Intro to Christian Creation Views

Recently I took part in a seminary project that had each participant trying to boil down, to as simple of terms as possible, an introduction to Christian belief about God’s role and power of creation.  Ideally the introduction would include several Scripture references that would point the listener/reader to places for additional study.  The idea was not to create a polemic against other views, but rather state in a simple, straightforward way the Christian view as an introduction.

I thought that perhaps you might enjoy the short read of what I put together, with the hope that it spurs on further thought, and serves to edify you in future conversations.

A Short Introduction to Christian Belief on Creation

As a Christian, I believe that God is the creator of all things – that means the trees and sky and stars, and also animals and human beings.  My confidence in God as creator is grounded in my confidence in the Bible as the authoritative and accurate word of God (2 Tim. 3:15-17, 2 Pet. 1:20-21). In fact, Moses, who wrote the creation account in the book of Genesis, often said that his words were not his, but God’s (Ex. 24:4, Ex. 34:27-28, Num. 33:1-2, Deut. 31:9).

The Bible begins by telling us about how we began, and how the world came into being (Gen. 1-2).  In these early chapters we find details that amaze us, and also leave us asking questions. We aren’t given all the answers to the questions, but rather we are given everything we need to know to live our lives in a way that pleases God (2 Peter 1:3). And because the Bible says we are created in God’s “image” (Gen. 1:26-27), we also have creative abilities (of a much lesser order!), a desire for beauty, and an appreciation for science and art.  Most importantly, we were made for fellowship with our Maker – which Jesus came to restore (Jn. 10:10).

The ramifications of God being the creator of all things can be see both in nature and in our daily lives.  Nature shows us the intricate and amazing depth of knowledge that God has (Job 38-41, Is. 55:8-11) and reveals a lot about His character (Ps. 19:1-6).  And knowing that God created all things – including you and me – helps us know that we are here for a reason, and that our lives have purpose in His sovereign plan (1 Sam. 2:6-7, Prov. 16:4).  It also reassures us that the One powerful enough to create everything is also in control of everything (Is. 45:6-7, 55:8-11, Dan. 4:35), and rules over all that He created (1 Chron. 29:11, Eph. 1:11).

In the New Testament we learn that Jesus (like the Spirit and the Father) was involved in creating the world (John 1:3, Col. 1:15-20), and maintains an intimate relationship with His creation, which He sustains simply by the power of His word (Heb. 1:3). It is an assuring thought that Jesus both understands our pain (Heb. 4:15, Matthew 4:2, John 19:28 etc.) and what it is like to live upon the earth (1 John 1:1-4, 2 John 7 etc.), yet also created us (Ps. 51), knows every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7), and has a great purpose for our lives (Eph. 1:3-14).

Insights into Deuteronomy

I’ve been blessed to simultaneously be reading Tom Schreiner’s excellent work ‘The King in His Beauty’ while also reading through the Old Testament with friends as part of a reading group.  I was so appreciative of how Schreiner handles the story in Deuteronomy that I wanted to transcribe about a page of it here so you can enjoy this as well.  And if you’re interested in reading Schreiner’s book, you can get it HERE. 

This is a section about God’s call for Israel to obey Him – what that means, and what it looks like. This is not the entire section, but selected portions of pg.’s 86-88. 

Obedience in Deuteronomy is expressed with a variety of verbs, since one verb cannot capture the nature of the obedience demanded. As House says, “Israel must display total allegiance to God.” Repeatedly Moses commands Israel to keep (samar) the Lord’s commands (e.g. 4:2, 6, 40; 5:1, 12, 29, 32; 6:2, 3, 17 etc.). The commands are not simply to be contemplated and meditated upon. They must be put into action; they must be “done” (asa) (e.g. 1:18; 4:1, 5, 6, 13, 14; 5:1, 27, 31, 32; 6:1, 3, 18 etc.), for they speak to the issues of life in the market and in the family and in the courts, signifying one’s complete and utter devotion to the lordship of Yahweh…The call to do what the Lord commands must not be construed as legalistic or external. Israel’s obedience shows whether they are truly devoted to Yahweh.

The fundamental issue, then, is whether Israel really knows Yahweh as its Lord. True obedience to Yahweh is expressed not merely in outward obedience but in love…Not surprisingly, the message of Deuteronomy is expressed in 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…

Love is not a pious feeling; it is an affection that results in concrete obedience to the Lord. Loving the Lord cannot be separated from fearing Him, walking in His paths, and serving Him (10:12).

Love and fear are not ultimately polar concepts in Deuteronomy. Those who love the Lord fear Him (4:10). Those who fear the Lord will never depart from keeping His commands (5:29; 6:2, 24; 13:4; 17:19; 31:12).

Indeed, the Lord calls upon his people to serve him “with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things” (28:47). Israel must serve the Lord with glad-hearted obedience, since he has lavished his kindness upon them.

Truly listening to the Lord and hearing Him results in obeying Him, and hence many English versions translate the Hebrew for “listen” as “obey.”

What is the function of such a diversity of expressions for obeying the Lord? They communicate the comprehensiveness and richness of what it means to obey the Lord. Following the Lord is captured by terms such as “doing,” “keeping,” and “hearing.” Obedience to the Lord must be concrete and practically worked out in everyday life. But obedience is not exhausted by such terms, for there is the danger of thinking that obedience is mere external conformity to the Lord’s will. True obedience involves affection – loving the Lord and clinging to him, finding him to be the praise and joy of one’s life. Still, such love and loyalty are never abstracted from walking in His ways. Israel indicates that it lives under Yahweh’s lordship by doing His will and obeying Him.

What amazes me about this analysis of Schreiner’s is that God never changes.  He still expects the same things from His people.  The major difference between the New Testament understanding of these truths and what we read in places like Deuteronomy is not what God wants from His people, but rather how He helps us carry it out.

In the New Testament we see that God has empowered us to love and obey because He has sent us His Holy Spirit – this is how we are to accomplish His will, through power that is not in us, nor of/from us but from God.  The consequence is that people will recognize this behavior and say “he must be a Christian” – there will be recognition by the world that we love because that love comes from God.

Jesus sums this up in John 13-17.  I’ll leave you with a few of those verses:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17, ESV)

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

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

The Call of Gideon

This past Thursday our small group took a look at Judges chapter 6 wherein we learn of the call of Gideon.  Gideon was a man who no one would have picked as the next rescuer or “Judge” of Israel.   The plight of God’s people in this chapter is dire.  They are suffering under cruel oppression, and their hearts are as black as can be.  They have no desire for true repentance, and only seek deliverance for the sake of freeing themselves from their foreign enemies.

As the group studied the passage, we hit on three major themes in the chapter:

  • True Repentance = True Freedom
  • A fresh look at God’s holiness and how we encounter that today
  • It is very often that God uses our weaknesses to teach us about Himself and bring Himself glory

Below are my notes from the chapter, I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction

Chapter 6 introduces us to Gideon, who is listed in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith along with Deborah and Barak and Sampson in the following context:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Heb. 11:31-34)

Gideon is a most unlikely hero, but actually takes up a lot of space in the book of Judges – in fact, as Morris notes, 100 verses are spent detailing his story, which is more than any other Judge in the book.

The scene is set in the first few verses of the book where we find the situation for Israel is not a good one.  Dale Ralph Davis comically comments about the plague of Midian:

For seven years they (midainites) left Israel no ‘sustenance’ or means of sustenance. The same scourge and terror every year: invade from the yeast, cross the Jordan, hit the bread basket in the Plan of Jezreel, sweep southwest as far as Gaza in Philistian, practicing their clean earth politic. Seven years of it. You are hungry, poor, and tired. Every year, as sure as income tax, Midian’s buzzards come.

It’s in this frustrated, beaten down state that our story begins, and where God intervenes in a way that, at first, is unusual…

6:1-2 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.

The cycle of sin is beginning again –isn’t this familiar! The people once again do what is evil in God’s sight, and this time they are given into the hands of Midian.  Note the total sovereignty of God here.  Many times in our own lives we have bad things happen to us but we say ‘this isn’t from God’ – but how do you know?

We know that God is not the author of evil, and yet we know that He uses evil people and circumstances to bring about His good will for our lives (Rom. 8:28).  We know that He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all (Rom. 8:32) in order that His glorious purpose would triumph through Christ’s death.

The Israelites, however, were not holy, righteous, or in anyway obedient to the Lord.  And God punished them in order to bring them back to Himself (Heb. 12).  

6:3-5 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.

Note that Midian was not interested in political control of Israel, rather they were interested in simply plundering the nation of its resources.  Israel became their food pantry and its inhabitants nothing more than nice in the cupboard who fled to holes in the mountain at the first sign of trouble.  Indeed in the eyes of Midian, they were simply pests who needed exterminated.

6:6-10 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

This is the most devastating situation Israel has ever faced.  They are completely impoverished and are scratching a living off the rocks of the land (cf. Tolkein).  They have been driven by their circumstances to final cry out to the Lord.  But what do they get in return?  They get a sermon instead of salvation (cf. Keller).

Before God will deliver them from their enemies He wants them to understand very clearly why they have been punished and “brought very low” at the hands of Midian.

It is significant that God didn’t simply raise up a judge to save them right away.  Instead He wanted to make sure they heard His word and knew His heart.

This is the way it is today, is it not?  We need to hear the word of God and listen to what the Spirit has to say through His inspired Word. It is the Word which is necessary for correction and rebuke and encouragement. It is our very life, as Moses was fond of saying:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47)

And the author of Hebrews connects the living and active word of God to its ability to give the Christian rest and peace – but also adds a warning that it is by this word we will be judged:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13, ESV)

Godly Grief

In Tim Keller’s study of this book he rightly calls us to recognize that there is a difference between repentance and regret.  Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)

The difference between worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow and repentance are vast. Their outward manifestations are similar, to be sure.  But the motivation for each is different.  A worldly sorrow mourns over the things that have been lost by the circumstances brought about in our lives, whereas a Godly sorrow mourns over the sin itself and the dishonor and rebellion shown toward the God who saved us.

The beautiful thing about true repentance is that it allows us to get past the sin and sorrow of past failures, unlike worldly regret that lingers and places the shackling burden of guilt around our necks.

Keller says this, “When we realize that God has forgiven us and we haven’t ‘lost’ Him, we feel that earthly results are rather small in comparison. We say: I deserved far worse than what happened. The real punishment fell on Jesus, and will never come to me. 

The natural follow up question we need to ask ourselves is this: What are we sorry about and why? And do we need to truly repent of those things instead of just feeling regretful about them?

6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.

What we find here is that the Israelites were so fearful of the Midianites that even the common tasks of beating out wheat was done undercover.  Gideon is beating out the wheat in a winepress – obviously not the most convenient place to do this task, but it was likely not the first place a Midianite would search for grain on a raid of the countryside. 

6:12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 

I think it’s pretty crucial here that we recognize that Gideon wasn’t that big of a deal.  He’s probably not being modest when he later says that he’s the least of all in his father’s house.  Yet the Lord says that he’s this mighty man of valor – that’s a pretty amazing title!

Wouldn’t you love to be known as a man or woman of valor?  What is it in him or about him that gives the Lord reason for assessing him this title?  The answer is…nothing.

As we’ll see in later chapters, the story of Gideon is the story of God using the weakness of man to accomplish His ends.  Note that verse 12 says, “the Lord is with you” in conjunction with “O Mighty man of valor.”  It is these two ideas that go hand in hand.  The fact that the Lord is with Gideon is the very reason why he is going to be mighty in battle. Chapters 7 and 8 confirm this for us.

In addition, there is a correlation between verses 12-16 and verse 34 where we learn that God “going with” Gideon is going to be in the form of the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s presence with Gideon that allows him to accomplish all that God has set before him.

Now we have the advantage of knowing what comes later, but Gideon did not, so his own lack of might is exposed (ironically) by this statement and he reacts…

6:13-16 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

Gideon has made the mistake that so many of us make during out own struggles.  He equates the difficulties with the Midians as meaning that God isn’t with them.  This simply isn’t the case – which is both reassuring and terrifying.

We need to understand that God has sent the Midianites to plague Israel – God is meticulously sovereign here.  He is using the decedents of Moses’ second wife to bring about utter destruction and calamity and He is doing it with eyes wide open. God is in that place alright, He is in Israel throughout her pains and throughout her oppression.  His arm of judgment has swept through the land in an effort to bring Israel to her knees in true repentance.

We often struggle with the idea that in the worst times in our lives God is with us.  It doesn’t feel like He’s with us. It doesn’t seem like He would want us to go through this evil or that trial.  But the worst evil in this world cannot blink an eye or bat an eyelash without permission from the throne room of God.  Think of Pilate and what Jesus said to him:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11, ESV)

Therefore God will use evil to accomplish good and use the weakest and least accomplished as His instrument to do this.

6:17-21 And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” 19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.

It’s worth noting here that this angel of the Lord seems to be a Christophany and not simply an angel like Gabrial.  The text indicates that this is “the angel of the Lord” but also says, “the Lord said to him” in verse 16.  Not only this, but in verses 17-21 the angel seems to be accepting of the offering that Gideon makes.  As a rule angels don’t accept offerings or worship from men.

Later on we’ll see Gideon ask God for a sign of the fleece, and I’ll just address that briefly here.  Why is Gideon asking God for signs?  Does this justify our asking God for signs?

First, Gideon is asking God for confirmation of His presence and of His plan.  He wants to make sure that this is really God and that He will really be with him.  He is asking God for divine revelation of His holy character.  He isn’t putting God to the test as we commonly think of it (think Satan’s testing of Jesus in Luke’s gospel).

Dale Ralph Davis says, “Gideon shows how highly he values Yahweh’s promise by wanting to be sure it is Yahweh’s promise…Gideon proposed that his offering become the laboratory for God’s assuring sign.”

This is why we can’t ask for similar things from God.  Our motivation is usually something like this (paraphrasing Tim Keller), “God I really want to get this job, so please have them call me today if it is your will that this happen.”

Gideon isn’t asking for help making decisions.  He’s learning more about the character of God – he’s asking God who He is, and seeking to learn more about Him.

6:22-24 Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

There are many parallels with Moses and Abraham here, as noted earlier, but when we read of Gideon’s reaction to the revelation of God’s presence with him, he shouts aloud something that reveals his knowledge of God from Moses’ own experience.  We read in Exodus 33 the following account:

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20, ESV)

So not only does Gideon realize this, but he also understands that he has seen the Lord face to face – not in the fully revealed splendor of His glory, but in a way that even Gideon could understand.  Likely He was clothed in appearance as a man.

We read time and time again in Scripture that when people encounter God their first reaction is one of woe.  They immediately realize that they are sinful, unholy people and that God’s grace has come upon them.  This is true for Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Mary, Paul and here we see it in Gideon.

As Davis says, “Here is an amazing paradox. Gideon must have assurance of Yahweh’s promise, but, when the assurance comes, it terrifies rather than fortifies him.”  Such is the case when we encounter the holy. As Davis continues, “This sort of talk (vs. 22) is strange to us, because we have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.”

Note also how in each case of God revealing Himself to these Godly men and women, He has a task for them and reveals to them that He is going to use them for something extraordinary – here God is revealed as a God of peace and grace.  It is not that Gideon didn’t deserve to die, but that God spared him in His grace.

I wonder if we need to step back sometimes after spending some time in the Word and get a deeper understanding for the holiness of God.  This is the God who is said to be “a consuming fire” who “dwells in unapproachable light.”  Paul describes Him in this way:

…keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:14-16, ESV)

The magnificence of His presence is something we often take for granted.  It is right, therefore, to spend some time in awe of who God is, and who we are. Sinners before the throne of grace, saved by blood – and saved as Gideon was for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).

6:25-27 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. 

So Gideon obeys the Lord and follows the commands God gave him.  But he does so in the middle of the night.  I think it’s interesting that he would do this.  I mentioned earlier that God shows meticulous sovereignty over this situation and here is another example of that sovereignty.

God knows the character of Gideon, He knows what he will do and how he will do it.  Gideon is certainly a coward for not immediately obeying God in broad daylight and he allows fear to rule his life – fear for his life actually probably kept him alive for God’s task and allowed the people in that area to see that God was moving and stir them to recognize that something was afoot.

Just as God knew that Joseph’s dreams would provoke the young man toward pride and a propensity toward annoying his older brothers and father, God also knew that Gideon would be too cowardly to cut down the Baal in broad daylight.  God uses the weaknesses and sinfulness of His children to accomplish His will.  He plans and ordains all things – and that means all things.

6:28-32 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

Isn’t it ironic how all these people get upset and want to kill Gideon for what he did in tearing down there alters?  This mob was standing up for Baal, but as Joash points out, if Baal was a real powerful being he should be able to take care of himself, thank you very much.

So Joash stands up for his boy, and I find this really commendable.  There seems to have been at least some honor in this family or at least in this man, despite the fact that he was a man who worshiped multiple deities!

Anyway…the irony is that God is the one who in this story has vowed to stand up for Israel.  God is the one promising to be with Gideon as he leads Israel to victory of its’ enemies, and God is the one who will empower Gideon…as we’ll see soon in verse 34.

SIDE NOTE: The ESV Study Bible has a nice blurb on Asherah and what it was, “Asherah may function as both the divine name for a particular goddess or, as in these verses, refer to sacred wooden poles erected at places where she was worshiped (vv. 26, 28, 30; cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 17:16). Most frequently, these sacred objects are called “Asherim” (e.g., Ex. 34:13; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Kings 17:10). 

6:33-35 Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Now the scene is set and things are coming into motion.  We read that the Midianites and their buddies the Amalekites along with other nomads from the East are all ready to raid the breadbasket of Israel.  They’ve all gathered together and are encamped in Jezreel, which is north of where Jerusalem sat, and southwest of the Sea of Galilee.  This is really close to home for the Israelites, and so once again their crops and their daughters were in peril.

However, as the author is describing the situation, he bookmarks Israel’s impending doom by noting that the Spirit of the Lord had “clothed” Gideon.  What does this mean, “clothed”?  I think the best way to understand it is “empowered supernaturally.”  As Block notes, “if anything positive happens to Israel in the book of Judges, the credit must go to God.”  And so, “the same Spirit which possesses the divinely called deliverer compels the recipients of the summons to respond to his call.”

In his book ‘God’s Indwelling Presence’ Tom Schreiner (citing James Hamilton) says, “The Old Testament speaks of the Spirit “rushing upon” someone not to describe a conversion experience (e.g., the expression is not used of Abraham or Rahab), but rather the Spirit’s empowering leaders who will deliver the nation.” 

6:36-40 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

As I mentioned earlier, Gideon’s test of God is not like our test of God.  Yes it seems that Gideon was testing God out of unbelief and probably fear (for he was not a warrior and was about to lead an army into battle).  But what Gideon seems to be getting at here is a search for the character and power of God.

Gideon deeply desires to ensure the God is with him, and that God will be the one doing the fighting on their behalf.  Even though it seems silly to ask God for these signs, we see Moses do the same thing in Exodus 4.  One of the ways I think we can know that Gideon was asking with deeper motives was God’s gracious response toward his request.  Gideon was weak, and needed to know that God would be with him, for without God there’s no way that this man would be able to conquer his enemies.

As we continue on in our study over the next several chapters, we’re going to see that one of the major themes of God’s empowering use of Gideon is His desire to use those who are weak to accomplish great things in order that He might get all the glory.

It is no different today.  We need to learn that, as JI Packer says, “weakness is the way” of God, and as Paul says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)

Christ our Supreme Prophet

Last night I had the privilege of preaching on the role of Christ as our Prophet.  The next few weeks I’ll be preaching on his priesthood and kingship.  Here are the notes from that lesson.  Note: I’ve also included some Appendices which were more for my benefit, but also help provide context and more background on a few of the sections (should you make it that far!).

Soli Deo Gloria!

PJW

Christ the Supreme Prophet

He Preaches a Gospel of Liberation and then Fulfills the Office of Deliverer

December 1, 2013

It is the very beginning of advent season.  A time in which we excitedly anticipate Christmas – just as the Israelites anticipated the coming of the Messiah.

In His coming, Jesus would grow up to fulfill hundreds of prophecies and predictions and accomplish what no other man had ever accomplished.  In so doing He would fill three key offices: that of a prophet, a priest and a king.

Tonight we will examine the first of these, and see what Jesus’ role as prophet entailed, and what it is that He did to fulfill this role in His life and ministry. The text for this evening comes from Luke 4:16-21.

Luke makes two important points in this passage that we need to examine this evening.

  1. First, Jesus Christ is our Supreme Prophet, and His message is a gospel of liberation.
  1. Second, Jesus not only proclaims liberation, He also liberates. He is Daniel’s promised deliverer and covenant maker and ushers in a great antitypical jubilee.

What is a Prophet?

Now, before we go too much further, let me ask an obvious question: What is a prophet?  The answer is that, in short, a prophet is someone (in the Bible) who speaks on God’s behalf to God’s people.  Whereas a priest speaks to God on behalf of God’s people. 

Theologian Geerhardus Vos put it this way; “(a priest’s) function differs from that of a prophet in that the prophet moves from God toward man, whereas the priest moves from man toward God.”[i]

In the Old Testament, the office of a prophet was not a popular one.  God’s people had killed many of the prophets that He sent (Acts 7:51-52). And, I suppose in this way you could say Jesus was no different than the others!

However, what makes Jesus God’s supreme prophet is His proclamation of most important message God had ever sent His people: the Gospel of salvation.

It is this proclamation of Christ’s to which we now turn…

Exegesis of Luke 4:16-21

4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

Historical Foreground

Jesus has been preaching in the surrounding region, and his fame was beginning to build.  Now it was time to come home for His first appearance at the synagogue in Nazareth where He grew up since the start of His ministry.  It was a homecoming for Him of sorts.

The people were no doubt anxious to hear Jesus speak. Here was one of their own who had been gathering popularity throughout the region, and they were no doubt poised to accept Him.  But were they ready to accept His message?

20th Century South African theologian and pastor Norval Geldenhuys says, “It was customary to give such an opportunity in the synagogue to visiting rabbis; and especially as all were curious to hear Jesus.”

As Jesus came into the synagogue, we are told that He “stood up to read.” The practice of the day was to stand up to read the word of God, this was done out of respect. Once the reading was done, the rabbi would sit down and give a sermon.  The sermons of that day were not like they are today, they focused almost exclusively on instruction, rather than a public oration or preaching style (see Geldenhuys).

NOTE: John MacArthur and Darrel Block both give some time to the order of ceremony in a Synagogue (see Appendix 3 for more info on Synagogues) and it was something like this:

  1. Thanksgiving or “blessings” spoken in connection with the Shema
  2. Prayer, with response of “amen” by the congregation
  3. Reading a passage from the Pentateuch (in Hebrew followed by a translation into Aramaic cf. MacArthur/Block)
  4. Reading of a passage from the Prophets (called the “Haftarah” cf. Block)
  5. Sermon or word of exhortation – by any qualified male (so long as 10 males were present per Block)
  6. Benediction by the priest (if there was one present) to which the congregation responded with “Amen” and then a closing prayer.

 

4:17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

Jesus Fulfills the Predicted Role

Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT longing for a new and greater prophet.  And therefore it would be appropriate for Him to show from the prophets of old who He was.

But this passage isn’t the only one which pointed to his arrival.  There are other foundational passages that speak of a prophet that would arise who was greater than Moses, two of which are really important and we’ll look at now:

First, in Deuteronomy 18 Moses wrote the key passage that most Jews thought of when they thought about “the prophet” that would arise in his stead:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—[16] just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ [17] And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. [18] I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)

Second, we see in the New Testament that Peter confirms that it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophetic role.  In his sermon in Acts 3 in the Portico of Solomon, Peter says this:

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. [23] And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ [24] And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. [25] You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ [26] God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:22-26)

This prophet was Jesus Christ, and He was raised up to proclaim the gospel of repentance and “turning every one from…wickedness” in order that they would be “blessed.”

And so we see that this long-anticipated prophet has come, and the Apostles clearly believed that this role was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

4:18a  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me

The Holy Spirit in Christ’s Ministry

Now, let’s look at verse 18.  As Jesus opens the scroll He begins reading from the book of Isaiah – in what we would know today as chapter 61 verses 1 and 2 (though demarcations of this kind didn’t come for many hundred years later).

First and foremost we see that the Christ is one who has been “anointed by the Holy Spirit.”  This, as you recall, happened at the baptism of Jesus where John had been baptizing people and calling them to repentance.  Jesus, who would fulfill all the law perfectly, also went to be baptized.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. [16] And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

Everything that Jesus did was done being “filled with the Spirit.”  In fact, just prior to opening the scroll of Isaiah, in the passage before us today, it says, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country”  (Luke 4:14).

In fact Jesus Himself said that His work in the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38) was evidence of the fact that the kingdom of God had been ushered in:

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt. 12:27-28)

I think we sometimes undervalue or misunderstand the work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ. For instance, how could He be said to “grow in grace and knowledge” when He was already omniscient?  How could Jesus make it all the way to the cross in his humanity without sinning?  Well it wasn’t because the divine nature somehow reached over and controlled the human nature.  Rather, He fully submitted to the Spirit, and the Spirit imparted wisdom from the Father.  The Divine and the Human in Him did not “mix” or get lost somehow. Each was distinct, and we understand that union as communicating back and forth with each other.  And it is the Spirit who, somehow mysteriously, played a major part in this.

Geerhardus Vos explains: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

In His life and ministry Jesus submitted to the Spirit, but it is also important to recognize that the Spirit’s mission not to glorify Himself, but to shine the light of glory on Christ.  As Bruce Ware says, “All Scripture is given to us by the Spirit. And what the Spirit wants to talk about, most centrally, is Jesus!”

Therefore, Jesus is anointed with the Spirit, and in this way not only does He fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, but he also is empowered to proclaim the gospel. “The Spirit , then, does not work in an independent saving manner apart from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is only by the knowledge of this gospel that an can be saved” (Ware).

4:18b  to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

Messianic/Eschatological Overtones

Here we get to the heart of Isaiah’s message, and the mission of the one who was “anointed” by the Lord.

When the Jews heard Jesus quote this passage their minds would likely have been awash in ideas of a dawning age of God’s salvation. Isaiah 61 brought to the Jewish mind of the time the promise of prosperity and a golden age of peace and blessing from God.  For them it had heavy eschatological/messianic overtones (cf. Block). We have a similar excitement and anticipation as we wait for the return of Christ (cf. Rev. 21).

When Jesus read this and connected it with himself, the Jews would have understood that He was saying that He was ushering in a new age of salvation – no doubt leading them to wonder if He was the long awaited Messiah.

So picture yourself in the room at that moment as a first century Jew listening to this man Jesus – who you might have known growing up – read words from Isaiah 61 that bring to your mind thoughts and emotions connected with the coming of God’s Savior.  Jesus hasn’t said anything yet, but dreams of peace and prosperity immediately fill your mind as you look down at your callused hands, and feel the empty money bag on your hip.  You might cringe a bit as you remember recent killings or abuses by the Romans.  Your heart might doubt if there will ever be a savior for Israel; but this Jesus has spoken things with authority you’ve never heard before.  And now He’s reading Isaiah 61…

So What Does This Really Mean?

Let’s look closer at the text itself. First, the “good news” that is proclaimed is the gospel, which is continued on the next line.  The good news is that Jesus has come to free people from bondage, heal those who are sick, and give sight to the blind etc. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The second part of this message is that Jesus came to free captives.  Well, what kind of captives?  I believe that Jesus came to show that the prison He was freeing His people from was a prison of sin and death.  The Apostle Paul helps us understand example what was really meant by this when he says:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Listen to the words of our Lord when He would later explain this in more detail:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [33] They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [34] Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [37] I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. [38] I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:31-38)

But how is He going to set the captives free?  Through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, and His triumph over the grave. He paid the penalty for the sins that had for so long held His people in bondage.

The second and fourth lines are similar because when spoken from the lips of Jesus they tell us that He came to proclaim His own death: I have come to do more than set you free from earthly bondage, I have come to set you free from the oppression of spiritual bondage.

Lastly, the third line says that He will give site to the blind. The sight that He gave was not only physical – for Jesus healed multitudes of people during his ministry – but most importantly spiritual.  In fact, the healing of blind men and women during his ministry actually pointed to a greater healing of their spiritual site. For the God of this world had blinded the minds of those who didn’t believe, and as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Geldenhuys says, “God had sent Him to heal those who were broken-hearted and found themselves in spiritual distress; to proclaim deliverance to those who were captives in the power of sin and in spiritual wretchedness; to give back to the spiritually blind the power of sight; to cause those who were downcast and inwardly bruised to go forward in triumph.”

The physical promises and physical work of Jesus in his healing ministry – like many of those in the Old Testament – pointed to something greater.  Just as the promise of land in the OT pointed to our becoming a new creation in Christ, and the eventuality of a renewed heavens and earth, so too the miracles of Christ pointed to His ultimate work of spiritual redemption which began during His ministry here on earth and will be consummated one day when He returns.

Therefore the “good news” is this: that Jesus will heal your brokenness, will breathe new life into your spiritually dead soul, and will raise you to walk in newness of life. He is the Messiah, He is the anointed One, and He has come to usher in the kingdom of God in power – a kingdom where the blind see, and the poor have been made rich in the riches that only God can give.

Praise God that He sent a Savior to set us free from our bondage to sin! Not by our own efforts or will, but by the powerful work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee

Finally, let us examine the last part of this passage.  There are a few key points to be made, and the last one we will examine in-depth.

First, it tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ mission during His first advent. Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner notes that when Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah, He notably skips past the whole part on judgment. The rest of 61:2 says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Perhaps what this tells us is that during Jesus’ first advent He has come to usher in his kingdom, to proclaim the gospel, and the fulfillment of the year of Jubilee.  But when He returns, He will judge both the quick and the dead.  Jesus is telling us something about his mission here on earth during the first advent – it is a mission of salvation – he came to seek and save the lost.

Secondly, this statement used in this context is Jesus’ way of ending the gospel message he’s just proclaimed with an exclamation point.  This gospel message he’s just proclaimed is so magnificent that marks the beginning of a new age of redemption.

And it is Jesus who is at the epicenter of this new redemptive age. He is the fulfillment of the (“typological”) past, and is the redeemer of all mankind. It is the announcement of the kingdom of God (His kingdom) and the Messianic age. Geldenhuys says, “It amounted to a declaration by Him that the words which He had read to them had finally come to fulfillment – in His own person…thus to ‘proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’, i.e. to announce the Messianic age – the period ushered in by His appearance, in which God will grant His salvation to His people.”

The phrase “year of favor” is Isaiah’s way of referencing the Jewish celebration of Jubilee. We find this celebration first described by Moses in Leviticus 25 (8-12):

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to all of the stipulations that Israel was to keep in this year. Here are the basics (summarized by Sam Storms):

  1. The return of all property, according to the original Mosaic distribution, to the original owner or to his family
  2. The release of all Jewish slaves
  3. The cancellation of debts
  4. The land is to lie fallow, i.e., it is neither to be sown, pruned reaped, nor gathered for an entire year.

The year of Jubilee ensured that the poor and needy were taken care of and the land was properly looked after and not overworked.  It also emphasized that it was God who owned the land (vs. 23), and that (like us today) they were sojourners in the land. Lastly, it laid down rules for redemption.  “If a person gets into difficulty or danger, then a relative (his “nearest redeemer,” v. 25) is to redeem him from his dire straits” (ESV Study notes) – A principle we find especially prominent in the book of Ruth, and in later on in our Lord and Savior’s redemption of us.

If the people of Israel kept these laws, then God promised that He would bless them greatly and they would “dwell in the land securely” (vs. 19)

So Isaiah is saying that when the prophet comes He will bring in a time of great jubilee. Sam Storms helps us understand the importance of how the Jewish people viewed the year of Jubilee:

The jubilee, therefore, was a year in which social justice, equity, freedom, pardon, release, and restoration were emphasized and experienced. The jubilee signaled a new beginning, the inauguration of moral, spiritual, and national renewal. Hence it is no surprise that the jubilee became a symbol and prefigurement of the ultimate redemption, release, and restoration that God would accomplish spiritually on behalf of his people.

Now, eventually, the anticipation of a coming deliverer (like Moses) and prince who would make a strong new covenant with His people, would soon be made known to a prophet living among the Babylonians.  That man was Daniel.

Let us turn to Daniel 9, and beginning in verse 24 we’ll read through the end of the chapter. This section of Scripture is important because it was Daniel who was told by the angel Gabriel to expect a coming Messiah who would fulfill these prophecies from Isaiah 61, and usher in a time of great deliverance and redemption:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.

Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:24-27, ESV)

You may know this already, but Daniel’s 70-week prophecy anticipates two things: deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, and from the captivity of their sin. And that is the “good news” that Jesus has just declared. Daniel himself prays specifically for the former, but when God sends Gabriel to announce the vision we find that God has a bigger plan in mind. The deliverance from captivity in Bablyon would, like that of Egypt hundreds of years before, only symbolize the great deliverance of His people from sin and death.

That is why we have the 70 weeks.  Each week represents 7 years, and from the time of the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. to beginning of Christ’s ministry is 49 weeks.  The final week would land between 29-34 A.D. (per Gentry).

***Where the exact dates land isn’t as important as the theological idea that is being conveyed to Daniel here (cf. Storms), namely that Jesus is said to be “cut-off” for His people to die a vicarious substitutionary death for you and for me.[ii]

“This (the year of Jubilee mentioned in Lev. 25) all takes on special significance when we realize that there is decreed for Israel a total period of seventy sevens of years or 490 years, which is to say 10 JUBILEE ERAS, ‘an intensification of the jubilee concept point to the ultimate, antitypical jubilee.’ The jubilary year of God which the consummation of redemption and restoration is to occur is described in Isaiah 61:1-2” (Storms).

In Summary…

“When Jesus declares that in himself the jubilee of God has come he is saying, in effect, that the seventy weeks of Daniels have reached their climax. The new age of jubilee, of which all previous jubilees were prefigurements, has now dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus. The goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy is the consummate jubilary salvation of God!” (Storms)

Jesus was the man spoken of here. He is the “anointed one” and He is the one who makes a “Strong covenant” with the people and He is the one who puts “and end to sacrifice and offering” because He Himself was our sacrifice.

4:20-21 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Conclusion 

When Jesus rolls up that scroll, and hands it to the attendant, He then turns to the whole room declaring that they will witness the in-breaking of the kingdom of God!  It’s as if He just handed the scroll aside and declared, “That. Just. Happened.”  BOOM!

It rocks every listener to the core – and it ought to shake us up as well.

Jesus, sitting in the role of the prophet of God (the Supreme Prophet) is declaring that HE is the one whom the former prophets anxiously awaited.

He is God’s Supreme Prophet to the world and is declaring the end of captivity for those held in the bonds of sin, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. This is the Gospel of Christ. The captivity in Babylon, and in Egypt prior, were types and shadows of the captivity of sin and death that held us in bondage until He came.

Jesus is the one who has come to free the captives. He is the one who will be ushering in a kingdom and age of grace.  Furthermore, it is HE who is most worthy to be celebrated!  “I am here to fulfill the year of jubilee, and usher in the year of the Lord’s favor!”

He is the Message and the Messenger. He is the Word and the Prophet.  You see, a prophet of yesteryear could declare a message of liberty, but couldn’t bring it to pass. It took a deliverer to bring that message of liberty to the people. Jesus is both deliverer and message bearer. 

That is why He is the Supreme Prophet – He is an effectual Prophet who declares liberty (the gospel) and then proceeds to deliver (and usher in an age of liberty for millions of His chosen ones).

Christ has come to fulfill the entire law.  It is kept in His life of righteous obedience, and His sacrificial death on our behalf. His life and death mark the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. He has come to make a new covenant with us, to put an end to sacrifice and offering (for He is the fulfillment of the Temple), to release us from our captivity to sin, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – peace in our hearts and a new creation in our lives.

Christmas Conclusion: We are on the precipice of celebrating the greatest birth in world history – the advent of God’s last and greatest Prophet.  We do it knowing that Jesus Himself is our great celebration – not simply because He was born, but because He came to SET US FREE.

Rightly did the prophets say of Him:
 
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

 

Closing Prayer

 

Appendix 1 – Reading the OT through the Lens of Christ’s Words

I think it would be wise of us to recognize that there are often times in Scripture when we read of Jesus saying something that we don’t understand.  This was certainly the case with those who heard Him preach and claim to be fulfilling OT prophecies. In fact, many times we look at the passages He is quoting and even we, who have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, do not immediately grasp the connection.  For instance I was recently reading in John 13 and came to verse 18 where Jesus says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”  He’s quoting David here who said “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who late my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9).

If I were to read the Psalms without having read John 13, as many of the Jews had prior to Christ, I would simply assume that David was talking about Saul.  And that assumption would probably be correct with the limited knowledge I had. But this is my point: As we read the words of Jesus, and what He has to say about Himself, we need to trust those words explicitly.

In his commentary on Hebrews, Phillip Hughes says well that, “…over and over again in the New Testament shows that passages in the Old Testament have a significance and an application beyond and in addition to the original occasion of their composition, and this is especially so with reference to the redemptive work of Christ.”

Therefore, we need to understand that our sovereign God has placed words in the mouths of the prophets that even they might not have fully understood.  In other words, God knew all the words the prophets would write, for their words were inspired by the Spirit of God, and He had a plan for those words that may have been fulfilled both in their time, and in the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.  

Appendix 2 – Daniel’s 70 Weeks

As I compiled this sermon, I found that there are many competing views of Daniel’s prophecy, even within the reformed tradition. I spent time dealing mostly with two prominent (and current) theologians, Baptist Theologian Peter Gentry and Baptist Theologian Sam Storms.

Peter Gentry has some helpful remarks on Daniel’s vision:

The vision of Daniel’s seventy weeks, then, can be explained simply. It refers to a period of seventy sabbaticals or periods of seven years required to bring in the ultimate jubilee: release from sin, the establishment of everlasting righteousness, and consecration of the Temple.  During the first seven sabbaticals the city of Jerusalem is restored. Then for sixty-two sabbaticals there is nothing to report. In the climatic seventieth week, Israel’s King arrives and dies vicariously for his people.  Strangely, desecration of the temple similar to that by Antiochus Epiphanies in the Greek Empire is perpetrated by the Jewish people themselves, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. The events are fulfilled in the person of Jessus of Nazareth. He is the coming King. His crucifixion is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and the basis of the New Covenant with man. His death is not “for himself”, but rather vicarious. The rejection of Jesus as Messiah and the desecration of Him as the true Temple at his trial by the high priest result in judgment upon the Herodian temple, carried out eventually in 70A.D. The notion of a gap between the 69th and 70th week is contrary to a vision of chronological sequence. The prophecy is remarkable for its precision as it fits the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth.”

But Sam Storms, who has read Gentry, agrees that we have to read Daniel’s seventy weeks in terms of Sabbaticals (theologically instead of chronologically). Still, he has a different (and very helpful) take on this:

My point is that if Jeremiah’s “seventy years” turn out to be only “sixty-six” or even “fifty-eight” we should not be overly concerned that Daniel’s “seventy-sevens” end up being something other than precisely 490 years.”

This is different from Gentry who has done some gymnastics to show that the exact year of Christ’s dying on the cross is likely halfway through the final week of the 70 sabbaticals. But even Gentry seems to realize there is some ambiguity as to the exact year of Christ’s death.  Therefore, it is impossible to know for sure whether He died halfway through the week, or at the beginning of it, or near the end etc. from the historical record we have.

But Storms and Gentry both agree overall that this passage in Daniel is closely related to our passage in Luke.  As Storms says, “This is the passage that our Lord quotes in Luke 4:16-21 and applies to his own person and work. In other words, the fulfillment and anti-type of the prophetic and typical jubilary year has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ! Thus both Isaiah and Luke employ the Mosaic instruction (he had quoted from Leviticus 25 on the year of Jubilee before this) concerning the jubilee to describe the dawning of God’s kingdom in the person and work of Jesus.”

Bryan Chapell (of the Gospel Coalition) also summarizes the passage well, “Daniel’s vision I, unquestionably, ultimately about Christ’s gracious work in behalf of his people…Jerusalem and the temple will be restored, followed by a time of trouble, culminating in the appearance of the Messiah, who himself will be cut off before Jerusalem and its sanctuary are destroyed. These details align with Cyrus’ release of the captives, Jerusalem’s rebuilding, Christ’s coming, his crucifixion, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by the future Roman emperor Titus in 10 A.D.”

Gentry’s overview of Daniel’s prayer sounds like this: Daniels’s prayer is focused upon the physical return from Babylon – the first stage in redemption, but the angelic message and vision of the seventy weeks is focused upon the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of covenant and righteousness – the second stage in return from exile.

Appendix 3 – The Advent of Synagogues

John MacArthur has a fascinating short history of how synagogues came about in his commentary on the first five chapters of Luke’s Gospel. The rudimentary basics are that they could be established if there were at least 10 men in a village (this is something we saw during a study on the book of Acts – if there were not that many men in the town or village, as could be the case in the diaspora, then people would gather by the river if the town had one).

These meeting groups cropped up around the time of the Babylonian Captivity because the temple had been destroyed and there was no one central location of worship and sacrifice.  I’m not entirely sure where or if they even did sacrificing during that time.

The structures were made of stone, generally, and faced (or had windows that faced?) Jerusalem.

Appendix 4The Chiastic Structure of Luke 4:16b-4:20d (as outlined in Block)

the synagogue (4:16b)
  standing (4:16c)
     receiving the scripture (4:17a)
        opening the scripture (4:17b)
            preaching the good news (4:18c)
                  proclaiming release to the captive (4:18d)
                        giving sight to the blind (4:18e)
                  setting free the oppressed (4:18f)
            proclaiming acceptable year of the Lord (4:19a)
        closing the scripture (4:20a)
     returning the scripture (4:20b)
  sitting (4:20c)
the synagogue (4:20d) 
 

Appendix 5 – The Year of Jubilee

I liked and wanted to have in here the summary of the ESV Study notes on Leviticus 25 which state:

This provided a periodic restoration of the means to earn a living for each family in an agrarian society. (The jubilee did not equalize all possessions in Israel, however, since possessions such as cattle and money were not reallocated.) The prohibitions of the jubilee are the same as for the sabbatical year. The land is to lie fallow for two years in a row: the forty-ninth year (sabbatical year) and the fiftieth year (jubilee). This law prohibits the amassing of large estates, which would reduce many Israelites to tenant status on their ancestral land (cf. Isa. 5:8).

Also, I noted from the text that if an Israelite is forced to sell his land temporarily, he and his family retain the right of redemption. The land may be redeemed in one of three ways:

(1) a kinsman-redeemer buys back the land;
(2) the seller himself is able to buy it back; or
(3) it is restored to the rightful owner at the jubilee.
 
It is interesting that I have heard in the past that the people of Israel never celebrated the year of Jubilee! In other words, they were disobedient to the command they’d been given.  However, despite their disobedience, and eventual exile into the land of Babylon, God still had a great plan for His chosen people.

Now, I didn’t want to mention this in the sermon itself, mainly because I didn’t find any scholarship to back this up. I had heard it from the pulpit before (not sure where), but without hard evidence to support it, I couldn’t make it a major theme of the sermon.  Nonetheless, it is an interesting thought to consider.

Appendix 6 – The Kingdom of God in Luke 4

I didn’t spend a ton of time talking about the in-breaking of the kingdom in this passage, but some of the work of Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner has been very helpful as I worked on the passage as a whole, and he has a little section on Luke 4 in his ‘New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ’ which is worth reading.  Here are some of the most interesting points he makes about the passage in relationship to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Christ:

Jesus began by citing the OT Scriptures and claiming that they reach fulfillment in his person and ministry. The claim is a stunning one, for the OT text refers to the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises. Jesus claimed that he is anointed with the eschatological Spirit (cf. Is. 44:3; Ez. 11:18-19; 36:26-27; Joel 2:28). The good news of the release from exile had now been realized through him. The year of the Lord’s favor and the liberty of God’s people had arrived. It does not appear here that Jesus merely states that these promises will be fulfilled at the consummation of all things. Even now, through his healing ministry, the blind were receiving sight. The gospel that he proclaimed means that the poor were hearing the glad tidings in the present. Indeed, Jesus skipped over the line in Is. 61 that speaks of the Lord’s vengeance and referred only to the time of his favor. This suggests that the present time is not a time of vengeance but the day of salvation. The day of vengeance was delayed and yet, surprisingly enough, the day of favor and salvation had dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus.

ENDNOTES

[i] Vos elsewhere says, “The Son’s unique greatness, his exaltation above man constitutes his chief qualification for the revealership. As a revealer he represents not man but God; therefore the nearer he stands to God the better he is qualified.” So the office of prophet was an office of revelation. And Jesus was the supreme agent of God’s revelation. The same was true of Jesus, who came with a supremely glorious message, yet it offended the people of Israel because it didn’t fit into their presuppositions.

[ii] As Isaiah says:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
(Isaiah 49:8-9, ESV)

Study Notes 10-13-13: To Know Me is to Know My Father

14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is the Beauty and Radiance of the Father

First, Jesus is saying here that I am so much like the Father, that once you know me, you will know the Father.

Hebrews tells us that, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3a), and Paul adds, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15a).

John testified that the disciples beheld His glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and Peter said, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16b).

To really understand how Jesus is like the Father is difficult to know. But I think we can assume that in His character (His characteristics and personality etc.), ontology (His being and questions of His eternity etc.) and substance (what His is made of etc.), He is the same as God the Father. This was the subject of much debate in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and was finally settled (for the most part) at the Councils of Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon in 451 where it was agreed upon and affirmed that Christ is of the same “substance” (homoousios) as the Father, although He is a different “person” (this is just a summary and doesn’t do the debate justice, obviously).

His Gracious Self-Disclosure

Secondly, I was struck this week as I was studied this verse by something that Leon Morris said in his commentary on John:

Throughout the Old Testament, as Dodd has pointed out, the knowledge of God is not normally claimed. It is looked for as a future blessing, or people may be urged to know God, but it is very rare indeed to find assertions that people know God (as in Ps. 36:10). John sees this whole situation as changed in Christ. As a result of what he has done (“front now on”) his followers really know God. It is a revolution both in religious experience and in theological understanding.

John provided context for this in chapter one:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)

This is what theologians call “progressive revelation” because God has progressively revealed Himself to mankind. He did so most fully in the incarnate Son, and He continues this work in the abiding Spirit who takes up residence within His children.

As I began meditating upon the heart of Christ to make known the Father to us, and the obvious desire for the Father for Christ to reconcile us to Himself, it just blew me away. Contrasted against my sinfulness who am I to deserve such a gift? Why does He want to know me? How is that possible?

Let us simply reflect on the intimacy Christ has given us with the Creator of all things. That somehow we can have a personal relationship with God, and get to “know” Him. That, in fact, to know Him is what we were created for. These truths just leave me speechless.

This was the mission of Christ, to reveal the Father to sinful men as He had never been revealed before. His gracious self-disclosure ought to bring us to worship, and leave us with thankful hearts today.

Note the Eschatological Shift…Things Are Different Now

Lastly, (and really flowing from point two) the eschatological significance of Jesus’ words “from now on” can’t be underestimated. Like in Romans 8:1 where Paul sees a significant redemptive-historical shift (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”), Jesus says that ‘from now on you will have a relationship with the Father unlike ever before because I have “made Him known.”’

Herman Ridderbos says, “Jesus connects their knowledge of the Father and their life in fellowship with the Father not only to the future but above all to the faith experience they have received in their earthly contact with him.”

Therefore, unlike at any other time in the history of humanity, God’s people will have an unprecedented intimacy with their Creator, and it will come through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Show Us the Father

For the Jews, the ultimate blessing was to see the Father’s face. They lived in the hopes of one day seeing His face. As R.C. Sproul says, “It was as if Philip said: ‘Jesus, we’ve seen some fantastic things – You changed the water into wine, You fed the five thousand, You walked on water…But now, please give us the big one, then we’ll be satisfied. Do just one more miracle. Peel back the veil and let us see the face of God.’”

The sentiment that Philip expresses here is probably best expressed in the Aaronic blessing in Numbers:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.
(Numbers 6:24-27)
 

We also see this in Moses who asked God to allow him to see Him in His glory. Do you remember God’s response? Let’s read it together:

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23, ESV)

This reminds us again of what John said at the beginning of the gospel, “No one has ever seen God (John 1:18a).”  John Frame says this verse “means that no one has ever seen God apart from his voluntary theophanic-incarnational revelation. ‘God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’ (1:18b).”

If the Jews lived longing to see God’s face, how much more ought we who have His Spirit living within us live Coram Deo (before the face of God).

14:9-11 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? [10] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. [11] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

You can just feel the heart of Christ here and I’m sure Philip could as well. It seems to be a tone of exasperation, or at least a gentle rebuke. I don’t think its fair that we judge these disciples too harshly though – would we have been any better able to discern what Jesus was saying? Given the world around them, they were actually picking up ten times more than all the other men who had decades of scholarship and theological training under their belts.

Nonetheless, Jesus gets the attention here of the entire group (the word “you” is plural in the Greek, and so He is speaking to the entire group and not just Philip), and doubles down on what He had just emphasized about the unity of the Godhead.

The Nature of the Trinity: Diversity, Unity, and Equality

Jesus says that, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” and then “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  How are we to understand this correctly and clearly?

First, within the Trinity we must understand that there are three key principles to keep in mind if we are to rightly understand the nature of God: Diversity, Unity, and Equality.

Statements of Unity are obvious in this passage: “The father is in me”, “The father who dwells in me” “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Diversity is assumed in that Christ is referring to a different person than Himself when He refers to the “Father” – for instance He says, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Therefore, we assume that just as there is unity, there is diversity.

Finally, there is also Equality within the Godhead. The Son and the Father and the Spirit are equal in power and being and substance. However, they have different roles. It is to the nature of these diverse roles that Christ speaks when He says “I do not speak on my own authority.” He is not saying that the Father is “above” Him in rank, but rather each person of the Godhead plays a different role in the execution of their redemptive plan. The Son is not subordinate to the Father in rank, but is submissive to the Father in role.

This is difficult to get straight in our minds without slipping into some kind of heretical error, and I’ve found that word pictures always end up leading to promoting either modalism, or some kind of monophysitism.

“Miracles are Christological Sign-Posts”

Lastly, Jesus says that if they can’t find the faith to believe what He is saying about the nature of the Godhead, then at least believe because of the “works.” What does this mean? Why should miracles “convince” them? Well, its not necessarily about “convincing” or showing off power.

As D.A. Carson says:

Thoughtful meditation on, say, the turning of the water into wine, the multiplication of the loaves or on the raising of Lazarus will disclose what these miracles signify: viz. that the saving kingdom of God is at work in the ministry of Jesus, and this is in ways tied to his very person. The miracles are non-verbal Christological signposts.

Leon Morris is also helpful, “Faith on the basis of miracles is better than not faith at all. In John the characteristic of the miracles is not that they are wonders, nor that they show mighty power, but that they are ‘signs.’ For those who have eyes to see they point people to God.”

The power that has been manifested in the ministry of Jesus is evidence that He is not only from God (as even Nicodemus and the Sanhedrin understood cf. 3:2) but that He in fact is God.

14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

It certainly must have bewildered the disciples (at this point at least) to have heard Jesus say that they would do even greater works than what He had done. But as F.F. Bruce says, “His promise indeed came true: in the first few months after his death and resurrection many more men and women became his followers through their witness than had done so during his personal ministry in Galilee and Judea.”

Morris comments, “After his departure his followers were able to influence much larger numbers of people and to work in widely scattered places.”

We will do “greater” works than Him in that we will be spreading the gospel empowered by the spirit to millions of people for thousands of years.

His disciples can do this “because” He went to the Father, namely because He would send “another helper” – the Holy Spirit – which we will shortly discuss.

Some stumble over the idea that the disciples could have done “greater” works than Christ, but once we understand what Jesus means by “greater”, there is no issue here. First, perhaps its better for us to think of “greater” as “more” rather than “better”.  As John MacArthur says, “The greater works to which Jesus referred were not greater in power than those He performed, but greater in extent.”

But secondly, the phrase is not quite so offensive when we realize that it is not as if what we do is superior in anyway to what He did, because what we do is not of us in the first place. Our work is not our work; it is His. It is him who is working through us.

Therefore, when he says “greater works than these will he do” (notice he’s talking to the “believer” and not specifically just to the disciples here in his immediate presence – there is a definite look toward legacy here) he says that because its him who will be doing the works of salvation through us!

The emphasis is not on miracles of healing but on the miracle of salvation, as MacArthur says, “…those physical miracles were not primarily what Jesus had in mind, since the apostles did not do more powerful miracles than He had. When the Lord spoke of His followers performing greater works, He was referring to the extent of the spiritual miracle of salvation.”

And so it is that He will be glorified in and through us. He will continue His work of saving the lost on earth until He comes back again. As Morris says, “…in doing their ‘greater things’ they were but his agents”, and so too are we.  What a great privilege!

John 1-11: An Overview

Well tomorrow morning my Sunday School class will be diving back into the book of John.  But before we dive headlong into where we left off 3 months ago, I wanted to provide a few notes by way of an overview of the first 11 chapters.  By no means are these comprehensive, but rather they express the key ideas from the first half of John’s gospel.  I hope they prove helpful – please note that they are my notes and not meant to be much more than an outline with some thoughts, so if I’ve erred in grammar or spelling feel free to chuckle and continue on!  (:

The Gospel of John: An overview of the first 11 chapters

Chapter 1

The Prologue

John begins his gospel by describing the eternality of the Second Person of the Godhead, and by stating in no uncertain terms that Jesus is that Person.  Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Christ, and the Word of God incarnate.  By Him and through Him and for Him are all things created and made that have been made.

Verse 14 says: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The very word that called all being into being has condescended into His created being with the mission of inaugurating a new creation within His chosen ones in order that they would fulfill that for which He originally created them: the bear His image, to rule over all creation, and to bring Him glory and joy (Jn. 10:10).

The Calling of the Disciples and the Angus Dei

John the Baptist’s mission is described here, as well as his relation to the Christ, “he whose comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (vs. 27).

When John saw Jesus coming toward him the next day he proclaimed “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  This is what is known as the “Angus Dei” (Latin for the Lamb of God), and by stating this John is saying that Jesus has come to die for the sins of His people – a people not limited to ethnic Israel, but rather from all nations and ethnicities (“the world”).

After this, Jesus called His disciples – and John makes special mention of the calling of Nathanael “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael marveled at the knowledge of Christ – supernatural knowledge that only God could know.  Yet Jesus surprised him further and invoked the image of Jacob’s ladder by stating, “truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vs. 51).

Chapter 2

The Miracle at Cana – Water to Wine

Jesus’ ministry opens in this gospel not with a description of His desert temptation, but with a miracle at a wedding feast.  John’s intentions in his gospel are set forth near the end of his gospel:

…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Therefore, John sets forth 7 signs and 7 discourses throughout his book to show forth the deity of Christ and make the case that we ought to believe, and by believing “have life in his name.” Each sign points to something greater than itself (hence the name “sign” used by John as opposed to “miracle”).

At the wedding feast Jesus scandalizes our traditional thinking about wine, and what is “necessary.”  For He didn’t come to simply heal some people, but rather to give life and that more abundantly.  The wine He made was good wine, and it was abundantly served to a group of people who were already likely a bit tipsy.  The point is that the wine Christ has come to give overflows, as does His grace.  It is the best kind of wine, it is rich and full and deep and never ending. His wine is the new wine of the gospel and it makes the heart glad!

The First Temple Cleansing and Christ’s knowledge

One of the first things Christ did was enter into the temple at Jerusalem and drive out the corrupt businessmen who had been charging ridiculously high interest rates.  This was done in a premeditated way (vs. 15 states that He made a whip of cords which would have taken some time).  This wasn’t an uncontrollable anger, it was a righteous anger.

In this act of cleansing, He signified the importance of the temple as the house of God, and pointed to Himself as the greater fulfillment of the temple:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21)

After this John tells us that when He was teaching in Jerusalem many started to believe in Him, but that Christ didn’t “entrust himself” to any man.  The reason?  Because He knew what was in man.  Christ knew the nature of man; He knew his depravity and his deceit.  He didn’t entrust Himself or His mission to others but took upon Himself the entirety of the mission and trusted in the will of the Father alone.

Chapter 3

Nicodemus and Being Born Again

Perhaps one of the most important passages in Scripture is found in the first parts of the third chapter of John.  A ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in secret at nighttime and begins to ask Him what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus gives a seemingly enigmatic answer:

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

What He meant was this: you cannot by the work of your own hands, or deeds be admitted into the kingdom of God.  You must be born again of the Spirit. The Spirit must quicken your soul to life before you can “see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus also sets forth the sovereignty of God in salvation:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

In other words, it is God who chooses who is saved, and you cannot control this, but rather you must obey the Spirit and submit to the work of God, for He is sovereign and His ways are not our ways. The conversation ended with a rebuke of Nicodemus, who though he was a teacher of Israel did not understand these things. The implication is that as a teacher of Israel and one familiar with the Scriptures, he should have been able to put two and two together. Therefore condemnation would indeed have been just.

Moses’ Serpent, and the Love of God

Christ tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up” as Moses “lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” – this is a reference to a time in Israel’s history when they were dying in droves of poisonous snake bites in the wilderness. Moses was instructed by God to set upon a poll a bronzed serpent, and whoever looked upon the serpent would be healed. Of course the implication here is that by looking to the cross and the work of Christ alone we are saved.  There was nothing the Israelites had to do other than look and have faith and God would heal them.  They simply had to obey and believe – now the implication is that some did not even do this. It seems so easy, so simple.  Trust and obey.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (vs. 15 says “whoever believes in him may have eternal life). But because of man’s depravity we still protest and refuse the great gift.

Jesus goes on to explain that God’s love has been made manifest to the entire world in His Son, and that because of this manifestation the entire world stands under condemnation. How many of us are familiar with verse 16 but stop without reading 19-21? Listen to these important verses:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)

The chapter ends with John’s description of John the Baptist’s desire to see Christ’s ministry set above his own and we read the famous words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The reason the Baptist wants to decrease if for his own joy.  For he remarks:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (John 3:29)

There was no improper pride in John the Baptist, his joy was completely in Christ, and he reveled in the glory of his own humility before the Son of God. He counted himself nothing before the ministry of Christ.

Lastly, John sets the stage for further arguments about the authority of Christ by stating:

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. [32] He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. [33] Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. [34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. [35] The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:31-36)

Chapter 4

The Samaritan Women and the Official’s Son

Most of chapter four is spent describing the scene of Christ at the well with a woman of Samaria.  We find here in this encounter that Christ has a divine knowledge that surprises the woman, and that He is the bearer of eternal life, a theme which John weaves throughout the book.  Listen to what Christ says to this 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)

The woman doesn’t understand this saying at first, but Christ is so gracious and so condescending that He reveals to this Samaritan woman more than He does to the leader of the Jews. He tells her no parable, but give her a beautiful description of His person and gift:

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” [26] Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)

Furthermore, He reveals to her something we ought to note, namely that in His coming there was a change in paradigm. He came to usher in a new covenant, and with it a change in the nature and even geography of worship.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. [24] God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Here is where so-called “temple theology” comes to the fore. We need to understand that there is a certain amount of discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament we see a central place of worship, God dwells with man but it is in a temple in the Holy of Holies. Now, the greater manifestation of the Temple has come, and when He ascends to heaven He will send His Spirit to indwell His children thereby making His dwelling with men, and transforming us into His temples.  No longer do we need a temple to gather close to God, for His dwells in each of us, just as Jeremiah predicted.

Lastly, in going to the Samaritans Christ is showing that salvation has come to all men, not simply to the Jews, and in this crucial way God’s covenant with Abraham is going to be fulfilled:

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 22:17-18)

And what is perhaps most amazing to me about this is the call of Christ for us to enter into His work, for He states:

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. [36] Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. [37] For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ [38] I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:35-38)

Therefore John has laid forth both the sovereignty of God in salvation (chapter 3) and now the privilege of entering into His work as His hands and feet to take the gospel to the field which are white for the harvest.

The chapter ends with John telling of how Christ healed the son of an official – the second of the signs that John describes in his gospel. The key to this sign is understanding that it was these miracles that were confirming the word of Christ. The miracles in and of themselves were only a way to point people to the person and word of Christ, and that is why John notes that the miracle led to belief in the household of the official (vs. 53).

Chapter 5

The Healing at Bethesda on the Sabbath

By this time in John’s gospel we have seen how the signs that Christ is doing point to a larger significance about who He is and what He has come to do. In a similar way, Jesus has been showing how Old Testament traditions, laws, and even buildings such as the temple, point to Him.  Thus Christ is the great fulfillment of what was only previously seen in shadow.  The way Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians is worth noting:

For 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 Corinthians 1:20)

Now we find that as Christ heals a man who was both blind and paralyzed the Jewish leaders become incensed. Why? Because He healed on the Sabbath (vs. 16). They are not happy for the healed man, and have no joy over the work of God.  Christ’s healing on the Sabbath was meant to point to two great realities:

  1. He was/is the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
  2. He is Lord of the Sabbath

The former is a matter of typology, and the latter of authority.

About the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the author of Hebrews says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:8-10).” And Paul says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord” (Rom. 14:5-6a).

Concerning the authority of Christ, John focuses on this for the remainder of the chapter, and he shows that the Jewish authorities were also focused on this point – for they saw that Christ was making Himself equal with God” (vs. 18).

In this chapter, Christ sought to show that His authority came directly from God, and that the prophets pointed toward Him (vs. 46-47). A few key passages are as follows:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:19-21 ESV)

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. [31] If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. [32] There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. (John 5:30-32 ESV)

But more than just describing the authority He had from God, Jesus also described how He had authority in himself granted by the Father simply because of who He was:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:25-26 ESV)

This is an amazing statement of power.  Christ had been given the power to grant life, and the power to deal out judgment leading to death. Is there a greater authority in the universe as we know it?  No indeed.

Lastly, the blindness and depravity of man is set forth by Christ as the reason for their mishandling of His ministry:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [41] I do not receive glory from people. [42] But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. [43] I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. [44] How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. [46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39-47)

They cannot believe because they seek their own glory and have not the Spirit of God within them.  I don’t think He could have made the case any more plain to these puffed up men.

Chapter 6

Jesus Feeds the 5000 and Walks on Water

The 4th and 5th signs are performed by Christ in the first part of chapter 6 which boasts of some of the most difficult and profound doctrine we have encountered thus far.  First, we learn that the Passover is once again at hand (vs. 4 – probably the 2nd of 3 Passover feasts that mark His ministry) and thousands of men and women and children have been following Him to hear His teaching. This is perhaps one of the pinnacles of His ministry as far as shear mass of following is concerned, but as we’ll see soon, by the end of chapter 6 many of these people will fall away because they cannot stomach the difficult doctrine of predestination and God’s sovereignty.

When Christ feeds the 5000 here, there is a beautiful sense in which once again His bounty and overflowing grace is on display. We also see that He doesn’t want any of the food to be lost (vs. 12), perhaps pointing toward His own power of preservation for those who have been saved. After the miracle is finished, the people are so enraptured by His power that they move to take Him by force and make Him their king. He alludes them, however, and goes up onto a mountain by himself – a picture of what we ought to do when the world tries to force its will upon us, we need to flee to the mountain or the quiet place and commune with God, taking safety in the cleft of His might.

After the feeding of the masses Christ’s disciples have gotten into a boat and are attempting to cross over to Capernaum. But the sea, which often becomes tempestuous due to its geography, became enraged and made the crossing very difficult. It is then that John describes Christ’s coming to them – but not on a boat or another vessel – rather, He has come to them by walking on the very surface of what is not a surface at all: He is walking on water. It is worth noting that the reaction of the disciples is one of fear (vs. 19).  They were perhaps more frightened by the sight of Christ walking on water than of the prospect of losing their lives in the storm.

After Christ comes to them, the boat immediately finds itself on the opposite side of the water. His words are telling “It is I; do not be afraid.”  When Christ is with us, all objects of fear melt in the face of His calming power.  Indeed, the God incarnate was the only object worth of their “fear”, and He was the one ministering to their souls, and bringing them safely (if not instantly) across the sea.

The Bread of Life and a Hard Saying

In this difficult discourse, Jesus shows men for who they really are, and sets forth a doctrine that is most difficult – the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Let’s look at how the chapter unfolds in a few succinct bullets:

The Nature of Man: People come seeking Jesus but really only seeking his bread – we seek after the things he can give us but not himself (vs. 26). We want the benefits of God. But no one seeks after God himself (Rom. 3:11-12).

Faith Alone: How do we do the works of God? This is the work of God, to believe in him whom he has sent. (vs. 28-29) This passage shows faith alone apart from works is what leads to salvation.

The Claims of Christ and Eternal Life: I am the bread of life (vs. 35) – whoever comes to me shall never hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Assurance: All who believe in Christ are those whom the Father gives to Jesus, and these people He doesn’t cast out (vs. 37-40) and will raise up on the last day. What a powerful statement! We can lean on His power to keep us until the end.

Sovereignty: Christ proclaims now that no one can believe – or “come to Jesus” – unless the Father draws him! (vs. 44-46) Therefore, God is the sovereign initiator of the drawing of men to Christ and therefore salvation.

The Response: The disciples say, “This is a hard saying!” (vs. 60) Not because it is tough to understand, but because it is tough to swallow. But Christ responds and says that the flesh will not help them understand the things of the Spirit (vs. 63).  Then in verse 65 Jesus says that it is the Spirit who gives help in coming to the Father.  Therefore we see that the role of the Spirit is being set forth here: it is the Holy Spirit who brings us into newness of life and draws us to the Father.

The Result: The people can’t stomach His doctrine, just as they can’t stomach it today!  How dare He impinge upon the freedom of mankind to make their own choices without aid from God! So they leave Him: “After this many of disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (vs. 66). But the disciples stayed with Christ, but even in this Jesus exalted His own work in them (“did I not choose you, the twelve?” vs. 70).

Chapter 7

The chapter opens with Jesus being rejected by his brothers (vs. 5), and ends with Him declaring himself to be the bearer of “living water.” Chapter 7 is the first of three chapters whose background is the Feast of the Tabernacles, and this is the final fall feast before the last 6 months or so of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The progression of events once Christ goes up to the feast is as follows:

He speaks with divine knowledge even though He’s never been formally trained – people marvel at this (vs. 15)

He once again asserts His authority, and claims that His teaching is from the Father (vs. 16-18)

The Sabbath question comes up again and Jesus uses the rite of circumcision as an example of “lawful” work that takes place on the Sabbath as a way to show their lack of understanding of (and lack of ability to keep) the law. (vs. 19-24)

The reaction in Jerusalem is mixed – but all are fearful of speaking outwardly about Him – such is the tension in the city over this man from Galilee (vs. 13). People even begin to declare that He is the Messiah (vs. 31).

Christ begins teaching about half-way through the feast, and due to the response of the people, the Pharisees issue an arrest warrant but are unable to apprehend Him (vs. 32, 45-49) due to the power of Christ’s speech (vs. 46), the sway of the populace (vs. 43-44), and the sovereignty of His timing (vs. 30).

The chapter ends with an interesting vignette of Nicodemus discussing the matter of Christ before others on the council, and their rejection of all justice or lawfulness indicates that the spirit of lawlessness has completely taken hold of the religious leaders of the day (vs. 50-52).

Chapter 8

The Woman Caught in Adultery

John now takes us to an incident that presumably occurs during the feast, where a young woman has been brought before Jesus as a way of testing His teaching and knowledge of the law. The woman has been caught in adultery, but given the circumstances it seems likely that this is a vile and reprehensible setup that the religious leaders have used in order to take Jesus down (see James M. Boice’s excellent commentary on the passage).

Christ’s response to the circumstance is one we’re familiar with: “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  It is an amazing rebuke of the crowds.  So often we are hungry to judge others – we want justice until it comes to our own sentence, then we want mercy!

The Light of the World and the Freedom of Christ

Christ began again to teach in the temple and proclaimed that He was the “light of the world” – He used the metaphor of light and darkness to draw people to Himself, and show them what kind of life he came to impart to them.

It was here also that Christ taught about the freedom He offered to all who believed:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Paul also expounded on this:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The Sonship of Christ, and the Children of the Devil

One of the key concepts of Chapter 8 is the Sonship of Christ. He begins to explain this to the leaders and other listening in verse 19:

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

He is claiming to be the very Son of God – a bold and clear statement of deity.

Another key concept from this chapter is that there are only two kinds of people: sons of God and sons of Satan.  You are either under the power of the Devil and a pawn in his control, or you have been born again and adopted into the family of God, having Christ as your brother.

These statements irked the Pharisees who thought of Abraham as their father, but when Christ explained to them that they were not sons of Abraham, they winced and desired to kill Him.

Once again Christ was explaining what it meant to be a true son of Abraham.  Paul explains this to the Galatians:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7)

What had merely been a physical promise to Abraham of blessings of land, children, and blessing the nations was now being realized in a spiritual way. This angered the Pharisees to no end as I mentioned above, and the resulting conversation ensued:

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” [52] The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ [53] Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:51-59)

These are just excerpts of one of the most intense and important conversations that Jesus had amongst the people during the feast.

Chapter 9

The Man Born Blind

This chapter centers on an amazing miracle (the 6th one of the 7 major signs) of healing to a man who was born blind. Like Job’s friends, the disciples saw the man and naturally thought that he or his parents had committed a sin in order for him to wind up in such a state. But Christ corrects their misunderstanding, and adds to it a level of profundity that places the will and prerogative of God above our understanding:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)

Indeed it was the sin of mankind that has led to disease and calamity, but it isn’t necessarily specific sins that cause sicknesses or trouble in this world. Rather, God works through all things to sharpen us, and cause us to be conformed to the image of God, thereby bringing Him glory (Romans 5:1-8) and us great joy.

The resulting upheaval from the healing was amazing. The religious leaders questioned the man’s parents, then questioned him, and since he didn’t know who Jesus was he didn’t really have much to answer. After questioning him and his parents they questioned the man a second time (vs. 24) and demanded that the man recant of giving any credit to Christ, but rather demanded that he give “God glory” (vs. 24).  The response of the man is truly great reasoning and evoked the following exchange:

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” [28] And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” [34] They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:27-34)

It was after this that Jesus found him, and the man became a believer.

Chapter 10

The Good Shepherd

The I AM statements of Christ are prevalent throughout the gospel of John, and here we have two more of those famous statements: I am the good shepherd, I am the door.

The key to understanding Christ’s teaching here is understanding the role of a shepherd and the role of the sheep. The sheep come at the voice of a shepherd. Shepherds in the ancient near east did not herd their sheep, they led their sheep, and the sheep would only follow those whose voices they recognized.  Also, the door of the sheepfold was the one way in or out of the sheepfold. By saying that He was the door, Christ was saying that He was the only way into the kingdom of God.

The themes here tell us of God’s sovereignty in salvation (vs. 4, 14, 15), His goodness in provision for His sheep (vs. 10), and His abundant love for us that ensures not one of His sheep will be lost (vs. 16) and that He will lay His life down for the sheep (vs. 11, 17, 18).

The Divinity of Christ and the Deadness of Man

This next section takes place “during the feast of the dedication” which was in winter, about three months from the final Passover of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The crux of what occurs here is a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees over His divinity. Christ claims that His works bear witness about who He is (namely the Messiah). But the Pharisees still can’t find it in their hearts to believe, and Christ addresses this using the same motif He used earlier in this chapter (no doubt why John chose to put these two in sequence):

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

So Christ tells them in plain language that:

  1. They don’t know Him because they are not of God
  2. They aren’t of God because they aren’t His sheep
  3. They aren’t His sheep because they don’t have His spirit
  4. Those who aren’t His sheep will perish: therefore they will perish
  5. He is the giver of eternal life: eternal life is for His sheep
  6. He gives eternal life by the power of His Father who is more powerful than all
  7. The Father will not allow anyone to snatch His sheep out of His hand
  8. He and the Father are one

It is this last statement that offends them so much because, like in 8:58, He is using the divine name as His own personal moniker, and saying in plain language that the God of the universe and Himself are “one.” What an astonishing claim!  The response to this is:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. (John 10:31 ESV)

Jesus ends up talking them down from their folly, but leaves and goes into the countryside across the Jordan River. This is the last time many of these people will see Him before the triumphal entry.

If there are two things we can learn from this chapter, they are that the nature and operation of salvation is a mysterious thing that God sovereignly ordains and brings to pass, and secondly, that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and equal with God the Father the creator of heaven and earth.

Chapter 11

The chapter begins by Jesus learning that Lazarus is ill, and we see Him making plans to visit Lazarus, but only in His divinely appointed time. Throughout the chapter the great love of Jesus for people in His care is made manifest (vs. 3, 5, 33, 35 etc.), and His humanity shines through so that the chapter combines the power and wisdom of His divinity with tenderness and empathy of a man who fully understood what it meant to suffer.

The entire chapter is a grand display of Christ’s majestic character, but perhaps the most significant texts are as follows:

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.” (John 11:14-15)

Christ says that the purpose of Him staying behind was so that they might believe.  He did all of this for His purposes.  He heard that Lazarus was sick, and He knew that Lazarus was going to die, and what was His response?  He waited. He stayed put.  Can we doubt His complete control over all things?  He is sovereign!

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?” (John 11:25-26)

Christ asserts that He is the resurrection and the life.  The Jews (other than the Saducees) believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But here Jesus is again taking a truth understood from of old and claiming that HE fulfills that truth.  He is the second Adam, He is the great son of David, He is the prophet that Moses spoke of, He is the fulfillment of the temple, He is the center of all history and He is the resurrection and the life. There is no life that has life or will have life or did have life apart from Him. He claims here nothing less than full control and power over life and death, and therefore nothing short of ultimate divinity.

The upshot is that we are to place our faith in Him – see how He leads Martha to that “Do you believe this?”  This is the question that all people who live are faced with. Do we believe the claims of Christ?

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. (John 11:33-35)

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. (John 11:38)

We forget the sense of what it means here that Christ was “deeply troubled” – this essentially means that He was not pleased, perhaps even angry.  He was disturbed, but not by the death of Lazarus, rather He was disturbed by the unbelief of the people, as well as being saddened for the loss.  These people were likely professional mourners, so their display of grief would have (perhaps) been less than sincere. It is hard to know, of course, but the sense of the situation here is that it is the unbelief of the people in the power of God that has caused Christ to be “deeply moved” and therefore He responds in vs. 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

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.” (John 11:43-44)

The picture of Christ’s sovereign power over death is unmistakable.  Not only that, but the method in which He loosed Lazarus from the grace was emblematic of how He called life into being thousands of years before. By His voice He commanded Lazarus out of the grave – like the Divine Fiat (Augustine) He commands life into existence.

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. (John 11:50-52)

Caiaphas unwittingly and prophetically pronounces the coming of the kingdom and the further fulfillment (assuming a partial fulfillment in the work of God through Joshua) of the Abramatic Covenant in verse 52 and, of course, the atonement offered by Christ in verse 50. An amazing thing to consider from this passage is the way in which God uses the mouths of the wicked to show forth the excellencies of His plan. Not that these wicked men have been singled out by some kind of privilege, but rather the plan that was put in motion from the beginning of time was not going to be stopped by any evil force – they even confess the plan of God and His sovereignty unknowingly, so complete is His power and so inevitable is His victory.

Study Notes 12-23-12

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

This might not be quite the full-orbed description of the Being of Christ, but as some note, it’s a mite better than “I don’t know.”           

9:18-23 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight [19] and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” [20] His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. [21] But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” [22] (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) [23] Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

First, “The Jews” here refer to the Pharisees.  It is a common thing for John to refer to the religious leaders as “the Jews.”

What we see here is that in response to the miracle of Christ, the religious leaders of the day react in unbelief. So what they try to do is seek verification from the parents since they don’t seem to believe the accounts of the people and the man himself.

However, what happens here is the parents respond in fear of what the religious leaders will do to them if they give their full and honest opinion of what has just happened to their son. Sproul and Carson both excoriate these parents in their commentaries as examples of unbelief, and I agree with them. But who cannot identify with them? Who can blame them? These people don’t yet know Jesus, they don’t have any reason as of yet to stand up for Him other than what they know of in regards to their son.  So they pass the buck back to their child, who is a grown middle-aged man.

Here’s what I mean by this: Overall, while we can identify with the parents, and even the religious leaders, what is it that is dominating their emotions and behavior here? Fear and unbelief. Perhaps that’s why we can so closely identify with them…

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”

Now they are frustrated and demanding.  Their tone is completely curt and to the point. They demand that the blind man give glory to God (as if he hadn’t been doing that already), and not to in anyway glorify the man (Jesus) who gave him his sight.

Ironically the very man who gave him his sight was Jesus the God-man.  The incarnation of God had healed this man in love and compassion.

Also, it is interesting that they “know” this man is a sinner. Their judgment has already been made at this point – for all the reasons we talked about before, specifically and especially regarding the Sabbath.

9:25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

I can picture this man, can’t you?  Recoiling a bit at the harshness of the conversation. But as we will see from the way he interacts with these religious leaders, he is bold.  Why is he so bold? Because his entire life has been resurrected from darkness! You too would be bold if a man healed your blindness! And indeed, if you are a Christian, you have been resurrected from darkness and death and our response ought to be this man’s response: One thing I do know, that though I was blind now I see”!  What a powerful statement!

As MacArthur notes, unbelief is simply irrational at this point, “Stopped dead in their tracks by the incontestable testimony of the man, and left with no way to advance their lame argument, the Pharisees began to go over the same ground they had previously covered.”

R.C. Sproul notes something really important about this whole passage with the blind man and how he interacted with the Pharisees.  At this point in the discussion, the man is bearing witness about Christ, but he is not evangelizing.  He is sharing his testimony, but he is not yet sharing the gospel message – there is a difference.  Our testimony is important, and its what Sproul calls “pre-evangelism.”  It helps us relate what God has done for us to others, and helps others relate to us on a personal level.  It gives glory to God, certainly, but it is not sharing the gospel.  We share the gospel when we announce the good work of Jesus Himself.  As Sproul notes, (to paraphrase) “the gospel is not about me…the gospel is about Jesus.”

We all need to learn to share our testimonies, but we also have to take the next step and share the gospel.

Now listen in your mind as you read below how they interact here…you can almost feel the tension rising…

9:26-27 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” [27] He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

Bravo! This man has moxie.  Frankly, if such a wonderful miracle happened to me, and then those around me were so determined to ruin it and slander the God who provided it, I would also be indignant.

Note the rebukes.  First, “you would not listen.”  This is so true.  They were never listeners; they were tellers.  They ordered people about, they didn’t take time to genuinely listen to people.  The man doesn’t let them get away with it.

Second, he taunts them by asking them if they “also want to become his disciples.”  The very thing they would have despised the most! He makes these religious leaders out to be merely ignorant pupils who need to be discipled.

9:28-29 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

Now, obviously this (formerly) blind man was not a disciple of Christ yet, but the leaders throw it back in his face because he had just used the same thing to annoy them.

I think it is really emblematic of this generation that they claim to be disciples of Moses, and children of Abraham (in chapter 8) when they are neither. God knew all along that He would bless the nations through Abraham, which means that the seed of Abraham (spiritually) would populate the church. From Abraham’s body would come the body of Christ (the church) – in other words, the gentile makeup of the elect was never “plan b” for God.  Also, it’s worth noting that God only instituted the Mosaic Law as a “guardian” until Christ came (Gal. 3). Even Moses saw this (Deut. 18:18-19), but these religious leaders were not eagerly anticipating such a high priest, they were instead longing for the day when the Messiah would come and conquer their political enemies and redeem the land.

Their sinfulness had clouded their judgment, and as they were not God’s children (John 8), they were speaking out of their character here.

Now listen to how the man responds to their claims at Mosaic discipleship…does he back down? Not at all!

9:30-33 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

First he castigates them for their lack of knowledge of who Jesus was. Then, in an amazing show of boldness, he gives them a theology lesson! I honestly don’t recall any other time in scripture where a common beggar gives the religious establishment a theology lesson, but here it is!

He says to them, basically, that they aren’t thinking logically. First, he reasons that “God does not listen to sinners” – true enough.  We know that God hears the prayers of those who are His own, and the man goes on to say just that, “if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” I have to believe he is speaking out of practical experience here. This man has not been healed in vain by God. He is grateful, and from the sounds of his words, was probably in daily prayer for this miracle.

Then he uses some hyperbole to drive home the point that this miracle was done in the power of God – there’s simply no other explanation for it!

9:34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

The word “utter” here is holos in the Greek, and it means “whole” or “complete.” And thus the response of the Pharisees is accurate here.  He was born in utter sin – complete fallness like all mankind, and of course they mistakenly believe they were not.  Paul’s words are apt:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV)

There is perhaps nothing more appalling than the arrogance of ignorance, but that is what he have here. And it is instructive for us as well. Let us, who were also born in “utter sin” not think ourselves too good or too pure to learn from our great teacher. We have all fallen way short of His glory. No man is worthy to boast before God – because Paul’s passage in 1 Corinthians I mention above goes on to say this:

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV)

If we are to boast, let us boast in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ as this man did.

9:35-37 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [36] He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” [37] Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” [38] He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

I love the compassion of the Lord Jesus. He knows that this man must go through a trial, and He allows it as a testing of his faith perhaps. Whatever the reason as it relates to the man, it certainly gave glory to God – and still continues to do so even to this day.

Note also that Jesus requires something of this man more than simply standing up for Him.  Jesus isn’t looking for a supporter for a political or religious movement, He looking for a lost sheep.

Lastly, it is evident that God had touched the heart of this man as significantly as He had touched his eyes.  The man responds in belief, and that’s the challenge for us today. Do we really believe Jesus is who He says He is?  Here he says that he is the “Son of Man” – that favorite designation that Jesus uses for Himself that comes from the book of Daniel, which says:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. [14] And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV)

This “Son of Man” is reigning right now – and His reign will one day see its consummation at His second coming.  When Jesus asks the blind man who had been healed whether he believed in the “Son of Man”, He is asking him to place his faith in the one who is from God, of God, and is God. The one who will one say have “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.”

9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [40] Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” [41] Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Finally, we notice that Jesus isn’t saying these things in just the presence of the healed man any longer. Now others have gathered.  The Pharisees are now listening in, and, aware of this, Christ begins to address them.

First Christ uses the miracle He performed to give greater light to a spiritual truth. We could divine all of these things and see the picture of Christ’s work here pretty easily, but in this case we don’t even have to because He has done that for us here.

He says that He came so that those who don’t see will see.  Conversely, He says that those who see “may become blind.”  The Pharisees immediately feel as if they are the butt of this joke – only its not a joke at all, it’s a hard truth, and one that they refuse to swallow.

The point of the analogy as it relates to “guilt” is much like Paul’s argument in Romans 1.  We all bear the weight of guilt of knowing at least something about God through general revelation. But these were men who were learned.  They knew the law, had access to all the writings of Moses, knew and had heard of the words of the prophets, and yet they who saw all of these words on scrolls were blind to their truths.  In this way they became blind.

It reminds me of what God said to the prophet Isaiah as He commissioned him to go and preach to Israel:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” [9] And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ [10] Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10 ESV)

Later God says through Isaiah:

Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! (Isaiah 43:8 ESV)

Spiritually speaking, only God can open the eyes of mankind. He is completely sovereign over who can “see the kingdom of God” (John 3).

In His sovereignty, God has sent Christ to heal us of this blindness. Another verse from Isaiah speaks of this as well:

I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, [7] to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV)

Secondly, I want to make note about what Christ says about judgment and blindness here.  MacArthur hints at the way in which spiritual blindness reacts to the light.  He says, “It receives judgment, refuses to admit its blindness, rejects spiritual sight, and results in doom.”

Specifically as it relates to “judgment”, Christ says “for judgment I cam into this world”, whereas in another place He says, “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” (John 3:17).

So which is it?  Is Christ contradicting Himself here? Not at all – these are two truths co-existing in the character of Christ. MacArthur explains this in his commentary, and its worth quoting a lengthy portion of what he has to say:

…far from being contradictory, those two truths are complementary; they are two sides of the same reality. To reject Jesus’ peace is to receive His punishment; to reject His grace is to receive His justice; to reject His mercy is to receive His wrath to reject His love is to receive His anger to reject His forgiveness is to receive His judgment. While Jesus came to save, not to condemn (cf. 12:47, Luke 19:10), those who reject His gospel condemn themselves, and subject themselves to judgment (John 3:18, 36). Spiritual sight comes only to those who acknowledge that they do not see, who confess their spiritual blindness and their need for the Light of the World. On the other hand, those who think they see on their own apart from Christ delude themselves, and will remain blind. They will not come to the Light, because they love the darkness and do not want their evil deeds to be exposed (3:19).

So their response was “self-condemning” as MacArthur goes on to say, and the role of Christ as judge will certainly happen eventually (Jon 5:22, 27), for He has been given all authority to judge by the Father, but during His time on earth (first advent) His mission was to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

Leon Morris puts it this way, “In one sense He did not come to judge people (3:17; 12:47). But for all that, his coming represents a judgment; for people divide according to the way they react to that coming. The coming of light shows who are spiritually blind and thus judges them; judgment is not the purpose of the coming of the light, but it is an inevitable consequence.”

Finally, and perhaps ironically, the great hero the Pharisees were looking for ended up being the one they mocked openly. The great warrior who they hoped would one day set them free from oppression had just set another captive free before their very eyes. The great king they hoped would rule over Jerusalem was in their midst ushering in a kingdom “that shall not be destroyed.”