Ligonier Conference 2013

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If you haven’t had an opportunity to look at the upcoming Ligonier Conference in Sanford Florida, then take a look below.  I’m going to be going because its a great time to be refreshed in the word, and grow spiritually.  Some of the church’s top preachers and theologians will be speaking, so if you have the opportunity to break free for the weekend, it would be well worth the time.  Here is more info from the website:

Standing Together On the Bedrock of God’s Truth

 

Is the church in America alive, or is it dead? This question is not as easy to answer as it might seem. There are many outward signs of strength. A large proportion of people in the United States profess to be born again. Politicians often profess faith in Christ. Megachurches dot the land.

When we look a little deeper, however, we find signs of death. Many professing Christians deny the existence of objective truth and ethics. Some elevate personal experience to a level of authority equal to Scripture. Congregations neglect preaching in favor of marketing techniques and entertainment. Such things reveal a hollow core, a lack of steadfastness in those things that endure.

Revelation 3:2 tells us that when we see death and not life, the faithful remnant is called to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Now, perhaps more than ever before, we must stand with conviction. We live in age of compromise, but if we stand on the bedrock of God’s truth, we will not bend with the winds of relativism and faithlessness.

Conference Info here

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God’s Plan from Eternity Past

I was reading Steve Lawson’s ‘Foundations of Grace‘ this evening, and was struck by how clearly and magnificently he lays out the gospel and God’s sovereignty. I recommend buying the book, but here’s a sneak peak of what he says in the introduction:

“This resplendent, intrinsic glory of God, awesome and magnificent, is most fully displayed in the doctrines of grace. And in this order of truth, ascribed glory is most freely and fully given to God. Here all three members of the Godhead—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—work together as one Savior, indivisibly united in rescuing radically corrupt sinners. Before time began, the Bible teaches, God the Father chose a people for Him-self to be worshipers of His glory by becoming the objects of His grace. As an expression of His infinite love for His Son, the Father gave His elect to Christ as a love gift, a people who would praise Him forever and ever.

“The Father then commissioned His Son to come into this world in order to redeem these chosen ones through His sacrificial death. The Father, along with the Son, also sent the Spirit into this world to apply the saving work of the Son to this same group of elect sinners. This vast number of redeemed saints—those elected by God, purchased by Christ, and called by the Spirit—will never fall from grace. They all shall be transported safely to heaven and glorified forever. This is the God-honoring triumph of sovereign grace.”

Wow! What a great summary. I hope it is as uplifting to you as it was to me. God’s thoughts and plans are so far above us – His plans are for good and not for evil for those whom He loves and (reciprocal) love Him.

Soli Deo Gloria

PJW

Study Notes 8-26-12: John 6:55-66

Here are the study notes for John 6:55-66

6:55-56 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. [56] Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  I like what the ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

I think that in relation to verse 55 (and all the other surrounding verses), verse 56 is saying that abiding in Christ is continually eating of the “true” food and drink that He has to offer.  This means that He wants us to not simply seek His face on Sunday mornings, but rather reflects His desire to have our hearts continually seeking after Him as we would for food.  We look for food at least three times a day (plus tea time if you’re English!) because we’re driven to it by hunger.  The same ought to be true in our spiritual lives. “Don’t starve yourself!” Jesus is saying.

This notion of “abiding” is familiar to those of us who have closely studied the Bible for a number of years now and have heard Jesus say in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches.  In that passage – the last of His “I Am” sayings – He says that it is our abiding in Him that gives us life as well.  Here’s what John 15:1-11 says:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] 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. [6] If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. [7] If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. [9] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. [10] If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [11] These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

I think it’s worth noting that there are 120 different times that this word is used throughout scripture.  It’s an important concept, one that we will keep coming back to.  There are two sort of nuances to abiding, I think.

The first is that abiding is a synergistic work.  That is to say, it is something we work with God in accomplishing.  Abiding requires us reading the Word of God, and daily submitting our lives to His authority.  It requires us being in prayer, and asking for God to work through our lives, and work on us.  It’s a constant seeking of God’s face (1 Chron. 16:11).  This idea is articulated in the latin phrase “Coram Deo” which means to live in the face of God – to live with the mindset that we are continually dwelling in His presence.   Which leads to the second part of this…

The second part of abiding, is the part that is monergistic, that is to say that it is God’s work and not ours.  This kind of abiding is the kind that the Holy Spirit does in our lives once we are born again.  Our abiding is done out of a motivation and love for Christ’s abiding in us and saving us.  His abiding in us causes us to want to abide in Him – to spend time in His word, to spend time in prayer.  So in a sense we are always abiding in Him because He is in us.  But in another sort of lower sense, there is a call here for us to “abide” in Christ – and that means to seeking Him and resting in Him.

This is what we call a “paradox” because we are both seeking and resting at the same time.  These things seem to be naturally opposed to each other on the surface, but only through a closer look do we find that they are not opposed to each other, but are simply different ways of expressing our relationship with Christ, and His work of sanctification within us.  We rest in Him because we are secure in the promises He offers and we are secure in our salvation, but we seek Him and seek to abide in Him because we love Him and want to know Him more.

6:57-59 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. [58] This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” [59] Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

I agree with Sproul who says that this is a lot like His saying to the Samaritan Woman at the well that He is the “living water” and that all who thirst should come to Him and receive water so that they may never thirst again.

The thing I think we need to particularly note is the life-giving power of Jesus.  It is almost too easy to simply call it “life giving power” because there is a whole other sort of power there.  And what I mean by that is that it is one thing to bring people to life who have died, and to breathe life into them, and to heal them as Christ had done – these are amazing, breathtaking things to be sure – but it is a whole separate thing to say that Christ has the power of life within Him.

So what I am getting at here, perhaps clumsily, is that Christ also has the power to bring life out of nothing.  Where there was nothing before, He speaks and BOOM there’s life.  He thinks and it is so.  He has the power of being in Himself.  In order to understand this we almost need to reach a whole other level of thinking on the person of Christ.  He’s so powerful, so glorious and has such authority that His words command the planets and their orbits.  The sea bows to His wishes, science works at His pleasure, and microbiology orders itself according to His good pleasure!

So again, He chooses these statements of power to punctuate His teaching on the nature of salvation.  The person who holds worlds in His hands and knows the every need of BILLIONS of people, is also the God who is sovereign over salvation.

He has now claimed to have come down from heaven, to be the I AM – the very Deity Himself – and He has offered up eternal life to whomever will come to Him.  In all of this He has preached His sovereignty (vs. 37 and 44 in particular), and His compassion.

Now, it is time for the disciples to digest the food Christ has given them, and at first they find it hard food to swallow…

6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Now there are two (and perhaps three) kinds of hard sayings, as R.C. Sproul likes to remind us.  The first is the kind of hard saying that is difficult to understand.  It is hard because it is truly a complex matter, which is prone to giving us a 3 aspirin headache!  The second kind of “hard saying” is the kind that we hear and don’t like to accept.  It is hard because we don’t care for it and would rather not believe in its truthfulness.

Steve Lawson says that this series of sayings are “not hard to understand, but hard to swallow.”

But I think that these sayings are a combination of both types of “hard” sayings.  It is both unacceptable to these men because of their pride, and it is difficult to understand for even the apostles because, though they perhaps want to understand it and believe it, they cannot without the aid of Christ (or the Holy Spirit).

We have to take note of the same thing and not to approach the Bible with arrogance or presuppositions.  The Bible is definitely definitive; it’s definitely clear; it’s definitely perspicuitous. But at the same time we have to be conscious not to jump to conclusions that aren’t there.  We shouldn’t read something into the text that isn’t there – or try to avoid the text simply because its saying something we find offensive.

In one way this text is very comforting because we see that the disciples of Jesus early on had difficulty with some of the things he was saying. On the other hand it’s challenging to us because we know that having the Holy Spirit we ought to be able to understand these texts – at least that’s what we tell ourselves. But this is why the Bible is an inexhaustible resource that we will never fully penetrate no matter how many years we live and how long we spend in its’ pages.

Just yesterday I was talking with a pastor who said he’s been reading the Bible every day for over 40 years and was still finding things in it that he had never seen before.  He told me that he says to himself “was that there the whole time?!”

But I do want to use this as an opportunity to talk about the perspicuity of scripture, and the private interpretation of scripture.  Perspicuity, in a nutshell, means that something is clear and able to be understood by someone who doesn’t have a doctorate degree in theology.  It means that you and me can read Scripture and understand clearly what it says without someone (i.e. a priest) from the church explaining the plain meaning of the text.  This isn’t saying that we don’t all benefit from the wisdom of the church and her teachers, but is simply to say that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the sentences, paragraphs, and general meaning of words in this book.

Private interpretation is similar to perspicuity and basically means that an individual can read the Bible and understand it clearly enough (because it is perspicuitous) to be responsible for that understanding before God.

This is extremely important because with the proliferation of Bibles there is also the proliferation of wrong opinions about what those Bibles say.  This was the very thing that Martin Luther and the church was concerned about before his translation project began.  If the Bible were to get into the hands of the masses, how would they be able to understand it, and then have a great enough grasp of it to correctly conform their lives to its instructions?  Well Luther knew the danger in this, but said that it was worth the danger because of the number of souls that would be won with the opening up of Scripture.  The church as guardian of Scripture had failed miserably.  The situation really couldn’t get any worse!  But Luther also knew and understood that this scripture was perspicuitous and therefore, with the help of the Spirit and of wise church leaders, believers could read scripture and understand correctly what it said – even if there were mysteries within its pages that they found “hard”, as these disciples found in the verse we’ve just examined.

6:61-62 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

Of course the disciples wouldn’t have taken offense to Him ascending into heaven – they would have rejoiced at that.  So Christ is offering them a comparison to give them perspective.  He’s saying that “both A and B doctrines are true, and everything I say is true, therefore why are you offended at one versus the other?”

We need to realize that all of scripture is God’s truth.  It is all relevant, it is all true.  Just because one thing appears more difficult of offensive than another doesn’t mean its any less God’s word.

I can’t think of a better verse (except maybe 1 Tim. 3:16) to show us that all doctrine in scripture is God’s doctrine.  All truth is God’s truth!

Christ wants to elevate our perspective.  When He speaks, the matter is done.  There is no appealing for an easier doctrine or an easier truth.  We can’t go to God and say “please give me something easier to understand or believe in, because this really isn’t very comfortable.”  We need to see Jesus’ words through the lens of His authority, and bow before them in unquestioned allegiance to His truth.

So while we talk about perspicuity, we also need to understand that just because scripture is clear and readable doesn’t mean its not mysterious/difficult.  And that is what Christ addresses next…

6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

The “flesh” He’s referring to here is not His flesh that has been the topic of the last several verses, but rather the flesh of humanity.  As Sproul points out, this is a theme that runs through most of Scripture, and one that Paul especially expounds upon (Romans 7 comes to mind).  The Bible sees our “flesh” as our mind, will and emotions prior to the Holy Spirit’s breathing new life into us, which Jesus calls being “born again.”

What He is essentially saying here is that in the flesh they will not be able to understand what He is saying because He is saying something spiritually related.  Paul explains:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:12-14)

6:64-65 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

As Sproul says, “there’s that doctrine of predestination again.”  I laughed when I read that because it is this doctrine that offends so many immature Christians, and yet I was once one of them.  Scripture exhorts us to strive toward greater understanding of even the most difficult doctrines.  In Hebrews we read:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. [6:1] Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 5:11-6:3)

There’s also a direct tie-in between verses 63-65 – they build on each other.  Jesus is saying that you can’t come to me (65) because you do not believe (64) and in order to believe you need the help of the Spirit (63), because in your own flesh you can’t understand these mysteries – this bread of life isn’t palatable to you (66).

This is why we say that regeneration precedes faith.  Before we can see the kingdom of God we must be born again (chapter 3).  Before we can believe on Christ (faith – 64), we must first be born again, otherwise we’ll simply walk away from Him and find something else that is more palatable to our sin natures (66).

The Case for ‘Limited Atonement’

It wasn’t until some time after I had first taught through this passage that I realized the significance of John’s editorial comment in verse 64. John says, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe.” It stands to reason that if Jesus knew from the beginning who would not believe, then He certainly knew from the beginning who would believe.

We have already seen that, as Morris says, “The truths of which Jesus has been speaking are accessible only to faith…only for those in whom God works come to Christ.” But interestingly enough John says that Jesus knew from the beginning about who would come to him and who would not. Carson points out that this could be either from the beginning of His ministry, or from the beginning of all time (i.e. John 1:1). Regardless, the fact remains that John’s assertion has natural consequences, namely that Jesus knew for whom He was dying, and those who would not come to Him. He could know this because He was divine, and therefore omniscient. It is a mysterious thing that He would not know certain things (like the time of his return), and yet appear to know something eternally set in stone (Eph. 1:4-5) – like who would come to faith in Him and who would not.

Nevertheless, it is not for us to pry into the reasons as to why Christ knew some things and not others, but one thing He certainly did seem to know is exactly who would not believe in Him, and therefore who would come to believe in Him. This reality is usually known as the doctrine of Limited Atonement, or ‘Definite Atonement’.  It has long been a stumbling block to those of a more Arminian persuasion, and even some in my own Baptist tradition have called themselves “4-point Calvinists” on the basis of eschewing this doctrine.

Yet here is the truth of God’s Word before us, in the context of highly predestinarian language, which has been set in the midst of a discussion on the sovereignty of God and His Christ in the Salvation of mankind. I don’t, therefore, think it’s a stretch to see this verse as affirming the doctrine that Christ came into the world with specific people in mind – His elect.

6:66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

What was the result of Christ’s preaching the doctrine of the atonement, and salvation, and predestination?  The result was that people couldn’t take it anymore.  They didn’t like what this Jesus was saying, and they didn’t want to submit their lives to someone who wouldn’t simply focus on their physical needs.  These people were sinners who sought after their own desire and needs, and didn’t realize their greatest need wasn’t physical but spiritual.

The same thing will happen to us when we teach and preach hard truths.  It’s easy to be turned off by someone who teaches the doctrine of predestination, isn’t it?  We have to confront ourselves with the question: Am I following Christ for all the physical blessings He brings me in this life, or am I following Him because I love Him for what He’s done for me here and for eternity to come?  Am I following a Jesus that doesn’t exist?  Am I following someone who says, “come to me all who are weary”, but never says, “you can’t come to me unless you are drawn”? OR, am I following a Jesus who is so radical, so offensive, and so odious to my sinful self that if I had been there I would likely have “turned back” as well?

I think that this verse tells us a great deal about the nature of the entire discourse.  We may be troubled when we read verse 44 or 37 telling us that no one can come to the Father unless He draws them.  We may not fully understand what Christ means by eating of His flesh.  We might not exactly know what He means by calling Himself the “bread of life” and so on.  But we must not be like these men who gave up and walked away.  If we are true Disciples of Christ we will stand by Him and work to learn more from Him.  We must sit at His knees and be taught of God.

Let us humbly commit to following Christ no matter how difficult these saying may be, and no matter how our minds and hearts may not want to accept them.  Let us wrestle with God as Jacob did, and let us claim the promise of God that He will help us if we would only ask.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Study Notes 7-14-12

Below are the notes from yesterday’s lesson.  I’ve got a few extras in there that I didn’t have time to mention – including some notes I had found from Jonathan Edwards on the 35th verse.  Enjoy!

6:22-24 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. [23] Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. [24] So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

  • But the essence of what was going on here is that the next day, once everyone had been fed, and had gone home and slept (while the disciples were going through quite a trial on the Sea), they came looking to see what Jesus was up to, and what He might do and say today.  Again, their motives were not entirely pure…as MacArthur says, they were “thrill seekers.”

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

  • Sproul aptly points out that when they said “when”, they really were meaning “how.”  For they had seen that Jesus had not gone out in a boat with the disciples, but rather had gone along by himself to pray (Mark 6:46).  However, Jesus doesn’t answer their question…

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

  • This is a stern rebuke – once again Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God sees right into their hearts.  Earlier in chapter two, we read that, “…when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
  • James Montgomery Boice points out that there is application here even for Christians.  He asks us to closely examine our own motives as Christians when we come to Christ in prayer. “In am convinced that in our day in American Christianity there is a lamentable tendency to focus on human need rather than on God himself.”  He goes on to explain what he means by that, “What is wrong (with just coming to Christ with our needs all the time) is that it is tragically possible to so focus on our needs that we are actually focusing on ourselves rather than on Jesus, and so never get to the solutions to our problems that Jesus wants to bring.”
  • Am I coming to Christ with my needs fully realizing that He has allowed them to come into my life in order to show me something?  Perhaps something of my own sin?  Perhaps He wants to show me my need for constant dependence on Him?  Perhaps He wants to show me how finite I am, and use this to teach me something about Himself.  Whatever the reason may be, we need to be remind ourselves that Jesus Christ wants us to come into His presence seeking His kingdom in prayer – not just in word and deed!
  • I am not, of course, saying that we ought not to lay our burden at the cross, or that we ought not to come to our heavenly Father with our needs.  But when that becomes the sole focus of our supplication, we reveal that our desires aren’t yet fully conformed to His.  For we should be constantly asking God “Lord, how can I glorify you today?  How can these needs of mine be used to show me more about your character?  How can my situation refine me and purge me of more of my sinful nature? Lord please use me to bring yourself glory.”
  • Boice concludes the thought this way, “May I say it even more strongly? I am convinced that one of the major steps to achieving good spiritual mental health is getting your mind off yourself entirely and on the Lord instead.”

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

  • The first part of this verse is a call for us to seek the Kingdom first and let God take care of the loaves and the fishes.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
  • The second part of the verse stresses where this imperishable food was going to come from: the Son of Man. By now, it would have been evident to these people that Jesus was referring to Himself when He said “Son of Man”, so there would have been no confusion (I don’t think at least) with His point here.
  • The last part of the verse says something about the Son of Man, namely that God the Father has set his seal upon Him.  Carson explains, “The idea is that God has certified the Son as his own agent, authorizing him as the one who alone can bestow this food.”

6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” [29] Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

  • As Carson points out, these people misunderstood the point Christ was making in verse 27.  “His point was not that they should attempt some novel form of work, but that merely material notions of blessing are not worth pursuing.  They respond by focusing all attention on work.”
  • These men had been so set on getting their material desires fulfilled that they had “missed the greater blessing” (Boice).  It shows where their minds where when they immediately thought of a blessing from God as something they could earn somehow.
  • How true this is of today!  So many people want to believe that they can do something to earn a merit badge toward heaven.  We Americans are used to pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, and we almost innately feel like there is something we need to add to God’s work.
  • Ryle remarks, “we should observe, for one thing, in these verses, the spiritual ignorance and unbelief of the natural man…doing, doing, doing, was their only idea of the way to heaven…there are no limits to man’s dullness, prejudice, and unbelief in spiritual matters.”
  • I also think the lesson here of a works-based gospel can give us Christians pause to check our viewpoints on the work of God.  Why?  Because we naturally want to add our own name to God’s work.  We want to find someway in which we can be involved.  We are indeed responsible for responding in faith, however, it is God who gives us the faith!  It is God who is working in your heart to allow you to respond to that offer of the gospel.  But somehow we want to claim our finite free will above the will of the most holy Sovereign!  As Christians we need to learn to give this up.
  • But let us not miss the divine point as we simply analyze the mistakes of men.  This sentence (Boice calls the “golden sentence”) is, in essence, the gospel.  Jesus Christ here tells us how a man can be saved.  How?  To “believe in him whom he (the Father) has sent.”
  • These people of Galilee, like many today, want to know how to be “doing the works of God” – they want to do good things and live a good life.  Christ gives them the answer this time, and in so doing, He says that the work of God is that they believe on the Son of God – the one whom He has sent.  The mission of the Son is intricately caught up in the divine essence of what it means to “do the works of God.”  In other words, there is but one thing that God wants us to focus our attention on firstly, and that is to believe in His Son.

As Ryle sums it up:

If any two things are put in strong contrast, in the New Testament, they are faith and words. Not working, but believing, – not of works, but through faith, – are the words familiar to all careful Bible-readers. Yet here the great Head of the Church declares that believing on Him is the highest and greatest of all “works!” It is “the work of God.”

Doubtless our Lord did not mean that there is anything meritorious in believing. Man’s faith, at the very best, is feeble and defective. Regarded as a “work”, it cannot stand the severity of God’s judgment, deserve pardon, or purchase heaven.  But our Lord did mean that faith in Himself, as the only Savior, is the first act of the soul which God requires at a sinner’s hands.  Till a man believes on Jesus, and rests on Jesus as a lost sinner, he is nothing. Our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is that act of the soul which specially pleases God.  When the Father sees a sinner casting aside his own righteousness, and simply trusting in His dear Son, He is well pleased. Without such faith it is impossible to please God. Our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is the root of all saving religion.

6:30-31 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? [31] Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

  • These people might have been looking for manna from the Messiah who would “duplicate” the miracle that Moses had wrought in their midst – for such was the teachings of the Jews (see Boice).  But we’ve already explored the motives of these people, and it was obviously outside of the mere religious desire to see a second Messiah come from heaven.  Their desires were for their bellies!

6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

  • First, He seems to correct them on their understanding of the Old Testament account of the story, for even though they said that “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”, it seems that they thought of “He” as Moses!  Jesus was eager to correct them in this misunderstanding.
  • Boice talks about the necessity of bread for life – especially in the days of Jesus. “Without bread, men died. If you see that, then you also see that Jesus was claiming to be the One whom men and women could not do without.”
  • Boice also points out that “everything before this (in the passage) has had to do with trusting Christ initially.  But when a person trusts Christ as Savior this is hardly the end.”  What he meant by this is that “bread should be eaten daily” as Christ should be “eaten” daily.  This isn’t a call for a daily Eucharist, but rather a call to satisfy our spiritual desires every day, just as we would our physical desires everyday.

6:33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

  • Jesus quickly makes the transition from the physical to the metaphysical, from the temporal to the eternal.  This is something He does ALL the time, it is one of the hallmarks of His teaching, and we see it throughout the gospels. First He will correct misunderstanding of the meaning of an Old Testament passage, then He will elevate their minds to the eternal from the shadow of the OT, then He will conclude by leading them to Himself – as we conclude by leading people to the cross when we are sharing about Christ.
  • Look carefully at the word “world” here and realize that – as Steve Lawson points out – there are at least 10 different uses for that word in the Gospel of John alone.  That means that we need to make sure the one that we have in mind actually fits the context of the text.  In this instance, I think it’s talking about every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Jew and Gentile, man and woman, servant and free man are all alike going to benefit from the Bread of God.
  • Lastly, when we look carefully at the Word of God, and see proclamations about the “world”, we need to more fully understand the significance of the work of Christ, and also the fact that Christianity is not secluded to one tribe or nation.  Christ came to save sinners from all over the globe.  An amazing thought.

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

  • Not unlike the woman at the well, they want the bread (as she wanted the water) so that they would never have to worry about providing for themselves again!  Ryle even notes that, “there is a striking resemblance between the thought expressed in this verse, and the thought of the Samaritan woman, when she heard of the living water that Christ could give.”
  • The Galileans saw an eternal welfare state, as it were, and wanted Jesus to provide for them in this way “always.”  Of course they did. Ryle confirms my own feelings on the matter when he notes, “On the case of the Jews before us, the wish seems to have been nothing more than the ‘desire of the slothful,’ and to have gone no further. Wishing and admiring are not conversion.”

6:35 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.

  • This is the first of the seven “I AM” sayings of Christ (if we don’t include 6:20). And as I mentioned earlier, the underlying meaning or feeling conveyed by the language here is that Jesus Christ is God, Jehovah, the great I AM of the Old Testament wrapped in human flesh.
  • Of the several significant points that we need to look at, the first is that Jesus is connecting the “food that endures to eternal life” from verse 27 and that He is the manna that has come down from heaven from verse 33.  They are all one in the same “bread of life”, and they are all meant to point to Christ.
  • What is the result of eating this bread?  It is that one will never thirst or hunger again.  Is it not significant that the two miracles related to food in the New Testament Gospels are bread and wine?  Certainly there is a sort of shadow of the coming Eucharist.  Though I won’t assign too much importance or connection between the two by laying on Scripture something more than might be there.  But Jonathan Edwards also says there’s a connection here between the Showbread of the Old Testament and the privilege we have of eating at “the King’s Table” today.
  • What is clear is that Jesus is claiming to be that which satisfies the souls of man.  He is at the heart of what our hearts long for.  John Piper says this about verse 35, “what it means to believe in Jesus is to experience Him as the satisfaction of my soul’s thirst and my heart’s hunger. Faith is the experience of contentment in Jesus” (Battling Unbelief, Chp. 5).
  • I think the practicality of this passage lies in the fact that Jesus is the ultimate satisfaction for our lives.   When Augustine came onto the scene, one of the things he wanted to illuminate was the way to be truly happy.  As Sproul says, this wasn’t the happiness of the Epicureans or the Stoics.  This was something more substantial – it was finding true happiness in the knowledge of God.  This is what Jesus was saying to these men, I am the key to true satisfaction and happiness in this life and the next. Don’t seek after what the Epicureans give you (happiness for your belly), but that which satisfies the soul.
  • In the margins of his notes on this chapter, Jonathan Edwards scribbled something that I thought was really good.  He said that bread of heaven was “enough for all God’s people” – and he noted that there was a parallel with the feeding of the 5000 and the manna from Exodus that was more than enough for the people each day.  In fact Edwards said that one of the main applications for sinners was that “this bread will save you from eternal famine” and that, unlike the manna, “it doesn’t perish.”
  • The last thought that Edwards pointed out, also find a connection with the feeding of the 5000, and Ryle’s description of us as God’s ministers feeding His people with the Word of God.  Edwards says that we are “priests of Christ” doling out the holy Showbread of Christ (there is underlying sacrificial language/parallels there).  Edwards calls on sinners to not “loathe the heavenly manna and tread it under food.”
  • Yet so many do loathe Christ and scoff at the satisfaction He offers.  And as Christians, it is our unbelief that stops us from laying hold of the satisfaction Christ offers.  When we sin, we are basically saying that we find more satisfaction in our idolatry than in Christ.  We prefer our materialism (insert idol here) over Christ because we don’t believe the basic fact that Christ can be more satisfying than our sin.  This is the sin of unbelief.  We need to take Christ at His word and lay hold of that which is most satisfying – the Bread of Heaven.
  • If we truly believe Christ is what He said He is – the most satisfying thing we can lay hold of – how ought this to change our lives and spur us on?  What actions would you find yourself doing if you truly set your seal to what God the Father set His seal to?

 

Getting to Know Jonathan Edwards

This week we’ll be learning about Jacob’s Ladder, and how Christ fulfilled the dream that Jacob had had hundreds of years before He stepped foot on earth.  The man who probably best described this vision and its full meaning, was Jonathan Edwards.

Most modern Christians have never studied much of what Edwards had to say, or who he was.  So I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief sketch of who this brilliant man was, so that you may more fully appreciate what he has to teach us in our study through the book of John.  To do this, I’m going to post below some excerpts from a few sources, but mostly from John Piper’s short Biography of the man which can be found by clicking here.

Chuck Colson says this about Edwards, “The western church – much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace – desperately needs to hear Edwards’ challenge. . . . It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.”

Edwards was an 18th Century puritan preacher who is perhaps best known for his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Many of you were probably made to read this sermon in high school – even if you went to a secular school.  Edwards is often demonized as a puritan who was himself angry at sinners, and concentrated most of his preaching powers on scaring people into the kingdom of heaven.  The truth, as is often the case, couldn’t be further from this ill-conceived caricature.

As John Piper says, “Most of us don’t know that he is considered now by secular and evangelical historians alike to be the greatest Protestant thinker America has ever produced. Scarcely has anything more insightful been written on the problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability than his book, The Freedom of the Will.”

In his book, ‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards’, Steven Lawson notes that, “All Christian writing is influenced, to one extent or another, by the theological foundations upon which the author stands. Edwards’ writings, including his ‘Resolutions,’ rested squarely upon ‘Reformed theology in its English Puritan form.’ This theological system, which emphasized God’s glory and absolute sovereignty,’ provided a structural framework for Edwards’ thought.’ In short, Edwards was a ‘convinced Calvinist’; he had drunk deeply from the wells of Scripture and had tasted the supreme authority of God to his soul’s satisfaction.”

The influence that Edwards had on America, and the cause of Christ here in the relatively young colonies was profound.  As Piper says, “Does any of us know what an incredible thing it is that this man, who was a small-town pastor for 23 years in a church of 600 people, a missionary to Indians for 7 years, who reared 11 faithful children, who worked without the help of electric light, or word-processors or quick correspondence, or even sufficient paper to write on, who lived only until he was 54, and who died with a library of 300 books – that this man led one of the greatest awakenings of modern times, wrote theological books that have ministered for 200 years and did more for the modern missionary movement than anyone of his generation?”

For current leaders like Piper, Edwards has been a great source of inspiration.  “Alongside the Bible, Edwards became the compass of my theological studies. Not that he has anything like the authority of Scripture, but that he is a master of that Scripture, and a precious friend and teacher”, Piper says.

Piper describes the balance between studying the Bible and practical living as portayed by Edwards:

Edwards did not pursue a passion for God because it was icing on the cake of faith. For him faith was grounded in a sense of God which was more than what reason alone could deliver. He said,

A true sense of the glory of God is that which can never be obtained by speculative [reasoning]; and if men convince themselves by argument that God is holy, that never will give a sense of his amiable and glorious holiness. If they argue that he is very merciful, that will not give a sense of his glorious grace and mercy. It must be a more immediate, sensible discovery that must give the mind a real sense of the excellency and beauty of God. (Works, II, 906)

In other words, it is to no avail merely to believe that God is holy and merciful. For that belief to be of any saving value, we must “sense” God’s holiness and mercy. That is, we must have a true delight in it for what it is in itself. Otherwise the knowledge is no different than what the devils have.

Does this mean that all his study and thinking was in vain? No indeed. Why? Because he says, “The more you have of a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the sweetness of them.” (Works, II, 162, see p.16)

But the goal of all is this spiritual taste, not just knowing God but delighting in him, savoring him, relishing him. And so for all his intellectual might, Edwards was the farthest thing from a cool, detached, neutral, disinterested academician.

As we continue to learn and to study together, I hope you will continue to grow by reading and meditating upon the Word of God, but will also take some time to reflect upon the great lessons we’ve learned from men like Jonathan Edwards.

To ready more about this great Godly man, see below for some resources:

‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards’ – Steve Lawson’s short Edwards Biography

‘Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography’ – Biography by Ian Murray

‘The Freedom of the Will’ – Edwards’ most famous book on Election

‘Religious Affections’ – The book that probably most influenced Piper’s view of God and what it means to be joyful in God.

‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ – famous sermon by Edwards on the need for repentance and salvation by Jesus Christ

‘The Spirit of Revival’ – Longish article by RC Sproul on the marks that identified the revival that Edwards lead in the 18th Century.