The Church at Laodicea

Below are my notes from yesterday morning’s teaching on Revelation. I hope you enjoy!

To the Church in Laodicea

Laodicea is an ancient city in present-day western Turkey, founded by Seleucid King Antiochus II in honor of his wife, Laodice.[i] The city was originally called Diospolis, which is “the city of Zeus.” The city of Laodicea was in the Lychus valley, and it was near two other cities – Colossae and Hierapolis. Like the other cities, it was in the general area of the SW corner of modern day Turkey, but it was actually one of the furthest to the East of the others – about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was located on a very tall plateau and had a prominent position along several trade routes, making it an ideal city economically.

John MacArthur notes on its economic situation:

It was strategically located at the junction of two important roads: the east-west road leading from Ephesus into the interior, and the north-south road from Pergamum to the Mediterranean Sea. That location made it an important commercial city. That the first century BC Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero cashed his letters of credit there reveals Laodicea to have been a strategic banking center. So wealthy did Laodicea become that it paid for its own reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in AD 60, rejecting offers of financial aid from Rome.[ii]

The city’s only weakness was that it didn’t have its own source of water. It had a culvert that ran into the city and provided it with water from several miles away. This would have been a problem if the city was ever under attack, but I didn’t read a lot about attacks on the city.

So this city was basically economically and socially stable, non-controversial, and boring.

In fact, one of the things I found most interesting in my study about the city of Laodicea was that the city itself was not very remarkable. In fact, Ramsay says, “There is no city whose spirit and nature are more difficult to describe than Laodicea. There are no extremes, and hardly any very strongly marked features.”[iii]

Life was pretty easy in Laodicea, and “even the Talmud spoke scornfully of the life of ease and laxity lived by the Laodicean Jews.”[iv]

All of that seems an appropriate segue to what Jesus has to say about the Christians living in this part of Asia…

3:14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Let’s just take a moment to notice Jesus’ words about Himself and what they mean. Jesus calls himself the “Amen” because He is the truth. The only other place in Scripture where “Amen” is used as a name is Isaiah 65:16 where God uses it to describe Himself, and the word used is also translated “truth” (that is how the NASB, ESV and NIV translate it). The context of the passage is worth bearing in mind, because the next verse in Isaiah also provides help:

So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. [17] “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:16-17)

When commenting on this passage in Isaiah, Peter Gentry says this:

God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great Physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and He is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal.[v]

We’ll return to verse 17 momentarily…

Next He says that He is the “faithful and true witness” which has to do with the work that God has been doing in and through redemptive history from Adam up until His own life, death and resurrection. Jesus has been a faithful witness to this work, and His word can be trusted because He is “true.”

As Christians we want to be “true” witnesses of the work God has done not only in our lives, but most especially of the work done by God in Christ.

Lastly, He says that He is “the beginning of God’s creation.” Just as mentioned in the context of Isaiah 65:17, which deals with the new creation, Jesus is calling Himself the first creation – not in the sense that He was first made at the beginning of the world, but in the sense of how Paul mentions this in his letter to the church at Colossae “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)

When Jesus tells this church that He is the “first born”, the faithful “witness” and the “Amen”, He is quite simply stating that God has been working in and through redemptive history to bring it to a teleos, a specific goal. And that goal was Jesus Christ. That is Why Paul can say, “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).

He is the beginning of God’s work of renewing the entirety of creation. What He inaugurated in Christ, He continues with us, for as Paul says to the Corinthians:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV)

And what does it mean to be a minister of reconciliation but that we are fellow witnesses to the work of God, and His great purposes in this world. What began as a promise in Genesis 3:15 has come to fruition in Christ, and now includes us, His new creations!

3:15-16 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! [16] So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Once again Jesus begins his exhortation with the words “I know.” Therefore let us pause and once again remember that while Jesus was indeed man, and is indeed ever making intercession on behalf before the Father, yet He is God and He shares in the power and wisdom and knowledge of the eternal Godhead. All things are known to Him. He has eyes like a “flame of fire” (1:14) “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 4:13)

Now, a lot has been made of the chastisement here to this church in past sermons and teachings on this passage. The charge is that they are “lukewarm” – they are basically going through the motions. They hold to the faith – for He is writing to believers, to the church – yet they are lukewarm in their heart attitude about Jesus.

G.K. Beale provides some helpful background:

Laodicea had two neighbors, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis had hot waters which possessed medicinal effects, while Colossae had cold water, which was also though to be healthy. Laodicea had no good water source, however, and it had to pipe it in. By the time it arrived, it was lukewarm and dirty – only fit for spitting out. In fact, it was generally held to be true in the ancient world that cold and hot water or wine were beneficial for one’s health, but not water which was lukewarm.[vi]

Of course Jesus’ reaction is brutal. He says He’d like to spit them out of His mouth!

It got me thinking – what is it that causes Christians to become lukewarm?

I think that constant trials, discouragement, lack of time in the Word of God, lack of prayer, and especially a forgetfulness of the privileges we have in the Gospel. Perhaps all of these things contribute to this state.

John Owen put it well, “Our greatest hindrance in the Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”[vii]

Christians become lukewarm when we forget the length to which Christ has gone to bring us life and joy. Contemplation on the Gospel of Christ so crucial for helping remind us all that we have in Christ. This is why I love the passage my discipleship group is working to memorize right now from the book of Titus:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

This is one of the reasons why Paul resolved to preach nothing but Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1) – because if our foundation in life comes from ourselves, it’s easy to fall away. It’s easy enough to fall away when we believe all the right things! We need help – and we need to remember the Gospel.

Now, one other thing also pushes us away from God, and that is idolatry. That is more specifically what was going on with this particular group of people…

3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They were in this prosperous city, on two major trade routes, and they had everything they needed.

When we are weak, when we are sick, when we are desperately looking for a job – that’s when we turn to Jesus. That’s when we “get religion” isn’t it!

But how quickly we fall away under the weight and distraction of our comfortable lives.

The same thing happened to Israel, which is what Hosea was saying in his prophecy to them. Samuel Rutherford explains:

…that was in Hosea’s days (Hosea 2:14). “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her to the wilderness and speak to her heart.” There was no talking to her heart while He and she were in the fair and flourishing city and at ease; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allureth her, He whispered in news into her ear there, and said, “Thou art mine.”

What was the solution?

3:18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Jesus urges them to purchase refined gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes. To purchase the truth of His word, the purity of the work of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel opening power of the Spirit so that they could see.

He describes His gospel as gold – and in many ways He is the true treasure, the true inheritance. He is the great prize, Amen? When we have Him we are rich beyond the measure of this world, we have consciences cleansed from all iniquity and we wear the righteousness of Jesus before the throne of God.

And as I mentioned before, it is only through the supernatural power of the Spirit of God that we are able to see the truth of these things.

I am reminded of the story of the blind man in who Jesus healed in John 9. After washing in the pool of Siloam he was not only able to see, but his whole life changed. His heart changed. It was evident that God was working within him.

That’s what we need; we need to see and to savor the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to see reality – and reality is that He is a great treasure.

3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. [20] Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat in sermon after sermon and heard this verse used as a plea to the unbeliever. That would be using this out of context. Jesus here is clearly speaking to believers. He begins by saying that “those whom I love” I will “reprove and discipline.”

God doesn’t reprove and discipline unbelievers – He lets them go their own way and in the final day will judge them by their deeds.

Later on here he closes the letter as He does all the other letters, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Unbelievers don’t have ears to hear. Unbelievers don’t have eyes to see. Those things come from God the Holy Spirit.

Therefore He is speaking to believers here, and knowing this, what He says is all that much more precious. He reminds them that He loves them!

This is very much like what the author of Hebrews says in chapter twelve:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

And He is calling on them to “repent” – specifically to be zealous and repent. The idea here in being zealous is to snap out of the lukewarm condition He has found them in and act as a Christian ought to act – zealously! And in their zeal they are to humble themselves before the Lord and repent, with the promise that all who do will be once again restored to communion with our Lord. He will “eat with him.”

Eating with someone is an intimate form of communion. You’re guard is down. You’re relaxed. You’re enjoying food – and food is an emotional thing. People are connected to what they eat – they care about it, they spend tons of time preparing it, searching for the best restaurants, learning how to make good food, learning what they like to eat and so on. If you eat a bad meal it sort of angers you. When you eat with someone that is another level of fellowship with them.

And this is the aim of what Jesus is doing here. He is working to restore fellowship with mankind. He is reconciling them to Himself. He is bringing us into a loving relationship with God. All of this is part of His grand program of redemption, and recreation. Once we walked in the Garden with God, now He wants to walk with us through this life and forevermore after this. But fellowship with God requires holiness – it requires repentance. That is what God is calling on them, and on us, His children to do day by day.

3:21-22 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. [22] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Jesus finishes the letter with another wonderful promise that is also grounded in the covenant of creation. Mankind was made to rule the earth, to represent God as His image bearers here on earth. He is now promises that we will reign with Him. This is a HUGE deal. And note what its all hinged upon – the fact that He has already conquered (the resurrection) and that He is already reigning even now.

You see, Revelation helps us understand that Jesus has indeed come into His kingdom, He is reigning now – not simply spiritually in the hearts and minds of believers, but over all the created order. His kingdom is not an ethereal idea that simply illumines our hearts and minds, it is a reality.

We are called to be faithful witnesses as He is faithful. Witnesses of an invisible kingdom, declaring that which is invisible to those who are blinded by their sin and desperately need to be reconciled to their Creator.

This requires faith that isn’t lukewarm. You see the incongruity here. Those who are concerned primarily with the treasure of this earth will never make a difference for the kingdom of God. And there is the challenge: let us rise out of our slothfulness, let us shed our old man with his desires for worldly possessions and gain. Let us repent, and put on the new man. Jesus is calling you Christian to repent for the express purpose of restoring you to Himself, both for your joy and His glory!

 

Footnotes

[i] According to manifold commentaries, but also summarized here: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/laodicea

[ii] John MacArthur, Commentary on Revelation Volume I, Pg. 135.

[iii] Ramsay, Pg.’s 422-423.

[iv] MacArthur, Pg. 135.

[v] Peter Gentry – this came from notes in my Bible’s margin, and I believe he said this at a Bunyan Conference in 2014.

[vi] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 91.

[vii] As quoted by Rev. Ian Hamilton: http://www.reformation-scotland.org.uk/articles/cross-of-christ.php

 

To the Church in Philadelphia

From yesterday morning’s Sunday School lesson…

To the Church in Philadelphia

The church at Philadelphia was a church beset by weakness, but one who had stayed true to the only True Lord.

Philadelphia earned its moniker from a king of Pergamum named Attalus II (Philadelphus). Attalus was both true and loyal to his brother Eumenes, and that reputation had far outlasted his life. He reigned along with his brother, who was ill, and when his brother died he took his widow as his own wife.

Attalus was a very culturally refined man, and emphasized the arts – even inventing a new king embroidery!

The city itself was founded as a sort of missionary city for the spread of Hellenism throughout the Pergamenian Empire. Ramsey says, “The intention of its founder was to make it a centre (sic) of the Greco-Asiatic civilisation (sic) and a means of spreading the Greek language and manners in the eastern parts of Lydia and Phrygia.”[i]

So here is where Eastern and Western cultures meet and meld together. A very interesting experiment which actually went pretty well. Well before the time of this letter the whole region spoke Greek instead of Lydian. Hellenization had taken hold.

3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

Our text begins with a quote from Isaiah 22:22, which states:

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:22)

The context of the verse from Isaiah is in reference to Eliakim, who God promotes to take the office of another man who has been found wanting/lacking in God’s eyes. Eliakim is pictured in the text as God’s chosen instrument for the task at hand, namely (I believe) the priestly duties in Jerusalem.

Beale comments, “The point of the quotation is that Jesus holds the power over salvation and judgment. In 1:18 the stress is on his sovereignty over death and judgment, while 3:7 the emphasis is on his authority over those entering the kingdom. John compares the historical situation of Eliakim in relation to Israel with that of Christ in relation to the church in order to help the readers better understand the position that Christ now holds as head of the true Israel and how this affects them.”[ii]

The idea here is that the local unbelieving Jews are as worthless and contrary to the Lord’s true heart as the former priest Shebna (from Isaiah’s day), and Eliakim is a type of Christ who will righteously lead the church/Israel.

There is some Messianic fulfillment of the typology here, according to Beale (who gives 5 reasons why this is so). One of the red flags to this that “whenever David is mentioned in connection with Christ in the NT there are usually discernable prophetic, messianic overtones.”

There is also a striking resemblance to Isaiah 22:22 and Isaiah 9:6-7 which is the passage we commonly have come to know as referring to Christ:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

So we see clear similarities between the Messiah in Is. 9 and Eliakim typologically in Isaiah 22.

What does this all mean though? Beale says, “Ethnic Israel, which was claiming to be the divine agent wielding the power of salvation and judgment, no longer held this position. Christ’s followers could be assured that the doors to the true synagogue were open to them, whereas the doors remained closed to those who rejected Christ.”

Therefore these keys symbolize the fact that Jesus is in control of who is let in heaven – contra popular jokes, it isn’t Saint Peter at the pearly gates determining whose coming and going! It is Jesus. He is the one who determines who is allowed into the blessed realm.

3:8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Surely we think of the fact here that Jesus himself is the door to salvation. This is what He says in John 10:

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9)

Matthew Henry says, “He opens. He opens a door of opportunity to his churches; he opens a door of utterance to his ministers; he opens a door of entrance, opens the heart; he opens a door of admission into the visible church, laying down the terms of communion; and he opens the door of admission into the church triumphant, according to the terms of salvation fixed by him. [2.] He shuts the door. When he pleases, he shuts the door of opportunity and the door of utterance, and leaves obstinate sinners shut up in the hardness of their hearts; he shuts the door of church-fellowship against unbelievers and profane persons; and he shuts the door of heaven against the foolish virgins who have slept away their day of grace, and against the workers of iniquity, how vain and confident soever they may be.”

3:9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.

Different churches have different struggles. For the church at Philadelphia, the issue pertains mostly to local Jews are causing them issues. Jesus is brutal in his framing of the issue. I couldn’t help but think back to times in the Bible when God re-named someone, like Abram who became “Abraham.” Later Jesus would “name” the Pharisees “brood of vipers” and so forth. The point is that when God “names” something He cuts right to the heart of the matter, and sometimes His assessment is very very frank. Every time I feel a tad bit sheepish for my own frankness in a loving rebuke, I read passages like this and remember again that God is brutally honest in His naming, and in the case of those who cause his children to stumble, he minces no words. In this case, he’s affiliating the local Jews with the “synagogue of Satan”!

It is a reminder to all who read this that there is nothing hidden from the eyes of the all-knowing, all-seeing God.

Historically speaking, even the Talmud speaks of the money loving, morally compromised Jews in this region when it states, “the wines and the baths of Phrygia have separated the ten tribes from Israel.” Beale says that the Jews of this area had compromised their religion and mixed it with Roman customs and religion.[iii]

Interestingly, Beale makes the point that there is some ironic fulfillment here in Jesus’ statement “I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” For there are many passages in Isaiah and the Psalms that speak of the gentiles being made to bow down before Israel. The point here is that the these Jews have compromised their true religion, have rejected their Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are Jesus now states they will bow down before the true Israel of God, His elect children in Philadelphia.

Therefore the fulfillment comes but not in the way expected on the surface. And Beale argues that it will be the realization of this irony that will make them jealous and save many of them (which is exactly what Paul argues in Romans 11):

The understanding of Rev. 3:9 as an ironic reversal of the Isaiah prophecies sees it as parallel to Romans 11:11-31, where Gentile salvation is a missionary tactic on Paul’s part of bring about Jewish salvation. Paul quotes Isaianic prophecies in Romans 11:26-27 and views them as fulfilled in apparent reverse manner, since the pattern of Isaiah 59-60 places Israel’s salvation first, which then sparks the homage of the Gentiles (thus Paul uses “mystery” in 11:25 to introduce the quotes from Isaiah 59:20-21 and 27:9 in Romans 11:26-27).

This is a complex thing to think about when you read so many passages and start digging deeper. But the simple way to think of it at the 5,000 foot level is that the Jews had hard hearts and refused their Messiah when He finally came. Despite this, many will be saved through jealousy of the gentiles, who are receiving the blessing of prophecies fulfilled in a way that would not have been before easily understood, hence the term “mystery” in Paul’s writing.

When we step back from this and think about all God is doing here and His grand plan, we simply have to join with Paul, who, after considering what we just mentioned, ends the 11th chapter of Romans in doxology:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! [34] “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” [35] “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” [36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

3:10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

This is speaking not of tribulations, or the final tribulation, but of the final judgment of the world. Those who keep the word of God are those who are his children and who will escape the final judgment.

3:11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

This is the exhortation that the church was called to, and to what we are called to. We are called to “hold fast”! And it is the Spirit of the Lord who will give us the endurance and power to hold onto what we have. For it is he who truly holds our souls in his hands.

And it is very much like Jesus to warn His followers to be on their guard, to be ready and to “be alert” (Eph. 6) for the time of his coming. We are to live in a state of alertness.

3:12-13 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. [13] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Here believers are referred to as “pillars” in the temple of God – they are part of the Temple” and therefore part of the New Jerusalem which comes down from God out of heaven. This is an allusion to what John will write later:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Now we are getting into more of the symbolic nature of the book of Revelation. Many go straight to chapter 21 and say “look there’s going to a new Jerusalem and this city is going to be where Jesus reigns from, and its going to be a literal city with literal dimensions and He is going to reign over a literal 144,000 and a literal “Israel” – and by “literal” they mean the wooden definition of the word.

However, it is clear from chapter three here that there is symbolism used throughout this book, not to confuse us, but to help us get a better grasp of what Jesus is telling us. It enriches our understanding of what he’s conveying once we have a clear understanding of the context.

In this case, the wooden literal interpretation of this saying would not work. After all, you don’t believe that Jesus is going to turn you into a stone pillar do you!?? Is that your great destiny, to stand as a composite of limestone for eternity? Of course not, that’s silly. We must be consistent as possible in our application of how these word pictures are used in the book. So that when we read of John saying these things in the context of this book, we cannot then say, “well you are going to be spiritual pillars, but the city of Jerusalem is going to be physical.” Let us not make distinctions that John or Jesus himself does not make.

But what is the point of the imagery? The point is to say that He is gathering all his elect together to himself, and that he is building a kingdom, a family. We will all be part of that family – a big part, pillars, in fact. Pillars are important parts of the building of Gods. This is just to say that redeemed mankind, his image bearers, will makeup an important part of His eternal kingdom.

James Hamilton says that our main takeaway is that, “If we are to stand as oaks of righteousness, we must keep the word of Jesus.”

When I was reading this passage I was reminded of an important passage in Isaiah which speaks of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. It says that the Messiah will, “…grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).[iv]

Samuel Rutherford once said, “The Great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.”[v]

The images are slightly different, but the point is the same: God has planted us here in this world of affliction to grow strong amidst the trials of this age. But when our Lord returns, his mighty oaks, his “pillars” will show forth his goodness. We are all pillars to our God, “living stones” being built up into a great and glorious city, the New Jerusalem.

The Close

He closes this letter like he does the others, with an exhortation to “hear” what the Spirit is saying. And as a reminder, this is a similar truth to what Jesus was say during his earthly ministry. He was always calling on people who “had ears to hear” to obey his word. Having ears to hear is having the Spirit’s supernatural work within us to help us “hear” and understand what it is He is saying to us. Paul explains as follows:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:12-16 ESV)

Conclusion

The call here by Jesus is to hold fast to the Lord Jesus, to that original confession that we made as Christians. It is a call to even those who are weak, like those at Philadelphia. In our weakness he is much stronger (2 Cor. 12) and we must call upon him in all our trouble and despair. Even in persecution and distress. Even in financial instability, sickness, and death. We must not look at our own weakness, but to His great and mighty strength.

We must look to Him, knowing that we are branded with His name – we are his own. His ownership is all over us. He has not only made us as creations for himself, but has sovereignly called us to himself according to his great purpose and mercy. So we have reason to hope – and to look to Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

 

 

 

[i] Ramsay, Pg. 391.

[ii] Beale, the longer commentary, Pg. 284.

[iii] Beale, the longer commentary, Pg. 287.

[iv] Incidentally, when the word “oaks” here is not necessarily referring to a particular type of oak tree, but to a large tree (see Alec Moyter’s commentary on Isaiah).

[v] Samuel Rutherford, the Loveliness of Christ, Pg. 1.

Most Influential Books Part 3

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

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study Notes 7-7-13: Following Christ

Today’s passage takes us from the 26th verse of John 12 through verse 30, although we didn’t get much time this morning to discuss verses 29 and 30 and will do so next week.

This week we will be meditating on verse 26, and asking ourselves questions about the verse and asking God to help give us insight into its meaning. How, for instance, does it speak to our need to obey Christ? What does it tell us about where Christ is? What does it remind us of in terms of Christ’s own character? What does it really look like in my life to “follow” after Christ? And, perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves “where is Christ that I should follow Him to?”

John 12:26-30

12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Cost of Discipleship

When Christ says that those who serve him must also follow him, we can see plainly enough in the context of this passage, and the view to the cross he had, that this is a call for us to take up our cross. This conclusion is simple based on the fact that “where” He is can plainly be seen as suffering and death. Although there can also be a secondary meaning which I will explore in a minute.

The idea that we would be called by Christ to follow Him even to death had been enumerated at other times in Jesus’ ministry. For example Matthew 16:24-26 says explicitly, and ties well in with what Christ says in John 12:25:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

What Jesus is saying here and in the John passage, is that we must obey His Word even if it doing so comes with difficulty. Obedience is not without cost. The life of a Christian is not promised to be easy. For one, we are constantly being put to the test, and molded by our Father into the likeness of His Son. This is a grand, albeit painful process. For two, we are identified with Jesus, which in this world can mean anything from snarky comments to the death sentence.

But what is wonderful about what Jesus is saying here is that the there is a real, tangible benefit to all of this difficulty – not only life itself, eternal life – but also honor from the father.

The Reward for Following Christ is Christ Himself

And so, that leads me to explore the flip side, if you will, of what it means to be with Christ where He is, because in a very real sense the verse above shows us that the reward of God’s people is God Himself. It says, “and where I am, there will my servant be also” and this, to me, seems to indicate that Christ Himself and His presence with us will be a great portion of our reward. For we follow Christ not only into the battlements of war here on earth, but also into the blessedness of heaven to come.

In his book ‘Holiness’ J.C. Ryle explains that our striving toward holiness on this earth is as much to please God here on earth, as it is to prepare us to enjoy heaven.  For heaven will be a holy place, and for those who imagine heaven as otherwise are quite mistaken.

“What could an unsanctified man do in Heaven, if by any chance he got there? No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character.” – J.C. Ryle

In his short discipleship book ‘In Our Joy’ John Piper talks about this, and its worth quoting him on this extensively due to the impact his own thinking has had on mine, and millions of others in this area:

Jesus bases our present joy explicitly on the hope for great reward. “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). He does not define the reward. But in the whole context of his life and message, the essential reward is fellowship with Jesus himself and with God the Father through him (John 17:3, 24).

There are several pointers to this understanding. For example, Jesus says to his disciples just before his death, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). The indomitable joy that Jesus promises is based on his own presence: “I will see you again.” Similarly Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This fullness of joy is mentioned by John the Baptist, and he bases it on the presence of Jesus, comparing Jesus to a bridegroom and himself to his friend: “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) John’s “complete” joy is based on the presence of Jesus.

Therefore, I conclude that the essence of the reward that we count on to complete our joy is the fullness of the presence of Jesus experienced in the age to come. The reason that we can rejoice now is not only that we taste that future fellowship in hope, but also that Jesus is with us now by his Spirit. He promised us, as he left to return to the Father, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He said that the Spirit of truth would come and make Jesus gloriously real to us even though he is physically absent. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will . . . glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Therefore, even though we can’t see Jesus now, we hope in him with great joy, and he sustains that joy by his continual presence.

Honor from the Father

There seems to be a second part of this reward, which Jesus says is “honor” from the Father. It would be really easy to simply pass by this and not really think much about it, but I think we’d do well to linger here just a bit, if only to marvel at the revelation we’ve been given.

I honestly can only make a few educated guesses as to what “honor” from God might look like, but I know that in relative contrast to being honored by men, it must evoke awe from the honoree!  What I’m saying here is that so often we love the praise of other men – I know that I enjoy a good “attaboy!” from friends or colleagues. In fact I think we often seek the praise of men to the detriment of what God would have us do.

Many times in the past I have been convicted about how often I relish the praise of men, and each time my mind turns to this weakness, the third stanza of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ often brings me to my knees. The words are as follows:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Notice how man’s empty praise is here contrasted with God being our inheritance. Samuel Rutherford once said, “His well done is worth a shipful of good-days and earthly honours.”

I would ask you to examine yourselves and see if this is your mindset.  Can you agree with the hymnist and with Rutherford? Can you truly say that your reward is an imperishable one?  And if so, is your mindset such that the praise you receive on earth is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us?

12:27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

Troubled in Soul

His human psyche must have been overwhelmed by the painful thought of that death. Why? Because He knew what pain was. He had spent the last 33 years on this earth and knew physical and emotional pain.

But more than that, He knows that what He values most is about to be ripped away from Him –His communion with the Father. During His time on the cross Jesus will suffer something He has never faced – separation from His Father. When the Father turns His back on the Son, the Son in agony cries out “why have you forsaken me!?”  The anguish that the Son goes through at this moment is pure Hell.

The word “troubled” here is significant. Carson says, “The verb is a strong one, and signifies revulsion, horror, anxiety, agitation.

I do not suppose to know whether Jesus truly knew in His humanity that this would happen as it did, but I do not doubt for a moment that Jesus understood the ramifications of what He was undertaking. And this is why John records for us Jesus’ words and we must ponder them carefully if we’re to understand the sacrifice and the depth of pain that our Savior endured on our account.

Not My Will, But Thy Will be Done

Now, as to the latter part of the verse, and whether Jesus is asking a true question, or actually praying a prayer (Carson), I do not know entirely and am not wholly convinced of Carson’s argument that this is not a question in the true sense, but rather a prayer asking for deliverance as in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Nevertheless, because of the fact that Jesus was in constant communion with the Father, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He knew His purpose, and He knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant end. You can see the human and the divine nature here so clearly. He is troubled in the weakness of His flesh. His souls is shaken. He is probably greatly afflicted with intense emotion and perhaps anxiety of a kind that shakes you to the core. Yet, at the same time, He knows what He has to do. He says, “And what shall I say?” It is as if we are witnessing here an internal discussion, almost as if Jesus is thinking out loud and we see the back and forth.  Carson aptly quotes Bengel, “The horror of death, and the ardour of His obedience, were meeting together.”

Note that in His flesh He acknowledges the painful proposition ahead, but then He answers it by saying that will not pray something that He knows is outside of God’s will.  As Carson remarks, “This request is nothing other than an articulation of the principle that has controlled his life and ministry. The servant who does not stoop to his own will, but who performs the will of the one who sent him – even to death on a cross – is the one who glorified God.”

More than Restraint

So Christ restrains Himself from asking something of God that He knows will displease Him and run counter to the purpose for which He came to this earth. But it is more than simply restraint, as Carson argues, it is an active passionate obedience.  Carson says, “But the focus of the prayer transcends mere acquiescence; it betrays acquiescence that is subsumed under the passionate desire to bring glory to God, in much the same way that the petition ‘hallowed be your name’ in the Lord’s model prayer presupposes the active obedience of the one who is praying.”

As we have looked closely at this, it has humbled me greatly. I think of how often I have thought that merely acquiescing to the Lord’s will or my life’s circumstances was pleasing to God.  As if my formalist obedience was a sacrifice of some great magnitude. But Christ here shows us something more. He didn’t go to sulking to the cross with a drooping head. Christ does not model stoicism or begrudging obedience, rather He models for us a passion for God’s glory that completely subsumed His mind.  Like the angels of Zechariah 3 were consumed with glorifying God through the dressing of the high priest, so we too much be like Christ and His angelic creations and be completely subsumed with the thought: how can I glorify God in every action, every thought, every breathe I take?

So often we think the least common denominator will please God, we think of how much we can get away with and how far we can stretch His law and His patience, when we ought to be thinking, “Is this reflective of holiness? Or: Does this please God?”  In his book ‘The Hole in our Holiness’ Kevin DeYoung points out that this is a frequent mistake we make – especially seen in our dating/pre-marital relationships.  We think about our physical interaction with our fiancé and ask the question “how far is too far?”  When we ought to be asking, “How can we best tailor our actions toward holiness and righteousness?” Or, “Is this pleasing to God?”

Let us also seek to do more than simply curb the sinful impulses of our nature, or bow begrudgingly under the rule of God’s law; let us seek to develop holiness in our character, mind, and actions. Let us always be seeking to please God – for if we love Him, we will certainly seek to please Him!

12:28-30 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

The fact that Jesus had his prayer answered so quickly by an audible voice from heaven may not stun us, the reader, living 2000 years later and reading this in black and white type. But to those around him it must have been a shocking, and even scary site to behold. The fact that some in the crowd thought it was an angel that spoke, while others thought that it was simply thunder, has not been fully understood by several theologians except to say that some seemed to be more discerning than others that there was an audible voice of some kind, though they misinterpreted its author as an angel. Though it didn’t seem as though any of them really understood what was said from the way the text is laid out, so Christ must have told them the thing after the fact (Carson).

Taking Measure of Our Desires

Now Jesus ends His prayer showcasing His strongest desire: that God’s name would be glorified. I think its fair to say that very often our strongest desires bubble up in our prayers. We secretly let God know what it is that we want most in the world. Some of these things are very noble and good things.  But I think of the times I have prayed to God, and I can hardly recall very many instances wherein I truly desired for God’s name to be magnified and glorified in the way that I imagine Jesus desired it to be. To hear Jesus pray is so humbling – it’s a heart check for us.  Hearing Him pray ought to cause us to ask ourselves this: what are our greatest desires?

I am reminded of Psalm 37:4-6:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday

How is He Glorified?

If one cross references the last time such an instance had occurred in the life of Jesus one would think immediately of two instances, the baptism of Jesus and the Mount of Transfiguration. In both of these two other scenes Jesus had been in the midst of several people when a voice had come booming from the heavens.  What is the purpose of these events? I believe it is to attest to the deity of Christ and to point us to the event of the cross, which would be the one place where Christ is most glorified.

John MacArthur explains why:

God receives glory when His attributes are manifested, and nowhere was His magnanimous love for helpless sinners, His holy wrath against sin, His perfect justice, His redeeming grace, his forgiving mercy, or His infinite wisdom more clearly seen than in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of His Son.

For Your Sake

Finally, look at verse 30 and we’ll see that Jesus has directed us to turn our attention to the fact that the voice was not for his sake primarily, but rather for “your sake.”

As I mentioned above, all of these supernatural events were happening in the life of Jesus as a way to point us toward the realization of who Jesus is.  You have to ask the question: who is this man, and what is He all about?

What makes me shudder is to see that a voice literally spoke from heavens attesting that this Jesus is who He says He is, and yet there are still people who remain in their unbelief. The old joke of people not believing a thing even if it was “written in the sky” comes to mind. I don’t know how you can get much more plain than this. This man Jesus had done super human miracle after miracle from healing people, to casting out demons, to walking on water and calming a sea. He seems to know their thoughts and their hearts, and their pasts (John 1:48-49; 4:16-19), and now, to top it all, he is the subject (for a third time) of a literal voice addressing Him from heaven.  At this point, you continue in your unbelief at your own peril.

Study Notes 6-23-13: The Greeks Seek Jesus

John 12:20-26

The Greeks Seek Jesus

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.

I think that it might be helpful to note just a few things about this section before we look at the theological and spiritual significance of the event.

First, from what multiple commentators say about the word “Greeks” here, the meaning is not Jewish Greeks from the Diaspora, and not Greeks as in people from Greece necessarily (though it may have included these types of people), but rather it is foreigners as a whole. The term “Greeks” served as a sort of Jewish umbrella term for those outside their own ethnicity (Gentiles).

James Boice comments, “…they were Greeks in the gentile sense, not Hellenistic Jews…” and D.A. Carson remarks, “These Greeks were not necessarily from Greece: as elsewhere in the New Testament, the term refers to Gentiles who come from any part of the Greek-speaking world, possibly even a Greek city as near as the Decapolis.”

Second, John doesn’t give us a time when this occurs. James Boice says, “From my reading of the other Gospels I doubt that it was on the same day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for on that occasion he seems to have returned quickly to Bethany. Perhaps it was the next day…”

Lastly, it is evident that these Greeks are God-fearers. They weren’t in Jerusalem for sightseeing or for the draw of the great marketplace, but rather there were there “to worship.”

12:21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

The significance of the Greeks asking to see Jesus is recognized by every commentator, and is evident in that it “triggers” (Carson) Jesus to declare that the hour has come for Him to be glorified.

As Leon Morris puts it, “Clearly John regards their coming as significant but he does not treat their presence as important. Jesus recognizes in their coming and indication that the climax of His mission has arrived.”

But why is this?

I think it is because it indicates the pregnancy of the historical and biblical timeline as prophesied by God’s prophets according to His plan. The moment where the entire world would hear of the wonders of His plan, and all the nations would be blessed was converging in upon Jesus. The time had come when God would gather from all nations a chosen people for Himself (1 Pet. 2:9).

Of all the prophets, Isaiah has a lot to say about this, so let’s look at a few of those passages so we can see what the Lord had planned from of old:

In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12-13 ESV)

“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,

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)

…“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to bring back the preserved of Israel;

I will make you as a light for the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6 ESV)

Incline your ear, and come to me;

hear, that your soul may live;

and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,

and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.

(Isaiah 55:3-5 ESV)

In their groundbreaking book Kingdom Through Covenant Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum comment on how the prophets foretell a time when salvation will come back to Israel and spread to all nations, the effects of sin are reversed, and a new creation is consummated:

…among the postexilic prophets there is an expectation that the new covenant will have a purpose similar to the “old covenant”, that is, to bring the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant back into the present experience of Israel, and even more than this, to the nations. The new covenant, then, will bring about the Abrahamic blessing in that it will benefit both Israel and the nations and thus have universal implications…Within the Old Testament, the new covenant is viewed as both national (Jer. 31:36-40; 33:6-16; Ezek. 36:24-38; 37:11-28) and international (Jer. 33:9; Ezek. 36:36; 37:28). In fact, its scope is viewed as universal, especially in Isaiah (in the passages I quoted above). These Isaiah texts project the ultimate fulfillment of the divine promises in the new covenant onto an “ideal Israel”, i.e., a community tied to the servant of the Lord, located in a rejuvenated new heavens and new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). This “ideal Israel” picks up the promises of Abraham and is presented as the climactic and ultimate fulfillment of the covenants that God established with the patriarchs, the nation of Israel, and David’s son (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-28). Furthermore, in the story line of Scripture it is not enough to say that the new covenant merely brings about the Abrahamic blessings to Israel and the nations. One cannot understand the Abrahamic covenant apart from the “covenant with creation,” so, in truth, when the new covenant arrives we have the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises, the reversal of the effects of sin and the death brought about by Adam, and the establishment of the new creation. (pg. 645)

I especially love the anticipation of a new creation in Isaiah 66 and how the plan of God is not limited to one race or people, but to all people everywhere:

And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

“For as the new heavens and the new earth

that I make

shall remain before me, says the LORD,

so shall your offspring and your name remain.

From new moon to new moon,

and from Sabbath to Sabbath,

all flesh shall come to worship before me,

declares the LORD.

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:20-24 ESV)

The reason I wanted to quote such an extended section from Gentry and Wellum has to do with their grasp of the magnitude of the new covenant ushered in by Christ. When these gentiles came to see Jesus, He clearly saw this as a sign that His hour had come, and that soon all the promises and covenants made with His people in ages past, were about to be fulfilled in Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Morris says, “Plainly their coming is important. Jesus views it as evidence that his mission has reached its climax and that he is now to die for the world, Greeks included.”

12:22-23 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. [23] And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Boice says there are two ways in which Jesus would be glorified. First, the Greek’s seeking Him indeed gave Him glory. It showed that He was a significant person, but more than that, it showed that those outside of ethnic Israel who were looking for the light of life thought that perhaps they had found it in Him.

Secondly, and most prominently, Christ would be glorified in His death and resurrection. In His sacrificial atonement, and triumph over the grave, Jesus would show the world the meaning of His coming in plain terms, and put Satan and his army of demons to open shame by triumphing over them (Col. 2:15).

In saying that “the hour has come” Jesus undoubtedly is referring to his death, yet as Morris notes, “…He speaks not of tragedy but of triumph.” And so it is that He sees in His death the anticipation of victory, and that is what is meant by “glorified.”

 

Artorius and Lucius

In the telling of the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), in ‘the Jewish Wars’, renown Jewish historian Flavius Jospehus recounts a situation in which several Roman soldiers, having already made their way into certain breaches within the outer wall of the temple complex became surrounded by fire and by the Jews to the point where the only escape would be to jump off the precipice to safety.

One solider, named Longus, while thinking of jumping, was urged by his brother Cornellius (also a solider) not to do such a thing and thereby bring disgrace upon himself and his army. The young solider agrees, and instead of surrendering or jumping slays himself rather than give into the Jews.

Meanwhile, another soldier named Artorius, facing a similar predicament, called to a fellow soldier, Lucius, a close friend of his, promising that if he could catch him from the jump Artorius would give Lucius his entire inheritance and land etc. So Lucius rushed over to catch him, and upon doing so hit the ground so hard that he ends up dying while Artorius walks away unharmed.

Now this horrific story awoke within me a great many thoughts about the nature of friendship and rescue. Sometimes we rush to help people who are jumping off cliffs and simply want to use us to break their fall. Sometimes we are the ones who call upon friends to help us out of a jam, only to use them for a time and forget all they did for us. We are selfish people by nature. We want to preserve our own lives and use others to our own benefit but rarely think to repay them for their kindness.

But no matter how we treat others or how good or self-sacrificing our friends are, they can never really solve our deepest needs. In fact, some of our needs are so profound that we’d only crush them under their weight.

As I pondered this passage this morning, what really struck me was the need we all have to be rescued, and how Christ’s rescue is so much better than that of our best friends, and even our spouses. Through the fire and war Artorius jumped into the arms of his friend, a human savior, promising him everything he could think to promise him. Christ’s rescue is not simply more successful, it is carried out of his own strength and grace and initiative. For he is able to bear the weight of our burdens our sin with perfect poise.

So there are two ways in which Christ perfectly bears my burdens. First, Christ carried the weight of my sin upon Himself on the cross, bearing in His own body the stripes that were due me for my sinfulness. The weights of our sins do not overpower His strength, and that is a wonderful truth – he has “overcome the world” (John 16). He has risen victorious over these burdens and crushed death to death.

But what is more, Christ Himself calls us to cast our daily burdens on Him. He doesn’t simply come when we call, but calls us to Himself and enables us to jump. Such is the gift of faith that He imparts to us (Eph. 2); such is the love of our rescuer. This faith was given us at our salvation point, but is also dispensed to us every day and is free for the asking. He wants us to lay our burdens upon Him.

Samuel Rutherford said, “Lay all your loads and your weights by faith upon Christ. Ease yourself, and let Him bear all. He can, He does, He will bear you.”

This is the image I want to carry with me through troubles and snares and difficulties: My savior standing ready to catch me, calling me to Himself, fully able to break my fall if I will only but resign myself to His arms. I only need look to the millions He’s safely caught; His track record is perfect, and His love beckons me on.