Study Notes 8-25-13: Ambassadors for Christ

This post contains notes for John 13:19-20 which was taught on 8-25-13.  Our emphasis for this post is the joy we enter into as ambassadors for Christ.

13:19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

The Carefully Chosen Words of Christ

We’ve talked before about the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ, and verse 19 really brings those truths home to us once again.  But what I really want to look at here is how Jesus is saying that all of His words are for a purpose.  Specifically, they are for us. So that we will believe in Him. John notes as much later on when he says:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

And so that is the purpose of what He said, but I want to hone in on yet another thing, and that is that Jesus had a reason for everything He said. For whatever reason this really convicted me as I studied the passage.  I began to realize that I often say things that have no point whatsoever. My words are sometimes inane, babbling, rambling, or (at worst) very poorly chosen.

James tells us that the tongue is a “world of iniquity” and that no man can tame the tongue, and yet one of the things that we most often forget is that Jesus did.  He tamed the tongue, and not because of His divine nature somehow “cheating” and retraining the human nature.  He tamed the tongue because while He was fully human, yet He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and obeyed the Holy Spirit.  He submitted to His Father, and did not sin. Did not think sinful thoughts, did not allow those thoughts to come to fruition and bubble over onto His tongue. He took every thought hostage for the glory of His Father. He loved the Father too much to allow sin to even formulate in His mind, much less fall onto His tongue, and in so doing He showed us not simply what “divinity” looks like, but rather what true humanity looks like.  This is why we call Him the “second Adam”, because He was perfect and was truly human – I don’t mean “fully” human.  I’m not talking about the fullness of His incarnation.  I mean “truly” human.  That is to say that Jesus showed us what humanity was intended to be like.  He is our great example because He is transforming us into someone more like Him, and in so doing we are becoming more human, not less human. We are never more as we were intended to be than when we are less like ourselves now, and more like Christ was on earth. Luckily we don’t have to only look back, we can look forward because this work that’s He’s doing in us He will bring to completion at the day of His arrival!

13:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Ambassadors for Christ

I believe the verses 19 and 20 are significant in that they extend again to these disciples the love of Christ. He has just spent time discussing (and will continue to talk about) the treachery of one of their own party.  As John MacArthur[i] tells us, it must have been shocking, and must have raised questions as to their ability to maintain credibility among those who they were going to be ministering to.  How could this new kingdom maintain integrity if one of the first pillars was a traitor?  Well Jesus gives them reassurance here that whoever is sent in the name of Christ (as ambassadors for Him) is actually representing Him with the same authority as if He had been there Himself.

Listen to what Paul says about this to the church at Corinth:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1)

This means that we are entering into the Master’s labor (John 4:38), and our mission in this world is to be representatives, little mini-Christs, to the world. We are on a mission of reconciliation.  This is the gospel: that He sent Him who knew no sin to be sin so that we could draw near to Him as His own children.  This reminds us that we were once enemies of God, and we now reach out to God’s enemies with the goal of reconciling them to God.  Not that we do the ultimate reconciliation, no indeed.  But rather, God working through us has found pleasure in using us, the weakest of the weak, to bring His enemies near, to proclaim the good news of Jesus to them in the power of the Spirit. That’s why we’re here, that’s our mission and our joy!

The second part of this is the amazing truth that we are part of a plan that involved not only the man Jesus Christ, but also the heavenly Father Himself. This verse shows us that the Eternal Godhead has had a plan for our salvation, and that they are bringing us into this plan. Why?  Because they know that we will receive joy from it!

This is how the thinking goes: God receives joy from reconciling sinners to Himself, we receive joy from being reconciled to God, God sends us out to be His messengers so that He can reconcile more people to Himself, and now not only does He receive joy, but we too receive that joy!

Have you every thought why it’s so exciting to lead someone to Christ? There are many reasons, I think, but perhaps the foundational reason has to do with our being made in His image. If we are being made like His Son, who loved to bring sinners into the kingdom, then it stands to reason that we too would enjoy what He enjoys.

And this is what sanctification is all about – beginning to think God’s thoughts after Him, and having a heart that is like His, and loving people as He first loved us.

The nature of the trinity and its work in our lives, and the mystery of our inclusion in this process ought to blow you away Christian.  It ought to give you a peak at the depth of the love He has for you, and a sneak peak at the plan He has for you.

What About You?

Of course this begs the question: would those who are “receiving” you (accepting what you have to say and your company/friendship) doing so knowing this truth? AND, are your actions and words representative of Christ’s actions and words?

If we are Christ’s ambassadors we need to walk and talk like Christ. If we represent Him, we need to act like Him, and speak His truth to others. If you are a Christian, and cannot say this is true of yourself, then I would urge you to repent. Begin to renew your mind again by spending time in His word. Ask for Him to change your desires, to change your mind, to melt your heart, and to help you think His thoughts after Him. If you do these things what you’ll find is that Christ becomes more and more lovely to you, and loving others becomes more and more of your DNA, it just flows out of your mind and your heart – all of which are being washed by the word.

Charge to Men

Men, we need to be washing our families in the word. We need to be stirring up within them these kinds of thoughts. This is how you lead a family, by the way. You help them renew their minds and their hearts. You teach them to pray and ask for deep and wonderful things – teach them to ask the Lord Jesus to think and feel and talk and act like He does – not because you want to have “good little children”, but because if you really love them, then you want them to know what true love really is. You want them to know what its really like to fall in love with Jesus. You aren’t doing this alone. The Spirit of God will do the heavy lifting. He is the one who is going to change their hearts. But you need to lead them in obedience and out of both love for them and love for your Savior.

The Glory of Christ in Colossians

As I was reading Colossians this past week, one of the things that struck me is how often I come to the Word of God seeking what it has to say about me and what I should do etc. This is all well and good, but what has hit me is that I’ve been so focused on the didactic, that I have not reveled in the glory of Christ and who He is.  It’s been all about me, me, me…

It is not hard to feel such conviction while reading over what is perhaps one of the richest Christological passages in Scripture. Colossians 1:15-20 presents us with a picture of Christ that is nothing short of mind-blowing, and mind renewing.

Meditating on this passage provides for some wonderful Christ-drenched thought, and it is in that spirit that I thought I’d take a brief look at these verses and make a few remarks. Stop with me for a few minutes and set your mind upon Christ…

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 

Much of this passage reminds me of Hebrews 1:1-3, but this verse most of all because it proclaims that Christ is the “image” of God”, just as the author of Hebrews proclaims that Christ is “the exact imprint” of God. And so the first thing that Paul tells us here is that Christ is a perfect replication of the God that no man can see. In other words, if you ever wanted to know what God was like up close and personal, then set your gaze upon Jesus. God was pleased to send His Son, His only Son, to be born of a virgin and dwell among us, as one of us, and so even though Christ was fully God and perfectly divine, He was also fully human and perfectly displayed what it means to be truly human in the way that God originally intended – that is why we call Him the ‘Last Adam’.

John’s opening prologue the first chapter of his gospel states this truth very clearly, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

The second thing that Paul says is that Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” and then goes on explain that some more in verse 16…

1:16 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. 

There are two great truths here for us to discover, first, Christ is the maker of all things (John 1:10), and second, all things exist for Him. It is often difficult for us to think about Christ in the role of Creator, because many of us have grown up thinking that the second person of the Trinity really didn’t arrive on the scene until we open our Bibles to the New Testament. But Scripture is clear that all three members of the Trinity were involved in Creation. Because we know that all things were created “through” Him, and because we know that Christ is “the Word” of God, its probably safe to assume that when God spoke things into existence in Genesis 1, it was Christ who was uttering the words (although I’m sure our anthropomorphic language really doesn’t do justice to what occurred). This is an amazing thing to think about, but it makes a lot of sense when we consider that even during His ministry here on earth He used His voice to calm the stormy sea, and to bring life from death (as in John 11 and Lazarus). “The Word became flesh” seen in this light now adds another dimension to our understanding of Christ’s role in the creation account. For it does not say “the word became the word” as if He wasn’t the word prior to His incarnation, but rather that “the Word became flesh.” The preexistent Word, the second person of the Trinity, was poured into the flesh of a man.

The second great truth here is that “all things were created through him and for him.” Therefore, all of the things that He spoke into existence were made for Himself. God made all things “for His own glory” as the Westminster Divines tell us, and it is texts like this that give them the footing to declare such a statement.

There are obvious (and several) ramifications for this, but let me mention just one for now, namely that He made you for Himself. This is a very previous truth indeed, and it reminds me of what Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” It is a wonderful thing to think about that I was made for Jesus. He knows me, loves me, and actually made me for Himself. If that doesn’t send tingles down your spine then check your pulse…

1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This is similar to the point Paul made earlier about Christ being the “first born” of all creation because “first born” is indicative of his preeminence. There are two ways in which Christ is “before all things”: First, He existed before all things from a time-perspective. John the Baptist declares this truth when he states, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me’” (John 1:30).

Secondly, He is “before all things” in that He is over, or above, or in charge of all things. The Greek word here though is “pro” which usually means “before” as in “prior.” So I don’t want to read too much into it as meaning “above” because it only means that a few times in the New Testament, however, this second sense of the word might just be what Paul is referring to since he then proceeds to tell us that it is Christ who holds all things together. This holding of all things together is a role carried out by someone who is of a higher order than us humans, and therefore it makes sense that Paul would say that He is “before” all things.

The last part of the verse is interesting because it can kind of get your mind in a bind if you think too hard on it.  We just touched on it briefly above, but Paul says that in Christ “all things hold together.” Similar language is used in Acts 17:28 when Paul tells the gathering at Mars Hill that, “In him we live and move and have our being.”  But perhaps Hebrews 1:3 is the closest we come to a similar thought when the author says that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

That is an amazing statement, and the more you contemplate it the more you grow amazed at the shear power of God. Sometimes we read the gospel accounts and the weakness of our finite minds we see Jesus, the man, teaching us, caring for the sick and so forth. But we must not forget the same Jesus who cared for the sick also calmed the raging sea, and we’re told here, upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.

What this means is that if Jesus were to utter the word, the entire universe could collapse into a blackhole, or evaporate into nothingness. It means that chaos is kept at bay by the fact that Jesus keeps it at bay. All science, and all math, operates upon the rules of His decree. We live and breathe and exist because it is His pleasure that we do so. When one truly comprehends who “the boss” of the universe is, the spectacle of the cross becomes all that much more radical and offensive. One begins to shake at the fact that humans – created beings – put their creator to death in response to His loving them, and that the Creator would condescend to such depths of pain and shame on our behalf, all in order to show forth the glory of His Son.

1:18 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. 

Now Paul begins to talk about how these facts influence ecclesiology. If Christ is the first born of all creation, if he is the One through whom all things have been made, then should it come as a shock that He is the head of the church? Of course not! For He is preeminent over “everything.”

It’s also interesting to hear Paul refer to the church as “the body” and Christ as its head. He’s used this anthropomorphic language in other letters to other churches as well, and it signifies how closely we have come to be associated with our Savior. We are part of Him – we are His body!

Therefore, if He is our head, we must contemplate what that means for our daily lives. How does our own physical head function in relation to the rest of the body? Well, it may sound odd to put it this way, but one might say that the head is “in charge” of the rest of the body. The rest of the body functions because the head tells the rest of the body to function. The head sends the orders and the body obeys. Such is the relationship between Christ and His people. He sends the orders and we obey.

Lastly, Paul sums up his thought process by restating again that Christ is preeminent, and this is because God the Father wanted Him to be preeminent in “everything.” Drilling down to what that word “everything” means is important because up until now Paul has been talking about very big concepts – creation, the church, the universe, heaven, earth and so on. He is saying that Christ is above all of these things and actually made all of these things and directs them according to His own will.

This too has ramifications for our lives, not simply so that we can know “how things works as they do” (to quote the Children’s Catechism), but so that we can order our lives around the same facts that the universe (both heaven and earth) are ordered around. What I mean by this is that if Christ is preeminent over all things, why do we fool ourselves into believing we are preeminent over all things? You think I go too far? I doubt it. For we not only place our own desires before serving and communing with Christ, but we also place our own opinions above His revelation to us (the Bible). Therefore, if what Paul is saying is true (and we can be assured that it is), then we ought to be making Jesus Christ the top priority of our lives. That means all things ought to revolve around Him. Anything other than that is not living in reality, but rather creating a false reality that denies His preeminence. Therefore creating our own self-centered priorities that usurp the priorities of Christ is, in essence, creating for ourselves a fairyland.

The benefit of living in reality, and ordering life on the priority and preeminence of Christ, is that we’ll be made into His image, which means that we’ll become more truly human (the way we were created to be) than we would if we were simply focused on our own fleshly desires. Ironically, becoming truly human means dying to ourselves and living in the reality of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by submitting to His Lordship and renewing of our image.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 

Paul now gets to the point of things. Christ is preeminent because He is God. God is the highest Being in the universe, and because Christ is God, He is therefore preeminent by default.

Paul uses the word “fullness” – plērōma in the Greek – to indicate that Jesus didn’t lack anything in His Godness (so to speak). He never ceased being God. He did “lay aside” (if it is proper to speak so) some of His attributes (omnipresence etc.) due to His humanity, but He never ceased from being fully God – a truth of such magnitude and such incomprehensibility that scholars of every generation have had to defend it against “critical scholarship” and heretics throughout the centuries since Christ’s time on earth.

The last thing I want to examine here is that God was “pleased” to dwell in and with humanity. Let it be known to every Christian that God does what God does for His pleasure. All things happen by and for Him as we read earlier – and note especially “for” Him. That word “for” is indicative of “His pleasure” because whatever He does He does for His own good pleasure. Let that sink in…

1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Verse twenty is remarkable because after describing all of who Christ is, Paul now goes on to remind us of why He came to earth, namely to die for our sins. Paul has us so enamored with the magnificence of this God-man that we are in a state of adoration until He preaches to us the gospel in verse twenty and we can do nothing at this point except weep and praise God for His mercy. For here is the Christ, the preeminence of all creation, the God-man, the only begotten Son of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords and now Paul is saying this Being, this Radiance, has sacrificed His blood for the goal of reconciling us to God. Here we are, hostile rebels who have had the mercy of obtaining favor from heaven. God sent His Son instead of His wrath and we stand in the merciful wake of this unbelievably awesome act of mercy.

This verse reeks of mission. It is Christ’s mission, to seek and save the lost, to reconcile us to God…this is why He came, and what blows my mind even further is that when we put all the pieces together from the last few verses, we see that He does this for His own pleasure. How then can we not surmise, with John, that “God is Love”?

And so after Paul commends to us the magnificent nature and person of Christ, he ends on the magnanimous work of Christ on our behalf. He reminds us again that it was because of our sin that the beauty of the Son was marred. What an amazing story of grace! Paul ends with this sentence because he knows that one cannot separate the attributes of Christ from the work of Christ. His righteous work flows from His holy character.

I hope this passage has brought your mind once again to that place of worship and adoration and that you can join me in saying “Soli Deo Gloria!” for the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.