Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Sunday evening I had the opportunity to deliver a short sermon on Hebrews 10:23-25 which was aimed at encouraging the church toward having an eternal perspective and how that perspective, along with the indicative of what Christ has done and who He is, ought to govern how we behave amongst the elect.  I hope you find these notes engaging and encouraging!

PJW

Hebrews 10:23-25

Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.
  2. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things:
    1. Stirring each other up to love and good works
    2. Meeting together regularly
    3. Encouraging one another
  3. Conclusion: Perspective is everything
  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.

Hold Fast

We’re told here in verse 23 to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” He expresses the command in both positive (hold fast) and a negative (without wavering) terms.

What does it mean to “hold fast to the confession of our hope”?

In this passage, as in the rest of the book of Hebrews, the author’s words are dripping with eschatological richness. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that he always has the future in mind. Furthermore, he sees how Christ’s past work solidifies our future, and guides our present life. That is why he uses the word “hope” here. He is pointing us toward a future time when our hope will be realized.

This hope is ours now – otherwise it would not have made sense for him to tell us to hold fast to it – yet it will not be realized until the Lord returns.

This confession is our profession of faith in Christ and our identification with Him, and the entailment of riches that come to us by means of that confession.

As Calvin says, hope is the child of faith and “it is fed and sustained by faith to the end” (Hughes, pg. 414).

Therefore, we don’t simply confess His Lordship; we confess the hope we have because of His Lordship. Being a Christian comes with great cost, but it also comes with great reward. That reward is packed into the word “hope.”

What does it mean to not “waver”?

John Owen tells us that this generally means that our confession, our lives, must be “immovable and constant” and gives us four different ways in which we must not waver:

  1. No halting (going back and forth) between two opinions as the Israelites did between God an Baal. We must not waiver and be tossed back and forth doctrinally for convenience sake.
  2. No giving in to weakness and irresolution of mind when we encounter difficulties and trials.
  3. No yielding doctrinally or in worship to opinions which do not comport with our professed faith.
  4. No apostasy from the truth of the gospel.

The Imperative is Grounded in the Indicative

Now I want us to learn some theological grammar this evening. Let us note that in this first verse the apostle commands us to do one thing, and not do another thing, as we have just examined. We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” That command is called an “imperative.” When we tell someone to do something, we’re using the “imperative.”

But there is something sweet about living in the New Covenant and that is that as you read the New Testament you will notice that these commands, these “imperatives”, are always grounded in finished work of Christ.

When we talk about the finished work of Christ, and His character and Spirit and so forth, we are using phrasing that falls into another category, the “indicative.”

An easy way to remember this is that the indicative “indicates what Christ has done, what He is doing, and who He is.” At least that’s my theological shorthand!

So putting it all together: when we say that “the imperative is grounded in the indicative” we are saying that the commands we are given as Christians are always given in light of the finished work of Christ and His continuing work within us.

He is the rock upon which we rest our hope, and He is the one who is faithfully working within us to build His church. He is faithful therefore enabling US to be faithful.

Perhaps the most classic example of this is found in Philippians 2 where we read:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

In one breath Paul calls them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and in the very same sentence tells that that it’s God who is doing the work within them!

We find the same thing here in Hebrews 10.

We are commanded to “hold fast” to our confession, but this obedience, this work of continuing to “hold fast” is made possible only by the faithful work of Jesus in our lives.

Therefore our foundation for obedience is the faithfulness of Christ Himself.

  1. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things: Stirring each other to love and good works, meeting together regularly, and encouraging one another.

Stirring each other up to love and good works

This “stirring” requires an intentional mindset toward interacting with one another. Not just “I’m going to say hi to him today.” But more along the lines of, “I want to find out how to encourage him today, to spur him/her on!”

In order to do this there is an unspoken prerequisite: you have to actually know each other well enough that you can do this is a meaningful way!

If you don’t know the needs, hurts, goal, desires of the men and women sitting in the pew next to you then you won’t be very good at stirring them up toward love and good works will you!

Secondly, before you can stir someone to love you must first stir with love. In other words, you can’t be much of encourager if your words aren’t governed by love. Paul said it best:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Meeting together regularly

The next thing we’re told to do is to “meet together regularly” – something we’re doing right now! But you know, there are some folks who fall into the trap of thinking that the don’t need to come to church because they’re already saved, and doing just fine on their own. They have their fire insurance.

In fact, there are some who are good Christians – using that term loosely – and they will tell you that they don’t need to attend church or Bible studies all the time because they read the Word on their own.

Philip Hughes accurately describes the problem here:

Selfishness and divisiveness go hand in hand; for self-love breed the spirit of isolationism. He who does not love his fellow Christians fervently from the heart (1 Peter 1:22) feels no compelling need to associate himself with them. Indeed, the genuineness of the Christian profession of a man in this state must be seriously suspect, for those who are one in Christ cannot help loving one another.

When Martin Luther sat down to translate the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into his native tongue – the common vernacular that everyone could read – there were some well-meaning friends of his who said this could be a major problem. And he didn’t rebuke them, in fact he agreed. But continued on because he believed that the blessings brought by the principle of private interpretation (the idea that every child of God should have access to the Word of God), were worth the risk of that principle being abused.

In isolation and without guidance wiser men of God, people come to all kinds of wacky conclusions about what God’s Word is saying. We need to have God’s shepherds guide us through His Word and fellow believers correct our misguided ideas sometimes.

Furthermore, in isolation we cannot serve each other or the poor in our community, we cannot worship God together, and we cannot enjoy the Lord’s table together and much more. Lone-wolf Christianity is foreign to the pages of Scripture.

It is vital – absolutely vital – that we meet together “regularly.”

Encouraging one another

When we meet together what is it that we should do? Well the author has an idea on that as well! We’re to “encourage one another.”

You know what this rules out? Slander and gossip. This is easy to do – especially with prayer requests. When we are such a close knit group, its frighteningly easy to throw each other under the proverbial bus, or talk rudely or insensitively about those whom we will spend eternity.

My Sunday School class took this into consideration early on in its formation. We wanted to be able to share prayer requests with each other, and yet we wanted to guard against slander and gossip. So at the end of our weekly prayer request email we’ve always included the following statement:

Please remember that as we share our prayers with one another, we do so because we are family, and we have the desire to lift each other up to our Father, and because we believe that our prayers are delightful to Him and He delights in listening to them and working powerfully through them. Please take our prayer emails as opportunities to enter into the presence of God on behalf of another person with whom you will be spending eternity. They are, quite literally, your family.  Please treat them as such, and avoid slander or gossip. Take your thoughts captive for Jesus Christ, and magnify the name of our great God and Father!

This is far from being the end-all-be-all solution, but it strikes a chord with folks and sets a tone. We need to remember who we’re talking about – these are brothers and sisters who we will spend eternity with.

In that vein, let’s read the final verse and conclude…

3. Conclusion: Perspective is Everything. We are doing all of these things “all the more as (we) see the Day drawing near.”

As Christians we need to have a sense of eternity. Our perspective needs to be calibrated through the lenses of Christ’s eyes. We have to have the “mind of Christ.” We know these things, we’ve heard the truths, but how often do we govern our actions based on a timeline that doesn’t end at 5pm on Friday? We section off our lives based on the calendar on our iPhones, instead of the eternal lifespan ahead of us.

How much easier would it be to share the gospel, stir each other up, encourage each other, and meet together if we governed our attitudes about such things based on a timeline that didn’t end at the beginning of the school year, or the end of the weekend (etc.)?

Christians ought to behave different because they have a different perspective. That is what the author of Hebrews is saying. Perspective rules our lives.

One of the things that fascinates me about the Biblical accounts of angels is their perspective.

We meet one such example when Gabriel visits Zachariah in the temple and tells him about how his wife Elizabeth is going to bear a child he is aghast at Zachariah’s reaction – unbelief. Here’s how he responds:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Gabriel is saying “I was JUST in heaven before God’s throne. He’s gives me this message and you don’t believe me??? I mean, I was JUST there – in heaven – in the throne room!”

Christ’s perspective is also infinite. Listen to the account of when Jesus had risen from the grave and Mary mistook Him for the gardener:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

It isn’t as though He is curious about the reason for her crying (see Gerhardus Vos sermon ‘Rabboni’). No. It’s that He’s just come from a party in heaven and what He encounters here is so out of step with reality that He’s taken aback! It’s as He’s saying, “Why in the world are you crying? It’s time to celebrate!”

These reactions are governed by a reality that we must apprehend by faith for the present time.

Therefore, we must behave, think, feel, and talk in such a way that takes into account the “Day of the Lord.”

Those thoughts, feelings, and speech must all be taken captive to the truth – the reality – of a perspective governed by an eternal timeframe.

Let us leave here with that perspective – this is just the start! Life is eternal! I will know each of you FOREVER! We will rule over this earth together FOREVER! How does that change your week, your day, your evening? And how does it change the way you interact with and speak about those here in the church?

Let us bear in mind the truth of what R.C. Sproul is prone to say, “Right now counts forever.”

Let’s pray…

John 1-11: An Overview

Well tomorrow morning my Sunday School class will be diving back into the book of John.  But before we dive headlong into where we left off 3 months ago, I wanted to provide a few notes by way of an overview of the first 11 chapters.  By no means are these comprehensive, but rather they express the key ideas from the first half of John’s gospel.  I hope they prove helpful – please note that they are my notes and not meant to be much more than an outline with some thoughts, so if I’ve erred in grammar or spelling feel free to chuckle and continue on!  (:

The Gospel of John: An overview of the first 11 chapters

Chapter 1

The Prologue

John begins his gospel by describing the eternality of the Second Person of the Godhead, and by stating in no uncertain terms that Jesus is that Person.  Jesus is the Messiah, He is the Christ, and the Word of God incarnate.  By Him and through Him and for Him are all things created and made that have been made.

Verse 14 says: 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)

The very word that called all being into being has condescended into His created being with the mission of inaugurating a new creation within His chosen ones in order that they would fulfill that for which He originally created them: the bear His image, to rule over all creation, and to bring Him glory and joy (Jn. 10:10).

The Calling of the Disciples and the Angus Dei

John the Baptist’s mission is described here, as well as his relation to the Christ, “he whose comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (vs. 27).

When John saw Jesus coming toward him the next day he proclaimed “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  This is what is known as the “Angus Dei” (Latin for the Lamb of God), and by stating this John is saying that Jesus has come to die for the sins of His people – a people not limited to ethnic Israel, but rather from all nations and ethnicities (“the world”).

After this, Jesus called His disciples – and John makes special mention of the calling of Nathanael “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael marveled at the knowledge of Christ – supernatural knowledge that only God could know.  Yet Jesus surprised him further and invoked the image of Jacob’s ladder by stating, “truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vs. 51).

Chapter 2

The Miracle at Cana – Water to Wine

Jesus’ ministry opens in this gospel not with a description of His desert temptation, but with a miracle at a wedding feast.  John’s intentions in his gospel are set forth near the end of his gospel:

…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 20:31)

Therefore, John sets forth 7 signs and 7 discourses throughout his book to show forth the deity of Christ and make the case that we ought to believe, and by believing “have life in his name.” Each sign points to something greater than itself (hence the name “sign” used by John as opposed to “miracle”).

At the wedding feast Jesus scandalizes our traditional thinking about wine, and what is “necessary.”  For He didn’t come to simply heal some people, but rather to give life and that more abundantly.  The wine He made was good wine, and it was abundantly served to a group of people who were already likely a bit tipsy.  The point is that the wine Christ has come to give overflows, as does His grace.  It is the best kind of wine, it is rich and full and deep and never ending. His wine is the new wine of the gospel and it makes the heart glad!

The First Temple Cleansing and Christ’s knowledge

One of the first things Christ did was enter into the temple at Jerusalem and drive out the corrupt businessmen who had been charging ridiculously high interest rates.  This was done in a premeditated way (vs. 15 states that He made a whip of cords which would have taken some time).  This wasn’t an uncontrollable anger, it was a righteous anger.

In this act of cleansing, He signified the importance of the temple as the house of God, and pointed to Himself as the greater fulfillment of the temple:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21)

After this John tells us that when He was teaching in Jerusalem many started to believe in Him, but that Christ didn’t “entrust himself” to any man.  The reason?  Because He knew what was in man.  Christ knew the nature of man; He knew his depravity and his deceit.  He didn’t entrust Himself or His mission to others but took upon Himself the entirety of the mission and trusted in the will of the Father alone.

Chapter 3

Nicodemus and Being Born Again

Perhaps one of the most important passages in Scripture is found in the first parts of the third chapter of John.  A ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in secret at nighttime and begins to ask Him what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus gives a seemingly enigmatic answer:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

What He meant was this: you cannot by the work of your own hands, or deeds be admitted into the kingdom of God.  You must be born again of the Spirit. The Spirit must quicken your soul to life before you can “see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus also sets forth the sovereignty of God in salvation:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

In other words, it is God who chooses who is saved, and you cannot control this, but rather you must obey the Spirit and submit to the work of God, for He is sovereign and His ways are not our ways. The conversation ended with a rebuke of Nicodemus, who though he was a teacher of Israel did not understand these things. The implication is that as a teacher of Israel and one familiar with the Scriptures, he should have been able to put two and two together. Therefore condemnation would indeed have been just.

Moses’ Serpent, and the Love of God

Christ tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be “lifted up” as Moses “lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” – this is a reference to a time in Israel’s history when they were dying in droves of poisonous snake bites in the wilderness. Moses was instructed by God to set upon a poll a bronzed serpent, and whoever looked upon the serpent would be healed. Of course the implication here is that by looking to the cross and the work of Christ alone we are saved.  There was nothing the Israelites had to do other than look and have faith and God would heal them.  They simply had to obey and believe – now the implication is that some did not even do this. It seems so easy, so simple.  Trust and obey.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (vs. 15 says “whoever believes in him may have eternal life). But because of man’s depravity we still protest and refuse the great gift.

Jesus goes on to explain that God’s love has been made manifest to the entire world in His Son, and that because of this manifestation the entire world stands under condemnation. How many of us are familiar with verse 16 but stop without reading 19-21? Listen to these important verses:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)

The chapter ends with John’s description of John the Baptist’s desire to see Christ’s ministry set above his own and we read the famous words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The reason the Baptist wants to decrease if for his own joy.  For he remarks:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (John 3:29)

There was no improper pride in John the Baptist, his joy was completely in Christ, and he reveled in the glory of his own humility before the Son of God. He counted himself nothing before the ministry of Christ.

Lastly, John sets the stage for further arguments about the authority of Christ by stating:

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. [32] He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. [33] Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. [34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. [35] The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:31-36)

Chapter 4

The Samaritan Women and the Official’s Son

Most of chapter four is spent describing the scene of Christ at the well with a woman of Samaria.  We find here in this encounter that Christ has a divine knowledge that surprises the woman, and that He is the bearer of eternal life, a theme which John weaves throughout the book.  Listen to what Christ says to this woman:

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The woman doesn’t understand this saying at first, but Christ is so gracious and so condescending that He reveals to this Samaritan woman more than He does to the leader of the Jews. He tells her no parable, but give her a beautiful description of His person and gift:

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” [26] Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)

Furthermore, He reveals to her something we ought to note, namely that in His coming there was a change in paradigm. He came to usher in a new covenant, and with it a change in the nature and even geography of worship.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. [24] God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Here is where so-called “temple theology” comes to the fore. We need to understand that there is a certain amount of discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament we see a central place of worship, God dwells with man but it is in a temple in the Holy of Holies. Now, the greater manifestation of the Temple has come, and when He ascends to heaven He will send His Spirit to indwell His children thereby making His dwelling with men, and transforming us into His temples.  No longer do we need a temple to gather close to God, for His dwells in each of us, just as Jeremiah predicted.

Lastly, in going to the Samaritans Christ is showing that salvation has come to all men, not simply to the Jews, and in this crucial way God’s covenant with Abraham is going to be fulfilled:

I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)

And what is perhaps most amazing to me about this is the call of Christ for us to enter into His work, for He states:

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. [36] Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. [37] For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ [38] I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:35-38)

Therefore John has laid forth both the sovereignty of God in salvation (chapter 3) and now the privilege of entering into His work as His hands and feet to take the gospel to the field which are white for the harvest.

The chapter ends with John telling of how Christ healed the son of an official – the second of the signs that John describes in his gospel. The key to this sign is understanding that it was these miracles that were confirming the word of Christ. The miracles in and of themselves were only a way to point people to the person and word of Christ, and that is why John notes that the miracle led to belief in the household of the official (vs. 53).

Chapter 5

The Healing at Bethesda on the Sabbath

By this time in John’s gospel we have seen how the signs that Christ is doing point to a larger significance about who He is and what He has come to do. In a similar way, Jesus has been showing how Old Testament traditions, laws, and even buildings such as the temple, point to Him.  Thus Christ is the great fulfillment of what was only previously seen in shadow.  The way Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians is worth noting:

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Now we find that as Christ heals a man who was both blind and paralyzed the Jewish leaders become incensed. Why? Because He healed on the Sabbath (vs. 16). They are not happy for the healed man, and have no joy over the work of God.  Christ’s healing on the Sabbath was meant to point to two great realities:

  1. He was/is the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
  2. He is Lord of the Sabbath

The former is a matter of typology, and the latter of authority.

About the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the author of Hebrews says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:8-10).” And Paul says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord” (Rom. 14:5-6a).

Concerning the authority of Christ, John focuses on this for the remainder of the chapter, and he shows that the Jewish authorities were also focused on this point – for they saw that Christ was making Himself equal with God” (vs. 18).

In this chapter, Christ sought to show that His authority came directly from God, and that the prophets pointed toward Him (vs. 46-47). A few key passages are as follows:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:19-21 ESV)

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. [31] If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. [32] There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. (John 5:30-32 ESV)

But more than just describing the authority He had from God, Jesus also described how He had authority in himself granted by the Father simply because of who He was:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:25-26 ESV)

This is an amazing statement of power.  Christ had been given the power to grant life, and the power to deal out judgment leading to death. Is there a greater authority in the universe as we know it?  No indeed.

Lastly, the blindness and depravity of man is set forth by Christ as the reason for their mishandling of His ministry:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, [40] yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [41] I do not receive glory from people. [42] But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. [43] I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. [44] How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. [46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39-47)

They cannot believe because they seek their own glory and have not the Spirit of God within them.  I don’t think He could have made the case any more plain to these puffed up men.

Chapter 6

Jesus Feeds the 5000 and Walks on Water

The 4th and 5th signs are performed by Christ in the first part of chapter 6 which boasts of some of the most difficult and profound doctrine we have encountered thus far.  First, we learn that the Passover is once again at hand (vs. 4 – probably the 2nd of 3 Passover feasts that mark His ministry) and thousands of men and women and children have been following Him to hear His teaching. This is perhaps one of the pinnacles of His ministry as far as shear mass of following is concerned, but as we’ll see soon, by the end of chapter 6 many of these people will fall away because they cannot stomach the difficult doctrine of predestination and God’s sovereignty.

When Christ feeds the 5000 here, there is a beautiful sense in which once again His bounty and overflowing grace is on display. We also see that He doesn’t want any of the food to be lost (vs. 12), perhaps pointing toward His own power of preservation for those who have been saved. After the miracle is finished, the people are so enraptured by His power that they move to take Him by force and make Him their king. He alludes them, however, and goes up onto a mountain by himself – a picture of what we ought to do when the world tries to force its will upon us, we need to flee to the mountain or the quiet place and commune with God, taking safety in the cleft of His might.

After the feeding of the masses Christ’s disciples have gotten into a boat and are attempting to cross over to Capernaum. But the sea, which often becomes tempestuous due to its geography, became enraged and made the crossing very difficult. It is then that John describes Christ’s coming to them – but not on a boat or another vessel – rather, He has come to them by walking on the very surface of what is not a surface at all: He is walking on water. It is worth noting that the reaction of the disciples is one of fear (vs. 19).  They were perhaps more frightened by the sight of Christ walking on water than of the prospect of losing their lives in the storm.

After Christ comes to them, the boat immediately finds itself on the opposite side of the water. His words are telling “It is I; do not be afraid.”  When Christ is with us, all objects of fear melt in the face of His calming power.  Indeed, the God incarnate was the only object worth of their “fear”, and He was the one ministering to their souls, and bringing them safely (if not instantly) across the sea.

The Bread of Life and a Hard Saying

In this difficult discourse, Jesus shows men for who they really are, and sets forth a doctrine that is most difficult – the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Let’s look at how the chapter unfolds in a few succinct bullets:

The Nature of Man: People come seeking Jesus but really only seeking his bread – we seek after the things he can give us but not himself (vs. 26). We want the benefits of God. But no one seeks after God himself (Rom. 3:11-12).

Faith Alone: How do we do the works of God? This is the work of God, to believe in him whom he has sent. (vs. 28-29) This passage shows faith alone apart from works is what leads to salvation.

The Claims of Christ and Eternal Life: I am the bread of life (vs. 35) – whoever comes to me shall never hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Assurance: All who believe in Christ are those whom the Father gives to Jesus, and these people He doesn’t cast out (vs. 37-40) and will raise up on the last day. What a powerful statement! We can lean on His power to keep us until the end.

Sovereignty: Christ proclaims now that no one can believe – or “come to Jesus” – unless the Father draws him! (vs. 44-46) Therefore, God is the sovereign initiator of the drawing of men to Christ and therefore salvation.

The Response: The disciples say, “This is a hard saying!” (vs. 60) Not because it is tough to understand, but because it is tough to swallow. But Christ responds and says that the flesh will not help them understand the things of the Spirit (vs. 63).  Then in verse 65 Jesus says that it is the Spirit who gives help in coming to the Father.  Therefore we see that the role of the Spirit is being set forth here: it is the Holy Spirit who brings us into newness of life and draws us to the Father.

The Result: The people can’t stomach His doctrine, just as they can’t stomach it today!  How dare He impinge upon the freedom of mankind to make their own choices without aid from God! So they leave Him: “After this many of disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (vs. 66). But the disciples stayed with Christ, but even in this Jesus exalted His own work in them (“did I not choose you, the twelve?” vs. 70).

Chapter 7

The chapter opens with Jesus being rejected by his brothers (vs. 5), and ends with Him declaring himself to be the bearer of “living water.” Chapter 7 is the first of three chapters whose background is the Feast of the Tabernacles, and this is the final fall feast before the last 6 months or so of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The progression of events once Christ goes up to the feast is as follows:

He speaks with divine knowledge even though He’s never been formally trained – people marvel at this (vs. 15)

He once again asserts His authority, and claims that His teaching is from the Father (vs. 16-18)

The Sabbath question comes up again and Jesus uses the rite of circumcision as an example of “lawful” work that takes place on the Sabbath as a way to show their lack of understanding of (and lack of ability to keep) the law. (vs. 19-24)

The reaction in Jerusalem is mixed – but all are fearful of speaking outwardly about Him – such is the tension in the city over this man from Galilee (vs. 13). People even begin to declare that He is the Messiah (vs. 31).

Christ begins teaching about half-way through the feast, and due to the response of the people, the Pharisees issue an arrest warrant but are unable to apprehend Him (vs. 32, 45-49) due to the power of Christ’s speech (vs. 46), the sway of the populace (vs. 43-44), and the sovereignty of His timing (vs. 30).

The chapter ends with an interesting vignette of Nicodemus discussing the matter of Christ before others on the council, and their rejection of all justice or lawfulness indicates that the spirit of lawlessness has completely taken hold of the religious leaders of the day (vs. 50-52).

Chapter 8

The Woman Caught in Adultery

John now takes us to an incident that presumably occurs during the feast, where a young woman has been brought before Jesus as a way of testing His teaching and knowledge of the law. The woman has been caught in adultery, but given the circumstances it seems likely that this is a vile and reprehensible setup that the religious leaders have used in order to take Jesus down (see James M. Boice’s excellent commentary on the passage).

Christ’s response to the circumstance is one we’re familiar with: “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  It is an amazing rebuke of the crowds.  So often we are hungry to judge others – we want justice until it comes to our own sentence, then we want mercy!

The Light of the World and the Freedom of Christ

Christ began again to teach in the temple and proclaimed that He was the “light of the world” – He used the metaphor of light and darkness to draw people to Himself, and show them what kind of life he came to impart to them.

It was here also that Christ taught about the freedom He offered to all who believed:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Paul also expounded on this:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The Sonship of Christ, and the Children of the Devil

One of the key concepts of Chapter 8 is the Sonship of Christ. He begins to explain this to the leaders and other listening in verse 19:

“They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:19)

He is claiming to be the very Son of God – a bold and clear statement of deity.

Another key concept from this chapter is that there are only two kinds of people: sons of God and sons of Satan.  You are either under the power of the Devil and a pawn in his control, or you have been born again and adopted into the family of God, having Christ as your brother.

These statements irked the Pharisees who thought of Abraham as their father, but when Christ explained to them that they were not sons of Abraham, they winced and desired to kill Him.

Once again Christ was explaining what it meant to be a true son of Abraham.  Paul explains this to the Galatians:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7)

What had merely been a physical promise to Abraham of blessings of land, children, and blessing the nations was now being realized in a spiritual way. This angered the Pharisees to no end as I mentioned above, and the resulting conversation ensued:

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” [52] The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ [53] Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” [54] Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ [55] But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. [56] Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:51-59)

These are just excerpts of one of the most intense and important conversations that Jesus had amongst the people during the feast.

Chapter 9

The Man Born Blind

This chapter centers on an amazing miracle (the 6th one of the 7 major signs) of healing to a man who was born blind. Like Job’s friends, the disciples saw the man and naturally thought that he or his parents had committed a sin in order for him to wind up in such a state. But Christ corrects their misunderstanding, and adds to it a level of profundity that places the will and prerogative of God above our understanding:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3)

Indeed it was the sin of mankind that has led to disease and calamity, but it isn’t necessarily specific sins that cause sicknesses or trouble in this world. Rather, God works through all things to sharpen us, and cause us to be conformed to the image of God, thereby bringing Him glory (Romans 5:1-8) and us great joy.

The resulting upheaval from the healing was amazing. The religious leaders questioned the man’s parents, then questioned him, and since he didn’t know who Jesus was he didn’t really have much to answer. After questioning him and his parents they questioned the man a second time (vs. 24) and demanded that the man recant of giving any credit to Christ, but rather demanded that he give “God glory” (vs. 24).  The response of the man is truly great reasoning and evoked the following exchange:

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” [28] And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” [34] They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:27-34)

It was after this that Jesus found him, and the man became a believer.

Chapter 10

The Good Shepherd

The I AM statements of Christ are prevalent throughout the gospel of John, and here we have two more of those famous statements: I am the good shepherd, I am the door.

The key to understanding Christ’s teaching here is understanding the role of a shepherd and the role of the sheep. The sheep come at the voice of a shepherd. Shepherds in the ancient near east did not herd their sheep, they led their sheep, and the sheep would only follow those whose voices they recognized.  Also, the door of the sheepfold was the one way in or out of the sheepfold. By saying that He was the door, Christ was saying that He was the only way into the kingdom of God.

The themes here tell us of God’s sovereignty in salvation (vs. 4, 14, 15), His goodness in provision for His sheep (vs. 10), and His abundant love for us that ensures not one of His sheep will be lost (vs. 16) and that He will lay His life down for the sheep (vs. 11, 17, 18).

The Divinity of Christ and the Deadness of Man

This next section takes place “during the feast of the dedication” which was in winter, about three months from the final Passover of Christ’s earthly ministry.

The crux of what occurs here is a dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees over His divinity. Christ claims that His works bear witness about who He is (namely the Messiah). But the Pharisees still can’t find it in their hearts to believe, and Christ addresses this using the same motif He used earlier in this chapter (no doubt why John chose to put these two in sequence):

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30)

So Christ tells them in plain language that:

  1. They don’t know Him because they are not of God
  2. They aren’t of God because they aren’t His sheep
  3. They aren’t His sheep because they don’t have His spirit
  4. Those who aren’t His sheep will perish: therefore they will perish
  5. He is the giver of eternal life: eternal life is for His sheep
  6. He gives eternal life by the power of His Father who is more powerful than all
  7. The Father will not allow anyone to snatch His sheep out of His hand
  8. He and the Father are one

It is this last statement that offends them so much because, like in 8:58, He is using the divine name as His own personal moniker, and saying in plain language that the God of the universe and Himself are “one.” What an astonishing claim!  The response to this is:

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. (John 10:31 ESV)

Jesus ends up talking them down from their folly, but leaves and goes into the countryside across the Jordan River. This is the last time many of these people will see Him before the triumphal entry.

If there are two things we can learn from this chapter, they are that the nature and operation of salvation is a mysterious thing that God sovereignly ordains and brings to pass, and secondly, that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and equal with God the Father the creator of heaven and earth.

Chapter 11

The chapter begins by Jesus learning that Lazarus is ill, and we see Him making plans to visit Lazarus, but only in His divinely appointed time. Throughout the chapter the great love of Jesus for people in His care is made manifest (vs. 3, 5, 33, 35 etc.), and His humanity shines through so that the chapter combines the power and wisdom of His divinity with tenderness and empathy of a man who fully understood what it meant to suffer.

The entire chapter is a grand display of Christ’s majestic character, but perhaps the most significant texts are as follows:

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15)

Christ says that the purpose of Him staying behind was so that they might believe.  He did all of this for His purposes.  He heard that Lazarus was sick, and He knew that Lazarus was going to die, and what was His response?  He waited. He stayed put.  Can we doubt His complete control over all things?  He is sovereign!

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Christ asserts that He is the resurrection and the life.  The Jews (other than the Saducees) believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day. But here Jesus is again taking a truth understood from of old and claiming that HE fulfills that truth.  He is the second Adam, He is the great son of David, He is the prophet that Moses spoke of, He is the fulfillment of the temple, He is the center of all history and He is the resurrection and the life. There is no life that has life or will have life or did have life apart from Him. He claims here nothing less than full control and power over life and death, and therefore nothing short of ultimate divinity.

The upshot is that we are to place our faith in Him – see how He leads Martha to that “Do you believe this?”  This is the question that all people who live are faced with. Do we believe the claims of Christ?

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. (John 11:33-35)

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. (John 11:38)

We forget the sense of what it means here that Christ was “deeply troubled” – this essentially means that He was not pleased, perhaps even angry.  He was disturbed, but not by the death of Lazarus, rather He was disturbed by the unbelief of the people, as well as being saddened for the loss.  These people were likely professional mourners, so their display of grief would have (perhaps) been less than sincere. It is hard to know, of course, but the sense of the situation here is that it is the unbelief of the people in the power of God that has caused Christ to be “deeply moved” and therefore He responds in vs. 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

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.” (John 11:43-44)

The picture of Christ’s sovereign power over death is unmistakable.  Not only that, but the method in which He loosed Lazarus from the grace was emblematic of how He called life into being thousands of years before. By His voice He commanded Lazarus out of the grave – like the Divine Fiat (Augustine) He commands life into existence.

Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” [51] He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, [52] and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:50-52)

Caiaphas unwittingly and prophetically pronounces the coming of the kingdom and the further fulfillment (assuming a partial fulfillment in the work of God through Joshua) of the Abramatic Covenant in verse 52 and, of course, the atonement offered by Christ in verse 50. An amazing thing to consider from this passage is the way in which God uses the mouths of the wicked to show forth the excellencies of His plan. Not that these wicked men have been singled out by some kind of privilege, but rather the plan that was put in motion from the beginning of time was not going to be stopped by any evil force – they even confess the plan of God and His sovereignty unknowingly, so complete is His power and so inevitable is His victory.

Balancing Work and Worship

One of the things that’s always troubled me is how to properly view my work.  Am I just toiling away at this job for nothing?  When a client runs afoul of our plans, or does something against what we’d advise and everything goes haywire, it makes me think “what’s the point of what we’re doing in the first place?”

The problem is compounded when we hear Christ tell us to store up riches in heaven and not on earth.  Our minds fly to the next thought “not only am I not making a difference here on earth (i.e. clients not listening etc), but I’m not even storing anything up for eternity!”

Stay at home moms have the same conundrum.  “My kids aren’t listening to me, they’re not obeying, nothing I’m doing is working, and I’m not producing spiritual fruit! I’m just getting frustrated!”

In answer to this, Paul tells us to “work heartily unto the Lord.”  But this isn’t simply an attitude adjustment that Pau’s admonishing us to make.  Let’s examine the larger context:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

So Paul is saying that not only are we to work heartily, but that by doing so we are storying up treasures in heaven as a reward.  However, he doesn’t stop there.  He then goes on to say that “you are serving the Lord Christ.”  In other words, in this way, we are “presenting our bodies as living sacrifices” which are holy and acceptable to Christ (Romans 12 paraphrase is mine).

We are made to worship God and to enjoy Him.  This is the sole reason for God creating us.  “…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7).

So as we work, we worship.  And because we were created to worship and love God and give Him glory, we can do that in our work – both at home and in the workplace.  In other words, we can do the very thing we are created to do while we sit at our desk.  We will never experience the full meaning of this mystery until we are fully united with Christ at His second coming.  Nor do I pretend that our time at work is as worshipful and meaningful as other times that are more focused on worshiping Him (i.e. Sunday morning worship).  But I think we need to “lift our dropping heads”, and realize that though our work may seem meaningless, God says its exactly the opposite.  He has you where you are for a reason – the main reason is to glorify Him.

Posture and Worship from the Heart

Many of us gathered yesterday for a time of great fellowship, Bible study, and worship through song.  I know that for many of you this was a very enjoyable time, and I also relished the time together.  So in light of that wonderful time of worship and study, I wanted to pass along an article I read today that was convicting and insightful regarding how we worship and where are hearts ought to be.

1 Samuel 16:7 says this, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'”

With Arms High and Heart Abandoned – Why Posture Matters by Stephen Miller

I was Michael Jordan’s biggest fan. I regularly wrote him to ask for his autograph and invite him to my birthday parties. I was convinced I would one day be great like him, so finally after much pleading, my parents sent me to basketball camp when I was a pre-teen.

I hated it. It was nothing but drills on proper free throw techniques. Coach would shout, “Bend your knees. Follow through. MILLER! BEND YOUR KNEES! FOLLOW THROUGH!” I was not a natural born athlete and it felt awkward. Eventually I realized that I would never be the next Air Jordan, but I did get to a point that shooting with the proper posture didn’t feel so uncomfortably awkward – it felt natural.

Posture matters.

When a young man meets a young woman that he wants to impress, he stands up straight, shoulders back, gut sucked in. He maintains eye-contact and a smile. When he wants to propose, he gets down on one knee. When he has messed up royally and needs to apologize, it’s two knees.

If that man has a gun pointed at him, his hands are raised in surrender. If that man’s children want him to hold them or want to lavish him with childlike adoration, they raise their arms to him.

Paul writes in 1 Tim. 2:8, “I desire then that in every place [people] should pray, lifting holy hands…” He is referring back to many passages in the Old Testament where over and over, people were encouraged to pray and worship using specific postures – in this instance, the raising of hands.

King David, the innovator of music in corporate worship, wrote hundreds of songs for the purpose of engaging the mind, heart and body in worship. He understood that posture is an outward expression of an inward reality. Our body naturally acts the way our hearts feel. So we see encouragements throughout scripture to bow humbly, raise hands joyfully, shout and sing loudly, clap hands and even dance before the Lord. This must have felt very awkward to the people of the day, who had never seen anything like this before.

Similarly, we have been shaped by our past cultural experiences and may be tempted to forego these postures to avoid feeling awkward or uncomfortable, saying, “That’s for other people. I was raised (whatever denomination) and we never did that.” In doing so, we are failing to realize that our posture is shaped by our heart.

We raise our hands because we are growing more fully consumed with adoration of our God. We bow before God because we are becoming more fully immersed in a deep sense of humble, reverential awe. As we experience the inward heart-reality of worshiping God with all we are, it will undoubtedly work itself outward because our bodies naturally express what is happening in our hearts.

At sporting events, when a person’s team scores, he jumps up in the air, pumps his fists and shouts as loudly as he can. When the ref makes a bad call, he throws his hands up in frustration and boos vigorously. His heart is caught up in the experience of the moment, which causes his body to express itself outwardly.

That is why robotically going through the outward motions of worship without actually worshiping is not God’s desire for us – it only addresses the symptom rather than the actual problem. The fruit of our outward expressiveness reveals the root of our hearts.

Certainly there are moments to stand still in silence before the Lord – that in itself is a posture of worship. However, if we consistently find ourselves in corporate worship with our arms folded, simply mouthing the words with a blank look on our face, it may be an indicator that we are not experiencing an inward heart of adoration, wonder and awe that is characteristic of true, spiritual worship. But rather than forcing our hands in the air, we should ask God to draw us nearer to him and seek how he desires to be worshiped. We should plead with him to captivate our hearts and reveal any sin that might be keeping us from seeing and savoring him with all we are.

God wants our hearts, not just our arms raised or our knees bent. He wants more than just our shouts or our songs. He wants more than just our theological intellects. He wants all of us.

As he gets all of us, our bodies will always naturally follow. It may be awkward at first, but Jesus sees the beauty in the sloppiness of total abandon. Don’t worry about how you look when you worship. Just go for it with all your heart.

How have your past experiences shaped how you view posture in worship?

Have you ever had moments where you realized you were going through the motions of worship without the heart behind it?

Have you had moments in corporate worship where you have wanted to worship more expressively, but felt like you couldn’t? That something was holding you back?

You can find the original story here.

Study Notes 4-29-12 covering John 4:16-24

John 4:16-24

4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

  • D.A. Carson remarks, “The change of subject, though abrupt, is not artificial. The Samaritan woman has already failed to grasp who Jesus is, and misconstrued the nature of the living water he was promising. By this turn in the dialogue, Jesus is indicating that she has also misunderstood the true dimensions of her own need, the real nature of her self-confessed thirst.”

4:17-19 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; [18] for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” [19] The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

  • Only a prophet, a man of God, could know these details of her life, thus, the woman immediately perceives that Jesus is more than just a wise man with a claim to “living water.”  This is a man who knows the very details of her life.  At this point in the discussion, the intensity must be so thick that it could be cut with a knife.  The woman has just had her life details (and sin) laid out before her from a total stranger! Carson says, “by displaying his knowledge of her morally messy past Jesus is exhibiting his own more-than-human knowledge  – a point the woman understands. Nevertheless, his remark is not designed to be merely self-reveling: rather it is designed to help the woman come to terms with the nature of the gift he is offering.”
  • The deity and humanity of Christ is clearly revealed in this chapter in such a splendid way that we can really come to no other conclusion than that this man was both fully God and fully man.  He’s tired from His journey, yet He planned the journey in advance and knew exactly when to leave. He’s offering the woman eternal life and knows her life details, and yet he appear to be communicating with her as just a man – there is no angelic radiance or voice from heaven telling her that He is more than just a man from an auditory or visual perspective.
  • One thing that Carson points out that must be examined is the way in which Jesus interacts with people.  He says, “Jesus commonly drives to the individual’s greatest sin, hopelessness, guilt, despair, need…Jesus exposes the whole truth, but in the gentlest possible way; he commends her for her formal truthfulness, while pointing out that she has had five husbands and the man with whom she is now sleeping is not her legal husband at all.”
  • Paul says that the entire world is a prisoner to sin (Galatians 3:22) and Jesus came to set these prisoners free (Luke 4:18)) – that is why He makes it such a priority to get to the heart of sin in these people’s lives.  He does the same with all those whom He calls to Himself.  As Ryle says, “We should mark…the absolute necessity of conviction of sin before a soul can be converted to God.”

4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

  • Even though the Samaritans had built a temple in 400 BC on Mt. Gerizim, the Jews, led by John Hyrcanus, destroyed it around 120 BC.  So knowing this, its easy to see why there was a rift between the Jews and the Samaritans!
  • Amazing how she changes the topic here.  It is so “irrational” to do so (Piper).  It’s like she’s saying, “while we’re on the topic of my adulterous lifestyle, what do you think about the worship issue we’ve been dealing with here?”  It makes no sense.  She’s running away from the light (cf. 3:18-21) of the gospel.  Thomas Aquinas is right to say that no man seeks after God, we all seek after the benefits only God can give us while simultaneously running as fast as we can from Him.  And as Sproul notes, “we are, by nature, fugitives.”

4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

  • This verse tells us a great deal about worship and the nature of how people had been thinking about worship up until this point in human history.  Paul articulates this shift in thinking when he said, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48).  It is an amazing truth that we don’t have to go to a central location to worship God.  In fact, we are commanded to pray to God without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17) and as Spurgeon points out, this command is immediately proceeded by a commanded to rejoice in the Lord.  We’ve talked about this in past weeks and I’ll come back to it again I’m sure.  It is the truth at the very heart of John Piper’s ministry and the at the heart of what drove the Westminster Divines to state that our entire time here on earth out to be “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.”  Jesus is showing us that we can worship God and enjoy God anywhere in the world.  Like breathing and eating, for the Christian enjoying God is a normal part of life.  How are we to enjoy Him?  By praying without ceasing.  But entering into His presence as often as possible.  We ought to long to be in fellowship with God.
  • The point is that Jesus Christ was ushering in a shift in not only how people were to worship, but where they could worship.  It used to be that the presence of God would dwell in the temple in Jerusalem and a cloud of glory would emanate out from the holy of holies (2 Chron. 5:14).  It was an awesome spectacle to behold.  Jesus was ushering in a time when the temple of God would be our very bodies (1 Cor. 6:19) and that we could worship God wherever we are and that geography no longer plays a role in our worship. Perhaps no where is this more evident than in Acts 16:25 when we’re told that “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”
  • When we think about how people came to the temple before in the Old Testament, they had to be ceremonially clean and ready to come before the Lord.  Today I often hear legalistically minded Christians tell me that we need to dress up before we come to church so that we show God the respect due Him.  However, this statement both goes too far, and not far enough.  As we have seen above, we are not bound by any special place and dress code for God does not dwell in temples made by human hands, and so thinking that somehow dressing up gives him glory, we miss the point of just about every Biblical passage on this point since God told Samuel that “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1Sam.16:7).  As Ryle says, “Our Lord tells her (the Samaritan Woman) that true and acceptable worship depends not on the place in which it is offered, but on the state of the worshiper’s heart.”
  • But on the flip-side, we don’t go far enough by not realizing that our very bodies are temples of the Living God.  If this is true, how much more are we to respect the fact that He, the very God of God, the Holy One, dwells in this sanctuary?!   Therefore, let us leave behind any notion of legalism and ungodly thinking and realize that true consecration comes 7 days a week, not simply from 9-12 on a Sunday morning.

4:22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

  • In case there was any confusion as to whether or not Jesus condoned the syncretistic religion of the Samaritans, those questions are put promptly to bed here.  Jesus claims a kind of exclusivity that drives the secular world to anger.

4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. [24] God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

  • It is hard not to say too much about these two verses, for I can’t emphasize their importance enough.  One thing that stands out to me immediately is the nature and person of God.  In these verses we learn a little of His character, and His person.  For instance, we learn that God is a spirit.  This is crucial for our understanding of who God is – and Jesus uses His teaching of who God is, to make a rhetorical play on words to say that we must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And though there is a play on words, there is much more substance here than that.  What Jesus seems to be saying here, is that we can’t affectively worship the Father without first having the Spirit of God and having a right idea of who He is, and that is what He means by the Spirit and “truth.”
  • But this verse builds on what was mentioned earlier about where we can worship God.  Now we learn more about who can worship God, and it is closely tied to who can really enjoy God.  The unbeliever might well count their rosary over and over again, but they will never by that ritual, be entering into the presence of God.  They are not worshiping God in Spirit. And enjoying God is the farthest thing from their minds. In fact, prayer is a chore, a duty, a ritual, a habit; it’s a crutch to count those beads.  Its borderline superstition!  Contrast this with the believer who enters into worship in prayer with God because they are commanded to enjoy Him, and because they want the fellowship. It is as necessary to them as eating and breathing as I mentioned above.
  • Though, it must be said that for many believers we don’t understand or take full advantage of this joy.  J.C. Ryle says, “The Lord Jesus sis far more ready to hear than we are to pray, and far more ready to give favors than we are to ask them.”  Not only that, but even the Christian mind is given to outward empty forms, “We are all naturally included to make religion a mere matter of outward forms and ceremonies and to attach an excessive importance to our own particular manner of worshipping God.  We must beware of this spirit, and especially when we first begin to think seriously about our souls. The heart is the principal thing in all our approaches to God.  The most gorgeous cathedral service is offensive in God’s sight, if all is gone through coldly, heartlessly, and without grace.”
  • It is the privilege of believers and no others to enter into this communion with God because only they can enter into this communion.  Why?  Notice the two descriptive terms in Jesus’ statement.  He says we worship God in “spirit” and in “truth.”  Only the believer has the “Spirit” of God so only the believer can enter into worship in spirit.  Only the believer knows the “truth” about God and can worship Him without any polluting ideas of idolatry clouding their mind.  This point in crucial because the unbeliever may think they know something of God.  But like this woman at the well, they have no idea of who God really is.  Their worship would simply be idolatry.  This is why it is absolutely critical that we rid our minds of all false notions of who God is.  We must study His character, learn His ways, and learn to love what He loves and to hate what He hates.  If we enter into worship with a false understanding of who God is, we will ask for wrong things, we will not have the mind of Christ: we will be worshiping an idol created in our minds!

Family Worship

As the kids have gotten older, Kate and I have tried to find ways to raise the kiddos in a way that causes them to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  Some of the time we feel as though we’re doing great, other times…not to much!  Much of this is just a matter of disciplining ourselves to make time and make it a priority. 

To that end, I wanted to pass along a helpful excerpt from RC Sproul, Jr. on the topic of Family Worship.  He has many helpful suggestions that were encouraging to our family, and hopefully will be encouraging to yours!

 

Simple Steps for Family Worship

by RC Sproul, Jr.

Timing

Right now in our lives, we practice family worship right after supper. We used to have family worship right before the kids went to bed. Either one is fine for us, but there is a practical reason for doing it in that time frame. Every day, no matter what, we eat supper and we go to bed, so we have a pair of alarm clocks that tell us we cannot escape our call to do this. We think, “Oh, we just finished eating, it’s time,” or, “We’re about to go to bed, it’s time.”

After supper, I’ll ask one of the children, “Please gather the things for worship.” We have a place where we keep the worship materials, and one of the children will go and get the stack of books and things, and place it on the table in front of me.

Away From Home Or With Guests

By the way, if we’re not at home, we modify things a little bit. We have worship in the car sometimes. If we’re at a friend’s house or even a stranger’s house, we don’t impose on him or her and say, “Well, thank you for supper, it’s now time for the Sproul family to have worship.” If we have a guest at our house, we try to make an assessment of his or her spiritual maturity and then make a decision. We might ask ourselves, “Will this make our guest angry, or will he like this?” If it likely will make him mad, we probably won’t do it.

Catechism

When we are at home, we start with our catechism work. Catechism is a word that is unfamiliar to many today. A catechism is simply a tool for teaching basic biblical content to those who are young or new to the faith. A catechism typically consists of questions and answers. The parent asks the child a question, and the child gives the answer.

We use two different catechisms. We have a children’s catechism that consists of fifty questions. Each of the questions is five or six words and each of the answers is about three words. I ask my son Reilly, who is three years old, “Reilly, who made you?” Reilly says, “God.” I say, “What else did God make?” He says, “Everything.” As you can see, the questions and answers are very short. We teach these to the very small children, and when they learn these things, we celebrate. We don’t bribe. We don’t buy them off. But we do celebrate. When one learns the entire children’s catechism, the whole family goes out for ice cream, because Daddy likes ice cream.

When the children get bigger, we move to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which has slightly longer questions and answers. There are 107 of these. When the children master them all, I take them skiing, because Daddy likes skiing.

We have a “sophisticated” system by which we do the memory work. It goes like this. I say to the children: “Daddy says, ‘What is man’s chief end?’ You say, ‘Man’s chief end …'”

They say, “Man’s chief end …”
I say, “… is to glorify God …”
They say, “… is to glorify God …”
Finally, I say, “… and enjoy him forever.”
They say, “… and enjoy him forever.”

We do that, and after a couple of days they get it. As I said, it’s a terribly complicated system.

Scripture Memory

Then we move on to Bible memory. We have a “complicated” system for that, too. Right now our family is working through the Psalms, so every day we recite one of the psalms we have learned and we work on a new psalm. Don’t be overly impressed; we are only up to twelve. I don’t know what we’re going to do when they get really long. When we get to Psalm 119, then you can be impressed. But again, we use the same system. I say a verse or part of a verse, and the kids repeat it. My older kids make fun of me because I have my Bible open as I’m helping them learn these things, but they know many of the psalms by heart.

Scripture Reading

Then we move to Scripture reading. We have done our Scripture readings in different ways. Sometimes we read a book of the Bible. Sometimes, when we have a new child who is very small, we use one of the children’s Bible storybooks. I want to give them a very basic understanding of the flow of Scripture. Right now we’re going through one of those Bible storybooks where Jesus has eyes that look like Ping-Pong balls.

I read the story, then I give my sermon, and my sermons are typically twenty to thirty seconds long. I give the children some sort of lesson from the text. I want to bring the text to bear on their lives and mine.

This gives me an opportunity to practice the first corollary to the “R. C. Sproul Jr. principle of hermeneutics.” Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation, and the R. C. Sproul Jr. principle of hermeneutics states that whenever you are reading your Bible and you see someone doing something really stupid, you must not say to yourself, “How can he be so stupid?” but “How am I more stupid?” The first corollary to this principle is that whenever you are reading a story in the Bible and you wonder who you are in the story, you are the sinner. If you are reading a story and there is more than one sinner, as in the parable of the prodigal son, you’re both. So we read our Bible text and I ask: “Children, how are we like this person? And how are we like that person? And how am I like this person or that person?” That’s the sermon.

Prayer

After the sermon, I take prayer requests. I ask, “Children, what would you like Daddy to pray for tonight?” Now, I encourage my children to pray. They pray before they go to bed. They pray at times during home-school. They pray on many occasions. But when we gather together for family worship, they don’t pray. Why not? From the beginning, I have done the praying at family worship because I want to communicate to them—and, more importantly, to myself—the importance of the father’s priestly role in the home. I am saying to them and to myself, “I am responsible, as the head of this home, to take you before the throne of God, to beseech the God of heaven and earth for your wellbeing.”

In fact, when the children were younger, we even had a posture to help communicate this—again, more to me than to them. I would ask the little ones to come sit on my lap. I would take one on each leg, put my arms around the children, put my hands over their heads, and pray for them. I would ask God to bless them specifically. My son Campbell would ask every night, “Please ask God that we would grow in grace, in the fruit of the spirit, and in wisdom.” God has blessed him with wisdom.

Singing

Then we move into singing. Again, the children are invited to participate by choosing what we are going to sing. We sing the service music from our church’s liturgy. We sing the Gloria Patri. We sing the Doxology. We sing the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. We sing the Song of Simeon, which is how our church closes its service.

Let me tell you about something that is even more practical. When visitors to Saint Peter Church try to find the nursery, we tell them we do have a nursery, but we hope they won’t mind serving in the nursery on that particular day. We assure them that if they’ll look after their children, we’ll be fine. You see, we worship together—parents and children. Visitors are afraid and puzzled about this. They think, “What kind of weird thing is this?” Then, when we in the congregation stand to confess our faith together and little two- and three-year-olds ardently recite the Apostles’ Creed, suddenly our visitors see the beauty of it.

We let our children pick the songs they want to sing. We do have one rule—only one child’s song a night. Reilly always wants to sing “Hallelu.” I’ll ask, “What do you want to sing tonight, Reilly?” and he’ll say, “Hallelu.” It’s a very simple song: “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, praise ye the Lord!” We divide the family in half, and half of them are the “hallelus” and half of them are the “praise ye the Lords,” then after the first verse we switch and do it faster. But we sing only one of these a night.

That’s it. It’s not complicated. It’s not time-consuming. It’s not a duty. It’s a joy, a delight.

What If I Haven’t Been Doing Family Worship?

At this point, you fathers might be thinking, “OK, R. C., I see this. I see that I ought to do this. I see how to do it. But what do I do about the fact that I haven’t been doing this?” Here’s what you do: Gather your family together, sit them down, and then tell them that you are sorry for failing them in this way. Show them what repentance looks like. Then tell them that Jesus Christ came to suffer the wrath of God the Father for failures such as this. Give thanks for that provision. Pray in thanksgiving for that forgiveness. Then sing in thanksgiving for that forgiveness. That is day one. If you have done this in the past and have fallen out of the habit, simply follow the same instructions.

But I’m Too Busy for Family Worship

But if you are too busy, here is what I want you to do: stop being too busy! What could possibly be more important? The God of heaven and earth, the self-existent, transcendent, holy God, is inviting you to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Will you say to Him, “Thanks for the invitation, Lord, but I’ve got my bowling league tonight.” Would you tell Him, “I’d love to meet with You tonight, but I have a meeting with someone important.” No one is too busy to draw near to the living God. No one is too busy to give up the less important, the less rewarding, and the less joyful for the source of all joy.

The glory of the gospel is that the high, transcendent, exultant God, because of the work of Christ, has drawn near to us and to our children, and will continue to do so. Therefore, don’t do this in order to be holy. Do it to be happy. In the end, it’s the same thing. Our austere pursuit of personal holiness doesn’t impress God one bit. But God delights when we delight in Him. Bring the children; suffer the children to come unto Him (Matt. 19:14). Do this so that you might glorify and enjoy Him now, for this is what we will be doing forever.

This series has been adapted from material in R.C. Sproul Jr.’s contribution to Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God.

If you’d like more resources to assist you in the area of family worship, please consider:

Orginally found at: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/simple-steps-family-worship-part-1/