christ at His parousia.

Paul explained this tension in Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

9:15-17 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” [16] Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.

So we see here that the reaction of the Pharisees is once again abhorrence for Christ.  This time, as in chapter 5, it is for His breaking of the Sabbath.  Morris notes, “John evidently wants us to see that the activity of Jesus as the Light of the world inevitably results in judgment on those whose natural habitat is darkness. They oppose the Light and they bring down condemnation on themselves accordingly.”

Not only this, but I see a sort of interesting parallel in the way they (not unlike the disciples) were using faulty logic. It is a sign of the weakness and impotence of the mind of man that, without the aid of the Divine Being, they cannot understand the things of God. Here the Pharisees deduced that because Christ did “work” on the Sabbath, He must have therefore not been “from God.”

While we understand from our previous study of chapter 5 that this is incorrect (because Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath”), what was going on here was something bigger – a new covenant was about to be inaugurated, with new rules. This new covenant would not simply be a renewal of the old (Jer. 31:32), but would be something entirely new.

The reason for this is also explained in the book of Hebrews where it says, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well (Hebrews 7:11-12).”

Commenting on this passage, Blake White says, “Notice that the law and the priesthood are bound up together. It is a package deal. If the priesthood changes, then the law changes as well.”

Christ was changing the paradigm, and this was yet another outward manifestation (or “sign”) of that reality, of that Kingdom which He came to usher in.  In Matthew 12:28 after performing a cleansing of a man who had a demon, Christ had been criticized by the Pharisees for casting out these demons by the power of Satan.  But Christ corrected their illogical argument and then added, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

The Point and Application

Now, I don’t think that the Pharisees understood what was going on here entirely – they couldn’t have understood it (Rom. 8:7), but for us looking back on this I find it significant.  Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8), and here He is showing us what kinds of things must be done by those who rest in Christ (us!).  We must go to a lost and dying world and offer them the Bread of Life, which can only be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur points out that this was a beautiful illustration of the salvation process:

Blinded by sin, lost sinners have no capacity to recognize the Savior or find Him on their own. The blind man would not have been healed had Jesus not sought him and revealed Himself to him. So it is in salvation; if God did not reach out to spiritually blind sinners, no one would be saved. And just as the blind man was healed only when he obeyed Jesus’ command and washed in the pool of Siloam, so also are sinners saved only when they humbly and obediently embrace the truth of the gospel.

And R.C. Sproul concludes:

The Bible uses the metaphor of blindness again and again for people who have never perceived the truth of Christ. The eyes of their hearts are blind until God the Holy Spirit, without the help of spit and clay, opens them. When He does, they not only perceive the light of day, they see the light of the world. John said in his prologue, “We beheld His glory” (1:14). All those whose spiritual eyes have been opened may say the same. Are you among them?

Therefore, we must learn to be mortifying and hating sin, and we must understand that God has a plan for us that outweighs all the pain and suffering caused by sin.

On the latter score Barnes remarks, “Those who are afflicted with blindness, deafness, or any deformity, should be submissive to God. It is His appointment, and is right and best. God does no wrong; and when all His works are seen, the universe will see and know that He is just.”

And on the former point, J.C. Ryle says, “Let us learn to hate sin with a godly hatred, as the root of more than half of our cares and sorrows. Let us fight against it, mortify it, crucify it, and abhor it both in ourselves and others. There cannot be a clearer proof that man is a fallen creature than the fact that he can love sin and take pleasure in it.”

Study Notes 12-9-12

John Chapter 9

Introduction

In the last two chapters we have seen how Christ angered and amazed the people and the religious leaders of His day by His teaching and His knowledge. Now John is going to tell us of another physical miracle that Christ performed – a “sign” – that would point once again to who this great man was.

The ESV Study notes tell us that “This miracle is one of several events in John in which the events in the physical world are a “sign” that points to a deeper spiritual meaning. Here Jesus gives sight to a man born blind, but this is also an evident symbol that Jesus, “the light of the world” (v. 5), brings the light of the knowledge of God.”

D.A. Carson says, “This chapter portrays what happens when the light shines: some are made to see, like this man born blind, while others, who think they see, turn away, blinded, as it were, by the light.”

9:1-5 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. [4] We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. [5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

A Man Lost in Blindness

Perhaps no one that I read on this passage does a better job of existentially reading the passage, and getting inside the thoughts of this blind man than R.C. Sproul. Here is what he says in his commentary on John:

How many years did that man grope in the darkness, asking: ‘Why me, God? Everybody else can see, but I can’t see anything. My whole life I have listened to people talk about what they’re seeing, and I can only imagine. I don’t even have any memories to aid me in my imagination because I’ve never seen anything. Why me?’ Imagine the frustration, the torment. Year after year he dealt with this affliction. He had no idea that one day the Son of God would come to him and heal him. But that was the plan of God for his life from all eternity.

The reason I quoted Sproul here is because I think we often forget that we are called to identify with others in their trials and struggles. As we share the gospel with others, as we care for others, we are called to love them. John’s entire first epistle is crying out “Christians show they are Christians by showing love to others.”

Imagine yourself in your neighbor’s place, in your husband’s place, in your wife’s place. Imagine the ultimate fate of your co-worker, and the difficulties of their struggles. This is important because it helps us remember that these people are all important to God. They are all to be objects of our love.

The Universality of Sickness and Death

Jesus gave sight to this man, just as He would give men spiritual sight. That is why He called Himself the “light of the world.” He is the One true God who imparts right knowledge of God to a lost and dying world.

It seemed like a common, and even obvious question for the disciples to ask whether or not it was sin that caused the blind man’s sickness. And indeed original sin is the cause of all blindness, both physical and spiritual. Sin is at the root of all sickness and disease. The entire world was plunged into darkness because of the Fall.

John MacArthur says this, “Sickness is a universal effect of the fall, as a result of which sin, death, and decay exist in this imperfect world. It afflicts all human beings, periodically reminding each of them that they ‘are but dust’ (Ps. 103:14), and that one day ‘to dust (they) shall return (Gen. 3:19).”

J.C. Ryle agrees and says, “If Adam had never fallen, we cannot doubt that people would never have been blind, or deaf, or dumb. The many ills that flesh is heir to, the countless pains, and diseases, and physical defects to which we are all liable, came in when the curse came upon the earth. ‘By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12).”

But Why?

But the assumption that the man’s blindness was a direct result of either his sin or the sin of his parents was incorrect. For this man would have had to have sinned prior to birth, which is impossible (although MacArthur notes that it was a popular thought among Jews of the day that a baby could sin in the womb).

Also, it seems wrong that the man would have been responsible for the sins of his parents. MacArthur addresses this:

The disciples may also have been thinking of certain Old Testament passages in which God seems to promise punishment on children for the sins of their parents (Ex. 20:5, 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9)…Such passages, however, must be understood in a national or societal sense. The point is that the corrupting effect of a wicked generation seeps into subsequent generations. This is axiomatic, an obvious reality. The idea that a child will be punished for the sins of his own parents is a concept foreign to Scripture (cf. Deut. 24:16).

What the disciples did here was setup a false dilemma, a logical fallacy based on only believing that the answer for the man’s condition was one of two things (Sproul and MacArthur both note this logical misnomer).

But what Christ told them was that they were wrong on both accounts. The reason the man was born this way was because God was going to be glorified. What a thought! From the foundation of the world God had prepared this man to show forth the riches of His kindness in him.

F.F. Bruce has framed this truth brilliantly (as MacArthur also notes):

This does not mean that God deliberately caused the child to be born blind in order that, after many years, his glory should be displayed in the removal of the blindness; to think so would again be an aspersion on the character of God. It does mean that God overruled the disaster of the child’s blindness so that, when the child grew to manhood, he might, by recovering his sight, see the glory of God in the face of Christ, and others, seeing this work of God, might turn to the true Light of the World.

Sproul says, “The blind man’s life is a concrete example of suffering that went on and on for year after year until it finally resulted in glory. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’ (Rom. 8:18).”

Finally, D.A. Carson notes that Christ has been the one initiating all of this, and in this way it is a picture of salvation (as MacArthur notes later). He says, “Now the man (who of course has still not seen Jesus) obeys and washes, and came home seeing. John’s readers know that, although the healing is as thorough as the blind man’s obedience, the power itself came not from the obedience, nor from a pool called ‘Sent’ (Siloam), but from the ‘sent one’ Himself.”

The Urgency

I also think we need to note the urgency of the mission of Christ. He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

MacArthur notes that “Here the plural pronoun ‘we’ includes the disciples, who also were empowered to do the words of the Father who sent Jesus…the phrase ‘as long as it is day’ conveys a sense of urgency. It refers to the brief time that Jesus would still be physically present with the disciples.”

Ryle says, “He (Christ) knew well that his own earthly ministry would only last three years altogether, and knowing this, He diligently redeemed the time. He let slip no opportunity of doing works of mercy, and attending to His Father’s business.”

We also ought to have this sense of urgency about our mission here on earth. Paul tells us:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, [16] making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. [17] Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. [6] Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)

Ryle concludes, “The life that we now live in the flesh is our day. Let us take care that we use it well, for the glory of God and the good of our souls. Let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, while it is called today.”

9:6-7 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud [7] and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The Miracle

John MacArthur rightly points out that Christ’s healings were amazing, “He virtually banished disease from Palestine during that time in an explosion of miraculous healings.” MacArthur goes on to note in some detail some of the characteristics of Christ’s healings. Here is a condensed point-by-point list as Dr. MacArthur sees it:

  1. He healed with only a word or touch
  2. He healed instantly – “unlike some of the alleged healings of modern faith healers, none of His healings were progressive or gradual.”
  3. He healed completely
  4. He healed everyone who came to Him
  5. He healed organic, physical diseases and infirmities – not invisible ailments such as lower back paint, headaches etc.
  6. He raised people from the dead “unlike modern fakes”

Carson goes into a lengthy explanation as to exactly what the significance of the use of mud and saliva might have been, but admits, “It is extremely difficult to decide just what this signifies.” He notes that “Not a few church Fathers saw an allusion to Genesis 2:7: since God made human beings out of the dust of the ground, Jesus, in an act of creation, used a little dust to make eyes that were otherwise lacking.”

There is also a possible sense in which using saliva would have been a social and religious taboo, and that Christ was attacking the norm of thinking – once again making Him Lord of all things. Though it is hard to say for certain whether this is the statement He is making here in chapter 9.

I like what Ryle has to say on the matter as well, “The reason why our Lord used the action (spittle) we cannot tell…He is not tied to any one means of doing good, and that we may expect to find variety in His methods of dealing with souls, as well as with bodies.”

Historical NOTE: As an aside, there have been several archeological discoveries around the Pool of Siloam. You can see some of the pictures if you click here. Or you can visit: http://www.bibleplaces.com/poolofsiloam.htm

Study Notes 11-25-12

8:37-38 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Who’s Your Daddy?

Now Jesus turns to address their confusion, and while He acknowledges that they are the physical offspring of Abraham, yet they are obviously missing the point, so He uses this as an opportunity to teach them something about Abraham, something about themselves, something about the Himself, and something about the Fatherhood of God.

First let’s address these Pharisees and their relation to Abraham. They may technically be descendants of Abraham by genealogy, but that is missing the point – and they are probably claiming much more.  As Calvin explains:

What they continually claim and vaunt of is, that they are Abraham’s children; by which they do not simply mean that they are the lineal descendants of Abraham, but that they are a holy race, the heritage of God, and the children of God. And yet they rely on nothing but the confidence of the flesh. But carnal descent, without faith, is nothing more than a false pretense.

Furthermore, Paul points out that coming from the seed of Abraham was not necessarily the only qualification for being a spiritual (chosen) child of God (Gen. 21:9-10; Rom. 9:7; Gal. 4:21-31).  Their sinfulness exhibits the very reason they cannot be rightfully called sons of Abraham.

Paul explains that there was a reason why Abraham received his promises prior to Israel even becoming a nation. These people are claiming that they are part of the genealogical nation of Israel – “we are Jews” they are saying.  But they do not understand that the promise of Abraham being a Father to many nations came prior to the existence of Israel.  Here is what Paul says in Galatians:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. [8] And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” [9] So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

Calvin further illumines our minds as to what is at stake here:

The state of the question therefore is this: Ought they to be accounted Abraham’s children who reject the blessing offered to them in the word, so that, notwithstanding of this, they shall be a holy nation, the heritage of God, and a royal priesthood? (Exodus 19:6; Joel 3:2.) Christ denies this, and justly; for they who are the children of the promise must be born again by the Spirit, and all who desire to obtain a place in the kingdom of God ought to be new creatures. Carnal descent from Abraham was not indeed useless, and of no value, provided that the truth were added to it. For election dwells in the seed of Abraham, but it is free, so that all whom God sanctifies by his Spirit are accounted heirs of life.

Second, they miss this first point not because they weren’t as smart as Paul, but because His word “finds no place in (them).” This tells us something about them as a people. They are unregenerate haters of God. This is simply the inverse of what He said in verse 31 when He said that His disciples would be ones who “abided” in His word. These people are not His disciples, therefore His word (the very word of God) found no place in them.

Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Thirdly, He makes yet another astounding claim to deity.  I explained earlier how He made a veiled claim at deity when He said in verse 14 “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.”

We had concluded that He was essentially saying that His word could be trusted because He was the Son of God. He had come from God, and was indeed God.

Here is more explicit and says that what He is stating is true because “I speak of what I have seen with my Father.”  This is sort of an escalation in His dialogue from the implicit to the explicit.  Now He is claiming outright to have seen God.

If their minds were able to move as quickly as Christ’s, the Pharisees would have seen that in this short saying Jesus was stating:

1. He has seen God with His own eyes – something no mere mortal can do.  Only the Son can be pros ton theon (with/facing God) and live.

2. He is saying that God the Father is “my Father” – He is claiming divine sonship.

This reminds me of what the angel said to Zachariah in Luke 1:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

The main reason that the angel said he was to be believed was due to what he had seen and heard – where he had just come from, the throne of God. Jesus is saying the same thing here, He is saying that He is testifying to the truth of what He has seen and heard from the God of the Universe Himself, the great I AM.  He has come down from the throne room of the Lord of heaven and earth and is therefore to be believed.

The last thing Christ says, and we’ll get into this a little further down in the chapter, is that there’s a difference between His father and their father.

Clarke cites Lightfoot and helps prime the topic:

From what is here said, it is manifest, says Dr. Lightfoot, that the whole tendency of our Savior’s discourse is to show the Jews, that they are the seed of that serpent which was to bruise the heel of the Messiah: else what could that mean, John 8:44: Ye are of your father the devil, i.e. ye are the seed of the serpent.

8:39-41a They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, [40] but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”

The trust of this passage is that the Pharisees are still completely baffled by what Jesus is getting at.  They don’t quite know where He is going with this line of argument, but they don’t like it one bit.  Jesus is also saying that while they might (rightfully even) claim to be descendents of Abraham, they are not behaving like children of Abraham.  Christ excoriates them for their behavior – particularly their murderous intent.

Therefore, Christ is saying, “you might be physical descendents of Abraham but you are not acting like God’s people. You are trying to murder yet another man who has been sent from God – a man who has heard the very words of God. Abraham never would have behaved in this way.”

This reminds me of what Christ said to them at another time when in the temple:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, [30] saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ [31] Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. [32] Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. [33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? [34] Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, [35] so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. [36] Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:29-36 ESV)

Adoption – A Wonderful Doctrine!

So contrary to the words of those who are under the control of the Devil, the sway of this world, and their flesh are the works of those who are God’s children.

There is a misconception in the world today among many practicing evangelical Christians, and also among many other religions leaders and followers of other religions.  The misconception is this: that we are all “children of the same God.”  You here this kind of language used a lot with the hopes of sounding ecumenical and peaceful and loving toward others.  But we cannot love others if we lie to others.

J.I. Packer clears the air on this in his classic book ‘Knowing God’, he says:

The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. The Old Testament shows God as the Father, not of all, but of his own people, the seed of Abraham. “Israel is my first born son,…Let my son go” (Ex. 4:22-23). The New Testament has a world vision, but it too shows God as the Father, not of all, but of those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their divine sin-bearer and master, and so become Abraham’s spiritual seed. “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ…You are all one in Jesus Christ. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed” (Gal. 3:26-29).  Sonship to God is not, therefore, a universal status into which everyone enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus. (‘Knowing God’ – Chapter 19)

Furthermore, in his first epistle, John gives us more reason to believe Packer’s words:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

God’s love, as described by the apostle John, would not be anything distinguishing or amazing if it were given to all mankind. In fact John makes a distinction between those of the world, and those who are children of God.  That alone ought to dispel any lingering notion of the entirety of humanity being God’s children.

But far apart from what sonship is not, Packer reminds us of the awesome privilege of being called sons of God. What an amazing thing to meditate upon. It is certainly one of the Bible’s most wonderful truths!

8:41b They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”

This is a nasty little hint that they are making – essentially some commentators say that they’re hinting that Jesus Himself was born of sexual immorality. I’m not sure if this is because of His unknown origins, or because of nasty rumors spread about Him.  Either way, they are now dipping down past a real debate on the issues and into a nasty exchange of slurs against Jesus.

And this is pretty typical, if you think about it, in a debate when one is losing the high ground.  In desperation the man slipping from his sure debate footing resorts to a personal attack instead of backing up his facts, or exposing his challenger’s premises as false etc. They have no more fact to resort to; they are completely empty of sound argument.

Lastly, we see that their hubris knows no bounds.  In their stupidity, they go so far as to assert that they are children of the Most High. Thus, they have set themselves up for the final lesson of the discourse on the nature of the Fatherhood of God.

8:42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

Jesus reiterates that He came from God, and that God sent Him, which He has stated before. But He also addresses their claim at a familial relationship with the Most High.

John says this later in his first epistle:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. [10] Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. [11] But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)

These men were still in darkness and therefore they hated Jesus.  Can this be anymore plain? I think not.  Those who are not saved, not born again, hate instead of love.  They persecute instead of protect, they harbor darkness in their hearts instead of confessing their sins to God their Father. The contrast is clear and evident from their behavior – that is the essence of what Christ is saying to them here.

Application…this leads me to look inwardly and wonder at how often I have acted as one who is an unbeliever.  How often, with coolness in my demeanor, have I slandered my brother?  How often have I showed hatred instead of love? What about you? Do you find that you are not showing love to one another? There ought to be nothing but love for all who are believers.  If someone is wrong, if someone has sinned, approach them in love with a sincere heard because you love them. I think so often we grow up cold. We need to never cease to find ways to shower one another in love. Let us think actively on how we can show each other love. Here is what Paul said in Romans:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12] Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [13] Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13)

8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.

This is a repetition of what he said earlier in verse 37 – namely that His word had found no place in them. Not only can they not understand what he is saying, they cannot even bear to hear what he is saying! It causes them revulsion inside.  For what fellowship has light with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14)?

8:44 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.

Now we come to it, Jesus makes it plane exactly who their father is, and you can bet that they aren’t going to like what He says.  Sometimes I think it’s easy to gloss over this.  We wince a little bit, and then move on. We think, “Wow Jesus, that’s pretty harsh! Did you really have to go that far? I mean you basically said it, you inferred it, but did you have to actually SAY it???”  You bet He did!  You see, when a great truth is being explained in the Bible, the way writers and teachers would make sure that the listener understood a topic’s importance would be to continually repeat the explanation or the key points over and over.

Teachers in Jesus’ day would repeat their key points because, chances are, their listeners weren’t taking notes – they were having to mentally memorize all that they said.  So here we have something that, while it seems harsh (and indeed it is), is an important truth coming from the embodiment of truth Himself.

So Jesus is saying that far from simply living in darkness and not loving His words, they also love to do the will of the one who is the dominant force for evil in this world, namely, the Devil. In John 3 we read a little about this:

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

The next important thing Jesus lets us in on here is a little history about the person we know as Satan. We learn two important things about Satan:

  1. He is a liar – it is in his very nature to be a liar
  2. He is a murderer – and has been from the beginning

Let me address each characteristic.

Satan is a Liar

Lying is Satan’s chief tool.  We read about this all over the Bible, but since Christ pointed to “the beginning” here, let’s take a look at his first recorded (spoken) lie:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” [4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

And so we see here that ever since the beginning of time, Satan has been lying to human beings. Why? Because it is in his character to do so, and because he has an end-goal…which we’ll talk about next…

Satan is a Murderer – and Christ Conquered Him at the Cross

As we continue on in Genesis 3 we read the following:

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”(Genesis 3:14-15)

I have briefly talked about this passage in the past, this is what theologians call the protoevangelium because it is the “first Gospel” message in the Bible. In this passage we hear God cursing Satan, and we learn that Satan’s fate is sealed.  One day he will receive a permanent blow to the head. This will come from the Son of Man – the Christ, Jesus Himself – and indeed this blow came at the cross.

But we also learn from this passage that there is enmity between mankind and between Satan. This word enmity is a war-like word, it is a murderous word, it means “hatred” and is the signaling of war between Satan and the mankind – specifically between Satan and those who are God’s elect here on earth.

As we see above Satan is a liar, but the reason he is a liar is because his intention is to kill all of the offspring of Adam, especially God’s elect. He is a murderer, Christ says, and he has been since he first deceived Adam and Even.

So make no mistake about this: Satan is not interested in simply tripping you up so that you won’t be a kind, gentle person who is nice to their neighbors. No, while that is certainly on his agenda, his goal is your death – especially your spiritual death.

However, when Christ came and died on the cross He dealt a fatal blow to Satan. He conquered sin and He conquered death as well.  Satan, who had the power of death, no longer had that power. Spiritual death was no longer in the cards for everyone. In fact, low and behold, all who were the saints come before were also given the righteousness and life that Christ earned during His life and death here on earth!

This is important to understand. Christ fulfilled this promise on the cross. Satan’s power has been dramatically impugned. Listen to what Christ says:

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)

Elsewhere Christ explains in a parable that He has bound and curtailed Satan’s activity here on earth:

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. [29] Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matthew 12:28-29 ESV)

John explains this further in his first epistle, and also echoes Christ’s words on Satan’s character:

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)

In fact, in both Revelation 12 and Revelation 20 Satan is seen as cast down from his lofty perch, as Christ has come at His first advent.  Robert Strimple explains:

Revelation 12 describes a restraint placed on Satan at Christ’s first coming. Satan wanted to destroy the woman and her child, but could not. Accompanying these events was a heavenly battle in which Satan was cast down from heaven. Might Rev 20 be a recapitulation of his? In both places Satan is “cast down” by an angel or angels.

As a side note, some might wonder, “if Satan has been bound as Scripture says he is, then why are there so many trials and death and such still among the people of God, and in the world in general?”  Strimple explains in outline form:

Evidence that Revelation 20:1 is a Figurative Representation of Christ’s Victory Over Satan at the Cross

  1. At the cross Satan was bound – but not absolutely. Similarly, Rev. 20 says that Satan is bound, but adds: that he might deceive the nations no longer. The word, ethn(“nations”) was used by the Jews to designate the Gentiles. Hence, Rev 20 links Satan’s binding with the arrival of salvation for the Gentiles in the present age.
    1. Jesus did commission the mission to the gentiles (Acts 26:17-18)
    2. Our struggle with evil powers (Eph 6:11-12) is not inconsistent with their being bound: Jude 6, 2 Pet 2:4, Rev 9:14 all speak of the fallen angels being bound, awaiting punishment. But this does not mean that they are not active.

Therefore the blow has been dealt, and the end of Satan will come at the close of the age, when Christ consummates his kingdom and destroys Satan forever.

Christ’s Foreknowledge

Lastly, this may seem obvious, but listen to how Christ talks about “the beginning.”  He is talking as one with authority.  He is talking as if He has been their Himself! As so He was. I don’t know if this was lost on His listeners at the time, but its significant for what we’ll be reading next week, because Christ is leading up to an amazing statement in verses 56 and 58 that is about to blow their minds.

Side Note: One of the things that Jesus is doing here is layering His argument. He gives them a little something, and then a little more, and little by little as He peals back the layers on the onion you begin to realize that He is teaching several very profound truths here one on top of another, and each truth becoming clearer and clearer as He goes, all leading to the ultimate truth which we’ll read about next time in verse 58.

8:45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [46] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? [47] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

In verse 47 we see a repetition of what Christ has said earlier, namely that because they are not from God they do not understand what He is saying. John later wrote in his epistle:

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. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

But there is more ground here that we haven’t covered. Namely, that He is claiming absolute sinlessness, and He is giving them a reason for why they don’t believe them in a way that we ought to meditate upon.

Look at verse 45, but especially the word “because” – if this word were omitted, then we would simply have two factual statements:

  1. That He is telling the truth
  2. That they don’t believe Him

Only when we consider the word “because” are we let into the stinging reason they don’t believe Him, and this reason ties in everything we have talked about earlier with regard to their nature, their not being born again, and the nature of Satan himself.

He says that the reason they don’t believe Him, is “because” He tells the truth! It isn’t that He’s saying that they don’t’ believe Him because they don’t like what He says, or because its antithetical to their behavior or their background or learning. No He is more acute than that.  He is saying that simply on the basis of His telling the truth they weren’t going to believe Him.

Their minds would therefore only accept the antithesis of truth – thus explaining further why their father was the father of lies (Satan). They only accept that which is untruth and when they are encountered with the truth (the very truth incarnate in this case) they reject it outright because it is against all that they are, their mindset, their nature, their habit is against God’s truth, so far are they away from being children of God. They are, in fact, the very antithesis of what God wants for His children.

A Warning to Heed, and a Blessing to the Praise of God

These men could not hear the words of God because they were enemies of God, as you were once as well. If you have heard the words of God and have repented of your sins and become reconciled to God in Christ, you have also been adopted.  That is the message of this passage. The promise of Christ is that for all who hear His words and believe on Him will be saved – and will also be brought into a glorious new family.  Listen finally to the words of Packer:

This free gift of acquittal and peace, won for us at the cross of Calvary, is wonderful enough, in all conscience – but justification does not of itself imply any intimate for deep relationship with God the judge.  In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God result.

But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption God takes us into his family and fellowship – he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is a greater.

It’s coming up on Christmas time, and this always reminds me of the great gift that God gave the world in His Son. The doctrine of Adoption says that not only do we receive the gift of salvation, but also of brotherhood with Christ and the fatherhood of the Most High.  Lastly, we know that because of this Christ receives us as a love gift from the Father. The elect of God are His gift to His son.  We have been purchased and adopted by the Father. A gift planned for Jesus from the beginning of time! An amazing thought to meditate upon this Christmas season.

Slavery to Sin and “Free-Will”

In today’s class I touched on the much disputed, but often incorrectly explained, notion of man’s so-called “free-will”.

What I wanted to show today, and what I will demonstrate in this post, is that “free-will” must be correctly defined and understood if we’re going to use the term in a Biblical and accurate manner. Further, the idea itself that “free-will” exists is a bit of a misnomer, and I will seek to give you some logical reasoning for that truth.  Lastly, “free-will” as it relates to our choice of Christ and salvation from bondage is a most abhorrent notion in the general way Christians today think of it. I will show you why its not only abhorrent, but also a logical absurdity.

Free-Will Popularly Defined

First we must understand what we’re talking about, and that means defining our terms.  “Free-will” is often understood to mean our mind/soul/will making choices in complete freedom and liberty, with no previous (“antecedent”) influence or outside influence or internal (spiritual) influence. For brevity sake, let it suffice to say that those who define freedom this way say that our will can be completely neutral or “indifferent” before we make our decisions. That the only thing that affects our decisions is our mind, or emotion, or understanding etc. (pre-supposing an entirely “free” act of the mind upon the will…as if one can be suspended apart from the other without any antecedent motive or influence).

I believe this is a poor definition of “free-will”, but it is what most people think of when they hear the term. They think of the power to make their own choice without reference to any outside/inside agency or coercion.

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfectly “Free” and Unbiased Will

In order for this popular definition of “free-will” to work in reality, our will must first achieve a perfect state of indifference or neutrality before making a decision – before choosing one thing or another. Without laboring the point too much, let me just say that this is a logical impossibility. It is impossible to not have any prior inclination or motive informing our mind/will either internally or externally. In other words, we do not live in a vacuum.

Jonathan Edwards explains, “to make out this scheme of liberty, the indifference must be perfect and absolute; there must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation of inclination. Because if the will be already inclined  before it exerts its own sovereign power on itself, then its inclination is not wholly owing to itself…For so long as prior inclination possesses the will, and is not removed, the former binds the latter, so that it is utterly impossible that the will should act otherwise than agreeable to it. Surely the will canot act or choose contrary to a remaining prevailing inclination of the will.

Now maybe it is obvious what I am getting at…the idea of a “free-will” (as popularly defined) is really non-existent because of the fact that we always lean on prior information and current desire to form our decision making.  We cannot properly claim for ourselves perfect indifference. In fact, because we are born into a bondage to sin all of our decision making is tainted by our sinful viewpoint and sinful desires. This is why re-birth is so crucial to true sanctification, and why “renewing our minds” has a much deeper meaning than most people perhaps realize.

Our Will is Never at Liberty Until Freed by Christ

Let us now briefly take a step back before looking at what Christ has done for us through regeneration, and remember the that prior to His work we were in a state of complete mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity. A.W. Pink helps us here:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

We’ve also read in our study of John that mankind not only doesn’t desire the good things of God, but actually desires to stay in his sin and darkness (see John 3:19-21).

So when Jesus and Paul say that we are in bondage to sin, they’re saying that in man’s natural fallen state he will always choose sin above the things of God. Read that carefully – he will always “choose” sin above God and righteousness. It isn’t as though we didn’t have the “freedom” to choose. It is that in our “freedom” (or shall I say “bondage”) we chose sin – and we will always choose sin until the work of the Spirit because the things of God were things that we did not desire. The “antecedent” motive that Edwards speaks of, is tainted by sinful desires and information. Not until Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed out hearts and brought us into newness of life, did we desire to choose Christ or the things of God.

You can now perhaps begin to see how we can rightfully say that as human beings we are not puppets or robots, but that the way we popularly speak about “free-will” is off-kilter and inaccurate. Our freedom exists, but it is informed by our desires, and we choose the things we desire most. Therefore, prior to Christ, we were truly free only to sin.

Calvin explains, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Edwards further elaborates, “The will, therefore, so long as it is under the influence of an old preponderating inclination, is not at liberty for a new free act; or any, that shall now be an act of self-determination.”

In Conclusion – New Creations in Christ!

This has been a short post, and certainly there is more to be said on this topic, but I wanted to explain the logical absurdity of the idea that somehow, outside of the internal sovereign work of the Spirit and the reading of His Word, we freely choose/chose God and make righteous decisions. First God loved us, then we responded in love toward Him for the irresistible beauty of the offer of eternal life. The blinders were taken off, and we now freely choose what He freely offers.

In order to appreciate this great truth, we must first understand and appreciate what freedom is, what it is not, and just how much freedom we had prior to our being born again. The power of old things (antecedent inclinations and desires) has been broken. In the context of our discussion on the will, Edwards explains this reality, “Therefore, if there be the least degree of antecedent preponderation of the will, it must be perfectly abolished, before the will can be at liberty to determine itself the contrary way.” Thanks be to God that he has “abolished” our old ways (though we still battle the flesh – Rom. 7), and given us His Spirit!

Because we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as I explained this morning, we now have freedom to choose not to sin. Our choices always rest upon our strongest inclinations/desires at the moment of choice. If you are not a Christian, that inclination will never be for the things of God (see Romans 1). If you are a Christian, and walking in the Spirit, you will bear the fruit of that Spirit (Jn. 8:31-32), and make choices that reflect the One who is changing those desires within you (2 Cor. 3:18).

Study Notes 11-18-12

We continue our study of John’s Gospel and will be looking at some of our Lord’s greatest words (if one can possibly peal off greatness from greatness) as it pertains to freedom, and our natural state of slavery to sin and darkness.

The Lord has freed us from the galleys of slavery and to sin and self-centeredness and brought us into the glorious light of the knowledge of His gospel.  God be praised!  Let’s start into the lesson…

John 8:31-36 – Freedom from Sin

8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

First I want to go back and examine how verse 30 and verse 31 interact with each other, because many good commentators have pointed out that both verses in many of our English versions use the word “believe” to describe the people’s reaction here.

Some say there is some difference between the meanings used, Boice, for instance says that the first is meant to be saving faith and the latter to mean intellectual ascent.  But they both utilize the same Greek word “pisteuō”, so I’m not entirely convinced of that.  What I am convinced of is that those who were listening to Jesus may have believed what He was saying mentally, but obviously they didn’t stand the discipleship test, which we’ll see later on.

Abiding in the Word

The second thing we note here is the nature of a true Christian.  The true Christian “abides” in the word of Christ.

In our study of John 6:55-56 we talked about the nature of abiding.  Those verses say, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Here is what I noted about what it meant to “abide”:

The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  I like what the ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

What Christ is saying, in affect, is that a true Christian will have the desire to spend time listening, reading, and meditating on His word.  A true Christian will be obeying His word as well.  These are fruits of a true Christ-follower.  Truly it is a privilege to know something of the eternal God, and that we should know this truth in even a small way is in itself part of our reward as well as our fruit of the relationship we gain by acquaintance with Jesus.  Calvin enumerates upon this privilege as only Calvin can:

Wherefore, whatever progress any of us have made in the Gospel, let him know that he needs new additions. This is the reward which Christ bestows on their perseverance, that he admits them to greater familiarity with him; though in this way he does nothing more than add another gift to the former, so that no man ought to think that he is entitled to any reward. For it is he who impresses his word on our hearts by his Spirit, and it is he who daily chases away from our minds the clouds of ignorance which obscure the brightness of the Gospel. In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it. It is the same unvarying truth which Christ teaches his followers from the beginning to the end, but on those who were at first enlightened by him, as it were with small sparks, he at length pours a full light. Thus believers, until they have been fully confirmed, are in some measure ignorant of what they know; and yet it is not so small or obscure a knowledge of faith as not to be efficacious for salvation.

Freedom from Sin

The third thing we take from the passage is the result of abiding is learning the truth, and by learning that truth we will experience a great reality: freedom.  What kind of freedom could He mean?  I believe that Christ is talking about freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from the slavery to the prince of this world – what Calvin calls “an invaluable blessing.”  It is these points Jesus goes on to labor in his debate with the Pharisees.

What does true freedom looks like? Freedom looks like someone who has the fruit of the Spirit.  And, not coincidently, those who have the fruit of the Spirit are also abiding in the Word of God – written by that same Spirit.

Perhaps there is no better expositing of this truth than Paul’s writing in Romans 6.  The entire chapter is about being free from sin, and being a slave to righteousness.  The dichotomy between the two is labored by Paul because so many people think that they are basically good people who happen to sin a little here and there.

Amazing to think that what was so important for Paul to intensively labor in Romans 6, is actually more pertinent today than ever before.

Perhaps the most pertinent part of Romans 6 as it applies to this particular verse, is the section between verses 6 and 11:

[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. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The main thrust of this part of the passage is that we were formally slaves to sin, but because of Christ’s work we have been set free from sin.  It is the gospel that has delivered us from our sin. That is the freedom Christ is talking about here in verse 32.  He’s saying that because He was going to conquer death, death would no longer have dominion over us. Sin’s end is death, and so sin and its result (death) would no longer have power over anyone who believes upon Christ. Calvin agrees, saying that the kind of liberty that’s being described here is “that which sets us free from the tyranny of Satan, sin, and death.”

Barnes says, “The service of God is freedom from degrading vices and carnal propensities; from the slavery of passion and inordinate desires. It is a cheerful and delightful surrender of ourselves to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.”

When we think about the practical way this has revolutionized our lives, its unthinkable to go back to living any other way. Calvin says, “All men feel and acknowledge that slavery is a very wretched state; and since the gospel delivers us from it, it follows that we derive from the gospel the treasure of a blessed life.”  To this comment I can only add “amen!”

Born Free?

I’m always amazed at how many Christians insist on stating that they “freely” chose Christ because they were born with “free will.”  But as R.C. Sproul reminds us, we need to be cautious when we talk about free will so that we know exactly what it is we’re saying.

Certainly God gives us the freedom of choice to make decisions.  We aren’t robots, and we aren’t puppets.  But there are some things that even in our natural freedom we are not free to do.  One of those things is not sinning.  When we are born into this world, we are not free not to sin.  In other words, we are going to sin because it is who we are, and we are enslaved to it.  We will continue in this sin until Christ sets us free from it.

Calvin comments, “It is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble. And it is a very frequent occurrence in the present day, that, the greater the load of vices by which a man is weighed down, the more fiercely does he utter unmeaning words in extolling free-will.”

This is what irked the Pharisees.  They were saying, “Hey Jesus, we’re not slaves to anyone!  We make our own decisions.  We live our own lives.  No one rules over us, or our families!” But they were wrong in saying this, and people today are wrong in thinking that mankind is free to do whatever they’d like – we aren’t free to be holy and perfect because we’re incapable of it in our natural state.

When you think about how this plays out, it’s really worth contemplating and meditating on deeply because it shows the state of our old self and where we were headed apart from Christ.  For when we were slaves to sin, not only were we tethered to that form of life that is most odious to Christ, but we are tethered to the result of that life, namely death. When Christ unchains us from our slavery to sin, He also unchains us from the pangs of death – death could not rule over him (Acts 2), and we also have victory over death due to His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).

A.W. Pink laments at how fallen we are in our natural state, and yet how unwilling we are to realize this fact:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

When I first read Pink’s comments it struck me to the bone. His first sentence was aimed at me – the teacher. Am I really honest with how ugly I was before Christ? That is a question that not many men or women truly meditate on for much more than a passing thought – perhaps before taking the Lord’s Super. But what Pink is calling us to realize is our state of depravity and darkness without Jesus.

Calvin says this, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Barnes adds, “There is need of the gospel. That only can make men free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and as every man is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.”

In the midst of our celebration of this freedom, we pause and wonder, “now wait a minute, how is it that I still continue to sin?”  Well, as Paul works this matter of slavery out in Romans 6, we are glad he continued to write because when we get to Romans 7 we learn that he faced that same dilemma – namely that he still continued to battle sin.  Despite the freedom not to sin that Christ has given us, Paul says that we still sin due to the nature of the flesh. But I don’t want to get too deep into that here.  The main point we need to see is the dichotomy between one who is a slave to sin, and one who is not, and that we have been made free men and women by the power and work of Christ.

8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Ironically, the very shackles that bound these Pharisees in their sin were the same chains causing them to claim they weren’t enslaved to anyone.  In their blindness they claimed they weren’t blind.  In their darkness they claimed to be enlightened.  These were truly men who were missing the point.

Oddly enough (and Calvin picks up on this point as well) it isn’t as though these people have never been enslaved physically to anyway…in point of fact, they were currently under a type of mild slavery/tyranny by the Romans at this very time in history – something I will address shortly. Warren Wiersbe collects these thoughts together succinctly:

Their claim that Abraham’s descendants had never been in bondage was certainly a false one that was refuted by the very record in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews had been enslaved by seven mighty nations, as recorded in the book of Judges. The ten northern tribes had been carried away captive by Assyria, and the two southern tribes had gone into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. And at that very hour, the Jews were under the iron heel of Rome! How difficult it is for proud religious people to admit their failings and their needs!

Pink cites all of the above that Wiersbe mentions, and then says, “It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hotly deny that his will is enslaved by sin.”

8:34-36 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus uses the emphatic phrase “truly, truly” to get our attention.  He is saying to us “pay attention to this.”

Bondage to our Self-Centeredness

D.A. Carson explores the intent of what Christ is saying, “For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who had made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”

In other words, we are so self-centered and self-serving that our own sin and moral failures are the chief problems that need to be dealt with in life.

I think this is so important because the context in which Jesus is saying this is under the oppression of the Roman regime. The Jewish people had found their freedoms limited, and their liberties cut off. We also are going through a time in America where our own liberties are in question. We see the despotic nature of our government, which is becoming ever more tyrannical and hostile to Christian beliefs and values, and we wonder (rightly) if our freedoms will all be gone within a generation.

The generation of men and women Christ was addressing were far worse off than we are today, yet, like them, we often find ourselves distracted from solving life’s most important challenges, and that is what Christ came to solve.  The real problem is with ourselves, not our government. There’s only so much you can do about government – believe me, I’ve been fighting that battle for a while now.  Jesus isn’t saying that freedom from political tyranny isn’t important, what He is saying is that there’s something even more important.  When the Son of God came to the earth, He came to address life’s biggest problems, life’s biggest challenges. He came to free us from our bondage to sin.

That’s why we gather on Sunday mornings, that’s why we “abide” in the word of God, that’s why we pray and devote ourselves to growth in Christ. Because what we are doing today and on these other days, is addressing the real problems in life – life’s most consequential and difficult challenges.

The Power of the Son

The second thing that Jesus says in this passage is that as the Son of God He has unique privileges and power. He has the ability to set them free, because He has full reign over the house of God.  Calvin comments, “By these words he means that the right of freedom belongs to himself alone, and that all others, being born slaves, cannot be delivered by his grace.  For what he possesses as his own by nature he imparts to us by adoption, when we are engrafted by faith into his body, and become his members.”

“…the Gospel is the instrument by which we obtain our freedom” – Calvin

One of the main reasons I like to bring up the issue of the way we view “free will” is because in our “freedom” we come to rely too heavily on our flesh for the support of our souls. Here is what I mean by that: when we are going through the turmoil that this life brings us, it is natural (because of the flesh) to wonder at the purpose of life, and even whether our souls are truly saved. We wonder at God and ask Him in our difficulties whether He’s really there or not.  We wonder at Him and ask if we are truly saved or not.

Well one of the great things we hear Jesus saying in this passage is that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In other words, He is the one with the power over sin and death, and not your “free will” or your “fleshly power.”  To steal a recent campaign theme, “you didn’t build this” – no indeed: Christ built this!

Carson says this, “Jesus not only enjoys inalienable rights as the unique Son of God, but exercises full authority, vested in him by the Father (3:35), to liberate slaves. Those who Jesus liberates from the tyranny of sin are really (ontos) free.”

Those who build their house upon this Rock will be able to stand firm in the storm because they know they weren’t the craftsmen, they weren’t the guarantee of the foundation’s sturdiness.  Christ Himself is the cornerstone and the Master Builder, and when life’s trials come, you can say with confidence “I will survive this, and either by life or death I will be with Christ, for He is my firm foundation, and in His work I can trust.”

Carson makes the great point that once free, we have been set free for a purpose:

True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.

What an amazing truth he’s hit on here. Christ knows that those who are set free are going to want to please Christ – before we simply wanted to please ourselves, now we have a desire and are at liberty to please the Lover of our Souls.

Dear friends: step away from the reliance on your own work, and rest upon the great and mighty work of Jesus Christ – the Son who has set you free!

 

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.

Reformation Day 2012

As some of you may know, this past Wednesday was Reformation Day.  Reformation Day is a celebration of what took place during the 16th and 17th centuries in the church of Christ.  Men of God led the church out of darkness by protesting the shackled gospel and hidden Word that had been all but stolen from the sight of men and women by the church of Rome.

Men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and many others translated the Bible into their native tongues, and preached verse by verse the clear unvarnished word of God. They led what became the Protestant Reformation, and because of their faithfulness we enjoy gospel preaching today.

Below is a video that Pastor John Piper did on Reformation Day.  He traveled to Geneva where Calvin preached for some 25 or so years.  I hope you find this short video inspiring and enjoyable!

Fighting Anxiety with Prayer

It so happens that this time of year is especially stressful for me.  Being in politics comes with its benefits and opportunities to serve the Lord and one’s country, but it also entails a great deal of stress, which can lead to anxiety.  I make a distinction between the two terms because I feel that stress is best defined as the result of outside agencies pressing down upon a person’s life – these can’t always be avoided. Whereas anxiety is probably best defined as the nervous feeling we have inside as a result of the stress – and ultimately because we are weak and sinful creatures who battle “unbelief.”

I am not unique in feeling “anxious.”  The topic is so intrinsic to our fallen humanity that Christ spent a lot of time addressing it during His Sermon on the Mount.  But because it is a battle I have fought often, I am familiar with the weaponry one needs to successfully wage war against anxiety.  One of the major weapons is prayer – not simply small little prayers you send up during the day, but long, deep, gut-wrenching prayers that bring you to your knees.  As it happens, I’ve been reading a lot about prayer, and wanted to post some of the quotes and tips that I’ve come across in the past few days.  This is a combination of two sources, 1. Jerry Bridges’ chapter on Prayer in ‘The Transforming Power of the Gospel‘, and 2. John Calvin’s 4 rules of prayer that was posted on Ligonier’s blog earlier last week. I hope you find these excerpts helpful and encouraging!

Calvin’s 4 Rules of Prayer

For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer.

1. The first rule is a heartfelt sense of reverence.

In prayer, we must be “disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.” Our prayers should arise from “the bottom of our heart.” Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that “the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by God’s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.”

2. The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance.

We must “pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,” maintaining “the disposition of a beggar.” Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with God’s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request “with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.”

3. The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God.

True prayer requires that “we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,” trusting in God’s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: “If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,” we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in God’s presence.

4. The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope.

The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers’ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6,KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, “for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.” Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such “confidence is necessary in true invocation… which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.”

Overwhelming? Unattainable?

These rules may seem overwhelming—even unattainable—in the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. “No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,” he writes. But God tolerates “even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,” allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in “a babbling manner.” In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a “lifting up of the spirit” and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will “change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Calvin concludes that “Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.”

Jerry Bridges on Individual Prayer

“Biblical meditation simply means to prayerfully and carefully reflect on Scripture in order to determine what God is saying and the possible application of that Scripture to you.”

“…though we cannot transform ourselves, we can and must bring our minds under the continual influence of the Word of God. And as we do that, the Holy Spirit will use His Word to do His transforming work in us.”

“As we open our Bibles to read, we should do so with a prayer that God, through His Spirit, will meet with us in His Word.”

“We pray more about our needs, both temporal and spiritual (but probably more in the temporal area), than we do about God’s glory and will. Therefore, in our time with God, it is good to expand our horizons beyond ourselves and our families and consider the work of God worldwide.”

“Does your prayer during your time with God reflect this interest in His glory and will?”

“We know that we are both responsible and dependent, and prayer is, among other things, an expression of that dependence. It is an acknowledgement that we are helpless sin ourselves – that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us to do the work we must do.”

“I also pray that I will be motivated to obey and serve Christ out of love and gratitude, not out of a sense of duty.”

“He will give us the desire and motivation to pray if we ask Him.”