Forgiveness and the Gospel

Forgiveness: Seeking Him Study Week 9

Introduction

During the course of my lifetime, I have had some very cruel and dastardly people try to destroy my livelihood. The nature of politics is that sometimes you evoke the powerful hatred of enemies who will stop at nothing to see your demise. In the midst of these storms I have found that the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the realities entailed upon me by the cross He bore, to be great sources of comfort and perspective for me. In fact, all throughout the Bible we have rich testimony of the lives that God has miraculously changed. Hearts have been softened and people have been forgiven.

And it is to this subject of ‘forgiveness’ that we are turning our attention to this week.

C.H. Spurgeon said, “To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive.”

Forgiveness is a major part of what it means to walk the Christian path, and there are four main points I want to cover this morning:

  • God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness
  • Remembering Sin No More
  • Forgiveness and the Gospel
  • We Don’t Do This Alone: The Power of the Spirit in Forgiveness

For anyone who has lived even a short time upon this earth you know that there will come times when you will be or have been wronged. Furthermore, if you are a Christian, you know that how you respond to these situations says a lot about who you are, and what Christ is doing and has done in your life.

The study we are currently engaged in has focused our attention on personal revival. I think that at this point in the study (9 weeks in) we probably all recognize the importance forgiveness plays in having a right relationship to God and others. When we haven’t forgiven others, we end up obsessing about them and what they have done to us. Our lives are dominated by their actions and not our own purpose for living, which is undoubtedly to love and glorify God and love our fellow man.

God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness

Joseph

On page 176 of our study guide, the story of Joseph is given as an example of how one should live life without dwelling on the past sins of others. Joseph’s motivation for forgiving his brothers was that he didn’t consider himself worthy to be their judge (Gen. 50:20). Certainly he had a proper fear of the Lord, and it is evident that the Spirit of God had softened his heart to be able to (really miraculously) forgive his brothers. Joseph had one bad thing happen to him after another during his lifetime, yet because he feared God, and understood that God was sovereign, he could rest in the knowledge that God would take care of him – even as he languished in prison.

David

Perhaps the best example of forgiveness and acting with a godly heart in the Old Testament was David. His story has personally meant a great deal to me in recent days as I have gone through my own very painful battles of being wronged.

Here is a man who did nothing wrong, yet a crazy man who was filled with jealousy and hatred decided to make it his personal mission in life to crush David. He hunted him down like a dog. Can you imagine what David had to be thinking? Of course you can, because we have Scripture to tell us! Here’s what David wrote during his time on the run from Saul:

[1] Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
[2] my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
[3] When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
[4] In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
[5] All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
[6] They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
[7] For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
[8] You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
[9] Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
[10] In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
[11] in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
[12] I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
[13] For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
(Psalm 56 ESV)

David felt that even though his enemies surrounded him on all sides, and he had done nothing to deserve this, yet the Lord would deliver him. He felt what it was like to be stripped down of all hope in his own power. He felt helpless. And yet his strength and hope was the Lord.

But not only did David draw strength from the Lord, he also found in God the wisdom he needed and the power to forgive the sin of Saul. David was given a special indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, not everyone had this gift, but the Lord was with David and gave him the ability to forgive Saul – a truly supernatural gift.

David had faithful friends to help him and encourage him (1 Sam. 23:16), but it was the power of the Spirit working in his heart that stayed David’s hand from murdering Saul. Here is one such example from 1 Samuel:

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” [2] Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. [3] And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. [4] And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. [5] And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. [6] He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” [7] So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:1-7 ESV)

This is how God works – he softens our hearts to spare even the most vile and horrible people who have wronged us greatly. In that moment, David chose not to “remember” Saul’s sins against him, and not to take vengeance into his own hands.

Remembering Sin No More

The biggest difference between us and our Creator when it comes to forgiveness is that He chooses not to remember (bring to mind) our sins once He has forgiven us. Listen to what He says through His prophet Isaiah:

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 ESV)

We, however, remember people’s sins against them. In fact, in our study guide there’s an indication that if we remember people’s sins and bring them up again verbally or mentally etc. then its possible that we never really forgave that person in the first place. In fact, they go so far as to say that if we can’t “thank God” for these people then we haven’t forgiven them.

I am not sure I’d go quite that far, but I think we need to be sure to truly forgive someone before just “moving on” and putting the matter behind us.

But also, if we find that we have sinful thoughts or slanderous words cropping up about people who we had forgiven years ago, it isn’t necessarily the case that we hadn’t forgiven them, but that perhaps we are “remembering” their sins against them again, and have opened up the wound. We need to forgive them all over again, it seems. This is the weakness of our human flesh – but its also the reason why we need the gospel and the clear teachings of our Lord.

Forgiveness and the Gospel

This brings us to final and most important point. Radical forgiveness is really only possible for us in light of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work within us. David relied on God’s character and sovereignty, but he saw veiled what we see plainly, namely the overflowing mercy of the Lord toward sinners.

When David was judged to have committed multiple sins, his reaction upon being confronted by them was to beg for forgiveness and praise God for His infinite mercy (ps. 51).

When we see what Christ has done for us at Calvary, it gives context to His command to forgive. Listen to what he told Peter:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

Jesus went on to tell the parable of the king who forgave much and the servant who didn’t pass along that same forgiveness to a fellow servant – even though the amount was a pittance compared to what the king had forgiven him. This is what He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)

It is not easy to forgive people who have done you so much wrong, and yet we are called to do just that and more. As I’ve dealt with my own trials as of late, I’ve found that forgiveness is just step one. Step two is to love your enemies. I’m not saying that I’m there yet, just forgiving feels as though its been an amazing feat, but I know that by the power of God working in me I can one day not only forgive, but love my enemies the way Christ did as he hung from the cross.

Listen to our Lord’s words:

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. [33] And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [34] And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. [35] And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” [36] The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine [37] and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” [38] There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:32-38 ESV)

I can’t even begin to imagine the agony He was in at this moment. Set aside the physical agony for a moment, and think about the kind of love this man’s heart had to have to repel the fiery darts of the evil one at this moment.

In the acclaimed epic movie ‘The Robe’, which I recently saw for the first time, the protagonist is a Roman official named Marcellus, who was given the task of crucifying Christ. He was sort of thrown into the situation; in fact he was on his way out of Israel the next day to see his beloved. But something happened to him that day that would not let him go. Eventually, through a series of torments and trials, he finds himself back in the Promised Land and face to face with Peter the great apostle. He begins to see that Christ had transformed the lives of so many people, that genuine love flowed among them, and when he saw the forgiveness of those people for others he surrendered his heart to a new Captain. This is the exchange they had when Peter asked Marcellus to come with him on his next missionary journey:

Peter:…the night Jesus needed my most I denied him…not once but three times. I swore I never knew him…

Marcellus: I…crucified him…

Peter: I know. Demetrius told me.

Marcellus: Then you can forgive me?

Peter: He forgave you from the cross! Can I do less? Now does anything stand in your way? Can you be one of us?

Marcellus: From this day on, I’m enlisted in His service! I offer Him my sword, my fortune and my life. And this I pledge you on my honor as a Roman!

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I say to the glory of God and in utter humility that whenever I see myself before God and realize even something of what my blessed Lord has done for me, I am ready to forgive anybody anything.”

My own heart has been pierced through by many of the enemies flamed arrows because I failed to hold up the shield of faith. I trusted in my own mind and intellect to get me through it. I say to myself “just push through” or “just ignore it” or “this won’t last long”…but then my thoughts turn south…my mind conceives of all that I would do to my enemy if he were in my presence.

Look how Christ was mocked to come down “if” He could. They had forgotten the words of Christ as He was healing:

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23 ESV)

Therefore it wasn’t outside of His power to come down from that cross. But instead He stayed where He was and took the insults and the pain for you and for me in order that we could be forgiven for the insults and pain we hurl at others.

Lastly, I would ask you to look at the world now that you’ve looked at the cross…

The world tells you that you deserve to have your rights intact. The cross tells you to lay down your rights for the gospel.

The world tells you to take revenge and make sure people get what’s coming to them. The cross tells you that God is sovereign and will judge all men according to their deeds (in fact He judged Christ for your sins).

The world tells you that you’re a victim and that you deserve to be heard. Christ tells you to come and lay your burdens down at His feet and beckons you to be strong and courageous, fearing no man, and to live a victorious life!

The world ignores the depravity of all men and tells you that you’re better than those who hurt you and that some people are past being forgiven. The cross bears witness that your sins were so hideous and so heinous that the very Son of God had to be beaten, battered, and killed in a bloody mess because YOU slandered, murdered, thought evil thoughts, said evil things, and upheld your pride through it all.

One more thing…the world tells you that you are the one who was wronged. They’re right. Our Lord knows your pain and sorrow. But the cross tells you that we have ALL fallen short and by the mercy of God we have been saved from what we all deserve – namely hell and eternal punishment. Yet because of the cross, and because of the resurrection, you have been forgiven. Given the fact that your sins murdered the eternal Son of God, don’t you think it’s a good idea to forgive the people who have wronged you?

We Don’t Do This Alone: The Power of the Spirit in Forgiveness

So how is it possible, practically speaking, to forgive the way that Christ forgave us? Well the answer is by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to do anything without His help. He is the One conforming us to the image of Christ. He uses the Word to renew our minds, and convict us, and bring us into “all truth.” Listen to how Christ described the coming of the Spirit:

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. [26] But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. [27] Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:25-27 ESV)

It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it possible. The power of God is an amazing thing. Trusting Him to do His work within us is the first step. We need to surrender our lives to His power, and place our faith in Him fully, trusting that He will complete that good work He started within us (Phil. 1:6) – that includes helping us to forgive others as He forgave us.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, [13] bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. [14] And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. [15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. [16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)

Finally, a personal note about this lesson…I have gone through some fiery great trials as of late. I have had my own personal “Saul” hounding me, hunting me down, though I have done nothing unrighteous. The process of forgiving this man has taken me through an excruciatingly painful month or so now, but by God’s grace He is working an amazing work in my heart. I appreciate the prayers and encouragement and wisdom that many of your have lavished upon me. This week I went from despairing of ever feeling love or praise for God or others, to recovering my joy as I forgave my offender. I say “I” but it was most certainly God who worked within me. And just this morning (Saturday) as I was singing a hymn with the kids did I realize fully what God had wrought in my hardened heart. The hymn was ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ and the verse was this:

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

 

When I read, “ponder anew what the Almighty can do” my heart soared again, realizing that God had done a miraculous thing inside of me, and that He still had more plans for my life. He has helped me forgive, and start to love my enemies, and as my heart pondered these things anew, I once again began to rejoice in the sovereign, powerful, efficacious work of the Lord in my life.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Study Notes 10-28-12

As we get deeper into the 8th chapter of John’s Gospel, I want to just say how struck I am at the importance of the reality of the Trinity and that doctrine of the Trinity to me and us as Christians.  In the notes that follow, I scratch the surface at the doctrine, and once again light upon how the truth of the Trinity has such an important affect on our lives and relationship to our Lord and Savior.  I hope you take time to reflect on the complexity, and yet the simplicity of this great truth about God’s being and personality.  Because He is who He is, you can know Him in a way that no man ought to know Him – certainly a way that no man deserves to know Him.

His depth of character, and complexity of being only magnifies the privilege of entering into a relationship with His Son, and sets in sharp relief the gracious state of our situation, namely our adoption, relative to His kingdom and His heavenly family.  This week, ask yourself this question: what does Jesus mean to me as it pertains to my relationship to the Father?  Words like “reconciliation” or “justification” might pass through your mind, or perhaps more simply “peace.”  I thank God for the reality of the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Enjoy the notes – and have a great week!

John 8:12-20

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

The Backdrop

Sinclair Ferguson points out that there were 4 large candles in the courtyard of the temple. He also points out that John is indicating that Jesus fulfills three pictures at the feast of tabernacles: 1. the tabernacling of his people, 2. the light of the world, and 3. the life giving water.

In fact, there are a lot of parallels here to being born again, which we read about in chapter three – for instance, we will note the similarities between walking in darkness, and being dead in our trespasses and sins; as Piper says, “Dead people are blind; so they need life.”

Walking in Darkness

There is something starting here about Jesus’ statement about His being “the light”, and that is that He’s addressing the condition of those who do not walk in that light.  In other words, the presupposition that Christ makes is that the whole world is in a condition of darkness.  Ryle comments, “These words imply that the world needs light, and is naturally in a dark condition.”

So all men without Christ are without light.  Ryle says we can see this to be the case in our daily lives as we look around us: “The vast majority of men neither see nor understand the value of their souls, the true nature of God, nor the reality of the world to come!”

This evoked a terrible image in my mind – that of a group of blind people with no one to guide them. If you’ve ever watched a blind person operate, you’ll notice that if they are used to being blind they move slowly and carefully.  But observe the one who is freshly blind and still getting used to the tremendous difficulty of feeling around, this is a man most to be pitied.  Now imagine a whole mass of blind people who refuse to acknowledge their blindness at all!  They confidently wander into danger after danger, keep falling, keep injuring themselves, all the while living as though they know better!  As if they can see the full picture…and yet they can’t see a single thing!  Would you take council from a person like this?  Of course not.  That’s why Christ told the disciples, not to follow the teaching of the Pharisees because they were “blind guides” (Matt. 15:14) and we’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Now we must also examine what Jesus is saying about Himself.  This is quite a declaration! Jesus is saying that He is the light of the entire “World.”  He is making another exclusive claim about Himself here. Certainly “whoever” is a qualifier to the word “world”, and it causes us to ask questions about what John means by this phrase.  What does he mean by “light of the world”?  We know by simple deduction that all men don’t walk in this light, just because the light of the world came, doesn’t mean that these men could see it – the blind man cannot see the sun even on a beautiful day – he’s still blind.

John Piper explores more deeply what this phrase “light of the world” means by separating its meaning into four areas:

      1. Jesus being the light of the world means, the world has no other light than Him. Apart from Him there is only darkness. Ryle says it this way, “For this state of things, the Lord Jesus Christ declares Himself to be the only remedy.”
      2. It means therefore that all the world and everyone in it needs Jesus as the light.
      3. It means that the world was made for this light.  God made the world for this light.  Creation was made for this light to fill it. It’s not a foreign light to this world, it the light of the owner of the world. The light of Jesus illumines everything in its proper beauty. Without this light we can’t see the world and how it was meant to be in God’s eyes. I think Ps. 36:9 is a great example of this, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”
      4. He is the light that will one day light the entire world. Piper says, “One day this world will be filled with the light of Jesus and nothing else. When this light comes, it not only makes sin plain but sooner or later it will take all darkness and banish it out of the world. All the works of darkness will be banished out of the world, all the sons of darkness will be banished out of the world, which is why Jesus calls Hell the outer darkness. There will be not darkness in the world, in the universe. Hell is utterly outside of the creation God has made. Except that it is held in being in its unique place, and it’s dark, totally dark. And don’t get bent out of shape about fire without light – that’s not a problem for God. There are more horrors in Hell than you’ve dreamed of…darkness…utter darkness.”

The Promise to His Followers

The third thing we see Jesus saying in this verse, besides His presupposition on the state of the world, and His declaration that He is the light of the world, is the result of coming to Him and “following” Him.

What does it mean to “follow” Christ?  Ryle is very helpful here, he says, “To follow Christ is to commit ourselves wholly and entirely to Him as our only leader and Savior, and to submit ourselves to Him in every matter, both of doctrine and practice. ‘Following’ is only another word for ‘believing.’”

Our reward for following/believing is to receive the “light of life.”

There is a beauty in this, and a rich history behind the idea of Christ as the coming light.  C.H. Spurgeon notes that during the darkest ages of history God chose to reveal to the prophets some of the most glorious news of the impending birth of the Christ.  Amid the distresses of our own lives, God has given us a bright Morning Star, He has fashioned within us that knowledge of the holy, that light is also in us because Christ’s Spirit has come to reside within us.  Spurgeon says, “In the worst times we are to preach Christ and to look to Christ! In Jesus there is a remedy for the direst of diseases and a rescue from the darkest of despairs.”

Read Isaiah 9:1-2 and we find this is the case.  It says, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

To have the hope of eternity dwelling within us, to have the wisdom of God made manifest to us, and to have all the promises of God illumined to us in a way our ancestors before Christ never dreamed of, these are all manifestations of the fact that indeed those who come to Christ will “have the light of life”!

If I were a preacher and I were allotted 45 minutes to talk on one verse, it would be easy to talk more about this verse and all that it means.  But I must be satisfied for the time being and move on to the reaction this statement provoked from the Pharisees.

Side Note: As we read through the rest of this dialogue here, it almost seems a bit disjointed, as if Christ is allowing the conversation to get off his main declaration in verse 12 that He is the light of the world.  However, upon closer study, this isn’t the case at all. As we continue reading, it’s crucial to see how He’s using their interruption and the conversation about His truthfulness, and the connection to His heavenly Father to validate the declaration in verse 12.  Piper explains, “He isn’t an autonomous light. If Jesus is the light of the world He is the light of the world precisely because of his relationship with the Father.”

8:13-14 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” [14] Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.

My Testimony is True

This is kind of a strange comment I think, and one that is hard to understand in a cursory reading.  What does Jesus mean that His testimony is true because He knows where He has coming from and where He is going?  What does that mean? Well, what seems enigmatic at first is actually not very hard to figure out with some thought.  The reason Jesus knows from where He is coming and going is because He is God and the Son of God.

Ferguson says, “He is saying as we read elsewhere in John’s gospel that he had come from there very side of the Father. He was in the beginning with God, and He was God. And the reason His testimony is valid and to be trusted, is because He is God.  And because God is to be absolutely trusted because his word is infallibly true.  Not only so, but it follows logically that there is no higher testimony to which Jesus could appeal.  You see they say to him ‘appeal to a higher testimony and then we’ll believe you.’ But since He is God there is no higher testimony for Him to appeal to. You don’t come to God and say ‘Prove yourself to me. Call in some more reliable witness than you are.’  So he says my testimony is reliable and valid and true because of my personal identity.”

The last thing to note about this little portion of Christ’s response is that he tells them that they don’t know as much about Him as they think they do. They are making all kinds of wild assumptions about Him, and Christ is not only setting them straight on the purpose of His ministry, but He’s also saying in affect, “you are assuming too much; you don’t know the first thing about me or where I came from.”

8:15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.

This reminds us of what Jesus had said in chapter seven.  He said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)  These people can’t judge correctly because they are judging according to the flesh.  They judge what they don’t understand. Their assumptions are built on false premises. Why? Because they are judging from a position of darkness. Back to my analogy of blind men, this is like having these blind men tell Jesus what He looks like, and how he ought to style his hair one way or another, or shave his beard one way or another. What utter nonsense!  They can’t even see – they’re in no position to be giving advice about how he styles his facial hair!

So just as we mentioned earlier, Christ had used this same illustration in Matthew 15:14, and its worth marking in your text so that you can memorize it and keep on alert for “blind guides” in our own day and age.  This is why I so regularly harp on the false teachers of today – it is because they are dangerous!  They are blind guide who’d love nothing more than for you to gleefully and ignorantly skip down the street and fall into a sinkhole! All the to praise of their father, the Devil! And we’ll touch more on that front later in the chapter…

Fellow brothers and sisters, this is scary stuff. First, we must be watchful not to fall into the net of false teaching.  Second, we must test all teaching by the light of the Word of God.  Third, we must not regard the opinions of world as if they mean anything.

I Did Not Come to Judge

Sometimes it’s easy to read an isolated portion of Holy Scripture and forget that there is more to the story than an isolated verse. We have a phrase in theology for correctly reading the entire Bible in light of everything said, and not isolating single passages apart from the entire scope of Scripture, and that term is simply “always interpret Scripture according to Scripture” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).  There’s a lot of meaning in that term that I won’t go into here, except to say that we ought to follow basic rules for correct Biblical interpretation when looking at a difficult passage.  Some of the rules include the necessity of interpreting the implicit by the explicit, and the difficult by the more clear.  For we assume the Bible to be completely consistent and coherent.

So what did Jesus mean when He said, “I judge no one”?  What He meant was exactly what He said, namely that during His earthly ministry He didn’t come to judge anyone.  He mission during this period was not to judge humanity but to save humanity. His earthly ministry revolved around salvation (John 3:17; 12:47).

However, when Christ returns, we are told that He will judge the world, and that all judgment has, in fact, been given into His hands.  So it is not as if He will never judge the world, or that we will somehow escape this judgment (Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16).

8:16-18 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. [17] In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. [18] I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

So the first appeal Christ made was to His deity.  They could trust Him because He was and is God. Therefore He is trustworthy. Here He’s saying something else.  He’s saying that even in according to the strict Law of Moses, His testimony was true because He had two witnesses.  Who are the two witnesses?  Jesus is one of them, and the other is the Father. This is a hint at His deity, and the fact that the Father was “always with Him” – something we’ll talk about more when we get to verse 29.

I mentioned in the last section of scripture about how in order to condemn an adulteress to death there had to be at least two witnesses – and preferably three.  The same was true for other capitol offenses or testimony in the courts (see Numbers 35:30, Deut. 22:22-24 etc.)

8:19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

At the announcement that He had more than one witness, the Pharisees stopped Him again and said, “wait a minute, who is your father?” To which Jesus responds that they don’t know His Father.

Now to them this may have seemed a little odd, since perhaps they might have been familiar with Joseph, or have heard a little background info on Jesus from some of the folks listening to Him.  They probably weren’t completely ignorant of Jesus’ life, but it seems that there’s also a chance that they were simply by their question.  The other possibility here is that they knew of Joseph, but when they said “where is your Father” they were meaning to say “where is he we want to call him as a witness – go ahead and bring him out so we can question him.”  They may have even been hinting that they thought Jesus might have been born illegitimately (MacArthur – citing verse 41).  But whatever the case, “they were rejecting Him” (MacArthur).

Ironically, later in the discussion in verse 41 Jesus says, “You are doing the works your father did.” And the Pharisees responded by saying, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”  But of course Christ goes on to correct them – but we don’t need to read that far to hear Christ’s rebuke, He’s already rebuked them in verse 19, they were just too dense to see it.  When Christ says, “You know neither me nor my Father” He is saying that they don’t know God! He is saying point blank that the religious leaders of the day didn’t even know the author of their religion.  What an insult, but what truth!

The Nature of the Trinity and Our Privilege

Not a week goes by and we don’t see John recording for us some very clear manifestation of Christ’s teachings on the nature of the Godhead.  It is not insignificant that Christ says here, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

Not only does the statement have significance in the context of the discussion Christ is having with these false teachers, but it rings true for us today.  The reason is thus: if we know Jesus, if we have a relationship with Him, by this relationship we also “know” the Father as well. That because the Holy Spirit has befriended us by the power of the new birth (John 3) we have entered into a family in which the Creator of the Universe is our daddy.  The significance for daily living cannot be understated.  When we commune with Christ we commune with the Father – what more do we need out of life than that?

Because of Christ we have “boldness and access” to the Father (Eph. 3:12), and can confidently approach the throne of the great God of the Universe (Heb. 4) because of how we are related to Him – we are adopted (Heb.12)!

Spurgeon relished the reality of what the Trinity means for us and said this, “He who comes forth fresh from beholding the face of God will never fear the face of man.”  What splendid promises, what beauty we have the privilege to access, what depth of love are we at leisure to plumb.  We who were sinners are now related through adoption to our great Creator.  All because of the significance of Christ’s words here – “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

8:20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

The “treasury” could have meant a number of things, and the ESV Study Bible has some helpful notes on this:

The treasury as a structure is mentioned in Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 19.294; Jewish War 6.282) and likely was located adjacent to the Court of the Women (Josephus, Jewish War 5.200; cf. Mark 12:41–44; Luke 21:1–4). The NT occurrences of this Greek term may indicate either a collection box for the treasury or the treasury structure itself. Furthermore, in John 8:20 the Greek preposition (en), translated as “in the treasury,” can mean “in the vicinity of” (i.e., “at” or “by”); thus it need not be assumed that Jesus and the disciples had access to the secured halls that stored the immense wealth of the temple.

I have mentioned before that when no one arrested Him, it was because He was completely sovereign over the events of His life and ministry. No one by Christ controlled Christ. No one set the agenda for God besides God.  He and He alone had complete control over His destiny – an even more mind-bending thought when we meditate upon His sufferings, and the fact that at any time He could have called down myriads of angels to vanquish His foes (Matt. 26:53).

Study Notes 4-22-12

4:1-2 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John [2] (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),

  • I mentioned before that I think Jesus was probably not doing the baptizing Himself because people might have been prone to claim they had a “better” baptism if they were baptized by Him instead of another disciple/apostle.
  • I get into this a little bit below, but we are forced right away to ask ourselves “why” did Jesus find it necessary to leave Judea?  At first glance it might be easy to assume He was simply being reactionary to the Pharisees.  That He wanted to leave because of them.  Why?  Was it a reaction, or was it an action planned out ahead of time with the Pharisees’ new knowledge simply acting as the catalyst for the unfolding of divine providence?  I think the latter is a better explanation.  There are several reasons as to why He may have left that we’ll explore below, but right now we must settle it in our minds that He didn’t leave simply out of reaction to the whims and actions of men.  Jesus was in complete control of His life.  All things had been given into His hands (3:35).

4:3-4 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. [4] And he had to pass through Samaria.

  • The way from Judea up to Galilee would have made it geographically necessary/expedient for Jesus to pass this way, but as the ESV study notes indicate, there might be a double meaning in the wording:  “the words may also indicate that Jesus’ itinerary was subject to the sovereign and providential plan of God (“had to” translates Gk. dei, “to be necessary,” which always indicates divine necessity or requirement elsewhere in John: 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9). Through Samaria was the usual route taken by travelers from Judea to Galilee, though strict Jews, in order to avoid defilement, could bypass Samaria by opting for a longer route that involved crossing the Jordan and traveling on the east side.”
  • The Assyrians had resettled Samaria after the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen (2 Kings 17:6-8 ESV). These Samarians were odious to the people of Israel and the history obviously went as deep as the hatred they held for them.
  • D.A. Carson gives more background: After the Assyrians captured Samaria [the capital of the Northern kingdom of Israel] in 722–21 BC, they deported all the Israelites of substance and settled the land with foreigners, who intermarried with the surviving Israelites and adhered to some form of their ancient religion (2 Kings 17–18). After the exile [of the Southern kingdom in Babylon], Jews, returning to their homeland… viewed the Samaritans not only as the children of political rebels but as racial half- breeds whose religion was tainted by various unacceptable elements…. About 400 BC the Samarians erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 216)
  • Now, to address the “had to” comment here, I thought it would be easy enough to explain it away geographically, but I don’t think that’s entirely what is going on here.  John Piper says he can think of at least four reasons for Jesus “having to” go through Samaria.  The best explanation matches up with Boice’s thinking as well.  Piper says this: Jesus may have felt a divine impulse to go to Galilee by way of Samaria because God planned a divine appointment there. Do the words “had to” in verse 4 only mean it was geographically shorter? Verse 4: “And he had to pass through Samaria.” It was possible to go to Galilee in a roundabout way, which some Jews did because they thought the Samaritans were unclean. But John said that Jesus “ had to pass through Samaria.” Because he had an appointment to keep?

4:5-6 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. [6] Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

  • A few contextual notes here might be helpful.  First, the Jewish day started at 6am, so the “sixth hour” would have been about noon.  Also, according to the ESV study notes, the well was located “at a juncture of major ancient roads and near the traditional sacred site of Joseph’s tomb.”
  • The fact that Jesus was so wearied from His journey really serves as a reminder to us of His humanity.  He got tired as we get tired.  He thirsted as we thirst.  When I think about the fact that He is in heaven right now hearing my prayers and understands fully what it means to feel as I feel, that is a very comforting fact for me to rest upon.  We have a God who knows us not simply because He made us, but because He experienced life as we experience it.  Astounding.
  • One thing that James Boice challenges us with is to ask whether or not we have ever “become hot or uncomfortable trying to communicate the gospel to others.”  It’s a probing question that we all need to ask ourselves.

4:7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” [8] (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) [9] The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

  • James Boice has a beautiful insight into the contrasts between the story we find here with the Samaritan woman and the one we find earlier with Nicodemus.  He talks about how they are exact opposites in so many ways, and yet the points of the stories are the same. “If Nicodemus is an example of the truth that no one can rise so high as to be above salvation, the woman is an example of the truth that none can sink too low.”
  • Piper explains the relationship here by saying, “So we have ethnic, racial, and religious issues here that made Jews feel disdain for Samaritans. They were ceremonially unclean. They were racially impure. They were religiously heretical. And therefore they were avoided. Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. But more literally it says, Jews don’t “use together” with Samaritans. You can’t be asking me to use the same bucket. That isn’t done.”

4:10-11 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” [11] The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

  • It really jumps out to me what Jesus says here about “if you knew who it is that is saying to you…”  If indeed!  How many others made the mistake of missing whom this man was!
  • She seemed to have taken Jesus’ words literally to the point of misunderstanding His point about the kind of water to which He was referring.  Boice points out that Nicodemus also missed the spiritual reference when Jesus told him he had to be “born again.”  Just like Nicodemus, she’s having difficulty discerning the spiritual things because she’s not spiritual herself (1 Cor. 2:14).
  • Boice explains what the woman would have been thinking perhaps, “In Jewish speech the phrase, ‘living water’ meant water that as flowing, like water in a river or stream, as opposed to water that was stagnant, as in a cistern or well. Living water was considered to be better. Therefore, when Jesus said that he could give her ‘living water’ the woman quite naturally thought of a stream. She wanted to know where Jesus had found it. From the tone of her remarks it is evident that she even thought his claim a bit blasphemous, for it was a claim to have done something greater than her ancestor Jacob had been able to do (dig the well).”

There are many Old Testament passages that a spiritual person of the day might have thought of as they listened to Jesus’ words, but this woman was not spiritual as I mention above.

  • Jeremiah 2:13 says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
  • Revelation 7:17 says, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
  • Isaiah 12:3 says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

4:12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

  • Are you greater?  Yes, Christ is greater, though, once again, He doesn’t answer the woman’s question directly.  He doesn’t give answers to silly questions, but instead answers the question of her heart instead of the mumbling of her mouth.
  • As Boice said in his commentary, “Jesus was claiming to be the One who alone can satisfy human longing…You may try to fill your life with the things of this world…but though these will satisfy for a time, they will not do so permanently.  I have often said that they are like a Chinese dinner. They will fill you up well, but two or three hours later you will be hunger again. Only Jesus Christ is able to satisfy you fully.”

4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

  • Here the fact that He was making an analogy is made plane to the woman.  There are some parallels here between the principle of satisfaction and the joy we saw John the Baptist express at the end of chapter three.  Christ gives us life that will satisfy us eternally.  What He gives us matches His divine nature.  He is eternal, the great gifts He gives are eternal. Boice says, “The woman had come to a well.  Jesus has invited her to a spring.”
  • Kostenberger cites Beale and paraphrases that, “Jesus inaugurated the age of God’s abundance. Jesus’ offer of living water signals the reversal of the curse and the barrenness that are characteristic of the old fallen world.”  I love this thought because it expresses the anticipation of Jesus’ arrival on the scene, and the meaning of His breaking into human history to provide a way of life that is more than just legalistic shadows and laws.  It is substance, and complete fulfillment.  It is living and eternal water; it is eternal life.

4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

  • The woman here now responds how we ought to all respond!  GIVE ME THE WATER! Why?  So she wouldn’t have to “come here and draw water.”  And because, importantly, she probably felt a need for something (the “God-sized” hole in her life as some have termed it) to fulfill her.  She wasn’t being fulfilled in anything else.
  • Boice is right to cite Augustine’s famous opening to his ‘Confessions’ which says, “thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.”

 

How to we teach this to our children? Example: Today we learned about how the love and compassion of Christ extends to the least of all men and women.  We talked about how Jesus showed His love by deliberately choosing to talk to the lowest, dirtiest, and most sinful people.  Just like us, these people were sinful and without hope until Jesus changed all that.  Jesus takes our hopeless condition and gives us “living water” which is eternal life.