Jesus Prays for Unity – John 17

Below are my notes on John 17:20-23, its really part 1 of a two part series on how Jesus wraps up his prayer to the Father.  I hope you enjoy!

PJW

17:20-23 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [22] The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, [23] I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Background on verses 20-23, and 24-26

In this section Lord turns his attention more generally to the universal church and all the elect whom He came to save. Of course many of the things He’s said up until this point could (and do in many ways) apply to believers who came after these 11 standing around Him, but now He makes this clear.

William Hendricksen puts it well:

…engraved upon the breastplate of the great Highpriest are the names not only of those chosen out of the tribes of Israel but also of those drawn from the world of heathendom.  In addition to the sheep that are led out of the fold of the Jews there are also “other sheep” (10:16). All must become one flock, with one shepherd (17:21).

Also, a note about verse 22 which states that Jesus has given the disciples “glory” – Carson rightly points out that this is likely addressed to not simply the 11, but to all the elect, the entire church, given the nature and context of where it is mentioned.  This is how Carson describes what this “glory” is, “Glory commonly refers to the manifestation of God’s character or person in a revelatory context; Jesus has mediated the glory of God, personally to his first followers and through them to those who believe on account of their message.”

A note about verse 23 which states “perfectly one” – this reminds me of the call to be holy just as Jesus is holy. He is calling us toward perfection and yet this is not something we achieve in this lifetime.  This perfection of unity with God is in one sense accomplished in fact at the cross, but the reality of this will not yet be realized fully until Jesus comes back.  In this way we ought to understand the call for holiness the same way we see Jesus petitioning the Father for perfect unity – eschatologically.  We need to see these things as a comfort that since Jesus has prayed for it, therefore it will happen. So there is still an element of “not yet” here.

The entire section is summed up well by D.A. Carson’s commentary on verse 23:

The unity of the disciples, as it approaches the perfection that is its goal, serves not only to convince many in the world that Christ is indeed the supreme locus of divine revelation as Christians claim (that you sent me), but that Christians themselves have been caught up into the love of the Father for the Son, secure and content and fulfilled because loved by the Almighty himself (cf. Eph. 3:17b-19), with the very same love he reserves for his Son. It is hard to imagine a more compelling evangelic appeal.

Two Main Themes

There are really two main themes in this section (verses 20-26), the first is unity of believers with God and with each other, and the second is the importance and prerequisite assumption that we know God.  This knowing of God is enunciated by our Lord in greater detail as He concludes the prayer in vs. 24-26; therefore let me first address this idea of unity.

Unity with God and Each Other

Jesus prays to the Father that “they also may be in us” and the goal is “that the world may believe that you sent me.”  In other words, it is unity with Christ and the outflowing of a changed heart and life (actions, words, deeds) that will testify to the world that Jesus has effectively joined us to Himself.

J.C. Ryle says, “The meaning of this sentence I take to be, ‘I pray that both these my disciples, and those who hereafter shall become my disciples, may all be of one mind, one doctrine, one opinion, one heart, and one practice, closely united and joined together , even as Thou, Father, and I are of one mind and one will, in consequence of that ineffable union whereby Thou art in Me and I in Thee.’”

What this means is that when you become a Christian you are going to change – it’s inevitable.  You will bear fruit, and you will begin to love God and others more and more until the day Christ returns, or you die and meet Him in heaven. These changes are occurring across the body of Christ, so that He is working universally to conform His bride to how she ought to be.  We who believe are all united in the fact especially that God is working within us and we are united by that Spirit who dwells within us.

And so we see that in the deepest prayer we have ever been privileged to encounter in Scripture, Jesus prays for fundamental things having to do with the Christian life: knowledge of God, and unity with God as His body/His church. The glory of this cannot be missed. How can it be that God of very God would be praying that we – human beings – be ushered into an intimate relationship with Him?   Yet that is exactly what we see here is it not?

If we look at the testimony of the rest of the NT authors it seems that they also saw the importance of unity with God and with others. Here are just a few references:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Phil. 2:2)

 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

This list could go on and on.  There were so many references that I couldn’t write them all down or go through each one, suffice it to say that in the NT unity of the body of Christ is very important.  This is something Christ petitioned the Father for, and something we ought to always keep in mind.

I think its important to note that Jesus’ prayer was/has been/is being realized, and this is happening is ways, but lets examine at least two key ways…

Christ achieved this unity at the cross and sealed it at the Resurrection

In Paul’s letter to the Romans we learn about what Christ achieved for us in terms of us being united to Christ:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

So the reality of our unity with Christ has been realized, yet we await a day when Christ comes back and we see that reality, that unity with our eyes.  We live in what Tom Schreiner calls “the awkward era” of the already/not yet.  We are unified with Christ and have all those promises, yet we won’t realize all of them until the day He returns and consummates His kingdom.

We are unified through the Spirit

Another reason we have unity with God and with the body of the church is due to the fact that the Spirit has come and inaugurated this new age.  Have you ever thought of that?  It is the Spirit of God that birthed us into the kingdom, and brought us into the family of God.  We read about this in Romans 8:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

John MacArthur notes that when Pentecost happened it was the beginning of Jesus’ prayer being realized.

We have to see then that unity with God is a priori and what flows from it is this like-mindedness with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should be able to settle disputes, and live harmoniously with each other because we are united with Christ, because of His work, and because of His indwelling presence.

J.C. Ryle remarks, “The true secret of the unity of believers lies in the expression, ‘one in us.’ They can only be thoroughly ‘one’ by being joined at the same time to one Father and to one Savior. Then they will be one with on another.”

I mentioned this earlier, but there are sometimes when the already/not yet reality of this life really rises to the surface, and I believe that in the area of unity we see that clearly.  We are filled with the Spirit, yet the flesh still encroaches and keeps us from being in harmony and unity with others.  The same goes for our words and thoughts and actions – even though the Spirit of God dwells in us, yet we still behave as though we are our own gods and satisfy our own desires instead of looking to please God first.  This is the tension we live with and will continue to live with until our Lord returns.

Now, all of this unity is really important, but it cannot be understood apart from knowledge of God and His message.  D.A. Carson puts it so well that it is worth citing his words at length:

This is not simply a ‘unity of love’. It is a unity predicated on adherence to the revelation the Father mediated to the first disciples through his Son, the revelation they accepted (vs. 6, 8) and then passed on (‘those who will believe in me through their message’, vs. 20). It is analogous to the oneness Jesus enjoys with his Father, here fleshed out in the words just as you are in me and I am in you. The Father is actually in the Son, so much so that we can be told that it is the Father who is performing the Son’s works (14:10); yet the Son is in the Father, not only in dependence upon and obedience to him, but his agent in creation (1:2-3) and his wholly concurring Son in the redemption and preservation of those the Father has given him (6:37-40; 17:6, 19). The Father and the Son are distinguishable (the pre-incarnate Word is ‘with’ God, 1:1; the Son prays to his Father; the Father commissions and sends, while the Son obeys), yet they are one.

And therefore in order to be unified with Jesus and with the Father we must first “adhere” to their revelation, we must know God.  Indeed that is something we’ll discuss as we look at the next series of verses.  But first we need to examine one last glorious truth about what Jesus is saying here…

The Purpose of Unity

In verse 23 we read what Jesus has in mind for all this talk of unity – what His purpose is – and this is what He says, “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  This is certainly the thrust of John’s gospel is it not?  He wants people to know that God sent Jesus and that Jesus is the Lord of all, He is the Messiah.

There are two things Jesus is asking for here:

  1. That the world will know that He was sent from God
  2. That the world (and we) will know that God the Father loves us just as He loves the Son

Jesus is saying firstly that when the world sees us united to the Father and the Son through the Spirit they will know that something is different.  That something is a supernatural something is it not?  Jesus expects that this unity will have such an outward manifestation as to warrant the world coming to the conclusion that He (Jesus) was sent from God.  There are obviously several steps logically that people would have to go through in order to make that connection, but the fact remains that here Jesus foresees this, He wants this, He’s praying for this, and this is consequently what our lives are all about.

Jesus is praying that all who come to believe in Him will be united with Him and the Father in such an obvious way that people will look at this, will notice this and will say “those people have a special bond with the God of the universe and His Son whom He sent.”  They will know we are Christ followers and have to conclude that Jesus must have been sent from God because only a divine being could affect such a change in John Doe here!  There’s no other way they will be able to explain what they see and hear unless somehow these Jesus lovers are really connected to a higher power.  That’s the purpose of what Jesus is saying here.

Secondly, we have to note that one of the things the world will notice and we will cherish is that disciples of the Lord Jesus are loved by the Father – the creator of the universe, mind you – as He loves His Son.

Carson rightly says that, “the thought is breathtakingly extravagant.”  It is so amazing that its worth pondering and then realizing once again that this is like Jesus’ last will and testament here.  He’s about to die, and what does He pray for?  For us to have love poured upon us to such a degree that the world will have to conclude that we’ve been taken under the wing of God Himself and because we are united to Christ we are one with Him in receiving the love that the Father has shed abroad on the Son.

It is almost as if (in my mind) a see pitcher of water (the Father) pouring into the cup of the Son and this cup is connected to a wide saucer (the church) which is the beneficiary of the overflow from the pitcher.  We receive love certainly because God has set his particular affection upon us individually, but here we see a different picture of our reception of the love of God as a direct consequence to our connection to the Son.

Study Notes 8-18-12: Washed by the Blood of Christ

This section of the notes includes verses 3-18 of chapter 13 of the gospel of John.

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The Sovereignty and Pleasure of God in the Cross

Jesus had been given supernatural revelation from the Father through the Spirit as to who He was, and what His mission was.

Leon Morris explores a brilliant point about why (in verse 3) John would take time to give such a statement about the Father. It’s worth quoting Morris here:

The threshold of Calvary seems an unlikely place for a statement of sovereignty like this. But John does not view the cross as the causal observer might view it. It is the place where a great divine work was wrought out and the divine glory shown forth. So he describes it in terms of the Father’s giving all things to the Son. The reference to the Father is important. He is no idle spectator at the Passion, but he does his will there.

It bothers us to know that the Father was so intricately involved in the brutal mutilation of His Son. We can’t comprehend His involvement so we use scape-goat terms like “He permitted it” or “He allowed it”, or “He didn’t stop it” even. And while all of these may be technically correct on their face, they often serve as terms we use to hide the truth that we can’t fully comprehend. That truth is that God ordained that His Son would be a “bruised reed” and, perhaps even more horrifying to us, He took “pleasure” in bruising/crushing His Son. For we read in Psalms this unavoidable statement:

The Lord was pleased to bruise him;

he has put him to grief;

when he makes himself an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring,

he shall prolong his days;

the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

This is what we read in Ps. 53:10, and it tells us that God was pleased to bruise/crush His Son. He was actively involved in the crucifixion of His Son, He did not personally commit the evil, but He used that evil to bring about great good. That is His methodology. In comprehending this truth I have found John Piper’s insights to be quite helpful. He says that there are basically two reasons God can take pleasure in bruising His Son. First, it was because of what His Son would accomplish with His death for us, and secondly because of His own great love for His own glory. With regard to the first point, Piper says this:

It says at the end of verse 10, “The pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” I take that to mean that God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son considered in and of itself but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his dying.

Regarding the second point about God’s love for His own glory Piper says:

But I think another part of the answer must also be that the depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. And so when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value!

…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory, and in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.

These are deep and amazing mysteries and they ought to cause us to worship.

Now, considering this context, we see that Christ’s love is rooted in love for the Father and the Father’s glory, and this love overflows in His actions not only on the cross, but also all the way up until the cross!

For despite knowing all his was about to suffer, Jesus still continued on steadfastly toward the cross. He could have changed His mind at any moment. He could have risen up and crushed all the kings of this world and setup a political rule that would never end. Note especially that John says, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” signifies that Jesus knew that all power was at His disposal. Carson says, “With such power and status at his disposal, we might have expected him to defeat the devil in an immediate and flashy confrontation, and to devastate Judas with an unstable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples’ feet, including the feet of the betrayer.”

But He chose instead to be faithful to the mission His Father had given to Him. Such was the love Christ had for the glory and fame of the Father.

His methodology in preparing for the cross is odd to us only if we don’t understand that all of Christ’s actions were rooted in love. Jonathan Edwards speaks of how love works in this way:

Love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and man…If a man sincerely loves God it will dispose him to render all proper respect for Him; and men need no other incitement to show each other all the respect that is due than love. Love for God will dispose a man to honor Him, to worship and adore Him, and to heartily acknowledge His greatness, glory, and dominion. And so it will dispose men to all acts of obedience to God…a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it disposes men to all duties towards their neighbors…thus love would dispose to all duties, toward both God and man. And if it will thus dispose to all duties, then it follows that it is the root and spring and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle that, if it is implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good practice; and every right disposition toward God and man is summed up in and comes from it, as the fruit from the tree or the stream from the fountain (‘Charity and its Fruits’ pg.’s 6, 8, 9).

Therefore, He changed His clothes into garments that were reflective of a slave, and began to wipe the feet of His servants! It’s worth noting that only slaves washed feet. In fact, Jewish slaves didn’t have to do that; only Gentile slaves were lowly enough to be required to do such a demeaning and gross service.

Yet here was the King of kings stooping to do this act. What did this mean? Let’s explore that some more and Jesus begins to dialogue on this point with Peter…

13:6-11 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” [7] Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” [8] Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” [9] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [10] Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” [11] For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Three Significant Truths

It is significant that Jesus was doing this. He knew it, Peter knew it, they all knew it. Yet Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on why Jesus would do such an outrageous thing, and Jesus wasn’t going to give him the easy answer about coming to serve instead of being served. Instead, He told him that he would know later on the more significant purpose behind what He was doing.

Why would Peter know later on? Jesus will get into this later on in the chapters ahead, but it was because the Holy Spirit would come to reveal “all things” to them.

So why did He do this? Was it simply an act of servant-hood, or was there something more significant here? For example, some theologians have gone so far as to declare that Jesus is instituting a foot washing sacrament here. They say this looks like something that He wants His followers to do long after He is gone. But while I think Jesus would love for us to wash each other’s feet, I don’t think that the actual washing of the feet was something being instituted in the same way the Communion Meal was when Jesus said “take eat, do this is remembrance of me.”

I think there are three significant things that we need to look at here, and in order to get at the significance, we need to look at the literary context – look at the verses which preceded and followed these verses.

First, there is the lesson of humility, it is obvious that Jesus is showing us the kind of King He came to be, and the kind of servants He wants in His kingdom. That is why we looked closely at verse one which ended by saying, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus was doing what He was doing because it was in His character to do so, and He was planning on sending His Spirit so that His children would also love in the way that He did.

Second, there is the lesson of the impending work of atonement, if we look at the verses following the foot washing, we see Jesus talking about how “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean”, this He said to setup the analogy (I don’t think this first part had any theological significance), and then He made His point when He said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” What He is saying is that those who are His, those whom He has come to wash clean by His atoning blood, ARE CLEAN. That being said, not everyone here was clean. Judas wasn’t clean. The reason he said this was that He desired to show a demarcation. There was a difference between a man who has been cleansed by Jesus and one who hasn’t.

Now we have baptism to show that we have been cleansed by Jesus of our sins. Those sins have been forgiven, buried with Christ! And a new man has been raised with Christ – this is the ultimate analogy, is it not? But here we have a beautiful analogy of the sovereign efficacious work of Christ in the life of a sinful, dirty, stained human being. Unless Christ washes you from your sin, you have “no part with him.”

Thirdly, in verse 10 we see Jesus turn Peter’s objection into an opportunity make another point, namely that once one has been washed it is no longer necessary to wash again. In other words, the atonement is final and a one-time occurrence despite our continual sin post regeneration.

As Carson notes, “…the initial and fundamental cleansing that Christ provides is a once-for-all act. Individuals who have been cleansed by Christ’s atoning work will doubtless need to have subsequent sins washed away, but the fundamental cleansing can never be repeated.”

This point is one Jesus seemed to make almost secondarily after Peter’s thoughtless and reactional rejoinder opened the door to more teaching.

And so in sum, “This first application used the foot washing tot symbolize Christ’s atoning, cleansing death; this second (about the one-time occurrence of the atonement) application makes the points just elucidated; the third and final application teaches lessons in humility” (Carson).

13:12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

Now, going back to point 1 that I made earlier, Jesus explains that He is the true example of love. Just as He loved, so we are to love. He is our Lord, and as such we are to obey Him, to follow after Him, and to emulate His example. That is why He emphatically states, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Again, I don’t think that He is stating, “you need to also do foot washing.” Why? Because Peter wasn’t an idiot. If Peter didn’t understand why it was that Jesus was doing what He was doing and Jesus knew that even this explanation in 12-16 wasn’t the full expression of the meaning, then we need to realize that there is more to this than just foot washing. And that’s what Peter would later come to find. Even though Jesus gave them the explanation of what He was doing, He gave them the why not a specific command to do foot washing, it wasn’t that obvious. It was something that Jesus knew they would “get” only later when they had the Holy Spirit to help guide them into all truth.

This, by the way, is a perfect example (in my opinion) of why it is so important to look at the context of a passage in order to understand the fuller meaning of the passage and not jump to conclusions. Now, I might not be 100% correct on my statement/conclusions, but I will learn that in heaven. My responsibility now is to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to be as wise as I possibly can in discerning the text.

Lastly, I love verse 16 and we can’t get away without at least noticing that Jesus uses the analogy of a servant, but then of a messenger. And indeed that is what we are, we are messengers of the Gospel to a lost and dying world.

13:17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

This is sort of the positive side to James’ statement that, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The point is that there is something to be said for ignorance. I am not saying ignorance is good, I am saying we are responsible for what we KNOW and what we DO with that knowledge.

This is practical, and it is obvious, but let me anticipate an objection. Some would say “what about those who have never heard of the gospel or of Jesus?” Paul explains that they still know enough to know there is a God and still to have rebelled against Him.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

Secondly, let us take note that the echo of James is here as well in Christ’s words “blessed are you if you do them.” How are you blessed? If you DO them. Why? Because you are acting out of what you KNOW, namely you are acting on the knowledge of God and are walking in the Spirit in obedience to God’s prompting. You know because you have been given these things from above (James 1:16-18), and you DO because you are acting in obedience to the Holy Spirit instead of giving way to your flesh. Surely the man who is submitting to the Spirit will indeed be blessed. Maybe not materially in the way we think of blessing so often, but certainly eternally, and certainly right now spiritually. There is a true joy that comes from obedience to the Spirit of God.

13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

Here Jesus goes back to point 2 from earlier, namely that He has made distinctions, He has made choices. His choices come before your choices and lead to your choices by His power and grace.

He says, “I am not speaking of all of you.” Not everyone here is getting washed! Not everyone here is going to be atoned for by my blood! Well, this is elementary we say…we know not everyone get saved. So what are you saying that is so radical here Mr. Wenzel, why don’t you move on. Ahh, but Jesus does say more…listen…

He states clearly “I know whom I have chosen.” He says this as if to state, “don’t be deceived, this is not a guessing game. I am not just going to die and hang that atonement out there for whomever might feel so inclined to take me up on the offer. No indeed! He emphatically answers this line of thinking by saying “I know”! I know whom I have chosen. Not everyone is getting washed, not everyone will accept me. But that’s because I have not chosen everyone!

What Jesus is stating here amounts to this: He is preeminent in the application of His atonement. He knows for whom He has died.

 

Study Notes: John 12:41-43: The Transforming Glory of God in Christ

Below are some abbreviated notes from my lesson on Sunday.  I say “abbreviated” because I added a lot on the fly that was not written down, so these served more as an outline rather than my usual (rather extensive) written notes.  Nevertheless, I hope they are useful to those who missed class.

PJW

12:41-43 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The Power and Purpose of the Glory of God

We are given here an amazing insight as to why Isaiah wrote these things. The reason, John says, is, “because he saw his glory”, and that motivated him to take action and “speak of him.”  It is the overwhelming glory of God on the throne that completely captures Isaiah’s life and mission. Here is the passage from Isaiah 6 where the scene is set in a vision that the prophet had:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

            “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV)

It is in this passage that we see that Isaiah was motivated to go and preach the word of God after being overwhelmed by the glory of God. And so it is that when that glory is revealed to us, when the excellencies of Christ are revealed to us, we are motivated in our spirits to go and serve the Lord.  This is not a motivation in the way we traditionally think of motivation where we see a reward and chase it like a carrot on a stick. This is a motivation fueled by the realization that all other purposes fall short of the ultimate reality of who God is and what He has made us to do. All other realities shrink in comparison to the supreme reality of who God is, and our souls react in such a way that we can’t help but share with others who He is because we are overwhelmed by His greatness.

The Glory Transforms Us

Have you ever wondered what it is that will eventually transform us/how that will happen?  Well Paul tells us: it will be God’s glory that eventually transforms us completely and is transforming us now. It is in “beholding” God’s glory that changes us!  This is why reading Scripture, prayer, and dwelling on the person of Christ is so important.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is what happened to me a few years ago in the Spring of 2010 when I was reading R.C. Sproul’s books ‘The Holiness of God’ and ‘Chosen by God’.  The magnificence of the glory of God overwhelmed me to a point where one evening I got down on my knees at 2am in the middle of my living room and cried.  I realized, through Sproul’s exposition of Isaiah 6 and other similar passages, who God is and who I am. And to then connect that reality with the gospel which tells me that the Man in whom all the excellencies of God are bound up, came to earth and died for my sins, blew me away afresh. A deeper understanding for the character and the glory of God grows not only your love for Christ, but your desire to share that love with others.

Christ is the glory of God

One of the amazing truths of Scripture is that Jesus Christ is the glory of God. If we want to know what God’s glory looks like manifested in a human being, we need not look any further than the only begotten of the Father.

Look at what Scripture says about Jesus:

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

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

It cannot be said enough that if we want to know what it means to behold the glory of God, we ought to begin by beholding the face of Jesus, and the way we do that is by meditating on the Scriptures that talk about who Jesus is.

We are the Reflection of Christ’s Glory (in a manner of speaking)

In a way, we are to be the reflection of Christ to the whole earth. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

This means that as we are conformed to the image of Christ, we are to reflect His image, and love others in a way that reflects how Christ loves us. This is a very large challenge, and one that we really cannot begin to accomplish without His help.

God’s Glory will Eventually Cover all the Earth

We ought to also contemplate what the Bible promises about the future, and in so doing realize that one day the glory of the Lord will cover the entire earth. This was the idea behind God’s mandate to Adam in the Garden – to go and subdue the earth, and essentially expand Eden to cover the entire earth so that God’s glory would be spread throughout the earth. God saw fit to use His creation (Adam) to expand His glory over all the earth even prior to The Fall.

Yet despite the Fall, God still has a plan to renew the earth and has said that through the work of His Son, the Suffering Servant and King of kings, His glory will eventually cover all the earth. This is mentioned in Numbers 14 and below is the passage.  The context is that the people of Israel have just sinned and have no faith that God will give them the land of Canaan because of all the enemies dwelling in the land.  Moses then intercedes on their behalf and God reacts to the intercession of Moses, which is where we pickup the narrative:

Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14:20-23)

Southern Baptist Theologian James Hamilton sees a strong connection between this passage and surrounding passages in Numbers, and the passage in Genesis 3, Genesis 12, 18, 22 and 49 where God promises to crush the head of the serpent with the seed of the woman, and then promises Abraham land, descendents and stipulates that He will bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. One of the ways that the Lord will extend His glory throughout the earth is through the rule of a King who will bring blessing to all the earth and also victory over the seed of the serpent. This King is Jesus Christ, who crushed the ruler of this world (Satan) through His righteous obedience, cross work and resurrection, and is spreading the glory of God through human instruments (us) throughout the entire world (Matthew 28) just as He first intended for Adam to do. In this way, the curse is being reversed through the work of mankind as we spread the gospel of the glory of God through which His character and love is revealed.  The final consummation of this work will occur when Christ returns in power and the invisible becomes visible (namely His kingdom and authority).

The Glory from Men is not Worth to be Compared to that Glory which will come from God

A very striking statement is made by John in verse 43: “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”  It is convicting to me how much I personally seek the glory which comes from men rather than the glory which comes from the Father of lights.  Peter briefly talks about this, and emphasizes that during our short life here on earth we will endure many trials, but they all fall away in comparison to the glory that will one day be ours:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV)

And so in conclusion I want to point to us to Christ’s instruction in Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

There is a glory that comes from men, but it is fleeting and shallow. Let us set our faces toward the heavenly Jerusalem and seek that which is above, which is eternal and unending. Let us act with loving-kindness toward others (as Christ loved us), and let us dwell on the richness and glory that is the Lord Jesus Christ that our minds may be renewed and transformed into His image.

God’s Sovereign Sustaining Grace

This week our church is in a study of ‘Grace’ – an apropos topic leading up to the Easter holiday.  One of my favorite passages on grace is Ephesians 2:1-10, and that’s what we’ll be looking at in class on Sunday morning.  Here are the notes, enjoy!

Ephesians 2:1-10 God’s Sovereign Grace

2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

For thousands of years mankind has rebelled against the idea that he is sinful, or immoral, or in anyway imperfect – at least as long as that “imperfection” is measured against an absolute standard. He’d be perfectly willing to admit he’s not perfect, but by his own independent subjective standard.  One of the champions of this kind of thinking was 18th century philosopher Jean Jaque Rousseau whose romanticism philosophy declared that man is basically “good” until corrupted by outside influencers. This humanistic philosophy is alive and well in or own day as well.  In high school I remember a popular song by Sarah Mclachlan called ‘Adia’ whose refrain was “we are born innocent, believe me Adia, we are still innocent.”

Contrary to this, the Bible tells us that we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5), and it is not unintentional that Paul begins this section of his letter by pronouncing very clearly the true state of mankind before the intervention of God.

Paul surely realized the nature of what he was about to convey, more than a theory of being and nature, it was the very essence of truth.  In fact Paul was painting here a picture of reality that is so dark, so bleak, so scary, that only against the blackness of this backdrop will he lay forth the most precious light and purity of the gospel.

Steven Lawson, in his series on the Doctrines of Grace in John, gives the analogy of the black velvet display case you would see at a jeweler.  The jeweler uses the black velvet as a contrast against which he can lay the diamonds he’s selling you. Certainly the diamonds are intrinsically glorious and beautiful, but when set against he rich blackness of the velvet their worth and brilliance seems to shine all the more brightly.  So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ when set against the darkness of our sin riddled lives.

I wish that the only people arguing for man’s innocence were the humanists, but historically, and contemporarily, there have been many in the church who see man as not completely fallen.  They argue for an “island of righteousness” in which man’s will and mind have the power to make moral decisions – most particularly these same thinkers reserve this power of right moral action for the most important “decision” one can make, the choice to follow Jesus.

Paul’s theology cannot be reconciled with such thinking.

The way I like to think of our pre-Christ situation is similar to a scene from the Matrix, where the inhabitants of the Matrix were “living in a dream world.” We thought that certain things were true, they seemed true, but until we took the red pill we were unable to see reality for what it really is/was. We were living in a world, which was mostly a lie – and no wonder, it was Satan who helped weave this lie around and about our minds as we willingly bought into his deceptions.  Now this is only a picture, and like so many analogies there are imperfections.  However, the main thrust is this: before we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot and will not see the kingdom of God (John 3) which is equivalent to seeing the reality of Christ’s reign and absolute power (in fact we will not agree to any absolutes until we realize that all absolutes find their ‘yes and amen in Christ’, but that is another matter).

Our status before Christ burst forth into our lives was like that of Paul before his dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus.  We were not simply dead, we were rebels.  We hated God, because we hated what God stood for – God stood for everything we stood against.  We were independent beings, after all!  We didn’t need anyone bossing us around, telling us what was right and wrong.  We didn’t need someone else’s version of absolutes!  We had our own minds and could think for ourselves, thank you very much!

The deep, deep sinfulness of our sins warranted Divine justice.  Paul wants to be clear as he begins this section that we were completely and utterly cut off from God: dead.

2:2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

But it gets worse!  Not only were we dead, we were enemies of God (as I mentioned above).  And not only enemies, but also enemies duped into following a commander who was happy to use of and abuse us for his own purposes and his own pleasure and cared nothing for our souls.

Therefore, Paul outlines two concepts…

First, Paul states that we were walking in our flesh, in our sin according to a certain leader, “the prince of the power of the air”, which is Satan.  In Ligonier’s Tabletalk daily devotions this verse is referenced and they say that, “In ancient times, the term air often referred to the spiritual realm of angels and demons.”

Secondly, we learn is that those who follow this “prince” are “sons of disobedience.”  That’s us! In open rebellion against our Creator.  Jerry Bridges puts it this way:

No one ever has a valid reason to rebel against the government of God. We rebel for only one reason: We were born rebellious. We were born with a perverse inclination to go our own way, to set up our own internal government rather than submit to God.

But this disgusting description of our satanic sonship brings to mind the beautiful reality that we celebrate today, namely the fact that we have been adopted by God, that we were once sons of another – sons of the Devil (John 8:44) – but now are sons of God Himself!

2:3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The result of living as sons of the Devil means that we are going to fulfill the passions of the flesh and the desires of the mind and body. There is a small shift here from Paul’s speaking directly to the gentiles to now addressing mankind as a whole, and the universality of sin on the earth. C.S. Lewis said that, “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” Paul contrasts these two types of slavery in Romans 6.

We have gone from being slaves of the enemy, under the cruel Egyptian task master, to being liberated from that slavery into the lovely bondage of Christ. Slavery to Christ may seem like a harsh term, but that’s how Paul described it over and over again.  Furthermore, Jesus reminds us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Slavery to Christ is actually, paradoxically, freedom!

2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

Note that both Greek words used for “love” here are forms of the word agapē – the strongest and most profound of the Greek words for love.  Perhaps the most important word in this verse is the word “but.” This word marks the transition from our old state as sinners following the course of this world to our death, to the story of what God did for us in His richness and mercy.

Someone once said, “thank God for the ‘buts’ in the Bible.”  I couldn’t agree more.  This word is the turning point from Paul’s explanation of who we (humans) are, to what God has done for us, and, in essence, who He is.  He is love, and He cannot act out of His own character.

The most important concept in this verse is comprehending the motivating force behind why God did what He did.  Love – His character.  The fact of the matter is that he did what He did because He couldn’t deny Himself and His own love for His creation and His desire to be glorified by His creation.

He is rich in mercy!  He is a God of great love. And we are His image bearers, and the objects of His great love.

God does what He does because He is who He is.

2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Two concepts are again brought to bear: life and death.  We are reminded again that we were dead, and that even though we were dead we have been made alive together with Christ.  Paul has undoubtedly in mind the resurrection and powerful triumph over death of our Lord Jesus, and wants us to likewise picture our own powerful triumph over death – not in or of our own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ we have been “raised to walk in newness of life”(Romans 6:1-14, Eph. 1:20, and Colossians 2:12-13).

We are also brought to understand that if we were dead, then we couldn’t have made the decision to be saved on our own – it was purely by the grace of God.  Remember, grace is an active giving of something that we don’t deserve.  This isn’t passive.  This isn’t mercy, which withholds what we DO deserve.  This is the Spirit of God imparting something TO us, namely, spiritual rebirth.

A.W. Tozer says, “The love of God is manifested brilliantly in His grace toward undeserving sinners. And that is exactly what grace is: God’s love flowing freely to the unlovely.”

2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

The amazing and awe-striking paradox of this statement is that while we were the ones who raised Christ to His painful position on the cross, He repays us with grace and raises us up and seats us in the heavenly places.  I think about Rembrandt’s famous painting ‘The Raising of the Cross’ (circa 1633) where Rembrandt depicts the people lifting Christ up to die on the tree, and includes himself in the men who are responsible for the act.  Martin Luther also identified with this reality when he stated, “Take this to heart and doubt not that you are the one who killed Christ. Your sins certainly did, and when you see the nails driven through his hands, be sure to that you are pounding, and when the thorns pierce his brown, know that they are your evil thoughts. Consider that if one thorn pierced Christ you deserve one hundred thousand.”

In addition, I find it worth noting here that we are not only brought to life, not only forgiven of our sins, but we are adopted and then seated with Him in the heavenly places.  This says something of our spiritual royalty.  (Colossians 3:1 says “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”) Christ makes reference to this special place in heaven in Luke 22:29-30 and John makes reference to it in Revelation 3:21.

Lastly, and perhaps this should have been firstly, this verse tells us of the certainty of our salvation.  For what the Lord has gathered in heaven to Himself by the purchase of His Son’s blood will certainly not be foreclosed upon by any higher power in the universe.  As far as Paul is concerned, the matter is done.  Paul speaks similarly in Romans 8 when he says – in the past tense – that those whom God justified He also “glorified”, as if the thing had been done already, for God sees all time at one time. In Schreiner’s commentary on Romans he talks about how this kind of writing is indicative of Pauline theology – specifically, and I paraphrase, “the radical invasion of the future into the present.”

2:7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Notice again that we are said to be “in” Christ Jesus.  Our entire wealth and inheritance comes by way of Christ and what He did to earn it.  We haven’t done anything to deserve this, but are taking part in His wealth and just deserts.

The word “immeasurable” is also “surpassing” and “exceeding” and “incredible” in other translations.

If we contrast the nature of God’s grace with the situation in which we found ourselves prior to salvation we would also be able to use the same adjectives.  We were incredibly, exceedingly, surpassingly, immeasurably separated from God and lost in our sin.  So fallen were we, and so incredibly holy is God that the difference and the chasm that separated us was gigantic.  In Luke 16 that fixed chasm is called “great”, and great indeed it was.  How could we, by some human effort, seek to cross that chasm.  How could we of our own volition find a way across?  We couldn’t, we can’t, and we won’t.  Only by the One who bridges that gap are we saved.  He is the intercessor between God and man.  He is “the way”(the truth and the life) and no man comes to the Father but by Him (through Him).

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

Nothing could more clearly outline the basis for the doctrine of “sola fide” which was one of the doctrinal hallmarks of the 16th century protestant reformation. (Gal. 2:15-16 is a great reference – verse 16 says “We also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified”).

In a past issue of the devotional magazine ‘Tabletalk’ there is a great devotional addressing this passage/verse which says, “The man made religions of this world prove that without the work of the Holy Spirit, people think that they are basically good and can contribute something to their salvation. This strips glory from God and gives it to us, for if we can do even one thing to merit salvation, then we deserve some credit.  All belief systems except biblical Christianity encourage us to believe that we contribute our salvation, even if they deceitfully assert otherwise.”

I like what Jerry Bridges has to say in his book ‘Transforming Grace’:

God answered my prayer for only one reason: Jesus Christ had already purchased that answer to prayer two thousand years ago on a Roman cross. God answered on the basis of His grace alone, not because of my merits or demerits.

Lastly, as an aside, how do the Roman Catholics view this?  R.C. Sproul explains their view of the role of faith in salvation, “Contrary to what many Protestants think, Roman Catholicism affirms that we are justified or accounted as right before the Lord by faith in Christ and that no one is saved apart from Him. However, Roman Catholic theologians deny that faith is sufficient for justification. Instead, good works of obedience must be added to faith in order for God to declare us righteous. Justification comes first through the sacraments — justifying grace is poured into the soul at baptism, lost through mortal sin, and restored through confession and works of penance. Rome argues works cooperate with grace to make us righteous, and we are justified only if we have actually become righteous through our faith and works.”[i]

2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

A great cross reference on this verse is Romans 3:27, which states, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” And Paul also states this in 1 Cor. 1:29-31.

The idea here is that in our fallen state we cannot save ourselves, and if we were to somehow achieve a salvation of our own concoction we would then have reason to boast or brag or say that some part of our salvation emanated or originated from ourselves and something we did, thought, or “realized.”  This is the folly of so many other religions. They fail to take into account the holiness of God.  Once that is taken into account, our own radical falleness is revealed and any chance we thought we may have at saving ourselves is utterly destroyed.

The kind of pride it would take to both realize our radical sin and separation from God and yet devise a way of works with an end of salvation is the kind of pride that would certainly negate any successful achieving of this end.

2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Our Purpose: to Bless the Nations and Glorify God

Here we see the ultimate reason for our election.  Some might say that ‘now that we are elect why would we evangelize?’ and this is the verse that contradicts this thinking.  We were elected beforehand unto not only salvation, but unto good works, which are the fruit of salvation.

Because we are so naturally ego-centric, we think of salvation as the end, and that now we need to live this Christian life on our own, but God thinks of it as the beginning of His work of grace in us.

We must not miss the reason for which we were saved: good works. This means not only living a holy life, but also sharing the good news of the gospel to the world. For we are to love our God and to love the world.

In fact, we have been called to bless all the nations of the world through the spreading of the gospel.  This is the fulfilling of the great promise made to Abraham so long ago. It is through the spread of the gospel to a dying world that we bless the world and bring glory to God.

Now God does not leave us alone to this mission.  No indeed, for His grace is with us to sustain us throughout our life through the inward working of the Holy Spirit. John Piper says, “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power not just pardon.”

So we see that eternal respite from hell and damnation is only the first part of God’s grace.  That is one part of the consequence of salvation, but there is also a plan of action moving forward that God in His righteous omnipotence has designed for us since before the foundation of the world.

Holiness

This means not only that we are to spread the gospel, but that we are to strive for holiness.  We can only do that be surrendering to God’s powerful working within us. We have to trust God, and lean on His truth and His grace.

He will indeed provide us grace in our time of need.  That is the magnificent difference between the New Covenant believer and the Old Covenant Jew.  We can obey.  God wanted to create a covenant with people who could actually keep the covenant (cf. Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum)! This is what Jeremiah emphasized over and over again.  No one was going to need to teach his brother because God was going to put His Spirit within His chosen ones.  HE would be the teacher! He would be the one helping us, enabling us to keep the covenant.

But what if we failed?  He had that part figured out as well.  For Christ would be sent to pay for every failing in the past, present, and future. His death on the cross paid for sins you haven’t even committed yet.  That should blow your mind!  Jerry Bridges puts it this way, “Furthermore, grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity.”

He does not leave us alone; His presence is the great blessing of the Christian life.  He is working through us to sanctify and keep us. Augustine said, “Nothing whatever pertaining to godliness and real holiness can be accomplished without grace.” Amen.

Conformed into His Image for a Reason

Lastly, we are said to be “His workmanship” which implies more than simply our good works are at issue here. There is a sanctification piece as well. Our very being, our soul, is at issue here.  He is molding us into a creation that will glorify Himself. (Ps. 138:8; Is. 29:23, 43:21, 60:21; Matt. 5:16; 2 Tim. 2:21) If He stopped at salvation He would certainly receive glory for His heroic and unfathomable love, mercy, and grace, but He doesn’t stop there.  He continues to mold us, shape us and refine us unto His own glory. (Phil. 2:13)

Now being the clay in the Potter’s hand is not always a pleasant experience.  There will be times when we are called to suffer. I do not want to here answer the reason in-depth for suffering except to say that it can be for molding, or discipline, or simply because we are under the attack of the Devil.  Whatever the case may be, we must realize that the servant is not greater than the master.  Christ promised that we would suffer as He did if we publically identified with Him. It is an honor to suffer in the name of Christ, but when we suffer we need to keep a few things in mind:

  1. The suffering of Christ – personally I like to mentally picture the walk of Christ up to the road at Calvary.  Suddenly my situation doesn’t seem so bad.
  2. The power of Christ – I am constantly reminded that the very Spirit who raised Lazaraus and indeed Christ from the dead is at work within me to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
  3. The triumph of Christ – when Christ rose from the grave, He defeated sin and death. Revelation 21:3-4 reminds us of this great truth, “ 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The Ultimate Reason for Conformity…

The reason for this is because He wants to conform you to the image of His Son.  Why? Because He is at work to restore you to the original image in which He made you.  He delights in this because when He restores us to His original image, the image of His Son who reflects all the radiance of His glory and is the very embodiment of His character and goodness, then what He is looking at is a miniature reflection of Himself.  God loves Himself and cherishes His own glory – and when He sees us gradually conformed into the image of His Son whom He loves with infinite love, He smiles.  This is the essence of what it means to bring God glory.  To submit to the work of the Spirit within you, to respond in love both to God and to His image bearers.

Study Notes 2-10-13

John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus

11:28-29 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers.  When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8.  This is a trait of a true follower of Christ.  When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey?  Or do we hesitate?  Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord?  Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus.  May we do the same.

11:30-32 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.  They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites.  What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve!  He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.

11:33-36 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Compassion for His Sheep

If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.

Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ.  It’s not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of human emotion that simply cannot be held back.

And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.

Why is this His response?  It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses.  I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that.  He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us.  He enters into our sorrows with us.

We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”

So the Lord was upset on several levels.  The scene is a complex one.  He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.

You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come.  Christ came to change all of that.  And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant.  This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier.  A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope.  There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that day of judgment.  But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul.  And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

Joined with Christ

Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.

I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.

Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God.  A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us.  He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears.  He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.

I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!

The Impending Victory

But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we exist in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer.  We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ.  So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all!  That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt.  It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.

11:38-40 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” [40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).

Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).

SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.

This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.

I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.”  John explains in his epistles that:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.

For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him?  It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.

How is it that we behold His glory here?  We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts.  This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous!  Our doing is our beholding.  And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.

This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important.  That’s consequently why I teach expositionally!  I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that.  He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person: His glory.

11:41-42 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”

There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion.  It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.

Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention.  For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead.  Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.

11:43-44 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are several key points that we see here.

First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures.  We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.

Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again.  And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)

Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”