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

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

PJW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Judgment of Parables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Jesus stop Praying for Us?

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

Quite a Trip…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second truth is enumerated in verse 33…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 15:12-15 Study Notes – Friendship with God

I began the lesson in Sunday School this morning the way I’ll begin this blog post – with a video from Shane and Shane and John Piper on suffering.  Our passage today deals with the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, His surpassing greatness, and His call to follow in His footsteps.

15:12-14 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Disciples Obey because they love Jesus

Before getting too far into this passage we need to note that the entire sentence here is couched in terms of friendship.  Love for Christ and His commands will characterize those whom He calls friends. Christ makes enemies into friends through blood and resurrection.  We’ll get into that more later, but for now its crucial to understand the terms of Christ’s discussion.

Our motivation is to love others because we love Jesus and are His friends. As He says clearly here, “love one another as I have loved you” and “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  It is not only our gratitude for His saving work that ought to drive us to love others, but it is the fact that He has made us to love others.  We love Him because we are loyal friends.

This is part of being a new creation in the new covenant, as it was when God first made Adam. Listen to how Michael Horton describes it:

We were not just created and then given a covenant; we were created as covenant creatures…(because) God’s very existence is covenantal: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in unceasing devotion to each other, reaching outward beyond the Godhead to create a community of creatures serving as a giant analogy of the Godhead’s relationship.

God Himself within Himself in the trinity is loyal and loves as a loyal friend loves.  Peter Gentry says, “Within the being of the one God we can speak of a Father who initiates and a devoted, loyal, and obedient Son whose relations in the fellowship of a Holy Spirit are covenantal, i.e. always characterized by hesed and emet – faithful love and loyal obedience.”

We are made to be like this.  And as I studied these verses I was struck by the cohesiveness of Scripture. God is immutable – He never changes. When we look at God and His laws and actions in the Old Testament, for example, these are motivated and grounded in love with the express purpose of driving His people toward grateful love for His provision, and a loyal servant heart of love for one another.

The major difference in the New Testament is not God’s desire for us to love, but how far He goes to help us love. He gives us His Son as an example, He wipes away the guilt of sin, cleanses our conscience, and then fills us with the very power of God – the Holy Spirit. Commenting on the book of Leviticus and its canonical relation to the NT Tom Schreiner says:

According to the NT, the holy one is Jesus Christ. Believers are holy and blameless because they belong to him. They have been sanctified in Jesus Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11). Believers have also received the Holy Spirit, who empowers them as the new and true Israel to live holy lives, to live in a way that is pleasing to God. The holy conduct of believers (1 Pet. 1:15-16) marks them as God’s people, showing that they are truly in the circle of the redeemed.

The OT Israelites were supposed to be driven to live holy lives and love others because God had rescued them from Egypt and was dwelling among them.  God was a friend to their leader Moses.  Scripture says this, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Ex. 33:11).

Jesus has rescued us from the taskmasters of sin and the slavery that bound us for eternal death, and He calls on us to respond in heartfelt grateful love. But even more than that, He calls us to be His friends – true friends are loyal and follow the wishes of their dearest friends.

I could go on and on about this – but the old Hymn ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ says it best:

Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Disciples Love Jesus Because He First Loved Them

This leads to the second thought, which I have covered elsewhere so won’t spend a lot of time on it here, but it needs to be noted that we love because He first loved us.  John says as much in his first letter:

We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)

Notice in this 1 John passage how closely intertwined love for others is with the love Jesus first gave us. This sums up the Christian life and Christ’s commands, does it not?

This week I was reading Frances Schaeffer’s book ‘True Spirituality’ and came across a portion of the (very long) preface where he was giving some biographical thoughts and told about how several years after becoming a Christian and serving in the pastorate, he was provoked to a season of serious spiritual crisis. The reason?  Because he looked around Christendom and didn’t see Christianity acting as though they were really effected by what they believed.  That is to say, he saw no love, no gentleness, and especially no joy. How could he be a Christian and associate himself with a group of people who were joyless and loveless?

Ultimately the answer came, in my own estimation, in the form of a call to a wider and more impacting ministry to those who were tired of Christianity devoid of Christ’s love and joy.  He began to understand afresh for himself why it is that we have joy.  It is the love of Christ.

So many of us are stoic Christians unrecognizable to anyone who had seen the risen Christ – far from Peter and Paul and Timothy’s joy are we. Men today are reserved about spirituality and will never express emotion – much less joy in the Lord!  Women are catty, judgmental and coy about serving in the joy of their Master. Far from submissive in love to others, we tower above them in scoffs of disapproval expressed verbally, or simply with an eye roll.

If this describes you then I would admonish you to seek the face of the Lord immediately. Is this love as Christ loved? We have been called to joy and obedience and all of this is rooted in love – which He first initiated in our lives. F.F. Bruce says, “The measure of the love enjoined by Jesus – ‘as I have loved you’ – is beyond measuring.”  Ya…that’s about right, is it not?  Measureless love…don’t stop forgiving, don’t stop loving others.  That’s the sum of the parts.

Christ didn’t stoop so far so you could ring in each Sunday with a dour face and a stoicism that would frighten even Stalin himself!  If you are truly a Christian, you ought to contemplate the love He has for you – that love that He first initiated in your life.  Be rejuvenated once again by the remembrance of who you were when He found you – and what He has done for you.

Disciples Are Called to Radical Obedience and Love

…Christ’s Supremacy

Before we can go much further, we must once again bear in mind that all of this teaching from Jesus comes in the context of the farewell address (cf. Ridderbos).  When Jesus calls us to obedience He calls us to follow His example, and that example is couched in the work of sacrifice – namely the ultimate sacrifice of laying down one’s life for one’s friend (Ridderbos aptly notes that enemies aren’t addressed here).

This laying down of one’s life is something we’ve heard many times before – especially if you have grown up in the church you will have likely heard this verse before.  Jesus laying down His life for us is at the epicenter of the Christian story, and all other narratives (yours and mine) ripple out from its center. In short, we are here because He died for us. This isn’t Kiwanis, this isn’t Rotary or the fitness club. The uniting factor of our gathering on a Sunday or Thursday or any other day of the week is the thread of redemption: His death has united us all. We drink coffee, read our bibles, talk and fellowship because this man died 2000 years ago.

Before we look at what His example means for our obedience, we have to look at the example itself.  We have to realize the utter supremacy of Christ.  We talk about sacrifice, He actually sacrificed EVERYTHING…for you.

Can you feel the weight of this now, you sinner? The more you have the more difficult it is to give up.  Ultimate power is very very hard to give up.  You don’t just see a United States Congressman retiring without extenuating circumstances – and when they do, it’s a big deal. Big big deal.

But our sacrifices of power or money or even our lives are not really worthy to compare with Jesus’ sacrifice.  James Boice says this is the case for a few reasons.  First, because Jesus didn’t have to die – He wasn’t mortal, so to speak.  Second, Jesus knew he was going to die – from before time began He knew. Thirdly, Jesus died spiritually whereas we only die physically. Boice explains:

Spiritual death is the separation of the soul and spirit from God. This is what makes hell such a terrible place; those in hell are separated from God. And because God is the source of all good – all joy, peace, love, and other blessings – hell is just the opposite. It is misery, unrest hate, and so on. This is the separate that Jesus endured for us. He died physically also that is true. His death was particularly painful and degrading. But the truly horrible aspect of his death was his separation from the Father when he was made sin for us and bore sin’s punishment.

When we think of the supreme value of Christ’s death, its helpful to remember who we are in comparison to who He is. This contrast is worked out by Paul in a powerful way:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)

That is why Boice is right to point out that while Christ couches all of this in terms of His friendship with us – what an awesome thought that is on its own – we also must understand that the friendship is one made from an enemy.  Jesus has turned enemies into friends by dying for them on the cross.  As Boice says:

Here especially do we see the wonderful love of the Lord Jesus Christ. So long as we think of ourselves as being somewhat good in God’s sight we do not see it. But when we see ourselves as God sees us, then the surpassing worth of the love of Christ becomes evident.

Jesus who is King of the universe set it all aside for people who hated Him. He suffered humiliation and death – a painful horrific death. All with love in His heart.

These words come to us just hours prior to that event – this is a window into the mind and heart of the Being who laid His life down for you. What a sacrifice.  What a cost.  Ponder that love first…and then the rest of this will perhaps make more sense.  

…An Example is an Example Because it is Followed

Now, can you imagine the (much smaller yet significant) impact the laying down of a life has for others? As I mentioned before, the supremacy of Christ’s sacrifice cannot be matched – it’s simply untouchable. But there is a sense in which Christ is here calling us to martyrdom.

We are to have this mind of Christ (Phil. 2:4) and see Him as our example. Again, I want to handle this gingerly, and not read something into the text that isn’t there, but I but I don’t think its wrong to hear Jesus’ words as a call to martyrdom if that is what following Christ entails. Most of all I see this in the passages overarching call to ultimate obedience.  So, if you’re wondering at what point you would ever pull the ripcord on obeying Christ (how much persecution can you take etc.), Jesus is giving you the answer – you never pull the ripcord. You die. Remember – He is your friend. True love would die for a friend – and certainly true love would go above and beyond the “call of duty” for a friend, would it not?

Now, in America we have virtually no life-threatening persecution, and therefore virtually zero first hand understanding of martyrdom – praise God! But as Voddie Baucham recently noted, worldwide persecution of Christianity has grown so intense in recent decades that in the past 100 years more Christians have died than in the previous 1900 or so years combined. Combined. That is simply an astounding number and it means that we simply can’t brush this teaching aside.  What may take us mere moments to glance over in John’s 15th chapter is one of the most precious and important truths to tens of millions of Christians today.

It Means Something

We have to assume that when Christ calls us to come and die, when He commands us to take up our cross, when He promises persecution, that He does so because it is driving at an end that is so glorious that it will make everything worthwhile.

That is why Jesus can talk the way He could here just hours before He was about to be tortured and beaten to a bloody mess.  When He suffered it MEANT something.  Likewise, when you suffer for Christ – when life is horrific – you need to know that He suffered first and that He did so as an example – your suffering isn’t wasted.  It isn’t meaningless.  That’s what John Piper was talking about before in that video I posted online.  That’s what separates Jesus from any other sick lunatic leading a cult following.  Those people are genuinely crazy and their suffering is wasted.  Your suffering is building for you an eternal weight of glory.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross as a defeated and hopeless man. He climbed that hill knowing that He was ushering in a victory that would be tasted by millions of souls who put their trust in Him.

Daily Death

Now, how is this done?  How do we look at this and start – where do we start?  I think that what makes this kind of love possible is completely supernatural.  It isn’t powered by you; its powered by God.  But you will be given power to obey.

What does it look like?  It looks like selflessness.

The beginning of following Christ is a daily death to self. This is one of several things Schaeffer came to realize in the pursuit of true discipleship.  When you die to your own desires you necessarily will be more equipped to physically die for others/for the Lord if and when that time comes.

We see this attitude expressed by Paul this way:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

We must – must – look around our church and our neighborhood and our family and be willing to consider them more important than ourselves.

More than this, we must recognize the value of every soul to the degree that those “unlovable” people who are placed in our lives are also worthy of this radical love.  They are also to be targets of our love knowing that the cost could be embarrassment, social death, financial death or simply emotional hurt.

This is not Optional…but there is Help and Hope

Lastly, I want to exhort you to examine these verses closely to show me where these principles are conditional or applicable to a certain select few – perhaps those in full time ministry.  (I think you see where I’m going here…)

When we read these verses they are undoubtedly a challenge. Not only because they call us to love those who are unlovable, but because there are people in our church and our family who we simply don’t “gel with.”  You know who I’m talking about…this is why clicks develop, isn’t it? And its natural to be around people who are more like you or who you enjoy – nothing terribly wrong with that.  But the question must be asked: how are you loving (or not loving, more accurately) those who rub you wrong at work, here at church or in your family.  Do you ignore them? Do you slander them behind their backs?  I am preaching to myself.  We all struggle with some aspect of this.

But unlike the Israelites whom I mentioned earlier on, we have the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. This simply can’t be overemphasized. If Jesus stooped to love you, as vile and wretched as you are (and you are, if you’re anything like me), then surely you cannot simply tolerate but love those who God has placed in your life.  No excuses. Ask for God’s help – you can’t do this in the flesh.

Lastly, evil in the world does not have the last word.  For those who obey by the power of God and lay down their lives and love radically as Christ loved, there will be reward. See what John says later in Revelation 20:

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

Those martyrs aren’t in heaven wandering around with no head.  They aren’t missing anything now, because they are reigning with Christ. Right. Now. When you die Christian, you will go immediately to be with our Lord Jesus who is reigning right now at the right hand of God. And you will reign with Him.  You will join in that reign the moment you die – that 1000 years began when our Lord’s reign began – upon His ascension into heaven.

This is our hope – you cannot kill a Christian, for a Christian goes from suffering to reigning within an instant.  The moment evil thinks it has triumphed, the moment Satan finds happiness in the death of a Christian, that Christian is translated into glory and power in the reign of Jesus Christ. What a slippery situation for the enemy! There is no winning.  And for us…there is no losing. Let’s live life with this reality in mind.

15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Bruce rightly says, “The point (of verse 15) is rather that now, n the upper room, he is admitting them to the inner motives of his ministry and impending sacrifice.”  It isn’t as though “Jesus had formerly called his disciples ‘slaves’, or treated them as such.”  The emphasis is rather on His gracious self-disclosure/self-revelation.

He is saying, in essence, “as my friend I am letting you into the plans of the Father.”  He is drawing us into relationship and sharing His plans for redemption with us.

What an unspeakable privilege.

We are, of course, still the slaves of Christ.  That hasn’t changed. But as Ridderbos says:

Not that their subordinate position as pupils in relation to their teacher and servants in relation to their master was abolished by this (cf. 13:13, 16); rather, their servant status solely under the commandment has no made way for their initiation into the purposes of their Lord – into the secret of his own coming and mission in the world, which Jesus refers to as ‘all that I have heard from my Father’ (cf. 5:19, 20, 30; 3:11, 32: 8:26, 40).

I just don’t think I can add more to that, except that to ponder this verse is to ponder the depths of Christ’s love for us (see vs. 9).  When you love someone – truly – you include them in on your thinking.  You bring them into your plans, and you make them a part of your life. That is what Jesus is doing here. He has graciously condescended to include us in on the eternal plan of redemption. The mysteries hidden for long ages have been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate.

That He stoops to such self-disclosure is gracious because it goes far beyond the deserts of His flock. These evil sheep have been made pure by the blood of the Lamb sent from heaven. And redemption is only the beginning, isn’t it? What an awesome and unspeakably glorious truth that He has come and shown us His plan.  What we can comprehend of His magnificence we take in as eager spiritual children. It changes us, this glory of His, this plan of His, this shared knowledge. It is like a beam of light emanating from the sun. It not only lights our ways, it warms us to the core. We are changed.  And we are His. Praise God! We are His.

Study Notes 9-30-12

Here are my notes from Sunday’s class.  We talked about the dual nature of Christ, touched on justification, and even (of course) the gospel.  Enjoy!

John 7:20-31

7:20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”

At this point we see that those who were pilgrims to Jerusalem (coming in from the Diaspora) didn’t have an understanding of the full picture of what was going on with the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem.

7:21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.

Last time Jesus was in town, a year ago, He had healed a lame man (cf. 5:1-15) and I think that most scholars feel this is what He is referring to.  This had made such an impression on them that they still remembered Him for it.  For not only had he made a “man’s whole body well”, but He had healed that man on the Sabbath, which had caused an even greater disturbance.

Boice sets the scene, “What Jesus had done in the north was not really much in the minds of these religious leaders. But there was not one of them who had forgotten that on his last visit to Jerusalem a year before, Jesus had violated their understanding of the Sabbath by healing a paralyzed man. That was work, according to their understanding.”  He went on to say, “If Jesus could do such things of the Sabbath, he was obviously dangerous. He was a sinner, and he was teaching others to sin. At the time of this miracle the leaders had, therefore, tried to kill him. Jesus had escaped.  But he had now returned, and they remembered.”

7:22-23 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. [23] If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?

Legalism gives Birth to Hypocrisy

Admittedly, this example that Jesus gives puzzled me a little bit until I started to dig into the context, and read what others had to say about it. Here’s what James Boice has to say on the matter:

His argument went something like this. It was the law of the Old Testament that a male child should be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Lev. 12:3). Naturally, the eighth day would often fall on the Sabbath. But it was the teaching of the rabbis, recorded in the Mishnah, that, ‘everything necessary for circumcision’ could be done on the Sabbath day. ‘Well’, said Jesus, ‘don’t you see what you are doing? You say that you fully observe the law that was given to you through Moses, including the laws concerning the Sabbath. The laws of the Sabbath forbid work, and you have interpreted that to mean every kind of activity except that which is absolutely necessary to save life. Technically, this should exclude circumcision. Yet you permit it, and it is right that you do. Moreover, you notice that circumcision is a form of mutilation. How hypocritical then for you to blame me for curing a man’s body, making it whole, when you for the sake of religion actually mutilate it on the seventh day!’

When he mentions “mutilation” Boice might be making a good point, but perhaps missing the deeper significance (literally “sign” relevance) of circumcision.  For instance, as Wellum and Gentry note in their biblical theology on the covenants, “circumcision, as a physical act, signified the removal of the defilement of sin, the cleansing from sin, and it pointed to the need for a spiritual circumcision of the heart.”  Given this, perhaps deeper meaning, what Christ is doing in healing an entire man on the Sabbath is essentially a much grander way of showing His power to cleanse us from our sins (this is probably also closer to Sproul’s interpretation, though I don’t think he is very clear explaining it).

This is a difficult and rather intricate legal argument that Jesus is making here, but it points to the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders at the time.  And, as Boice points out, what Jesus is saying in essence is that their “legalism gives birth to hypocrisy.

This is why I labored the point in prior sections that the law cannot save us, but only lead us to Christ.  The reason, of course, is that the law is always condemning us.  But the gospel is always bringing us into a saving knowledge of Jesus’ work on our behalf – so that while we were “yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  So even though we have all violated the law – a law which so many people want to try and live every day by still – we are found with favor in the eyes of God because of Christ’s work, not ours (Eph. 2:1-10).  For no man is justified by the law because no man can keep the law (Gal. 3:11), and this is why we need the gospel. We need Christ’s work, His righteousness, credited to us (to our account).

How are we Justified?

This is a good opportunity to just briefly remind us of why and how we are justified. We covered this just last week, so I will not spend too much time on it.  But we are not justified by our work in keeping the law, but rather in the life, cross work, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We must also be sure to make a distinction between justification and sanctification/transformation.  Christ’s work (His righteousness/His merit) is imputed to our account, as it were, and therefore in the final analysis we are counted as “righteous” before the throne of God.

In his new book on the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, R.C. Sproul explains the classical Protestant view on imputation as drawn from Scripture:

When Paul explains the doctrine of justification, he cites the example of the patriarch Abraham.  He writes: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Rom. 4:3 citing Gen. 15:6). In other words, Abraham had faith, and therefore God justified him.  Abraham was still a sinner. The rest of the history of the life of Abraham reveals that he did not always obey God. Nevertheless, God counted him righteous because he believed in the promise God had made to him. This is an example of imputation, which involves transferring something legally to someone’s account, to reckon something to be there. So, Paul speaks of God counting Abraham as righteous, even though, in and of himself, Abraham was not yet righteous. He did not have righteousness inhering in him (‘Are We Together?’, pg. 43).

But that doesn’t mean that we are sinless, perfect people.  As Jerry Bridges rightly points out, the Holy Spirit is still working in us to affect this transformation. Bridges says that the Holy Spirit brings conviction, creates desire, and creates change. He enables us and abides in us so that with Christ’s help (John 15:5) we are able to do the things that please Him.  In this way we are being made righteous and more and more like the Son everyday (2 Cor. 3:18).

So once again, we see that as human beings we try to justify ourselves by the law, and our view of the law.  We tend toward legalism.  But as believers we must be very cautious not to do this; we must remember the gospel in all things, and at the heart of this gospel is the centrality of Christ and His work for us in His life, death and resurrection.  I do not think we can talk enough about this, so I will continue to bring it up whenever Christ discusses how the law interacts with the gospel.

7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Finally we see Christ’s admonition to be discerning in judgment.  Note that he says that we are to not judge simply by appearances – this, of course brings to mind how God told Samuel to not judge His new king by outward appearances (1 Sam. 16:7). So Jesus is doing the same here; He is admonishing them to not judge as men judge, but to judge as God judges (God’s judgment is always “right” and just/righteous judgment).

In light of this, and as Christians living under the New Covenant, we should ask ourselves these types of questions:

  • Is my parenting being informed by legalism, or by the gospel?
  • Is my marriage based on gospel principles, or on legalistic expectations of our mates?
  • To I hold others to the high standard of the law without affording them the grace Christ gives them in the gospel?

7:25-27 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? [26] And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? [27] But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.”

Here we see the reaction of the people to Christ’s preaching in Jerusalem, and His ministry as a whole, I think. Their reaction is mixed.  The first thing they note is that their leaders are seeking to kill Him (whereas others of them didn’t seem to understand this cf. vs. 20).  MacArthur makes a distinction between the people in verse 20 and those in verse 25.  He says that the people in verse 20 are pilgrims coming to Jerusalem, whereas the folks in verse 25 must have been those living inside Jerusalem who were well aware of their leaders’ intentions.

The second thing the people note is that their leaders won’t debate Jesus openly – as we talked about before, this was because every time someone tried to debate Jesus they got shut down.  The Scripture that comes immediately to mind is this:

There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.  (Luke 20:27-40)

This of course set the people to asking, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?”  This is the key verse of this section in my opinion.  The people are starting to figure out that their leaders may not be fully accepting of a man that may actually be the long awaited Messiah.  So they sense potential corruption in their leaders. This is a very dangerous time politically for the leadership of the Council.

The last thing the people ask is why it is that they know where Christ is from.  This seems odd in hindsight, but we need to understand how they viewed the coming Messiah, and what pretences they were holding in their minds.

The people got this idea of ‘no one knowing from where the Christ will come’ from tradition, and popular opinion, as well as what MacArthur calls a “misinterpretation of such passages as Is. 53:8, ‘who will declare His generation?’ and Malachi 3:1 ‘The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple.’  Several commentators also say that the apocryphal book of 4 Esdras informed the people’s thinking on the matter, “He said to me, ‘Just as no one can explore or know what is in the depths of the sea, so no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day.’” So since they knew something of Jesus’ background, they assumed that He couldn’t be the Messiah.

Of course this popular belief didn’t square with what the Old Testament teaches us about the Christ coming from Bethlehem.  MacArthur notes that this was “a point that others in the crowd would later acknowledge(d) (verse 42).”

7:28-29 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. [29] I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”

The Dual Nature of Christ

The first thing that we see here is that Christ doesn’t correct their misunderstanding of the Old Testament, but “instead, He responded by directly confronting their heard-hearted unbelief (MacArthur).”

Then Christ goes on to reiterate what He had said before about authority, namely that He did not come of His own, but He came instead from the Father.  He was giving all glory to the Father, and pointing to God the Father as His divine source of authority.

One of the signs of His authority and that He was coming directly from the Father (God) was His divine knowledge.  All of this knowledge had been given to Him directly by God.  This is something we talked about before, but I failed to mention much about exactly how He got this knowledge, and the importance making a distinction between the divinity of Christ, and the humanity of Christ. Not that the distinction is important as a thing in and of itself, but rather it is important that we understand (as best we can) the nature and person of Christ.  It is important because we don’t want to slip into wrong thinking about our Lord, and it is these types of statements He is making here that lead us to ask important questions like “how could Christ have known all of this, and yet not known the time of His own second coming (Mark 13:32)?”

These are important questions, and ones that tend toward the person and nature of Christ, and we should briefly address them here.

When we talk about the person of Christ, the first thing we need to understand is what I hinted at above – His dual nature. As Bible-believing orthodox Christians, we affirm that Christ is vera homo, vera Deus” which is to say that He is truly man and truly GodOne person with two natures.  As Sproul says, “If we are to have a correct understanding of Jesus, we have to understand that His divine nature has all the attributes of deity while the human nature has all of the limitations of humanity.”

Wayne Grudem says that some of the key aspects of His humanity included the virgin birth, His human body, His human mind, His human soul (which I like to define as “the mind, will, and emotions”), His human appearance to mankind (others near Him saw Him as human).  Grudem also lists several aspects of His deity: The direct scriptural claims He made, His miracles of healing, His power over nature, His eternity, His omniscience, and His immortality (among others).

Some theologians say that Christ laid aside some of these attributes and so while being human didn’t possess many of the divine attributes – the so-called “kenosis” theory derived from Phil. 2:7.  But this has been proved to be a misunderstanding of scripture (see Grudem’s systematic theology pg. 549-552). In fact, the theory completely misunderstands the context of the text.  The text isn’t talking about Christ’s emptying Himself of His deity, rather in humility, emptying not grasping onto (“a thing to be grasped”) the rights of His deity.  This “emptying” is addressing His attitude and complete surrender to the will of God.  I’m reminded of Heb. 12:2 which tells us that Jesus endured the “shame” of the cross while looking forward to the “joy” of being reunited with the Father.  He actually “despised” the shame of the cross, and yet submitted to the humiliation of the thing on our account.  Christ didn’t empty Himself of His deity, but only the right to be worshiped unreservedly by those who He breathed into creation. Because in heaven there is none who do not bow the knee to this King – and so it will soon be on earth at the close of this age!

Continuing on this same theme, Scripture shows us that the Christ was the Word, and that while He was made flesh (John 1:14), it doesn’t say that Christ stopped being the Deity.  Michael Horton explains: “The verb ‘became’ (egeneto) here does not entail any change in the essence of the Son. His deity was not converted into our humanity. Rather, he assumed our human nature.”  He continues, “Each nature is entirely preserved in its distinctness yet in and as one person” (Heb. 2:14-17).

So if Christ was vera homo vera Deus, how did his humanity know/have supernatural knowledge?  Sproul answers, “It came from the communication of the divine nature to the human nature.” I think Horton is helpful here as well:

When we give due attention to Christ’s humanity as the servant of the covenant, more spece opens up for the person and work of the Spirit. There is no mention in the gospels of Jesus’ divinity overwhelming his humanity. Nor do the gospels refer his miracles to his divinity and refer his temptation or sorrow to his humanity, as if he switched back and forth from operating according to one nature to operating according to another. Rather, the gospels routinely refer Christ’s miracles to the Father and the Spirit, accomplishing their work in and through Jesus Christ.  Jesus was conceived by the Spirit, was filled with the Spirit, grew in wisdom and understanding by the Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the desert for his temptation and was there upheld by the Spirit, and spoke what he heard from the Father and as he was empowered y the Spirit. Jesus is therefore not only God turned toward God, but humanity turned toward God in the power of the Spirit.

Therefore, His human nature was not omniscient, but in His divine nature He was obedient to the Spirit and could therefore “know all things” that the Spirit gave Him from God.  In this way, Jesus was divinely omniscient.  He had a well of knowledge that was eternal. This is why He – in His humanity – didn’t know the time of His second coming.  The divine nature of Christ didn’t communicate it to His human nature (we don’t know why…but it is not for us to question the “why” of God!). Therefore, he could rightly and correctly say He didn’t know. Horton says, “Without surrendering his divinity (which included omniscience), the eternal Son fully assumed our finite humanity.”

Again, Sproul explains, “There were things that Jesus didn’t know, but whatever He taught was impeccable, because He never taught on the basis of His own human insight. So the Christian church has understood for centuries that, touching His human nature, Jesus is not omniscient, but He is infallible, because if He teaches something that isn’t true, then He’s held accountable.”

This is an extremely hard concept to understand. But it is important to realize that all things that Christ knew He received from the Father.  He had a divine communication with His Father.  He and the Father were of one mind, and the teaching authority of Jesus came directly from God the Father.

NOTE: The doctrine of Christ’s deity and human nature was affirmed at the Council of Nicea in 325 where a formal statement on the nature of the Trinity was written down and at the Council of Chaldedon (451) the doctrine of Christ’s “one person in two natures” was affirmed.

NOTE: For more information about this see Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology, or Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

A Stinging Indictment

What He said after that, however, was the greatest rebuke of the conversation.  He states, “him you do not know” speaking of the Father. Here Jesus is looking at the religious leaders and telling them in no uncertain terms that they do not know the God they claim to be representing.

He is not merely saying, “you have misinterpreted Scripture” but that “you don’t even know the God of the Scriptures!”  BOOM!  This must have just infuriated them to no end.  What a stinging rebuke.

7:30-31 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. [31] Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

The reaction of the crowd at this point is mixed – many believed in Him, but the leaders’ reaction makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  They are fixated on arresting him. They wanted to take Him down! But because of the providential work and plan of God, “no one laid a hand on him.”

No one was going to take His life from Him – no one – unless He laid it down.  Look at what John 10:18 says, “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.”

So Jesus Christ came to speak truth into the world, and when He did so He was misunderstood, and hated by the world.  This is why his brother’s didn’t believe that He was the Christ, and why the religious leaders didn’t believe He was the Christ – they were of the world, and they didn’t know God.

Some truths to take away from this:

    1. Jesus has authority to do what He pleases
    2. Jesus had authority over His life, and He has authority over your life as well – both spiritually and physically.  Isn’t this a great truth?
    3. If you know God, you know Christ – by knowing Christ you know the Father.  What a great truth!

Bible Study Resources

This is a post I’ve had on my “to-do” list for a LONG time now.  Many people ask me for tips on how to study the Bible, and how/where to find the answers they need as they are reading.  It’s a very common thing (for me and everyone one I know) to be reading along and stumble on a word, a phrase, an idea, a name etc that raises questions, concerns, or curiosity.

So where do you go to find the answers to these questions? Well, I’d like to begin a post here with some sites/books you can use to compliment your Bible Study.  I’d imagine that I’ll need to periodically update this post as I find new resources myself – I also intend on starting with a relatively small list and adding as I have time. So here goes…

Bible Overviews and Handbooks

Bible overviews usually take a broad look at whole books, locations, and people in order to distill things into a readable and quick reference.  I like:

Wiersbe’s ‘With the Word’ – this is a chapter by chapter summary of the entire Bible.  Very cool stuff.  Very easy to read.

MacArthur’s Bible Handbook – this book is fantastic.  It gives a book by book overview of the entire Bible, including “where is Christ” in every book, an outline of each book, and many other great background and authorship notes.  It also has a “tough questions answered” section for each book – very neat and very helpful!

Westminster’s Theological Dictionary – ever wonder what those fancy theological terms mean? Well now you can know! LOL  This book is seriously really great.  Each definition is only one or two sentences long.  Very concise and easy.  Very helpful.

New Dictionary of Theology – this is like the Westminster Theological Dictionary, only a little more expanded.  It almost reminds me of an encyclopedia.  This one is written and edited by Ferguson, Wright, and Packer, so needless to say its VERY good!

What’s in the Bible? – this is a great overview of the entire Bible by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth.  Its eminently readable, and very helpful if you’re looking to get a quick overview of entire books/sections of biblical history.

Bible Commentaries

Commentaries are probably the most important study resource a Bible Scholar should have on their shelves at home.  Commentaries come in a variety of different ways.  Some are a collection of notes on each book of the Bible by 1 author (like Calvin or MacArthur), others are a collection of notes on each book by a series of authors, others are simply stand alone notes on one or two particular books of the Bible by 1 author.  Some commentaries are expositional and some are more pastoral.  The former is focused more on a verse by verse explanation of the text, the latter focuses on the bigger picture only and takes large sections of the text at a time.  As you might imagine, commentaries reflect a Biblical theology of the writer, and shouldn’t be taken as “gospel” (so to speak).  However, every pastor I know uses commentaries to see what the great Christian men and women thought about the Biblical text long before we were born.  Here are some of my favorites (though I may not agree with each person on every point):

Calvin’s Commentaries – these are available online for free and here. These are a blend of pastoral and exegetical. Calvin wrote commentaries on most of the Bible, but some of the OT books are left out, as is Revelation.

Barnes Notes – Albert Barnes wrote these, this is a new testament only. He’s very conservative, and really solid on most every passage.  He does a great job of dispelling error and helps you logically sort through the possibilities for difficult verses as well.  Really like a lot of his work.

Wiersbe’s Commentary – very pastoral in his approach, this is most of the entire Bible, with a few of the old testament books combined. I enjoy his writing and his overarching points.  It’s not a “must have”, but its very helpful on some of the OT books and minor prophets.

Sproul’s Commentary Set – this is very pastor in its approach, and not as in-depth on a verse by vese basis as some of the others.  Still, there’s no one with insights quite like R.C. Sproul.  Often he has things to say that many of the others simply don’t think of, or are too timid to focus on.  He has only done 5 volumes (6 books) thus far.  I’ve read through most of all of them (except the Mark edition which I don’t have) and have really enjoyed them thus far.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible – great puritan preacher Matthew Henry wrote these notes for teaching his family, not his church.  But they have ended up as classics, and show a brilliant depth of understanding, and wonderful heart for God.  A blend between exegetical and pastoral style.

Pillar Commentary Set – I’ve used D.A. Carson’s volume on John (which is what this link is for), and have a lot of respect for some of the other authors in this set (some overlap here with the New International Commentary Set).  This is a more exegetical/technical commentary set from what I’ve seen. Only New Testament.

MacArthur’s Bible Commentaries – These are very good, very exegetical, and really helpful commentaries.  He takes the time to explain words, phrases, and history even larger themes.  This is only New Testament though. They can be purchased as a set or individually.

John Stott’s Set – These are edited and partially written (in some cases) by Stott and from what I’ve read thus far they are really solid.

MacArthur Whole Bible Commentary – these are his Study Bible notes (maybe slightly expanded) put into a one volume edition.  A good quick resource for getting a grasp of the passage you’re looking at.

The New International Commentary Set – These are very technical and very good.  If you’re interested in knowing all the angles, all the background, and all the key view points on each passage of scripture, I’ve found that these are great editions.  Leon Morris, Douglass Moo, F.F. Bruce and others wrote each volume. This link is for the NT, but there’s also OT volumes as well.

Vernon McGee’s Commentary – This is very pastoral, very funny and light hearted.  He has some good insights, notes, but you won’t get the kind of in-depth education that MacArthur or Carson will provide.  He’s also dispensational in his approach to the Scripture, which means that some of his Old Testament comments are a little wacky.

James Montgomery Boice– This is a link to his set.  He’s done Daniel, Romans, Acts, and several other books as well.  These are probably some of the best pastoral-styled commentaries that I’ve ever read.  He and Ryle are probably tied at the top of my favorites list for men who know how to bring out the very best in a passage of scripture.

J.C. Ryle’s Commentary on the Gospels – He only did the gospels, but its worth looking at anyway!  Ryle is very pastoral, but also provides a verse by verse analysis in some parts (especially in John).  You can also get his Matthew commentary online for free here. 

Crossway Classic Series – This is a set of commentaries that form a compilation of many great authors, including Ryle, Calvin, Manton, Henry, Owen, Hodge and more.

Systematic Theologies

Systematic theologies sound more daunting than they really are!  A systematic theology is a book that organizes the different theological topics of the Bible and provides a doctrinal overview of each topic.  Topics usually range from election, adoption, the incarnation, justification, sanctification, the millenium and much more.  These books are heavily influenced by the theology of the person compiling the volume, but most that I’ve read try and offer an objective viewpoint and reason why we believe what we believe.  You really only need one or two at most, because they are SO large!  However, these are some of the most helpful tools you can have at home for personal study.

Grudem’s Systematic Theology – if you’re going to buy one systematic theology, it should be Grudem’s.  I don’t agree 100% with him on the millenium or on the age of the earth, but he’s very very good on just about every other big theological issue.  Just a tremendous resource to have at your fingertips.

Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology – I am borrowing this edition at the moment, and unlike some of his other work, I think its a slightly more readable volume.  Horton tends to speak in a sort of unnecessary academic vernacular, so if I had to recommend a volume that is readable for the layman, this probably wouldn’t be my first pick.  As I read more I’ll add more information here.

Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology – This is one that is a classic, and is really good as well.  I don’t have as much experience pawing through its pages as some others, but I can’t begin to count the times that Sproul and others have quoted this volume.

Websites

CCEL – this is an amazing collection of online commentaries, essays, sermons and more.  Calvin, Ryle, Augustine, Edwards and on and on.  All of it is here.

Blue Letter Bible – This is probably the best place I’ve found online to look up the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words in Scripture.  It’s simply an amazing resource.

Biblos – One of the best parallel Bibles online today.  This site is also just simply terrific.  You can get commentaries here as well, and there are some language tools available too.  What I like most about it is that when you look up a verse, you can immediate see 10 different versions of the verse.  There are also pretty decent maps that go along with some of the passages here.

ESV.org – If you don’t own an ESV Study Bible, well, you should.  The notes in the ESV are probably the best notes available today.  The general editor was JI Packer, and the contributing editors and authors are nothing short of a laundry list sof the finest scholars in the world.  It’s been endorsed by just about every major Christian scholar today.  If you have the study Bible, you have automatic access to the online study notes, maps, and other goodies.  If you don’t, then you can at least read the Bible, but you need the code to sign up and get the study notes.  The site also has the ability to plug in MacArthur’s study bible notes as well if you purchase them.