The Commissioning of the Disciples: John 20:19-23

Below are my notes on the commissioning of the disciples. Jesus has been resurrected from the grave, and now suddenly appears before His followers. Read on to learn what happens…

20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Walking Through Walls?

It is still Sunday, only now the day has reached its conclusion and evening has come. The disciples – this could be a group comprised of more than those later known as “Apostles” – are huddled in a meeting room when Jesus arrives on the scene.

Our author notes that far from the great alacrity with which we hope to meet our Lord upon His return, these men were fearful. John tells us the reason why – they feared the Jews. When Jesus suddenly appears in their presence, this must have given them a great start. Already on high alert, suddenly this man seemingly comes from out of nowhere.

Jesus, it is said by some, must have walked through the locked doors of this gathering place. As MacArthur presumes, “The locked doors were no deterrent to Him; His glorified resurrection body simply passed through the walls.”

But I think Morris, Hendriksen, are correct to urge caution to readers, that we might not jump to the immediate conclusion that we know exactly how He entered the room. Carson, usually very thorough on these kinds of things, agrees with MacArthur, though he actually gives a reason where as MacArthur (in his usual confident style) simply assumes the fact. Carson says,
“The function of the locked doors in John’s narrative, both here and in v. 26, is to stress the miraculous nature of Jesus’ appearance amongst his followers. As his resurrection body passed through the grace-clothes, so it passed through the locked doors and simply ‘materialized.’”

He has a point – at least contextually. And I believe that though the passage doesn’t explicitly say how Jesus got into the room, it seems implicit from the context that He arrived through some spectacular means.

That being said, I think this is a perfect example of a passage where we must read up to a certain point and then stand back in awe of the Lord, without pressing it or adding to it in such a way that it would bring judgment upon us. Therefore some, for example, who use this passage as a way to say that one day we will have some sort of translucent or metamorphic powers. It is not wrong to look forward in hope to the glorious new body Christ will clothe us in upon the resurrection, but those who presume to confidently erect an entire scheme of eschatological physiology based on this verse alone ought to temper themselves, and leave such things in God’s hands.

The Peace of God

Jesus (the embodiment of peace) then greets the disciples with the customary greeting – this would have been salom alekem in the Hebrew. It seems pretty normal, but as Carson wisely points out, Jesus says it twice. Therefore most scholars agree that there is more than a simple greeting here. As J.C. Ryle says, “He who ‘spake as never man spake,’ said nothing without meaning.”

This leads us to ponder two things in particular.

First, the gentleness with which Jesus addresses His disciples. These men have been cowering in fear. They’ve completely abandoned His grave – unlike the brave women and two influential members of the Sanhedrin, they don’t seem to have been spending a lot of time at the tomb.

But as Ryle points out, “’Peace’ and not blame, ‘peace’ and not fault-finding, ‘peace’ and not rebuke, was the first word which this little company heard from their Master’s lips, after He left the tomb.”

Secondly, this leads us to ponder the fulfillment of the promises He made before His death:

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 14:27)

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)

Thus the first thing He says to His disciples after defeating death has a tinge of the fulfillment of that great promise He made, and the reminder that because of His work they (and all who come to believe in Him – see Ch. 17!) would have everlasting peace. Indeed Paul saw this clearly:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:12-16)

It is significant in my own mind that the first thing Jesus says to our souls when we come to Him in repentance and seeking protection is “peace be with you.” As Christians we have that peace, and that rest. We simply come into His presence, we ask for forgiveness, we ask for His power and His peace, and He will be faithful to not withhold what He so enjoy to give:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

20:20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

He’s Really Real

He is not an aberration – there is a physical body, this is a real resurrection, He is not merely a Spirit. In John’s day, the Docetists were claiming that Jesus hadn’t really appeared on earth with a real human body. They felt that the physical world (much like the Gnostics) was evil, or corrupt, and they didn’t think that God would have subjected Himself to such an evil.

They believed that though He appeared to be human, He was really only spirit – not only post-resurrection, mais après as well.

John lays out the case against this simply by recording historical fact. Jesus, for His part, shows His disciples unparalleled love and kindly condescension. He wants them to know that He is not a mere aberration, but the One they love and have followed these past three years. This is the Lord.

20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The Commissioning

This seems to be a very difficult passage, but I believe the main theme is found in this commissioning of the disciples. Their commission is ours, and is an extension of the Son’s mission, just as the Son’s mission is an extension of the Father’s plans for His creation and chosen people, and that mission is given to the church as a whole to be carried out by individuals empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes this plain when He uses the words “as” and “even so” – these words are what remind us of the fact that He is the vine and we are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing.

What a thrilling charge! No sooner has Jesus arisen from the grave than He says, “its go time! Let’s roll. We have a great mission in front of us.” We.

And what I want to just point out here is that once Christ’s “peace” has come upon us, we are commissioned in a similar way. We are to be “doers” in the missional sense of James’ words. He has commissioned the church for action. Now what is that action? We’ll come to that in a minute…

Empowered by the Spirit – A Preview of Pentecost

First, I want to note that this commissioning is grounded in the reality that the disciples were empowered to carry out the mission. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit. They couldn’t do this job alone, and neither can we.

John Owen rightly said that there is a “natural popery in man,” by which (and I believe Tim Challies is right on this account) we naturally want to work our way through ever sin, every problem and every mission of life, depending very little on help from others or from God.

So let us not fall into that trap. As Christians we are commissioned for the spreading of the Gospel and the living of a victorious life. That only happens when we walk in the Spirit.

Now, there is an interesting situation here which scholars of all stripes have long disputed. The scene as we have just read it, involved Jesus breathing on His disciples. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Only then does He commission them for action.

Some have said that there is a conflict between this mini Pentecost, and the one in Acts 2. How can we reconcile these two events?

Because of the context, and the order of what Jesus says and does here, I believe that He is grounding this imperative (the charge) in the indicative (the receiving of the Spirit). The Bible never asks us to do anything without giving us the help and power to do so. This is the case in numerous examples throughout the New Testament especially because of the New Covenant promise of the Spirit.

A perfect example of this is found in Philippians:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Note that there is a command, which is promptly followed by the reassurance that it is God “who works in you.” So the imperative is grounded in the comfort of the indicative.

With all of this in mind, I think that this breathing on of the Spirit is symbolic of what will happen soon at Pentecost (Acts 2) – it is anticipatory of that event, just as the commissioning is anticipatory of their upcoming mission (this view of the anticipatory nature of the “breathing” is taken by Schreiner, and fits well with my own contextual interpretation of the commission as a whole). Note that He will later instruct them to remain in the city until the Spirit comes upon them.

Therefore He commissions them with instructions grounded in His own promise to help through yet another “extension” of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. This all anticipates the day they will be sent into all the world to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18).

Second, I think this breathing is symbolic because the disciples don’t immediately show fruit of being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Carson points out:

There is too slight a demonstration within the Gospel of John that this alleged bestowal of the Spirit made the slightest bit of difference in the lives of Jesus’ followers. The disciples still meet behind locked doors (vs. 26) and the natural inference is that they are still afraid of the Jewish authorities (vs. 19). When Thomas comes to faith, it is not because of the promised witness of the Spirit (15:26-27), but because he sees the risen Jesus for himself. Those who accept John 21 as part of the Gospel, even if it is cast as an epilogue, cannot fail to observe that the disciples are sliding back to their old employment (21:1-3), sorting out elementary reconciliation with the Master (21:15-19), and still playing ‘let’s compare-service-record’ games (21:20-22). All this is not only a far cry from the power, joy exuberant witness, courageous preaching and delight in suffering displayed by the early Christians after Pentecost, in Acts, it is no less distant from the same virtues foretold in John’s farewell discourse, where the promise of the Spirit receives such emphasis.

Carson goes on to say that if this is really John’s version of Pentecost, it’s really disappointing! And I agree with him. This must be a preview, an anticipation of what is to come.

The Instruction

Now looking at the instruction itself, He tells them that, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” This can only make sense if we understand that He is not talking to the individual (like priests or the pope etc.), but to the church as a whole (cf. Morris).

Furthermore, to understand this we must touch on that foundational truth we just discussed about the Spirit. Our work is grounded in the work of God – our power is assumed to come from Him. And this is the same here as it pertains to forgiveness. Those the church forgives are forgiven, but not because the church has a mystical power outside of God’s prerogative to forgive whomever we want, but rather because the church (when operating in a Spirit-filled manner) agrees with God’s Spirit to forgive, or not to forgive.

Some denominations – Catholics and others – have taken this to mean that priests have the right of “absolution”, but if we are to truly understand the ancient practice of ablution we must understand it to mean that form of agreement with God that reassures a church member that he/she has been forgiven (see esp. Sproul on this).

The Catholic “church” has in recently centuries enumerated unto itself such “powers” as were never meant in this practice (or ought not to have been meant in any case). Catholic priests say now, “et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo”, which is to say, “and by His authority I absolve you.”

In sum, the church can bind and loose, can forgive and hold back forgiveness, because it is a Spirit-filled institution, the very bride of Christ, and His body. So long as the church is connected to Him as His branches, we will agree discerningly with Him in all His judgments as we proclaim the gospel of forgiveness and the warning of eternal punishment to all who reject this free offer. What Jesus is saying here is none other than that the church has the commission to preach the gospel to all people in power endued by the very God who had just raised Him from the grave.

For as Peter would later recall…

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:24, 32-33)

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Study Notes for June 16: John 17:24-26

Yesterday I taught on John 17 – we finished that chapter in class and the notes are below.  I hope you find them edifying.  I admit that they are not as “complete” as the lesson was in person, simply because many things were coming to mind during the lesson, and those are not added in here.  Still, there are some great thoughts from theologians and wonderful teaching from our Lord that we can glean from His High Priestly Prayer.

PJW

17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Introduction to 24-26

This is the second part of this section of which I mentioned earlier that there are two main themes: unity and knowing God.  In these last few verses we’ll examine the latter of those two themes in some more depth.  But first let’s examine what Jesus says here in verse 24…

The Desire of Jesus

So often we talk about our desires and wanting them to match Jesus’ desires.  We want to have minds and hearts that are like His. And here we learn explicitly what some of those desires are.

And so the first really significant thing we learn from this passage is what the desires of Jesus actually are.

Jesus desires that 1. We be in heaven with Him when we die – “where I am” – and 2. That we see His glory in heaven. These really aren’t two separate items, I suppose, but one is the result of the other.  The reason Jesus wants us in heaven is so that we will see His glory.

Later John would go on to write this:

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

D.A. Carson’s comments on this verse are helpful and I will quote them at length:

…they had not witnessed Jesus’ glory in its unveiled splendor. Christians from every generation glimpse something of Jesus’ glory even now (vs. 2 Cor. 3:18), but one day, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2). The glory of Christ that his followers will see is his glory as God, the glory he enjoyed before his mission because of the Father’s love for him. The ultimate hope of Jesus’ followers thus turns on the Father’s love for the Son, as in 14:31 it turns on the love of the Son for the Father.  Presumably those who share, with the Son, the delight of being loved by the Father (vs. 23), share also in the glory to which the Son is restored in consequence of his triumphant death/exaltation.

This is just a great explanation.  So without rehashing what Carson says, let me approach the text from an existential/experiential perspective…

Have you ever considered that the purpose of heaven – of our going to heaven – is largely to see the glory of Jesus?  I confess that this isn’t the thing I normally think about when I contemplate heaven.  I normally think about peace and my own joy and happiness.  But what I came to realize that the two ideas aren’t incompatible.  My joy in heaven is really going to be a result of seeing and savoring (as Piper would put it) the glory of Jesus.

The implication of this is very much what Jesus prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come.”  We ought to also have this desire here during our time on earth.  If we are going to have great joy in heaven from beholding the glory of Jesus there, what is keeping us from doing so in a lesser, though still important, way here on earth?

I’ve argued in the past that we behold the glory of Jesus here on earth through the Word of God and that it is God the Holy Spirit who helps us see this glory and really appropriate it to our minds, hearts and lives in the here and now.

We could really plumb the depths of this for a long time, but for now let us just be content to think on these things and what their practical implications are for our lives here.

The Father’s Love of the Son

The second really big thing we notice about what Jesus says here is that the Father’s love for the Son is very great.  He loves the Son and gives Him glory.  In other words, all the goodness and greatness of Jesus is His because of His relation to the Father.  It is His connection to the Father that makes Him great and glorious.

Jesus, being the second member of the Trinity, is glorious and this glory is manifested most perfectly in heaven where He desires that we – His chosen people – will one day reside with Him.

There’s a lot of difficulty for our human minds here when it comes to the nature of the Trinity and why it is that Jesus is getting His glory from the Father.  I’ve mentioned this earlier in other passages, but we must affirm that Jesus is ontologically equal with the Father, yet in His role He is subordinate.  We must always make that careful distinction and not wander off into unfounded speculation. There are only so many truths we can know here on earth, and hopefully when we arrive in heaven we will have a greater grasp of who God is and how He is, and so forth.

Because He Prayed

This could easily be missed, but at the core of this verse is the reality that Jesus is praying that we will be with Him in heaven.  This ought to give us great assurance that if we are His, if we are born again, we will surely be in heaven upon our death!

It is a popular verse to quote, but I think its worth of remembering here, that Jesus is the incarnate word of God and nothing He prays for is going to be left on the cutting room floor (so to speak):

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

What a great truth to read that Jesus is praying here for us to be with Him in heaven.  If He said it, surely it will come to pass.

17:25-26 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. [26] I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Leon Morris says, “The last two verses are something of a retrospect. They might, perhaps, be set off as a separate division of the prayer. There is no petition in them. Jesus is no longer praying for those who would believe through the apostolic witness. He is making statements about what he has done and the purpose of his doing it.”

The World Does Not Know You

Again I want to quote Morris, who is spot on in this passage, when he says, “It is probably significant that immediately after addressing God as righteous he proceeds to distinguish between ‘the world’ and his followers. It is because God is righteous that he treats both groups as he does.”

This is something we’ve looked at in the past, but John’s gospel is teaming with examples of how the world has rejected Jesus. There is a real dichotomy in John’s gospel between those who “know” God and those who do not.  In this gospel “knowing” is tantamount to “believing.”  The word “believe” is used 98 times (Schreiner)!

So here we see that the world does not know God in this intimate, believing, sort of way.  Obviously the world knows that there must be a God (so Romans 1), and that is why Paul can say that they are all without excuse.  But this kind of “knowing” is much more than simply the internal conscience that God has given every man that must acknowledge there is a creator.

Throughout the Gospel of John this concept of knowing God has been contrasted with those who do not know God. “Knowing” and “Believing” in John are really the same thing in many many instances.

Here are some examples of the contrast between those who know God and those who don’t and the call to believe and know God:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? [63] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” [66] After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66)

But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (John 8:55)

This concept is not limited to John’s gospel though; it is all over the New Testament.  One example that comes to mind is how Paul articulates this in 2 Corinthians:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

Therefore, knowing God and believing in Jesus are very closely tied together in John’s gospel.  To know the heavenly Father is to first know His Son.  To place your faith in the name of Jesus is how we come into a relationship with God.

As a side note, we earlier learned about how the name of God sort of acts as short hand for summing up who He is, His attributes and character etc.  Well there’s an interesting connection here between the importance of the name of the Father, and how later in the NT the apostles call us to believe in the name of Jesus, and do wondrous things in His name.  The natural conclusion here is that Jesus is divine.  I just mention this because so many in our group are reading or studying other Gospels and we have just finished a study of Acts where this is so prominently seen.

Knowing in Order to be Filled with Love

There is a close relationship between “believing” and knowing God.  The connection is that the Spirit, who helped us believe in the first place, is now filling us with knowledge of who God is.

Tom Schreiner aptly sums up John’s close tie between soteriology (the study of salvation) and Christology (the study of Christ) in the following comment:

He is fully divine and equal with the Father, so that those who honor the Father must honor him as well. Prayers offered in his name (the name of Jesus) will be answered, and eternal life comes to those who believe in his name. The Son existed with the Father before the world began and shares his glory, and the disciples will enjoy the Son’s glory forever in the future. And yet the Son was sent to bring glory to the Father, while at the same time the Father glorifies the Son. The Son as the sent one acts in dependence upon and in submission to his Father and constantly does what is pleasing to the Father…Life in the age to come is the portion of human beings even now if they put their trust in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. His name saves because his name is exalted.

We already addressed that when Jesus speaks of the “name” of God, He is referring to the sum total of God’s attributes – his characteristics.  Now we hear Jesus end His prayer by asking that His followers be kept in God’s name in order “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This “love” is nothing short of the Holy Spirit’s filling us post-Pentecost.  Tom Schreiner says that “the Spirit has the unique ministry of filling believers with the Love of God.”

This is seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans as well:

…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

There is a progression here in Jesus’ prayer.  He prays that we would be kept in God’s name in order to have the love of God manifested in our hearts through a kind of unity with God.  This must have been pretty mysterious to the disciples at the time, but we know looking back that Jesus is saying that knowing God and being filled by the Spirit are all part of the same Christian experience.

We are born again, filled with the Spirit, and learn more and more about God.  We are unified with God through the filling of the Spirit, and the adoption into His household.

John Stott says this, “what the Holy Spirit does is to make us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us. It is very similar to Paul’s later statement that ‘the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (Romans 8:16). There is little if any appreciable difference between being assured of God’s fatherhood and of his love.”

Conclusion

This chapter is one of the neatest, most assuring sections of Scripture I have ever studied.  It is a source of great comfort, and also great insight. I hope that it serves you as a continual well of inspiration and comfort in the years to come.

An Odd Story

Last night at our weekly Bible study I taught on Judges 17 and 18.  This has to have been the oddest series of chapters I’ve ever taught on! Yet, there are also profound lessons to be learned.  Below are my notes – they are pretty rough-draft, not polished etc. But they point to a few of the major lessons I learned from my study of these chapters.  I think its fair to say that this story (of Micah and the Danites) is very odd – but also rather funny.  There are satirical nuances laced throughout each chapter, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

PJW

Chapter 17 (Introduction) 

As we enter our study on chapter 17, we’re beginning to examine the final section of this book of the Bible (there are three major sections).  Chapters 17-21 are sometimes called “appendices” of the book because they add further context to the situation in Israel in the form of two additional stories.

Each of these stories is low on commentary by the narrator, but the writing style is extremely subtle, and sophistication marks the compilation of each composition.

Both of these stories are divided up into two chapters each, and they share many things in common with each other.  In fact, Daniel Block mentions 9 such commonalities, but one that I find most significant is his final one:

Both accounts are punctuated by variations of the refrain “in those days Israel had no king” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In the first the formula is inserted at critical junctures in the narrative and functions as an episode marker, in the second the formula frames the entire narrative, appearing at the beginning and the end. Twice, once in each section, the formula is augmented with, “everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).

Up until this point God has raised up Judges who saved Israel from her slavery to other nations.  The cycle of sin and judgment and delivery has been a downward spiral with each Judge being less and less moral/upright in their behavior and leadership.

By the time we reach chapter 17 (which is not necessarily after Samson, but probably meant to coincide with the times of his judging Israel) the nation has hit rock bottom.  They are pretty much fully “Canaanized” and have become more like the people of the land than the men and women God wanted them to be.  This is almost surely a result of their failure to expel the native Canaanites from their home turf.

Commenting on this, Tom Schreiner explains the reason for needing to cleanse the land of the Canaanites:

The call to utterly destroy the peoples in Canaan is a shock to modern sensibilities, but despite the attempt of some scholars to say otherwise, it is quite clear that Israel believed that these were instructions from Yahweh Himself. The failure to carry out such instructions would imperil the fundamental tenet of Israel’s faith: Yahweh’s Lordship. Israel must cleanse the land from evil, for Canaan is to be a new Eden, a new garden of the Lord, free from evil.

By not expelling God’s enemies from the land, the Israelites have fallen under their influence and are no longer following the laws of Moses.

So here we are, so far from where Moses and Joshua had come both spiritually and physically.  The people are finally in the land, but far from being a light to the nations, they are hardly discernable from the people who originally inhabited the land.

Lastly, one of the things we ought to notice (that a few commentators brought up) is that there are two tribes in the spotlight here from 17-21: Dan and Benjamin.  Dan would one day lead the northern kingdom and Benjamin the southern.  Both were tribes with settlements that were in the heart of Canaan.  The significance of these things is that we’re seeing here in chapter 17 an example of the private/personal apostasy of one man’s home, and then later in 18 we see it with Dan. But its tempting to think “well I wonder if these are isolated instances…”  The author, I think, purposefully uses these examples (sic Dan/Benjamin) to show us the depth and thoroughness of the apostasy of the nation as a whole.  These are kitchen table issues (as we say in politics).  They range in scope and scale from the least to the greatest and the reach of this kind of lifestyle is vast.  We cannot leave these final chapters without understanding how far men will flee from God given their own devices:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18) 

 

17:1-6 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Verse 6 helps us explain the bizarre story that precedes it, and the equally bizarre story that continues after it.  This man, who appears to have been a thief and one who disrespected his parents (there goes two of the 10 commandments right there), has the gall to make household idols and then appoint one of his sons to be a priest with an ephod and all the trappings (almost) of a feaux levitical ministry (there goes another one of the commandments).

First I want to offer a note of explanation about the curse and the blessing of Micah’s mother. There’s a good chance that the curse itself was enough to motivate Micah to return the silver, and the reason for this is that at the time a “curse” was seen as something that was alive and active – like a hidden warrior who could strike at any moment without you knowing it.  The blessing was thought of as the only way to undue the curse.  So we ought not to think of Micah’s mother as so elated at her son that she sought to bless him (though perhaps she was), but rather that this is the sort of stock response to undue the cursing she had uttered previously.

Now, secondly, note how syncretistic the situation is here.  This man Micah has made idols out of silver, which is clearly a pagan practice in violation of the law of God, yet he has also made an ephod and appointed one of his sons to be a sort of priest for the idols.  He’s doing all this in his own home, which is clearly a violation of how God wanted to be worshiped.  Much of the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy focus on the fact that God will be worshiped as He wants and where He wants.  But Micah is either showing significant ignorance, or rash arrogance.

So when we read in verse six that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, it begins to make sense – especially in light of the fact that “there was no king” at the time.  Not only was there no physical ruler that united all the tribes under one lawful banner, but the people who occupied the land of Canaan no longer regarded the Lord as their King.

To this end, I thought it right to quote Baptist Scholar Peter Gentry who said the following while remarking on the nature of the Davidic Covenant and the order of God’s bringing the Ark into Jerusalem prior to making the everlasting covenant with David:

The return of the ark in 2 Samuel 6 indicates that Yahweh is returning to live in the midst of his people as king. The fact that 2 Samuel 6 precedes 7 shows that only when the kingship of Yahweh among his people is firmly established can the issue of kingship in Israel be discussed. A sanctuary for the Lord comes before the monarchy

At this point in Israel, everyone is doing what they think is right.  They are following what they believe to be the right way to live their lives.  However, those guidelines are all subjective to however each man feels or thinks (as Dale R. Davis said, the entire law code seems subject to each man’s “glands”!).

17:7-13 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

We don’t know what the name of the “young man” was in verses 8-13, but he was a Levite, and he seems to have been on a journey when he came to Micah’s house.  We don’t know why or where he was going, but once he comes up on the house of Micah his entire life changes.

Block hilariously describes this young Levite as he’s dealing with the fact that we really don’t know a lot about him:

He is a “laid back” professional minister following the path of least resistance and waiting for an opportunity to open up. And he just happens to arrive at the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim. But what a stroke of luck this turns out to be, for both him and Micah!

Micah, who we’ve seen is a syncretistic idolatrous sinner, sees this man, this Levite, as from God. Why? Because to date he has been making due with one of his sons as priest, but no longer.  Now he can have the real deal – a Levite!

We know that there’s a lot more to being a Levitical priest than simply being a descendent of Levi – there are ceremonial cleansing, and learning and all manner of rules that one must go through.  But not so here, Micah doesn’t care about all that.  And why should he?  In his lifetime, and in the generations that have come before him, I’m betting he never saw the priesthood properly modeled, not only that, but a true encounter with God hadn’t happened in quite some time.

When verse six says that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, it reminds us that there was no fear nor any love for God in the eyes of Israelites.

What this means is that men like Micah would have been more superstitious than religious.  Micah thinks that simply having a Levite as his own personal idol-priest will make him to “prosper” (as Block says, “the Levite is nothing more than a good luck charm”)!

We get a chuckle at this because is sounds absurd, but we see the same thing in our churches today.  In fact, I was just reading Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ and he talks about how in Texas where he is a pastor, there are record church attendees.  It’s a way of life to go to church on Sunday morning.  Having spiritual transformation, obedience and love for God are not necessarily part of the equation.  It’s motivated partly by a way of life, partly based on some superstition (enabled by the prosperity gospel preachers), and partly on feel-good self-help centered gathering that give attendees a helpful trinket of useful to-dos for the week ahead.

So as ridiculous as Micah’s situation looks to us, let’s not forget that many of us have grown up in churches, or know those who still go to churches, that don’t preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ignorance of the Word breeds superstition, prosperity gospel, and all manner of evil.

Chapter 18

18:1 In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 

The more clear way of putting this is that there was no inheritance “taken”, perhaps.  They were given an inheritance (as we read of in Joshua 19:40-48) but they were beaten back by the Amorites and could not repel them – see chapter 1.

So instead of going before God and asking for help, they have basically been stuck in these two cities of Zorah and Eshtaol (likely their basecamps from which they launch their initial Canaanite expedition) for several generations, having failed to take the land the Lord gave them.

We might note that this entire chapter is somewhat of a parody of the earlier conquest accounts.  As Block says, “this chapter is deliberately composed as a parody on the earlier spy mission traditions. Nothing in this chapter is normal; people’s values and behavior are all topsy-turvy.”

18:2-6 So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

So like in former generations, the Danites send out “spies” to scout out the land.  The “able men” as the ESV translates it, could also be “noble men” or “noble/mighty warrior” to which Bock comically states, “the present designation would have suited Joshua and Caleb, the two trustworthy members of the original team of twelve Israelite scouts (Num. 14:5-10), but here it is ironic. The Danites may be heroic figures physically and militarily, but they are spiritual pygmies.”  Ha!

It is interesting that these Danites recognize the voice of the Levite, and though we don’t know how (the author doesn’t explain it) they recognize his voice, they begin to immediately interrogate him.  Interestingly, his responses are reflective of his totally self-serving agenda.  He talks about how good Micah has been to him (vs.4) and how Micah has paid him good money to be there (vs.4).

The next thing that happens here is that the Danites seem thrilled to have run across someone who can tell them their fortune – what luck!  As Block says, “Just as Micah’s cult has lacked credibility and authority  until the Levite arrived, so the mission of these scouts lacks authority without an oracular authentication from the deity.”  But now they have a genuine Levite before them – heck, he’s even got an Ephod!

It’s just such an odd situation – it’s as if you’re watching a Monty Python movie or something.  I can picture these guys getting made fun of so badly.  Everything is so whacko…

Then, to add to the oddities, the response of the Levite is pretty much instantaneous…its almost like he just glibly answered, “Ya, looks like you’re blessed…move along.”  Did he even bother to consult with God?  Who even knows!? In fact, its not as if he answers them clearly that God will bless the mission!  But it doesn’t seem to bother the Danites – they take it the way they want to take it and the Levite sends them on their way…and like the dolts that they are, they proceed in the utmost happiness and tranquility of mind. 

18:7-10 Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8 And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” 9 They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10 As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”

Here are more parallels between the original mission to spy out the land of Canaan, and this comical less-than-holy mission of the Danites.  They spy things out, they like what they see, they come back, they report on the situation, and the response seems favorable.  They have scouted a land that is safe, has natural defenses of mountains and naturally occurring ramparts to safeguard the city (see Block), and is far from the Amorites and the Sidonians who wouldn’t want to bother with anything inland anyway.  They have plentiful resources, and they live a sort of idyllic life – a life that the Danites see themselves enjoying soon!

The scouts are so excited, that they accuse their fellow brothers of stalling and even through in that the land has been given to them by Yahweh – no doubt encouraged by their encounter with the fake priest.

18:11-14 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

One of the interesting things that we find in verse 11 is that there’s only 600 men that decide to go with the 5 who spied out the land.  It seems like a small amount given the fact that the whole tribe of Dan had commissioned them. This is reflected in the fact also that in verse 11 the author uses the word “clan” instead of tribe (even though the ESV uses the same word here, the Hebrew is more limited).  So I think that the sense of the text is that many people from the tribe didn’t decide to go – and as Block notes, the rest of them pretty much disappeared from the pages of history.

Once the group gets the Micah’s house, they are definitely going to stop and check in with their lucky Levite.  After all, he offered great advice the first time, so why not stop again – heck, why not stop and offer the man a better job?  After all, he would probably take it…

18:15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?”

18:20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.

I think its fairly obvious that “the priest’s heart was glad” signals the ambition of this Levite.  He thinks mostly about himself first, and doesn’t seem to give a whit about loyalty to Micah – much less about the blatant apostasy he’s been committing.

This reminds me of the simony that marked the church in the medieval ages.  Becoming a church minister became a normal career to consider like that of a farmer or dairyman, rather than a calling from the Lord.

Lastly, the whole situation here is just odd, as I’ve mentioned before.  The household shrine is now stolen from Micah, who ironically had stolen his mom’s silver which was then used to pay for this shrine by his mom in the first place…not only this, but they have the arrogance to think that wherever they setup shop the Lord will be with them.  “We can plop down a shrine anywhere and be all set!”

18:21 So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. 22 When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

If ever you wondered about whether the Danites might have been righteous men, this passage should stop your wondering.  They have stolen what was not theirs, and subsequently stolen into the night.

In his anger and frustration, Micah chases after the band of miscreants and upon catching up to them tries to stop them from stealing all that he has.  You would think, at this point in the story that the Levite might interject himself – that perhaps he would feel a sense of remorse for what he had done.  But that isn’t the case.  Instead, he keeps silent.  He has made his bed and will lie in it.

When Micah realizes that to argue further with the men would result in his termination (“you lose your life and the lives of your household”), he desists and returns home.

Is this the way righteous men act?  Is this the way the promised land was taken?  Is this the way those who fear God and serve Him behave?  With no consideration for others…this is yet another indication of the self-centered idolatry that permeated all of Israel from the least to the greatest, each man followed in his path according to his own ideas and counsel.

Today there are many who call themselves Christians – even claiming to be part of the evangelical church.  But they are nothing short of Danite robbers.  They have no honor, nor do they live according to the word of the Lord.  They are pretenders who are self-centered glory seekers.  They are, in the end, mercenaries.  They are mercenaries because they serve themselves and not God.

18:27 But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. 28 And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Laish means “lion” but the Danites named it after Dan, their ancestor, one of the sons of Jacob (Israel).

It is not until verse 30 of this final chapter in the two-chapter story that we really understand the full weight and depth of the Canaanization of the land.  And this is because we finally learn in verse 30 that the Levite who has whored himself out to idols and to the highest bidder is a direct descendent of Moses himself.  His is the son of Gershom (“son” in this case likely means “descendent” but if it does not, then there is good reason to believe this story took place earlier in the Judges narrative than later).

The intent of the story is to leave you feeling nauseous.  You want to throw up because if you’ve been reading the accounts of Scripture up until this point and have any idea as the manifold destiny of this people you can’t help but feel like they have unwittingly charged forward to their lowest point since slavery in Egypt.  Instead of slavery to Pharaoh they are slaves to idols.  They have broken free from service to God and have whored after other gods who are not Gods at all.  They are foolish, arrogant and headed for ruin.

So might you and I be had it not been had it not been for the grace of God.  You and I are like these Danites.  We spy out land that isn’t given to us.  We are always looking for greener pastures – never content to conquer what has been given until our hands by the Lord.  We steal, pilfer, and snub our noses at God and rebel against all that He has intended us to be.  If Christ hadn’t rescued us from ourselves we would be lost.  Forgotten in the pages of history.  Missing in some dungeon in Hell’s dark cavernous landscape never to be heard from again except by those who share our fate.

Praise God that He rescued us.

Most Influential Books Part 3

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

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Beats Death

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

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

John Chapter 11

An Exposition

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meaning of “Glorified”

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

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

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

D.A. Carson comments:

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

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

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

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

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

How Lazarus Points Forward to the Pleasure of God in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Piper explains this passage in the following ways:

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

Piper continues…

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

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

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

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

Piper closes his thoughts on the matter this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is patient and kind;

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

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

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

It does not insist on its own way;

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

it is not irritable or resentful;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Patience of the Son

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

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

So that You May Believe

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

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

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

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

Duty vs. Joy

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

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

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

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

The Precipice

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

 

Section 2 – Abramatic Faith & ‘Ego Eimi’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truths We Must First Ascent To…

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

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

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

What Everyone Must Wrestle With…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Section 3 – The Sovereign Power of the Son of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion for His Sheep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

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

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

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

The Impending Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several key points that we see here.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Section 4 – Heart of Darkness: The Power of Unbelief

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

The Power of Unbelief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And…

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

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

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

Resorting to Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

The Mission of the Spirit

Below are my notes for John 15:21-27 which chiefly pertain to the mission of the Holy Spirit here on earth.  I hope you find these edifying and encouraging!

PJW

15:21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

Jesus is saying that people will persecute His followers for a specific reason – that reason is because they have no fear of God.  If their hearts believed that Jesus was sent by God the Father, then they would not have persecuted Him, nor would they persecute us.

So the problem, Jesus is saying, is not that they don’t believe in God.  The problem is their lack of believe in me. They don’t believe that I am who I say I am. Therefore, you will be seen in that same light.

The Apostle Paul was a man whose life was heavily impacted by this truth.  And he explains for us the situation in this extended quote from 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

It is not that Jesus is saying these men of the Jews were not sinners, but rather that in their rejection of Jesus as Christ they were rejecting the Father’s salvation and the Father Himself by extension – and this was a sin greater than any other (so MacArthur, Morris, Sproul et all).

F.F. Bruce says, “Had they recognized Jesus as the Son of God, they would have recognized the Father in him; as it was, in repudiating the Son they repudiated the Father also.”

As Jesus said earlier in John 5, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23b).

The unity between the Son and the Father is brought home to roost here.  Morris says, “The guilt of the Jews consisted in this, that they rejected the revelation of the Father that was made known in the Son” and then adds this sharp observation, “Jesus does not speak of ‘the Father’ but of ‘my Father.’ His special relationship to God is very much to the fore.”

In doing this they were heaping judgment upon themselves.  The concept is similar to what we learn from John’s illustration of light and darkness in John 3:19-20.  Those who reject Jesus are judged “already”, because they ran from the light and “loved the darkness.”

“He had come to show them the love of God, but the reacted to his love with hatred, just as, when the he came to them as the light of the world, they chose darkness rather than light (John 3:19). They thus passed judgment on themselves: if they rejected the giver of true life, they shut themselves up to the only alternative – death” says Bruce.

R.C. Sproul summarizes it this way:

Jesus reminded the disciples that the Father had demonstrated categorically that He was God’s Son. He did not just say it, He demonstrated it by the power that was entrusted to Him, by the miracles that He performed in the presence of eyewitnesses all over Israel. No one in that generation could claim ignorance as excuse for rejecting Him.

J.C. Ryle says:

They had seen Christ’s works, and heard Christ’s teaching, and yet remained unbelieving. What more could be done for them? Nothing – absolutely nothing! They willfully sinned against the clearest possible light, and were of all men most guilty.

The guilt is intensified with this generation because of the fact that they saw, they heard, yet they rejected the light of the gospel.  Again Ryle is on point, “To see light and not use it, to possess knowledge and yet not turn it to account, to be able to say ‘I know,’ and yet not to say ‘I believe,’ will place us at the lowest place on Christ’s left hand, in the great day of judgment.”

By rejecting the Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) the Jews had completely undermined their life’s purpose and orientation – this reality would manifest itself physically for the Jews when God sent the Romans to destroy the Herodian temple in 70 AD.

A Final Thought…

What is perhaps most remarkable to me about this is that this all happened so that “their Law (would) be fulfilled.”  And what is remarkable in this is that 1. Jesus fulfilled all of these OT prophesies (in this case probably Ps. 35:19 or Ps. 69:4 cf. MacArthur & Bruce) to the “enth degree” and 2. That He knew this would happen, and that He would be treated in such a way, and yet He still came.

Later, in his first epistle, John sums this up beautifully…

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)

15:26-27 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

The Historical Background

I agree with Carson that there is a synthetic parallelism here that helps us understand both the unity of the Trinity (namely the Father and the Son) and the sending agent (both Father and Son) which has been the sources of much controversy in church history.

The issue was that the Eastern Orthodox church held that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, and saw the Son as not above the Spirit in hierarchy.  They couldn’t seem to divorce ontology from mission, or ontology from role.  As a result they saw verses like this as needing interpreted through the lens of their own Father-centric view, especially since they had a tendency to focus on ontology to the degree that they missed the main point of passages such as this, which are namely related to the mission of the Spirit (cf. Carson).

Eventually due to the heavy influence of Augustine on the Western Church the Latins (what I might call the Western Church in Rome) adopted what is known as the filioque. This is simply Latin for the term added to the Nicene Creed, “and the Son.”  This was added and ratified at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 A.D.

It was this addition (along with many political and power issues between East and West) that led to the major church schism of 1054 A.D. between the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Western Latin Church based in Rome.

“Maintaining the Cause of Christ”

This passage, however, isn’t mainly concerned with the ontology of the Trinity, rather it is Jesus’ way of reassuring His disciples that when He leaves He will send the Spirit.

As Matthew Henry puts it, “It is here promised that the blessed Spirit shall maintain the cause of Christ in the world, notwithstanding the opposition it should meet with.”  Indeed it is a comforting thought that we do not battle the world, the flesh and the Devil alone. We would utterly fail if this were the case.

I wonder, however, how we practically appropriate this each day.  Do we push through a frustrating circumstance, or do we pray through the problem?  Do we rest in Christ, or do we create anxiety in our hearts over that which we cannot control?

I do not think we spend enough time contemplating or grasping the power we have in the gift of the Spirit.  I do not personally claim and special understanding either practically or intellectually in this realm, but I do endeavor to better submit myself to His comforts and wisdom in the days ahead.

As John Owen aptly remarked, “Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”

In His mission the Spirit is the primary witness of Christ, and we are secondary witnesses in that we are simply the instruments, and not the source (cf. Henry & Ridderbos).  Therefore the Spirit uses His vessels (us) to do the Father’s will, which is to point men to Christ Jesus. He does this specifically in the following ways:

He saves us by regenerating power from slavery to sin

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)

He comforts us

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

He intercedes for us

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

He bears witness to our spirit/soul (giving us assurance of adoption and salvation)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

He enlightens us with the wisdom of the gospel

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)

He gives us words to speak

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)

He uses His inspired word to sanctify us

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 3:18)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Summing it up, the Spirit’s Mission: Ultimately the Spirit’s mission is to save souls and sanctify the bride of Christ. The Spirit is God’s active hand in time and history, bearing witness to Christ, and working through human instruments in supernatural ways to accomplish God’s good will for God’s glory.

And this practically applies toward daily victory in Christ…Calvin explains:

And, indeed, when the world rages on all sides, our only protection is, that the truth of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit on our hearts, despises and defies all that is in the world; for, if it were subject to the opinions of men, our faith would be overwhelmed a hundred times in a day.

We ought, therefore, to observe carefully in what manner we ought to remain firm among so many storms. It is because “we have received, not the spirit of the world, the but Spirit which is of God, what we may know the things which have been given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12).” This single Witness powerfully drives away, scatters, and overturns, all that the world rears up to obscure or crush the truth of God. All who are endued with this Spirit are so far from being in danger of falling into despondency on account of the hatred or contempt of the world, that every one of them will obtain a glorious victory over the whole world.

John 15:16 Study Notes: Purpose in Life

Below are my notes from this past Sunday morning.  We examined John 15:16 and the purpose of a Christian life.  The very fact that we have a purpose is simply stunning – the fact that we know what that purpose is can be very comforting.

Enjoy!

PJW

15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

The Mission and Purpose of Christian Disciples

Jesus is reiterating some things that he’s been telling the disciples over the course of his ministry and their discussion in the upper room, and here he says that they are appointed to bear fruit, and that their fruit will abide – that it will last – and “so” whatever the disciples of Jesus ask for in the name of Jesus the Father will surely give to them.

One of the great comforts of the Christian life is to have a mission – a reason to live, and a sense for the meaning of life. The mission of a Christian is to “bear fruit”, and that fruit is good works (as we have seen earlier).  These good works are not from our flesh – that is, they are not works that we do on our own or in our own power – but they are in the Spirit.  They are the “fruit of the Spirit” so to speak.

As a young man matriculating to a secular university I noticed at once the attitude and conclusions about life that my fellow students held was vastly different than my own.  This was primarily due to a lack of understanding as to the reason for their life in the first place. They didn’t know the answers to “why am I here?”, “what is my purpose?” “how did I get here?” and so forth.

As Christians we know the answers to life’s most pressing and perplexing questions, and that is an overwhelming source of comfort that we must draw from if we’re to live life productively.

Those who do not have the Christian worldview have often been influenced by modern evolutionary thought, which has had a profound psychological impact on our culture.  Wayne Grudem explains the effect of evolutionary thinking on the way human beings think about their purpose in life:

It is important to understand the incredibly destructive influences that evolutionary theory has had on modern thinking. If in fact life was not created by God, and if human beings in particular are not created by God or responsible to him, but are simply the result of random occurrences in the universe, then of what significance is human life? We are merely the product of matter plus time plus chance, and so to think that we have eternal importance, or really any importance at all in the face of an immense universe is simply to delude ourselves. Honest reflection on this notion should lead people to a profound sense of despair.

As Christians, we know differently, and Jesus is saying as much in this passage. But this passage alone is not the only one that tells of His eternal purpose for us.  The entirety of Ephesians 1 screams this, and I have mentioned in commenting on previous verses that a great cross reference here is Ephesians 2:10 where Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Therefore Christ is here saying that He chose us not only for salvation (and a salvation that lasts, by the way), but also for good works (cf. MacArthur and Morris), for “fruit” that abides. MacArthur makes the point that the “fruit” is the souls of those saved through the spread of the Gospel, “When believers proclaim the gospel, those who respond savingly to it become fruit that will remain forever (cf. 4:36; Luke 16:29).”

He made us for a purpose – a destiny – and not simply an end, but a body of work that comes between our creation and our glorification.

In fact, the statement, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” is qualified by the word “so”, which is very important. It is that word “so” that tells us that the reason we ask the Father for help (for anything) is for the purpose of the previously mentioned goal: to bear fruit.  That He would give us help and a way to ask for that help implies that there is something He will be helping with.

So the thrust of this passage is that Jesus is going away, but He wants His disciples to know that He is still sovereign. He wants them to know that He has a mission for them once He is gone.  He is sovereign over their mission and He is sovereign over He chooses to send on it – “I chose you” and “you did not choose me.”

God’s Sovereign Choice

We have discussed the overall “thrust” of the passage, and I don’t want to miss the importance of the emphasis on mission here because I think that is the central message of the passage. But it may also be valuable to examine the foundation of the message.  Jesus’ command to bear fruit is built upon the rock solid sovereignty of God in all things – including, as we see here, in the choice of his disciples.

Jesus explicitly states that they didn’t choose him – nor would they have chosen Him if they had the chance. These are men who saw the Lord Christ Incarnate – the Word made flesh!  Yet they didn’t choose Him, He chose them.

In fact, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that no one chooses to follow Jesus of their own unaided volition.  Paul makes that clear in Romans:

as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

This is because in our unregenerated state even if we saw the scars of Jesus, heard the words of Jesus in person, or saw Him resurrected, we would still find a reason to disbelieve. We would create lies to explain away what our eyes saw and ears heard.

Before He breathes new life into us we are radically depraved, totally faithless, spiritually dead, and totally unable to believe and be saved apart from His sovereign unconditional electing salvation.

The doctrine of God’s sovereign election and our radical depravity is seen clearly throughout the book of John.  This passage simply reiterates what John and Jesus have been saying for 14 previous chapters, namely that it is His choice, His plan, His initiative that rules the destinies of men. This is not only the case for the 12 disciples, but for us today as well. He sovereignly chooses those whom He will and appoints those chosen to a life that will abide forever in the bosom of the Father.

Those who have studied John with me to date know well the myriad times that the apostle has labored to show God’s sovereignty in electing those whom He has chosen to life. The evidence has been so overwhelming that I’ve come to believe that those who harbor belief of their will or “choice” preceding the internal work of the Spirit have serious Scriptural obstacles to overcome.

Consider just a few (for the sake of time and space) of the following passages we’ve looked at in our study:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

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

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… (Ephesians 1:4)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

Commenting on John 6:37 Steve Lawson has this to say:

That word “all” is a collective word for all the elect. What this is saying is that before any sinner ever came to Christ, before any sinner is drawn by the Father to Christ, God had already given those to the Son. And the reason God had given them to the Son is because God had already chosen them by Himself and for Himself. That choice was made before the foundation of the world. And when God chose us God the Father gave us to God the Son to become His bride and to become His chosen flock….the giving of all of these to the Son precedes their ever coming to the Son, and we can trace this all the way back to eternity past.

John 6:39 and 40 show us once again that this is all done by the will of God:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:39-40).

The Upshot of This Truth

When we weigh what we know about these disciples and what we know about ourselves against the sovereign choice of Christ, it ought to cause us to bow before Him in worship. It ought to cause us to acknowledge His lordship over all creation and give us great comfort.

This sovereignty extends from the choosing, to the keeping (the abiding) to the carrying out of the mission: He is in control!  Complete and utter control!

The implications of this are nothing short of astounding. He is not simply the deistic god who winds up the clock of the universe only to sit back and watch it flutter along until judgment day.  He is not the pantheistic god of the eastern religions who is so mixed “in” with creation that his transcendence is obliterated.

He is both transcendent and immanent: He is God. He rules over all and IN all as well.  Paul describes this in one amazing sentence:

“…one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

All of this has led me to think that rebellion against the doctrine of election is just that: rebellion. It is not intellectually or Scripturally supportable to think that man in his fallen state would ever choose Christ over his sin, not have the inclination or desire to follow Christ on his own. Frankly, it is not the Spirit that motivates that kind of thinking. Most people who object to the doctrine of election object to it either because they either misunderstand the way in which God works, or they simply don’t understand the sovereign character and right of God to do whatever He pleases with His creation (you and me).

I will close this short thought by asking you to consider what the Psalmist says:
Our God is in the heavens
He does all that He pleases (Ps. 115:3)

“All” literally means “all.” There is nothing that falls outside His jurisdiction in the created order – how much more so the destinies of the pinnacles of His creation (mankind).