Most Influential Books Part 3

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

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Beats Death

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

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

John Chapter 11

An Exposition

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meaning of “Glorified”

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

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

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

D.A. Carson comments:

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

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

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

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

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

How Lazarus Points Forward to the Pleasure of God in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Piper explains this passage in the following ways:

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

Piper continues…

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

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

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

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

Piper closes his thoughts on the matter this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is patient and kind;

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

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

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

It does not insist on its own way;

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

it is not irritable or resentful;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Patience of the Son

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

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

So that You May Believe

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

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

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

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

Duty vs. Joy

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

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

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

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

The Precipice

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

 

Section 2 – Abramatic Faith & ‘Ego Eimi’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truths We Must First Ascent To…

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

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

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

What Everyone Must Wrestle With…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Section 3 – The Sovereign Power of the Son of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion for His Sheep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

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

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

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

The Impending Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several key points that we see here.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Section 4 – Heart of Darkness: The Power of Unbelief

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

The Power of Unbelief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And…

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

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

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

Resorting to Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

John 15:2 and Remaining “In” Christ

John 15 is a beautiful passage and in our class, along with here in this space, I’ve devoted the last few weeks to exploring the first 6 verses.  As a follow up to this passage, I thought you all would enjoy a short listen to a recent Podcast of John Piper where he explains that verse 2 does not violate the traditional understanding that “once saved, always saved.”

Here’s John Piper’s Podcast:

In addition, you may have heard me state before in class or here that my understanding of verse 2 is modified by verse 6.  That is to say that I take verse 2 in the context of the entire passage, and that I didn’t want to push the metaphor too far.  Well, not surprisingly, D.A. Carson explains this much better than I could have, so I thought I’d just post his thoughts below for your edification!

It is more satisfactory to recognize that asking the in me language to settle such disputes (of losing salvation etc.) is to push the vine imagery too far. The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity; the alternative is dead wood, and the exigencies of the vine metaphor make it necessary that such wood be connected to the vine (dead branches from some other tree, lying around in the vineyard dirt, could scarcely make the point).

Study Notes 12-15-13: John 15 Introduction

Chapter 15

Introduction to Chapter 15 (and notes through verse 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OT Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intimate/Immanent Work of the Father and our Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He “Takes Away”

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

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

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

He Prunes

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

The author of Hebrews talks about this:

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

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

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads Ridderbos to state:

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

15:4-5 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Singular Impotence

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

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

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

Crazy Busy

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

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

The Warning of this Truth

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

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

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

The Endurance of the Root

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

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

The Reason for this Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ridderbos agrees:

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

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

The Poetry of John Piper

the calvinist

One of the literary arts we have neglected in our fast-paced culture is the art of poetry.  John Piper is a poet.  You know him, perhaps, as a pastor, or as the man whose blog posts or books you have read over the years.  Perhaps you’ve read his most popular book ‘Desiring God‘ (also the namesake of his ministry).

Well this week I wanted to encourage you to take a look at three poems he has written that have had a dramatic impact on me and many others. This week Desiring God released Dr. Piper’s most recent poem, and its just fantastic! It is set to a video backdrop with voice over from some theological titans.  Take a few moments and read, listen, and allow yourself to enjoy God in ways that perhaps you haven’t been recently.  Here are the poems:

The Calvinist  – click here to read the poem and watch the video.

One of my favorite graphs:

See him with his books:
Tree beside the brooks,
Drinking at the root
Till the branch bear fruit.
 

The Innkeeper – click here to check out the book on Amazon.  And click here for a FREE PDF version of the book: The_Innkeeper

One of my favorite graphs:

In two weeks they will crucify
My flesh. But mark this, Jacob, I
Will rise in three days from the dead,
And place my foot upon the head 
Of him who has the power of death. 
 

Ruth: Under the Wings of God – click here to check out the book on Amazon. Click here to download a FREE PDF of the book:Ruth

One of my favorite graphs:

One of my favorite lines: 
Tonight Boaz was by the fire
And wrapped in blankets for attire
young David stood in awe that here
Was his own flesh who, in a year, 
Would have a century of life
Perhaps, on earth and one whose wife
Was his Great-grandma Ruth. He took
His harp and cradled in the crook 
Of his small arm the music of 
A fam’ly’s century of love. 
 

JOB: The Film

In this adaptation of the book of Job, John Piper puts poetry to still images in what is now probably best described as a precursor to the Calvinist poem he just released.  You can learn more about the film here, and see a trailer below:

JOB

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

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

PJW

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

Joy in Christ by the Spirit

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

If you loved Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Want Me to Go Away…

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

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

Again, Ridderbos is helpful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proof that He is God

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

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

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

The Close of One Age…the Beginning of Another

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

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

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

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

No Claim on Me

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Side Note…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Command of the Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Point of Transition

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

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

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

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

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

9-29-13 Study Notes: I Am the Way

John Chapter 14

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

The Heart of a Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is what was predicted by the prophet Ezekiel:

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

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

In one of those letters Ignatius wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

He Knows You by Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way is Not Yet Prepared

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

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

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

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

Piper says this:

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

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

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

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

The Motivation of our Shepherd

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

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

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

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

Knowing vs. Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sixth ‘I AM’ Statement of Christ in John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Three-Fold Declaration

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

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

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

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

The Exclusivity of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Many Paths to God: Contemporary Pluralism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study Notes 8-18-12: Washed by the Blood of Christ

This section of the notes includes verses 3-18 of chapter 13 of the gospel of John.

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The Sovereignty and Pleasure of God in the Cross

Jesus had been given supernatural revelation from the Father through the Spirit as to who He was, and what His mission was.

Leon Morris explores a brilliant point about why (in verse 3) John would take time to give such a statement about the Father. It’s worth quoting Morris here:

The threshold of Calvary seems an unlikely place for a statement of sovereignty like this. But John does not view the cross as the causal observer might view it. It is the place where a great divine work was wrought out and the divine glory shown forth. So he describes it in terms of the Father’s giving all things to the Son. The reference to the Father is important. He is no idle spectator at the Passion, but he does his will there.

It bothers us to know that the Father was so intricately involved in the brutal mutilation of His Son. We can’t comprehend His involvement so we use scape-goat terms like “He permitted it” or “He allowed it”, or “He didn’t stop it” even. And while all of these may be technically correct on their face, they often serve as terms we use to hide the truth that we can’t fully comprehend. That truth is that God ordained that His Son would be a “bruised reed” and, perhaps even more horrifying to us, He took “pleasure” in bruising/crushing His Son. For we read in Psalms this unavoidable statement:

The Lord was pleased to bruise him;

he has put him to grief;

when he makes himself an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring,

he shall prolong his days;

the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

This is what we read in Ps. 53:10, and it tells us that God was pleased to bruise/crush His Son. He was actively involved in the crucifixion of His Son, He did not personally commit the evil, but He used that evil to bring about great good. That is His methodology. In comprehending this truth I have found John Piper’s insights to be quite helpful. He says that there are basically two reasons God can take pleasure in bruising His Son. First, it was because of what His Son would accomplish with His death for us, and secondly because of His own great love for His own glory. With regard to the first point, Piper says this:

It says at the end of verse 10, “The pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” I take that to mean that God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son considered in and of itself but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his dying.

Regarding the second point about God’s love for His own glory Piper says:

But I think another part of the answer must also be that the depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. And so when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value!

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

These are deep and amazing mysteries and they ought to cause us to worship.

Now, considering this context, we see that Christ’s love is rooted in love for the Father and the Father’s glory, and this love overflows in His actions not only on the cross, but also all the way up until the cross!

For despite knowing all his was about to suffer, Jesus still continued on steadfastly toward the cross. He could have changed His mind at any moment. He could have risen up and crushed all the kings of this world and setup a political rule that would never end. Note especially that John says, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” signifies that Jesus knew that all power was at His disposal. Carson says, “With such power and status at his disposal, we might have expected him to defeat the devil in an immediate and flashy confrontation, and to devastate Judas with an unstable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples’ feet, including the feet of the betrayer.”

But He chose instead to be faithful to the mission His Father had given to Him. Such was the love Christ had for the glory and fame of the Father.

His methodology in preparing for the cross is odd to us only if we don’t understand that all of Christ’s actions were rooted in love. Jonathan Edwards speaks of how love works in this way:

Love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and man…If a man sincerely loves God it will dispose him to render all proper respect for Him; and men need no other incitement to show each other all the respect that is due than love. Love for God will dispose a man to honor Him, to worship and adore Him, and to heartily acknowledge His greatness, glory, and dominion. And so it will dispose men to all acts of obedience to God…a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it disposes men to all duties towards their neighbors…thus love would dispose to all duties, toward both God and man. And if it will thus dispose to all duties, then it follows that it is the root and spring and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle that, if it is implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good practice; and every right disposition toward God and man is summed up in and comes from it, as the fruit from the tree or the stream from the fountain (‘Charity and its Fruits’ pg.’s 6, 8, 9).

Therefore, He changed His clothes into garments that were reflective of a slave, and began to wipe the feet of His servants! It’s worth noting that only slaves washed feet. In fact, Jewish slaves didn’t have to do that; only Gentile slaves were lowly enough to be required to do such a demeaning and gross service.

Yet here was the King of kings stooping to do this act. What did this mean? Let’s explore that some more and Jesus begins to dialogue on this point with Peter…

13:6-11 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” [7] Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” [8] Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” [9] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [10] Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [11] For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Three Significant Truths

It is significant that Jesus was doing this. He knew it, Peter knew it, they all knew it. Yet Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on why Jesus would do such an outrageous thing, and Jesus wasn’t going to give him the easy answer about coming to serve instead of being served. Instead, He told him that he would know later on the more significant purpose behind what He was doing.

Why would Peter know later on? Jesus will get into this later on in the chapters ahead, but it was because the Holy Spirit would come to reveal “all things” to them.

So why did He do this? Was it simply an act of servant-hood, or was there something more significant here? For example, some theologians have gone so far as to declare that Jesus is instituting a foot washing sacrament here. They say this looks like something that He wants His followers to do long after He is gone. But while I think Jesus would love for us to wash each other’s feet, I don’t think that the actual washing of the feet was something being instituted in the same way the Communion Meal was when Jesus said “take eat, do this is remembrance of me.”

I think there are three significant things that we need to look at here, and in order to get at the significance, we need to look at the literary context – look at the verses which preceded and followed these verses.

First, there is the lesson of humility, it is obvious that Jesus is showing us the kind of King He came to be, and the kind of servants He wants in His kingdom. That is why we looked closely at verse one which ended by saying, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus was doing what He was doing because it was in His character to do so, and He was planning on sending His Spirit so that His children would also love in the way that He did.

Second, there is the lesson of the impending work of atonement, if we look at the verses following the foot washing, we see Jesus talking about how “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean”, this He said to setup the analogy (I don’t think this first part had any theological significance), and then He made His point when He said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” What He is saying is that those who are His, those whom He has come to wash clean by His atoning blood, ARE CLEAN. That being said, not everyone here was clean. Judas wasn’t clean. The reason he said this was that He desired to show a demarcation. There was a difference between a man who has been cleansed by Jesus and one who hasn’t.

Now we have baptism to show that we have been cleansed by Jesus of our sins. Those sins have been forgiven, buried with Christ! And a new man has been raised with Christ – this is the ultimate analogy, is it not? But here we have a beautiful analogy of the sovereign efficacious work of Christ in the life of a sinful, dirty, stained human being. Unless Christ washes you from your sin, you have “no part with him.”

Thirdly, in verse 10 we see Jesus turn Peter’s objection into an opportunity make another point, namely that once one has been washed it is no longer necessary to wash again. In other words, the atonement is final and a one-time occurrence despite our continual sin post regeneration.

As Carson notes, “…the initial and fundamental cleansing that Christ provides is a once-for-all act. Individuals who have been cleansed by Christ’s atoning work will doubtless need to have subsequent sins washed away, but the fundamental cleansing can never be repeated.”

This point is one Jesus seemed to make almost secondarily after Peter’s thoughtless and reactional rejoinder opened the door to more teaching.

And so in sum, “This first application used the foot washing tot symbolize Christ’s atoning, cleansing death; this second (about the one-time occurrence of the atonement) application makes the points just elucidated; the third and final application teaches lessons in humility” (Carson).

13:12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

Now, going back to point 1 that I made earlier, Jesus explains that He is the true example of love. Just as He loved, so we are to love. He is our Lord, and as such we are to obey Him, to follow after Him, and to emulate His example. That is why He emphatically states, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Again, I don’t think that He is stating, “you need to also do foot washing.” Why? Because Peter wasn’t an idiot. If Peter didn’t understand why it was that Jesus was doing what He was doing and Jesus knew that even this explanation in 12-16 wasn’t the full expression of the meaning, then we need to realize that there is more to this than just foot washing. And that’s what Peter would later come to find. Even though Jesus gave them the explanation of what He was doing, He gave them the why not a specific command to do foot washing, it wasn’t that obvious. It was something that Jesus knew they would “get” only later when they had the Holy Spirit to help guide them into all truth.

This, by the way, is a perfect example (in my opinion) of why it is so important to look at the context of a passage in order to understand the fuller meaning of the passage and not jump to conclusions. Now, I might not be 100% correct on my statement/conclusions, but I will learn that in heaven. My responsibility now is to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to be as wise as I possibly can in discerning the text.

Lastly, I love verse 16 and we can’t get away without at least noticing that Jesus uses the analogy of a servant, but then of a messenger. And indeed that is what we are, we are messengers of the Gospel to a lost and dying world.

13:17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

This is sort of the positive side to James’ statement that, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The point is that there is something to be said for ignorance. I am not saying ignorance is good, I am saying we are responsible for what we KNOW and what we DO with that knowledge.

This is practical, and it is obvious, but let me anticipate an objection. Some would say “what about those who have never heard of the gospel or of Jesus?” Paul explains that they still know enough to know there is a God and still to have rebelled against Him.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

Secondly, let us take note that the echo of James is here as well in Christ’s words “blessed are you if you do them.” How are you blessed? If you DO them. Why? Because you are acting out of what you KNOW, namely you are acting on the knowledge of God and are walking in the Spirit in obedience to God’s prompting. You know because you have been given these things from above (James 1:16-18), and you DO because you are acting in obedience to the Holy Spirit instead of giving way to your flesh. Surely the man who is submitting to the Spirit will indeed be blessed. Maybe not materially in the way we think of blessing so often, but certainly eternally, and certainly right now spiritually. There is a true joy that comes from obedience to the Spirit of God.

13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

Here Jesus goes back to point 2 from earlier, namely that He has made distinctions, He has made choices. His choices come before your choices and lead to your choices by His power and grace.

He says, “I am not speaking of all of you.” Not everyone here is getting washed! Not everyone here is going to be atoned for by my blood! Well, this is elementary we say…we know not everyone get saved. So what are you saying that is so radical here Mr. Wenzel, why don’t you move on. Ahh, but Jesus does say more…listen…

He states clearly “I know whom I have chosen.” He says this as if to state, “don’t be deceived, this is not a guessing game. I am not just going to die and hang that atonement out there for whomever might feel so inclined to take me up on the offer. No indeed! He emphatically answers this line of thinking by saying “I know”! I know whom I have chosen. Not everyone is getting washed, not everyone will accept me. But that’s because I have not chosen everyone!

What Jesus is stating here amounts to this: He is preeminent in the application of His atonement. He knows for whom He has died.

 

Study Notes 7-7-13: Following Christ

Today’s passage takes us from the 26th verse of John 12 through verse 30, although we didn’t get much time this morning to discuss verses 29 and 30 and will do so next week.

This week we will be meditating on verse 26, and asking ourselves questions about the verse and asking God to help give us insight into its meaning. How, for instance, does it speak to our need to obey Christ? What does it tell us about where Christ is? What does it remind us of in terms of Christ’s own character? What does it really look like in my life to “follow” after Christ? And, perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves “where is Christ that I should follow Him to?”

John 12:26-30

12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Cost of Discipleship

When Christ says that those who serve him must also follow him, we can see plainly enough in the context of this passage, and the view to the cross he had, that this is a call for us to take up our cross. This conclusion is simple based on the fact that “where” He is can plainly be seen as suffering and death. Although there can also be a secondary meaning which I will explore in a minute.

The idea that we would be called by Christ to follow Him even to death had been enumerated at other times in Jesus’ ministry. For example Matthew 16:24-26 says explicitly, and ties well in with what Christ says in John 12:25:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What Jesus is saying here and in the John passage, is that we must obey His Word even if it doing so comes with difficulty. Obedience is not without cost. The life of a Christian is not promised to be easy. For one, we are constantly being put to the test, and molded by our Father into the likeness of His Son. This is a grand, albeit painful process. For two, we are identified with Jesus, which in this world can mean anything from snarky comments to the death sentence.

But what is wonderful about what Jesus is saying here is that the there is a real, tangible benefit to all of this difficulty – not only life itself, eternal life – but also honor from the father.

The Reward for Following Christ is Christ Himself

And so, that leads me to explore the flip side, if you will, of what it means to be with Christ where He is, because in a very real sense the verse above shows us that the reward of God’s people is God Himself. It says, “and where I am, there will my servant be also” and this, to me, seems to indicate that Christ Himself and His presence with us will be a great portion of our reward. For we follow Christ not only into the battlements of war here on earth, but also into the blessedness of heaven to come.

In his book ‘Holiness’ J.C. Ryle explains that our striving toward holiness on this earth is as much to please God here on earth, as it is to prepare us to enjoy heaven.  For heaven will be a holy place, and for those who imagine heaven as otherwise are quite mistaken.

“What could an unsanctified man do in Heaven, if by any chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” – J.C. Ryle

In his short discipleship book ‘In Our Joy’ John Piper talks about this, and its worth quoting him on this extensively due to the impact his own thinking has had on mine, and millions of others in this area:

Jesus bases our present joy explicitly on the hope for great reward. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He does not define the reward. But in the whole context of his life and message, the essential reward is fellowship with Jesus himself and with God the Father through him (John 17:3, 24).

There are several pointers to this understanding. For example, Jesus says to his disciples just before his death, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The indomitable joy that Jesus promises is based on his own presence: “I will see you again.” Similarly Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy is mentioned by John the Baptist, and he bases it on the presence of Jesus, comparing Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to his friend: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29) John’s “complete” joy is based on the presence of Jesus.

Therefore, I conclude that the essence of the reward that we count on to complete our joy is the fullness of the presence of Jesus experienced in the age to come. The reason that we can rejoice now is not only that we taste that future fellowship in hope, but also that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit. He promised us, as he left to return to the Father, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He said that the Spirit of truth would come and make Jesus gloriously real to us even though he is physically absent. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will . . . glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Therefore, even though we can’t see Jesus now, we hope in him with great joy, and he sustains that joy by his continual presence.

Honor from the Father

There seems to be a second part of this reward, which Jesus says is “honor” from the Father. It would be really easy to simply pass by this and not really think much about it, but I think we’d do well to linger here just a bit, if only to marvel at the revelation we’ve been given.

I honestly can only make a few educated guesses as to what “honor” from God might look like, but I know that in relative contrast to being honored by men, it must evoke awe from the honoree!  What I’m saying here is that so often we love the praise of other men – I know that I enjoy a good “attaboy!” from friends or colleagues. In fact I think we often seek the praise of men to the detriment of what God would have us do.

Many times in the past I have been convicted about how often I relish the praise of men, and each time my mind turns to this weakness, the third stanza of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ often brings me to my knees. The words are as follows:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Notice how man’s empty praise is here contrasted with God being our inheritance. Samuel Rutherford once said, “His well done is worth a shipful of good-days and earthly honours.”

I would ask you to examine yourselves and see if this is your mindset.  Can you agree with the hymnist and with Rutherford? Can you truly say that your reward is an imperishable one?  And if so, is your mindset such that the praise you receive on earth is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us?

12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Troubled in Soul

His human psyche must have been overwhelmed by the painful thought of that death. Why? Because He knew what pain was. He had spent the last 33 years on this earth and knew physical and emotional pain.

But more than that, He knows that what He values most is about to be ripped away from Him –His communion with the Father. During His time on the cross Jesus will suffer something He has never faced – separation from His Father. When the Father turns His back on the Son, the Son in agony cries out “why have you forsaken me!?”  The anguish that the Son goes through at this moment is pure Hell.

The word “troubled” here is significant. Carson says, “The verb is a strong one, and signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.

I do not suppose to know whether Jesus truly knew in His humanity that this would happen as it did, but I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus understood the ramifications of what He was undertaking. And this is why John records for us Jesus’ words and we must ponder them carefully if we’re to understand the sacrifice and the depth of pain that our Savior endured on our account.

Not My Will, But Thy Will be Done

Now, as to the latter part of the verse, and whether Jesus is asking a true question, or actually praying a prayer (Carson), I do not know entirely and am not wholly convinced of Carson’s argument that this is not a question in the true sense, but rather a prayer asking for deliverance as in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, because of the fact that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He knew His purpose, and He knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant end. You can see the human and the divine nature here so clearly. He is troubled in the weakness of His flesh. His souls is shaken. He is probably greatly afflicted with intense emotion and perhaps anxiety of a kind that shakes you to the core. Yet, at the same time, He knows what He has to do. He says, “And what shall I say?” It is as if we are witnessing here an internal discussion, almost as if Jesus is thinking out loud and we see the back and forth.  Carson aptly quotes Bengel, “The horror of death, and the ardour of His obedience, were meeting together.”

Note that in His flesh He acknowledges the painful proposition ahead, but then He answers it by saying that will not pray something that He knows is outside of God’s will.  As Carson remarks, “This request is nothing other than an articulation of the principle that has controlled his life and ministry. The servant who does not stoop to his own will, but who performs the will of the one who sent him – even to death on a cross – is the one who glorified God.”

More than Restraint

So Christ restrains Himself from asking something of God that He knows will displease Him and run counter to the purpose for which He came to this earth. But it is more than simply restraint, as Carson argues, it is an active passionate obedience.  Carson says, “But the focus of the prayer transcends mere acquiescence; it betrays acquiescence that is subsumed under the passionate desire to bring glory to God, in much the same way that the petition ‘hallowed be your name’ in the Lord’s model prayer presupposes the active obedience of the one who is praying.”

As we have looked closely at this, it has humbled me greatly. I think of how often I have thought that merely acquiescing to the Lord’s will or my life’s circumstances was pleasing to God.  As if my formalist obedience was a sacrifice of some great magnitude. But Christ here shows us something more. He didn’t go to sulking to the cross with a drooping head. Christ does not model stoicism or begrudging obedience, rather He models for us a passion for God’s glory that completely subsumed His mind.  Like the angels of Zechariah 3 were consumed with glorifying God through the dressing of the high priest, so we too much be like Christ and His angelic creations and be completely subsumed with the thought: how can I glorify God in every action, every thought, every breathe I take?

So often we think the least common denominator will please God, we think of how much we can get away with and how far we can stretch His law and His patience, when we ought to be thinking, “Is this reflective of holiness? Or: Does this please God?”  In his book ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ Kevin DeYoung points out that this is a frequent mistake we make – especially seen in our dating/pre-marital relationships.  We think about our physical interaction with our fiancé and ask the question “how far is too far?”  When we ought to be asking, “How can we best tailor our actions toward holiness and righteousness?” Or, “Is this pleasing to God?”

Let us also seek to do more than simply curb the sinful impulses of our nature, or bow begrudgingly under the rule of God’s law; let us seek to develop holiness in our character, mind, and actions. Let us always be seeking to please God – for if we love Him, we will certainly seek to please Him!

12:28-30 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

The fact that Jesus had his prayer answered so quickly by an audible voice from heaven may not stun us, the reader, living 2000 years later and reading this in black and white type. But to those around him it must have been a shocking, and even scary site to behold. The fact that some in the crowd thought it was an angel that spoke, while others thought that it was simply thunder, has not been fully understood by several theologians except to say that some seemed to be more discerning than others that there was an audible voice of some kind, though they misinterpreted its author as an angel. Though it didn’t seem as though any of them really understood what was said from the way the text is laid out, so Christ must have told them the thing after the fact (Carson).

Taking Measure of Our Desires

Now Jesus ends His prayer showcasing His strongest desire: that God’s name would be glorified. I think its fair to say that very often our strongest desires bubble up in our prayers. We secretly let God know what it is that we want most in the world. Some of these things are very noble and good things.  But I think of the times I have prayed to God, and I can hardly recall very many instances wherein I truly desired for God’s name to be magnified and glorified in the way that I imagine Jesus desired it to be. To hear Jesus pray is so humbling – it’s a heart check for us.  Hearing Him pray ought to cause us to ask ourselves this: what are our greatest desires?

I am reminded of Psalm 37:4-6:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday

How is He Glorified?

If one cross references the last time such an instance had occurred in the life of Jesus one would think immediately of two instances, the baptism of Jesus and the Mount of Transfiguration. In both of these two other scenes Jesus had been in the midst of several people when a voice had come booming from the heavens.  What is the purpose of these events? I believe it is to attest to the deity of Christ and to point us to the event of the cross, which would be the one place where Christ is most glorified.

John MacArthur explains why:

God receives glory when His attributes are manifested, and nowhere was His magnanimous love for helpless sinners, His holy wrath against sin, His perfect justice, His redeeming grace, his forgiving mercy, or His infinite wisdom more clearly seen than in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of His Son.

For Your Sake

Finally, look at verse 30 and we’ll see that Jesus has directed us to turn our attention to the fact that the voice was not for his sake primarily, but rather for “your sake.”

As I mentioned above, all of these supernatural events were happening in the life of Jesus as a way to point us toward the realization of who Jesus is.  You have to ask the question: who is this man, and what is He all about?

What makes me shudder is to see that a voice literally spoke from heavens attesting that this Jesus is who He says He is, and yet there are still people who remain in their unbelief. The old joke of people not believing a thing even if it was “written in the sky” comes to mind. I don’t know how you can get much more plain than this. This man Jesus had done super human miracle after miracle from healing people, to casting out demons, to walking on water and calming a sea. He seems to know their thoughts and their hearts, and their pasts (John 1:48-49; 4:16-19), and now, to top it all, he is the subject (for a third time) of a literal voice addressing Him from heaven.  At this point, you continue in your unbelief at your own peril.

The Necessity of Memorizing Scripture

In yesterday’s class we were able to listen to Pastor John Piper expound on why it is so necessary to be memorizing scripture.  I’ve posted the video below so you can see it if you missed class.  In addition, I would encourage you to find ways to memorize scripture with your family – maybe with your spouse or with the kids.

I am personally not a very great memorizer of Scripture, but I’m working toward being better.  I use an app(lication) called ‘Fighter Verses‘ that is available for download in the Android or iTunes App store.  It was originally designed by some folks from John Piper’s church (Bethlehem Baptist) as a way to people in the church memorizing scripture and was set to flashcards. If you go to their church website, you’ll notice that at the bottom of most pages they have the scripture memory verse for the week.  Such a heavy emphasis on scripture memorization church-wide is commendable

Now you can memorize with the aid of several helpful quiz styles, pick your own verses, listen to them with the audio feature and even in some cases hear them to music.  I’d highly recommend this app if you are comfortable with technology.

Now Below is another few reasons that Pastor John provides for memorizing scripture.  The link is here, and the rest is pasted below:

First, a few testimonies: I have it third hand, that Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary once made the statement (and I paraphrase) that if it were his decision, every student graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary would be required to learn one thousand verses word perfect before they graduated.

Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” inVocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7).

Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], p. 61).

One of the reasons Martin Luther came to his great discovery in the Bible of justification by faith alone was that in his early years in the Augustinian monastery he was influenced to love Scripture by Johann Staupitz. Luther devoured the Bible in a day when people earned doctorates in theology without even reading the Bible. Luther said that his fellow professor, Andreas Karlstadt, did not even own a Bible when he earned his doctor of theology degree, nor did he until many years later (Richard Bucher, “Martin Luther’s Love for the Bible“). Luther knew so much of the Bible from memory that when the Lord opened his eyes to see the truth of justification in Romans 1:17, he said, “Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory,” in order to confirm what he had found.

So here are a few reasons why so many have viewed Scripture memorization as so essential to the Christian life.

1. Conformity to Christ

Paul wrote that “we all, . . . beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18)) If we would be changed into Christ likeness we must steadily see him. This happens in the word. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21). Bible memorization has the effect of making our gaze on Jesus steadier and clearer.

2. Daily Triumph over Sin

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. . . . I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:911). Paul said that we must “by the Spirit . . . put to death the [sinful] deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The one piece of armor used to kill is the “sword of the Spirit” which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). As sin lures the body into sinful action, we call to mind a Christ-revealing word of Scripture and slay the temptation with the superior worth and beauty of Christ over what sin offers.

3. Daily Triumph over Satan

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he recited Scripture from memory and put Satan to flight (Matthew 4:1-11).

4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love

The times when people need you to give them comfort and counsel do not always coincide with the times you have your Bible handy. Not only that, the very word of God spoken spontaneously from your heart has unusual power. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” That is a beautiful way of saying, When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth.

5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers

Opportunities to share the gospel come when we do not have the Bible in hand. Actual verses of the Bible have their own penetrating power. And when they come from our heart, as well as from the Book, the witness is given that they are precious enough to learn. We should all be able to sum up the gospel under four main headings (1) God’s holiness/law/glory; 2) man’s sin/rebellion/disobedience; 3) Christ’s death for sinners; 4) the free gift of life by faith. Learn a verse or two relating to each of these, and be ready in season and out of season to share them.

6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and Ways

The way we commune with (that is, fellowship with) God is by meditating on his attributes and expressing to him our thanks and admiration and love, and seeking his help to live a life that reflects the value of these attributes. Therefore, storing texts in our minds about God helps us relate to him as he really is. For example, imagine being able to call this to mind through the day:

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

I used the word “enjoyment” intentionally when I said, “communion with God in the enjoyment of his person and ways.” Most of us are emotionally crippled—all of us, really. We do not experience God in the fullness of our emotional potential. How will that change? One way is to memorize the emotional expressions of the Bible and speak them to the Lord and to each other until they become part of who we are. For example, in Psalm 103:1, we say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” That is not a natural expression for many people. But if we memorize this and other emotional expressions from the Bible, and say them often, asking the Lord to make the emotion real in our hearts, we can actually grow into that emotion and expression. It will become part of who we are. We will be less emotionally crippled and more able to render proper praise and thanks to God.

There are other reasons for memorizing Scripture. I hope you find them in the actual practice.