Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Sunday evening I had the opportunity to deliver a short sermon on Hebrews 10:23-25 which was aimed at encouraging the church toward having an eternal perspective and how that perspective, along with the indicative of what Christ has done and who He is, ought to govern how we behave amongst the elect.  I hope you find these notes engaging and encouraging!

PJW

Hebrews 10:23-25

Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.
  2. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things:
    1. Stirring each other up to love and good works
    2. Meeting together regularly
    3. Encouraging one another
  3. Conclusion: Perspective is everything
  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.

Hold Fast

We’re told here in verse 23 to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” He expresses the command in both positive (hold fast) and a negative (without wavering) terms.

What does it mean to “hold fast to the confession of our hope”?

In this passage, as in the rest of the book of Hebrews, the author’s words are dripping with eschatological richness. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that he always has the future in mind. Furthermore, he sees how Christ’s past work solidifies our future, and guides our present life. That is why he uses the word “hope” here. He is pointing us toward a future time when our hope will be realized.

This hope is ours now – otherwise it would not have made sense for him to tell us to hold fast to it – yet it will not be realized until the Lord returns.

This confession is our profession of faith in Christ and our identification with Him, and the entailment of riches that come to us by means of that confession.

As Calvin says, hope is the child of faith and “it is fed and sustained by faith to the end” (Hughes, pg. 414).

Therefore, we don’t simply confess His Lordship; we confess the hope we have because of His Lordship. Being a Christian comes with great cost, but it also comes with great reward. That reward is packed into the word “hope.”

What does it mean to not “waver”?

John Owen tells us that this generally means that our confession, our lives, must be “immovable and constant” and gives us four different ways in which we must not waver:

  1. No halting (going back and forth) between two opinions as the Israelites did between God an Baal. We must not waiver and be tossed back and forth doctrinally for convenience sake.
  2. No giving in to weakness and irresolution of mind when we encounter difficulties and trials.
  3. No yielding doctrinally or in worship to opinions which do not comport with our professed faith.
  4. No apostasy from the truth of the gospel.

The Imperative is Grounded in the Indicative

Now I want us to learn some theological grammar this evening. Let us note that in this first verse the apostle commands us to do one thing, and not do another thing, as we have just examined. We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” That command is called an “imperative.” When we tell someone to do something, we’re using the “imperative.”

But there is something sweet about living in the New Covenant and that is that as you read the New Testament you will notice that these commands, these “imperatives”, are always grounded in finished work of Christ.

When we talk about the finished work of Christ, and His character and Spirit and so forth, we are using phrasing that falls into another category, the “indicative.”

An easy way to remember this is that the indicative “indicates what Christ has done, what He is doing, and who He is.” At least that’s my theological shorthand!

So putting it all together: when we say that “the imperative is grounded in the indicative” we are saying that the commands we are given as Christians are always given in light of the finished work of Christ and His continuing work within us.

He is the rock upon which we rest our hope, and He is the one who is faithfully working within us to build His church. He is faithful therefore enabling US to be faithful.

Perhaps the most classic example of this is found in Philippians 2 where we read:

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, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

In one breath Paul calls them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and in the very same sentence tells that that it’s God who is doing the work within them!

We find the same thing here in Hebrews 10.

We are commanded to “hold fast” to our confession, but this obedience, this work of continuing to “hold fast” is made possible only by the faithful work of Jesus in our lives.

Therefore our foundation for obedience is the faithfulness of Christ Himself.

  1. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things: Stirring each other to love and good works, meeting together regularly, and encouraging one another.

Stirring each other up to love and good works

This “stirring” requires an intentional mindset toward interacting with one another. Not just “I’m going to say hi to him today.” But more along the lines of, “I want to find out how to encourage him today, to spur him/her on!”

In order to do this there is an unspoken prerequisite: you have to actually know each other well enough that you can do this is a meaningful way!

If you don’t know the needs, hurts, goal, desires of the men and women sitting in the pew next to you then you won’t be very good at stirring them up toward love and good works will you!

Secondly, before you can stir someone to love you must first stir with love. In other words, you can’t be much of encourager if your words aren’t governed by love. Paul said it best:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Meeting together regularly

The next thing we’re told to do is to “meet together regularly” – something we’re doing right now! But you know, there are some folks who fall into the trap of thinking that the don’t need to come to church because they’re already saved, and doing just fine on their own. They have their fire insurance.

In fact, there are some who are good Christians – using that term loosely – and they will tell you that they don’t need to attend church or Bible studies all the time because they read the Word on their own.

Philip Hughes accurately describes the problem here:

Selfishness and divisiveness go hand in hand; for self-love breed the spirit of isolationism. He who does not love his fellow Christians fervently from the heart (1 Peter 1:22) feels no compelling need to associate himself with them. Indeed, the genuineness of the Christian profession of a man in this state must be seriously suspect, for those who are one in Christ cannot help loving one another.

When Martin Luther sat down to translate the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into his native tongue – the common vernacular that everyone could read – there were some well-meaning friends of his who said this could be a major problem. And he didn’t rebuke them, in fact he agreed. But continued on because he believed that the blessings brought by the principle of private interpretation (the idea that every child of God should have access to the Word of God), were worth the risk of that principle being abused.

In isolation and without guidance wiser men of God, people come to all kinds of wacky conclusions about what God’s Word is saying. We need to have God’s shepherds guide us through His Word and fellow believers correct our misguided ideas sometimes.

Furthermore, in isolation we cannot serve each other or the poor in our community, we cannot worship God together, and we cannot enjoy the Lord’s table together and much more. Lone-wolf Christianity is foreign to the pages of Scripture.

It is vital – absolutely vital – that we meet together “regularly.”

Encouraging one another

When we meet together what is it that we should do? Well the author has an idea on that as well! We’re to “encourage one another.”

You know what this rules out? Slander and gossip. This is easy to do – especially with prayer requests. When we are such a close knit group, its frighteningly easy to throw each other under the proverbial bus, or talk rudely or insensitively about those whom we will spend eternity.

My Sunday School class took this into consideration early on in its formation. We wanted to be able to share prayer requests with each other, and yet we wanted to guard against slander and gossip. So at the end of our weekly prayer request email we’ve always included the following statement:

Please remember that as we share our prayers with one another, we do so because we are family, and we have the desire to lift each other up to our Father, and because we believe that our prayers are delightful to Him and He delights in listening to them and working powerfully through them. Please take our prayer emails as opportunities to enter into the presence of God on behalf of another person with whom you will be spending eternity. They are, quite literally, your family.  Please treat them as such, and avoid slander or gossip. Take your thoughts captive for Jesus Christ, and magnify the name of our great God and Father!

This is far from being the end-all-be-all solution, but it strikes a chord with folks and sets a tone. We need to remember who we’re talking about – these are brothers and sisters who we will spend eternity with.

In that vein, let’s read the final verse and conclude…

3. Conclusion: Perspective is Everything. We are doing all of these things “all the more as (we) see the Day drawing near.”

As Christians we need to have a sense of eternity. Our perspective needs to be calibrated through the lenses of Christ’s eyes. We have to have the “mind of Christ.” We know these things, we’ve heard the truths, but how often do we govern our actions based on a timeline that doesn’t end at 5pm on Friday? We section off our lives based on the calendar on our iPhones, instead of the eternal lifespan ahead of us.

How much easier would it be to share the gospel, stir each other up, encourage each other, and meet together if we governed our attitudes about such things based on a timeline that didn’t end at the beginning of the school year, or the end of the weekend (etc.)?

Christians ought to behave different because they have a different perspective. That is what the author of Hebrews is saying. Perspective rules our lives.

One of the things that fascinates me about the Biblical accounts of angels is their perspective.

We meet one such example when Gabriel visits Zachariah in the temple and tells him about how his wife Elizabeth is going to bear a child he is aghast at Zachariah’s reaction – unbelief. Here’s how he responds:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Gabriel is saying “I was JUST in heaven before God’s throne. He’s gives me this message and you don’t believe me??? I mean, I was JUST there – in heaven – in the throne room!”

Christ’s perspective is also infinite. Listen to the account of when Jesus had risen from the grave and Mary mistook Him for the gardener:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

It isn’t as though He is curious about the reason for her crying (see Gerhardus Vos sermon ‘Rabboni’). No. It’s that He’s just come from a party in heaven and what He encounters here is so out of step with reality that He’s taken aback! It’s as He’s saying, “Why in the world are you crying? It’s time to celebrate!”

These reactions are governed by a reality that we must apprehend by faith for the present time.

Therefore, we must behave, think, feel, and talk in such a way that takes into account the “Day of the Lord.”

Those thoughts, feelings, and speech must all be taken captive to the truth – the reality – of a perspective governed by an eternal timeframe.

Let us leave here with that perspective – this is just the start! Life is eternal! I will know each of you FOREVER! We will rule over this earth together FOREVER! How does that change your week, your day, your evening? And how does it change the way you interact with and speak about those here in the church?

Let us bear in mind the truth of what R.C. Sproul is prone to say, “Right now counts forever.”

Let’s pray…

Study Notes: John 19:25-42

Below are my study notes for the last part of John 19.  This section covers the death of Jesus, and the burial as well.  The main point of emphasis is the fulfillment of OT Scriptures.

John 19:25-42

19:25-27 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. [26] When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

It is notable that of the 11 men that surrounded Jesus during His ministry – the 11 disciples who had been hand-picked by Jesus to comprise His inner circle – only John was at the cross from what it seems.

William Hendricksen rightly comments:

It would seem that of the entire circle of eleven men only one was at the cross. That one was the apostle John. But there were several women. All honor to them, to their courage, and to their love.

There were four women. Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary’s sister whose name was likely Salome. It seems that when we harmonize the gospel accounts it makes the most sense to say that Mary’s sister’s name was Salome, and that she was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”

It was a lifetime ago that Mary had taken this child in her hands and had Him dedicated in the temple in Jerusalem. And it was during that trip to the temple that His destiny, and her own future pain, was revealed by Simeon:

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [23] (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) [24] and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” [25] Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. [26] And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. [27] And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, [28] he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, [29] “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; [30] for my eyes have seen your salvation [31] that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” [33] And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. [34] And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed [35] (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:22-35)

Last Will

As Jesus looks down from the cross upon those who are left to watch, He give what is called His “last will and testament.” This passage really impacts me. Jesus is in complete agony right now, yet He cared for those around Him until His dying breath. I want to love like that.

I am reminded of John’s words from chapter 13, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

How convicting is it – and revealing of our corrupted hearts – that during trials and great ordeals we cannot think of anything or anyone but ourselves and the circumstances which envelope us.

Think to your last trial – perhaps even a current trial you are wading through. What preoccupied your thoughts in those difficult hours? Who were you primarily concerned with?

I find my own thoughts in times of great peril or trial are often turned inward, at myself and my own survival.

Not so with Jesus.

Jesus was a man who was touched with the infirmities of humanity. He was suffering excruciating pain (that word, by the way, is a etymological creation passed down from the pain of the crucifixion) and yet His mind wavered not. It was on His mission, and on those closest to Him.

Also, I find it very interesting that Jesus was on a great mission to save the world, and yet He did not overlook the weakest among Him. He took care of His earthly mother before departing this world. So often it is great men of this world who are so enraptured in their work, or their circumstances, that they fail to love and tenderly care for those who are their kin. This is so much the case in the evangelical church that Pastor’s children are notoriously ill-behaved. These great men of God fail utterly to invest in their children. They are so busy carrying out their life’s mission that they overlook those whom God has given them to care for most.

Our loved ones ought not to be sacrificed on the alter of “mission” – whether that be the mission at work, or the mission of the Gospel. We have been entrusted by the Almighty God with the investiture of souls who ought to be loved and cared for above all else. This is the example of Jesus, our Lord. He suffered not to let Mary go into the remainder of her life without the care and attention of a specific caretaker. That caretaker was John.

What a grand lesson to all who are entrusted with mighty tasks. Let world leaders, church leaders, political and business leaders take note. Let us humble ourselves before the example of our Lord and Savior, and ask God to make our hearts like His!

19:28-37 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [29] A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [30] When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [31] Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. [32] So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. [33] But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. [34] But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. [35] He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. [36] For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” [37] And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

To Fulfill the Scripture

Just looking at this section here as a whole (28-37), one thing we notice is that John is on a mission to show how the death of Christ has fulfilled numerous scriptures. This is something we’ve mentioned and looked at before. He is intent on proving to his readers that this man, this Jesus, is the One Messiah promised by God.

Some commentators (Carson etc) have noticed that as the crucifixion drew closer, John intensified this commentary of fulfillment. This clearly shows that in John’s theology it is through the cross that Jesus is exalted – the cross is central to the thesis of his book.

Now, the number OT scriptures fulfilled in the events and actions surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus really is amazing – to the point of near mathematical impossibility that any one man could have accomplished all of these things. There simply isn’t another person who could fulfill all of these things to the “t” the way this man from Nazareth did.

John sees this and wants us to pay attention – this is no mere man! This is the Son of God in the flesh (John 1:1-18)!

Some people have spent time calculating the odds of Christ fulfilling these prophecies, and just fulfilling 8 — only 8 —- of the several dozen major prophecies would be almost mathematically impossible. One writer puts it this way:

A number of years ago, Peter W. Stoner and Robert C. Newman wrote a book entitled Science Speaks. The book was based on the science of probability and vouched for by the American Scientific Affiliation. It set out the odds of any one man in all of history fulfilling even only eight of the 60 major prophecies (and 270 ramifications) fulfilled by the life of Christ.

The probability that Jesus of Nazareth could have fulfilled even eight such prophecies would be only 1 in 1017. That’s 1 in 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.

Stoner claims that that many silver dollars would be enough to cover the face of the entire state of Texas two feet deep. Now I’ve been to Texas. I’ve driven for days to get across Texas. Texas is a very big state. Who in his right mind would suppose that a blindfolded man, heading out of Dallas by foot in any direction, would be able, on his very first attempt, to pick up one specifically marked silver dollar out of 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000? (see: http://christiananswers.net/q-aiia/jesus-odds.html)

I Thirst

Jesus has been hanging on the cross for a while now, and under the desert sun He is thirsty.

I’ve seen hyssup growing alongside the roadside in Israel, and it’s a very small herb. So it seems hard to understand how this same herb plant could have been used in this way. Fortunately Henricksen has done some good work on the Greek here re: the “hyssup” branch that was used to lift up the vinegar to Jesus’ mouth:

The hyssup or hyssup-stick to which John refers may have been the marjoram (Origanum maru), whose woody stalks are sufficiently sturdy and sufficient in length to satisfy all the requirements. It did not have to be very lengthy to reach the lips of Jesus, for the cross was probably not very high above the ground.

From a theological/prophetic standpoint we read earlier in our study how these words parallel David’s from Psalm 22, and I believe this saying is a reminder to us of two things:

  1. Jesus in His humanity thirsted as we do – this isn’t a merely spiritual being as the Gnostics claimed. This is a man – a human being – with feelings, hungers, pains, thoughts, and emotions etc. etc. as we have.
  2. It is His great pain, which was endured on our behalf. He wasn’t thirsty for no reason. His discomfort led to my comfort, His pain has led to my healing. He was parched so that we could receive living water and be satisfied forevermore.

We are reminded of His words to the Samaritan woman:

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

Hendricksen rightly says, “Here also, as before, the emphasis is on the infinite love of the Lord, revealed in being willing to suffer burning thirst in order that for his people he might be the everlasting fountain of living water.”

It is Finished

Looking at these odds, and the amazing way in which Jesus fulfilled all of these Scriptures really causes you to step back in awe of who He is. But more than that, this passage gives us the account of what He said from the cross. Specifically, John records that Jesus, knowing everything that He had to accomplish had been done, said, “it is finished.”

Many of us have heard sermons and teachings on these important words before. Jesus using the business or marketplace term tetelestai which reminds us that the payment has been made. There is no more to do, no more to pay, no outstanding bill.

Whatever the sin you have, whatever the doubt you have, whatever the shame you’re hiding, there is nothing which Christ did not pay for Christian. You are His, which means He has bought ALL of you – your past, your present, and yes even your future. All that you have done and all that you will do that does not comport to His righteous standard has been covered once and for all. As Hebrews says:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, [13] waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. [14] For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

This work of Christ, this great sacrifice, this payment is enough. It’s enough for you and its enough for me. Today, we can rest in this wonderful truth!

Now we cannot go further without noting the authority of Jesus here – and John would have us know this as well. Notice that he says, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Everything about John’s writing connotes intentionality. Jesus was acting according to His own will until the very end. Notice that it was Jesus who yielded His life – He held it until He was ready to give it up.

And this is what we read earlier:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)

Blood, Water, and no Broken Bones

As if he hadn’t emphasized this enough, John adds the coup de grace on his on thesis that Jesus was fulfilling scripture after scripture by stating “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”

In other words, “You can’t make this stuff up! This is just too much to be coincidence.”

These final two prophecies concerning His death were fulfilled from OT passages. Let’s examine those passages.

First, not a single bone on Jesus was broken. This is so spectacular because if you were there with John beholding all of this it would be amazing that as badly as they had destroyed the body of this man, yet they still didn’t manage to break a single bone.

Most people don’t get through life without at least one or two broken bones. Jesus was absolutely massacred. He was whipped, beaten, scourged, and hung on a cross, yet no bones were broken. And even at the end – the time where everyone had their legs broken to speed things up – Jesus had already died! So there was no need to break his legs. Really, going a step further than that, given all that had happened to Jesus and taking into account the cruelty of these people, its crazy that they didn’t just break His legs for the heck of it! Yet somehow they restrained themselves – somehow…

In the OT law it is clear that no Passover lamb is to be broken:

It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. (Exodus 12:46)

And…

They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it. (Numbers 9:12)

Furthermore, David prophesies and speaks better than he knows at the time about the coming Lamb:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. [20] He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. [21] Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. [22] The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:19-22)

He was also pierced…MacArthur says, “His dying early also led to His being pierced to be sure He was dead. That unusual act of piercing Jesus’ side was essential to fulfill prophecy.”

Specifically, Zechariah said this:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)

From a medical perspective there are several things that could have caused this, but what I’ve read seems to indicate a bursting of the heart as the most likely occurrence.

Many theologians are undecided as to the meaning of the reference to blood and water. I think Morris is right to look to how John uses the terms elsewhere for an indicator of why it stands out to him now:

Water is used more often, but perhaps the significant references are those to being born “of water and the Spirit” (3:5), to the “living water” that is the gift of Christ (4:10, 11, 14), and to the “living water” that would flow from the inner being of the believer, which is explained as referring to the Spirit (7:38-39). There is a consistent reference in the use of both terms to the life that Christ gives. We conclude, then, that John is reminding us that life, real life, comes through Christ’s death.

19:38-39 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. [39] Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.

These two men had been deeply moved by the ministry of Jesus. What strikes me about this is that Jesus affected men of all ranks and from all backgrounds and nations. This man Jesus doesn’t simply have a monolithic following. The diversity of those who were touched by his word testifies to the fact that He came to seek and save men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Calvin gives us background on the men:

Matthew (23:50) says, that he (Joseph) was a counselor; that is, he held the rank of a senator. As to Nicodemus, we have seen, in the third chapter of this gospel, that he held an honorable rank among his own countrymen; and that he was also rich, may be easily inferred from the great expense which he laid out in procuring this mixture.

John MacArthur notes that the city that Joseph was from (Arimathea) is not a place known to historians: “the location of Arimathea is unknown; some identify it with Ramathaim-zophim, the birthplace of Samuel.”

MacArthur also gives some insight on the Jewish protocol of dealing with the dead during this time:

Unlike the Egyptians, the Jews did not embalm their dead; they used fragrant spices to stifle the smell of putrefaction for as long as possible. The spices were probably sprinkled along the entire length of the strips of cloth that were wrapped around the Lord’s body. More spices were then packed around and under His body once it was placed in the tomb.

19:40-42 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. [41] Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. [42] So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Matthew says more about the tomb:

And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud [60] and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. [61] Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)

All of this preparation was going on Friday and had to be done prior to sunset in order for the Jews to be at their homes and ready to obey the Sabbath. They are still working to fulfill the Sabbath. It wouldn’t be long now and the truth of what Jesus had accomplished would cause them to appropriate His fulfillment of the Sabbath in such a way that would forever change how generations of followers observed these days. Soon Sunday, and not Saturday, would become the holy day – the “Lord’s Day.”

Obviously no one expected what was going to happen next…

 

Study Notes: John 19:16b-27 – The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

The Crucifixion of Jesus

As we turn to John’s narrative of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, one of the things you’ll notice about his description is that he doesn’t spend a lot of time detailing the ins and outs of crucifixion. He doesn’t give the kinds of detail that one finds in the synoptic gospels.

Instead, John is more focused on what Jesus says, and the “why” of this whole event. We too should focus on the why, and not get overly caught up in the gruesomeness of the “how.” I’m not saying that it isn’t important, but rather we need to look to what is of first importance.

That being said, in each of these verses there are some interesting and relevant details that we’ll examine as we go verse by verse.

19:16b-17 So they took Jesus, [17] and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.

The first thing we read in the end of verse 16 is that “they” took Jesus. I think John can only be referring to the Roman soldiers at this point. Jesus is now in the custody of Rome; His trial now over, and He is making His way to the place of execution through the streets of Jerusalem – the path we now refer to as the via dolorosa (The way of Grief/Sorrows).

Lifted Up Along a Highway

Next, the place Jesus was taken was outside the old city walls, to a hill near the road which ran alongside the city where travelers and citizens of the city could see Him and the others being executed. Foreigners coming in for the feast days and for trade in the city would be coming from all over the known world at the time. Therefore, as Jesus was lifted up, He was lifted up for all the world to see.

Remember, that throughout his gospel when John talks about Jesus being “lifted up” this is His way of showing that Jesus is being exalted. The emphasis is that exaltation for the Christ comes through humiliation.

Earlier John wrote this:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:14-18)

Therefore it is significant that He is led to a place that is highly trafficked, and where travelers from all over the known world would have beheld His humiliation/exaltation.

Now from a Roman perspective, it made a lot of sense to bring criminals to this point along the highway because the execution of criminals near the road would send a message to those daring to oppose their rule.

Any foreigner coming to Jerusalem would know what happens to those who misbehave during their stay in the ancient city, and any native of David’s city would be reminded that they were under occupation by a regime from the north. They were living in the land, and yet living in exile.

Outside the City

The next thing we have to note is that the place the Romans took Jesus was outside of the city walls at the time. From a prophetic perspective, this is really important. Jesus died outside the city just as the OT sacrifices would be slaughtered outside the camp.

In Exodus 29 we read this:

But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. (Exodus 29:14)

And it is no coincidence that in the parable of the vineyard, Jesus describes His own death at the hands of the sinful servants as ending “outside the vineyard”:

And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matthew 21:39)

Taking all of these thoughts and words together, the author of Hebrews explains the significance:

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. [12] So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. [13] Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. [14] For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. [15] Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. [16] Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:11-16)

So Jesus is led outside the city walls. He is to be a sin offering, our sin offering. He is lifted up, because that it is through humiliation that He will be exalted. This is all done on the edge of a road where travelers from around the known world will behold Him, indeed in this way He will be lifted up for the entire “world” to see (there is a significant parallel with how people from all over the known world gather together in Jerusalem at Pentecost just a few weeks later and hear the truth of God proclaimed in their language – see John Stott’s Acts commentary for more on this).

The Place of the Skull

Now John says Jesus was led to a place called “Golgotha.” From a contextual note, there are a few places where Jesus was said to have suffered and died and historians are not agreed on the exact location.

The two most popular are called “Gordon’s Calvary” and the ground upon which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built. I have just recently come back from Jerusalem, and have visited both locations. At Gordon’s Calvary there is still a very distinct side of a mountain where a face (or skull) can be seen etched out of the rock. It used to be that in days past, a rock quarry lay just beneath the etching and that Jesus would have been crucified in front of the skull in the quarry – not on top of that particular hill, but on the hill that the quarry was on top of with the skull providing the background image.

Gordon’s Calvary is named after British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon who popularized the idea that this could be the location. The Garden Tomb Association, who owns the land there now, gives this brief history on their website:

As early as 1842 a German Theologian named Otto Thenius proposed the idea that the outcropping of rock known today as “Skull Hill” could possibly be significant in the identification of the site of the crucifixion. That idea lay seemingly dormant for quite some time until General Charles Gordon on sabbatical in the area (1883) began to publish similar ideas. Because of his importance in British society at that time the idea took hold and people began to look seriously at the claims that this could possibly be the site listed in the New Testament as Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin) – the place of the skull. It was the efforts of two ladies in particular, Charlotte Hussey and Louisa Hope, who followed these ideas and began to take them seriously and thought that the place ought to be preserved.

They also discovered a tomb nearby which matched many of the descriptions of the tomb we find in the Bible narrative where Jesus was laid:

After people began to take seriously the claims that the area at the base of the rock cliff could possibly be Golgotha, it led to a renewed interest in other findings of earlier times. In 1867 an ancient Jewish tomb had been discovered and subsequently detailed and published by Conrad Schick. In light of all that was happening, people began to believe that the site may have significance and they re-examined what had been detailed previously. The Bible describes that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem near a gate of the city along a major thoroughfare, that at the place where He was crucified there was a garden and in the garden a tomb. The tomb is described as being a tomb cut out of rock, belonging to a wealthy man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea. It had a weeping chamber, a burial chamber, it was sealed with a rolling stone, it had a traditionally low doorway through which the disciples were forced to stoop in order to look into (and enter) the tomb that morning. (http://www.gardentomb.com/about/why-the-garden/)

The second location, and I might say the “first” in terms of historical tradition, is the location upon which the current Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built.

This location is located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem and has been held at the traditional site since at least the 4th century. Wikipedia (that all knowing and trustworthy source…) has a few graphs on the early history:

According to Eusebius, the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century built a temple dedicated to the Roman goddessVenus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried.[4][5] The first Christian Emperor, Flavius Constantinus, ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be replaced by a church.[6] During the building of the Church, Constantine’s mother, Helena, is believed to have rediscovered the True Cross, and a tomb (although there are some discrepancies among authors).

In his ‘Life of Constantine’ Eusebius speaks about this location saying that it showed “a clear and visible proof” that it was the tomb of Jesus.

It is interesting that most commentators I read during my exegetical study of the passage completely rule our Gordon’s Calvary. But whatever the place, we know that both locations stood outside of where the city boundaries were during those days.

19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Crucifixion was the most horrific way a person could die in these days. Carson gives a good explanation:

In the ancient world, this most terrible of punishments is always associated with shame and horror. It was so brutal that no Roman citizen could be crucified without the sanction of the Emperor. Stripped naked and beaten to a pulpy weakness, the victim could hang in the hot sun for hours, even days. To breathe, it was necessary to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep the chest cavity open and functioning. Terrible muscle spasm wracked the entire body; but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the strain went on and on. This is why the sedecula (the piece of wood that was sort of like a seat) prolonged life and agony: it partially supported the body’s weight, and therefore encouraged the victim to fight on.

The history behind this form of execution is well documented. William Barclay describes the background:

Even the Romans themselves regarded it with a shudder of horror. Cicero declared that it was ‘the most cruel and horrifying death.’ Tacitus said that it was a despicable death.’ Crucifixion was originally a Persian method of execution. It may have been used because, to the Persians, the earth was sacred, and they wished to avoid defiling it with the body of a criminal and an evildoer; so they nailed him to a cross and left him to die there, and then left the vultures and the carrion crows to complete the work. The Carthaginians took over crucifixion from the Persians; and the Romans learned it from the Carthaginians. Crucifixion was never used as a method of execution in Italy; it was only used in the provinces, and there only in the case of slaves. It was unthinkable that a Roman citizen should die by such a death. Cicero says, ‘It is a crime for a Roman citizen to be bound; it is a worse crime for him to be beaten; it is well nigh parricide for him to be killed; what am I to say if he be killed on a cross? A nefarious action such as that is incapable of description by any word, for there is none fit to describe it.’ It was that death, the most dreaded death in the ancient world, the death of slaves and criminals, that Jesus died” (Boice’s Commentary on John, Volume 5, Pg. 1496).

There were also two men on either side of Jesus. Each was a criminal – the language used by John could indicate that they could have been rebel fighters/guerillas/insurrectionists. We know from Luke’s account and from the other gospel writers, that one of them had a miraculous change of heart, and place his faith on Jesus before his life expired. John, however, does not focus on that event, but rather chooses to give us insights that the other writers had not mentioned to date.

19:19-22 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” [20] Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. [21] So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” [22] Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

It was common practice for the Romans to inscribe the crime of an offender on a piece of wood or label like this and then hang it around the neck of the criminal during the execution. After the criminal died, the tag would be fastened to the cross as a reminder of the payment, the cost if you will, of committing that crime. People could look up, see the crime of “stealing” or “sedition” and note in one glance the blood stained cross which served as an indicator what that crime had cost the one associated with it. A significant deterrent.

Now the crime that we read is associated with Jesus is the one which the Jews used before the Romans, and not the one they had used in the Jewish trial. In the Jewish trial before Caiaphas and Annas, they had accused Jesus of blasphemy because He had claimed to be equal with God. But before the Romans they accused Him of being s traitor and inciting sedition because He claimed to be the Christ, a king. And even though Pilate didn’t buy it, he still gave Jesus over to be killed – an act of murder for one not found to be guilty.

Therefore, Jesus’ sign said – in Aramaic (Hebrew), Latin, and Greek – that He was the king of the Jews. The variance of languages served as a way for all men who would be passing by to be able to read what was written, “the local vernacular, the official language, and the language of common international communication” with Latin being the official language of the Roman soldier (cf. Ridderbos, Boice etc.).

Of course having the crime indicate that Jesus was king of the Jews enraged the Jewish leadership, so they wanted an adaptation. However, Pilate basically delivered a final shot to the Jews by saying “hey, you used this charge of sedition to accuse this man, and now your stuck with your accusation, even if it makes your people look ridiculous.” So this was another way to demean the Jews, and exact some vengeance on them for forcing his hand in the verdict.

19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, [24] so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,

Here again John sees fulfilled prophecy in each little even that happens in the death of Jesus. He has had decades to think on these things, to search the scriptures, and to realize the depth of richness that encompass what took place here on Golgotha.

The OT passage that John cites is from Psalm 22. That Psalm was written by David and carries with it great significance. The Psalms talks of the faithfulness of God to His elect. It describes the pain of David, and his anguish and humiliation before his enemies. But his writing found its greater and fuller significance in David’s Greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose body was wasted away to nothing on our account. It is a Psalm which celebrates the salvation/righteousness of God to all who are His people – including “a people yet unborn” – from every tribe, tongue and nation.

There is one first, 22:1, which Jesus quoted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Later in the Psalm we read the specific passage that pertains to His garments, which we have just read about here in John, but it also mentions his hands and feet being pierced, and even his thirsty condition.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; [15] my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. [16] For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— [17] I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; [18] they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14-18)

I love how the Psalm ends, and George Robertson describes its meaning:

It is the suffering of Christ that has secured these patterns of faithfulness for the unfaithful. Jesus did this by carrying out God’s eternal plan to provide “righteousness” through his own sacrificial death (Ps. 22:31; Rev. 13:8). His cry of forsakenness from the cross was the announcement that he had become a “curse” for his people, which “redeemed us from the curse of the law” and fulfilled the Abrahamic promise to bring salvation to the nations (Gal. 3:13-14; cf. Ps. 22:1). Those who put their faith in Christ can therefore be assured that they will never be cursed (The Gospel Transformation Bible).

The last few verses in Psalm 22 read this:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. [28] For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. [29] All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. [30] Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; [31] they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. (Psalm 22:27-31)

19:25-27 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. [26] When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Last Will 

These words of Jesus are said to be His “last will and testament”, and we’ve all no doubt studied them in the past. It is of great significance that Jesus cared for those around Him until His dying breath.

I am reminded of John’s words from chapter 13, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

How convicting is it – and revealing of our corrupted hearts – that during trials and great ordeals we cannot think of anything or anyone but ourselves and the circumstances which envelope us.

Think to your last trial – perhaps even a current trial you are wading through. What preoccupied your thoughts in those difficult hours? Who were you primarily concerned with?

I find my own thoughts in times of great peril or trial are often turned inward, at myself and my own survival.

Not so with Jesus.

Jesus was a man who was touched with the infirmities of humanity. He was suffering excruciating pain (that word, by the way, is a etymological creation passed down from the pain of the crucifixion) and yet His mind wavered not. It was on His mission, and on those closest to Him.

Also, I find it very interesting that Jesus was on a great mission to save the world, and yet He did not overlook the weakest among Him. He took care of His earthly mother before departing this world. So often it is great men of this world who are so enraptured in their work, or their circumstances, that they fail to love and tenderly care for those who are their kin. This is so much the case in the evangelical church that Pastor’s children are notoriously ill-behaved. These great men of God fail utterly to invest in their children. They are so busy carrying out their life’s mission that they overlook those whom God has given them to care for most.

Our loved ones ought not to be sacrificed on the alter of “mission” – whether that be the mission at work, or the mission of the Gospel. We have been entrusted by the Almighty God with the investiture of souls who ought to be loved and cared for above all else. This is the example of Jesus, our Lord. He suffered not to let Mary go into the remainder of her life without the care and attention of a specific caretaker. That caretaker was John.

What a grand lesson to all who are entrusted with mighty tasks. Let world leaders, church leaders, political and business leaders take note. Let us humble ourselves before the example of our Lord and Savior, and seek to emulate His caring heart.

The Promises to Abraham in Mary’s Magnificat

Last Thursday evening I taught on Luke 1, specifically Mary’s Magnificat.  I really enjoyed studying for this passage and teaching it. The scope of redemptive history is really encapsulated well in this passage, and I hope you enjoy these notes as you read through the verses…

1:39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, [40] and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! [43] And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

The hill country here in is south of where Mary would likely have been. The largest town in that area was Hebron at this time, although we aren’t told where Zachariah and Elizabeth are specifically living.

When Mary arrives the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumps and Elizabeth interprets this through the Spirit as a joyous reaction to Mary’s arrival.

Elizabeth goes on to bless Mary with her mouth and her words go right to Mary’s heart. There truly is a blessing for those who believe in what God says, is there not?  And I can’t help but think of how reassured Mary must have felt at the words of Elizabeth.  How very confirming are these words from the mouth of her elder cousin must have been.  Yet, as we shall see shortly, the Spirit of God had been at work within Mary, and her heart responds in such a way that indicates a supernatural work of the Lord within her.  When our lips reflect the heart change we’ve had, God is pleased.

The Magnificat

What we find in the Magnificat (a title taken from the first word in Latin which simply means “magnifies”) below is one praise after another to the glory of God.  His greatness, the scope of His plan, and the intricacies of His mercy are extolled in great relish by one of “humble” and lowly estate.

For these words to have come from a simple teenage girl indicate the greatness of God’s work within Mary, and the fact that His Spirit was filling her.  It’s also a testimony to the fact that she knew her Bible really really well (Cf. Ryle and Col. 3:16)!  Philip G. Ryken says, “The Magnificat either quotes from or alludes to verses from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Mary tried to put virtually the whole Bible into her song.”

One of the most popular comparisons of Mary’s song is in the similarities with Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:

[1] And Hannah prayed and said,
            “My heart exults in the LORD;
                        my horn is exalted in the LORD.
            My mouth derides my enemies,
                        because I rejoice in your salvation.
            [2] “There is none holy like the LORD:
                        for there is none besides you;
                        there is no rock like our God.
            [3] Talk no more so very proudly,
                        let not arrogance come from your mouth;
            for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
                        and by him actions are weighed.
            [4] The bows of the mighty are broken,
                        but the feeble bind on strength.
            [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
                        but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
            The barren has borne seven,
                        but she who has many children is forlorn.
            [6] The LORD kills and brings to life;
                        he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
            [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
                        he brings low and he exalts.
            [8] He raises up the poor from the dust;
                        he lifts the needy from the ash heap
            to make them sit with princes
                        and inherit a seat of honor.
            For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
                        and on them he has set the world.
            [9] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
                        but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
                        for not by might shall a man prevail.
            [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
                        against them he will thunder in heaven.
            The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
                        he will give strength to his king
                        and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
(1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV)
 

Mary knew this song and the Bible as a whole very well.  The scriptures were on her heart. The Holy Spirit was obviously inspiring her to say these things, but “He works with what’s there” (Cf. conversation with Parris Payden).  It wasn’t as if the Spirit was teaching her on the fly or putting these words into her mind that she’d never known before.

            1:46-47 And Mary said,
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
            and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 

There is a clear exaltation of the Lord here. Who is responsible for all that that is happening to Mary?  There’s no doubt in Mary’s mind that it is the Lord! Any fear that she may have had in that initial confrontation with the angel, or in the quiet times of gathering anxiety since then is not apparent here.  God has prepared her heart to face this adventure.

Ryken comments on the absence of specifics about the baby she’s carrying, “Mary had the godliness to look beyond her gift and praise the God who gave it. To magnify means to enlarge, and what Mary wanted to enlarge was her vision of God. Her goal was to show His greatness.” 

            1:48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
            For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

 

Mary has no delusions about her position.  She has not become puffed up, or haughty. We don’t think much about that, but how easily do we become puffed up when God has entrusted us with a ministry.  We are entrusted with the Word of God…Mary was entrusted with the Word of God incarnate.  Definitely a different mission, but certainly one that didn’t seem to puff her up – she knows her place and her place is to be God’s “servant.”

Secondly, she recognizes (correctly) the historical significance of what she’s doing. She sees where this fits into the span of world history – and it’s a big deal.  So get this, in one breath she labels herself a “humble servant” and in another she says, “All generations will call (her) blessed”!  One can only conclude therefore that while Mary is a humble servant, God is going to use her to accomplish something worthy of the entire rest of world history looking back on her and praising God.  That’s a pretty significant understanding of the role she was playing in God’s plan – especially significant that she can at one time be so humble, and still understand her significance.

            1:49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
            and holy is his name. 
 

The close connection between God’s holiness and his goodness is key here.  Not only that, but God’s mightiness is used in such a way that we benefit from His goodness.  If God were all-powerful and yet not good, this would be a scary world!  But at the center of all things He is holy.  Holiness is not an extension of Him or His character – He is holy by definition because anything that He is or anyway that we classify His characteristics we cannot forget that they are not extensions of His character, they are who He is. This is the doctrine of the simplicity of God.  He is “other” He is “pure” He is the brightness and glory and goodness.  All of these things find their root definition in the character of God – we know what goodness is because we know who God is, for example.

Now Mary is saying that because God is holy, He has used his might to do “great things” for her.

But Mary isn’t simply wrapped up in her blessings.  She isn’t simply singing about herself and her circumstances, but about God and His character.

Ryken rightly looks at this from a practical perspective and says, “Mary did not dwell on her own happy circumstances, but rejoiced in the being and character of God. It is right for us to praise God for what he has done, as Mary did. But sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us.  We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God.”

            1:50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
            from generation to generation.
 

God is not a God who is mocked or tricked or bribed into showing mercy.  He shows mercy to those who regard Him in a reverent fear – who understand who He is, and who bow before Him in fearful awe.  God does not pour out mercy on those who do not recognize His kingship.

There is also a great comfort in this truth.  I think Ryken captures it well:

Perhaps you are young and poor like Mary. Perhaps you are struggling with sickness or some other physical limitation. Perhaps you are in a low condition spiritually or emotionally. If this is your situation, do not complain that you deserve something better. Do not grasp after a higher position. Do not rage against your misfortune. But humble yourself to the providence of God and recognize your lowly position before him as a sinner. The Bible gives this promise: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

             1:51-53 He has shown strength with his arm;
            he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
            he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
            and exalted those of humble estate;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
            and the rich he has sent away empty.
 

These three verses almost sound like a proverb, but they are anticipatory of a time when God will judge those who are haughty and proud and reward those whose hearts are soft toward Him.

“The heart is seen as the center of feeling (1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 4:23) and as the base of reasoning power (1 Chron. 29:19; Job 12:3). This pride is deep-seated and reflects their innermost being. God will judge such pride” says Darrell Bock.

God exalts the humble and lays low the proud (Prov. 29:23), but it is a truth proclaimed not only in the proverbs and throughout the OT, but also by Jesus Himself in the gospels, and by His apostles after that (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Jesus says later that, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 – also Luke 14:11).

Not only this, but the picture of what Jesus would do is to fill the hungry (especially spiritually – the connection is made evident in 11:13) with “good things.”  Later Jesus would feed 5000 men (probably more like 15,000 people total) and shortly thereafter declare that He was “the bread of life” with the exhortation, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

Lastly, He will not allow any to be exalted in kingship above Him. Any who puff themselves up before Him will be brought low – they will be humbled and kicked off their thrones.  A great example of this is when Jesus says to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Norval Geldenhuys summarized the message here this way:

The proud, those who exalt themselves and take no account of God, He puts down – beaten by His mighty arm. The powers that be, oppressors who tyrannize the poor and lowly, are deprived of their power and high standing, while those who are truly humble are exalted to great things. The hungry, those who realize their own need and yearn for spiritual food, are blessed. But the right, those who are self-satisfied and proud, are shamed in the imagination of their hearts.

1:54-56 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
 

For many years the people of Israel had been suffering under the oppression of other nations – and now it was the Romans. Israel here is described as a servant, and we find a close connection between this terminology and that found in Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah (Is. 42 etc.).

The people of Israel therefore longed for a day when God’s promises –specifically to Abraham as mentioned here but also to David – would be fulfilled.

What were those promises? The promises to Abraham were for land, seed, and worldwide blessing. This is seen in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and 22:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)

“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)

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)

Mary knows these promises and has read them. Furthermore, she and all Israel know that a Redeemer is coming to save Israel out of all its distress.  As Bock says, “Mary’s reference looks for the fulfillment of the nation’s hope in Jesus.” That Redeemer is going to do much more than save Israel from the Romans, however.

He will rescue Israel from sin and death and usher in an everlasting kingdom.  He will be the true seed of Abraham, the mighty King of Israel, and will save His people and from every tribe, tongue and nation.

The grounding for Mary’s prophetic annunciation is God’s covenant love and mercy for His people.  He will send a Savior and a loving Shepherd who will care for His flock – unlike the faithless under-shepherds (Ez. 34) who have failed the people over and over.

Ironically this Savior will die in order to save His people from death (Is. 53). The great Shepherd will be struck for the sake of the sheep (Ez. 34), and the true Israel of God will be obedient to the Father in order to achieve perfect obedience for His people. This is detailed in Isaiah especially 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12.

Mary sees the fulfillment of all of these hopes as coming to pass in her child. How can this be?  Paul helps us understand what all this has to do with Jesus – and consequently with us…

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.[15] To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. [16] Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. [17] This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. [18] For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. [19] Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. [20] Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. [21] Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. [22] But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [23] Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. [24] So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:13-29 ESV)

Mary is saying this: we all have been living under the curse of sin and death, but what God began in Abraham with the creation of a new people, He will complete in the work of the Redeemer who in her belly.  The child she was about to have would be the coming king (Ps. 132:11-12) and the suffering servant (Is. 53).  He would bear the sins of His people and would redeem them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3). After His work is completed, all who call upon the name of Jesus will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) not through works of righteousness but by faith alone (Eph. 2:1-9).  And for generation to generation the redeemed will look back at the testimony of Mary as both a blessing to her, and a blessing to us, the church.

Mary says that Christ will “help his servant Israel” and fulfill the promise to Abraham of land, seed, and worldwide blessing. “The salvation promises in that (Abrahamic) covenant would be clarified in the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) and would be ratified through the death of the very Child she carried in her womb. For it only through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ that all the sins of the redeemed – past, present, and future – are atoned for” says John MacArthur.  These promises fulfilled in Christ have redeemed you (Acts 20:28), made you a new creation (2 Cor. 5), transferred you into the family of God as adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:12-17, Col. 1:13-14; Hebrews 12), and commissioner you as ambassadors for Christ with a message of salvation and blessing for the nations (Is. 66; Matthew 28:18; 2 Cor. 3 &5; Rev. 5:9, 7:9-12).

In short: “…all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

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 Kingship of Christ

This evening I had the privilege of preaching the final part in a three-part sermon series on the offices of Christ. Tonight’s message was on the kingship of Christ.  Though I did not get audio recorded for the sermon, I hope the text is profitable to you.  Merry Christmas!

PJ Wenzel

Christ Our King

December 22, 2013

Well we are just days from the celebration of Christmas, and this will be the third message I am bringing in anticipation of that celebration.  We have seen thus far how Jesus fulfilled the long anticipated offices of both ‘prophet’ and ‘priest.’

Tonight, we are going to see how the baby born of Mary was destined to fulfill that third and most glorious office of ‘king.’

As we anticipate a wonderful time in God’s word this evening, we remember the eager anticipation with which God’s chosen people had waited for the Messiah.

I pray that tonight we will have our minds renewed and reminded that we live in the time of great blessing, and also a time of anticipation – the anticipation of the return of our great King.

Our Text for this evening is Luke 1:26-33 which is traditionally known in Christendom as ‘The Annunciation.’  Turn with me and we’ll read that and then go to the Lord for His blessing upon our time together this evening.

Exegesis of Luke 1:26-33

1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

For contextual purposes, this is the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, not Mary’s. If we were reading the entirety of the first chapter of Luke’s gospel we would have just learned of the miraculous birth of a baby boy named John to elderly parents Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the context for the statement on the “sixth month” would make more sense.

Nazareth, as noted by many commentators, was 70 miles outside of Jerusalem to the northeast.  To call it a “city” might conjure up incorrect images in our modern minds – there was no Greek word for “town”, so that the word “city” was meant to distinguish between a populated area and a rural area.  Nazareth was a very small, out of the way village that probably didn’t hold more than a few hundred people.  Nazareth was the definition of obscurity itself.[i]

It is perhaps significant that Gabriel is sent “from God” to both Mary and Zachariah.  In this context we see Luke use a description of Gabriel’s origin as being “from God”, whereas in his visit to Zachariah Gabriel himself tells Zachariah where he hailed from:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:19, ESV)

I mention this because I want us to meditate upon the weightiness of this message from Gabriel.

Gabriel is only mentioned twice in the New Testament – both in this first chapter of Luke.  He is also mentioned two other times in the Old Testament, and both of those references come to us by way of the book of Daniel.  Indeed it is Gabriel who announced to Daniel the 70-weeks vision that we looked at a few weeks ago.

As of late, there has been a modern flair up in interest surrounding demons and witches and angels.  This is especially reflected in the different TV shows and movie being pumped out of Hollywood.  I do not think the rise in interest is necessarily godly or beneficial, but stems from a vain curiosity and the desire to sell advertising on TV shows and box office tickets in the theaters.

However, this passage (and others like it) indicates to us that the significance of Gabriel is not bound up in who he is, but rather who he represents and where He came from: the throne room of God.

Angels in the Bible are messengers, and their authority rests on the fact that they convey a Word from God.[ii]  So too Gabriel has come to deliver an authoritative word from the throne room of God.

1:27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

Verse 27 conveys to us that this young woman Mary has been betrothed[iii] to a man named Joseph.  But the most important thing conveyed here is that Joseph is “of the house of David.”  This means that he is a direct descendent of the famous King of Judah, and Jesus would share in that lineage.

In fact, John MacArthur states, “Thus Jesus inherited from His adoptive father, Joseph, the legal right to David’s throne, while His physical descent from David came from His mother, Mary. In every legitimate sense – both legally and physically – Jesus Christ was the Son of David and born to be Israel’s true King.”

For many Israelites, David typified the greatness of Israel. Generation after generation told of the glory of his kingdom, and how God used a mere shepherd boy to unite an independent mix of tribes into a single kingdom under the rule of a single monarch.  What Saul had failed to successfully do in the flesh, David did in the power of the Spirit of God.  David’s kingdom, then, represented all that was glorious about the Israel of yesteryear, and Israelites looked forward to a day when once again a king would sit on the throne of David, but more on that in a moment…

1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

It is evident from Gabriel’s greeting that he intended to convey comfort and calm.  He meets her, as most have aptly mentioned, in an indoor setting, and his appearance and words – despite their comfort – baffled Mary.

Gabriel’s words are indeed astounding.  He conveys that God is with Mary – essentially he’s saying that God will be her fortress and help (which we see reflected in her response – the Magnificat) and that He would never leave her or forsake her.  Matthew Henry ponders whether or not she would have thought of Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).

Those in the Catholic tradition read this verse from the Latin Vulgate translation, which is “gratia plena”, or “full of grace” in English, making the whole of the greeting, “Hail Mary full of grace.”

While modern Bibles more accurately translate this “favored one”, those in the Catholic tradition pervert the intended meaning of the original language by stating that Mary who is “full of grace” is actually the bestower of grace, rather than the recipient of grace.[iv]  In fact, they go so far as to state that Mary is the one in whom all grace is vested, and that Jesus never dispenses grace without her consent (see the most recent catechism of the Catholic Church).

This is a gross distortion of the narrative, and a corrupt perversion of the text that violates the sense of what is being conveyed in order to accommodate an entire system of unbiblical doctrine (Mariology).

Furthermore, I think its safe to say that the Catholic interpretation violates one of the basic biblical rules of interpretation, which is that we don’t use historical narrative to trump the didactic portions of scripture.  Yet that is exactly what the Catholics do here.  They create doctrine where there is none, and ignore the clear teaching of the rest of the NT in order to justify their interpretations.

What is being conveyed here is much more straightforward. Gabriel is announcing to Mary that God, by His own grace and in accordance with the mystery of His will, has chosen this humble girl to carry in her womb God incarnate.  It is God’s favor, not Mary’s which is in view in this verse.

1:29-30 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. [30] And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

The fact that the angel had to reassure Mary not to be afraid ought to give us a clue as to the spectacular nature of this visit. When a messenger from God’s throne room visits you it stands to reason that the moment might shake you to the core.

Mary must also have been acutely aware of her own insignificance and sinfulness. She was a finite human being, and yet God had chosen her for an awesome task.

I love the point that John MacArthur makes: “All genuinely righteous people are distressed and terrified in God’s presence (or, as in this case, one of His holy angels), because they are acutely aware of their sin. Gabriel’s appearance and greeting unnerved Mary; nothing in her brief life could have prepared her for this astonishing event.”

1:31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

Like the instructions given to Zachariah concerning the naming of John, Mary is also given specific instructions as to what the name of her child will be.

The name “Jesus” basically means, “God saves” – and a more fitting name I cannot think of! In the ancient world the name of a person carried a lot more weight than it does in our current modern culture here in America. The name of a child conveyed, in many ways, the hopes and aspirations of the parents for that baby.  In this case, God had a specific plan for this child, His Son, and the name of the child reflects that purpose: God will offer salvation through the life of the one being born of Mary.
1:32-33 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, [33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

It is an understatement to be sure that Jesus will “be great” (as MacArthur notes, “his life will define ‘great’”).  And with this statement we come to the theological meat of this passage – the kingship of Jesus.  There are so many dynamics and nuances to the kingship of Christ. But tonight I want to simply examine three parts:

  1. The predicted king
  2. The kingdom breakthrough
  3. The return of the king

 

The Predicted King

The Type of King

Before we examine how this king had long been predicted, I’d have us just notice what type of king has been predicted.  Gabriel tells us the child who will be born will not be an ordinary child, but rather the “Son of the Most High. ”[v]

In other words, He will be the Son of God, holy, divine, and completely different than anyone ever born to a woman.  Not only will He be an everlasting king, but also his kingdom will be everlasting.

So He will be a different kind of king with a different king of kingdom.

The Fulfillment of the Davidic Promise

Gabriel also says that the Lord will give this child the throne of his father David. So in human lineage, this child will be a descendent of the family of David, and therefore will fulfill the Davidic promise of an everlasting kingdom/throne – as Gabriel says, “of his kingdom there will be no end.”

For many years the Jews must have wondered at the nature of the promise to David. Naturally, they must have thought that the promise meant the kingdom would never lack a Davidic king – someone from the lineage of David himself. But it had been 1000 years since that promise was given, and hundreds of years since Israel had a king of their own from David’s house.

Obviously God had a different kind of “everlasting” kingdom in mind. Let’s examine the original text of the promise as we try and grasp the significance of Gabriel’s words:[vi]

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:12-16)

For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’”(Psalm 89:2-4)[vii]
 
 
The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.” (Psalm 132:11-12)
 

Now, as time progressed, the people of God sinned, their kingdom was torn apart, and they endured exile and every manner of deprivation.  Gone were the glory days of David and Solomon.

Yet despite the fact that the people of Israel had transgressed and broken covenant with God[viii], He reassured them that He would remain faithful to His covenant with David and raise up a king who would save them and “restore their fortunes.”

So during this time the Israelites looked forward with hope that God would one day usher in a kingdom that would save Israel by the hand of this “root of David.”  Several OT prophets gave them reason to hope:

In Jeremiah… 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

17 “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…(Jeremiah 33:14-17)[ix]

And… 

Their prince shall be one of themselves;
their ruler shall come out from their midst;
I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me,
for who would dare of himself to approach me?
declares the Lord.
22 And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 30:21-22)

 

In Ezekiel (one of my favorites)… 

My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28) 

And in Daniel…

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, (Daniel 2:44)

There are many other passages that reiterate the same message.

And when we read the New Testament we find that Peter (Acts 2:24-36) interprets these prophecies and proclaims in no uncertain terms that Jesus of Nazareth is the one who fulfilled them:

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
 

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 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. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”
 

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:24-36)

Note that Peter sees Jesus as both Lord and Christ. He is both King and Savior.

From these verses it is apparent that not only was there a predicted King to come from the line of David, but that the man who fulfilled that role is seen by the New Testament authors to be none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

The NT authors do not simply view Jesus as reigning in a spiritual sense, rather His reign is over all of the created order. While it may be difficult to describe the nature of His kingdom, we know it is unlike any kingdom here on earth. And we know that one day what our eyes cannot see now will be consummated in such a way that no one will be able to avoid seeing it![x]

It is to these two topics we now turn…

The Kingdom Breakthrough 

When Jesus walked from town to town He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom of God.”  That He was proclaiming a kingdom, there is no doubt. Here is one example of what Jesus was saying near the beginning of His ministry:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

I believe that the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that when Jesus was “proclaiming” a kingdom, He was inaugurating a kingdom, and that when Gabriel announced to Mary that Jesus would inherit the throne of David, this wasn’t a mantle He would inherit some time in the distant future.

It seems clear to me that given all the times He proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” it would be very difficult to argue that Jesus did not inaugurate a kingdom during His earthly ministry.

One very powerful instance in which Jesus proclaims the inbreaking of the kingdom is found in Matthew 12 where we read the following:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:22-28)

Note how the people connect the sovereign work of Jesus to the possibility of his Davidic kingly lineage.  Jesus confirms their thinking.  If He has sovereignty over the demons, then “the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Jesus doesn’t say “the kingdom of God will come in my millennial reign” or “the kingdom will one day come upon you” or some such thing.  Rather He states that the kingdom “HAS” come upon you.

This is a message Jesus never abandoned.  In fact He proclaims His kingship right until the day of His death.  In an exchange with Pontius Pilate we read the following:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33-37)

I think that many Christians wonder what kind of kingdom this is. What is the nature of Christ’s kingdom? When Gabriel announced to Mary that her Son would be the heir to the Davidic throne, how are we to understand this?

A King for All Nations

We need to understand that the kingdom Jesus inaugurated was different in scope and character than what the Jews expected.

For instance, we know now that the Heir David’s throne will not only reign over all his people, but in the original covenant with David there are indications that God’s intention is for His king to bring His law to all nations.

In 2 Samuel 7:19 David responds to God’s promise in the following way:

And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! (2 Samuel 7:19)

Peter Gentry comments, “…since the god whom the Davidic king represented was not limited to a local region or territory, but was the creator God and Sovereign of the whole world, the rule of the Davidic king would have repercussion for all the nations, not just for Israel…This, I submit is the logic behind David’s response in verse 19, and this is why he claims that a covenant that makes the Davidic king son of God is the instrument of bringing Yahweh’s Torah to all the nations. David’s own understanding of divine sonship is clearly indicated by his statement in 7:19 that the covenant is God’s charter or instruction for humankind.”

The New Testament ramifications of this are that the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is one not simply for Israel, but for all nations.

Already/Not Yet

Another way the kingdom Jesus inaugurated is different than what the Jews expected is that it has a sort of incomplete feel about it – at least that’s how we tend to perceive it, isn’t it?

As Greg Beale comments, “Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’s kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judiasm. Part of the reason for the unexpectedness is that the kingdom had begun but was not consummated, and this lack of consummation was to continue on indefinitely. This stands in contrast to OT prophecies of the latter days whose events were predicted to occur all at once at the very end of history.”[xi]

In fact, this frustration in understanding the nature of Christ’s kingdom was expressed by the disciples just prior to Christ’s ascension:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

What Jesus is saying here is that the nature of the kingdom during the church age is going to look different – you will perceive it differently – than you probably thought.

Not only that, but the SCOPE and reach of the kingdom would be grander than the disciples first thought.  Jesus wasn’t going to restore the kingdom to Israel and sit down on a throne in Jerusalem, instead He was going to ascend to heaven and sit down on the throne of God and rule over all creation!

Instead of sending armies out from the holy city to conquer His enemies, He was sending fishermen out to conquer evil with the Sword of the Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit living inside them.  He would literally be working His will in and through them while at the same time ruling over all creation from heaven’s highest throne.

Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner says:

It is clear, then, that when Jesus spoke of the future coming of the kingdom, he was not referring to God’s sovereign reign over all history, for God has always ruled over all that occurs. The coming of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed designated something new, a time when God’s enemies would be demonstrably defeated and the righteous would visibly blessed. The future coming of the kingdom relates to the realization of God’s promises of salvation…When Jesus announced the presence of the kingdom, he declared that God was about to bring about the salvation that he had always promised.”

But it would be inaccurate to describe Christ’s reign as only a “spiritual reign.”  And I think that because we cannot taste, smell, see, or physically hear Christ’s kingdom, we have a tendency of describing His “literal reign” as purely “future.”  This is wrong.

It would be more accurate to say that He “literally” reigns over all the created order right now. He “literally” is in control over all of things. We read as much in Hebrews 1:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)

Therefore it is not as though He just reigns in our hearts, nor will He just reign over the world in the future; rather He literally upholds all of creation as we speak, right now.

Therefore there is a very palpable “already/not year” tension to Christ’s kingdom. We can sense that there is more to come, yet we also know that there are wonderful privileges we have right now.

For example, we have received salvation, yet we have not yet realized the consummation of that salvation (we are still in the world). We have been sanctified (set apart), yet we are still being sanctified (made holy).  We are adopted, yet we continue to behave as orphans, and have not realized yet all of the privileges of sonship – including the glorification of our bodies.  Jesus reigns at God’s right hand, and yet His kingdom is not seen physically by the world.

The great Princeton Theologian Gerhardos Vos says, “Although in one sense the inheritance of this world lies yet in the future, yet in another sense it has already begun to be realized in principle and become ours in actual possession.”

Schreiner says, “One of the unique elements of Jesus’s teaching about God’s kingdom is that it is both present and future. When we speak of God’s kingdom as present in the ministry of Jesus, we are not referring to the notion that God is sovereign over all history. Rather, the kingdom is present in Jesus’ ministry in that the saving promises of the kingdom had dawned with his coming. In other words, the OT promises of a new covenant and a new creation and a new exodus were beginning to be fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus.”

He concludes, “In other words, the kingdom is already inaugurated but not yet consummated.”[xii]

Greg Beale says, “The great expected latter-day restoration was beginning through Jesus, a restoration that was inextricably linked to Israel’s kingdom prophecies.”  Emphasis on “beginning.”

Therefore, the kingdom that Jesus ushered in was one marked by salvation and the outward behavior of a people being conformed to His own image. New creations in Christ displaying the fruit of the Spirit are the outward manifestations of this kingdom.  The gospel being spread by the church militant throughout the world and the Spirit of truth exercised through the living and active Word of God are the weapons of the kingdom’s army.  The kingdom is here and is present, Jesus is reigning at the right hand of God over all creation, and His Spirit lives within us testifying to the fact that one day He will come again to conclude and consummate the battle and His kingdom.

That is why Vos can say that, “We assume that he (Jesus) regarded the kingdom as in principle already present, although he regarded the eschatological consummation as still future.”[xiii]

It is to that “future” consummation – that “not yet” I mentioned a moment ago – that we now turn as we conclude our study.

The ‘Return of the King’

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work ‘The Return of the King’ we read of the journey of one Aragorn son of Arathorn who is heir to a kingdom “long bereft of lordship. ”  The kingdom of Gondor has been turned over to stewards – those entrusted to watch over the kingdom until a king returns to lead his people.  The line of kings is thought to be broken, and there are few who even know of Aragorn’s existence.

As evil spreads and begins to manifest itself in Tolkien’s world of ‘Middle Earth’ Aragorn is hesitant to claim his birthright and lead the kingdom of men.  Why? Because he knows of the weakness of men. Men like his ancestors are vulnerable to the corruption of power and he has no desire to be a tool of corruption.  As the saying goes, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Thus, he tarried.

Eventually Aragorn finds his courage in the confidence and hopes of his friends and fellow travelers, it seems.  The tale ends with the consummation of the return of the king and the beginning of the grand session of Aragorn over the kingdom of Gondor.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a similar situation do we not?  We look around and see evil on the rise. The bad is proclaimed as “good.” The forces of darkness seemingly closing in on all sides.

And yet, our King tarries.

However our King, who has possessed absolute power from before time began, is free from any hint of corruption.  Unlike Aragorn, He tarries not due to any inherent deficiency, but because as King over the cosmos He is sovereign over time and the course of history.

Theologian John Frame writes, “…God’s decision is clear: that the history of redemption will take millennia, leaving space for dramatic movements, ups and downs, twists and turns, longings and astonishments. Salvation is to be a great epic, not a short story. God will glorify himself, not by measuring his kingdom in time spans appropriate to human kings, but by revealing himself as “King of the ages” (Rev. 15:3).

His time has not yet come.

Therefore Christ, who reigns now from heaven, will one day consummate His kingdom here on earth. On that day “every tongue” shall confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” – that is to say that everyone on earth will either be forced to, or willingly and joyfully proclaim the kingship of Jesus.

That day will be both awesome, and terrible as Scripture says. The shear revelation of the power of the Lord Jesus in all His glory will terrify all unrepentant humanity.

I fear sometimes that we are so conditioned to think of Jesus as an infant born in a stable, or the kind-hearted healer of humanity that we fail to see Christ in His fullness – we forget Gabriel’s words – “He will be great!”

Certainly His majesty is described well by the apostle John:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16, ESV)

These images ought to evoke fear and trembling into the hearts of finite man. The majestic holiness and splendorous glory of the Son of God on that day will never be rivaled.

So while we recognize the current reign of Christ, we must also internalize and cling to the truth that His reign will one day be consummated.  When He comes again, all enemies will cry in despair while His children shout for joy!

Conclusion 

In conclusion, when Gabriel announced Christ’s coming to the Virgin Mary, he was delivering a message from God Himself.

That message was the announcement of promises soon to be fulfilled, and the inbreaking of a kingdom upon the sons of man.

Tonight we come before the Lord and remember that He is king.  We praise God that after so many years He faithfully fulfilled His promise and sent a King to rescue His enslaved children – though this king did not act like the kings among the children of men. 

This king was meek and lowly. This king came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt.

This King was born to poor parents among dirty animals and the smell of a barnyard, yet would offer the sweetest sacrificial fragrance to the Father.

This King ushered in a kingdom that, though unseen, has freed millions of captives whose lives have displayed the fruit of His kingdom’s power – a power that extends from the heavenly right hand from whence He reigns, to the moment-by-moment interactions of His Christian soldiers.

This King will one day consummate His kingdom, and bring all men into visible subjection to Himself.

In that day, His defeated enemies will wish for rocks and mountains to fall upon them rather than face His wrath, and His children will rejoice with an incomparable joy.

On that day we will remember the prophet Zephaniah’s words:

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth. (Zephaniah 3:17-19, ESV)
 

On that day, His children will once again say, “The King is here!”

Closing Prayer

END NOTES


[i] It is interesting how many commentators describe the obscurity of this small town of Nazareth – especially in contrast to Gabriel’s previous destination which was the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem.  Some note that the “city” of Nazareth being located in Galilee was significant because it was Galilee which was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” due to its proximity to foreign lands and probably its mix of inhabitants.  Some even see this as an early sign that Jesus was born as a Savior to the world and not the Jews alone.

[ii] In his book ‘Unseen Realities’, R.C. Sproul writes about this passage, “So we see, again, the angel functioning both as messenger and as authoritative communicator of the Word of God.”

[iii] As John MacArthur notes, “In Jewish practice, girls were usually engaged at the age of twelve or thirteen and married at the end of a one-year betrothal period.”

[iv] Leon Morris states, “It is, of course, a complete misunderstanding to translate ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’, and understand the words to mean that Mary would be a source of grace to other people. Gabriel is saying simply that God’s favor rests on her.”

[v] Geldenhuys notes that there are no articles in the Greek so that it is just “Son of Highest” which he says is done “in order to indicate the absolute uniqueness and highness of His divine Sonship.”

[vi] There are SO many other scriptures that I could have quoted here. I love, for instance, what is found in Zephaniah 3:15-20 and the emphasis of God being in the midst of Israel, His people.  He is called “a mighty one who will save” and that “he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love, he will exult over you with loud singing.” So beautiful the picture of the love of our king.

[vii] Later in this same Psalm (89) in verses 34-37 the author beautifully repeats the promise again, “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.  His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”

[viii] Peter Gentry notes that, “Traditionally, theologians have viewed the Davidic covenant as unconditional. It is true that the content of the covenant consists in the might promises made by Yahweh. Nonetheless, as verses 14-15 (of 2 Sam. 7) show, faithfulness is expected of the king, and these verses foreshadow the possibility of disloyalty on the part of the king, which will require discipline by Yahweh.”

[ix] There are so many good passages which anticipate the coming king in the context of a new covenant – one of the anticipatory passages of David’s offspring that I didn’t mention above is in Jeremiah 23:5-8. It is a neat passage which talks about how the people of Israel will one day see a “righteous Branch” raised up from David and that Branch “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” I really appreciate the work of D.A. Carson and Greg Beale who had this passage and several others listed in their ‘Commentary on the New Testament Use of the old Testament.’

[x] I simply cannot accept John MacArthur’s view on the nature of the kingdom.  MacArthur incorrectly states, “The Lord Jesus Christ clearly did not establish His kingdom at His first coming.”  I will endeavor to show in section two of my exegesis on Luke 1:32-33 that Jesus Himself said that the kingdom of God had come.  MacArthur’s view is a distortion of Scripture based on a hermeneutic that must protect his dispensational premillennial view at (seemingly) all costs.  So while I greatly respect Dr. MacArthur’s scholarship on many fronts, its clear that his thinking takes a bizarre turn in his commentary on Luke 1 when addressing this topic.  Not only is he wrong on the aforementioned item, but he distorts the amillenialist view of eschatology by asserting that “the promised kingdom is not limited to Christ’s present spiritual reign, as amillenialists advocate.”  I don’t know who he is reading, but I have yet to find an amillenialist who believes Christ’s reign is merely spiritual and not a reign over all of creation, a real actual sovereignty that exists but will be consummated at His second coming.  All of this distortion is done in an effort to preserve the idea that Christ’s physical reign will be only during the millennium. MacArthur has to virtually ignore all the scriptures that refer to Christ’s current session.  Lastly, MacArthur’s argument against a “merely spiritual” reign is, in fact, what he himself argues!  For he states the following, “Jesus Christ rules spiritually in the heart of every believer and that spiritual rule will last forever because salvation is forever. But that does not preclude the future literal, earthly, millennial kingdom.”  In other words, he believes that Christ’s reign right now is just spiritual!  Really, there is very little difference between his view and that of the amillenialist when it comes to the future and current reign of Christ in that He and the Amill folks both believe in a current spiritual reign of Christ (Despite what he writes in his commentary, for the sake of charity I will give him the benefit of the doubt that if he were here arguing with me he would say that he also believes Christ reigns over creation and all things as well and take steps to qualify his words) as well as a future physical reign of Christ at His second coming.  Obviously after that the time, nature, and location of that reign is highly disputed and MacArthur’s dispensationalism asserts something completely different than the Amill folks he picks a fight with in this instance.  But other than those (important) distinctions, there is no need to misconstrue the views of those who don’t agree with his own (wacko) view.  I took the time to work through this because its important to understand and stand firmly by the fact that when Christ came He DID usher in a REAL kingdom.  Just because that kingdom doesn’t look like what MacArthur thinks it ought to look like doesn’t make it any less REAL and doesn’t take away any of the ramifications of the reality of that kingdom.  These ramifications must be addressed and cannot be simply ignored by blindly looking toward a future kingdom while ignoring present realities. To do this would ignore the significant already/not yet tension that the NT writers (especially Paul and the author of Hebrews) see/describe.

[xi] These notes from Greg Beale are from his New Testament Biblical Theology on page 431 and are actually a part of an excursus on eschatological aspects of the inaugurated end-time kingdom in the synoptic gospels. A very helpful little section of his book indeed.

[xii] Sam Storms has this to say, “Thus the kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God, or his sovereign lordship, dynamically active to establish his rule among men. There are two decisive and dramatic moments in the manifestation of his kingdom: first, as it is fulfilled within history in the first advent of the Son, whereby Satan was defeated and men and women are brought into the experience of the blessings of God’s reign, and second, as it will be consummated at the close of history in the second advent of the Son, when he will finally and forever destroy his enemies, deliver his people and all of creation from evil, and establish his eternal rule in the new heavens and new earth.”  This is just a fantastic summary of the kingdom theology that the New Testament gives us.  I would have included in the main body of the sermon, but there were already so many resources and authors from which to draw that I had to slim the manuscript down a little.

[xiii] Vos’ description of the already/not yet and the kingdom were taken from pages 34 and 166 of an Anthology of his work compiled by Danny Olinger.

Study Notes for 8-11-13: Those Whom He Loved

John Chapter 13

As we open up the 13th chapter of John we find ourselves just days prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s passion.  “The public ministry of Jesus is over” (Morris), and the next five chapters include material that none of the other gospels have. These are called the “farewell discourses”, and there are four major truths I see over the course of these chapters that we need to be on the lookout for:

  1. We will see how Christians are to love others the way Jesus loves us, and is Himself loved by the Father.
  2. We will be able to do this loving by the help and power of the Holy Spirit – the anticipation of Spirit’s mission and power is central these upcoming chapters.
  3. The world will hate us and kill us, but we have no cause for fear on this account because Jesus has overcome the world and its power.
  4. Jesus is the only way to God the Father and is our intercessor.  It is by His intercession and His sovereign choice that you have been saved from utter ruin.

Now as to the immediate context, we find Jesus and His disciples preparing to eat a final meal together in the upper room.  There is much dispute as to whether or not this “last super” is a Passover Meal, or whether it is a meal earlier in the week (Tuesday) separate from the Passover. There are good arguments on both sides, and both sets of arguments seek to harmonize the account of John with the other gospel accounts; we’ll get into that some more later in the chapter.

Let us keep in mind that in His actions in chapter 13, Jesus is setting in motion a series of events that will forever change the world and the destiny of mankind.  No longer will men be enslaved to sin and fear and death. No longer will they wonder when the Messiah will come.  For He has come, and He has done all that is necessary for life – eternal life. His life, death, and resurrection have done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And so as we continue to read and learn about this final week of Jesus’ life, we watch, as the great exodus is about to begin…

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

“Jesus Knew”

It is a great and unrealized comfort to our souls that we don’t “know” what is next in our lives. For even though we seem to spend a lot of time anxiously awaiting what is next. it is these roots of anxiety that Jesus urges us to puck up and cast away.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

I’ve taken a great deal of time to cite this passage, and to make this point because I want us to fully see that while we are often anxious for tomorrow, what we often don’t realize is that if we knew all that was to happen in our future days, our minds could likely not handle the anxiety and pressure that knowledge brought.

In a similar way, can you imagine what it would be like to know that you will die but not a harsh death? We all know that we’re going to die sometime, but what if you knew for certain that your death would be peaceful and easy and that it wouldn’t be from a car wreck or some devastating accident? Interestingly, the Bible gives us just such an example in the case of Abraham.  In Genesis 15 we find ourselves reading a text that is primarily concerned with the covenant between God and Abram, and its easy to miss this fascinating and amazing gift God gives his saint:

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (Genesis 15:15)

Most people are afraid of death, but the beauty of being a Christian is that you don’t have to fear death. So for Christians the sting of death has been taken away. But as I’ve heard R.C. Sproul mention off-handedly before, he doesn’t fear death, but he fears how he’s going to die.  That uncertainty can have a tendency to gnaw away at us, especially as we get older.  But for Abram even this was taken off the table. What an amazing gift it was too – to not only know where you would go after death, but that you would “go to your fathers in peace”, now that is a wonderful way to live life!

That being said, the Lord Jesus Christ had none of that.  J.C. Ryle says this:

Our ignorance of things before us is a great blessing. Our Lord saw the cross clearly before Him, and walked straight up to it. His death was not a surprise to Him, but a voluntary, foreknown thing.

He knew not only that He was going to die, but He knew it was going to be a painful and terrible death.  And that is why when we find the Bible telling us that He knew this, and yet spent His last days on earth in loving concern for those entrusted to Him, it ought to blow our minds. Can you image being so filled with love that even days away from your own gruesome death you could think of nothing else but to serve others?

Despite facing the gruesome awful reality of the cross, His love for those around Him, and the millions He would die to save, never wavered even for an instant.  This impeccable, implacable, overpowering love of Christ is what constantly leaves me in awe when I can’t even bring myself to love those closest to me in a godly manner. Jesus loved those who hated him. His mission was to take enemies of God and make them lovers of God. It’s enough to blow you away. The incomprehensibility of His love is enough to keep you writing and reading and praying and crying for a lifetime of lifetimes. He did what we’ll never fathom doing and He didn’t do it begrudgingly, but with a deep love and tenderness that only God could comprehend.

“In the Word”

The first thing to note about this phrase is that He knows where we are. We are in the “world.”  What does that mean?  It means that we are enduring trials, struggles, and persecution. But this knowledge and reality does not leave us cold or hopeless, for later Jesus promises this:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 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 16:32-33 ESV)

This is a great comfort to us. To know that He knows where we are, and what that means. It means that sometimes life really sucks! Yet, here was God, poured into a man’s flesh. He took on the flesh of a man, and could feel frustration and pain and hurt and sorrow. He knew what it was to be upset and angry. He felt the sting of disappointment, of rejection, of sadness and depression creeping at the gate. Yet despite all of this He triumphed over it, and because of that we know we can as well through His power – and that power comes from Him and His Spirit and will be a big part of what is discussed by Jesus over the next few chapters.

He Loved His Own

Secondly, it is worth noting here that Jesus’ mission was very specific – it was specific to those whom the Father had predestined to be saved from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1-2). And this group of people, theologians refer to as ‘the elect of God’, are those to whom John is referring when he says “his own.”

It is my personal view that for those who disagree with the doctrine of “definite” or “limited” atonement, the next 5 chapters present so many hurdles that theological gymnastics are required to acquit anyone proposing a variation of a “general” or “universal” atonement. We will see, for example, that in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer He prays for those who are His and not for those in the world:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:9 ESV)

What is so comforting about this doctrine is the fact that Christ had a mission to save YOU from the foundation of the world. Look at just a few of the verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

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

And so we see that the phrase “the world” and “his own” combine in an idea that signals God’s peculiar love for His chosen people.  He is drawing people out of this world in order to fashion a new creation.  Listen to what D.A. Carson says on this point:

The ‘world’ is important in these chapters: it occurs forty times, primarily to draw a sharp contrast between Jesus’ ‘own’, his disciples, and the mass of lost humanity, the ‘world’ from which they were drawn and in which they must live until their final vindication. If God loves the world (3:16), it is in order to draw men and women out of it. Those so drawn out constitute a new entity, set over against the world: the world loves its ‘own’, Jesus loves his ‘own’ (15:19). The object of the love of God in Christ, in these chapters, is therefore not the lost world, but the newly forming people of God, the disciples of the Messiah, the nascent church, the community of the elect. Jesus had loved his own all along; he now showed them the full extent of His love.

Surely, with a plan that has been in place so long, He will not fail to finish this plan, and keep your salvation safe to the uttermost, and that leads us to the next part of what John says…

To the End

Here it does not only stipulate that Jesus loved His disciples, and those for whom He was about to die, but that He loved them up to the very end of His earthly life.  We see this also demonstrated when, hanging from the cross, He takes pains to ensure His mother Mary is taken care of in her old age.

In this we also see that everlasting, enduring love of Christ for all of those whom He has ever set His love upon. He loved his own “to the end.” And because of this, we can be assured that as Christ acted on earth so He will act in heaven and hereafter. For He doesn’t change, His purposes are everlasting. So it is that He will never give up on His own sheep, He will ensure that for those whom He has set His love upon there will never be a death like the one all others face.  Physical death for those elect of God is but a transition from life to life everlasting.

Listen to what Christ says earlier in chapter six:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] 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 6:37-40 ESV)

 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

The Destiny of Judas

I want to note here something very sad, and perhaps even a little frightening. It doesn’t matter how close you are to Godly people, how much you attend church or serve your community. Until you have a supernaturally changed heart by the power of the Holy Spirit by the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you can and will fall, and ultimately you will end up in Hell. This is what happened to Judas Iscariot.  Listen to how J.C. Ryle put it:

He (John) shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true.

It is a hard thing to think on, but the reality is that this man was a disciple of Jesus, he probably was sent out with the 72 when Christ sent his disciples out to preach the good news. He likely shared and preached in Jesus’ name. And we know that Jesus Himself showed Him love. But there is a difference, as we see here, between saving love and common gracious love. It is hard to illustrate this well without stepping on a minefield of inappropriate comparisons, but the one might think of the difference between how one loves a stranger (as we are called to do), and how one loves a spouse or child. This is a very specific kind of love that is infinitely more powerful between spouses than that which is set graciously upon a stranger (perhaps a poor man you are serving). So it is with Jesus, only to a much higher and more powerful degree. Christ has, in His eternal wisdom and plan, set His special specific love upon certain people. He has elected some to life, and some to eternal wrath; some to justice and some to mercy. He has raised some from spiritual death to spiritual life. I know not why He chooses to do this, or why He chooses some and not others, I know only small finite bits of data; all that He has revealed to us in Scripture.

I know not why this man Judas was chosen for wrath and justice, except that from all eternity it pleased God to choose him for a task other than that which He chose, say Peter, for. This same mystery is not ignored by the Biblical authors, but grappled with – especially in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18-24 ESV)

And so we see here that not only was Judas not picked for eternal life with God, but he was sovereignly chosen as a “vessel of wrath”. Why? I think, even though this is hard/difficult for us to fathom, Paul even tells us that.  He says God desires to “show his wrath”, “make known his power”, and also “make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”  It all comes back to the fact that God is glorified in this. It is hard for us to understand it, but it magnified His power, His wrath, and His glory.  And so it is at moments like this that we need to close our mouths and accept that God is God and we are not, and praise Him for who He is, for that is His desire for us.

Study Notes 6-9-13: Jesus Anointed at Bethany

John Chapter 12

This chapter begins the final week of the life of Christ.  James Boice has a great summary of what we’re about to read:

The events of this week contain the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the cursing of the fig tree, the Olivet discourse recorded by the Synoptics, the final discourses with the disciples recorded by John, the Last Supper, the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus, and the embalming and burial of the body by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. After three more days the events of this week are climaxed by the resurrection.

12:1-2 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. [2] So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.

It’s perhaps helpful to read Mark’s Gospel as well, to add more context to the passage:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. [4] There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? [5] For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. [6] But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. [7] For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. [8] She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. [9] And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” [10] Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. (Mark 14:3-10 ESV)

We first notice that it is only a short time before the Passover, and Jesus is in Bethany once again. He was dangerously close to Jerusalem, and even though He could have taken a more direct root into the city from Ephraim, He chose instead to go this route and stop here in Bethany. Everything He does has meaning and a reason. He knows fully what is going to happen, and yet He takes His time, and does all things in His own timing.

It reminds me of how He waited for two days before going to raise Lazarus, and we’ll see that as the Pharisees mocked Him on the cross, yet He stayed up there. They saw that as a sign of Him not being in control, but it was actually a sign of Him having full control!  He did all things in His time, for time is God’s doulos!

A Reminder of the Resurrection and Power of Christ

In their midst was a sign of inaugurated eschatology and the great hope for the future that Christ provides. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, was a preview of the power that Christ held over death, not only for His own resurrection, but ours as well.

We need to understand what vital importance the concept of resurrection is to the Christian. Paul says this:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. [20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:19-22 ESV)

J.C. Ryle celebrates this reality well:

If we believe that Jesus rose again, we need not doubt the truth of His Messiahship, the reality of His acceptance as our Mediator, and the certainty of our own resurrection. Christ has risen indeed, and wicked men may well tremble. Christ has risen from the dead, and believers may well rejoice.

It is a beautiful truth to cherish that Jesus has the power over death and hell. It gives us great comfort.  The fact that death will not have the final word allows us to live a life with no fear of the one thing that all men fear. We have not only been set free from our slavery to sin, but also from the end game of all sin (death).

Not only this, but we have been given the keys to loose others from death by the spread of the gospel! We have this mission from Christ who has all authority and is the real power behind our work:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Here sitting in their midst was a living picture of the work of Christ. The works of His ministry could be summed up by looking around this room: men raised from the dead, sinners forgiven, His kingship exalted, His servants learning at His feet.

12:3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

NOTE: “nard” or “spikenard” is an oil extracted from the root and spike of the nard plant, grown in India according to D.A. Carson.  The amount of the nard seems to have been 11 ounces.

To Mary, who gave her expensive “nard” (perfume) to anoint Christ, this was not worthy to be compared to the value of Jesus.

This precious ointment was worth about one year’s salary for people at that time, but Mary used it all in seconds. This was extravagant love. There are times for extravagance, and it is always time for an extravagant manifestation of adoration to Christ. What could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory? – R.C. Sproul

She would have given everything to honor Jesus.  This was the Resurrection and The Life. This was the man who raised her brother from the dead. The great majestic King of kings was reclining at her table and it was not lost on her!  She cast her all before the throne.

J.C. Ryle Comments:

At this very moment she saw Lazarus, alive and well, sitting by her Master’s side, – her own brother Lazarus, whom He had brought back to her from the grave. Greatly loved, she thought she could not show too much love in return. Having freely received, she freely gave.

But more than simply give Him the gift, she served Him in a most self-abasing manner. She took what was the glory of women (her hair) and used it to clean the dirtiest part of man in those days (their feet).  It was an act of humility as well as an act of giving.

Morris comments, “The act is more striking in that a Jewish lady never unbound her hair in public. This was apparently seen as a mark of loose morals. But Mary did not stop to calculate public reaction. Her heart went out to her Lord, and she gave expression to her feelings in this beautiful and touching act.”

I believe that Mary’s sense of her own indebtedness were a strong motivation for these actions.  Those who have a great sense of debt, have a greater sense of gratitude!  This reminds us of the of a similar incident in Luke’s gospel where another woman had anointed Jesus at the house of a Pharisee. This woman was described as a sinner, and after her anointing of Jesus with her tears, the reaction was not a positive one by some of those near Jesus.  But what is Jesus’ reaction?  Listen to this:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 ESV)

Because we have been forgiven SO much, we also ought to love much. Mary had nothing to give that would equal the way she felt about Jesus. Christian, do you feel that way?  Do you act this way?  Do you lavish upon Christ the honor he is due? Are your prayers ornamented with rich adoration and thanksgiving for what he has done for you?

In truth, there is nothing that we can do apart from Christ that would please Him, but the fact that what Mary’s actions did please Christ tells us something, it tells us that she was led be the Spirit to do this and it pleased Christ.

12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

The Reaction of Judas is the Reaction of the World

Judas was a thief, so of course he was angry at this display of selfless giving. Why didn’t this gift come into his wise stewardship first? “It could have been given to the poor!” He protests.  Judas reminds me in many ways of a television evangelist in that he’s stealing the gifts of those who want to see the kingdom expanded. The only difference is that many televangelists are much more open about their thievery: “I need you to give right now, the jet I’ve been flying around on needs to be upgraded!” Judas at least kept it private. This was the man who Jesus says would have been better off never having been born!  How can you trump that?  And yet the Joel Olsteens of the world are even more blatant!

I mention this because it is a modern day plague we face in America – false teachers who value their own success and financial health over the health of the church and the success of the Gospel.

The Great Contrast

Judas’ words smack of dishonesty, but more than that they betray a truth that we need to take note of going forward, namely that what we prize most of all is what is made manifest in this passage.   The world and all those under the control of Satan prize money, success, and luxuries in this life. What do they all have in common?  They are finite.

Ryle’s comments can’t be easily overlooked:

A day is soon coming when a wondering world will see that every cup of cold water given for Christ’s sake, as well as every box of precious ointment, was recorded in heaven, and has its rewards. In that great day those who thought that any one could give too much to Christ will find they had better never have been born.

Compare this to Mary who prized that which is of infinite value: peace with God, eternal life, eternal rewards, forgiveness of sin, and of course our Lord Jesus who is the giver of all these things.

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. [8] For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

It is impossible to see this as some kind of slight to the poor, for Christ had already given much to the poor and the sick during His ministry. Rather this was His way to once again helping the disciples realize that this was a special time in history. This was the short blip on history’s timeline when the timeless One had come to usher in His kingdom and forever change the paradigm of this world. There would be plenty of time for fasting (Matt. 9:14-15) and serving once He was gone. Now was the time to listen, to watch and to learn.

James Boice makes an interesting point about the perspective of Mary.  For some time now Jesus had been telling His disciples that He was going to die in Jerusalem – on the road from Ephraim to Jerusalem He told them this, and yet they didn’t seem to understand His words:

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. [34] And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”(Mark 10:32-34)

Yet Mary seemed to understand exactly what was going on, and Boice says that the reason for this was likely the fact that she spent her time learning from Jesus and listening to Him.  She was at His feet learning and listening.  When I digest this for myself it makes me want to be like Mary. Am I learning at the feet of Christ? In other words, am I in the Word?  Am I devouring His words with the same hunger and eagerness that Mary did? Once I have heard my Lord’s words, do I turn and serve Him the way that Mary did?

12:9-11 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, [11] because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

The Courage of Jesus’ Friends

The first thing that’s apparent here is that this dinner in honor of Jesus was not a private affair, but had become public knowledge.  James Boice comments on how must courage it must have taken for the friends’ of Jesus to hold a public celebration in His honor less than two miles from the heart of Jerusalem at a time when the religious elite were seeking to kill Him.

The Desperation of the Pharisees

The second thing that’s apparent here is just how desperate, and how foolish these religious leaders were. In their desperation they had tried time after time to silence Jesus, to arrest Him, to kill Him, and now they wanted to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus as well. I don’t know about you, but I got a chuckle out of this. The more I thought about it the more I thought, “these guys think it’s a good idea to try and kill the guy who was just raised from the grave? …Ya, that will work!”  But you can see into their demented minds, can you not?  The same motivation that caused the religious leader to ask the Romans to guard the tomb of Christ is the same thing motivating them to want Lazarus killed: if they can expunge these men from the earth, and they go away without any hope of return, then they will be able to confidently mock their power (as they did to Christ on the cross), and triumph over them.  They will be able to repaint the narrative to the people in their own words, and have the last word on the ministry of Christ.

But what happened? They would indeed succeed in mocking Christ, in killing Christ, in guarding His tomb, in beginning to repaint the narrative, and then they would themselves be crushed as their schemes imploded around them. They killed the Author of life (Acts 3:15) but Christ would burst through the power of death and conquer the grave! Did these mere mortals think their scheming would be a strong enough net to cast around the creator the time, space, and all of mankind?  What arrogant fools. Read what Peter said shortly after Christ rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven:

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24)

This same Jesus who has conquered the grave has crushed death to death and will one day loose you from the pangs of death and sickness.  He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. We must live in light of this reality, and give Him the honor He is due, just as Mary did 2000 years ago.

The Attractiveness of a Life Changed by Christ

The last thing we notice here is that Lazarus was a sort of attraction. People were coming to see him – not because of something he’d done, but what had been done to him by the Lord Jesus. James Boice challenges us to ask if the same can be said of us. Primarily it is the Lord who is in us that makes us attractive. It is not anything inhering in me, but the work of Jesus in me that makes me attractive, different, and, in short, like Jesus. I hope the same can be said of you.  Ironically, the firs step to being like Jesus is to surrender and stop trying but rather submit to His will and Lordship. Believe, that is what He wants. Humble yourselves under the might arm of God and allow Him to create in you a new and clean heart.

Study Notes 2-10-13

John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus

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.  When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, 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.  What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve!  He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.

11:33-36 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!”

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 not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again 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 human emotion that simply cannot be held back.

And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.

Why is this His response?  It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses.  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)

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. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”

So 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.

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. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his 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.  A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope.  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.

Joined with Christ

Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.

I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.

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!

The Impending Victory

But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) 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 exist 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!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt.  It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.

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 likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).

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: His glory.

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.”

1/20-1/27 Study Notes

Chapter 11

11:1 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. 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).

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.”

Usually we think of giving God glory by praising Him. But here 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 flory – 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. (NASB)

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 see some of this we can perhaps see some of what it is that He is working in our lives through the difficulties 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 f 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 backs up what Piper is saying. Just a few weeks ago we read from John 10:17 the following:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

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!

The reason I bring this up is because it shows the deeper purposes of God in Christ for you. 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 natre 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.

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 that going back to the Judean area meant extreme danger.

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 we live one day with Christ forever after this world has been remade and renewed, there will be no sickness and no darkness. In fact there will be no sun because the Son 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.”

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).

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 can either stay beyond the Jordan and enjoy a vibrant ministry (10:40-42), or He can fulfill the will of the Father and accomplish His ultimate destiny and mission here on Earth.  He can save Him own life, or the lives of countless millions.  Had He been but man, a mere mortal, 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 of this kind (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.