The Power of Words

The Power of Words

A Sermon to be delivered on October 4, 2015 at Christ Redeemer Church in Newark, OH

Introduction and Background

When I sat down at the wire-framed outdoor table at Panera, it had been a long day already. I hadn’t eaten that afternoon, and constant phone calls had my ear throbbing.

The email from one of my best friends the day before saying that he’d like to get together this evening, had come as a bit of a surprise. He said he’d like to share something that had been on his heart.

A heart to heart? With another dude? “Something must be wrong”, I thought to myself.

The last time I had received such an email, my buddy had uncomfortably approached me about some sin in my life – some things that I hadn’t thought much at all about, but that had been nagging at him for weeks, if not months.  

Was this going to be another such encounter? “No way!” I thought, searching my mind a little here and there between meetings and calls. I can’t think of anything I’ve done wrong…wonder what this is all about…

But sure enough, the awkward meeting was not long underway before I learned that some of my words had offended. And there was no way around it – I had blown it.

As it turns out, I had used words that offended my friend.

If you have ever been so fortunate as to have had one of these lovely conversations, then you know two things about them. First, they are very uncomfortable. This isn’t a carnival cruise – its more like one of those miserable “free” cruises you win on the radio – you often get more than you bargain for, and its extremely uncomfortable!

Second, you know that they are moments of great learning and growth. They take a lot of courage for your friends, and they are orchestrated by God for your good. This is life in the New Covenant community. Life in the midst of the church, surrounded by people who care enough about you to kindly, but firmly say, “hey, we need to talk.”

The Key Point: Words are powerful, they can transform lives, heal broken hearts, topple great nations, and they are prized by our King. They are so because they reflect the character of God formed in us. They reflect our hearts.

This passage has many dimensions to it, but I especially want to focus on words this morning.

So let us begin where Paul begins to get an idea of the context for his exhortations.

In every Christian right doctrine, right knowledge of Jesus and His Word, is the foundation for their speech. From right knowledge flow right actions, soft hearts, and truthful words.

The Context – The Transformed Mind 

Back up with me, and read from Ephesians 4 beginning in verse 17 where Paul is going to remind the Ephesian church of “how they learned Christ” – that is to say, who they are in Christ.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. [18] They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. [19] They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. [20] But that is not the way you learned Christ!—[21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, [22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)

John Stott argues that the “putting off” and “putting on” of this passage isn’t in the imperative, that is to say, it isn’t a direct command. Rather it’s a reminder of the truth that’s already been accomplished by Jesus in their lives.

Paul is not telling them something new. He is appealing to a truth they ought to know already – if indeed they have “learned Christ” – and he knows they have.

He is reminding them that as new creations in Christ, they must act in a way that reflects their new life. They must not clamp back on the shackles Jesus has paid a great price to break them free of.

As Stott reminds us, “Being a Christian involves radical change.” Once that radical change has taken place in our lives, we cannot, we must not live outside of that reality.

Therefore, Paul is reminding them of the gospel. And so it is that right doctrine leads to right behavior.

With that in mind, he begins to exhort them.

As we read these verses, notice that there is both a negative exhortation and a positive instruction. Put on/Put off. It is not good enough not to say or do something; one must replace the chains and filth of previous speech with the grace and beauty of speech that marks the new life in Christ.

Put off Falsehood

4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Earlier in the chapter Paul says:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

This earlier instruction flowed from an explanation that their elders served the purpose of building up the church. They are a “gift” to the church because they are speaking the words of God’s truth to the congregation.

This reminds us of the importance of a good pastor/elder!

But Paul extends his instruction to the entire congregation because we have all been joined to Jesus through adoption. We have become fellow heirs and sons in His royal family.

Falsehood ought not to mark the people of God because it is lies that serve as the foundation for the enemies kingdom.

John MacArthur notes that every other world religion is built upon Satan’s lies. The world fell into darkness through belief in lies. The Son of God was crucified because men believed lies. Jesus’ own apostle Peter denied Him speaking lies and cuss words.

In J.R.R. Tolkein’s great writing, the enemy emanating from the land of Mordor is said to speak in “black speech” – a term coined to convey the filth of evil.

Falsehood is the province of the enemy, and no Christian ought to dabble in the black speech of Satan.

Falsehood breaks fellowship. This is like the hand stabbing the leg “behind its back” (so to speak)! It affects the whole body. It is like aiding and abetting the enemy; allowing him to use us to hurt other members of our Lord’s glorious army.

James reminds us:

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:7-10)

And so Paul continues… 

Put off Corrupt Speech/Put on Grace 

4:29-30 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. [30] And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  

Let me first state what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that we not speak boldly against injustice or against evil. And sometimes those types of words seem to have a destructive appearance, not an edifying one. However, speaking words of truth from a spirit of love, speaking truth in the face of injustice and evil and villainy, while it may scandalize the listener, will later build up those who are wise, and have a purging affect on those who are true believers in the long term.

To give a secular example – Ronald Reagan did not temper his words at the Brandenburg Gate. Though his senior advisers (Powell/Baker) didn’t want that line use, saying it was “unpresidential” and didn’t fit the occasion, Reagan disagreed. At the crucial moment, he spoke truth, and that truth led to the end of the cold war.

To give a spiritual example – Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms did not temper his words or take back what he had written in his books. Even though it caused great division and scandal in the church in the short term, in the long term Martin Luther helped bring the church out of darkness and into the light of the truth of God’s word.

What Paul is saying is this: you are new creations in Christ. Do not let your words resemble a polluted, mangled, and fallen creation. Do not let your words signal corruption and sin.

Corruption is closely associated with the Fall, and that old body of sin which you have left behind. Corrupt speech ought not to characterize those whom Christ is re-creating in His image.

Words that edify are not always easy words to hear, but they ought always to be gracious words. Our Lord was said to be “full of grace and truth”, and though he had hard saying and rebukes for the people, yet His words always fit the occasion.

“Fitting the occasion” has to do with discernment. Later on Paul goes on to state, “…try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).

May we have discernment as He did, using words that are a balm of healing as well as a sword of truth.

And the motive for our words is to please the Lord and not grieve the Spirit.

You are to remember what Christ has done for you – particularly in giving the gift of the Spirit who has “Sealed” you for the day of redemption, when Christ comes back.

This is like Paul stating, “your great Savior and Friend has given you the help and safety of the Spirit, and you ought to remember that speaking to others in corruption also hurts your friend Jesus and His Spirit.”

It is a beautiful gospel truth that woven into Paul’s exhortation there is a reminder that they have been “Sealed” until Christ’s return. That is to say, nothing they can do or say will now separate them from their Lord.

And Paul’s choice of “redemption” is not accidental. It is a reminder that while they strive against “corruption” which still inhabits their flesh, they know that one day their mouths will be “redeemed” – God’s re-creation will be complete.

He continues…

Put off Slander/Put on Kindness

4:31-32 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [32] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  

Here is the perfect example of the put on/put off. He says to put away anger and clamor and slander and malice, but to put on kindness and tenderheartedness.

Slander is the maligning of another person’s character – often behind their backs. It is the destroying of a reputation. Basically, it is the passing of judgment on another often in order to show oneself in a superior light.

Again, there is a difference between speaking truth, and maliciously tearing down another person. Often we say things behind someone’s back that we’d never speak to their face. These things ought not to be (James 3:10).

Speaking a rebuke in the spirit of love is done from a desire to edify, and done to someone’s face.

What is the remedy? Gospel kindness.

You can forgive, you can stop slandering, you can conquer bitterness BECAUSE God has done a great thing in Christ.

This is not simply a reminder of the example of Jesus as a pattern to follow. It is a command to replace Spirit-empowered kindness with flesh-corrupted slander.

You have been empowered by the Spirit to live in the likeness of His pattern.

Therefore, not only does the example of Jesus humble and focus our minds, but the Spirit gives us the desires we need to be kind, to speak truthfully, to withhold slander, and the maligning of others.

This is what it means to live as a new creation – this is what new covenant life in Jesus is all about.

Conclusion – To what end are we living?

5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. [2] And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Let me conclude with these two verses because they are a beautiful reminder of who we are in Christ, and to what end we are aiming.

Too often we Christians abuse our freedom in Christ. I believe this is the case because we forget the cost of our loose words, and the power they contain for good.

No one here wakes up on Saturday morning having to make the trek to the temple. You don’t have to spend several hours hauling or herding an animal to its destination, only to watch the animal butchered, the blood pouring out in sacrifice. You don’t have to spend your afternoons staring at the blood trickling down over the alter; a reminder of why you would be there in the first place – sin. You sinned.

Yet we do have a sacrifice – and a bloody one at that.

Too often our thoughts are not meditating upon the cross in a meaningful and personal way. Too often we forget that profane word, that unkind gesture, that crude joke, that unloving action, all cost Christ a painful trip to the cross.

So Paul wants us to remember the gospel – not in order to enslave us to moralism, but to remind us that we have been bought with a price, and that price was far too high for us to be uncaring in action, cold in heart, and loose with our words.

So in these final two verses the apostle says that we are to “imitate God” in order to be a “Fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

There are two main things we need to take away here…

  1. You have been adopted into the family of Jesus, and are joined to Him spiritually as a bride is joined to the bridegroom. Therefore your identity is to be found in Him. We are to be imitators of Him as “beloved children.” You have put off the old man and put on the new. Brothers and sisters, let us walk that way this week – in the power of the Spirit, let us strive toward holiness with our mouths. Lifting each other up. Saying things that mark us as Christians. Not saying other things that would cause our Father grief.
  1. The aim of our speech is to bring glory to God. If we cannot say for certain that our words would be a pleasing aroma to Jesus, then we ought to reconsider their content.

Ultimately, there is life and death in our words – there’s a great deal at stake, as Paul reminds us elsewhere:

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

No one is sufficient for them because we cannot fully understand the privilege of being a child of the King and representing Him here on earth.

Not only is it our privilege, but bringing glory to God is the highest reason for our very existence. For as Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Jonathan Edwards sums up:

In God, the love of what is fit and decent, cannot be a distinct thing from the love of Himself, because the love of God is that wherein all holiness primarily and chiefly consists, and God’s own holiness must primarily consist in the love of Himself. And if God’s holiness consists in love to Himself, then it will imply an approbation of the esteem and love of Him in others. For a being that loves himself, necessarily loves love to himself. If holiness in God consists chiefly in love to himself, holiness in the creature must chiefly consist in love to Him. And if God loves holiness in Himself, he must love it in the creature (pg. 173 the end for which God made the world).

Our words reflect the very image of God being renewed in us, and therefore the character of God being formed in us is shown forth in our words. Because God regards His own character as the most pleasing and worthwhile thing in the universe, He loves to see this character reflected back to Himself and shown to a watching world as a testament to His own greatness.

May the Lord bless the rays of His character that shine forth from your mouths, and may you look at your words more carefully – for what they really are – powerful tools in the Redeemers hand, reflections of His attributes and the work He has done within you, for the edification of the church and the glory of God.

Amen.

 

 

 

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The Glory of the Lord Transforms Us

This past Sunday evening I preached a sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.  The audio is below.  This has been such an important text for me in my growth and understanding and I hope you also enjoy the sermon.

My introduction and four point outline is also below for the sermon.

God’s Grace Working Through God’s Glory to Renew God’s Image in Man
He is gracious in His plan, glorious in His application, and His teleos is our restoration

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Introduction

I’ve titled this sermon ‘God’s Grace Working Through God’s Glory to Renew God’s Image in Man’.  This passage of scripture, particularly 3:18, has had an outsized impact on my spiritual life.  It has shown me more about the operation of the Lord than many books on the topic of sanctification. It shows that He is gracious in His plan, glorious in His application, and His teleos is our restoration.

One of the things you’ll notice about this message in particular, is how much Jonathan Edwards has impacted my thinking, and at times it may seem as though Edwards himself is preaching the sermon and I’m only the one who was dictating. Well that’s fine by me, because no one in the last few hundred years has better expounded upon the glory of Jesus Christ as Jonathan Edwards.

I’ve broken the passage into four parts, and they are as follows:

  1. The Supremacy of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant
  1. Only Through Faith in Christ is the Veil of Unbelief Removed
  1. The Ministry of the Spirit in the lives of New Covenant Believers
  1. The Process of Sanctification will find its Teleos in Glorification

The goal is that we will see more clearly the glory of the Lord in His Word and pray that the Spirit will apply that to our hearts.

John 17:1-3 How the Son Brings Glory to the Father

Introduction to John 17

Perhaps chapter 17 of this gospel could be said to be the apex of the theology that John has been narrating for us.  That theology, that doctrine which has been so beautifully and in some instances ineffably expounded for us by our Lord in the last few chapters has now come to a point in which we find the Lord breaking from his addresses to the disciples and beginning to address His Father.

There is a sense in which this chapter is so holy, so high, and so magnificent that we must take a step back in wonder that the Lord God would allow us the privilege of listening in on a conversation between the members of the Trinity.

Sinclair Ferguson rightly states that “John 17 is holy ground, and, at least metaphorically, we need to take off our shoes if we are to walk on it.”

I readily admit that in the weeks leading up to my studies on this chapter I had a wariness about it simply because of the depth of the mysteries here.  Not necessarily because the concepts are too difficult to understand, but because of the shear weight of the glory and excellency of it.  There is an excitement in reading it and wanting to study it, but there is also a holy fear in approaching it in anyway less than Jesus would have us to.  I have no adequate words to articulate what I mean to say here, and perhaps my own inadequacy upon the commencement of the study is the only safe place to be.

Therefore I encourage you to look on with me as we examine the chapter together and ask that God would mercifully grant us discernment and right thinking; that we might “think His thoughts after Him” as so many have wisely expressed.

17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, [2] since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

When John says, “When Jesus had spoken these words” he’s meaning the entirety of the discourses that we’ve just been studying.  Jesus is in the garden, in Gethsemane, and He is praying presumably aloud so that His disciples may benefit from what He has to say.  Again, we recall that all of what Jesus has been saying to them is with the aim of comforting them and leading them into truth.  He is setting them on a course of understanding, and His love for them and their guidance seems to overwhelm any specific care for His own end. Not that He is capricious about His death, far from it, rather He is focused on serving and loving His disciples until the very end (see John 13:1), and this same purpose is born out in His prayer.

His first sentence contains three amazing truths:

1. His Hour Has Come

It’s been mentioned before, but it’s worth repeating, that Jesus was driving toward a goal in His ministry.  He has His face set on the cross and was determined to see His mission to its end (Luke 9:51).  So when He states “the hour has come” we must understand that Jesus, the man, was not only conscious that He had a mission here to obey, but Jesus as God in the flesh understood that this plan was one of His own devising from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:1-4).

2. Glory is mutually Shared Within the Trinity

Jesus says here “glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you.”  It is a distinct characteristic of the Trinity that they all have a passion for one another’s glory.  The Spirit exalts the Son and the Son exalts the Father, and the Father takes pleasure in shining a spotlight on the Son, and here for the last few chapters the Son has been lauding the divine work of the Spirit.

The Son’s greatest desires are to magnify the work of the Father, the plan of the Father, the purposes of the Father, the character and attributes of the Father and the love of the Father and so on.  Likewise He appeals to His Father’s plan here in that He desires for the Father to glorify Him in order that He will bring glory to His Father. As Bruce Ware notes, “…more than anything else, Jesus cared about doing what the Father wanted him to do.”  The intensity of desire to magnify one another cannot be missed.

Specifically, when Jesus in this context is saying, “glorify your son” He’s referencing the cross.  How will the cross then glorify the Father?  John Piper says that there are at least two ways God will get glory and specifically take pleasure in the cross:

  1. God’s pleasure is in what the Son accomplishes in dying.
  2. The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory.

Piper says this, “It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for 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 this message: The glory of God is of infinite value! The Glory of God is on infinite value!

Piper ends by saying, “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!”

3. Jesus Has All Authority

It is simply an amazing truth that Jesus had all authority vested in Himself, yet did not abuse that authority. His authority extended not only to those around Him (as teacher of a small group of men), not only to his role as an influential public figure (whose popularity with the masses was ever increasing), but to the very expanses of the heavens and the entire universe itself.

The old saying goes that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet Jesus who had absolute power could never be corrupted. When referring to His inevitable triumph over Satan and the world we have recently read the following:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And so for Jesus, power was used at His discretion and it only took one thought, one snap of the figures, one spoken word of “be still” (Mark 4:39) and all of creation would obey. We’re going to see later that the mere mention of His name brings heathens to their knees (John 18:6).

The point is that all authority was vested in Jesus and this authority He used to bring gory to the Father.

Now, how is it that He does this?  If we’re not careful we’ll miss it.  Jesus says that “since” the Father has given Him all authority “over all flesh” He is able to “give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

Two points about this: First, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to sinful, fallen, spiritually dead human beings and, secondly, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to a specific group of human beings and thus fulfilling the plan of election that the Father and the Son have drawn up from before the foundation of the World (again, Eph. 1).

Jesus Glorified In the Salvation of Sinners

There are so many times – many, many times – when the question has come up in seminary or in Sunday School or in a discipleship class that tends to the “why” of God’s method of redemption. The question usually sounds something like this: Why in the world did God create all of us when He knew that sin was going to happen?  Why didn’t He just prevent sin in the first place?

From “the ground” (to use Matt Chandler’s vernacular) this seems just as mysterious as it does from God’s perspective (if we were putting ourselves in His seat, that is).  From the ground, we see our sin-ravaged world and our fallen miserable state and wonder “why God?”

There are mysteries that go beyond the ability for us to know the heart of “why.”  Job asked the same things.  He protested that God was not being merciful to him.  God didn’t address Job with answers but instead rebuked him over the course of three chapters that basically said in a nutshell “I am God and you are not – who are you to ask why?”

Human theologians have done everything they possibly can to create excuses or ways out for God (theodicies) so that He is not the author of sin and evil and yet somehow still has control over all things.  And while I also affirm these two truths, I think the aim is wrong.  We don’t need to let God off the hook.  The truth is that He ordained the world to be as it is and He ordained that His Son would die for our sins before He ever said “let there be light.”

That still leaves us with the question: why? And though we cannot answer or understand the deepest counsels of God’s will, we do get a very clear purpose statement here as to the broader reason for this, and its couched in the context of salvation.

Jesus tells us plainly here that the reason why He has been granted authority to give salvation is to glorify God.  Therefore, all of the purposes of God for this world, which are so intrinsically and beautifully tied up in the mission of Christ, are foundationally to be understood in terms of God’s glory.  God sent His son for the same reason He breathed life into Adam and Eve: for His glory.  Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension are all basically founded in this principle – God’s glory.  At the heart of every breath, every word, ever action of our Lord during His time here on earth was this goal: for His glory.

As John Piper nicely sums up, “When we are dealing with the glory of God, we are dealing with a reality that is not only ultimate in the aim of history, but central to the gospel.”

God Glorified in Jesus’ Salvation of the Elect

The second part of this is that Jesus says this, “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”  He is now speaking in the third person, referring to “him” as himself, Jesus.

At the very heart of this mission of salvation is the salvation of a specific group of people – the elect of God.  Jesus’ aim in bringing God glory is founded in the purpose for which He came, namely to die for those whom He had foreordained unto salvation.

This atonement, this sacrifice was not for a faceless, nameless mass of unknown people, but for an elect group of saints chosen from before the foundation of the world.  Piper states, “The atonement does not make possible the spiritual quickening of all people; it makes certain and effective the spiritual quickening of the elect.”

Interestingly, when you get into discussions with people in church about the nature of election one of the things that dissenters inevitably bring up is the supposed “unfairness” of election. And, of course, the idea that God would have a specific group of elect people in mind is offensive to many people.  Even evangelicals in our own sphere of influence would rather not pause over this verse too long for fear that it might lead them to believe the Jesus actually knew those for whom He was about to die!

Yet we cannot skip over this detail because evidently this is the way Jesus seems to want to bring the most glory to the Father.  Remember, Jesus’ aim here is to bring maximum glory to the Father.  And in His prayer to the Father in this chapter it will become evident again and again.

So when He says He has come to give eternal life to “all whom you (the Father) have given him (the Son)” He is saying that in His mission to bring the Father the most possible glory, the Father has endued the Son with all of the authority necessary to dispense eternal life. And that eternal life is to be dispersed according to a plan that has been made between the Members of the Trinity from before the foundation of the world.  I’ve cited this before but it seems good just to read this passage from Paul here:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so when Paul says here that God predestined those who were chosen “in him before the foundation of the world” the purpose of this was “to the praise of His glorious grace”!

Why does God only save some and not others.  We can’t know the hidden councils of the Lord (Romans 11:33-36) for they are past finding out, but we can know that God does things the way He does them in order to achieve maximum fame and glory for Himself.  Therefore I conclude that Jesus’ goal in achieving the atonement for his chosen people is grounded in the fact that this will bring the Father maximum glory.

So, as you can see, the end of all things is glory of God.  Christ sought us, bought us, and here intercedes for us in order to bring the Father glory.

Edwards puts it this way, “All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, ‘the glory of God’; which is the name by which the last end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture.”

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There are a few places in the New Testament that the gospel of salvation is laid out with such succinctness and this is one of them. Jesus has already said that His mission here is to give eternal life to those whom God gave to Him.  And we’ve talked about how obedience to this plan brings God glory. But what struck me about verse three here is that Jesus is so gracious in His awareness that we would have this verse for centuries to come.  He clarifies even more what He was saying.

Therefore this verse is the equivalent of John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

He proclaims that the Father is the only true God – adoration and acknowledgement of the truth of who God is – and ties this to what eternal life means: to “know” God the Father and to “know” Jesus Christ (note that he equates himself to being on par with God, and thus equal with God).

This word “know” is the familiar word for NT scholars ginōskō and carries with it the same close knowledge or understanding that you would have with anyone that you came to know over a period of time.

What Jesus is saying is that eternal life is rooted in having a relationship with God – and this relationship is life-giving.  That life, which is not in us for we have fallen, flows from the Holy Spirit who keeps us sealed until the day of Christ’s return.

These are supernatural concepts; they have eternal consequences.  So to those who say that Jesus taught merely moral teachings for us to follow as examples, I say that you have missed the entire point of Jesus’ ministry.  And its verses like this that make this all the more evident.

John 16:25-33: He has Overcome the World

Below are my sunday school notes from today’s lesson on Christ’s Overcoming the World.  This passage is a sweet one, and the notes cover verses 25-33 of chapter 16 in John’s gospel.  I hope you enjoy them!

PJW

16:25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.

Why is it that Jesus spoke in parables? Some say it was to help those around him better understand what he was trying to explain.  We commonly jump to that conclusion because its how we use figures of speech.  When we are trying to communicate a complex idea to our children, we often resort to more simple analogies to help them understand what we are saying.  The goal is so that no matter the age, they will understand what we are saying because we have adapted it to their way of understanding.

However, this was not necessarily the purpose of how Jesus spoke.  If his purpose had been to make things more understandable, then why just now is He promising to speak “plainly” to them about the Father?  The implication is that up until this time He has purposefully made it more difficult for them to understand.

D.A. Carson wisely explains that Jesus isn’t simply referring to one particularly hard saying, but to His entire discourse (and perhaps His ministry in general).

If the sayings of Jesus are life and a door unto truth, then the Holy Spirit who guides us into “all truth” is the key to that door. In this way Jesus magnifies the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, and the privilege of living in the New Covenant era.

As I quoted above from Hendricksen and Ridderbos, we need to remember that Jesus is ushering in a new era in human history and a new era in redemptive history as well, that is to say that God is about to inaugurate a new covenant with His chosen people.  That covenant will look entirely different than the old one. One of the primary ways it will look different is in the pouring out of His Spirit upon “all flesh” (Joel 2), resulting in our being able to clearly understand His word.

The promise of the Spirit leading us into all truth and helping us understand the truths of Jesus has been covered extensively in previous lessons.  But two key verses from earlier in the discourse may be enough to remind us of this truth:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

The Judgment of Parables

There is also a secondary reason that, as a sort of reminder, we might consider for why Jesus’ sayings were so difficult to understand, and why He spoke in enigmatic statements during His ministry.  That reason has to do with the judgment/dividing power of His words.

Remember Jesus was always concluding parables by saying “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”  Well there are many theories on this, but I believe that just as His righteousness light unto the world, a light that had a necessarily judging or dividing affect so also His teaching (think Matthew 10:34).  He was the light and the darkness necessarily was scattered from Him.  And we know from previous study why we who were in the dark run away – because our deeds were evil (see John 3:19-21).

So the teaching of Christ necessarily separated darkness from light. Though He did not come to judge the world (yet) in an ultimate sense, there is a sense in which His words heaped judgment on the consciences of men for their evil deeds were exposed by His teaching.

Therefore, I must agree with theologians Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger that the parables were spoken in judgment (White Horse Inn Podcast).  If these men and women had a heart for Christ, for the things of God, a heart that sought to understand His words humbly, then perhaps they would have been able to appropriate them to their lives.  But instead they rejected Jesus for His words – they hated Him without a cause.  Why?  Because His words, though veiled, pierced their hearts and convicted their consciences (Hebrews 4:12). You cannot be around the Light and not have your deeds exposed (Mark 4:22).

Think specifically of what we learned in John 12 as Jesus was teaching about the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 6).  This is an extended section, but is well worth examining again:

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:36-50)

Consequently, the Holy Spirit functions in the same way since Christ has ascended – something we covered in the earlier part of the chapter.  The Spirit is not only to help Christians, but also to convict the world.  It is the Spirit’s light – the light of truth – that convicts the consciences of mankind.

Therefore, when Jesus says that he will now tell them “plainly” about the Father, He is indicating again that they are on the verge of a new era in redemptive history. The judgment that has fallen upon His chosen people for their unbelief will fall upon His shoulders and He will hear it away for them upon the cross at Calvary.  For those who will receive the Spirit of Truth soon after, the teachings of Christ here in the final discourse will become more clear and more precious (and powerful for their ministry) than they were at the time of first apprehending them.

16:26-28 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

First, He loves them “because” they loved Jesus.  Love of Jesus is the prerequisite of obtaining love of the Father.  Yet, it was He who chose them and loved them first (He is the antecedent to their love, yet their reaction was obedience and love and that is what the Father is pleased with).

Secondly, how amazing is it that the Father loves us? It is an amazing statement here that Jesus says that it isn’t as though He alone loves them, but the Father also loves them – in fact it was His love that set off the mission of Christ in the first place (Ephesians 1:4-6).

For years one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament has been from Exodus 33.  Moses has been describes as having this intimate relationship with God, and to me it has always exuded the love that God had for His people – in particular Moses.

It says, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11).

In a similar way, Jesus, the greater fulfillment of the Mosaic mediator role, has provided a way for us to have a friendship with God.  Once we were enemies of God, but now we have been drawn close to Him, and here Jesus urges us to ask for things from Him.  He fills us with His Spirit, and gives us His word, and speaks to us through His word “as a man speaks to his friend.”

Will Jesus stop Praying for Us?

The way this verse is structured in the English translation of the Bible makes it confusing and even seems to say that when the Spirit comes we won’t need Jesus to intercede for us.  This is contrary the clear teaching in other portions of Scripture (Hendricksen agrees and cites Heb. 7:24, 25; 13:15).  Rather the meaning is that they will have reached a maturity level because of the Spirit’s work within them that they can now come before the Father themselves.  They (we) can actually approach the Holy One in His holy temple and offer prayers – this is only done, however, because of the atonement of Christ.  His righteousness is the only reason we are able to be made right with God, and His blood has been spilled to accomplish just that.

Quite a Trip…

Lastly, verse 28 summarizes His whole trip in travel terms: He came from heaven and came into the world, and now He’s leaving the world and going back to the Father. Later the next day He will say the same thing to Pontius Pilate.  Until this time Jesus had intimated that He was leaving, but now He plainly sums up that He is going to be leaving for a heavenly destination.

I love how William Hendricksen sees four movements in redemptive history here, and I think its worth quoting parts of his analysis:

First, “I cam out from the Father.” This refers to Christ’s perfect deity, his pre-existence, and his love-revealing departure from heaven in order to dwell on the sin-cursed earth..

Secondly, “I…am come into the world.” That describes Christ’s incarnation and his ministry among men.

Thirdly and fourthly, “Again I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” Note the present tense of both verbs. The path of suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension is, from one aspect, a departure from the world; from another point of view, it is a journey to the Father. On the basis of this voluntary obedience which Jesus is in the process of rendering, the Father (in the Spirit) exercises loving fellowship with those who are his own.

16:29-32 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.

There is more than a hint of a rebuke in the words of Jesus when He states, “do you now believe?”  R.C. Sproul says, “It’s almost as if He’s saying ‘Oh, now you believe? Where have you been the last three years?’”

His saying further illuminates their need for the Spirit and the reliance that all men have for God.  We are contingent beings, are we not?  We are creatures – we are not self-sufficient.  Our error comes when we stop thinking that we are contingent and instead assert ourselves as independent and self-sufficient.  When we do this, we make ourselves like God and fall into sin. This was the sin of Satan at the first, and it is the sin of many in our world today.

Calvin puts it this way, “The question put by Christ is therefore ironical; as if he had said, ‘Do you boast as if you were full of faith? But the trial is as hand, which will disclose your emptiness.’”

Side Note: I think that further evidence for Jesus speaking before about His coming again to them in the near future – that is, after the resurrection and not at the second coming – is given here again when Jesus states that “you will be scattered, each to his own home.” He is concerned primarily to reassure their hearts about events that are imminent.

What Christ is saying about the scattering of the disciples was also to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah 13:7 which states:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts.
 
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
 

That “sword” is the sword of the wrath of God that has been stored up and is going to come down on the head of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is going to take upon Himself all the wrath of God’s judgment that was meant for you and me.  Matthew Henry is right to cite Daniel 9:26a:

“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…”

Now the prophecy in Zechariah 13 is amazing to me for a few reasons:

First, notice how we humans are regarded – we (the disciples in this case) are called “the little ones” and “the sheep.” For all the confidence of the disciples they would later see this prophecy and no doubt feel once again humbled by who they are in comparison to who God is.

Second, here is the “Lord of hosts” (God) declaring from of old that He will strike the shepherd.  This shepherd is “the man who stands next to me.” This is Jesus Christ – the pre-incarnate Son (at the time of Zachariah, if we may speak so of time in relation to the being and existence of God without making a woefully inadequate statement). I can’t help but think of Isaiah 53:4,10 and the “crushing” of the Son, but also of the length to which He has purposefully gone to save us.  For as John would go on to write later:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

Furthermore, when we pull back to the passage again and examine what Jesus is saying here, it is good to take note of the mercy of Christ. For not only does He say these things about their imminent cowardice as a warning (“the sheep will be scattered”), but reassures them (and speaks truth to Himself aloud) that though they will leave Him alone, yet the Father will be with Him!

There are two great truths here in the final verses of this chapter. The first is this truth that no matter where Christ went, no matter what happened, the Father was with Him.  And the same can be said to us today. This is the first truth – that no matter where we go, He is with us.

The second truth is enumerated in verse 33…

16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The second truth (to continue my thought from verse 32) is that not only is Christ with us but there is a good reason for Him being with us – because He has overcome the world. The fact that He is with us wouldn’t be helpful if He was not also powerful! Not only is there a power here mentioned “overcome”, but also a legal fact.  Jesus is looking forward past the cross and saying that “I have overcome the world.”

I could be wrong, but I think there are two senses in which Jesus overcame the worldFirst, He lived a perfect life – there was no spot or blemish in Him and in this way (as we learned earlier) Satan wasn’t able to hold anything over His head:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

His perfect life was a life that “overcame” all sin and temptation.

But the second sense is a sense of looking forward to His work on the cross. Jesus is saying that by His death, burial, and resurrection He will triumph over the powers that rule this world. As Paul states:

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

And so the battle has been won decisively at the cross. And the consequences of union with Christ as that we also have been victorious in Him. His victory is our victory, and His righteousness is our righteousness.

All of this is said in the context of Jesus staring down the barrel of “tribulation.”  Tribulation will mark the lives we lead in this world, but there is a joy, which we can look forward to because ultimately He has “overcome the world.”  Not just “will” overcome, but “has” overcome.

And because of His victory, His power resides in us through the indwelling of the Spirit.  John MacArthur rightly remarks, “After the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the disciples would be radically transformed from men of fear to men of courage.”

The same is true for us.  We who are Christians had once lived a life dominated, indeed ruled, by fear.  Now we live by faith in the Son of God and walk by that faith daily by the power of the Spirit.  I can’t help but think of what Jonathan Edwards said about this in the Religious Affections as he’s describing the nature of the Christian and his gracious affections/fruit of the Spirit as it relates to God’s power working within the Christian:

…that the inward principle from whence they flow is something divine, a communication of God, a participation of the divine nature, Christ living in the heart, the Holy Spirit dwelling there in union with the faculties of the soul, as an internal vital principle, exerting His own proper nature in the exercise of those faculties. This is sufficient to show us why true grace should have such activity, power and efficacy. No wonder that that which is divine is powerful and effectual; for it has omnipotence on its side. If God dwells in the heart, and is vitally united to it, He will show that He is a God, by the efficacy of His operation.

Perhaps the best parallel Biblical passage I can think of to explain this comes to us from Romans 8 where we learn that Christ’s victory guarantees that we will never be separate from Him:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

The reality of this triumph needs to be applied daily to our lives. Christ applied it to the minds and hearts of His disciples on the brink of what must have seemed to them to be complete and utter disaster.

Therefore, when we encounter trials that we think are “disasters” remember the purposes of Christ in you, and that He has overcome all of these things and has not deserted you.

Relying on the Supernatural Power of Christ for Life and Strength

Below is a sermon I preached this past week on John 18:1-27.  It is the story of Peter’s three denials, and the power of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The weakness of man contrasted so clearly against the backdrop of Christ’s majestic power is hard to miss.  I hope you find the notes enjoyable!

Impotency and Sufficiency: Relying on the Supernatural Power of Christ for Life and Strength

Chapter 18:1-27

Introduction/Overview

The more I read this section of Scripture, and the more I prayed about this message, the heavier the burden became to examine with you a few very simple, yet profound truths this morning.

First, the hopeless, helpless condition of Peter and all humanity who might try and save themselves – and indeed there is a need of saving.

Second, the majestic power of Jesus displayed in the saving power of His gospel. His very name brings men to their knees, and His triumph is through tragedy – and so also can yours be if you trust in His power and not your own.

Background

Now in the lead up to the events we’ve just read about that transpired the morning that Jesus Christ was captured and taken prisoner have been enumerated in chapters 13-17.  It has been a few months since you studied these passages, so let me just remind you that Jesus had come into Jerusalem riding on a colt – people triumphantly praising His arrival, which John details in chapter 12.

Then, John records an extraordinary series of teachings from Jesus to His disciples in the final hours of His life before the early morning events we read about in chapter 18.  These final chapters (13-17) are called his “farewell discourses”, though chapter 17 is really just a prayer between Him and the Father. This prayer is typically called ‘The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.’

And having spent time on this already, I will not review all that was said, except to remind you that in that prayer Jesus explicitly prayed for His disciples, and not for the “world.”  He makes special mention of those who He came to save, and makes intercession on their behalf.  You really get the feeling from chapter 17 that there is a plan that is unfolding hour by hour here, that the Father and the Son who is filled with the Spirit are working in complete coordination on the unfolding of their glory in a way that will seem terrible and confusing to any bystander unacquainted with Jesus’ teaching.

The main thing to realize coming into this chapter is that Jesus is in complete control over that plan, and over every hour and indeed every moment of His life. As Jesus has already told us in chapter 10:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18 ESV)

Now, let’s get into the text before us…

18:1-5 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. [2] Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. [3] So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. [4] Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” [5] They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.

The Context

The brook “Kidron” is the Hebrew name for “Cedron” and means “dark waters”, and as A.W. Pink says is “emblematic of that black stream through which He was about to pass.”  The brook was on the east side of the city and eventually flows into the Dead Sea.  It runs between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives some 200 feet below the base of the outer court of the Temple – it was on the west side of the city that Jesus was crucified (Pink/Josephus/Carson).

Pink notes the fulfillment of a few OT types:

…in crossing the brook Cedron, accompanied by His disciples, another Old Testament type was most strikingly fulfilled. In 2 Samuel 15 (note particularly verses 23, 3-, 31) we read of David, at the time of his shameful betrayal by his familiar friend Ahithophel, crossing the same brook; crossing it in tears, accompanied by his faithful followers. So David’s Son and Lord, crossed the Cedron while Judas was betraying Him to His foes.

So Jesus, having retired to a garden for prayer, to commune with the Father, is approached by a band of men led by Judas the betrayer. John doesn’t give all the details that the other gospel writers do here, and I think James Boice is right that he doesn’t do this because his goal is not to focus (as with Luke) on the humanity of Christ (sweating blood for instance), but rather on the power of the Son of God.

The number of men here is likely to be around 200 or so.  From the Greek text the word “cohort” usually is meant 1,000 men including cavalry, but the noun used here is speira which “can refer to a ‘maniple’ of only 200 men, and it is not necessary to assume that an entire maniple was present” (Carson/MacArthur).  The size of the group is an indication of the caution the Romans had during feast days when they would consolidate their troops in Jerusalem and garrison them at Antonia (Carson) in order to control any uprisings among the Jews.

In any case, the way that John has laid out the text here is to show that Jesus is in control of all of these events. Note that He picks the place where He will be found.  He doesn’t try to run to a new secret location knowing that Judas is on the loose etc.  No.  He goes to a familiar place, and knows full well that Judas will certainly find Him and fulfill a plan laid long before the foundation of the world.

Notice also that Jesus is the one who begins the confrontation with the soldiers. He initiates the conversation.  Though the scene must have been frightening, a mob of men with torches and weapons in the middle of the night, Jesus isn’t caught off guard or surprised by the arrival of this band of men.

John’s point about the knowledge and planning of the Son couldn’t be made more clear, “knowing all that would happen to Him,” John tells us that Jesus was in the drivers seat.

As John MacArthur says, “The apostle skillfully demonstrates that the shameful, debasing things done to Christ failed to detract from His person, but rather offered decisive proof of His glory.”

Some Practical Takeaways on Suffering

As we see Christ face the cross with utter certainty that the Father is with Him (John 17), we can take with us the promise that He is always with us no matter where we go, or what we go through (Matt. 28). Come what may, be it the loss of a loved one, or of a job, or whatever, He is with us, guiding our life with meticulous sovereignty (Ware).  Do you think God is taken by surprise by any of this?

He knows the details of your life because He ordained the details of your life. Even the sickness and the death. Even the loss and the letdown. God planned it all from before the world began.  And if you are not a Christian then you have no lens to properly view these events. They are foggy, and disheartening, and potentially even devastating. Without the eyes of Christ you are driving 80 mph through dense fog all the while hoping for the best and yet still surprised when you hit a pole.

Death and sickness and tragedy will come – we are promised they will come. But we who have Christ must view these events in their proper perspective – not simply as allowed by God but ordained by Him for our good and His glory. That is another sermon altogether! But needless to say that the God whose hand was in the suffering and death of His Son is also in your life – not just to make you appreciate the good times, but to fashion you after His Son in order that you might have true joy both now and forever in heaven.

18:6-11 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. [7] So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” [8] Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” [9] This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” [10] Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) [11] So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

PART 1: The Power of the Son of God

Now we come to passage that is so majestic and so profound in its display of Christ’s power that I can hardly find the right words to describe what we read here.

The mob is looking for the man Jesus. They obviously don’t know which one He is.  But Jesus readily identifies Himself as who they are looking for.  And He does this by stating “I am he.” This phrase is ego eimiand it is undoubtedly the open declaration of Jesus as Jehovah.

Throughout Scripture, the revelation of the name of God and the glory of God has had a similar affect on men. It is the beautiful glory of His holiness which confounds men.

In Isaiah 6 the response of Isaiah to the holiness of God is similar:

[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  (Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV)

Isaiah cowered in fear. When Isaiah behold the glory of God he was exposed and saw, perhaps for the first time, not just who God is, but who he was (Sproul).

The revelation of the name of Christ is the revelation of who He is. He isn’t just saying, “I’m the dude you’re looking for”, He’s saying, “I AM who I AM”, He is disclosing to them the personal name of YHWY.

What happened here is hard to explain, but I believe it’s a preview of what Paul says will happen when Jesus returns:

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

In that day men will either voluntarily bow in humble joy, or they will hit the dirt simply out of necessity.  This is what happens here.  The overpowering presence and revelation of the Son of God brings them to their knees. There are no choices here. All those who boldly proclaimed headship over their lives will suddenly realize the oxygen they suck has been a precious gift from the one who upholds all the planets by the power of His word (Heb. 1:1-3).

Such is the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we need to take away from this passage.  He is supreme. His power is so exacting, so overwhelming that at the mere mention of His name soldiers, criminals, and traitors eat the dirt their bones were fashioned from.

When they enter his airspace (so to speak) in that garden, they are on holy ground. They have dared to come before the burning bush without taking off the sandals, and in their ignorance and impudence they’ve come to apprehend the One who fashioned the cells of their existence. So we see here that the character and majestic holiness of Jesus is bound up in the name, and the revelation of this is too much for the finite soul to really process. It’s like a lightening storm that overwhelms your home’s circuits. The power is invisible to you but for a flash of light and then the power surges through all your electronic gear until your stuff is completely fried by the magnitude of that power.

Jesus, who has dwelt with the Father in unapproachable light from eternity past has cracked open a smidgen of His glory and it’s enough to level a mob.

Simply incredible.

Remember this in the coming weeks because when you think of the power of Jesus leveling a mob simply by the revelation of His name, you will begin to realize the obvious: He could easily have skipped the whole dying on the cross thing if He so desired.  And that’s the key word, is it not?  DESIRE.  Oh how different His are from ours!  Oh the infinite power, infinite knowledge bound up in the person of Jesus. Yet He allowed Himself to be taken as a lamb to the slaughter …for us! That’s His mission. He wields His power and knowledge with wisdom and His plans are never foiled.

Therefore, it was the purpose of Christ to surrender in order that He might conquer for our sakes.  Which leads me to my next point…

The Purpose of His Command

In the midst of this whole confusing scene, Jesus is obviously still in complete control, to the point where He issues and a command that the mob let His disciples go.  And, they do! Of course they do – for it is obvious who is controlling this situation…the man without a club, sword or staff.

But why?  In order to find the answer we need to flip back to chapter 17 where Jesus says this:

[12] While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12 ESV)

Here He is speaking of the disciples. But He goes on:

[20] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

That’s us!  That’s you, that’s me!

The purpose is so that his prayer and plan might come to pass for us. Even in the midst of all this seeming chaos, Jesus is getting everything He wants. There’s no coloring outside the lines here.  The picture is coming together just as He has foreordained, and that includes the gracious provision to allow His disciples to make it to safety, and bring us safely home to heaven.

This might be something that you recall from the final discourses as well, but in the hours leading up to Jesus’ arrest and betrayal, He is not focused whatsoever on His own impending pain, but on taking care that He imparts all the knowledge necessary to His disciples. He cares more about comforting them and keeping them from harm than saving His own skin. John perhaps encapsulates this best early in chapter 13 when he states:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

The Powerlessness and Futility of Our Efforts…

As we continue on, remember the power He displayed here, and marvel at His obedience. All of this when compared to Peter’s feeble efforts at saving his master surely puts our own human strength into focus does it not?  Peter’s rush to “do something” in the moment turns out to be the wrong thing. It is not that Peter is not valiant, or courageous, for perhaps he is…though I suspect he acted out of fear.

But what John is highlighting here by leaving this part in about Peter is to say that humanly speaking we try so very hard to be in control.  We lash out against the breakers as they come crashing down on our beachhead, as if we can stop them by our own power.  The futility of man and the power of God stand in contrast to each other, as we’ll see further in this next section, but the antithetical parallels with man in our fallen state are striking.

A.W. Pink notes some of the differences between Adam in the Garden of Eden, and Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane…

    • In Eden, Adam and Eve parleyed with Satan; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought the face of His Father.
    • In Eden, Adam fell; in Gethsemane, the Redeemer conquered.
    • In the one Adam fell before Satan; in the other, the soldiers fell before Christ.
    • In Eden, Adam took the fruit from Eve’s hand; in Gethsemane, Christ received the cup from His Father’s hand.
    • In Eden, Adam hid himself; in Gethsemane Christ boldly showed Himself.
    • In Eden, God sought Adam; in Gethsemane, the last Adam sought God!

18:12-27 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. [13] First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. [14] It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

[15] Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, [16] but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. [17] The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” [18] Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

[19] The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. [20] Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. [21] Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” [22] When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” [24] Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

[25] Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” [26] One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” [27] Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

A Mockery of Justice

Jesus has been taken away and in this passage of Scripture is brought before Annas and then before his son in law Caiaphas. Annas is not currently the high priest, but has been in the past, and is so powerful that he is actively involved in the affairs of temple and his son in law’s administration of things.

In his commentary on the book of Acts, Martyn Llyod-Jones gives some great background on these men:

Caiaphas, the high priest, was just a Sadducee write large.  It was his job to preside over the Sanhedrin. Annas, the father in law of Caiaphas, had been high priest but had been deposed by the Romans. The Jews, however, still regarded him as high priest. Both Annas and Caiaphas were well in with one another. Also present were john and Alexander, but we know nothing about them.

There were two trials – one from the Jews, and one from the Romans. John’s narrative isn’t as concerned with the trials as it is with Christ – who is He, and what is His mission.

There were two trials, one Jewish and one Roman. The former began with informal examination by Annas (18:12-14, 19-23), possibly while members of the Sanhedrin were being hurriedly summoned. A session of the Sanhedrin (Mt. 26:57-68; Mk. 14:53-65) with frank consensus was followed by a formal decision at dawn and dispatch to Pilate (Mt. 27:1-2; Luke 22:66-71). The Roman trial began with a first examination before Pilate (Mt. 27:11-14; Jn. 18:28-38a), which was followed by Herod’s interrogation (Lk. 23:6-12) and Jesus’ final appearance before Pilate (Mt. 27:15-31; Jn. 18:38b – 19:16). (Carson)

It has been said by many who are experts in the Jewish law that these trials of Jesus were a sham.  They were actually illegal trials meant to ram through a decision based upon fear and hatred of Jesus.  The man Jesus was a threat to the socio-political stability of the Jewish state, and he needed to be dealt with.  That was the reality, and in the minds of these worldly priests, the ends justified the means.

PART II: The Weakness of Peter and Mankind

The way that John tells the story is really interesting. He weaves the denials of Peter in with the first part of the Jewish trial of Jesus.  So that the reader sees the paths of each man side by side, as it were. And Peter’s denial is set off against the meekness of the Lamb, sent to the slaughter.

While Peter is sinning, Jesus is obeying. While Peter is denying, Jesus is embracing who He is and why He came.

What should we take away from this?

Primarily this, that the good intentions of men are not enough when everything is on the line.

Remember who Peter is now…this is the man who became the boldest proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the early church. Look at what we read in Acts 4:

[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.”

[13] Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:12-13 ESV)

The power of God was with Peter, look at what Luke tells us in the next chapter (Acts 5):

[12] Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. [13] None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. [14] And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, [15] so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:12-15 ESV)

Yet…in his flesh Peter cannot own Jesus. When push comes to shove, he cannot and will not embrace or associate himself with Jesus at this point.  WHY? Well, we know enough about Peter to know that it isn’t simply because of a weak disposition within Peter.

Peter cannot and will not embrace Christ when the rubber meets the road because he is a fallen man and does not have the restorative power of the Holy Spirit working actively in his life.

Remember what side of the cross Peter is on. The difference between Peter after Pentecost and before is manifested in a big way here in John 18.  Peter is given the chance to identify with Christ, with His Lord, and instead of doing so He cowers.

C.H. Spurgeon explains the phenomenon:

Why is it that Christ Jesus is so little beloved? Why are even his professed followers so cold in their affections to him? Whence arise these things? Assuredly, dear brethren, we can trace them to no other source than this, the corruption and vitiation of the affections. We love that which we ought to hate, and we hate that which we ought to love. It is but human nature, fallen human nature, that man should love this present life better than the life to come. It is but the effect of the fall, that man should love sin better than righteousness, and the ways of this world better than the ways of God. And again, we repeat it, until these affections be renewed, and turned into a fresh channel by the gracious drawings of the Father, it is not possible for any man to love the Lord Jesus Christ. (‘Human Inability’, 1858)

This is where we find Peter, and this is where we find ourselves apart from the grace of Christ.

We are fallen men and women.  Sin is not simply what we do, it’s who we are – we are sinners. And to be a sinner, part of Adam’s fallen race, is to be without hope apart from the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us of these truths in Romans 5:

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 – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 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. 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. (Romans 5:12-15)

But the power of Christ, endued to rebels, aliens, and blasphemers transforms by the Spirit of God, and conforms (us) from a product of the first Adam into the image of the Second. As Paul says:

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. [17] 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. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ESV)

Jonathan Edwards put it this way:

…it is the discovery of this divine excellency of Christ that makes them constant to Him: for it makes so deep an impression upon their minds that they cannot forget Him; they will follow Him whithersoever He goes, and it is in vain for any endeavor to draw them away from Him.

What Would You Have Done?

So because of the fall our natural state is one of deadness spiritually, and we naturally hate the light of the Gospel (John 3:19-21). Yet, there are many people who read of the fall in Genesis, and they think, “If I were there I would have done better!”  But that’s just the thing – you wouldn’t have done better.  Likewise you might think that if you were in the courtyard that night you wouldn’t have betrayed Jesus.

Well let me tell you, without the Spirit of God strengthening you, you would certainly have failed, just like Peter did.

Adam represented the very height of creation in the garden, yet he still sinned.  Peter was the most courageous man in the band of 12 – heck, he just cut off the ear of a guard! But his false courage was exposed when the rubber met the road, and yours would have as well.

Apart from Christ we are all lost.  We are blind men boldly marching in midnight toward a fiery grave. Ignorant of our fate we relish and proclaim a fool’s independence.  We affectionately treasure our world while spitting on the One who created it for us. This is our condition apart from Christ (Romans 5:10).  What a horrific state of affairs!

These realities are expressed in Peter and in the lives of millions of lost people around the world.  They’re in our neighborhoods, they’re in the grocery stores, they’re not just in India they’re in your Bible study!

***Chapter 18 ought to remind us how much Christ prized us and how little we prized Him. If Adam represented us in the garden, Peter represented us in the courtyard: Liars.  Frauds. Cowards.  Apart from Christ in the dark night of his soul, he flees into the darkness of night leaving the Prince of Light to single-handedly parry with the heaviest concentration of evil ever seen on this earth. And parry He does…much more than this He overcomes! …but that’s for future Sunday mornings!

Our Need and His Love

Our need is now obvious. If you were in the garden, in the courtyard, at the temple, you would also have betrayed Christ.  So our need for salvation cannot be met by our own efforts to cling to Christ. We don’t have the strength – when it comes down to it, we don’t even have the desire!

In these parallel accounts we see first the power of Christ, and also the weakness and failure of Peter.  But we know how the story ends, do we not? Jesus restores Peter, forgives Peter. And that same arm of restoration has been extended to us, as Paul says in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Theologian R.C. Sproul says “The passage also teaches us, especially in light of Peter’s later restoration, what kind of people Jesus died to save. He had no need to die for people who are sinless, for there are no such people. Have gave Himself for people who have it in them to betray Him, people like you and me. However, He will never betray those on whom He sets His love, but will love them faithfully for all time.”

Surely if this passage shows us anything it is the contrast between our Lord’s power and our power, our Lord’s disposition and our natural disposition, our natural desires and His heavenly desires.  Surely His love looks greater and greater the more we look at Peter and our own souls.

This is where He finds us.  Praise God He has not passed us over, but has shed His grace and mercy upon us, the underserving, the helpless, the hopeless in order that we may be given a hope that will never fail.

What is Our Response to These Things? 

Therefore, how do we rightly respond to these truths?

If you have not come to know Christ personally as your savior, if you have not been made alive from the spiritual death to which you were born into this world, then today is the day of salvation. Now is the time to bow to the ground and kiss the Son, submit to His Lordship.

Jesus’ gospel is simple and life changing. In verse 11 we read that He was going to drink of the “cup” that the Father had for Him.  That cup was filled with the wrath that rests on your soul right now if you aren’t a Christian.  John says earlier in chapter 3:

[36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

There is everlasting life and peace with Jesus. There is joy and eternal bliss that has been reserved for those who trust in Him now.  Jesus doesn’t promise an easy road, but He promises life instead of death. You aren’t guaranteed another day or another hour of life. I pray that you will submit to His love and His lordship today.

For those of us who are children of God, saved from the wrath of the Father because of the work of Christ on the cross, we must not miss the importance of this text.

Today let us remember the beautiful thing about the gospel – Jesus does all the work. The same power that leveled an angry mob upholds us through the darkness and pain of life, and vanquishes our enemies. You no doubt have difficulties you’re battling today.  Are you leaning on your own strength?  Or are you resting in the name of the Son of God.

Peter thought he had it together, he thought he had the stuff to succeed.  But he learned the hard way that leaning on Christ is the only way to make it through this life.

For those of you who are believers, we must cling to the promises of God, and abide in His truth, knowing that He is faithful. In order to do that, we must be knowledge about what He says in His Word. Therefore, let me give you four things to take away from this passage:

  1. We must trust in His promises as Jesus trusted in the Father until the final breath of His life. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says it best:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

  1. We must fill our minds with His word. Speak it when you lie down, and when you are out running errands. And as you meditate on and memorize the word of God, pray to the Lord and ask for His help to understand it and deeply engrain it in your mind so that when you face a “Peter Moment” you will have the sword ready to go.  As Paul says:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [18] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV)

  1. Put your mind and efforts into serving Him and others in obedience and with love through thick and thin. Those who are selflessly serving others bear those “Peter moments” better because they are grounded in the reality that others are more important, and that their citizenship is in heaven. Peter was so wrapped up in his own welfare that when it came to dying for Christ he was far from ready. Remember the words of Paul in Philippians:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:4-5 ESV)

  1. Lastly, when the crisis comes, do not lean on your own understanding as Peter did here (Prov. 3:5), but trust in the Lord even when you can’t see for the night that is closing in around you.

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

Samuel Rutherford said, “My shallow and ebb thoughts are not the compass Christ saileth by. I leave his ways to himself, for they are far, far above me…There are windings and to’s and fro’s in his ways, which blind bodies like us cannot see.”

We must therefore look to the power of the Man in the garden, and realize that we can trust that He is who He says He is. Make yourself weak in your own eyes, and trust in His strength – the strength of the great I AM who sustains you and the whole world. Lean on His promises and trust that He is who He says He is.

Let’s close by examining the great words of Paul in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? [33] Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

            we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

[37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

 

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!

Most Influential Books Part 1

Sometimes a book doesn’t have to be brilliant to have a major impact on your life. Sometimes it has to simply have the right message (assuming it is a truthful message, of course) at the right time. I’m a firm believer that books change lives and see us through the bright and the dull and the pain.

Of course the one constant book in my life has been The Book – the “Good Book.”  The scripture certainly has no rival in any library. There are no other pieces of literature that even play on the same field. It’s advantage, of course, is that it is alive. Not metaphorically, not allegorically, not even in the way that it makes us feel alive as if it were the sum of its’ effects or stimulations on the reader. Rather, its’ words are used by the Spirit of God to wake us up to unrealized truths as He begins to work in our minds and in our hearts. Christianity is not a “blind faith”, it is an informed faith which conquers both the mind and the heart.

Therefore, the Bible is unique and simply without rival.

Nevertheless, Providence has seen fit to use other literature in my life to bless me, entertain and brighten my day, and deepen my relationship with Him and others, all the while growing in my appreciation for life and creation and many other undeserved blessings.

Here are the books that have impacted me the most at the ripe old age of 31 – note that these aren’t all necessarily “favorites” per se, there are some I have no desire to read again, but all that will be made plain as you scroll through the selections.  There are so many of these that I think I’ll roll them out in a series.  There are far too many to write (or read) about before you fall asleep of boredom.  So here (in no particular order) goes the first five in the series…

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin’s masterpiece saw me through one of the worst illnesses I’ve had (which is saying something) – 10 days in bed with pneumonia.  I own several copies of this one, and will probably keep collecting nice editions. I love to open its pages and just get lost for a few minutes in laughter and pros. The writing is superb and brings me back to my childhood where we would watch the six-hour movie edition over and over again. We’d poke fun at the characters and put ourselves in their shoes as we watched the social instability and family upheaval course through the plot. It never gets old, and will always be one of my favorite books/stories of all time.
  2. Leadership as an Identity – I got this book for free at my church and it transformed the way I thought about pride and leadership – especially as a dad. It spoke very powerfully to me and brought my heart to a place where I was more open to leading my home as I ought to. I really appreciate Crawford Loritts’ writing and think he brings a unique perspective to the leadership book collection.
  3. Defending Your Faith – This was my one of my first encounters with Theologian R.C. Sproul and it whetted my appetite for more.  His intellectual approach drove me to understand that all truth is God’s truth. This is a book on apologetics and it is framed in a classical style, which means that he isn’t going to spend as much time on proofs for the resurrection or other modern arguments, but will address much of the philosophical and even scientific ground that Anselm, Aquinas, Newton and other master theologians and thinkers have laid down in bygone eras. As I read this I began to see that being a Christian didn’t mean I had to sacrifice my intellect. Read this book cautiously, it may open the door to deeper waters….
  4. The Religious Affections – This is a more recent one for me, though it is largely considered to be Jonathan Edwards’ magnum opus, I had not cracked it open until just last week.  It took me a week or so to traverse its 400 pages, but it was well worth the journey.  This is not a book for a young Christian, this is a book for someone who has read pretty widely and is now ready for the deeper things of God. However, if you have not at least sampled Jonathan Edwards’ work, this would be a great one to pickup and scroll through. The book seeks to explain the essence of what the true Christian life consists of, looks like, and how we can know we are truly Christians at all. Through many rigorous examinations I found again and again both challenges and assurances that woke me up to some things, and also secured my mind and soul in many ways. The influence this book has had has been significant even this week in shaping my thought and confirming many of my beliefs. I can tell this is going to be one I go back to time and time again, year after year. This is one for your book bucket list!
  5. Chosen by God – There may not be another book in recent memory that has so greatly altered and impacted my life as this classic by R.C. Sproul. I had read a few of his other books in recent months and wanted to keep going. This one seemed like another popular work from him, so I picked up a used copy and started pouring over the pages.  What ensued was nothing short of life changing. The book details how God’s election of sinners to salvation works. It confronts Calvinism (so-called) head on, and shows how men interact with these ideas, which as it turns out are rock solid Biblical teachings. There were several moments where I felt that the book had a great impact on me and others around me.  During an airplane trip for business with my business partner Matt, we got into a quite a severe argument based on the book’s propositions.  I was just starting to put the pieces together from all that I had studied growing up, and Matt was deeply offended at the idea that God chose people and not the other way around (at least that He is the antecedent Chooser). His temper flared, and the argument spilled out into the Nashville Airport (BNA) where we were awaiting a connecting flight. I was not an expert on theology at the time, but I knew Romans like the back of my hand, so everything Dr. Sproul said was clicking with me…but not with Matt.  I challenged Matt to read the book and sort it out for himself. A few days later, I returned home from the trip and had kept up my reading when around 2am one evening as I was sitting in the living room of my house I realized all at once that I had been a fool.  I had such a pride about my learning and my salvation and what hit me was that I was a moron…literally.  I knew nothing and was responsible for nothing good ultimately in my life. I got down on my knees and with tear-filled eyes prayed for forgiveness for my pride and ignorance about spiritual things.  Not long after that Matt read the book as well and his eyes were opened.  It was a transforming experience.  Soon he went to seminary and began pastoring a small church, I followed suit and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Louisville a few years later after much more learning, reading, and praying. I still have that copy of ‘Chosen by God’ and now its signed on the inside cover by its author, and is more marked and highlighted than those several years ago when I first turned its pages.

Stay tuned for my next installment of ‘most influential books’…