What was lost is now found

Last night I taught on Luke 15, three parables that teach us about the lengths God has gone to save us, and the only proper response to His pursuit: joy and repentance.  Below are my notes, I hope you profit from them!

Luke Chapter 15

Introduction to the Chapter

Chapter fifteen features three parables which showcase many aspects of the character of Jesus, but only one essential truth: God has gone to great lengths to save those who were lost and not thought worthy of the kingdom of God, and finds great joy in doing so! If there’s a second point, it is that the lowly, the meek, the humble who seek repentance are those who populate the kingdom of God.

You’ve heard of “seeker-sensitive” churches, but in this chapter we learn that it is God who is the seeker, and we see his character and his chase highlighted herein. We also see the kind of person he is chasing (sinners) and what the proper reply is to his calling (repentance).

In each parable something that was lost been restored. In the first parable we see the lengths to which a good shepherd will go in order to find a lost sheep. In the second parable, the woman who has lost a valuable coin searches everywhere in order to find that which was so valuable. Finally, in the parable of the prodigal son, we see the longsuffering father, effusive with joy and love upon the return and restoration of his long lost son.

Through each parable we see the heart of Christ for the lost, the sinful, the wayward – He sees them as valuable beyond measure. God doesn’t do anything that is a “waste of his time” so to speak. Everything he does is supremely worthy of his effort. He always ordains and acts according to what will bring him the most glory – this is the wisdom of God.

Those whom Christ has chosen to set His love upon from eternity past as HIS. They are a love gift from the Father, and despite their wanderings, He will surely go to the ends of the earth to chase them down with His love.

Once again, Luke 19:10 serves as a wonderful guide to understanding this chapter, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

15:1-2 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. [2] And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

These sinners were the social outcasts. Tax collectors were traitors to their own people, collecting money from fellow Israelites on behalf of the Romans. They functioned as mercenaries who cared more about riches than holiness. Ryken says, The word ‘sinners’ was the catch all for people who had a notorious reputation for bad behavior – thieves, drunkards, prostitutes, and anyone else who refused to conform to the holy habits of the religious community.”[1]

In this culture hospitality was a very important part of the social order, and who you ate with was just as important. – so much so that when these Pharisees saw Jesus eating with sinners it was enough to throw them into convulsions.

Ryken says that this word “receives” (prosdechomai) was “to welcome them into fellowship, to accept them and associate with them. In that culture, one of the most tangible ways to establish this kind of friendship was to share a meal.”[2]

You have to ask yourself this: Are you so outwardly religious that no sinner would want to get near you?[3] Or are you compassionate, and full of wisdom? Do you welcome and surround yourself with sinners who need saving? It is easy to fall into a legalistic mindset, so much so that you are unwilling to have a beer with a colleague after work. And on the flip side, perhaps you are willing to eat with them, and you’re very approachable, but you don’t ever lead them to the reason for the hope within you. Jesus calls upon us to be both approachable and loving and also transparently truthful. His mission was to seek and save the lost – and that ought to be ours as well.[4]

15:3-7 So he told them this parable: [4] “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? [5] And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. [6] And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ [7] Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

There are three things we need to notice about this parable.

  1. Jesus is the shepherd in this parable, and he is seeking a specific sheep. He knows the name of that sheep. The shepherd of Israel was always seen as the Lord.

This is a truth rooted in the psalms:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [2] He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. [3] He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. [2] Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! (Psalm 80:1-2)

This is a truth rooted in the prophets – He had a specific group of people upon whom He had set his affections:

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. [12] As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. [13] And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. [14] I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. [15] I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. [16] I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

This is a truth which finds is greatest expression in the person of Jesus:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. (John 17:9-10)

  1. Notice there is no guessing in what state this sheep was found – he was lost. He was a sinner. He needed repentance. This is what is sometimes chiefly missing from our study of these parables. The one thread that runs through them all in the case of the objects of God’s love is the central need of repentance.

What is it that fuels the joy of heaven? Repentance! This is a great insight for us because it shows us firstly that the priorities of heaven are not the priorities of earth. Those not valued here on earth are greatly valued in heaven. Secondly, it shows the importance of spiritual warfare and of sharing the gospel. If heaven is rejoicing at these things, ought we not to give them our attention as well?

J.C. Ryle gets at an important point that I hadn’t thought of right away, namely that the world “mocks” at repentance.[5] It isn’t a popular thing to “repent” of our behavior. If someone doesn’t like the way we behave, we say “tough, that’s what makes me unique!” We celebrate our sins and call them “diversity”, and we go endless days without doing business with God because we don’t take God as seriously as we ought.

  1. The shepherd goes to great lengths to rescue the lost sheep. As Geldenhuys says, “the shepherd considers no trouble, sacrifice and suffering too great to find the lost sheep and bring it back.”

This is the real central point of all of these parables, namely the great lengths to which Jesus has gone to rescue us from ourselves.

15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? [9] And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ [10] Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This next parable was one that women of Jesus’ day could relate to – which actually cuts to the point that Jesus cared more about relating timeless truths to the lower classes of men and women than to the rich and powerful. He had a word for everyone because He was rescuing men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Ryken comments, “Can you see what Jesus was doing? In contrast to the other preachers of his day, he wanted to teach women as much as men. To do that effectively, he made a point of using examples that related to their life experience.”[6]

In this case, the woman who lost her coin represents God. And the coin that is lost – well you guessed it, that’s the lost sinner God is searching after.[7]

One of these silver coins, called “drachamas”, was worth an entire days labor in the time of Jesus.

Imagine working all day long, getting dinner made, getting the laundry going, the kids finally in bed, the house somewhat clean (if you’re lucky), and you sit down to get the money ready for grocery day tomorrow. A sinking feeling takes hold when you realize that you’re missing an entire day’s worth of money in your bank account – what in the world happened? Where did it go? That’s when you start looking through your bank statements, scrolling furiously through the online line items. The horrid realization is setting in that everything you did today doesn’t even matter. It might as well never have happened – its gone. You immediately start combing your purse, your wallet, your statements, you stop and think – you must be missing something somewhere. That’s when you realize – you had gotten an extra $300 out of the ATM and put it in an envelope for tomorrow – that’s why it wasn’t showing up in the online statement!

We’ve all been there – in fact, more likely than some cash in an envelope is the case that the bank charged you 5 times for overdraft fees even though you have plenty of money sitting in another account. They just didn’t bother to ask if you wanted to transfer any of the over!

But the point is this: That silver coin was worth a lot to this lady. She needed that money to run her household. Losing the coin wasn’t just a write off, or bad business, it could be fatal.

Tony Romano talks about how this stops everything, it interrupts everything – life stops cold in its tracks in order to find this coin. All else, all other priorities fade for the moment, and the search consumes everything.[8]

Such is the value God places on the lost sinners of this world. And when He tracks one down, all of heaven erupts in jubilant celebration.

15:11-13 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. [12] And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. [13] Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

Notice two things. First, the father didn’t deny his son what he asked for. Sometimes God gives us the desires of our heart in order to show us that they are foolishness. He basically says, “Fine, you want these things? Take them and see that they are worthless and temporary compared to what I have to offer you!”

But it is devastating to realize that this son wants to waste everything his father has worked so hard to save.[9]

Secondly, the living of this son is the life promoted by the world. It is the “good life” – it prioritizes the self ahead of others, and the temporal before the eternal.

15:14-15 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. [15] So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

The privileges of this son in his own land were lost. What took years to save is spent in no time at all. And, ironically, the well-healed young man has now become the hired servant. His bondage is self inflicted – in more ways than one.

The son is now at the nadir of his life. Jews listening to Jesus’ parable would have been completely repulsed by the idea of feeding and eating with pigs – an unclean animal.

15:16-19 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. [17] “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! [18] I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

This is the moment – at his lowest – when he comes to himself. That is a very important statement. He is finally in his right mind – he sees reality for what it is. He isn’t trying to just get himself out of a spot with the intention of going right back to the life he led before. No, he is finally desperate enough to realize how much he needs saved.

Furthermore, he knows that what he has done has been an offense first and foremost against heaven.

What this says, and what all of these parables intimate, is that our sin is of cosmic importance. Angels celebrate when we repent and are saved. Our sins are recognized as that which is an offence first and foremost against God.

This is something that David realized as well:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:4)

15:20-24 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. [23] And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. [24] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

We must notice three things about the Father:

  1. Even when the son was far off he felt compassion and “ran” to him. Pride, anger, resentment had no place in this man’s heart.
  2. He lavished upon the son great gifts and love. Such is the love the father had for his son.
  3. He recognized the state of his son as “dead” and now “alive” – so are all men who were previously outside of the family of God.

And once again, a celebration ensues!

15:25 “Now his older son[10] was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. [26] And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. [27] And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ [28] But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, [29] but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. [30] But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ [31] And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. [32] It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

What strikes me about this is the excitement, the party atmosphere, the joy, the dancing, the music – loud music! This is a real party going on here! The God of the Bible is not a stoic. He is a God who has created all of these lost men and women – fashioned them with His own hands. He cares deeply for them. And he has set his affection on a chosen number to save from eternal punishment. This special affection is seen in the profuse love of this father for his wayward son.

Also, God works from a different plane of reality here.[11] He says it was “fitting” that they celebrate. It’s a given, its natural. This is what we do, he says. That is not human logic; this is a statement motivated by someone with perspective on a higher plane of reality. Because we have the mind of Christ, we must also elevate our thoughts to His, to celebrate the significance of a lost sinner coming to salvation.

Now let’s examine once again some of the bigger picture here…

The Bigger Picture

We would do well at this point to pull back and remember the bigger picture of Jesus’ ministry, and how it fits into the larger scope of redemptive history. The history of Israel was one of disobedience, exile, and salvation.

To get a better picture of the cycle, remember that just as Joseph went ahead of the Israelites into the land of Egypt, so also Daniel went first into Babylon – into exile – before the rest of his countrymen joined him. Both men were elevated to the highest positions in the land due to their faith. And just as Moses came later to rescue the people from Egypt, so too Daniel predicted that even after the exodus from Babylon there would be a new exodus led by the One he referred to as the “Son of Man.”

Moses the great Midianite shepherd, rescued his sheep from the serpents of Egypt. Jesus, the son of Man, and greater son of David, has taken up staff and rescued the sheep of His Father’s flock, delivering them from exile to a new exodus – a spiritual exodus – an exodus from sin and death.

That is what is going on here – Jesus has come to usher in the exodus – and as He does this, He establishes His kingdom. It is a kingdom built upon a rock. It is a kingdom which will never be shaken. It is a kingdom which will cover all the lands as the water covers the sea. And as we see in chapter 15, it is a kingdom populated by sinners.

Which leads to the last points…

The Character of God

Underlying all of this the manifold character of God is seen. His sovereignty is manifested in ordaining, and indeed bringing about, the salvation of those who seemed (by all worldly standards) to have wandered beyond the reach of salvation. His justice is seen in His passing over those self-righteous “older brothers” who refuse to come in and eat with the prodigals. His mercy is showcased in the way in which He loves the unlovable – whom He amazingly sees as valuable enough to search the earth over for – and saves them out of a wretched situation.

Such is the mercy that He has showered upon each one of us, even if we don’t think very frankly about our state prior to His saving work. Listen to the reflections of C.H. Spurgeon:

“I must confess,” he says, “that I never would have been saved if I could have helped it. As long as ever I could, I rebelled, and revolted, and struggled against God. When He would have me pray, I would not pray, and when He would have me listen to the sound of the ministry, I would not. And when I heard, and the tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it away and defied Him to melt my soul. But long before I began with Christ, He began with me.”[12]

We all must stand in debt and awe that the Hound of Heaven has chased us down, has set His great and mighty love upon us, and though we deserved it not, has rescued us from certain death. God be praised for His mercy.

Footnotes

[1] Ryken, Commentary on Luke, Volume II, Pg. 103.

[2] Ryken, Commentary on Luke, Volume II, Pg. 113.

[3] I appreciate the teaching of Tony Romano who brought this question to my attention two years ago during a campout when he spoke on this passage. My personal notes reflect several pages of introspection from those teaching sessions in August of 2013.

[4] Tony Romano, August 23, 2013 notes on Luke 15 teaching. He said, “The church is on mission because God is on mission.”

[5] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke, Volume Two, Baker Books, Pg. 177.

[6] Ryken, Volume II, Pg. 117.

[7] Ryken points out that the H.S. is possibly represented by the woman in the second parable – Pg. 118.

[8] Romano, August 23, 2013, notes on Luke 15 talk.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ryken wisely points out that there is a progression in the three parables. The sheep was 1 of 100, the coin was 1 of 10, but the prodigal was 1 of 2. Although it is evident here that both sons were really lost, and many believe that the Pharisees are represented in the older son in this final parable.

[11] Romano, August 24, 2013, men’s campout, personal notes on his lesson.

[12] http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/bio2.htm

The Restoration of Peter

Here are my notes for John 21:8-17. This account includes the restoration of the Apostle Peter.  After denying the Lord three times, the Lord Jesus has restored his friend to ministry in a public and profound way.

The Miracle

21:8-14 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. [9] When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. [10] Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” [11] So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. [12] Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. [13] Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. [14] This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

One can really sense the authority and majesty of Jesus in the fact that no one “dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’”

What’s in a Number?

It is always interesting when Scripture uses such a specific number to describe something. In this case, the disciples caught 153 fish. Why would John remark on that specifically? Well, I think that we can easily say that it was worth noting how many fish simply because it’s a lot of fish! Not that the number itself is significant, but rather that the exact number tells us something of how impressive the catch actually was.

Now, there are other (MANY other) interpretations that range from the bizarre to the more plausible. Hendriksen notes about 7 of them just as a sampling, but even a cursory search of the internet seems to reveal a plethora of others.

Some of the ideas are (quoting Hendriksen):

  1. The fish were not counted until the shore had been reached, in order to teach us that the exact number of the elect remains unknown until they have reached the shore of heaven.
  2. The ancients counted one hundred fifty-three varieties of fish!
  3. There is here a veiled reference to Matt. 13:47, 48, and an indication that all kinds of people are going to be saved.
  4. The number one hundred fifty-three represents 100 for the Gentiles, 50 for the Jews, and 3 for the Trinity.

My friend Uri, an expert in Israeli history and culture, told me that he likes the idea that the number represents the different varieties of fish because it points to the universality of the gospel and the diversity of the church. He says, “In Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis he lists all the known fish species at the time. Behold 153. The significance is the universality of the church. 153 fish, all the species/nations of the world can fit into the net and the net is not broken.”

The Abundance of the Miracle

In every miracle that our Lord has performed there is one consistent theme – what He does He does in abundance!

He made more wine at Cana than was necessary, He made more fish in Luke 5 than the disciples could take in, He made more bread and fish for the 5000 than the crowd needed, and He healed hundreds – if not thousands of men and women. Note also that when He healed people, he didn’t just give them an aspirin. They would have been happy for their suffering to be relieved I’d wager. But He completely healed them. What God does He does in such a way as to indicated that He is God, AND that He is good!

The Lord who remarked that a good father gives his children a fish and not a snake, gives fish in abundance. In everyway and on every level that you have provided for your children, the Father and His Son have far outstripped you. They have lavished grace and peace and in the life to come riches beyond measure.

And just as Jesus bid the disciples to come and eat breakfast with him, so he calls to us, his children, to dine with him. His call to believers is this:

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. [21] 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. (Revelation 3:20-21)

Seeing A Larger Picture with Ryle

J.C. Ryle has examined this passage and, surveying all the commentators up till his time, has provided some thoughts on the possible broader allegorical meaning of the matter. He is quick to say, however, that we must have caution in adding more to the thing than that which is already there. But still, there are some observations that may hearten us and enrich the passage as a whole. Here is what he says:

Other expositors, of a more figurative and imaginative turn of mind, go into heights and depths where I cannot pretend to follow them. I shall content myself with pointing out the more obvious spiritual lessons which I think the passage was probably meant to convey.

(a) I think that Christ’s remarkable appearance to the disciples, when they were in the act of fishing, was meant to remind them and the whole Church of the primary duty of ministers. They were doing work which was strikingly emblematic of their calling. They were to be “fishers of men.”

(b) I think the lack of success in catching fish, which the disciples had until the Lord appeared, was meant to teach that without Christ’s presence and blessing ministers can do nothing.

(c) I think the marvelous success that attended the cast of the net, when Christ gave the command, was meant to teach that when Christ is pleased to give success to ministers, nothing can prevent souls being brought into the Gospel net, converted and saved.

(d) I think the drawing of the net to shore at last was meant to remind the disciples and all ministers of what will happen when the Lord comes again. The work of the Church will be completed, and the reckoning of results will take place.

(e) I think the dinner prepared and provided for the disciples, when the net was drawn to the shore, was meant to remind ministers that there will be the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” at last, when Christ Himself shall welcome His faithful servants and ministers, and “come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:37).

(f) I think, besides this, that the respective positions of the disciples and Christ, when they first saw Him, may possibly be intended to represent the respective positions of Christ and His people during this dispensation. They were on the water of the sea. He was looking at them from the land. Just so Christ is in heaven looking at us, and we are voyaging over the troublous waters of this world.

(g) Finally, I think that our Lord’s sudden appearing on shore, when the morning broke, may possibly represent our Lord’s second advent. “The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.” When the morning dawns, Christ will appear.

With these conjectures I leave the passage. They may not commend themselves to some readers. I only say that they appear to me to deserve consideration and reflection.

Certainly they do deserve consideration! I think that perhaps letter (f) is a little far fetched, and letters (d) and (e) are very similar. But he is correct that from what I have read at least, letters (a), (b) and (c) are universal in their appearance in the minds of many commentators, and definitely appeared in my mind as I studied the passage.

These are great ideas to reflect upon in the coming days, and a marvelous reminder of the richness of Scripture. It is passages like this which kept Spurgeon busy for hours at a time! Certainly they should also keep us busy in our meditation.

21:15-17 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

The Restoration of Peter

Setting the Scene

I have been to this very spot where Jesus is said to have called these men to shore for breakfast. I have sung ‘How Great Thou Art’ at full tilt with other men and women in the small chapel that sits firmly ensconced upon that shore. This is a beautiful place!

What makes it beautiful is multi-dimensional. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, and ears with the flowering trees and waves breaking upon the shore, but it is a spiritual feast – even an emotional and mental feast for anyone who has ever been restored by the Lord Jesus. And that group includes me.

In this segment of verses we read how Peter and the Lord, while sitting amongst the other disciples, had what must have been their first bit of extended conversation since the night of Jesus’ death. Jesus had appeared to them prior, but apparently had not spent a lot of time in one-on-one discussion, or extended teaching of them yet (as in Acts 1:3).

Therefore the last time that Peter and conversed with the Lord in any substantive manner was during the Farewell Discourses when, as we recall, Peter had proudly declared that he’d follow Jesus even unto death. Jesus’ reply to Peter’s declaration was to prophecy that in just a few short hours Peter was deny Him not once, but three times.

Peter learned that fateful evening that though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak. Peter not only denied Jesus, he did so in public. Therefore, as D.A. Carson summarizes, “Whatever potential for future service he (Peter) had therefore depended not only on forgiveness from Jesus, but also on reinstatement amongst the disciples.”

I Agape your Phileo and Raise you an Agape

Now Jesus, the great Shepherd of His flock, begins his interactions with Peter by asking him if he “loves” him “more than these.” In this context Jesus likely means “these” as the disciples. He is daring Peter to once again assert his supremacy. And in doing so, His words cut to Peter’s heart and remind him that though he claims to be the most loyal and dutiful disciples, he has a recent failure of such magnitude that with each passing word from the lips of Jesus, Peter must have been smarting all the more.

Peter responds in the affirmative, and with each affirmative reply, Jesus charges Peter to “Feed the lambs”, “tend my sheep”, and feed my sheep.”

Much has, perhaps rightly, been made of how when Jesus asked Peter whether he “loved” him, he was using the word “agape” whereas Peter was responding with “phileo” for his description of love.

There are four expressions of love in the Greek language, as the wonderful web resource Gotquestions.org has stated:

The Bible speaks of two types of love: phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms and appear at different points throughout Scripture. The Greek language also had terms for two other types of love, eros and storge, which do not expressly appear in the Bible.
http://www.gotquestions.org/phileo-love.html#ixzz3FWIhOYPt

Many scholars have argued about the differences between phileo and agape. The usual summary is that Agape is more a love of choice – a sacrificial love. It is a matter of the will. Whereas Phileo is a love of affection and is based somewhat on emotion.

GotQuestions.org sums up this popular teaching in this way:

Since phileo love involves feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, we do not have phileo love toward our enemies. However, God commands us to have agape love toward everyone. This includes those whose personalities clash with ours, those who hurt us and treat us badly, and even those who are hostile toward our faith (Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:44). In time, as we follow God’s example of agape love for our enemies, we may even begin to experience phileo love for some of them as we start to see them through God’s eyes.

But I don’t know that it’s correct to say that Peter didn’t truly love Christ, but rather Christ was setting the kind of example Peter must follow. He may have been proclaiming to Peter the kind of love – sacrificial love, love of difficult choices, noble love – that He had for His sheep. Now Peter needed to have that same love for the sheep.

That being said, D.A. Carson and F.F. Bruce both lay a very good case out for why its very hard to draw any particular conclusion simply from the use of different nouns – especially in this Gospel when John has been using agape and phileo interchangeably up until now.

I find this extremely important when figuring out questions of interpretation. We need to look at the context of the book and how the author has used words in the past. And while we need to take a sample of the common vernacular as well, I would think that the authorial usage takes slight precedent over cultural commonality if there are multiple examples to draw from, and indeed there are in this book.

Additionally, there is some evidence that agape was also coming into more common use at the time to mean simply “to love” (per Carson).

This is another example of how sometimes popular tradition gets it wrong – or at least assumes perhaps a little more than we ought to assume. Once our inquiries and speculation have been done, if we don’t have a preponderance of evidence before us that leaves us certain of our views, we must humbly step away from proclaiming our views to be “doctrine.”

Soon I will be studying through Revelation with our Sunday School class, and I find a similar example of illogical hermeneutics applied to the millennium in that book. So much is made of whether the millennium is a literal 1,000 years when up until that 20th chapter in Revelation no other number (save perhaps the 7 churches?) was used in a literal fashion. But it is popular tradition now to assume this be the case. Ought we not to ask how John has written of such things in other parts of his book?

I raise this only as a caution that we approach Scripture with humility – especially those with learning and education. For those without education are less apt to project their assumptions onto Scripture and are often open to correction. However it is the learned man or woman who confidently asserts opinion where angels dare not tread. Let us with humility interpret the Word of God.

The Friendship of Jesus

One of the most difficult things to do is confront a brother who has sinned and is in need to rebuke and restoration. We are commanded by Paul to “speak the truth in love.”

What touches my heart so much about this passage in John is the tenderness of Jesus. His tripartite restoration of this impetuous man mirrored the three-fold denial which Peter had so shamefully displayed just days before.

The realization that here in one man is Peter’s God and friend, his Savior, and His Lord, this must have been overwhelming. It is overwhelming to me. It is why one of my favorite verses in Scripture is Exodus 33:11. The passage goes like this:

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. (Exodus 33:9-11)

If you have found yourself covered in shame, if you have wronged your Lord, take comfort – we all have wronged our Lord. We have all sinned against God. But the blessing of this passage is the reminder that even the greatest leaders can fall, and even the greatest falls can be restored. We have a Savior, aye, this is true – but more than that, we have a friend.

Joseph Scriven’s great hymn, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

 

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.
 

The Mission Given to Peter

I’ve briefly touched on this earlier, but we must examine briefly again the mission that is given to the Apostle Peter. Jesus has specifically given him a mission. That mission is to feed the sheep, to tend the flock and so forth. He must watch over the new church of Christ, and must also feed them.

Carson quotes Barrett and quips, “The ministry ‘is described in verbs, not nouns: Tend, feed, not Be a pastor, hold the office of pastor. And the sheep are Christ’s sheep, not Peter’s. Not, Tend your flock, but Tend my sheep.’

What does it mean to feed the flock? Well, if the “flock” is the church then we must necessarily believe the “feeding” and “tending” are also metaphorical devices. The church feeds off of the Word of God.

This is made plain even as far back as Moses’ interactions with the Israelites when he told them:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Jesus himself quoted this verse to rebuke Satan during His temptation in the wilderness before the beginning of His ministry.

In fact, He later called Himself the bread from heaven, which is simply another way of saying that He is the Word of God incarnate. The bread and the word are one in the same, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And indeed Peter understood this. For later he would go on to say:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Peter understood that He was being tasked with the spiritual nutrition of the church. Ironically, and scornfully, those who claim direct papal descent from this man are the ones starving the church of its food. The Catholic church (so-called) does not encourage the reading of Scripture, in fact it is the greatest rationer of spiritual nutrition in all the world. Which is why it is with great irony that they are the ones who claim this passage (along with Matthew 16:13-20) as one which sets down the primacy of Peter because not only does it do nothing of the sort, but even if it did, they do not follow the instructions to him who was supposedly made primal.

Carson rightly says, “Thus there is nothing intrinsic to the language of John 21:15-17 that suggests a distinctive authority for Peter. All Christian leadership entails a certain tension between authority and meek, exemplary service, patterned finally on Jesus himself. In the context of the Fourth Gospel, these verses deal with Peter’s reinstatement to service, not his elevation to primacy.”

Yes while most everyone else in the world is either trying purposefully to spread the word of God, or trying hard to stop the spread of this word, the Catholic hierarchy is content to slow drip the Word to a body that is thirsty and dying of starvation.

Conclusion

Now our response must be carefully assessed. For we cannot read this and judge ourselves content to move on before we settle some things in our mind. Let us settle at least these few things:

  1. The Word of God is that which feeds the church and it must be spread throughout the whole world.
  2. The Word is what changes lives, and therefore must not be adulterated or watered down by our own ideas.
  3. We must give great time and energy to studying and spending time in the Word of God.
  4. We must teach others the Word of God – this is the feeding of the lambs.
  5. Jesus told Peter to tend the lambs, which is to say that our leaders must be watchful for the safety of the church, keeping an eye out for wolves and for sheep who have gone astray.

It is a great and precious thing to be both restored and given a task. That is what Peter experienced, and that is what Paul says we each experience – we are not only saved, but we are saved for a purpose:

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

Let us take this restoration as a reminder of the open arms of Christ, and the charge he gives us upon restoration. He has saved us – and not to mope about in introspection for our entire lives, but to love others in service to our Lord. In this we look to Him the author and finisher of our faith, and our true Friend and Brother.

9-29-13 Study Notes: I Am the Way

John Chapter 14

14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

The Heart of a Shepherd

It makes all the sense in the world for Christ to continue his discourse here by telling the disciples not to let their hearts fall into despair.  Remember, He has just delivered a very harsh rebuke to Peter, whose heart must have absolutely sunk at Christ’s stinging words.

Therefore, Christ tells them in strong terms not to let their “hearts be troubled”, and subsequently issues a command: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” It seems that what Jesus is saying here is that the antidote to fear here is to trust Him.

D.A. Carson explains that perhaps the best way to understand the word “believe” here is to use the word “trust” given the context. Jesus is calling these disciples (and us as well) to trust Him. This is the solution to their fear. Trusting in God and His Son is letting your heart and mind dwell upon His promises, and taking Him at His word (Is. 26:3; 1 John 4:18). Well did the proverb say:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

And as in so many cases, Christ doesn’t simply issue forth the command as in a vacuum, but goes on to explain what He has said.

John MacArthur makes the point that “Instead of the disciples lending support to Jesus in the hours before His Cross, He had to support them spiritually, as well as emotionally. This reveals His heart of serving love” (cf. Carson who makes the same point). It reminds us of the role of Christ as our great Shepherd.  Consider what He said earlier in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15, ESV)

And this is what was predicted by the prophet Ezekiel:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, ESV)

It is here and in so many other passages that we see the compassion of our Shepherd. We are His sheep, and He looks after us, just as He looked after the disciples. In subsequent generations God would raise up other shepherds to look after His sheep – even unto death.  I am specifically reminded of Ignatius of Antioch, who even on his way to Rome to be tried and executed, wrote seven pastoral letters to the churches and to his friend Polycarp, encouraging them and strengthening them in the faith.

In one of those letters Ignatius wrote:

To what end have I given myself up to perish by fire or sword or savage beasts? Simply because when I am close to the sword I am close to God, and when I am surrounded by the lions, I am surrounded by God. But it is only in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of sharing his sufferings, that I could face all this; for he, the perfect Man, gives me strength to do so.

Surely this echoes of the character of Christ, of whom John says:

…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1b)

14:2-4 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.”

It is not for nothing that Christ has told these men to take heart and believe in God, for He follows this command by announcing a promise that is so full of comfort that it is worth our examination of the saying in-depth.

He Knows You by Name

First Christ says that “in my Father’s house are many rooms.”  This alone tells us that in heaven there will be a multitude of saints. Though we know the truth of the doctrine of election, and the solid fact that Christ has not chosen all men for new birth, yet we see here that the number He has chosen is voluminous. What a comfort to know how effective and bountiful the love of Christ is upon sinful mankind, and to be counted in this group, well, it is something beyond comprehension.

Then Jesus doubles down on the truth of His claims by appealing to His own truthfulness. He basically states that, “if there weren’t many rooms in heaven for you, would I have said so in the first place?” The answer, as we know, is emphatically “no.”

Isaiah closely captures the feeling here:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
(Isaiah 45:22-23)

He can swear by no higher name (Heb. 6:13) because what His name stands for is absolute truth, as we’ll soon see in just a moment…

But first, as we look closely at the end of verse two, we see that when Christ goes away to “prepare a room” it is a very personal, individual task. He has individual persons in mind. Therefore we see here an idea that is contrary to what is taught by Arminians who say that God predestines groups of people in a very general way “in Christ” (His elect Son) but does not effectually choose specific individuals.

Perhaps an example is helpful. When my parents purchased one of their first homes in Oregon City (Oregon), they prepared and furnished each room based upon which child would be living there. My room was blue, with a red stripe down the middle, and had large basketball and car posters of hung up on the walls. My sister’s room was a girly sort of color (probably pink, but I can’t recall) and had all the frills that my mom knew she would enjoy.  In short, each room was personalized. The same principle is true of Christ. He doesn’t simply give grace to a nameless group of people who may or may not accept Christ’s atoning work on the cross. No indeed, Christ had you in mind when He died, and has an eternal plan for you personally. That plan includes work on His behalf here as well as enjoyment of Him here, but also includes an eternal specific ordained plan for you after you die and join Him.

The Way is Not Yet Prepared

Next look with me at verse three, which begins by saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.” John Piper, who delivered a sermon on this passage, is wise to point out that Jesus is going to prepare a place in two senses, and I think he’s right on target here.

First, the way is not yet prepared.  This is not to say that from the foundation of the world God has not already planned that you will be with Him in heaven (Ephesians 1:4-10), or that somehow heaven is in a state of disrepair. No indeed!  The first sense of the phrase here used by Jesus is that, “you cannot come where I am because the way is not yet open! I am about to make a way for you through my death, burial and resurrection.”

Heaven is prepared my friend, but you could not go there until Christ first suffered and died and conquered the power of death. This strongly ties in with verses 5 and (particularly) 6 in which Christ declares that the way to the Father is through the Son.

Now if we take into account the following truths we’ll end up understanding the next part of verse three: 1. From the foundation of the world He has prepared this place for us, 2. Christ must conquer death first before we can come where He is, and 3. He is the only way to this place. This leads us to understand better why He says, “I will come again and will take you to myself” and leads us also to the second sense of the meaning of verse three, which is that Christ is not talking specifically about heaven in this passage, but rather Himself.

Piper says this:

Don’t use this passage of Scripture to show that whe(n) Jesus comes back at the Second Coming he will take you to heaven. It does not say that. It says, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And where will he be when he comes? We will meet him in the air, and he will establish his reign on the earth. And so we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

What this text focuses on in the Second Coming is not a return to heaven but a reunion with Christ. “I will come again and will take you to myself.” Therefore, my beloved disciples, let not your heart be troubled. Trust. Trust me that I am coming for you. I will come. I will take you. And trust me because the dwelling I have prepared for you is my crucified, risen, and glorified self. Don’t be troubled, I will come and take you to myself.

Jesus is focused on Himself here, not heaven. As Morris notes, “Nothing is said about the nature of the place that Christ prepares (vs.1-2). It is sufficient for believers that we will be with our Lord.” Jesus knows that it is His presence that provides ultimate rest, peace, and security, and that is why He turns from discussing heaven to His second advent.

Furthermore, as believers looking back on this time, we can see that contrary to the situation in which Jesus is speaking these words, when He comes back He will do so in power, and a display of glory and brilliance unmatched by anything the world has seen or heard. He points the disciples forward in their minds to a time when His triumphal entry will be nothing short of spectacular!

The Motivation of our Shepherd

Now look at Christ’s motivation for this preparation. He says, “that where I am you may be also.” If you aren’t getting the picture by now, you will certainly understand when you look closely at this portion of verse 3, that Christ has a plan for you, and furthermore wants to have a relationship with you. He does all that He does in order that, at least as it concerns us, He will have eternal fellowship with us, His bride!

Let me bring this home a little more. Many of us long for fellowship and companionship, and many children as they grow up are shaped by the relationships they have with their parents – and with friends at school. Often young people who don’t have many friends are left feeling hurt and abandoned by God and family. We naturally need fellowship and do not like to be lonely.  But Christ is not this way. Yes He also loves fellowship, but He does not need it from us. He already has all the companionship He needs in the eternal fellowship of the trinity. And so we are not fulfilling a need of His here. It isn’t as though He is somehow fearful that He will die and be in heaven bored out of His mind because of the exciting times He’s just left on earth! No! In heaven Christ is forever and continually worshiped and adored! He doesn’t get bored!

So this desire of His to have us be “with Him” in heaven, this entirely God-initiated, God-driven desire is an expression of the depth of the love He has for us. We must keep in view the fact that He made us after His own image, as Augustine said, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

What an amazing thought. You can go away from this text knowing, for certain, that going into the last hours before His death, Christ is preparing mentally for eternity with you! And this theme continues throughout the next few chapters.  We’ll see in chapter 17 that Christ prays that all who believe in His name will come to be with Him in heaven. In the final moments of His life He is more concerned with petitioning the Father for our presence in heaven than He is for His own safety here on earth. And so here we see the overflowing love of God in Christ made manifest in His words. What a great comfort! What a great love He has for us.

Knowing vs. Understanding

Lastly, He finishes this portion of His saying by expressing a sort of realized eschatology. These disciples haven’t caught up yet to the riches of what He is promising them. Their minds are still stuck on the fact that He’s going to leave them, and its deeply upsetting to them at the time. So Jesus says that, “you know the way to where I am going.”  Huh? They don’t know where He is going! And that is expressed by Thomas, who is clinging more closely to some words more than others and isn’t reading between the lines.

Jesus, who knows all things, knows that He has implanted in them the truth of His mission and destination. Even if they don’t realize what He is saying now, they will realize it when the Spirit leads them into all truth (John 16:13). That is why I say it is a sort of “realized eschatology” because Jesus is anticipating that, though they actually know the truth now, very soon they will understand what they already know. They will actually start to piece together the truth He has already imparted to them.

Why do I bring this up? Because so often we only listen to part of Scripture, and very often that part is the part we want to hear. Sometimes we’re too distracted to pay any attention at all. If the disciples had been paying attention they would have understood – at least to a small degree – that their Lord was imparting magnificent truths to them. Now was the time to set aside their emotions and focus on the words of their Lord.

How much more ought we to focus on the words of those in the pulpit who are breathlessly expositing the words of life to us. Yet I find that so often my own mind wanders, when it ought to worship. Let us heed this admonition and the (bad) example of the disciples at this point, and cling to every word of our Savior, always asking the Spirit to help us discern the intended meaning and to root out any sin that may be impeding our growth in grace.

14:5-6 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

First we see Thomas’ reaction of complete confusion.  “What are you talking about Jesus? Have I missed something?” Yes you have. But Jesus doesn’t say that does He…instead He takes the opportunity to teach an even greater truth to them, but one that is not off-topic.

The Sixth ‘I AM’ Statement of Christ in John

What is Jesus’ reaction to Thomas? He says, let me spell it out for you Thomas, if you want to know how to come to me and the Father (who are “one”), you simply must believe in me, for I am the way to the father. There is no other way but through me and me alone. This is also the sixth ‘I Am’ statement of Jesus in the book of John. As a reminder of the others, I have listed them below. As you read through these statements, they lead us to our next point of discussion, namely, that Jesus was continually making extraordinary (and highly) exclusive claims about Himself. The others are as follows:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…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)

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (John 10:14)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (John 11:25)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1, 5)

When Jesus says, “I AM”, let us remember that He is not speaking thus in order to point us simply to the adjective (“door”, “shepherd” etc.), but to the pronoun. R.C. Sproul reminds us that the Greek words that are rendered “I AM” in our English translation here are “ego eimi” which means, “I am, I am”. These words bring to mind the sacred name reserved for God the Father in the Old Testament, a name sometimes referred to as the “ineffable” name of God, YHWY. “Ineffable” means simply “too great, powerful, or beautiful to be described or expressed in words” (a combination of dictionary definitions here).

Therefore when Jesus says, “I AM” the way the truth and the life, He is invoking the unspeakably awesome name of God to describe Himself.

The Three-Fold Declaration

Now let us turn to examine specifically what Jesus, the ineffable One says about Himself:

I AM The Way – This is an answer to Thomas, and to all who for millennia would ask, “How is my soul to be saved?” This phrase is so significant that it would soon be used by early Christians to identify themselves with their Lord (Acts 22:4), and it’s no doubt closely connected with his exclusive claims about being the Door of the sheepfold (10:7, 9).

I AM The Truth – He is asserting nothing less than being the embodiment of absolute truth – the standard of what is right and wrong for the entire universe. He is the Word of God incarnate (1:14). Not a word, action, or thought of Jesus proceeds apart from the antecedent reality that it flows from His absolute perfection of veracity.

I AM The Life – He reminds us of a previous declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25b), and, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

The Exclusivity of Christ

For thousands of years the church has stood on the exclusivity of the statements Christ makes in this passage. Despite what many have tried to argue over the ages, Christianity is not a religion that follows a “many paths to God” approach. We believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way one can be saved from sin and death.

Furthermore, it is clear from our understanding of the early church that the Apostles thought of Christ as the only way to be saves.  Look at what Peter says before the council in Acts 4:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11, 12 ESV)

“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord” (First two affirmation of ‘The Apostles Creed’ – emphasis mine)

Also, this is the Apostle Paul’s understanding. He says that without Christ we are alienated from God, and that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and man:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

In his defense of this principle, Christian apologist William Lane Craig lays out the Biblical reason for Christ’s exclusivity – namely, the problem of sin:

Sin is the great leveler, rendering all needy of God’s forgiveness and salvation. Given the universality of sin, all persons stand morally guilty and condemned before God, utterly incapable of redeeming themselves through righteous acts (3.19-20). But God in His grace has provided a means of salvation from this state of condemnation: Jesus Christ, by his expiatory death, redeems us from sin and justifies us before God (3.21-26). It is through him and through him alone, then, that God’s forgiveness is available (5.12-21). To reject Jesus Christ is therefore to reject God’s grace and forgiveness, to refuse the one means of salvation which God has provided. It is to remain under His condemnation and wrath, to forfeit eternally salvation. For someday God will judge all men, “inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1.8-9).

Lastly, later on in his epistles, the Apostle John lays out further (and very clear) teachings about the fact that Christ is the only way to salvation:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. [23] No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3)

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

The Many Paths to God: Contemporary Pluralism

During the first century the church had to deal with many persecutions, but most of those came from the Jews rather than outside governments – like Rome. It was the exclusive nature of the claims of Jesus Christ (that He was the Messiah) that caused Him to be a stumbling block to the Jews, and eventually led Him to Golgotha.

Look at what Paul said to the Corinthian church in his day:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

And so the Jews provided an early impediment to the spread of Christianity, but as we’ve learned in our study of the book of Acts, the more Christians were persecuted the more Christianity spread like wildfire.

However, it is the “folly” of the gentiles (as Paul put it) that we battle today.

Christianity is the only major religion in which its founder claims such exclusive privileges and power. It is also the only major religion in which its followers do not have to earn their way to heaven, rather it is through the work of the God-man Jesus Christ that we will be able to stand on the ‘Day of Judgment’, because it is only through His righteousness that we have access to the promises of God – namely eternal life.

Our more specific problem in our own country today is that of ‘Tolerance’.  So-called tolerance has become code for, “you believe whatever you want to believe, so long as you don’t push your views on me.” There are no moral absolutes: we live in an age of relativism. And somehow we think this is “new” or “revolutionary” or “evolved”, but that simply isn’t the case.  For we read at the end of the book of Judges the following statement by the author:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25 ESV)

Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But that is why the claims of Jesus are so important in our day. People are looking for truth, they want to know why things are the way they are. And its here that we must not forget the second part of what Christ claimed here, namely, “I am the truth” – He is the ultimate standard for what is right and wrong in the universe.

He reveals what can be known about Himself through both general and special revelation. Here Jesus is specifically speaking to special revelation, meaning, the Word of God. He is the Word incarnate, and all that He speaks is 100% truth.

I really like what James M. Boice has to say about these amazing claims of Christ, “Although they are indeed exclusive, they ought not to be offensive, for they are actually what we most need as human beings. They should be received with joy and thanksgiving.”

Therefore, we must make our appeal in more refined ways – like Paul did in Athens in Acts 17. We must understand the relativism of our culture and the environment we find ourselves in today. But we must not deny what the Bible primarily speaks of, and what Jesus here claims for Himself: I am the only way and the only truth and the only way to life everlasting.

1-6-13 Study Notes

10:14-15 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Mission of Christ

By saying that “I know my own and my own know me” Christ is saying that He is on a specific mission to rescue specific sheep.  This is what He’s been expounding upon and now by repeating it He gives even further emphasis to this.

Furthermore, Christ has more to say about the scope of His work.  For in verse 16 He says that He has “other sheep” to rescue as well – “not of this fold.”  And the end goal is “there will be one flock” – and this is certainly referring to the church of Christ.

So who are those who are “not of this fold”? These are the gentiles who are not part of the nation of ethnic Israel. He has specific sheep that He is rescuing from among all people’s on the earth. This speaks to what we call “particular redemption” or “limited atonement.”  The doctrine is described by Paul this way:

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV)

So the mission of Christ has been founded from before time began, and scope of this mission is worldwide (1 John 2:2). Paul is saying is that from the beginning God had a rescue plan for specific people – not all people, but specific sheep. These sheep (the “elect”) respond to their Shepherd because they have been united with Him through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who exercises the will of the Father and of Christ; they are all of one mind (vs. 30).

Carson comments on the call of Christ the Shepherd, “Jesus comes to the sheep pen of Judaism, and calls his own sheep out individually to constitutes his own messianic ‘flock.’ The assumption is that they are in some way ‘his’ before he calls them.”

That’s a HUGE insight by Carson.  There is ownership here.  Christ has purchased you by His blood, when He calls you by the efficacious power of the Holy Spirit, He will make sure that His love overpowers your enmity toward Him. Carson later says, “Christ’s elect sheep inevitably follow him.” He will not allow the sheep He has purchased to go astray into the hands of robbers and thieves.  He will certainly complete the work; He will come and claim those for whom He died!

The Trinity as an Example

Lastly, although I just mentioned this, I love the appeal Christ makes to the Trinity here and it’s worth just looking over closely again because it permeates the teaching of Christ. He says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He will even go on to say in verse 30 that, “I and the Father are one.”  The word “just” in verse 15 signals to us here that Christ is making a comparison between His relationship with the Father, and His relationship with us, His sheep.

MacArthur comments, “In these verses, “know” has that same connotation of a relationship of love. The simple truth here is that Jesus is love knows His own, they in love know Him, the Father in loves knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father.  Believers are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That we can be united with Christ in this way is an amazing truth. He is talking about bringing us into a relationship with God, and there are a few things that ought to run through our minds when we think about what that mean – things we ought to be meditating on. For instance, this entire picture of the relationship between us and God, and between God and Christ is one that exudes love. The care and compassion of the shepherd for the sheep signals the sort of care and compassion that we will receive from our Shepherd. There are so many other things to consider here, but I think the love relationship between the trinity and its implications for our relationship with God are numerous and profound and worthy of our consideration and meditation.

10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The Reason…

This theme of love again permeates these verses, and Christ here expounds on what true love looks like in action. True love lays down one’s life for another man/woman. John wrote of this in his epistles, and Christ tells us that it is love – love for the Father, and love of the Father – that is the driving force behind His atoning death on the cross.

This ought to cause us to take a step back and ask if our actions are loving on a daily basis, and even ask if the larger plan and vision we have for our lives is being motivated out of love for God, and love for others. Can I say that what I plan on doing today, as well as my long-term vision for 5 and 10 and 25 years from now is being driven by love for God and others? I think we probably don’t plan that way normally.  Do we ask, “How do my plans show love for Christ? How can I adapt my plans or words to better glorify God and love others?”

These are difficult questions.  I don’t know exactly how to answer them, I’m sure that there are mixed answers – perhaps in some ways my life’s goals are motivated out of love, but perhaps they are mostly motivated out of greed, or self-seeking desires as well. These are questions that Christians alone must face. No unbeliever has to worry about these kinds of examinations. But if we are walking in the light, these kinds of questions ought to both encourage our hearts, and cause us to repent.

The Authority of Christ

The next thing we see in this passage is that Christ reiterates what He already told us in chapter five:

[19] 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. [22] The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

[25] “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. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:19-29 ESV)

In chapter five as I note above, we see that Christ has been given all authority by the Father. In fact, in 5:26 we see that Jesus Himself has “life in himself.”  That means that in His very being He has life – the power of being is a very profound thing that we don’t have space here to cover, needless to say that the authority to create life from nothing at all has been given to Christ, and He has been executing that authority for a long time.

Now, if Christ has the authority and power to create life ex nilhilo, then certainly He has authority and power of when and where He lays down His own life.

This ought to give us great confidence in the power and plan of Christ. No one did a single thing to Him that He did not allow to happen.  Such was the magnificent meekness of Christ, that He possessed complete power and ultimate authority, yet He yielded all of His rights to exercise the privileges of His deity during His first advent in order that He might in humiliation die a bloody death as a disgraced and rejected Jewish man.

Yet because He has this power of being (of life) within Himself, we are told that the grave could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). You see it is impossible for darkness to swallow up the light of life.  And Christ, who embodied life in His very being, would inevitably triumph over the grave.

This is why it should not surprise us that when He calls us, when He powerfully transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, His voice alone is powerful enough not simply for us to recognize Him, but for Him to create new life within us. His sheep hear the voice of the one who has created within them a new life, who has made us a new creation!

10:19-21 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Just as in chapters 7 and 9, we see a division among the hearers of Christ. There are some who can’t stand what Jesus is saying, but others who are thinking logically and “swim upstream” as Henry puts it, and posit a more thoughtful/logical response (even if they aren’t believers yet).

I think there is also something interesting here about where life and the power of life comes from.  I just finished talking about how Christ had the power of life within Himself, and here we see that even the common folks of earth recognize that the Devil and his agents do not have this same power.  They state “can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” because demons don’t have that power – darkness doesn’t have the power of light. It is a logical impossibility.

Not only is it a logical impossibility, but it goes against all practical knowledge as well. What I mean by that is this: when was the last time you read of a demon doing something positive for mankind? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s because it is. And yet that was the argument that the Pharisees used against Jesus, that He was of the Devil and used the Devil’s power to cast out demons (Luke 11:15).  Christ explained how this was a logical impossibility, and also just didn’t mesh with real life. Demons don’t help people, they don’t cast each other out, they don’t heal people – even if they could they wouldn’t!

10:22-23 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, [23] and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.

The Feast of the Dedication was a relatively new feast, it was not an old testament feast but rather a feast that celebrated the Jewish freedom from the oppressive persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent outline of the background that largely agrees with what D.A. Carson has to say as well:

The Feast of Dedication, today Hannukah, once also called “Feast of the Maccabees” was a Jewish festival observed for eight days from the 25th of Kislev (usually in December, but occasionally late November, due to the lunisolar calendar). It was instituted by Judas Maccabeus, his brothers, and the elders of the congregation of Israel, in the year 165 B.C. in commemoration of the re-consecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and especially of the altar of burnt offering, after they had been desecrated in the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC). The significant happenings of the festival were the illumination of houses and synagogues, a custom probably taken over from the Feast of Tabernacles, and the recitation of Psalm 30:1-12.  J. Wellhausen suggests that the feast was originally connected with the winter solstice, and only afterwards with the events narrated in Maccabees.

10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [25] 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.

The Method of Christ

It seems to me that though Christ had been teaching these people, they did not like His methodology. Here they complain about His lack of clarity on the matter of His messianic role.

The Implication

When Christ says here that they don’t believe Him, He is saying that they don’t believe Him “because” of something.  There’s a reason attached, and that reason is because they are not His sheep.

The implication of this is that God must take the initiative to call them and create the belief within them before they will respond.  The ESV Study Notes put it well:

Those who belong to Jesus’ flock (i.e., those who are chosen by him) are those who believe. The reason people do not believe is because they are not among Jesus’ sheep, implying that God must first give them the ability to believe and make them part of his people with a new heart (see 1:13; 6:44). Eternal life (10:28) by definition can never be taken away (see note on 6:40), especially when Jesus’ sheep belong to him and to his Father.

Therefore, the fact that these people were still not able to understand what Christ was telling them signaled that they were not His sheep.  He even makes a distinction to serve as a sort of bookend the point, as if to say, “I’ve already told you who I am, and if you were one of my sheep you would already have picked up on this and be following me. Evidently you are not one of my sheep because you don’t follow me – and you aren’t my sheep because I have not enabled you to be my sheep.”

The idea that belief is a gift from God is not foreign to us, for we read of it in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)

10:28-29 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.

In this simple analogy of the shepherd and his sheep, there are many theological implications. We don’t have to read into the analogy too far to find them because Christ Himself brings to our attention exactly what He wants us to learn from the analogy.  He is quite explicit in this section of His teaching (contrary to what some in His presence felt), and in verses 28 and 29 He continues to explore some of the radical implications of our relationship with Him as our shepherd.

The Perseverance of the Saints

Perhaps no doctrine is more beloved among conservative Christians (I speak as a Baptist) than that of The Perseverance of the Saints.  The doctrine simply states that once one is born again, that person can never lose their salvation.

This belief is based on passages like the one we’re looking at now – as well as many others. For example, Paul says in Philippians that, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Here the picture is that no one will lose eternal life because of the power of Jesus to keep that life intact. “No one will snatch them out of my hand” indicates that Christ is powerful enough to keep us from death and hell (which are the same thing at the end of the day). What a beautiful truth to cling to!

A Love Gift from the Father

But in case His hearers were to be concerned about the power of Christ to live up to His word (I speak tongue-in-cheek), He takes this teaching a step further.  He claims that God the Father has given us who believe into His hands.  Who is going to believe that the Father would be thwarted?  No one – as Christ says for emphasis that “He is greater than all” to make this very point.

Therefore, we are a give of love from the Father to the Son. Think about that for a minute – that means that there is real value in each one of us.  We are valued because we are created by Him to bear the divine image. We are not valuable because of what we do, but simply because He made us and loves us. We bear His image and He is renewing us day by day so that we will be more and more like the Adam…the second Adam!

In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about how the Father knows how to give good gifts – this passage is referring to the blessings of God in common grace, and how He will take care of us. But it also reminds me of His character. He not only acts in love toward us, but also toward His son as well.  That is why it is so important to understand the nature and relationship of the trinity.  It helps us understand how God will relate to us if we understand His character and How the Father relates to the Son and the Son to the Father and so on. This has enormous implications for our hope for tomorrow, and our help for today. How we understand the trinity/the Godhead helps us understand the character of God in His dealings with us and consequently how we ought to deal with and behave (lovingly) toward others).

10:30 I and the Father are one.

The Shema in Deuteronomy six is echoed here.  The ESV Study Notes explain this, and also why it is that this would have caused such an angry reaction:

Jesus’ claim that I and the Father are one (i.e., one entity—the Gk. is neuter; cf. 5:17–18; 10:33–38) echoes the Shema, the basic confession of Judaism, whose first word in Deut. 6:4 is shema‘ (Hb. “hear”). Jesus’ words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus’ unity with the Father is later said to constitute the basis on which Jesus’ followers are to be unified (John 17:22). As in 1:1, here again the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity emerge: “I and the Father” implies more than one person in the Godhead, but “are one” implies that God is one being.

One thing I especially note here is how the people expect a non-divine messiah.  They ask Him the question about His messianic role in verse 24, but they didn’t do it in order to bait Him into claiming deity so that they could then stone Him. Instead, they had a misconception about the nature of the messiah. They felt it would be a man – a great man yes, but not the Son of YHWY!  This is not at all what they expected, so the idea of deity and the divine nature of Christ had not entered their thinking, and, apparently from this text, it was very difficult for them to wrap their head this truth.

Study Notes 8-19-12

This section covers John 6:48-54 and begins with Christ’s reaffirmation that He is the Bread of Life.  I regret that I didn’t record audio from today’s lesson, I simply forgot to do that, but hopefully these notes are sufficient for those who might have missed the lesson today.

6:48 I am the bread of life.

It is perhaps significant that Christ repeats this again and again. And it got me thinking once again about the importance of what He’s saying.  I see an obvious parallel between His desire to feed His sheep and the instructions He left with Peter at the end of this gospel.  He said to Peter:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  –  John 21:15-17

When Christ repeats something it means that its important, in fact, that was a sign of emphasis during New Testament times.  They didn’t bold or italicize words, they simply repeated them.  And what He says to us here three times He also tells Peter three times, namely that He is the Bread of Life, and that Peter (and the church) was to feed on Him and to pass that food along to others constantly and faithfully.

How Does This Look in Your Home?

But what does this look like in practice?  In your life, are you feeding on Christ, and what does that look like?  What it ought to look like is a constant devotion and passion for the Word.  You ought to be immersing yourselves in the Word as much as possible.  Those whom you love, you spend as much time with as possible, and the same is true with Christ.  That means stoking the passions of Scripture reading.  It means spending more time in prayer.  It means meditating on and memorizing Scripture.

6:49-50 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 

Much of this I have covered earlier, but Christ repeats it here again for a reason, namely to bookend this discussion by getting back to his earlier analogy about the nature of fulfillment and eternal life.  As Ryle says, “We must never be ashamed of repetition in religious life.”

At first Christ had given the example of manna, but had then explained the nature of salvation, and now He comes back to explain once again (with the fresh thought of His teaching on God’s sovereignty in mind) how what He said earlier fits into the discussion on His role in their salvation.

One thing that Christ adds here that He hadn’t mentioned earlier, is that, “the bread that I will give for life of the world is my flesh.”

This is simply another way of stating, “mankind can only achieve life through me.  Through my life, death and resurrection I will achieve righteousness and justification and finally glorification for humanity.”

Does He mean all of humanity?  Surely not, for that contradicts what has been said elsewhere (in fact just earlier in His explanation of God’s sovereignty).  But rather the word “world” is used to represent mankind as a race.  He is obviously not advocating universalism.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

I wanted address this particular verse separately.  Christ concludes this section by alluding to His flesh being the life He is giving (an elusion to the cross).  Ryle says, “The thought here is only an expansion of the one contained in the 35th verse…The meaning is that the soul of the man who feeds on Christ by faith, shall never die and be cast away in hell. There is no condemnation for him. His sins are put away. He shall not be hurt by the second death.”

But first let me look at one other thing, namely the nature of the claim as it relates to His person.

Dealing With the Claims of Christ

So many people in our day say that Jesus is a nice man, a good man, in fact.  They say that He was a great teacher, maybe, or that He was even a prophet (as Islam says).  But as C.S. Lewis said, “He has not left that open to us, nor did He mean to.”

Look at His words here.  He says, “I am the living bread…from heaven!”  He says He is from Heaven!  Then, He goes on to say something even crazier (if we are to think of Him merely as a good teacher) and states, “If anyone eats…he will live forever.”  He’s saying that He has eternal life.  You eat of this bread and you’ll live forever!  Do those sound like the words of a “good teacher?”  Do those sound like the words of a sane individual?  No.  If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, the very Deity Himself, then He must be a lunatic because these statements are about as far fetched as any you’ll ever read.

In the course of your work week, or your trip to the store, or your gathering with friends, if someone brings up the fact that they think Jesus was a good teacher, or a good godly man, then you take them to John 6:51 and ask them if these are not the very words of God incarnate.  Because they aren’t the words of a finite man – at least not one we’d consider sane.

We must take Jesus for what He is.  We must realistically deal with these claims and come to grips with the Person of Christ.

6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Once again the Jews get stuck on the metaphor rather than on the meaning of the metaphor.  Their spiritual ignorance is not astounding, for we have seen earlier that they did not have an understanding of the things of God.

For this very reason we must not be surprised when Roman Catholic leaders or television personalities like Pat Robertson who are supposed to be evangelical church leaders advocate for this or that shocking position, or fail to understand the gospel. We must not be surprised when they say things that are quite contrary to scripture.

Why just this week Pat Robertson said to a lady who had adopted children that she shouldn’t be surprised if a man didn’t want to marry her because her kids could “grow up weird” or even dangerous.  Russell Moore rightly condemned Robertson and helps us understand these types of comments better.  He said, “This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.”

There are two possibilities why these supposed leaders – like the Jews of Jesus’ day – don’t understand the gospel.  The first is that they are believers who have been led down a path of man-centered doctrine to a point that they now no longer put a priority on the gospel and have deadened their senses to the teachings of grace.

The second, and perhaps more obvious, is that their fruit reveals their deadness. One who is still dead in sin, will surely not understand the things of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:13).  Jesus told us that in order to see the kingdom of God, we must be born again.  “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:5-6).

In other words, they are not followers of Christ; His Spirit has not quickened them. They are, in fact, part of the church of Satan.  For whoever is not under the control of the Spirit is surely under the control of Satan (Eph. 2:1-3).  Therefore, they will say and do things that are, of course, completely ignorant of what Christ and the Scriptures would say or have us do.

Augustine says that these men are completely unable to hunger for the bread and makes a great connection between the righteousness of Christ, and hungering for Christ, “This bread, indeed, requires the hunger of the inner man: and hence He saith in another place, ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ (Matt. 5:6). But the Apostle Paul says that Christ is for us righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).  And, consequently, he that hungers after this bread, hungers after righteousness, – that righteousness however which cometh down from heaven, the righteousness that God gives, not that which man works for himself.”

What a great connection between our thirst for the righteousness of God, and Christ being our ultimate satisfaction for that righteousness.  Augustine explains a bit further, “God’s righteousness here means, not that wherein God is righteous, but that which God bestows on man, that man may be righteous through God.”

So these men were unable to hunger after Christ the way He was calling them to, and Ryle sums up what I’m saying: “Fallen man, in interpreting the Bible, has an unhappy aptitude for turning meat into poison.  The things that were written for his benefit, he often makes an occasion for falling.”

6:53-54 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. [54] Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Early Church Historical Background

It was said by the Roman authorities of the early church that they were cannibals and atheists (among other things).  They were called cannibals because they participated in the Lord’s Super where they “at of the body and drank of the blood of Christ.”  Now of course we know this is simply an ignorant falsehood, but it was such a prevalent misunderstanding in the early days of the church that it was a main point of accusation and was one of the false reasons Christians were martyred by Roman Caesars. The reason they were called “atheists” was because they didn’t worship the pantheon of Roman gods.

Catholic Misunderstanding of the Passage

The Romanists (Catholics) have taken this verse incorrectly to mean that whoever participates in the Lord’s Super is saved.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.  As Carson says, “…if its primary reference is to the Eucharist we must conclude that the one thing necessary to eternal life is participation at the Lord’s table. This interpretation of course actually contradicts the earlier parts of the discourse, the least verse 40. The only reasonable alternative is to understand these verses as a repetition of the earlier truth, but now in metaphorical form.”

And so it seems obvious that Christ is not talking about a literal eating and drinking.  Though, as Ryle points out:

The plain truth is, there is a morbid anxiety in fallen man to put a carnal sense on Scriptural expressions, where he possibly can. He struggles hard to make religion a matter of forms and ceremonies, of doing and performing, of sacraments and ordinances, of sense and of sight. He secretly dislikes that system of Christianity, which makes the state of the heart the principle thing, and labors to keep sacraments and ordinances in the second place. Happy is the Christian who remembers these things, and stands on his guard.

So when Ignatius (as representing the Papists) says that the Eucharist is “the medicine of immortality”, Carson is right to respond that this view is “ruled out of court.”

A Correct Interpretation of the Passage

So what does Christ mean here?  Perhaps Augustine summed it up best in the Latin phrase, “Crede, et manducasti” which is to say, “believe, and thou hast eaten.”  The full context of what Augustine said is this, “For to believe on Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again. A babe within, a new man within. Where he is made new, there he is satisfied with food.”

I’d further point out that each of Christ’s statements in this chapter are miniature gospel messages.  The amazing truths of the gospel are contained in each vignette.  Here Christ said that by eating His flesh and blood we will have life – not just life here on earth, but eternal life.  “Eating,” means partaking, it means believing in His bodily sacrifice for our sins.  Then it says that not only will we have eternal life, but that our bodies will also be raised up on the last day.  This is a complete gospel.  Take part in My sacrifice by believing in Me and you will have eternal life spiritually and bodily.

Rightly commenting on this verse the puritan Thomas Goodwin said, “Christ is as meat that man feeds on, chews, and digests, and whose stomach works on continually. The man lives on Him everyday; that is the application of faith.”  And Ryle adds, “We need food every day, and not once a week or once a month, and in like manner, we need to employ faith every day.”

Some Examination of American Christianity…Paying Lip Service to Christ

This passage, and Augustine’s commentary in particular, has brought to my mind the nature of our devotion and hunger for Christ here in America.  Christ is calling us to feast on Him, to seek His kingdom first, and says that He is all we’ll need to be satisfied. He is saying that He is sufficient for our life here and in the hereafter. Without saying it, He is ordering our priorities for us – priorities that we often pay lip service to, but don’t actually obey.  I’ve been calling our class to holiness, and we’ve been discussing how to further pursue holiness each day.

And so, I’m sure you’d agree with me, that it is a bit of a snare to us that we often fear getting too spiritual. We fear giving up a certain way of living, or some certain things we do.  For we find freedom in those things.  They may not seem like sin to us, but they may be distractions from a more satisfying life – the life of a Christian. Some might say that I go too far, or that these words might cause some to stumble into asceticism.  However, I’m clearly not advocating that!  The problem the American Christian Church finds in its body is not asceticism, but rather worldliness. We are far less like the Puritans and far more like the Catholics who (mostly) aren’t even Christ followers at all.  They simply play at church (you’d know what I mean if you ever attended a local Catholic service – they have no clue what they’re talking about, aimlessly wandering around in the dark, quoting scriptures completely out of context, mashing them together with other, as if its some kind of children’s rhyming game).

I fear that in today’s world, you might not know the difference between a Catholic and a Baptist if you were to talk with most of them.  Ah, but you say that we know the truth!  So we have the truth on our side. Well, I suppose that’s correct.  But if our outward life doesn’t conform to the holiness God demands of us, then how are we to tell the difference?  And what good is all that knowledge without any fruit. Your knowledge is rotting you from the inside out.

But I won’t let most American Christians off that easy because most Protestant Evangelical Christians in America today only think they have the truth on their side because they know that they are saved by faith and grace, and they don’t have to pray to a priest.  But if you ask them why, they can’t cite a single passage in Scripture, they can’t tell you how this came about, or why the distinction was made in the first place (much less the historical circumstances leading to the rediscovery of these truths in the 16th century).  Most American Christians would rather preach to you that their “free will” is intact than that God is sovereign (foolishness that’s nowhere found in the Bible).  In other words, having the truth doesn’t matter much when you don’t actually know the truth (Heb. 5:11-6:1).  We’ve lost that in America.  We need to get back to a frame of mind that is more humble, and more dedicated to the study of Scripture.  We must devote our entire lives to understanding and teaching these truths to our children and others.

The Importance of the Bodily Resurrection

One of the things that gets lost in the discussion of this great portion of Scripture is the fact that now 4 times Christ has mentioned the bodily resurrection.

This is something (the resurrection) that many of the Jews – particularly the Sadducees – were adamantly against. Paul gives a great deal of time in 1 Cor. 15 to discussing this, and we find that it is extremely important for understanding the plan Christ has for us.  This, if nothing else, shows His sovereignty over His creation.

He is, in affect, saying that God has complete power over life and death.  He will create spiritual life in whom He wishes, and He will raise those people (His creation) to an entirely new kind of bodily life at the resurrection.  There is no part of life on earth or in heaven that God does not control.  There is no part of the scope of redemption – spiritual or bodily – that He does not sovereignty reign over.

Ryle paraphrases, “It is though our Lord says, ‘this bread that cometh down from heaven is bread of such a nature that he that eateth of it shall never die. His soul shall not be hurt by the second death, and his body shall have a glorious resurrection.”  Note the dichotomy between the soul and the body in Ryle’s statement.

This entire discourse has been about salvation, both the nature and the method (and also the benefits) of salvation.  Throughout the discussion Christ has been emphasizing the sovereignty of God.  There is no getting around verses like 37 and 44 here.  In explaining all of this to these people (who are getting more than they even dreamed of asking for), Christ wants them to know that from all eternity He and the Father and the Spirit have had a plan for them.  This isn’t plan B, so to speak.

And in doing so, Jesus is explaining that the resurrection will play an important part in our future.  Christ will grant to us not only spiritual redemption, but also bodily redemption. What God does, He does completely.  He is not content to allow our bodies to remain in the ground rotting in remembrance of past sins and their resulting death.  He will wipe all of that away with the resurrection of the body.  Sin and its traces will be wiped off the face of the earth and all will be renewed.  There will be no sin and no death, and no reminder of the slavery to which we once were held captive!

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. [25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:20-26

The Great Shepherd ‘Stands and Feeds’ His Sheep

What a great class today!  Wonderful insights and interactions today, a sweet time of fellowship.  When I got home, I took a few minutes to read this morning’s devotional from C.H. Spurgeon, and thought I would share it here (below) because of its strong ties to His being the Bread of Life.   Enjoy!

 

He shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord.Micah 5:4

Christ’s reign in His Church is that of a shepherd-king. He has supremacy, but it is the superiority of a wise and tender shepherd over his needy and loving flock; He commands and receives obedience, but it is the willing obedience of the well-cared-for sheep, rendered joyfully to their beloved Shepherd, whose voice they know so well. He rules by the force of love and the energy of goodness.

His reign is practical in its character. It is said, ‘He shall stand and feed.’ The great Head of the Church is actively engaged in providing for His people. He does not sit down upon the throne in empty state, or hold a sceptre without wielding it in government. No, He stands and feeds. The expression ‘feed,’ in the original, is like an analogous one in the Greek, which means to shepherdize, to do everything expected of a shepherd: to guide, to watch, to preserve, to restore, to tend, as well as to feed.

His reign is continual in its duration. It is said, ‘He shall stand and feed’; not ‘He shall feed now and then, and leave His position’; not, ‘He shall one day grant a revival, and then next day leave His Church to barrenness.’ His eyes never slumber, and His hands never rest; His heart never ceases to beat with love, and His shoulders are never weary of carrying His people’s burdens.

His reign is effectually powerful in its action; ‘He shall feed in the strength of Jehovah.’ Wherever Christ is, there is God; and whatever Christ does is the act of the Most High. Oh! it is a joyful truth to consider that He who stands to-day representing the interests of His people is very God of very God, to whom every knee shall bow. Happy are we who belong to such a shepherd, whose humanity communes with us, and whose divinity protects us. Let us worship and bow down before Him as the people of His pasture.

Ravenous Sheep

This is a late night entry here, but I had to repost this because in light of some recent discussions about sheep, their nature and troublesome character traits, this seemed hilarious.

RC Sproul, Jr has a short column today about his own hilarious attempt to take care of three sheep a few years back.

Enjoy…

Ravenous Sheep

I had already failed my first test in becoming a gentleman farmer. Three years and roughly 200 chickens produced eggs for my family at a rate of roughly $1… each. A few years had passed though since my experiment in folly, and I was ready to try again. I purchased three recently weaned lambs, set up portable fencing on my land and became a shepherd.

Things went rather smoothly, until they didn’t. Two weeks into the experiment I looked out into my field and saw a third of the fencing was down. I raced outside to find two of the lambs safe and content, still eating grass. The third also had not run off. No, she had managed to turn the downed fence into a straight jacket. She had gotten herself hopelessly entangled, was on her side and kicking about wildly, tangling herself all the more. I remember grabbing one of the rubber “posts” and pushing the pointed metal end into the lamb’s side, trying to pin her down so I could begin to untangle her. She just kicked all the more. I was sweating, frustrated, and a smidge frightened, and screamed to this little one, my voice echoing across the valley, “Be still. I’m trying to help you.” That’s when I learned what it means to be a shepherd.

Most of us have a rather distorted, city-fied understanding of sheep. We remember from Sunday School that picture of Jesus, smiling as He carried that smiling lamb, the one, over His broad shoulders back to the 99. We never stopped to ask how that one managed to get so far away.

Now the world is full of failed shepherds. Some fail by confusing shepherding with bullying. Most fail by being hirelings, by just not caring. There is, however, a reason why sheep need shepherds, on earth, flesh and blood shepherds. Because sheep are sinners too. They don’t just wander off out of ignorance. They jump over fences to get at what has been forbidden them. They close their ears to the voice of the Master and follow their own downward path. They hide when they sense a shepherd has come for them. And when cornered they will hiss, bite and kick. Worse still, so often after being carried back to the flock they run off again. Some are so anti-shepherd it’s hard to tell if they’re even sheep at all.

Whenever I am blessed to visit another’s pulpit I always try to work this nugget into my address. I tell the gathered saints- “The hardest thing about being a pastor is not being poorly paid. If that needs to be fixed and you can, please do. The hardest thing about being a pastor isn’t the long hours. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call when you are in the emergency room. It does mean if you have a theological question at 9:30 Saturday night, try to wait until after Sunday service to ask. The hardest thing isn’t the lack of respect in the church and the world over his calling. If you can help there, please do. The hardest thing about being a pastor is the pain of watching the sheep you love banging their heads against the wall until their wool is like scarlet.” The hardest thing about being a shepherd is the pain of loving the sheep.

This, though, is the calling of the shepherd. Jesus repeatedly told Peter the implication of his love for Him- feed, tend, feed His sheep. He didn’t say the sheep would joyfully receive their food. He didn’t say they would return the shepherd’s love. He didn’t say they would run to you joyfully when you call them. He said to tend them, and to feed them, to love them. Feed them the Word. Love them. And know that the Great Shepherd of the sheep promises to turn the bloodiest of fleece into the whitest of wool, for them, and for you.