Our Podcast

Mark 8 – Discipleship

This week Chad Clark, one of our elders, defines Christian discipleship. In this sermon Chad displays and defends why discipleship is something not just for mature Christians, but something for all Christians. Give yourself to the next 40 minutes, you’ll be encouraged and Lord willing you’ll see the kind of life God has called you to in discipleship.

John 6:16-21 – Ponder Anew What the Almighty Can Do

In 1680 the German hymn writer Joachim Neander penned the hymn Praise to the Lord the Almighty. Many of you know it, we’ve sung it here a number of times and will continue to do so because of how good it is. Within it we find lyrics calling us to remember God the King of all creation, the provider of redemption, the defender of His people, and the sustainer of all things. In the third stanza we read words, that, push us to expand the boundaries of our low, cold, and shallow thoughts of God. Here’s the phrase I’m thinking of in the third stanza, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do!” This is not just a phrase we sing, this is a command for us to obey. And from obeying it many of us have found our view of and love for God expanding and increasing. For us today, specifically as we see what Jesus does in our passage, pondering anew what the Almighty can do is something we’ll find ourselves doing.

Let me set the stage. In John 6:1-15 we see the Lord work a wonder worthy of all four gospels. Seeing the vast crowd approaching them, Jesus asked the disciples how to feed them and He received only doubt and unbelief. He then displays His inexhaustible sufficiency by making a meal for the multitude from the loaves of a poor little boy. The crowd saw this, ate to their hearts content, and began to view Jesus as the perfect political candidate to save them from Roman oppression. Knowing this, that this crowd desired to take Him by force and make Him king, prompted Jesus to leave the scene of this miracle because He knew the type of king they desired was nothing like the type of Kingdom He had come to inaugurate. So further up this lake side mountain He goes, leaving His disciples alone with the crowd. This is where our passage today picks up, follow along as I read John 6:16-21 where we see what happens next…John 6:16-21…

In this passage God would have us consider how we ought to welcome Him in the midst of the trials and storms of life. But don’t take my word for it, let’s turn to the text to see these things firsthand.

The Disciples Alarmed Rowing (v16-19a)

Jesus had gone off by Himself further up the mountain and a dark evening had come. So, the disciples get into a boat and head home. v17 tells us “Jesus had not yet come to them.” There is no other detail given here in John’s account as to whether or not Jesus gave them instructions to do this. Maybe He told them to row back home when evening came, or maybe He told them to go on ahead without Him if He wasn’t back by evening. We don’t know these things. We simply see a dark evening come, and the disciples make a decision to row across the Sea of Galilee to go back to Capernaum. Then v18 comes and we get a few details that would’ve made the disciples regret such a decision. It says the sea “became rough because a strong wind was blowing.” This was not a little storm that had come on them. During the first century and still today the Sea of Galilee sits around 600 feet below sea level. Due to the mountains around it the sea forms the center of a kind of wind tunnel. Large gale force winds blow off the Mediterranean, they flow through the mountains, and slam into the sea. This can create very large storms in a matter of minutes.[1] Storms so large, in fact, that the word for ‘strong wind’ in the Greek of v18 is the word megalou which is where we get the word mega. Even though some of the disciples were fisherman and were probably used to storms like this, that John uses the word mega to describe the storm shows us it was not a small storm or a fear free moment. A true terror came to them in this moment.

This scene makes me recall the time I experienced a similar terror. The first and only time I went deep sea fishing we went way out there, way farther than I was comfortable with. The waves were so large we couldn’t see over them when the boat was down in between them. And when we came up over them we saw even bigger waves coming toward us. If you couple the sheer enormity of those waves with the fact that I was incredibly sea sick, you can imagine why I’ve never gone deep sea fishing again. It was horrible, and I don’t ever want to experience anything like this ever again. Terror at sea is truly terrifying. We get a glimpse of it here in our text. But nonetheless the disciples show their bravery and courage despite the storm in v19a by rowing on through it for 3-4 miles.

So here in v16-19a we have the disciples in the midst of a mega storm, alarmed and rowing onward.

Jesus Comes to and Calms the Disciples (v19b-20)

Well, the alarmed and busily rowing disciples are about to discover a new level of alarm in v19b-20. Here we see that while their rowing and laboring to get through the waves and the wind, they see something. Something that they’d never seen before. v19b says, “…they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.” At first thought you may not understand why they’re frightened at seeing Jesus. This is Jesus after all right? He has called them and taught them and loved them and fed them. They’ve seen Him work miracles, wonders, and signs galore. There familiar with Him and not a stranger to Him. So when they see Him walking on the sea nearing the boat why do they become more afraid than they already are if they know it’s Him?

Well, perhaps the answer is easier than you’d expect. How would you react if you looked up and saw someone you know walking on a stormy sea? Through the wind and waves splashing all around them Jesus had to look like a ghost to them at first, so wouldn’t you be frightened if you saw what appeared to be a ghost out walking on the sea? Even if it looked like someone you knew already, would you just sit there and respond by thinking, “Hmm…well look at that?” I doubt it. What would you do? You’d be scared! Fight or flight would probably kick in, or perhaps some of you would be frozen with fear unable to move or get away. The disciples thought their problem was the storm, now it seems they have a new problem, something or someone that looks like Jesus is walking on top of the water, straight toward them.

At certain times throughout His ministry Jesus does things like this in front of His disciples. His divinity was masked and hidden by the veil of His humanity but on occasion Jesus gives His disciples a clear view of His divinity.[2] Job 9:8 spoke long ago of God being the One who tramples down the waves of the sea, and to come near them by walking on the sea Jesus shows Himself to be none other than God Himself. Look what happens next in v20, Jesus “…said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’”

Now, I am of the opinion that many people misunderstand what Jesus is saying here.[3] When Jesus says ‘do not be afraid’ it is clear. God often told that to people in the Old Testament, angels would even say this first to anyone God sent them to, and for the fearing disciples to hear ‘do not be afraid’ from Jesus in the midst of the storm had to be an encouraging moment for them. But He said more than just ‘do not be afraid’ didn’t He? He said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” To understand the significance of the whole phrase of Jesus in v20 we must quickly turn to the I AM statements Jesus makes in John’s gospel. These seven statements are famous, and eventually most Christians get around to studying them one by one to gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus truly is. Jesus is the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12), the door of the sheep (10:11), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way the truth and the life (14:6), and the true vine (15:6). Well, by using this phrase I AM multiple times in John’s gospel Jesus is making the clear declaration that the He is none other than Yahweh the God of Israel who revealed Himself to Moses by the name I AM. In Greek all of these I AM statements use the same two words, ego eimi. Literally it means ‘I AM WHO I AM’ and when we see these two words ego eimi we know we’re looking at one of the I AM statements from Jesus. Do know what the phrase “It is I” in v20 is in the original Greek? Ego eimi.

Therefore, when Jesus comes to the frightened disciples walking on the water and says “It is I, do not be afraid” Jesus is telling them literally, “I AM WHO I AM, do not be afraid.” They would’ve understood the weight of His words. They would have understood that God Almighty, who revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai as the great I AM, made the world and all that is in it, including the chaotic stormy sea. They would’ve understood Jesus to be telling them to not be afraid – why? – because He is the great I AM, God Almighty Himself.

This brings us to the final verse in our passage, v21 where we see the disciples response this.

The Disciples Glad Welcome (v21)

What did the frightened disciples do after hearing Jesus’ declaration of deity while He was walking toward them on the stormy sea? v21, “Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Church, we’ve now arrived at our destination. The grand lesson of the entire passage is found in v21. v16-20 exist here in John’s gospel to lead us to what is found in v21. And in v21 we find not only their response to Jesus, but learn much in their response to Jesus of how we’re to interact with Jesus in our own storms and trials of life. I think I can boil it down to one sentence. Though the sea may be rough and waves may be high, they gladly welcome Him into the boat and enjoy a peace in the midst of the storm because they know one thing that changes everything: God Himself, I AM, is with them.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here.[4] This passage is not a parable given to teach us a larger lesson. v16-21 is the description of a real event that occurred with Jesus and His disciples. But, there’s a window here into the story of our lives that God intends us to look through to see something wonderful. Life in a fallen world is itself one long trial, a boat ride if you will. Where we feel as if were rowing against the strong resistance of a stormy wind trying to reach our destination. And though we row and row and row we often find that we’re not getting anywhere. More so, while we’re rowing we often find and fear being toppled by the storms of life. But, we then hear something that interrupts our fear, like the disciples do in v20, that transforms our fears into a peaceful rest. What do we hear? The gospel. That God has broken into this fallen world in His Son Jesus Christ and is mending the hearts of His people through His redemptive work. Now, we deserve to be in these storms of life and a lot of the time we have caused much of it ourselves by our own sin and folly. But by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus, Jesus in a sense, comes into our boat, gets us through the storm, through the darkness, through the confusion, through the fear by His grace, carrying us the whole way home, proving to us that He is a reliable Captain.[5] This is what He did with the disciples, and this is what He does with us.

Three implications to see here:

First, the disciples learned how to get through this storm in the midst of this storm. They did not have a lecture from Jesus before they left Galilee’s shore about how to deal with a sudden storm. They left, and ran into a storm, and God met them in the midst of it. Therefore Church, don’t wonder why God may have led you into a trial or storm in your own life. Learn that God intentionally leads His own into stormy waters to show us, and open our eyes to how deep His grace in the gospel is, and how He with and by the gospel, is our reliable Captain who carries us all the way home.

Second, the disciples experienced God’s peace in the storm, not apart from the storm. When did the disciples fear leave? When they gladly welcomed Jesus into the boat, in the midst of the storm. Therefore Church, are you struggling? Are you rowing against stormy winds? Do you feel like they’re about to topple your small boat? Take heart be reminded again or learn for the first time today, peace isn’t found in the absence of conflict but in the presence of Christ. In every station of life, knowing Christ, who He is – what He has done, changes everything about how we do life. Specifically for us, here in v16-21, knowing Christ changes how we go through the storms of life. The sixteenth century reformer Huldrych Zwingli comments similarly on this passage saying, “The darkness of the night fell upon them, and the violent assault of the storm gales was so great that the disciples, as if having given up hope of any aid, were compelled to call on their Savior most ardently…For Christ was absent and when Christ is absent there is nothing but fear and confusion. But when Christ is present every disturbance is calmed.”[6] He continues on showing what we can learn from this saying, “Let us learn from this example to call on God and to ask for His help in every trouble.”[7]

Third, the disciples experienced the calm of Christ by hearing the voice of Christ. Into their fear came a familiar voice that settled their unsettled hearts. They learned that they should not fear the swirling noise because all creation obeys His voice. Therefore Church, throughout the trial that is this life you will hear many voices calling out for your attention and affection. Drowning out all these other voices is the voice of Christ that breaks through the noise of this world and the noise of our restless hearts. In July of 1998 my family and I went on a cruise. This was the first time we’d ever been on a cruise, so we were all very excited. We drove down to Miami, stood in amazement at how big the boat was as my Dad unpacked the car, and we joyfully walked on board. The Carnival Ecstasy cruise ship gently backed away from the dock and we were off until a mile later when black smoke starting rising up from the back of the ship. It didn’t take long for us all to realize that the boat had caught on fire. Immediately, one voice came on the loud speaker, the voice of the captain. For the next 14 hours or so our family and everyone else on board were in our life jackets near our lifeboat stations as tug boats pulled us back to the dock. Among the fear that many on board felt there was one thing kept everyone on board calm, the captain’s familiar and constant voice. It was clear, concise, and comforting. There was no doubt who was in control.

How much more comforting was the voice of Christ to the disciples on this boat who calls out “I AM WHO I AM, do not be afraid.” How much more comforting is His voice calling out to us still today? When He speaks, our unsettled hearts are settled.

Conclusion:

In v16-21 God shows us first how He meets the disciples in the midst of the storm and brings them safely home. God shows us next that He also meets us in the midst of our storms and brings us safely home. What should this truth do to us? What are we to walk away from this text lingering on?

We end where we began. Remember the hymn lyric we began with? “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do!” Remember, it’s not just a phrase to sing, it’s a command to obey. May your vision of God expand as you ponder anew what God is able to do, in and through the storms of this life.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 108-109.

[2] Ibid., page 109.

[3] Ibid., page 109-110.

[4] Ibid., page 110. As you can see, because I’m quoting these pages of Sproul so often, it is exceptional on this passage.

[5] Aegidius Hunnius, John: Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 209.

[6] Huldrych Zwingli, John: Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 207.

[7] Ibid., page 207.

John 6:1-15 – Feeding the Five Thousand

Today as we continue on in our trek through John’s gospel, we come to John 6, one of the longest chapters in the Bible. Particularly our passage today is John 6:1-15, where we find the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Without a doubt this is quite a wonder. In fact it’s the only miracle of Jesus, besides the resurrection, that’s mentioned in all four gospels.[1] Therefore, it demands our eager and attentive consideration. So people of God, follow along as I read the Word of God. John 6:1-15…

Father, what we know not, teach us, what we have not, give us, what we are not, make us, for Your Son’s sake, amen.

This passage is made up of five scenes, let’s take them one at a time. 

Scene 1: The Setting (v1-4)

As chapter 5 ends and chapter 6 begins the apostle John tells us the setting has changed from Jerusalem back to Galilee, specifically as v1 says, Jesus is now by the Sea of Galilee. We also see in v1 that this sea was known by another name. Very early on in the 1st century the ruler Herod Antipas dedicated a city on the banks of this large lake to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar. So for the older members of John’s audience reading his gospel, John uses the seas older name, the Sea of Tiberias.[2] Now, though we’ve only seen a handful of Jesus’ miracles so far in John’s gospel, we read in v2 that due to the multitude of miraculous signs and wonders He kept performing for the sick, a large crowd followed Him. Remember the end of John’s gospel, 20:30-31, tells us there are many miracles of Jesus John did not record in his account, but those he did record are for the express purpose of helping us see that Jesus truly was and remains to be the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name. So there is something of the glory of Christ to see here in this miracle. v3-4 conclude the details for the setting by letting us know that during the Passover celebration Jesus went up on a mountain overlooking the Sea with His disciples, most likely to teach them. John calls it ‘the mountain’ in v3 either because Jesus and His disciples often met there or because it was a well known mountain in the region. Either way it had to be a great view. High up on the hill, beholding the slope below leading all the way to the vast lake. That they were meeting there was probably meant to be something of a retreat. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of busy Jerusalem during Passover. Into this restful retreat comes an event, a sign, a wonder that puts God’s full and inexhaustible sufficiency and our shallow and frail insufficiency on display. This is what all these five scenes in this passage are getting at and seeking to show us. With the end of v4 the setting has been laid out for us, and with the beginning of v5 we see the grand event about to begin.

Scene 2: Christ’s Test (v5-6)

v5 tells us that as Jesus and His disciples are on the mountain retreating comes a large crowd eager to see this One who does wonders. v10 tells us this was not a small crowd, it was 5,000 men strong. Adding women and children into the mix you have to imagine near 20,000 people were headed out to see Jesus. No doubt some of them have indeed witnessed His miracles for themselves and wanted to see more, others of them have only heard of them and wanted to see them firsthand, some may have wanted their own sicknesses healed, still others probably followed the mass of people headed in that direction simply out of curiosity as to why so many were headed up the mountain. So here comes a crowd of roundabout 20,000 people and Jesus turns to Philip and asks “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip would have been the natural choice to ask because John 1:44 says he’s from this area, so if anyone’s to know where to buy large amounts of food, he would be the one to know.[3] But in v6 we learn of Jesus’ true intentions in asking Philip this question. Jesus didn’t want to know the logistical details of how He and His disciples were going to feed this multitude. This was not His reason for asking Philip the question. Also, do not think He asked Philip out of ignorance either, He knew exactly what He would do.[4] And even further, do not think He only was testing Philip, for all the disciples were present. By testing the one Jesus was in a real sense testing them all.[5]

Put yourself in Philip’s shoes. There had to some level of pressure to be put on the spot by Jesus at that moment. 20,000 people coming out of the city to see Him and He asks Philip how they’re going to be fed? Does this surprise you that Jesus would do this? That He would intentionally put Philip on the spot and move him into a stressful moment? Is this how God loves His people? Purposely bringing stressful situations to them? Recall how God tested Abraham and Israel and many others throughout Scripture. Were these easy and simple seasons of life for them? Of course not. Abraham was called to leave everything he knew and go off into a land he’d never seen. Israel cried out to God in the midst of their suffering in Egypt under Pharaoh and their sufferings increased. God did not test them with these seasons to find out things about them that He did not know, but to reveal to them things they did not know about themselves. So we can and should pause here and ask – why does God put us into various tests and trials? Again, not to learn something, He’s omniscient, all knowing, He never learns or grows in His knowledge. So why test? He places us in these moments so that we would learn…about ourselves and about Him. That we lack what we need most, and that He has and gives what we need most. That Jesus intended to teach these things to Philip (and intends to teach us these things in our tests) shows us the testing of Christ is a gift of grace to for our good and ultimately for God’s glory.

Scene 3: Man’s Unbelief (v7-9)

This third scene in v7-9 shows us not only Philip’s answer to the one question in v6 but Andrew’s answer as well. And as we’ll see, both answers are lacking and reveal unbelief. In v7 Philip answers Jesus by saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” This term denarii was a days wage in their day so two hundred denarii would have be wages from two hundred days or about six to seven months normal salary for a common worker. In effect Philip is saying, ‘Half a year’s salary wouldn’t be enough to feed just a crumb to this many people!’ Notice, rather than answering Jesus’ question Philip responds with only bare visible facts. He just blurts out the obvious. Other places in Scripture reveal similar things of Philip. Most notably in John 14 when Jesus is teaching the disciples some enormous realities about the relationship between the Father and Himself, that we can know the Father by knowing Him, Philip replies in John 14:8 saying, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Philip clearly was a man who wanted solid visible evidence. Even though he had been present at Jesus’ other miracles, Christ’s test here in v5 reveals his unbelief here in v7. If his eyes cannot see it, he will not believe it. Every family has someone in it like this, every workplace has someone in it like this, and so does every church.[6] I think at various times in life we all resemble Philip here in our need for visible evidence. Living only by what we can see rather than living by what we know God is able to do. Not that we shouldn’t think practically or prudently, but when we do not have faith beyond what’s visible to us, we do not honor God who see’s further and knows more than us. Do you think Abraham felt God’s call on his life made logistical sense? Do you think Israel understood why their sorrows multiplied when they cried out to God in their slavery? Absolutely not. Philip shows his weakness here, and in his weakness we see much of our own.

And next, though unasked by Jesus, Andrew chimes in with his own answer to the question in v9 saying, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish…” At first we may think Andrew’s answer is much better than Philip’s. We may think that Andrew remembered how Jesus turned the water into fine wine, remembered how Jesus healed the nobleman’s son, and remembered how Jesus had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and then looked around and saw the large crowd nearing and knew these loaves in the Lord’s hands could make a meal for them all. But his whole reply shows he wasn’t thinking of these things. “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” One commentator describes Andrew’s response like this, “Andrew was very much like Philip…Andrew simply looked at the resources and decided there was no way to solve the problem…Anyone with common sense could see that. But…there is a time in life when common sense is very close to stupidity.”[7] None of the other disciples offered any other solution to Christ’s question, so it would appear that they all believed nothing could be done for this crowd. Do you see yourself here in Philip and Andrew? Do the problems you see in front of you seem larger than God? Here in Philip and Andrew we see who we are. The unbelief of man that lingers in all men reveals the depth of the weakness of men. Unbelief is truly the root of all sin. Do we trust in who God is and in what He has said to us? Or do we trust only in what we can see? This unbelief is deep but something else is deeper. To see it, we move onto the next scene.

Scene 4: Christ’s Solution (v10-13)

In v10 Jesus immediately replies, “Have the people sit down.” So they sat down, all of them. In v11 Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, and distributed them to the entirety of the crowd, such that they ate “…as much as they wanted.” In v12-13 the disciples gather up what remained and all the leftovers filled 12 baskets. Some think that 12 baskets remained is an allusion to the moment when the 12 tribes of Israel were fed by God with manna or ‘bread from heaven’ in the wilderness. It is hard to know if John is making such a connection, but we do indeed see here that the God who provided for His people in the Old Covenant is the same God here who provides this meal for the massive crowd on this mountain. In this sense, we’re introduced to the one large theme throughout the rest of John 6. Jesus feeds the five thousand here, He will soon reveal Himself to be the bread of life, and more so He will son reveal Himself to be bread of heaven that we must eat. So all of John 6 has one massive point – God miraculously shows Himself to be sufficient in the face of man’s insufficiency, meeting every need of His people through the our Lord Jesus.[8]

So that’s what we’ll be seeing the weeks ahead of us throughout John 6. But for us now in v10-13, let’s narrow in to see a grand reality. These loaves in the Lord’s hands could indeed make a meal for them all. I deeply want you to be encouraged here Church. Barley loaves with a few small fish was a common meal for the poor in this culture. Barley bread was so course that the fish served not so much as a side dish but as an aid to soften the bread to make it edible. That Jesus takes a little poor boy’s lunch and turns it into a meal for 20,000 people teaches us that nothing is too hard for the Lord and that what is common in man’s hands becomes marvelous in the Lord’s hands.

Of this Charles Spurgeon says, “Is it not a wonderful thing that Christ, the living God, should associate Himself with our feebleness, with our lack of talent, with our ignorance, with our little faith? And yet He does so! If we are not associated with Him, we can do nothing; but when we come into living touch with Him, we can do all things.”[9] Perhaps you think your minds can’t comprehend the deep things of God, be reminded that with God the mind can be renewed and expanded. Perhaps you think your heart is too cold and messed up by sin to change, be reminded that with God the heart can be warmed and transformed. Perhaps you think you’ve said things that can’t be unsaid or erased, be reminded that with God the tongue can be tamed and trained.

Perhaps you think you’re too small, too weak, too sinful, too ignorant, too unknown, too old, or too young to do anything for God’s great glory. The good news for you and the good news for me today is that we are too small, too weak, too sinful, to ignorant. We are all of these things and more! All of us are worse than we think we are. Do not think highly of yourself Church, in a very real sense your cakes are barley and only five and your fish are small only two.[10] But in Christ God has accepted and loved us with an everlasting, never giving up, always and forever love. This common lunch was not only given to Jesus, it was accepted by Jesus, blessed by Jesus, improved by Jesus, and distributed by Jesus such that the lunch meant for a small poor boy was fit, not only for the large crowd, but for the King of kings too. Similarly, that common sinners like us are so loved by God in Christ is indeed marvelous. So do you feel like you have nothing to give God? Than give Him that, even if like Andrew you think “What good is it at all?” It’s good to know we have nothing to give. God intends to teach us that when we come to Him we come empty handed. We don’t need to understand what He’ll do with us or through us, it’s His gracious work that takes our nothingness and turns it into something and spreads it around for the good of His Church and the glory of His name. Here we must learn and remind ourselves of a simple equation, “Jesus + nothing = everything.”[11]

Scene 5: Christ’s Concern[12] (v14-15)

In v14 we read, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” We read it in v2 and we see it in v14 as well. The reason this crowd followed Him was because of the signs and wonders He did. From beholding this miracle of feeding them all with a little boys lunch, the crowd shouted out that this was the Prophet that had come into the world. In order to understand why they said this remember the seemingly minor detail John gave us in v4. “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” The Passover was, for the Jews, a time of national pride and celebration. When they remembered when God rescued them from Egyptian enslavement. But for these first century Jews, the Passover had a loaded meaning because they found themselves underneath the thumb of not Egyptian but Roman power. So just as God delivered them once before through the prophet Moses, so too, the people see Jesus doing miracles and caring for the oppressed and believe that God will do it again. Taking into account that Jesus performed this miracle during the Passover celebration, to the crowd Jesus appeared to be the perfect political, national, and militaristic leader who was clearly able to care for the needs of the God’s people.

But Jesus knew their hearts so we see in v15, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” Jesus knew the type of king they desired was nothing like the type of Kingdom Jesus had come to inaugurate. He left the scene of this miracle because He refused (then, and refuses still today) to be used for man’s agenda. His mission, His Kingdom, His Work, and His teaching is for much more than just full bellies. In this sense see the irony here, that “Jesus who is already King came to open His Kingdom to men, but in their blindness men tried (then, and still do today) to force Him to be the kind of King they want Him to be. Thus they failed to get the king they wanted and also lost the Kingdom Christ offered.”[13] Do not follow suit. Don’t miss who Jesus is because of trying to fit Him into your preconceived idea of what you can use Him for. Jesus refuses to be used for your agenda. In fact, part of growing into Christian maturity is being aware of God reorienting your heart away from your agenda and aligning it with His.

So Church, Jesus did not work this miracle to provide a Passover meal but to show that He is the Passover meal Himself. He is the Lamb of God, He is the long awaited Prophet, and He is the Messiah. The One who has come as the Bread of Heaven Himself to fill our hearts with new life, to fill our minds with new truth, and to fill our mouths with new praise. On Him we feed and are nourished.[14]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 338.

[2] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 100.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 343.

[4] Johnnas Oecolampadius, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 197.

[5] Wolfgang Musculus, Ibid., page 197.

[6] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 191-192.

[7] Ibid., page 192.

[8] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 102-103.

[9] Charles Spurgeon, Collected Sermons, 1891, accessed via http://www.romans45.org.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Former pastor/author Tullian Tchividjian has a book out with this title, also see R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 196.

[12] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 105-106 is wonderful on this point.

[13] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 346-347.

[14] Gospel Transformation Study Bible, page 1418.

John 5:30-47 – Witnesses For Jesus

While Pastor Adam is out of town on his last week of rest and writing, we’re glad to have the Reverend Brian Zitt fill the pulpit today. A close friend of Pastor Adam’s, this is his first time being with us, so please give him the same attention you give week in and week out. No doubt you’ll find him to be a great source of comfort and conviction. Enjoy!

John 5:16-29 – Who Do You Claim Jesus To Be?

While Pastor Adam is out of town for rest and writing, we’re eager to have Pastor Matt Noble join us today in the pulpit. He has been with us many times before and each time he comes to preach to us we benefit greatly. You’ll find this sermon no different, enjoy!

Mark 7 – Church Discipline

Last month in our 9Marks of a healthy church series we approached the 6th mark of a healthy church, church membership, and we asked the following question: ‘How do we see to the spiritual health and security of God’s Church?’ We answered that question by saying ‘We see to the spiritual health and security of God’s Church in two ways: church membership and church discipline.’ Having already covered church membership last month, today we turn our attention to the 7th mark of a healthy church, church discipline. Let me begin with a question.

What gospel do you believe in?[1] Do you believe in a gospel that says “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are.” Do you believe in that gospel? Or do you believe in a gospel that says, “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are. But in His grace and by His Spirit He doesn’t leave us as we are. No, He slowly and surely makes us into different people. People who love Him and hate sin. People who refuse to do life alone but do it in the community of the local church. People who grow in godliness, eager to reflect His holy character and glory to this fallen world.”

Which gospel do you believe in? The first version presents Jesus as Savior, the second presents Jesus as Savior and Lord. The first version points to our new status as children of God, the second points to our new status as children of God as well as our new job description as citizens in His Kingdom. The first version has a view of God’s grace saving us, the second has a view of God’s grace not only saving us but sanctifying us as well.

Everything in the first version is true, wonderfully so. But there’s much more to be said. My guess is that most of you would say you believe in this second version of the gospel, and that’s a good thing. But I am coming to you today with a pastoral question, “Are you sure about that?” So please pay attention to not only what God is about to tell you through His Word, pay attention to how you respond to what is said in God’s Word. Why? Your response to these things reveal which version of the gospel you really believe as well as which version of the gospel you’re really living out.

The passage we’ll be walking through today is Matthew 18:15-20, if you’re using the Bibles available to you in the back, you’ll find this passage on page 480-481, and by the way if you don’t have a Bible you can understand we invite you to take that one home if you find it helpful to you. Follow along as I read Matthew 18:15-20 for us now…

Matthew would have us consider three points today, all aiming at how we as fellow believers do life together when one of us wanders and how to restore such a person(s) to a right standing within the church.

Notice What’s Before Our Passage (18:10-14)

In the verses that lead up to our text today, we find Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. In this parable Jesus says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:12-14). See here the great love of God for His people. It is so great and so vast that if one of them wanders off, He will always go after them and bring them home. Jesus shows Himself to be here in Matthew 18 what John 10 says He is, the great Shepherd of the sheep. And being the great Shepherd of the sheep, He not only has a great love for the sheep but He also sees to it that every sheep in the flock will remain in His hand until the end. None of them will perish or be snatched up by a wolf or some other intruder.

Church, since this is how God loves His people, since this is how Christ loves His Sheep, isn’t this to be how we love one another? Paul similarly, in Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This means when we come together and commit to one another in the membership of the local church, we commit to chasing down the wanderer, bringing back the sinner, loving one another despite our own foolishness, and pursuing the offender so that they are brought back home.

Into this context, comes one of the most detailed explanations of how to do church discipline. That this parable of the lost sheep comes before v15-20 gives us an example of the spirit in which church discipline is to be carried out. Not to punish, but always to be aiming at restoration, at winning back the wanderer.

Notice What’s In Our Passage (18:15-20)

Jesus has already told us that every one of us is to be about the business of pursuing, chasing, and bringing back the wandering sheep in our midst. “But now suppose the shoe is on the other foot. Suppose you are the one sinned against, what then?”[2] Did you notice the first words in v15? “If your brother sins against you…” If you’re the one sinned against, are you still to chase them down? Or does someone else do that? To see it in yet another manner, get out of your shoes altogether and get into the shoes of another and suppose you’re the one doing the sinning against another. What is supposed to happen then? What actions are you to take? What does the church do? Or the offended party? These are deep questions, loaded with all kinds of baggage, that God has not left us in the dark with. The light of His Word shines into our disobedience with all manner of grace.

Here Jesus gives us four steps that make up the whole process of church discipline.

Step One – Private Admonition (v15)

In v15 we learn that the very first step in the church discipline process is to go to the person who has sinned against you personally and privately. This means when sinned against, you don’t sound off to the whole church about how bad they really are and how they’re the worst thing that’s come into this church in years. You don’t refuse to talk to them anymore, give them the cold shoulder, or close yourself off from them. You don’t build up a bitter resentment in your heart toward them.[3] No, you go them and bring it up privately. They may be aware of what they did, they may not. But by going to them privately you’re protecting the offender’s reputation by keeping the circle of people who know about this offense as small as possible. And you’re also protecting yourself from gossiping about them to others in the church by going to them immediately and personally.

When you go, what do you speak with them about? In v15 when it says “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” it implies that you’re intentions in going to them are to make them aware of their sin and seek repentance from them for their sin. You’re not going to condemn the person, you’re not going to tell the person off, you’re there to share what they did or what they continue to do, how it crossed the line of right and godly behavior for a Christian, and to see if they feel a godly remorse over what has happened and desire to make things right. If they listen to you, express sorrow over offending you, and repent Jesus says you’ve gained your brother back! I’ve often found that when this occurs the result of such a meeting is a much deeper relationship in the future. But if they refuse to listen, don’t acknowledge that what they’ve done or keep doing is sinful even though it’s clear in Scripture, you move onto to step two.

Before we get to step two notice something else here in step one.[4] This initial step doesn’t involve any kind of official organization or leadership in the church. It’s simply between you and the other person, which is where Jesus intends church discipline to begin. In this light see that step one of church discipline is just a normal part of Christian discipleship where we are seek to do spiritual good to one another. I think if we got this step right more often, most of the discipline cases in churches would be solved right away. But sadly in this fallen world, rather than humbly seeking restoration and repentance with those who sin against us, we too quickly go the opposite way, wrongfully involve way too many people in what should be a private matter, and destroy relationships and reputations.

Step Two – Group Admonition (v16)

In v16 we learn that the second step in the church discipline process is not to give up but to again revisit the offender, with one or two others. Now, there is no timeline given here as to the exact amount of time required between these two visits. Patience, love, and grace should allow at least some time between the first and second visit to let the private admonition sink in. But if in time it is clear that the offending member is remaining unrepentant the one who went by themselves now must carefully choose one or two others, probably ones that know and love this person, or an elder, and go back to give another admonition. That a few others go back echoes Deut. 19:15 which says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” That additional witnesses must be involved at this point encourages the one doing the sinning to come out of their sinful isolation, and encourages the individual sinned against to think deeply about whether or not this case is serious enough to warrant the sound judgment of a few others, or if they’re just making a mountain out of a mole hill.[5] If they do deem it worthy of another visit, though the circle is still intentionally kept small here, a small group’s plea with the wanderer to return does make the admonition a bit weightier as well as harder to ignore.

Hope remains, for the offender could hear and heed the second warning, and if they do, you’ve won them back and will rejoice to bring them home! But if they do not, step 3 comes into view.

Step Three – Church Admonition (v17a)

In v17 we learn that the third step in the church discipline process is again, not to give up, but to tell it to the church. As we’ve seen throughout these steps, here also we do not receive a time requirement between step two and three, so patience, grace, and love should allow at least some time between the second step and the third step. When it’s clear that the offending member is still remaining unrepentant Jesus is clear, the matter now comes to the entire church. This is not strictly just telling it to the elders, not strictly just telling it to the pastor, but it really does seem to be the whole body or the entire local congregation in view here. Of course the elders need to take the lead here, they need to be the ones who decide how and when the church is to be told about it to ensure this is done orderly and graciously, but through them the matter is to come to the whole of the assembly. Do you think this is unloving or embarrassing? Remember the parable of the lost sheep. When the first two steps have been employed and the wandering member has refused to listen we’re not to give up, but in this third step we’re to enlist the whole of the congregation to go and gain back the wanderer. David Platt, in his commentary on Matthew says of this third step, “God loves us so much that if we are caught in sin, He will send an entire army of believers to us as a demonstration of His love and mercy.”[6] In this step the circle is no longer small. It is intentionally large. Large enough, by God’s grace, to wake the wanderer out of his or her sin.

So again hope remains, the offending member who has not repented could hear and heed the warnings when they see the whole church pursuing them, and if they do, they are won back! But if they do not listen to the whole church, the final step, step 4 becomes a necessity.

Step Four – Excommunication (v17b-20)

Look at v17b, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What does this mean? It means that when the offending member refuses to listen and repent after these first three steps, Jesus now commands one thing – excommunication. Though probably stirred quite a bit from the whole sermon up to now, our modern sensibilities are now in full shock. ‘Isn’t the church supposed to be welcoming to sinners? Isn’t the church a where sinners find hope? Isn’t the church where sinners find rest? Yes, of course. The Church of Christ is a very safe place for sinners, but it is not ever to be a safe place for sin. To excommunicate someone isn’t to forsake them or to forget about them, no. To excommunicate someone is a public declaration from the church of which they are a member, that this church no longer believes their profession of faith is true. So by excommunication, they cease to be a member of that church and cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper any longer.

In 1 Cor. 5 we see an example of this when Paul instructs the Corinthians to excommunicate a certain man (who had sinned grievously) so that he would be delivered “…to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). See it is restoration in view even here at this last step not punishment. So when this happens we should never forsake the person, but in treating them like an unbeliever we ought to pursue them with the gospel urgently. And just in case anyone is thinking ‘Who gives you the right to do such a thing?’ see v18-20. Here we receive the promise of authority in v18, that the church holds the keys of the Kingdom so that whatever is bound or loosed on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven. Here we also receive the promise of support in v19, that the Father will give His full support to what we agree about in prayer concerning these difficult matters of discipline. Here lastly we receive the promise of presence in v20. This is not a blanket statement about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer, it’s specifically about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer about excommunicating a wayward brother or sister. So when we do the tough work of church discipline, God encourages us with His authority, His support, and His presence.[7]

Conclusion:

Notice What’s After Our Passage (18:21-35)

We’ve seen what’s before and in our passage, now see what’s after it. In v21-35 we find the parable of the unforgiving servant, which asks “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? (18:21). No, Jesus says, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22). Lesson? That the passage describing how church discipline is done is surrounded before and behind, shows us church discipline must be carried out with gospel grace. How often will God forgive us for our sin? His grace never ends. Ours shouldn’t either.

In an age where this topic is as popular as a parent publicly spanking their child…

-We must remember that not all discipline is bad.

-We must remember that the exercise of pastoral authority is not the same as the abuse of pastoral authority.

-We must reject the belief that church discipline is a bad thing, and come to embrace the belief presented to us in the text, that the neglect of church discipline is a bad thing.

-And we must reject the critical/judgmental spirit that we’re all prone to, remembering that because we’ve received extravagant grace in the gospel, we now must extend extravagant grace with the gospel as well.

These things are commanded by Christ for the wanderer’s good, for the purity of the church, and ultimately for the glory of God.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Jonathan Leeman begins his book Church Discipline, with this question. See page 11-13.

[2] William Hendriksen, Matthew, New Testament Commentary, page 697.

[3] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, page 187.

[4] David Platt, Exalting Jesus in Matthew, page 243.

[5] William Hendriksen, Matthew, New Testament Commentary, page 699.

[6] David Platt, Exalting Jesus in Matthew, page 244.

[7] Ibid., page 246. See also Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 509-519.

John 5:1-15 – The Healing at Bethesda

When I was 16 years old I got my driver’s license. I was so proud to have it because I was one of the first kids in my class to get one. But, having a new license left me wanting to drive everywhere, and once a few of my friends got theirs as well we didn’t want to ride together, we all wanted to drive, so we often did. This wasn’t a problem until the day my friend pulled up along side me in his neighborhood and challenged me to a race. And being the wise and discerning 16 year I was, I immediately floored it to get a good lead, and off we went…until we came to a cul-de-sac where a family friend just happened to be out cutting his grass. He saw us coming and marched out in front of us to stop us, give us an ear full, and call our parents as well. From this incident my friend and I became an example of how not to drive to many of our other friends and classmates.

I mention this because we’re currently in a sermon series walking through the gospel of John, and today we see a man become an example for all time of how not to respond to Jesus. So go ahead and open your Bibles to John 5. If you do not have a Bible you can understand we have one for you in the back, if you’ve already picked one of those Bibles up you’ll find John 5 on page 519. Our passage within John 5 for today is 5:1-15. I’ll read it, I’ll pray, and then we’ll get to it. John 5:1-15…let’s pray.

The Setting (v1-5)

We find out in v1 that some time has passed between the events of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5. Jesus is now back in Jerusalem, attending a feast of the Jews. We do not know what this feast was, only that Jesus was there joining in. We see there is a pool with five porches or colonnades in the city near the sheep gate called Bethesda, or literally ‘house of mercy.’ This pool is near the temple, probably next to the gate the sheep are sold for the sacrifices at the temple. At this pool v3 says, lie a multitude of invalids, blind – lame – and paralyzed. We hear no detail that public opinion was shocked that so many needy people congregated at this pool, so this must have been a normal occurrence. And it does not surprise us one bit to find Jesus at this pool among such a crowd “…for where should the Great Physician be found if not in the place where the sick are gathered?”[1] Did He not come to seek and save the lost? Indeed He did, so to see Jesus among such a needy multitude is natural. And more so, seeing Jesus among them gives us hope that Jesus is among us this morning by His Word and Spirit, because if we’re honest the disorders of our hearts resemble the physical disorders of this crowd. We’re in just as much need of the Great Physician as these people are.

But before we get too far along here, did you notice v4 is missing? Don’t be alarmed, the publishers of your Bible didn’t miss something. Most include it in the bottom footnotes. So go ahead and look there, and see v4, which says, these sick people were “…waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.” What’s going on here?[2] Well, at the present moment we do not have the original writings of the biblical books. They have either been lost or have yet to be found. What we do possess are hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of manuscript copies that were made of those original documents. Thanks to the massive number of careful and meticulous textual scholars and the work they’ve done in comparing and contrasting all these thousands of copies we can tell almost all the time what the original said. However, there are a few times when we cannot. None of these times effect any doctrinal position in Scripture, they’re all very minor details that vary from one copy to another like the number of people present at a battle, or a city name that’s been updated or left alone as the historical title. v4 of this passage is one of these examples. Most publishers include it in the bottom footnotes because in the best and earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel v4 isn’t there.

That v4 is added in most later manuscripts of John’s gospel means it was likely a statement inserted into by a copyist who wanted to explain this text because v7 begs for an explanation. So if v4 is an explanation of v7 it reveals that this belief about the angel coming down to stir the pool and the first person stepping in to be healed is a reflection of the superstitions of the day rather than the truth of God. Now, I say if because it could’ve truly been that an angel did come down and do this, but because it’s absent in the earliest of manuscripts I think it’s not the case. But remember, how this pool worked isn’t essential to this passage. v4 does help us understand what’s happening here in our passage for sure, but it’s far from the main thing to see here. The main thing to see here is the power of Christ.[3]

The last thing to notice in the setting v1-5 lays out for us is that we’re introduced to a man in v5 who had been at this pool for 38 years seeking to be healed. We’ll speak more of him in a moment, for now just see him present by the pool and present in the heart and mind of Christ. So we have our setting in v1-5, now in v6, the focus turns to Jesus.

The Healing (v6-9a)

v6 begins with Jesus (when He did not have to) choosing to go to this pool and approach this sick man. Lesson? “Jesus moves toward need, not comfort, toward sinners, not the self righteous.”[4] Knowing how long he’d been there, He walks up to Him and says, “Do you want to be healed?” This is for sure an interesting way to begin speaking to this man. Some even think Jesus to be a bit rude here because He asks a question that shouldn’t be asked. Of course this man wants to be healed, he’s been by this pool for 38 years waiting for healing! Imagine waiting for something for 38 years, from 1979 to now, waiting to be made well. That’s five years longer than I’ve been alive…this is a long time. So why would Jesus ask this man if he wants to be healed? Because only in a fallen world will the sick sometimes prefer sickness over health. Having learned to depend on others for all his needs Jesus is pointing out that if he is healed, everything about his life will change. No more handouts, no more help, but in its place will be work and labor to earn what he needs for the first time in almost four decades.

In v7 the man doesn’t respond with a simple ‘Yes’ but explains his situation. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” He knew his sickness, his limitations, and his weakness full well, he did not argue about this. He was not like many modern day churchgoers, who are lost and either don’t know it or aren’t willing to confess it.[5] No, he felt it, and owned it. And yet here he was alongside a multitude of those like him, gazing into the heavens thinking an angel will come to stir the waters and provide them a chance to be healed, when Jesus Christ, the One who could truly heal them is there, and yet isn’t being sought by anyone of them! May this sad scene not be repeated among us here this morning. May you have eyes to see not only how sad a condition our sin leaves us in but eyes to see Christ as well, the great and only Savior of sinners! Into this sad scene, full of sad people, living sad lives, unwilling to seek healing from the Savior of the world, comes the voice of the One who spoke the world into existence. v8, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” What the superstitious legend surrounding this pool could not provide this man, Jesus provides in a single word.

There is no exercise of faith in view here. No crowd yelling “Son of David have mercy on me!” No bleeding woman struggling through a crowd just to touch Jesus’ robe. Just the full knowledge, warm compassion, and endless power of Christ on display here. There was no need for physical therapy, or a progressive timeline where strength increased in this man. None of that. v9, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Isaiah 35 spoke of these realities that would one day come with the coming of the Messiah saying, weak hands will be strengthened, weak knees will be made firm, “…the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy… (Isaiah 35:4-6). Such is the power of Christ shown to us here in this passage. And such is the power of the message of Christ crucified for sinners.

The Questioning (v9b-13)

We’ve seen the setting in v1-5, the healing in v6-9a, now the trouble begins with the questioning in v9b-13.

Here we are imagining this man to be leaping for joy at being healed, and then we learn the crucial detail that this day was a Sabbath, and we think ‘Uh-oh.’ This mattered a great deal to the Jewish leaders because they had created rules that no one was allowed to carry a bed or anything else on the Sabbath. You may be wondering, ‘Where is that in the Bible?’ And you’re right to wonder this because it’s not in the Bible. In their effort to keep the Sabbath requirements in Scripture, these Jewish leaders made extra laws outside of Scripture and enforced them with the same weight as Scripture. Because of these extra laws, when they saw this man who was lame for 38 years walking with his rolled up bed and realized it was a Sabbath, they said, “It is the Sabbath, it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” Instead of praising God and rejoicing with this man, they get all critical and bent out of shape that he was breaking their own traditions. See here the corruption common to all men. More often than we’d like to admit, we reject the Word of God for the commandments of men and think ourselves to be incredibly spiritual people when in reality we’re doing nothing but adding sin to sin by going beyond what the Scripture calls for. Ironically, doesn’t it always seem to be those who arrogantly believe they see the clearest, that are blindest to the truth of God?

The now healed man responds in v11 “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” In other words, ‘It wasn’t my idea to pick up my bed and walk on the Sabbath, it was the guy who healed me. If you’re going to blame anyone for this, blame Him.’ This is surely not the response you’d expect from him having just been healed. Earlier in John 4 the Samaritan woman leaves Jesus at the well and spreads the news about Jesus throughout her whole city, and later in chapter 4 the nobleman trusts the word of Christ over what his eyes can see. But here, we see a man healed, and when asked about it he immediately throws Jesus under the bus. This is not a good response. Naturally, these Jewish leaders want to know who this man is who healed him in v12 asking, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk?’” But, as v13 shows us, the healed man didn’t know because after Jesus healed him He left the pool because it was crowded. Why did He leave? He most likely didn’t want to cause a pandemonium outbreak of people seeking to be healed. So off He went.

But Jesus isn’t willing to heal him and not deal with his soul, so we find a warning in v14-15.

The Warning (v14-15)

Sometime after, Jesus returns to the nearby temple seeking to find the man He healed. Upon finding him He says something we don’t expect. v14, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” This hits our modern sensibilities right in the gut. You mean to tell me that bad things like physical ailments and disabilities happen because people sin? Many places in the Bible tell us this is not the case, but nowhere in the Bible do we read that this is never the case.[6] In some cases we do see that sickness, disease, and even death are a direct result of sin. So what is Jesus saying here to this man? He’s saying, “I healed your body to awaken the attention of your soul. I healed you that you would stop doing evil and be holy.”[7]

You know, I’m aware that everyone comes in here with baggage. Their own mess, their own struggles, their own twists and turns throughout life, and that what people need the most is gospel grace. We truly see that here in that Jesus sought this man out and healed him. He didn’t cry out for healing, or exercise any faith in Christ. No, on His own sovereign prerogative, Jesus chose to give healing grace to this man. But we see more here as well. Sometimes what we need isn’t a kind hand extended to us in our mess, sometimes what we need is a firm hand to remind us that the reason we’re in the mess to begin with is our own foolish choices. We see this in Jesus’ warning in v14. “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” This is a wake up call, that if you keep heading in the direction you’re going, you’ll meet a fury filled end when you gain an intimacy with the wrath of God for all eternity.

I don’t think this healed man got the message, see what he did in v15? “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” Sad case indeed. We see his body healed, never to be lame again, but we see the deadness of his heart as he goes back to tattle on Christ. A tattle that begins turmoil with these Jewish leaders, that will ultimately end in Jesus’ death.

Conclusion:

There are many things to takeaway throughout these 15 verses, I’m sure you’ve already gleaned much of them, but let me give you two here as I end.

First, be encouraged with gospel grace.

Just as Jesus sought out this man with the precise purpose of healing him, the Bible says He does the same with us. We once enjoyed a perfect fellowship with God, but we fell from this original position in Genesis 3, and now all men stand under the wrath of God. But, see the glory and beauty in that the Son of God became man so that men could become sons of God. Born like us, lived for us, died the death we deserve, rose for us, and ascended to rule and reign over us. In His finished work He now He pursues us in our sin and calls us to new life in the gospel. The deepest healing we need is redemption and rescue from our sin. So we too need to hear the question this man heard in v6, “Do you want to be healed?” If we do we’ll find Jesus not only willing but able to save us from our sins, and awaken our dead hearts to new life. No matter who you are this morning, whether you’ve been avoiding this for 38 years or never thought of this, Jesus can save you today. Be encouraged with gospel grace.

Second, be challenged with gospel grace.

“Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” is a piercing reminder that when you become a Christian, you enter into a new relationship with Christ, and when you enter into a new relationship with Christ, you also enter into a new relationship with sin. The sin you once gladly welcomed you now must vigorously forsake for a life of obedience to Christ. So be challenged, God will not be mocked, you cannot fool Him. If you claim to have been saved and continue in a life of sin you’re making it plain as day that you understand Jesus Christ and His gospel as little as this healed man did.

May you not be another example of how not to respond to Jesus. Rather, may you hear and heed the call of Christ, finding His saving work on our behalf not only sufficient but satisfying as well.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 13, 1867, page 194.

[2] R.C. Sproul offers this clear explanation in his John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 77.

[3] John Piper, Healed for the Sake of Holiness, desiringgod.org sermon from 8/23/09, accessed on 6/21/17.

[4] Ibid., accessed 6/22/17.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 13, 1867, page 195.

[6] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 80.

[7] John Piper, Healed for the Sake of Holiness, desiringgod.org sermon from 8/23/09, accessed on 6/23/17.

John 4:43-54 – From Trouble to Trust

Trouble can cause us to do many things. It can cause us to lose sleep we should enjoy. It can cause us to spend money we should save. It can cause us to react quickly when we should trust and be still. But not everything trouble brings to us is bad. In fact, trouble can be the very instrument God uses to bring us mercy and grace. In our text today, a deep and distressing trouble comes to a certain nobleman of Capernaum and yet had this trouble not come to him, he and his family wouldn’t have beheld the glory of Christ and been changed forever. So for this family, trouble was the horse that mercy rode straight to their front door.[1]

Before I begin preaching or even read the text I begin with the following quote. On the morning of October 11, 1885 Charles Spurgeon preached this very passage and began the sermon with the following words, “The point today…is not to hear about these things only, but to have them repeated in your own soul. We want to come to real business, and to make the things of God matters of downright fact to ourselves: not only to hear about this nobleman from Capernaum, or anybody else, but to see in our own souls the same work of grace that was wrought in them. The same living Christ is here, and as this nobleman did we too greatly need His help. May we seek it as he sought it, and find it as he found it! Thus may the Holy Spirit, who inspired the narrative before us, be found writing it over again…on the tablets of our hearts.”[2]

Follow along as I read the text, John 4:43-54…pray with me.

The Absence of Household Honor (v43-45)

Right away as we enter into this passage we see something of a puzzling dilemma. v43 tells us Jesus left for Galilee after spending two days with the Samaritans. Then v44 tells us prophets have no honor in their hometown. Yet in v45 when Jesus gets to His hometown of Galilee, He was welcomed. Is there some kind of contradiction before our eyes here? Do prophets find honor in their hometown or not? Some people think this is a massive contradiction, you should know that. I don’t think there is a contradiction here, and I don’t think you should either. Rather I think John is telling us about the Galileans. They welcome Jesus in v45 only because of great miracles they’ve seen Him do. The do truly give Him a kind of honor, but this honor they give Him is a shallow honor because it’s only source is His great signs and wonders. It is not a true honor or recognition for who He really is. Jesus knows this, and is about to address this very issue with a certain nobleman and his sick son.

The Nobleman’s Trouble (v46-48)

In v46 we meet a certain official (or nobleman) and we discover he was experiencing a great deal of trouble. The source of this nobleman’s trouble was his sons’ severe illness. In v52 we learn it was a fever. His dearly loved little boy was nearing death and this broke upon his heart like a tidal wave of panic and distress. You have to imagine that this man tried all the home remedies he could think of, asked all his friends and family about what to do, and had probably already sought out all the doctors in the city. With no avail, he hears in v47 that Jesus, the One who had done such a great miracle at the wedding in Cana, was in town. So fraught with distress and desperation he ventures out to do something he didn’t plan on doing, seeking this Jesus to ask Him to come and heal his son. So here we have an official of the city, a wealthy nobleman, someone who doesn’t beg for anything, seeking to find and beg Jesus Christ to save his son. It is refreshing here on Father’s day to see such an example in this nobleman. A true love for his son; a deep concern for his wellbeing; and a quick willingness to do whatever it takes to get the help his son needs. He is a good Father.

Truly grieved by the near death of his dear little boy, sent him off to seek Jesus. For him this grave and serious trial was the occasion and catalyst of his seeking and reaching out to God. He didn’t know that his own heart needed healing, or that his own blindness to the beauty of Christ had to be taken away, or that he had a true need to be born again himself. All he knew was terror, terror that his son would die, and that if Jesus would come, maybe that wouldn’t happen. The nobleman had never met Jesus. He had never seen any of His great miracles. He had only heard of them. But what he had heard of Jesus seemed to be a true solution to his dire concern for his son. Remember, the Galileans only thought highly of Jesus because of these miracles, so this small spark of faith in Jesus the nobleman reveals here wasn’t a commendable faith, but it was faith enough in Jesus that moved him to embark on a journey to find Jesus. This is of worth to note, because being an official of the city he would’ve had servants upon servants at his bidding. He could’ve said the word and in a moment had a host of servants going throughout Cana and Capernaum to find Jesus. But, he went himself, thus showing how deep the concern for his son was. And once he found Jesus do you see what he said? At the end of v47 we see that he pled the misery of his sons case rather than the nobility of his person. He didn’t say, ‘I am a nobleman, you must do what I say.’ Or, ‘My son is of noble birth, his pedigree demands your presence.’ He said none of those things, all he said was, ‘Please come down and heal my son, for he is at the point of death.’ An honest grief, a true need, and an earnest plea.

I wonder…perhaps the same is similar for you today, or has been similar for you in times past? A trial seizes you, wraps itself around your heart, and you find yourself doing what you’re very unaccustomed to doing, seeking and crying out in desperation to God. Even the atheist cries out to the God they deny in moments of the deepest despair. And being so burdened with the terror of the moment, you’re unaware of your own great need for God. If that’s you today, take heart. God is not aloof in your trials. Trials of all kinds are not only the catalyst sent from God intended to move you to seek God, they are often the preface to a great work of the grace of God in your hearts.[3] Just maybe, you’ll find Jesus’ words to this suffering man to be words custom fit for your own sorrows this morning.

So what did Jesus say to this noble official? We see His answer in v48, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” As is His way, Jesus does not respond as we think He would respond. The word ‘you’ repeated twice in this answer is plural in the original Greek, which indicates that though the nobleman asked the question himself, Jesus gives an answer directed to all the Galileans surrounding Him at that moment. In this light, His answer is seen as a rebuke. Why a rebuke? Because as we saw earlier in v43-45 the people in Galilee only welcomed Jesus and were only following Jesus because they thought He was some kind of circus sideshow act. “Hurry, hurry, gather round, grab your popcorn, don’t miss the latest miracle.”[4] It is ironic that the Samaritans truly welcomed Him, while these Jews did not. Too much emphasis was being given to His signs and wonders and the sad thing about them doing this is that they missed who He really was. They wanted to be wowed and amazed by what He could do but showed little interest following Him or listening to His Word.

And, though truly sorrowful over his sons’ condition, this nobleman also fell into this sensationalized deception as well. Hearing this answer, at least initially, would’ve added to the nobleman’s trouble. Not only is his son almost dead, but he’s found Jesus, asked Him to come save him, and in response he gets rebuked along with the rest of his city. I say it only initially added to his trouble, because for him, everything is about to change.

The Nobleman’s Faith (v49-53a)

After being rebuked with the rest of the Galileans around him this nobleman did what only a devoted Father would do. He kept seeking to save his son. Probably quivering with fear, tears welling up in his eyes, angst abounding in his heart, and unsure of what kind of answer he’s going to receive in v49 he utters his request again, “Sir (kurios in Greek), come down before my child dies.” This is the most important moment in the passage. v50 gives us both Jesus’ reply and the nobleman’s response. First Jesus’ reply, “Go; your son will live.” Now for the nobleman’s response, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” There is so much to unpack in v50. By God’s grace let’s do it justice. This nobleman had formerly believed Jesus could heal his son, if He came with him back home. But now though Jesus remains in Cana and only speaks His Word, the nobleman believes and is forever changed.[5] This deeply grieved Father, receives no sign, no wonder. Only the Word of Christ, and to our surprise as readers, that is enough for him.

I want to ask a question here. What happened to this man in this v50 moment? What happened that made him go from someone sorrowing over the near death of his son in one moment to someone trusting the Word of Christ in the next moment? I ask this question not to be a mere observer of the text, but to engage with this text to see what exactly happened to this man for the purpose of us seeing what we should be crying out for God to do in us! So that we would we seek Jesus as earnestly as he sought Him, and find Jesus’ Word as compelling as he found His Word! Here’s what I think happened to him. By the Spirit of God, in the reply of Jesus, I think the nobleman saw the peculiar glory of Christ. And from seeing this glory he was changed, never to be the same again. Sorrow, angst, and terror turned to a settled, anchored, trust in Christ and in His Word. This is the thing to notice here. This Galilean nobleman who is given to signs and wonders, didn’t see a sign or a wonder, but only received a promise. A promise that he trusted, and once trusted, a promise that changed him.

See here where true faith ought to be placed. Not in signs, or wonders, not in being wowed, no. Our faith ought to be placed in Christ and in His Word. Jesus had indeed done a miracle in healing the boy as soon as He uttered, “Go; your son will live.” But the way Jesus interacts with this nobleman moves him to trust in His Word and not any sign or wonder he could see. He took Jesus at His Word, with no other shred of evidence at that moment! Do you believe in Jesus like this? Trusting His Word alone? Or do you need to see a miracle to trust in Him? So called ‘faith healers’ make bags and bags of money because they know the tendency of man in yearning to see miracles. Yet, it was the Word of Christ that moved this nobleman to believe against his former certainties. It was the Word he heard, the Word he believed, and the Word that changed him.

Perhaps you think I’m making too much of v50? I don’t think I am, because of the contrast in the nobleman’s first journey to Jesus in v47 and his second journey after meeting with Jesus in v50.

In v47 he was in a dreadful terror over his sons’ condition, journeying, no doubt, in haste to find Jesus. In v50 we see quite a different man as he goes home in leisure confidently trusting in the Word of Christ. We know his return home was a leisurely ride because of two things: first, it was only a 20-30 mile trip, and if the nobleman wanted to make it home sooner rather than later he could’ve begun heading home after his encounter with Christ, ridden into the night, and made it home easily before the dawn of the next day. Second, we know his return home was a leisurely ride because of the word ‘yesterday’ in v52. Notice how the chat with his servants goes. On his way home the servants meet him, tell him that his son is recovering, and when asked the precise time of the healing they say, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” He then concludes in v53a that the seventh hour was the precise moment Jesus spoke the words “Your son will live.” So here’s the timeline. The nobleman found Jesus a tad before 1pm, Jesus healed his son at 1pm, the nobleman then trusted in the Word of Christ so much that he didn’t rush home right away but took his time. How do we know he took his time? Because on the next day when he meets his servants he’s still on his way home. He’s not lazy, he’s full of confidence that his dear little boy is ok, so he’s in no rush.

So I don’t think I’m reading a transformation into v50 that’s not there. In order for the rest of this text to stand as it does, v50 must mark a deep and lasting change in this man’s heart. A change away from trusting in signs and wonders, to truly trusting in Christ and His Word.

The Presence of Household Honor (v53b-54)

We began this passage in v43-45 by seeing the absence of household honor, see now that we end this passage by seeing the presence of household honor. In v53b-54 we read, “And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” I imagine this nobleman arriving home, being welcome by an alive and well little boy and an astonished wife. I imagine him sitting them down and saying something like, “Reason, intelligence, and my senses would’ve taught me that I will returned to find things exactly the way I left them, despairing and troubling. But I met Jesus, and as He spoke to me, my heart seemed to open up, soften, and come alive all at the same moment. As I heard His words, “Go; your son will live” my troubled heart turned into a trusting heart. So I left, and knew that I would return to find him healthy.[6] Of course we’re not given the details of that conversation, but now we do indeed see that trouble was the horse mercy rode into the heart of this family. Their trouble resulted in a great faith in Christ’s Word. And we can only assume that there was a great household baptism after this moment as we see in the book of Acts.

Conclusion:

Church, the meaning here for us to see isn’t new. Abraham left the land of his birth without knowing where the Promised Land was, only to find it abundant and plentiful just as God said it would be. Moses led out the host of Israel, and stood on the shores of the red sea without knowing how God would save them, only to find God powerfully fighting for them just as God said it would be.[7] Here this troubled nobleman goes searching for Jesus without knowing if his dear little boy would be healed, only to find the Word of Christ strong, faithful, and true just like we know it to be.

And here you are today, perhaps as troubled as the nobleman, as worried as his wife, or as sick as his son. Whatever your trouble is where will you look? Signs? Wonders? Such a faith is childish and misplaced. Look and look alone to the Word of Christ for faith in Christ. Why? Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Or we could go to 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, “…Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Many seek signs, wonders, and wisdom in what the eye can see. But to those who are called, to those who have ears to hear, and to those who have eyes to see, Christ crucified is not folly but the very power and wisdom of God for sinners like you and I. The same living Christ is here, and as this nobleman did you too greatly need His help. May you seek His Word as he sought it, and find it as strong and sure as he found it!

 

Citations:

[1] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 31, page 565.

[2] Ibid., page 565.

[3] Ibid., page 566.

[4] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 144.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 31, page 572.

[6] Martin Luther, Reformation Commentary On Scripture, John 1-12, page 154.

[7] Philipp Melanchthon, Reformation Commentary On Scripture, John 1-12, page 154.

John 4:27-42 – The Woman at the Well, part 3

In a recent article published on his website Dr. Albert Mohler speaks of the loss of Christian liberty amid the current sexual revolution we’re seeing in our day. In the article, he states Christians today need three things to endure a culture redefining the very definition of right and wrong: courage, conviction, and clarity. Indeed, these three things have been needed in the Church throughout many other generations in history. And so we, along with saints of the past leaving an example for saints of the future, have a need to grow in our gospel resolve.

This morning God, through the writing of the apostle John, would like us to consider three lessons that are intended to do just that: grow our gospel resolve. Seeing these lessons will deepen our reverence, boost our evangelistic vigor, reveal the source of fullness and abundance in God’s work, and show how a sight of the glory of Christ transforms the deepest of racial divides.

Our passage for this morning is John 4:27-42, found on page 519 in the Bibles we’ve provided for you in the back. Here we pick back up with Jesus and His life changing conversation with the Samaritan woman. John 4:27-42, follow along as I read.

A Lesson about Inactivity and Activity (v27-30)

There is something of a contrast for us to see in v27-30 between the silence of the disciples and the vigor of the woman. As the disciples get back to the well, with the lunch Jesus had earlier sent them to get, it says they marveled at Jesus. Why did they marvel? For two reasons: first, they marveled because it was forbidden for Rabbi’s to publicly speak with women, and yet here is Jesus doing just that. Second, they marveled because this woman was a Samaritan. So again, we see historical hostility present in this time rise up in the disciples as they see this, and we can say without a doubt that they, at least initially, thought what Jesus was doing was entirely inappropriate. I say they initially thought it to be inappropriate because they didn’t say anything to Jesus about it. Usually if someone is doing something obviously wrong we will immediately tell them. For example I recall washing my Father’s car with him when I was very young, and I thought the way we get the soap off the car was the same way we got the soap on the car. So after rubbing the soap filled sponge all over the car to get the soap on, I grabbed the hose, squeezed the nozzle to get water coming out, and proceeded to rub the nozzle all over the car to get the soap off. Almost immediately my Father ran over and stopped me, I guess he could hear all the scratches I was making.

Notice, that even though the disciples marvel at what Jesus is doing here, they don’t say anything in v27. Why are they silent? John Calvin explains this silence well in his commentary on John’s gospel when he says, “It is useful to observe…that they did not venture to put a question; for we are taught by their example that, if any thing in the works or words of God and of Christ be disagreeable to our feelings, we ought…to preserve a modest silence, until what is hidden from us be revealed from heaven.”[1] So though chauvinistically and racistly puzzled and marveling at what Jesus is doing for sure, their silence does show a proper reverence for Christ. They didn’t say anything about the inappropriate nature of this because they knew Jesus most likely knew things they did not.

What about you? This is far from the main point of this passage but it demands that I ask, do you have this kind of proper reverence toward Christ? When God says something in His Word that you disagree with, do you immediately put it down thinking it to be an outdated irrational book? Or do you pause and think, “Well, God’s Word is always right and true, perhaps I am wrong about this, I should keep reading.” The attitude of proper reverence toward God, His Word, and His ways should be as natural to the Christian as swimming is for a fish.

Now contrast the disciples marveled silence here with the vigorous evangelism of the woman. In v28-30 she leaves her water jar, runs back to town, and says “Come see a man who told me all I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” to as many people as she can, and upon hearing it, people actually leave the town and come out to Jacob’s well to see Jesus. That her witness caused such a stir for Christ is a great thing. That her witness occurs directly after the disciples had just been to town and back is a greater thing.[2] The disciples, the very ones who were with Jesus, went into town and a no one even flinched. She went into town, and a frenzy occurs. Lesson? If any of you feel weak or foolish, perhaps too sinful for God to use you, ostracized or written off by your family or peers, than be of good cheer! Church, here’s an example of God being pleased to use someone who is weak, foolish, and sinful for His glory. If God can use this woman, He can and will be just as pleased to use you.

There’s more here. That she left her jar, and never got water from the well indicates her haste to go and spread the news of Christ. See in her actions the nature of true faith.[3] When we encounter and are changed by the power and grace of Jesus Christ in the gospel, a new desire comes to life in us. A desire to bring others along with us. Why does this new desire come alive? Simply put, we want them to know! Or to say it in another manner, when the gospel changes us we want others to know the gospel because God won’t allow us to remain content in gospel inactivity, but instead works through us by His Spirit to spread this good news and bring many others into the kingdom. Yes the gospel is massively personal, but the gospel must never remain a private matter. Or as one commentator put it, “The gospel comes to us in order that it might run through us.”[4]

So here in v27-30 we see the reverence that rids us of our most natural beliefs, like hostility or racism we may harbor toward others, in the inactivity of the disciples. We also see the gospel produced vigor we ought to have in sharing this good news with our own city in the activity of the woman.

A Lesson about Eating and Reaping (v31-38)

In v31 the disciples urge Jesus to eat, but apparently Jesus is already full. In v32 He explains this saying, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples do not understand and make it clear in v33 when they say, “Has anyone brought Him something to eat?” Here we have a classic misunderstanding the disciples often make, thinking that Jesus is speaking in literal terms when He is speaking in spiritual terms. I don’t want you to make this mistake. So take a moment and think deeply about your life, about what you love to do, or a book you love to read, or a place you love to go. Got it? Ok, have you ever been doing this thing, or been reading this book, or been at this place and you get so lost and caught up in the moment that you forget about everything else? Has the thrill of the moment ever been so thick that you forget to eat, and even after recognizing this you don’t even feel hungry because your soul is full of happiness and wonder? This has happened to me a few times: the first time I read The Lord of the Rings my freshman year of college, and then a year later when I read the gospel of John for the first time, and then a few years later on my wedding day. I was so caught up in these moments that I didn’t feel the urge to eat at all, and when I remembered I hadn’t eaten I had to force myself to because I didn’t want to. I’m sure you have had moments like this in your life too.

Come back now to Jesus’ words in v32 and v34, “I have food to eat that you do not know about…My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” What Jesus is saying to His disciples is that for Him, accomplishing His Father’s work is His food. After deeply engaging with the Samaritan woman He now feels full because doing the will of His Father filled Him up. Or to say it another way, doing the will of His Father is His most satisfying sustenance in life.[5] Jesus could’ve merely taken the lunch they’ve bought, thanked them, and then talked about his chat with the woman, but He doesn’t. I think He speaks like this to arouse their interest. ‘I have food you do not.’ By arousing the disciples interest Jesus is making much of the great work of doing the will of God. I think will of God here in this text is a reference to spreading the message of the Lord Jesus. This is a work Jesus just did with the Samaritan woman, a work the disciples will soon be doing throughout the whole world, a work that needs to be the highest priority in the disciples life, and a work that needs to be the highest priority in your life. Food must be eaten, yes, our bodies need it to live. But all those who follow Christ and His commands must not be content have full bellies and empty souls.[6] Rather we must glut our souls on the great work of doing the will of God.

Pause here. Streaming out in bright glory from the truth of that doing the will of God by spreading the message of God fills our souls is one giant application. The emptiness so many feel now in our day has an origin. Souls are searching and empty because we’re caught up with ourselves, our needs, our jobs, our stuff. No wonder so many souls are empty, we’re a narcissistic people only concerned about ourselves. Yet, see the offer extended here? The same fullness Jesus is offering to this woman, He’s offering to you through this passage. Do you want your souls to be full? Glut them on God, doing God’s will, spreading His message. Do not be content to allow your happiness and eternal joy be riding on something that can be taken away from you. Seek it in God and watch your soul fill up.

Now in v35-38 Jesus continues to teach and gives us another lesson, one about reaping. In v35 He brings up a common agricultural proverb to teach a spiritual lesson. v35, “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.” Agriculturally this proverb is true, there is a time between sowing and reaping, but spiritually Jesus says things are different. How? We now live in a time when there is no waiting time between sowing and reaping. How is this so? Jesus explains it in v36-38 saying, “Already the One who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Here Jesus is using imagery from Amos 9:13 to show that He is bringing about the ultimate fulfillment of what Amos spoke of.[7] In Amos 9:13 the prophet says, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and treader of grapes him who sows the seed…” Amos here employs metaphorical agricultural imagery prophesying about a time in the future when God will so move among His people that the plowman will be on the heels of the reaper. Or, because the crop is growing so fast, as soon as one plant is put into the ground it needs to be harvested and re-planted. Or to use the other metaphor here, because the grapes are growing so fast, as soon as one vine is put into the ground it needs to be harvested and re-planted. Jesus alludes to this imagery in Amos 9:13 in John 4:36-38 to teach that this day has come! He is the Great Reaper who has come to gather fruit for eternal life and by His commission, both the sowers and lesser reapers, are sent out abounding in joy because they have so much work to do. Why do they have so much work to do? Because with the coming of Christ comes the Kingdom of God and with the Kingdom of God comes the time when gospel will go out in power and change millions of hearts. The Old Testament prophets have labored before this time came and now that this time has come the disciples are joining in with their labor and reaping what they labored for and never got to see. What’s the example of this? The heart of the Samaritan woman that was transformed by her encounter with Jesus.

So, what are the lessons about eating and reaping meant to teach us? That we have work to do, work that the saints of old labored in, work that Jesus came to bring to its conclusion, work that the disciples are here called to join in with and began reaping the fruit themselves, and work that we are called to join in with and reap the fruit of ourselves. This work is the will of God is spreading the message of God about the Son of God. This work is to be the most satisfying sustenance in our lives!

A Lesson about Hostility and Hearing (v39-42)

We find out more about the results of the woman’s evangelistic vigor in the town of Sychar. v39-42, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” There is a great difference in being told that honey is sweet, and tasting the sweetness for yourself. This is what we see here. From the evangelistic witness of the most unexpected sinful woman, many people in Sychar not only came out to see Jesus, but believed in Him after hearing from Him personally. That’s the hearing we see in v39-42. But in order for them to hear, the historical hostility present between Jews and Samaritans had to be overcome. We see this miracle happen in v40. “When the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there for two days.”

So the message of the gospel came to Sychar through this woman at the well, and once they heard from her, they wanted to see it for themselves. And once they saw it, the historical hostility between Jews and Samaritans no longer mattered. Did you notice that detail? They, Samaritans who hate Jews, wanted a Jew to not only stay with them but teach them! Why? His message had changed their hearts. Lesson? When the message of the gospel comes into a city, it breaks down walls of hate fueled racial segregation and creates a gospel fueled racial harmony. Here in Sychar we see this, and here in our city we ought to exemplify this. We also see here a glimpse of what will take place across the globe when the gospel goes out in the power of the Spirit from Pentecost to the Second Coming. Adding glory to glory, in v42 Jesus is called the “Savior of the world” for the first time in the gospels, by who? The Samaritans.

Conclusion:

We have a need to grow in our gospel resolve. These three lessons today have showed us: why our reverence ought to deepen, why our evangelistic vigor should increase, why the fullness and abundance of God’s work found in God’s will is the most satisfying food we can ‘eat’ in this life, and why a sight of the glory of Christ transforms the deepest of racial divides. All of these things can and will grow our gospel resolve

Why? v42. They heard it for themselves. Have you?

Paradise gained in creation. Paradise lost in the fall. Paradise regained through faith in Christ who was born, who lived, who died, who rose, who ascended, who rules and reigns, who now calls all men to repent, and who will return again. Do you see glory in this? If you do, a gospel resolve will grow in you.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, accessed on 6/6/17 via Accordance Bible Software, paragraph 72327 of 99995.

[2] Study notes, Reformation Study Bible, page 1861.

[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, accessed on 6/6/17 via Accordance Bible Software, paragraph 72330 of 99995.

[4] Study Notes, The Gospel Transformation Study Bible, page 1414.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 135.

[6] Wolfgang Musculus, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, John 1-12, page 141-142.

[7] Study Notes, ESV Study Bible, page 2029.

Mark 6 – Church Membership

Security is a booming business today.[1]

We have sophisticated alarms in our homes. We have and continually change detailed passwords for our computers, phones, and online accounts. We have various sets of keys for our cars and offices. Airports and other public venues abound with metal detectors and security guards. And these aren’t bad things are they? Of course not. We should be very eager to employ these various measures of security to keep our families, homes, cars, phones, computers, and places of work and fun safe. After all, in a fallen world we interact with fallen people who make these things are necessary.

Yet, notice one thing: almost 100% of our securities is for two purposes, to allow certain people in and to keep certain people out. These purposes points out a glaring omission among Christians. We’re very concerned with having the best security in every aspect of our lives but when it comes to the security of our churches we grow extremely careless. I’m not saying that we too often leave the doors unlocked or the alarm turned off, no. I’m saying that when it comes to the spiritual security of the Church, when it comes to who we let into membership and who we keep out of membership, we are far too careless. Paul Alexander sums it up well when he says, “The password of the gospel is often not required, the key of sound doctrine seldom made necessary, the verifying signs of holiness and love left unexamined, and so the purity of the church left open to compromise.”[2] So how do we see to the spiritual health and security of God’s Church? Two ways, church membership, which we’re about to examine, and church discipline which, Lord willing, we’ll look into next month.

Church membership is the 6th mark of a healthy church in our first Sunday of the month 9marks series. To see it’s ins and outs please turn to Acts 20:28-32, where from seeing the doctrine of church membership naturally flow from Paul’s teaching to the elders in the Ephesian church, my prayer is that you’ll be greatly served today by learning what the Bible calls us to in our life together.

As you turn there let me set the context. Luke tells us in the verses leading up to v28 that Paul called for the elders of the Ephesian church to urge them to carry out a proper and God honoring ministry. Though persecuted and hunted Paul spoke of his humility, his tears, and his teaching. He tells them God is calling him to go Jerusalem where he must finish the ministry the Lord Jesus gave to him and preach the gospel though it will likely bring greater persecution to him. Amid what had to be a tearful moment, Paul told these elders he wouldn’t see them again, he was innocent of their blood, and that he hadn’t shrunk back from teaching them the whole counsel of God. It is here where we pick up on Paul’s words to these elders. Follow along as I read Acts 20:28-32.

Today I would like you to consider three things: what church membership is, why church membership is urgent, and where church membership leaves our hope.

What is Church Membership? (v28)

As Paul continues on towards his final remarks to the Ephesian elders, he tells them in v28 to keep a careful watch on their own hearts and on the flock of God. By paying careful attention to the flock, they would be caring for the Church of God that He bought with His own blood. This is the call and commission for these elders in v28, and any elder in any congregation throughout the ages.

A question rises up here. Who are these elders to care for? All it says is the “flock of God.” Who is this flock? It surely cannot mean all Christians, that would be way to large a task for one group of elders. So who are they to care for and exercise spiritual leadership over? Not just any flock of God found around the world, but specifically the flock of God that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers of. Did you see that detail? The Holy Spirit chose men to carefully watch a certain flock of God that God bought with His own blood. Which flock are these Ephesians to care for? The Ephesian church. The Holy Spirit placed them over the church in Ephesus and because of this they’re to be pay careful attention to the flock in Ephesus, as they pay careful attention to themselves.

Here in v28 we see the principles of elder leadership explicitly. But underneath the explicit command to lead and care for the church, we implicitly also see the Christians who willingly join themselves with and submit to these leaders in the Ephesian church. Who are these people that have come to and joined the Ephesian church? The members of the Ephesian church. That’s who is in view here when it says to pay careful attention to the flock of God. In other words, the leaders of the church in Ephesus are to have a special relationship to the Christians in the church in Ephesus. This relationship is one of pastoral care, where spiritual needs are attended to and met.

There are many takeaways from this passage in regards to church membership:

We see the definition of church membership. Church membership is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s oversight of that Christian’s discipleship as well as that Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship under the care of the church.[3] v28 shows us this. Explicitly we see church membership from the view of the elders here, but implicitly we can also see the same from the view of the members as well. For the elders, it is no small thing to care for the blood bought church of God. These are the very people they are responsible for before God. And the same is true from the member’s view. It is no small thing to join with and submit to a local church. The elders of that church are the ones they are to be responsible to before God. For both of these groups, coming together in church membership is an agreement and the counter cultural declaration that they will not live their Christian lives in isolation from other believers, but will live their Christian lives under the care and watchful eyes of qualified elders along with other Christians.

b) We see the boundaries of church membership. Today some people are immediately put off by church membership because the very talk of it brings up the notion that some are ‘in’ and some are ‘out.’ This is completely understandable, no one likes to feel left out. But though understandable, we should never avoid a biblical practice so that people are less offended. Does this make you uncomfortable? Perhaps this will aid you. God has always been eager to make the distinction of who His people are and who His people are not. In Leviticus 19, Old Testament Israel is called to live holy lives, just as God is holy. In living like this God says He is pleased that His people are not characterized by the wicked living of the nations around them and thus distinct from them. You know where Leviticus 19 shows up again in the Bible? Peter quotes it in 1 Peter 1:14-16 to tell us that we as members of the church are to live holy lives, because God is holy, and that our holy living makes us distinct from the world around us. Bottom line? God calls His people to be separate and distinct. Paul even brings this up in 1 Cor. 5 when he speaks of those who are inside the church and those who are outside of the church, to indicate that there truly is a difference.

In our passage here in v28, we see the clear difference too. There are those who the elders are to care for and those who they’re not to care for. Who are they to care for? Everyone who comes and joins themselves to the Church in Ephesus. Who are they not to care for? Everyone who doesn’t join themselves to the Church in Ephesus. Practically speaking, this is how Chad, Dave, and I know who we’re to spiritually care for and who we’re to take serious responsibility for before God. Who are we responsible for? The members of SonRise. Who are we not responsible for? Everyone else. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has only made us overseers over the membership of SonRise and no one else.

We see this in every single book written in the New Testament after the book of Acts. Each one of these letters is written to a specific group of Christians called churches. Why do you think there are so many commands about how we’re to live with and treat ‘one another?’ Because all the ‘one another’s’ are to be carried out in the context of church membership. So even though you’ll never find a verse in the Bible that tells you outright to become a member of a church, the Scripture assumes that’s already the case.

So we’ve seen what church membership is, let’s now see secondly why church membership is urgent.

Why Church Membership is Urgent? (v29-31)

After Paul counsels these elders to shepherd the members of the Ephesian flock, he continues by warning them in v29-31 saying, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” So the urgency in church membership come from security, specifically the security of the church in allowing certain people in, and keeping certain people out. What kind of people should be let in? Those who know the gospel, love the gospel, and have been changed by the gospel. What kind of people should be kept out? Wolves. There’s something about this that even a small child can understand. In nearly every fairytale story the one of the villains is either a wolf or has wolves as they’re evil underlings or minions. I’ll never forget the moment I first watched the movie The Never Ending Story.[4] As the land of Fantasia is being destroyed by the great despairing blackness the main character Sebastian meets the great power behind the blackness. As Sebastian approaches this great power all you see is big black eyes and all you can hear is a deep throaty growl. Then the moment comes, it frightened me as kid, a great black wolf lurks out of the cave to meet Sebastian and they fight for the fate of Fantasia. One thing has always stood out to me about the wolf. His chief weapon wasn’t his enormous stature or his large claws. It was his words. It was the words of the wolf that caused the great blackness and pushed it over the whole land. And Sebastian faced the battle of ceasing to listen to the wolf and believe the truth that he already knew.

Come back now to v29-30. Notice that Paul uses the image of a wolf to describe the false teachers who creep into the church. Notice that Paul says it’s their cunning words that lead the flock astray. It’s their false teaching that infects the church and ultimately ruins the church. This is what Satan always does, twisting the truth to lead people away from God to him. Rarely do these wolves seem to be so at first, but eventually they will be seen as what they are. Christ will out them. So what do we do about these people? We go to v31 to find guidance, “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” How did Paul bring security to the church? How did Paul protect the flock? By allowing certain people in, and keeping certain people out. He employed alertness and pure teaching that stood as bright as the sun in contrast to the blackness the false wolves were teaching. This passage is one of the reasons why we have a slow church membership process. When wolves come, and they do come, we’ve found that they don’t normally like things that take a long time. So when we see someone attending the church or when we even see someone in the membership process who seems to be a bit wolfy we examine that person deeper, and if we find things that concern us we extend the membership process even further with them and include more and more gospel teaching and a heightened watchfulness, in the hope that these errors will be corrected and this person would repent and join the church as a sheep and not a wolf. Why do we do this? Not because we think we’re better than anyone or that our club is the best in the world, heavens no. We do this because we want to protect you, the sheep!

We’ve answered from this passage what church membership is and why it’s urgent. Now let’s see where church membership leave our hope.

Where Does Church Membership Leave our Hope? (v32)

I am asking the question ‘Where does church membership leave our hope?’ because the commands and duties described in v28-31 are daunting and require an unusual level of discernment and wisdom. Discernment and wisdom that is rare even among elders. What then is our hope in protecting the flock of God if the elders given by God naturally lack all that is necessary for the security and purity of the church? Naturally speaking, there is no hope. But supernaturally, there is every reason to hope. Why? Because the elder is what he is, and can do what he can do, because of God’s enablement alone. Knowing this leaves us in the lap of v32, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Paul’s hope for the Ephesian church isn’t the elders of the Ephesian church. What’s his hope? Two things: “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace.” First, Paul’s hope is in God because though God gives elders to be shepherds over His flock, He Himself is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. An elders wisdom may run out, an elders discernment may fail, an elder may not always be able to distinguish between the sheep and the wolves, but God never fails. Second, Paul’s hope is in ‘the word of His grace.’ This is either a reference to the gospel itself, which is the greatest thread of God’s grace in the Scripture, or it refers to the entire Scripture itself, which contains all the threads of grace throughout history. Paul’s hope is in these two places, for two reasons. First, God and the word of His grace is able to build us up. And Second, God and the word of His grace gives us our long awaited inheritance among the church eternal. So again, where do demands of church membership leave us? With God and the Word of His grace, which is able to do what none of us can do.

Conclusion:

Church, in a day where a deep commitment to anything is rare, “…one of the most countercultural things you can do is join a church and worship every week.”[5] Visit around sure, find a healthy church that has these 9Marks yes, go regularly of course, and then quit merely attending it, and join it! Just as the goal of dating is marriage, the goal of visiting a church is joining! “If the church is a building, we are the bricks. If the church is a flock, we are the sheep. If the church is a vine, we are the branches. If the church is a body, we are the arms, legs, knees, and toes. If we’re Christians, we must be members of a church.”[6]

Perhaps you think church membership is too old fashion or unbiblical. Some people think of it like that. But think of it like this. The flock of God, is the very people God obtained with His own blood. If God went to such lengths to purchase His bride, shouldn’t we go to great lengths in setting up and committing to a hefty church membership to for the security and the purity of God’s Church?

 

Citations:

[1] This is the opening illustration in chapter 4 of Mark Dever’s and Paul Alexander’s book The Deliberate Church, page 59.

[2] Ibid., page 59.

[3] Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership, page 64.

[4] The first one (1984) not the strange sequel.

[5] Burk Parsons, Twitter Account, accessed on 5/31/17.

[6] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, page 175.

John 4:16-26 – The Woman at the Well, part 2

After leaving Judea for Galilee, Jesus traveled with His disciples through Samaria. Stopping in the town of Sychar to rest He sent the disciples into town to get lunch, and as He’s resting by Jacob’s well Jesus sees a woman approaching to draw water. Though weary and thirsty Himself, Jesus spoke to her about the greater well which gives the greater water in v7-14. We saw that this greater and living water is meant to be an image of what the ministry of the Holy Spirit is like in the soul of man. It brings life, vibrancy, satisfaction, and vitality to us. The Samaritan woman, perhaps only understanding a bit of what Jesus was speaking of, in v15, asked for this living water so she would be freed from the feeling of thirst and from the task of having to return to this well everyday to get water. This is where we pick up in the conversation, John 4:16-26. Follow along as I read.

The issue the apostle John would like us to consider in this abrupt passage together is our worship, whether it is pure or impure, proper or improper, pleasing or displeasing to God, and what can be done about it. As v16-26 unfolds, three portions of this text seem to be pre-arranged for us.

An Abrupt Request (4:16-19)

Having just been asked for this living water in v15, Jesus makes an abrupt request of the Samaritan woman. He asks her to go get her husband and come back in v16. She responds, ashamedly admitting that she has no husband in v17. Then Jesus, though fully human, thirsty, and weary…reveals that He is also fully divine and omniscient, or all-knowing in v17b-18, “You are right in saying ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Imagine what this would’ve been like for this woman. To have a total stranger come up to you and tell you the details of your deepest and most shameful secrets? It would’ve been completely astonishing as well as totally embarrassing for her. No one wants their dirty laundry exposed or known by others. You can almost guarantee that in this moment she was thinking one thing, “How does this man know these things?”

That may be the question she is asking at this point, but it’s not the question I want to be asking. ‘Why?’ is the question I want to ask. They were having a wonderful discussion about the living water offered by Christ and Jesus abruptly turns the tables on her to expose her shame and guilt? Why would He do this? What’s the meaning in it, or behind it? I think He did it, to cause her to thirst because her response to His offer of living water in v15 reveals a lack of understanding on her part so Jesus in an effort to create a true thirst in her for what truly satisfies reveals her utterly unsatisfied heart. Where is the primary source of her unsatisfied heart? In her guilt and shame. Jesus isn’t being rude here. He doesn’t come out and say, ‘You wicked adulterous prostitute, how dare you misunderstand my offer of living water!’ No, Jesus gently reveals her sin because His aim isn’t to provoke, but to lead her to a proper understanding of her need which will then in turn lead her to the only thing that truly satisfies.[1] The German reformer Johannes Brenz, in his commentary on John’s gospel says here, “…none earnestly thirst for the promises of the gospel unless they know their sin and sense their own damnation because of their sins. Before judgment and the exposing of our sins we seem well and are carefree…But when the Lord reveals sin, death is placed before our eyes and hell is set on fire.”[2]

How many of you are sitting here well? How many of you are sitting here carefree? If you only knew the evil that lurks within your heart fear and trembling would strike the heart of you. It may adulterous desires like this woman’s that lie at the root of your own unsatisfied heart, it may pride, it may be greed, it could be all sorts of things…but do you see that it’s love in Jesus to expose it? It’s love in Him that reveals sin, places death before us, and sets hell on fire, so that having been so warned we would flee from our sins to the Savior who can only satisfy us. What happens when the heart is moved and satisfied? Proper and pure worship.

So having been exposed she responds, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet…” in v19.

An Abrupt Question (4:20-24)

As Jesus abruptly changed the topic of conversation in v16, here in v20 it seems that the Samaritan woman is the one who abruptly changes the topic of conversation. It would seem on the surface of things that she is seeking to avoid hearing more about her shameful escapades with all these men. I think some of that is truly happening here, but I also think she is expressing more. Surely she wouldn’t want to hear any more about her shameful past and present lifestyle, but now being told of her sins so abruptly she brings up the subject of worship because she is now aware of her adulterous heart and desires to go to the temple to make atonement for her sins. So seemingly abruptly, but more naturally than meets the eye, the conversation moves to the proper worship of God, which for her, is a particularly pressing and personal issue knowing her sin and guilt.[3]

Her inquiry into worship comes up in v20, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” To this Jesus answers in v21-24 saying, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

In His response Jesus taught the Samaritan woman then and is about to teach us now, two massive realities about the proper and pure worship of God.

The Essential Place of Worship (4:20-22)

In v20 she brings up the place of worship and points again to the historical hostility between the Samaritans and the Jews. The Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerizim with the first five books of Moses while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem under the direction of the entire Old Testament canon. Throughout the history of the world it has been mountains where people have made religious sacrifices and engaged in various practices of worship. All the wise kings of Israel acted well when they tore down the pagan altars on the high places in the land. Some of the most well known moments throughout redemptive history took place on mountains (think…Mt. Sinai, Mt. Carmel, or the Mt. of transfiguration). When the Jews built the temple in Jerusalem they outlawed the practice of sacrificing on mountains.[4] When the Samaritans built their temple on Mt. Gerizim the hostility between them and the Jews reached a new level of hatred. The issue she is bringing up in v20 is clear; what is the true place of worship, Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion?

Jesus’ answer in v21-22 not only shows that Samaritan worship is false because it rejects much of God’s revealed truth, He not only shows that the Jews worship is correct because they embrace the whole of God’s revealed truth, He shows that ultimately because of what God is now doing through Himself, who is the truth, the place of worship no longer matters. Jesus is saying that because of Him, the place we now meet God isn’t a place but a Person. The place is irrelevant whether it be Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion, Samaria or Jerusalem. Those who follow God are intended by God to be a people who are attached to God, not a certain place where others or we ourselves have had a religious experience. Yes, there are many places in the Bible of abundant importance. Mt. Sinai, Mt. Carmel, the Mt. of transfiguration, even the temple itself that has had so much historical significance…with regard to our worship these are all irrelevant because when God saves someone, God the Spirit comes to reside in the heart, and when God the Spirit comes to reside in the heart that heart becomes holy ground. So since we are now the living and breathing temple of God everything we do and everywhere we go is an act of worship.

If the place is irrelevant, and the Person of Father, Son, and Spirit are supremely relevant, what then are the relevant and proper principles for the worship of God? Jesus continues His answer by giving us the rules of worship.

The Fundamental Principles of Worship (4:23-24)

The fundamental principles of the worship of God are that we must worship in spirit and in truth. By ‘spirit’ is Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit or to our spirit? All throughout our present context in John 3-4 we’ve seen Jesus speak of the ministry of the Spirit and the life of the Spirit in the soul of man, so when we come to this great passage here in v23-24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth…” we would be mistaken to think the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with this. But we would also be mistaken to think that our spirit has nothing to do with this. After all, didn’t Mary soar in praise in Luke 1:47, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”? Of course she did! So worshiping in spirit refers to both the Holy Spirit and our spirit. How do the two of these realities come together? John Piper says it very well in his book Desiring God, “True worship comes only from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening of the Spirit of God.”[5] So, Piper is only saying what Jesus is saying here. God the Spirit creates, ignites, and enlivens our spirit, making us sensitive to the beauty and wonder of God, and then moves us to worship Him with our whole spirit. This is what it means to worship ‘in spirit.’

But we’re not only to worship ‘in spirit’ we’re to worship ‘in truth’ as well. This means that in our worship we don’t come to God and confess what we feel God is like, what we want God to be like, or what we wish God were like. No, in our worship we come to God and confess what God is like, we confess who God is, we confess what He has done, and we pray that His truth would correct our errors. Psalm 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” The opposite of this verse is just as true. The Lord isn’t near to those who call on Him in error. For example, did you notice in this text it says we’re to worship the Father in v23? Yes Christianity is about worshiping Christ and the Holy Spirit, but we’re to worship the Father. Remember, the Father sent the Son to save, the Son absorbed the Father’s wrath for us, so that we can now come to the Father without shame and guilt, and once we come by faith and are saved the Spirit then reminds us of what the Father did in sending His Son so that we could be brought to Him. When we worship the Father we worship ‘in truth.’

So taking these two together, that we’re to worship ‘in spirit’ and ‘in truth’ means that in our worship we’re aiming at both our heads and our hearts. Heads informed and hearts inflamed, heads engaged and hearts enlivened, heads that are full and hearts that are on fire. We don’t want a lifeless orthodoxy, and we don’t want an enthusiastic heresy. No, we want an enthusiastic orthodoxy.

These are the fundamental principles of worship. This is the need of the hour. Churches filled with Christians who worship according to what God has commanded rather than what man has desired. Churches that plan and carry out their worship with pleasing God in mind and coming underneath His desires rather than pleasing man and seeking to meet felt needs. Do you think I’m speaking to strongly here? I don’t. v23 says the Father is seeking such worship, and v24 says we MUST worship God in this manner. In Leviticus 10 two young men named Nadab and Abihu felt that they could worship God in any way they so desired, so they did. You know what happened? God killed them on the spot. What they did wasn’t an exercise of true worship, it was an exercise of idolatry, of putting their desires in worship above God’s. Church, worshiping God how God wants to be worshiped isn’t a matter of debate. Since the Bible is where we learn who God is, the Bible is also to be the place where we learn how God is to be worshiped.

An Abrupt Revelation (4:25-26)

We’ve seen Jesus’ abrupt request, and the woman’s seemingly abrupt question in response. Finally we’ve come to an abrupt revelation. The woman, unable to come back at Jesus’ statements on worship, says that when the Messiah comes He will clear all these things up. Then Jesus in a moment blazing clarity gives her a stunning revelation, “I who speak to you am He.”

What a passage! God the Son, speaking of rightly worshiping God the Father, in the power of God the Spirit, and revealing the shame and guilt of this woman to ultimately show her that He is the long awaited Messiah who will clarify the true worship of God. Little did this woman know what she would receive this day at the well. We will see how this woman was changed by this meeting soon enough, but for now, let me end by asking a few questions.

Conclusion:

What do you worship? How do you worship? Whom do you worship? If you’ve disconnected with this, thinking worship is something only church people do, hear this. The issue isn’t whether we worship or not, the issue if what, how, and who we worship.

Most of you are aware of the disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where a person out of extreme anxiety or nervousness repeats normal daily tasks over and over to ensure they are done right. I can be a little OCD when it comes to my desk and what’s on it, I find it hard to concentrate if my desk isn’t organized just so…perhaps some of you have similar weird traits about you. Well, take the concept of OCD and learn a new disorder, one that is common to all men – OCW. We all are Obsessive Compulsive Worshipers, repeatedly worshiping something. This is a problem and a disorder because we all are born into this world worshiping and giving our attention and our lives to the wrong things. Into our OCW hearts, praise God, that He sends out His Son and Spirit to awaken us from the dead by faith in the gospel, and create out of us a people who loves to worship Him rightly.

May God reorient our worship from what pleases us to what pleases Him.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Wolfgang Musculus, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 133.

[2] Johhanes Brenz, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 132-133.

[3] Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 162.

[4] Martin Bucer, John 1-12, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 135.

[5] John Piper, Desiring God, page 82.

John 4:1-15 – The Woman at the Well, part 1

As we continue on in our series through John’s gospel we’ve come to John 4, where our passage for today is 4:1-15, follow along as I read it.

A Weary Savior (4:1-6)

Upon entering the passage in v1-6 we find out the details of how Jesus came to be in Samaria. v1-3 tells us Jesus wanted to leave Judea after finding out that the Pharisees knew how large a following He had gained through His disciples ministry of baptism. Reading this quickly may give you the impression that Jesus was afraid of the Jewish leaders, and didn’t want to get into a public debate over His ministry or His disciples baptizing. But I don’t think that is what’s happening here. Jesus wasn’t at all afraid of the Pharisees, no. He desired to leave Judea when He heard this news because He didn’t want to begin publicly clashing with the Pharisees until the time was right, because once He began, it would only be a matter of time before they delivered Him over to Pilate to be crucified. So off He goes because His hour had not yet come (John 7:30).

The land at this time was separated into three distinct sections, Judea in the south, Galilee in the north, and Samaria in between them.[1] So in order to get back to Galilee, v4 says Jesus “…had to pass through Samaria.” And while traveling through Samaria they stopped around the sixth hour (which is around noon) by Jacob’s well in the town of Sychar because v6 says Jesus was wearied from the journey. Did you catch that detail when we read through the text just now? Jesus was weary from the journey? The eternal Son of God is tired? Here we’re reminded that though Jesus is true God He is also true Man, and in His humanity He experienced true fatigue. Though we may have a bit of trouble grasping that Jesus being fully God as well as fully Man truly grew weary, something of this hits us as completely understandable. We were told in v1 that Jesus’ disciples grew to a number greater than John the Baptist, and with an increase of disciples comes an increase of demands on the discipler. And when the demands increased on Jesus, you can expect that Jesus in His humanity grew physically, mentally, and emotionally weary. I don’t know about you but my best naps are Sunday between services. By the time I get home I’m worn out. So for Jesus, couple the demands placed on Him with Him being in a region largely made up of desert, and then remember it was the hottest time of the day, we can surely understand why He’s weary. So here is Jesus, weary, sitting down by Jacob’s well in Sychar.

Before this passage even begins really we have something to learn from this. Jesus, who will soon present Himself to be the source of living water, here, is sitting beside a well of water with massive historical significance. Two wells are present here, one physical and one spiritual, one temporary and one eternal, one lesser and one greater.[2] Jacob’s well, great as it is, pales in comparison to the Well of Living Water. The scene is now set, and from meeting the Well of Living water who is sitting by Jacob’s well will change everything for one Samaritan woman.

A Thirsty Savior (4:7-9)

One of the reasons the gospel of John is so rich is because John shows Jesus encountering all kinds of people from all walks of life.[3] We’ve just seen a large exchange between Jesus and an upright ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus in chapter 3. Here in chapter 4 we see Jesus having another large exchange but this time it’s with a Samaritan woman. In v7 we’re introduced to her. We don’t know her name and we don’t know much about her, though some have speculated. What we do know is that she probably lived a very promiscuous life being that v18 reveals how many husbands she’s had, and we know she’s a Samaritan.

Now, the roots of the Samaritan people go back all the way to King David. When David conquered the city of Jerusalem he made it the capital of Israel. It was in Jerusalem that Solomon built the temple and it was Jerusalem that functioned as the centerpiece of the religious life of the Jewish people. But when Solomon’s Israel was split into two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north, the northern Israelites built the city of Samaria and made it their capital city. Later when Assyria came and conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC it captured Samaria. Many Jews were deported and many foreigners moved in. With this mix of people came mixed marriages, mixed religious practices, and mixed everything really. The Samaritans then built had a new place of worship at Mt. Gerizim and rejected anything that had to do with Jerusalem. Which led them to reject all of the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) except the first five books of Moses. Because of this practice, an animosity was born between the Samaritans and the Jews, so much so that by the time the 1st century comes around the Jews who were traveling north out of Jerusalem to Galilee would intentionally go around Samaria to avoid it at all costs.[4] Yet Jesus, didn’t go around Samaria. He went straight into it, sat down at Jacob’s well, and sent His disciples to get lunch in town in v8.

Normally, the women of the town would’ve come to draw water for the needs of the day early in the morning or late in the evening when it was cooler, and they would’ve come as a group to avoid any scoundrels lingering around ready to cause trouble. That this woman comes to the well alone in the heat of the day tells us much about her. She doesn’t belong with the respectable people of Sychar, in fact, there are probably few insults she hasn’t heard from the rest of the local women.[5] Recall, Jesus is weary, He’s been gaining disciples, traveling in the heat of the day, He could’ve easily just leaned His head back and rested waiting for His disciples to return with lunch. But His ministry is a ministry for all peoples. So though weary, He begins speaking with her as she approaches the well in v7 saying, “Give Me a drink.” Yet again, notice that our Savior is thirsty. How ironic that the Fount of living water thirsts? He is not some auto-pilot Son of God, He is the God-Man who experiences the frailty of a true human nature. She answers in v9 in the surprised manner you’d think she’d answer in knowing all the historical racist baggage present between Jews and Samaritans. “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” This was unheard of in their day and there are many parallels similar to this in our day. The Jews and the Nazis, the Koreans and the Japanese, the Colombians and the Venezuelans, Martin Luther King Jr. and David Duke, or Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Who is it for you? Who do you refuse to take notice of? Who do you intentionally avoid in life? You have someone or a certain group of people in mind? This passage and Jesus’ example in it not only calls us to actively and continuously be breaking down these barriers, but to extend and share gospel grace with all peoples, even with those who’ve most offended us.

A Quenching Savior (4:10-12)

After expressing her racist confusion over Jesus asking her for a drink in v7, Jesus responds to her questions in v10 saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” IF YOU KNEW….are some of the most potent words in this text. If this woman knew who was asking her for a drink she wouldn’t go into the dreadful background between these two peoples, she would’ve asked Him for a drink. And He would’ve been glad and eager to give her not only water, but living water. This phrase ‘living water’ in v10 is used many times throughout the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 2:13 God is called “…the Fountain of living waters.” In Psalm 36:8 God says He gives “drink from the waters of His delight.” Psalm 42 likens the suffering believers longing for God to a deer panting for water. And who could forget Isaiah 55:1-2, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and He who has no money, come buy and eat!” So the ‘gift of God’ in the beginning of v10 that Jesus speaks of is nothing other than the ‘living water’ spoken of in the end of v10. This gift of living water quenches the souls of those who drink it. This is what Jesus is extending to her. But it would seem from her response in v11 that she isn’t quite gleaning all the meaning Jesus is speaking of. “The well is deep, how can you draw if you don’t have a bucket?” Perhaps she got a bit of it when she says, “Where do you get this living water? Are you greater then our father Jacob? He gave us this well.” If you only knew…the One who is asking for a drink is the One who, in Genesis 31:42, is called “the Fear of Jacob.” He is the One who wrestled with prideful Jacob and turned him into humbled Israel in Genesis 32. He is none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

If you knew…if you knew…moves me to ask…do you know? Do you know who this is asking for a drink? Do you know the ‘Fountain of living waters?” If you knew, think of the revolutionary changes that would take place in your life. Think of how deeply you would study the gospel, think of how greatly you would feel toward the gospel, think of how mercilessly you would fight your besetting sins, think of how gladly you would come to worship in praise of the gospel, think of how urgently you would seek to spread the gospel, think of how happily you would spend time in prayer, think of how joyfully you would suffer, and think of how eagerly you would anticipate the life to come with this Fountain of living waters!

I fear some of you think knowing God like this is only how a pastor or an elder knows God. Do not believe it. To enjoy God like this, to deeply study, to greatly feel, to mercilessly fight sin, to gladly worship, to urgently spread, to happily pray, to joyfully suffer, and to eagerly anticipate glory…to do these things is to know God! So again I ask, do you know God like this? I pray you would. If this is strange to you, don’t just push this aside…your eternity depends on knowing God as truly soul quenching.

A Satisfying and Sustaining Savior (4:13-15)

We’ve seen a weary Savior, a thirsty Savior, and a quenching Savior. Now let’s see how this passage continues on by showing us a satisfying and sustaining Savior.

Again, after expressing her muddled confusion in v11-12 concerning Jesus’ words in v10, Jesus answers in v13-14, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 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.” In other words, drinking from Jacob’s well will satisfy for a time, drinking from Jesus Himself will satisfy and sustain for all time. Comparing Jacob’s well with Himself, Jesus answers a resounding ‘YES!’ to the question she asked back in v12, “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Here in v14 the living water of Christ is said to be a water that springs or leaps up within the heart. “The water I give him will become in him…in him…an ever flowing spring welling up to eternal life.” This water is so alive, so dynamic, so powerful that it nourishes the soul for all eternity.[6] Jesus isn’t saying that a literal spring of living water will well up and forever flow inside of us, no, He is speaking of the spiritual reality that is present in those who know Him. A reality He continues to describe throughout His ministry. Later in John, 7:37-38 Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

A fascinating thing to learn is that this Greek word translated here as “welling up” in English is predominantly used to refer to living things.[7] So what’s in view here is not just a complete and permanent satisfaction from an inanimate divine spring Christ puts within us. No, this imagery of living water flowing as a river and welling up within us into a spring that ever satisfies and ever sustains is a metaphor meant to point us to the what life of the Holy Spirit is like inside the soul of man. The glory and gift of the Holy Spirit residing in us is that He not only began our Christian experience in conversion, He sanctifies us, He illumines the Scripture to us, He nourishes us, He gives us gifts for the Church, He ripens His fruit in us, and He keeps us until the end.

I know the phrase ‘Spirit filled’ has a lot of varied meaning depending on who is using it these days, but see here in John 4:14 an entirely biblical and refreshing take on what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God. The ministry of the Spirit inside the soul of man looks and feels like a river, ever rushing and ever flowing within us, producing God’s strength, revealing God’s beauty, creating God’s joy, giving God’s power, deeply satisfying us, and graciously sustaining us to live a life that’s pleasing to God. This ever flowing river will continue to well up within us without stopping until we enter into eternal life and then it will flow on into eternity forever and ever. This is a marvelous gift that is not to be neglected within us. This has even more meaning in our passage as well, because we’re about to come up on one of Jesus’ most well known statements on worship in 4:24 where He says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.” Taking all of this together, the living and vibrant ministry of the Holy Spirit inside us that feels like a mighty flowing river, is meant to induce, enliven, and sustain an eternal worship of God, in us.

Let me illustrate this with a historical example.[8] On July 10, 1509 John Calvin was born in Noyon, France. To give you context, in July of 1509 Martin Luther was already 25 and had just begun teaching the Bible in Wittenberg, Germany. We know very little from Calvin’s early life, except of his deep admiration of his father. When he was 14 his father sent him to Paris to study theology. Five years later Calvin’s father had a mishap with the church, which prompted him to urge Calvin to quit studying theology and devote his life to studying the noble profession of law. So off Calvin went to study law at Orleans. Upon his father’s death in 1531, Calvin (then 21) felt the freedom to return to the study of theology. And having returned to theology Calvin faced, grappled with, and came to embrace the protestant reformation wholeheartedly. It gripped him deeply to his core and changed him forever. It gripped him so much that when persecution broke out against the new reformed Christians in Paris Calvin left all he ever knew and fled the city, ultimately landing in Geneva Switzerland to pastor the local church.

Pause and ask…how did this nice young man, bent to honor his father and study law, return to theology, and so devote his life to Christ and His gospel that he was willing to leave everything he ever knew, flee the city he had grown up in, and pastor during a hard time in history? Calvin himself will answer this very question later saying that that when he began studying the reformation it seemed to be a “…doctrine…not leading us away from a Christian profession, but one which brought it back to its fountain…to its original purity. Offended by the novelty, I lent an unwilling ear, and at first, I confess, strenuously and passionately resisted to believe that I had all my life long been in ignorance and error…but…at length I perceived my error, as if light had broken upon me…I made it my first business to betake myself to the ways of God.”[9] So what changed Calvin? What was the light that broken upon him? It was none other than the mighty river of the Spirit of God that awakened him from the dead, to taste and see the divine reality and beauty of God in the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners revealed in the Scripture, and once He saw it, he was changed forever by it! Again I ask – is this how you know God? Seeing, savoring, enjoying, and satisfying? Knowing God like this does not make you a pastor or elder or missionary, it makes you a Christian! If you knew…O’ that you would know!

Conclusion:

The Samaritan woman, perhaps still not knowing the full meaning behind Jesus’ words, speaks again in v15. Her words in v15 portray something of the way you and I should respond to all this “Give me this water.”

This is a living water we can know, ever full and ever clear from the Fount that overflows. When we drink it we will find this joy that’s ever full will ever rise.[10]

Church, may you drink deeply of this living water, and honor this ever flowing fountain by being refreshed by it and going on in its strength.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew to John, page 724.

[2] Brian Simmons, John: Eternal Love, page 22.

[3] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 56.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, TICNT, page 255-256. Also see 1) Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 56, and 2) R. Kent Hughes, John – That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 105-106.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John – That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 109-110.

[6] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 59.

[7] Brian Simmons, John: Eternal Love, page 22.

[8] This story from Calvin’s life is recorded many places, the one I’m quoting from here is in John Piper, Peculiar Glory, page 182-183.

[9] Ibid., page 183.

[10] These are lyrics to the song by Gray Havens entitled Far Kingdom.

John 3:31-36 – 4 Reasons Jesus Must Increase

 

Those of you who are members of SonRise have already heard this before, but for those of you who are newer to SonRise let me briefly explain what we’re seeking to accomplish in the preaching portion of the service. Typically during the preaching portion of our Sunday morning gatherings we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which means we’re committed to preaching the Bible. We believe there is a large difference between using the Bible in preaching and preaching the Bible. Using the Bible in preaching is when the preacher first thinks up his own ideas that he thinks will benefit the church and then second uses the Bible to justify those ideas. Preaching the Bible, what we aim to do, is different. We first seek to see what God has already said, and then second we come to this pulpit with those very words God has already said in a passage of Scripture. We don’t seek to do this randomly but orderly, as we work through books of the Bible sequentially, so that when we come to specific passages week after week we come to them in their own context, having already examined the verses that come before the current passage as well as anticipating the verses that come after. Or to put it another way, we seek to sit underneath the illumination of the Scripture, rather than using the Scripture to support our own message. This is our goal, we don’t do it perfectly, but we aim to be faithful handlers of God’s Word.[1]

We are currently in a sermon series walking through the gospel of John, so go ahead and open your Bibles to John 3. If you do not have a Bible you can understand we have one for you in the back, if you’ve already picked one of those Bibles up you’ll find John 3 on page 518. Our passage within John 3 for today is 3:31-36. I’ll read it, I’ll pray, and then we’ll get to it. John 3:31-36……let’s pray.

Once again we face the difficulty of knowing who is speaking. Recall that earlier in John 3:1-21 we had difficulty knowing whether it was the apostle John who was giving his reflection on the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus in v16-21 or Jesus Himself speaking there. Here, for the second time now in John 3, we have a similar scenario. Is v31-36 the continued response of John the Baptist to his disciples? Or are these verses the apostle John’s reflection on the Baptist’s response to his disciples? I’m inclined to believe that v31-36 is the apostle John once again giving his reflections on what has just taken place, but I’m also inclined to believe that regardless who you believe is speaking here, be it John the apostle or John the Baptist, the meaning of this passage stays the same. So let’s dig in shall we?

Last Sunday we lingered over the context of John the Baptist’s famous words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What follows this famous saying in v31-36 are four more reasons that prove why Jesus ought to increase and why John the Baptist along with everyone else ought to decrease. 

Reason #1: The Heavenly Origin of Christ’s Person (3:31)

A contrast is displayed for us in this verse between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus is One who is from heaven and above all while John the Baptist is one who is from earth, belongs to the earth, and speaks in an earthly way. This contrast clarifies to us and convinces us of not only the difference between Jesus and John the Baptist but the difference between Jesus and every man that has ever lived. There are two kinds of people in the world: common man and the Christ, sinners and the Savior, mankind and the Messiah. We are depraved, He is divine. We are created, He is Creator. We are rebellious, He is resplendent. We are earthly, He is heavenly. Jesus has no equal. The disciples of the Baptist who remained with the Baptist might have missed this point.[2] Perhaps that’s why they were still following the Baptist and not following Jesus. Perhaps they thought the Baptist was the real Messiah. Here in this verse they, and we centuries later, are reminded that though a man may be a great teacher and gain a large following all men are ‘of the earth’, speaking things ‘of the earth’, and belonging ‘to the earth’ while Jesus is above all. Because of Jesus’ heavenly origin, He must increase and everyone else must decrease.

Reason #2: The Truthful Certainty of Christ’s Unique Testimony (3:32-34a)

In v32 we see that Jesus doesn’t teach theory, He doesn’t teach a mere hypothesis, He doesn’t teach what someone else revealed to Him.[3] No, Jesus teaches what He knows. “He bears witness to what He has seen and heard…” means Jesus, being the eternal Son of God now become true Man, has for all eternity been with the Father, communing the Father, and knowing the Father’s nature and sovereign plans for all of history. And it is all that He has seen and heard from the Father that He now bears witness to in His earthly ministry. For ages, God had revealed His Word to His people by His prophets. When Jesus comes we do not see another prophet continuing in the long line of prophets, we see the end of the line. When Jesus comes we do not see God’s Word revealed to another teacher, we see God’s very Word come to teach. John Piper helpfully describes this is his book Peculiar Glory saying, “The point here is that…a people who for centuries have been accustomed to be governed by a written revelation of God…are now confronted with the divine author of that very book, present in human form, teaching with absolute authority.”[4] Lesson? The testimony and teaching of Christ is both true and certain as well as utterly unique.

Though this is the case v32 also tells us that in general man isn’t concerned with His testimony, man isn’t interested in His testimony, and that man does not accept His testimony. This is indeed a sad state of affairs because the testimony of Christ declares the power of God into the plight of mankind. It’s both what we need most and what we seem to hate the most. It’s similar to last years Super Bowl. The beloved Atlanta Falcons were leading with a only few minutes left, and all they needed to do was run the ball. Run the ball, get tackled, run the ball, get tackled, run the ball, get tackled, kick a field goal, and win! But they very thing they needed to do the most, they didn’t do. And as sports almanacs for years to come will show, they blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. It was such a blunder that folks around Atlanta began using a new verb. Anytime anyone blew a lead or did something extremely foolish it was said that they ‘Atlanta’d’ it. Similarly, that mankind rejects the very message meant to save, reveals not only the folly of our hearts apart from grace. It reveals that, by and large, mankind has ‘Atlanta’d’ the gospel.

v33 gives another illustration when it brings up the seal. In ages long ago, seals were used to denote authority, to convey a guarantee, or to display ownership. Seals like these were put on letters, stamps, and on flags so often that even those who couldn’t read recognized the seals of great and powerful leaders. It is in this sense v33 speaks.[5] Whoever receives (or whoever has received) the testimony of Christ sets his seal to this, that God is true. So, when we receive the testimony of Christ we are doing far more than meets the eye. We are simultaneously acknowledging the heavenly origin of Jesus’s teaching, acknowledging that we are who He says we are, that Jesus is who He says He is, and acknowledging that God is truthful and truly holds the authority He says He does. At the moment of belief God’s truthfulness is driven home to our hearts, we submit to Him, He receives the honor and glory He is due, and we conclude exactly what v34a says, “For He whom God has sent utters the words of God…”

So while the lost world hears the words of Jesus and hears nothing but foolishness, all the saints past, present, and future hear the words of Jesus and hear God’s very word to them. Because of the certainty and truthfulness of Christ’s testimony His testimony must increase, and ours must decrease.

Reason #3: The Spirit-filled Loving Bond of Christ’s Authority (3:34b-35)

The next reason we’re given that Jesus should increase is a Trinitarian reason. In v34b-35 we read “…for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” In order to understand the giving of the Holy Spirit by the Father to the Son, think about how God gives the Spirit to us. The Spirit awakens our dead hearts, grants us the ability to repent and to believe, and we’re converted. Once converted the Spirit takes up residence within us, begins sanctifying us, and gives us certain gifts to be used within the Church that we’re to fan into flame with the help of the Church. These gifts vary: prophecy, teaching, exhortation, generosity, mercy, administration, serving, singing, and hospitality among many others. What we see then within the Church is the same Spirit giving different gifts to all of us with the intention of all us employing these gifts in the service of one another.

But when it comes to God giving His Son the Spirit without measure, we see something entirely different. Jesus was not given certain gifts of the Spirit in some measure. No, when v34 says God gave the Spirit without measure we’re meant to understand that God gave His Son all the gifts of the Spirit in full measure.[6] Thus the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus fully, equipping Him with all that was necessary to do the work He came to do.

There’s more Trinitarian glory to see here. Just as Jesus has the full measure of the Spirit, so too, Jesus has the full measure of the Father’s love and because of this great love the Father had for Him, He gave all things into His hand. Remember how Jesus begins the Great Commission? “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me…” (Matthew 28:18b) Who gave Him that authority? His Father did. Where do we see that? Here in v35. Thus, the Spirit-filled loving bond between the Father and the Son leads to the Son having all authority over all things. And our response to One who has all authority over all things is not increase, but decrease.

Reason #4: The Urgent Demand of Christ’s Gospel (3:36)

Now the moment has come. The apostle John has laid out for us a wonderful and monumental chapter here in John 3, and it ends, not only with another reason for us to decrease, it ends with a summary call of the gospel message. v36, “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.” Notice how it doesn’t say “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not believe the Son shall not see life…” No, it says obey. This means the way we obey God is to believe in Jesus. What do we believe in? We believe in His heavenly Person, we believe in His truthful, certain, and unique testimony, and we believe in His Spirit-filled, loving authority over all things. When we disobey this final call to believe in Jesus v36 says we do not see life, we only see the wrath of God that is already on us. But when we obey this final call to believe we receive life. And as John 10:10 says, we find such life abundant.

Conclusion:

The latest edition of the Tabletalk devotional (that we have for you out in the foyer) begins like this: “If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have likely heard a sermon on Peter’s walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) that included this point: as long as Peter kept His eyes on Jesus, he was alright. Only when he took his eyes off the Lord did he start to sink. This is a great lesson to learn for us as individual Christians, but is it not also a lesson to learn together as a church? When the church loses its focus on the Person and Work of Christ we quickly fall into darkness. Christianity is all about Christ, who He is and what He has done. Thus, if we make the focus of the church anything else we ultimately end up with no Christianity at all.”[7]

I have no doubt that most all of you would immediately agree with these things, but I wonder if this sermon has brought out something ugly in you. I wonder if you’ve been patiently sitting through this sermon about the reasons Jesus must increase wondering when this sermon was going to be about you and no longer about Jesus. If that’s you, let me remind you – the theology of v30 drives v31-36 and must drive our entire soul. “He must increase, I must decrease” must impact everything we do, even everything we do here at church, including the preaching. So before a sermon is ever about us, it must be about God. About His greatness, His glory, His Son, and His Spirit.

And ironically enough, this is precisely where you and I come into this sermon. I think many of us have a kind of Christianity that appears to be about Christ, but is really about us. Many of us say we want Jesus to increase but we desire some glory too. Many of us say we’re sinners, but we hide our sin because we want the affirmation of others. Many of us say earnestly want to know God, but we quickly abandon personal devotion for public appearance. Many of us would say we want Jesus to be everything, but we also want to be something.

Church, “…we were made for greater, our greatest satisfaction is making His name famous. So if we’re never named among the greatest, if they don’t critically acclaim us, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we gave it up for the Savior.”[8]

His Person is heavenly. His testimony is certain, true, and unique. His loving authority is Spirit-filled, His gospel saves all who obey the command to believe. He must increase, we must decrease.

 

 

Citations:

[1] The Response Church in San Diego (Acts 29) begins every sermon with a description very similar to this.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 243-244.

[3] Ibid., page 244-245.

[4] John Piper, Peculiar Glory, page 56.

[5] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 245-246.

[6] Johannes Oecolampadius, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 117.

[7] May 2017 TableTalk Devotional, Why We Are Reformed, page 32. Italicized emphasis/change mine.

[8] Lecrae, Chase That, Rehab: The Overdose, 2011.

John 3:22-30 – Decrease, the Character of the Kingdom

 

One of the casualties of our fast paced technological advancements is the disappearance of board games. Now that we’ve got children old enough to enjoy them we find ourselves playing them more often…and one of the ones I enjoy playing is Monopoly. I played the game growing up but was never really that good at it and didn’t understand how to play, but I get it now. Land should be bought, buildings should be built, rent should be rising and getting harder and harder for the others players to pay. Until one by one, you buy out the other players. The game pushes you to ‘increase’ as much you can, wherever you can. Increase is the name of the game. Perhaps this is why we enjoy this game so much, because we live in a culture where the name of the game is increase. Increase that, upgrade those, look like you can afford it even if you can’t. The subtle promise of the American dream is that once we have that next item, we will have finally arrived. But we all know this is a lie, and that no one ever ‘arrives.’ So we’re caught in an escalating circle ever pressing us to increase…until we die.

Our passage this morning challenges such notions. It shows us that decrease not increase, is character of the kingdom as well as the pathway to true joy in Jesus. So without further ado, I’ll read our text, I’ll pray, and then by God’s grace and God’s Spirit, we’ll hear a sermon that will move us to become Christ-like and less bent to chase the American Dream.

3 points to see today.

a) The Text in Context

I want to remind you of John 21:25 again, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” We need to pay attention to this verse because Jesus did a lot of things, and John chose not to fit them all into his gospel. This means note that John is being really selective about what gets in and what doesn’t. So, why did John include our passage in his gospel, and more so, why did John put this scene directly after the conversation with Nicodemus?

The beginning of the answer is to recall John the Baptist’s role in redemptive history. It was to point to Christ. Think about this: in Old Testament we find prophets leading the people of God by giving them His Word, only to have silence from God for 400 years after Malachi because the people didn’t want to hear from God. Hundreds of years passed – and then enters John. This is no doubt, a monumental role he has been given by God. His words were the first fresh words from God in four centuries. And the reason God gives John these words was to prepare the way for the Lord. I think this is why our passage directly follows the evening meeting with Nicodemus. The apostle John wants to show us that the way we respond to Jesus Christ is the way John the Baptist responds, not the way Nicodemus responds. Nicodemus hears Jesus say that you must be born again by the free will of the Sovereign Spirit of God and is confused. John the Baptist knows that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease, and he is thrilled.

b) The Envy of Competition (3:22-26)

In 3:22-24 the scene changes to the Judean countryside where Jesus and His disciples are baptizing. v23 reveals that John the Baptist and his disciples were also baptizing in the same general area. Two men with their disciples baptizing very close to one another. Apparently a certain Jew came to over to the disciples of the Baptist and stirred up some controversy about purification. The text doesn’t give us much info about what caused this controversy, what the content of it was, or who this Jew was. Perhaps the discussion was about John’s baptism? Perhaps it was about the baptism being done by Jesus’ disciples? Perhaps they were discussing which one was better, and therefore who one should be baptized by? Perhaps the Baptist’s disciples didn’t know what Jesus was doing until this Jew made them aware of it.[1] I think this unnamed Jew came strolling into a crowd of the Baptist’s disciples saying, “Is John’s baptism not enough? Does John’s baptism not work? Why is Jesus now doing it too? A ton of people are leaving John to go to Jesus to be baptized, why are you still staying with the Baptist?” Whatever this stirring was about it’s clear that it prompted the disciples of the Baptist to tell their teacher about it. So they go up to John the Baptist in 3:26, probably feeling a bit threatened[2], and asked him, “Rabbi, He who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, He is baptizing, and all are going to Him.”

Before we get to John the Baptist’s famous answer, let’s examine their question. I hear anger or some kind of disillusionment in their statement. ‘John! ALL the people are leaving us to go to Jesus, what’s up with that? Why is He taking all of your people away from you? He shouldn’t be doing that! He’s stealing our people!’ The Baptist’s disciples obviously think it is highly inconsiderate for Jesus to take away so many people from John’s ministry to His own after John had so faithfully been the witness to Him he was supposed to be. I think the word ‘all’ is an exaggeration and shows the true feelings of the Baptist’s disciples.[3] ‘John! ALL your people are leaving you!’ Clearly they’re unhappy, envious, displeased at their present lack of numbers, and viewing the ministry of the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus in competition.[4] I think it goes deeper though. What we see in the Baptist’s disciples is a very human reaction when we feel a threat. But their reaction reveals that they seem to be more attached to the Baptist than the Baptist’s teaching. And because of their lofty position of John the Baptist, they are unwilling to rejoice when others go to Jesus, which as we’ve seen, is the precise reason John came to bear witness in the first place.

Don’t be too quick to pass judgment on them though, we do this too don’t we? We live in an age where there are many celebrity pastors and we get attached to these pastoral personalities very quickly. When this happens we eagerly accept and adopt everything these teachers without examining it to see if it’s biblical, and when this happens, we too are following the person more than their teaching. Kent Hughes has a good word for us here. “No matter who we are, no matter how much success we are having, sooner or later our lives or our ministries will be eclipsed. The most successful, competent, or famous will one day be asked to take a lesser role, and we need to know how to react at such a time.”[5] Church, if the Lord tarries, and doesn’t return during the time I’m your pastor here at SonRise, you know what my job is? To prepare you for the next guy.[6] Even though I as pastor hold a prominent position in this congregation, you must not have too high an opinion of me. Seek to attach yourself to the message, not the person. A true minister labors so that the congregation would follow, not the minister, but Jesus. And I mean that. If God is at work at SonRise we’ll see disciples of Jesus Christ, not disciples of Adam, or Chad, or Dave. Garrett Kell on The Gospel Coalition blog said it great this week, “You can’t want to be used for God’s glory while wanting other people to know it.” [7]For those of you who desire to do vocational ministry one day, take heed, do not to give the monopoly-like tide of increase room in your heart to grow. If you do you’ll view other churches primarily as competition, not as allies to win the city.

These are good things to think about because we ought to be more attached to Jesus than a particular personality, pastor, or ministry. If the disciples of John the Baptist had been attached to and truly following the teaching of their leader, do you see that they wouldn’t be with their leader anymore – they would be leaving to go to Jesus along with everyone else! See here a ministry that shrinks by doing what God intends for it to do. We have much to learn from this Church. Ministry is not measured by numbers, ministry is not measured by the personality in the pulpit, ministry is not measured by fruitfulness or breadth it has in the city. No, ministry is measured by faithfulness. So you see, John the Baptist’s job (a pastor’s job, an elder’s job) is to preach, and teach, and live in such a manner that his congregation glorifies God and not him for doing so![8] This is exactly what John the Baptist’s ministry was about – he was not trying to draw a huge numbers for the sake of being famous, he was faithfully proclaiming the One greater than He and pleading with his own followers to leave his side and go to Jesus.

John the Baptist here gives us a model to follow as Christians. He wasn’t out to spread his own brand, or build his own platform. No, he was a nobody seeking to tell everybody about Somebody.[9] And by doing so he found one of the secrets of true joy.

c) The Joy of Decrease (3:27-30)

Now, to John’s famous response. His disciples had brought him a bad report, a complaint, and John rising above his own ego answers them with a good report by pointing them to Jesus.

The first thing John the Baptist responds with is a shocking statement in v27 saying that a person has a thing at his disposal only if and God wants them to have it. This is both about Jesus and about himself. It’s about Jesus in that Jesus’ ministry is increasing because God wants it to, and it’s about the Baptist in that his ministry is decreasing because God wants it to. John the Baptist is saying that Jesus is receiving people and he is losing people according to God’s plan. In other words, nobody would be going to Jesus if God weren’t giving them to Jesus. John was to be the voice crying of Someone greater than himself and when that One came who was greater than himself, John was to fade away into the background – and that’s what happens. We don’t hear from John the Baptist again in this gospel. In fact, we know from Matthew that in a short time John’s head would be on a platter because of the wish of a dancing girl. So just as the luster of the evening star is lost in the glow of the morning sun, so too Jesus is outshining John, and this is how God wants it to be.

In v28 John continues by saying that this has been the content of his teaching the whole time. ‘Haven’t you been paying attention guys? I’m not it, I’m not the focal point of history, I’m only the forerunner. God wanted my ministry to exist at the same time of Jesus’ ministry so that I could be the pointer I was created to be! If you’d paid attention to my teaching, you wouldn’t be with me anymore! Jesus and I don’t have rival ministries. I exist to make much of Him, Jesus does not exist to make much of me! You yourselves are witnesses of this.”

To illustrate this truth for his followers John begins talking about a wedding in v29. John likens Jesus to the bridegroom, himself as the friend of the bridegroom, and those whom they’re ministering to as the bride.[10] John is saying that he is not the groom, he’s the best man. The best man isn’t supposed to get the bride on the wedding day (or at least, he’s not supposed to!) Think of the role of the best man. It’s was a bit different in their day than ours. I’ve been a best man a few times so far and I honestly didn’t do that much except stand up there and hold the ring. In their day, the best man didn’t just stand up there with the groom, he planned the wedding, and more importantly he gave the bride to the groom by putting her hand into the hand of the groom.[11] Once that happened, the best man was to fade away. John is saying that he is Jesus’ best man, and that it is now time for him to fade away.

Do you notice how John also says here that he rejoices when he hears the bridegroom’s voice? Think about this phrase. What has John the Baptist identified himself as in all four gospels? The voice who prepares the way for the King. John the Baptist was the voice for the groom, calling all to flock to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. When he finally hears the voice of the groom, everything in the core of his being screams out, ‘He is here! The true Voice has come!’ He leapt in the womb and he is still leaping now! Jesus even speaks about His voice later in John 10:27 when He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” We see the power of His voice in John 11:43 when he, standing before the stinking cave of the dead Lazarus, shouts, “Lazarus, come forth!” So you see the true Voice has come. Far be it from any minister or ministry of the gospel to use his own voice to draw people away from the true voice to themselves.

There’s one more thing in v29 to notice. At the end of the verse the Baptist soars in exultation saying, “This joy of mine has been made full!” John, by fading into the background of history, watching Jesus get the glory for the work he’s done makes his joy full? He labors for a lifetime, and Jesus gets all the glory – YES! To John, there is nothing better than watching the groom receive His bride, this completes his joy. This is a strange way to be happy. This strange joy of the Baptist flows perfectly into 3:30 where he says some of the most famous words that ever came off his lips. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What does this mean? When Jesus increases and becomes greater in the world, and John decreases and becomes less in the world, John’s joy increases because the glory of Jesus increases! John is infinitely happy that his own glory is fading while the glory of Jesus is rising!

This is exactly what we’re meant to see here in this text today: the joy of decrease. I long to have a heart like John here in v30, and I long for you to have it too! To have this joyful decrease we must fight for it because we live in a world that abounds with an abundance of avenues for personal increase through which most people say something like this, ‘Look at me! Look at who I am! Aren’t I so interesting! Don’t you want to follow what I do, know who I am, and read what I write?’ This text moves us to ask – why do you use these avenues for personal increase? Is it to make much of ourselves? I hope not, because if we have them to make much of ourselves, or have them to create a community that will praise us, we are killing our joy that God offers us in loving His glory more than our own!

Now, what does this kind of joyful decrease look like? I think it looks like doing all we can to show this world that we treasure Jesus more than what we’ve got and who we are. v27 said that we have what we have because God wants us to have it and v30 is John’s famous call to a humble decreasing joy. When you pair v27 and v30 ask these questions: Why did God give me a wife or husband? Why did God give me a gpa? Why did God give me clothes, a car, a dog, kids, a house, money, flip flops, a ministry, a job, etc.? The answer from v27 is clear – we have these things because God wants us to have them. But there’s more. The answer from v30 fills out the picture – we have all these things to make much of God and not ourselves. See your family, money, singleness, marriage, talents, and time were given to you by God to show the world that there is something better than family, money, singleness, marriage, talents, time! What’s better? JESUS is better! This is what was driving John, and this must drive us!

You know, I used to think the American Dream was just that, American. I have since changed my view and now believe it to be a worldwide epidemic. One my friends used to be a missionary in China and I’ll never forget one the emails he sent me. “Pray for the people here, they are generally uninterested with our good news. Ask that Father draw them, and make them hungry for Him. They are miserable without Him as can be seen in their constant pursuit of money, yet lack of happiness. We are asking that they would be taken from darkness into light, as we were, and shown the real reason they were created, filling the whole earth with His glory!”

Amen?

Church, don’t believe the lie of increase, may you hear and heed the biblical call of decrease and find new levels of growing joy in the gospel of Christ-crucified for sinners for years to come.

 

 

Citations:

[1] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel Of John, page 94.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 93.

[3] Ibid, page 94.

[4] See study note on John 3:25-26, John MacArthur Study Bible, page 1582.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 94.

[6] I heard Mark Dever say this at a conference, though at the moment I can’t remember which one it was.

[7] Garrett Kell, Stop Photobombing Jesus, TGC blog – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/stop-photobombing-jesus, accessed on 4.29.17

[8] I’ve heard John Piper say this numerous times in his preaching, usually after quoting 1 Peter 4:11.

[9] This is Mark Driscoll’s tagline, it used to be all over his material and social media accounts, I’m not sure if he still uses it.

[10] Due to the many Old Testament references to Israel being the bride of Yahweh, John the Baptist may be hinting at a very true fact, Jesus is true King of Israel.

[11] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 97.

John 3:17-21 – The Passage No One Knows

On Easter Sunday last week we looked at John 3:16, a passage that everyone knows. This week we continue on in John 3 coming to the verses directly after, John 3:17-21, which ironically is a passage no one knows. As you can see, while John 3:16 speaks of the grace and mercy of God in giving Jesus to save those who believe, John 3:17-21 speaks of the judgment of Jesus. Perhaps this is why these verses are largely unknown to many, and perhaps it reveals an error in us – that we’re very eager and willing to accept the grace and mercy of God but very unwilling to accept the wrath and justice of God. This is normal among the unbelieving world but rejecting the wrath and justice of God must not happen within the Church. When we come to God and when we come to His Word, we come on His terms not on our own. We must not treat Christianity as if it were a kind of take what you like and leave the rest behind, supermarket kind of religion. God is who He is, God is who He has revealed Himself to be – the opinion of man doesn’t change who He is. With this said, let’s see what the judgment of Jesus is all about here in John 3:17-21.

Salvation Not Condemnation (3:17)

Remember the context here. Jesus has already given a detailed explanation of the nature of the new birth, drawn a metaphorical parallel in earthly wind, even illustrated what it looks like to be born again using the incident in Numbers 21 with the fiery snakes and the bronze serpent. After giving us the famous summary statement in v16, John continues to expand on this thought in v17-21. We know he’s expanding on v16 because he starts v17 with the same phrase he used in v16 ‘For God…’ which means what he’s about to tell us is an implication of v16. What then is the implication taught in v17? John tells us clearly that mankind is like the bitten Israelites needing rescue and that God sent Jesus into the world as the greater bronze serpent to save people who’ve been poisoned by the venom of sin.[1] Jesus, therefore, came into the world for the express purpose of saving, not condemning. As in v16, v17 also leads to us witness the great love of God in sending Jesus to do this. How so? The word ‘world’ is mentioned three times, which is meant to remind us that Jesus wasn’t sent into a world that was neutral to God, He was sent into a fallen world already condemned and hostile to God with the purpose of saving those who believe. He came to save, not to condemn, or judge. This does not teach that Jesus will never condemn or judge men, not at all. We know Jesus will judge the world one day. He will come like a thief in the night and will bring all to judgment at His second coming…but not yet. Here in His first coming, He came to save, not to condemn.

Condemnation Not Salvation (3:18)

The beginning of v18 is a restatement of v17, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned…” while the rest of the verse shows us an alarming reality, “…but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” As with v17, what we learn in v18 is clear as well. Yes, salvation truly comes to those who believe. Faith truly saves, and the only thing that condemns is unbelief.[2] But, those who reject the free offer of the gospel, those who refuse to repent from sin, those who do not believe in the name of Jesus Christ are what? Condemned already. Here in v18 the word ‘believe’ is repeated three times. This reveals the main point being spoken of. Yes, Jesus has been sent by God into this world to die for men and in such an act of redemption we truly behold the wondrous love of God. But no one is saved by this loving act of redemption unless they believe. We therefore see a result of God sending His Son into the world. It’s as if Jesus is a fork in the road. Upon approaching Him and facing Him every person in the world either turns toward God or turns away from God. Because of this all people are now in one of two categories: those who believe and are already saved, and those who do not believe and are already condemned.[3]

v18 is one of the many places in John’s gospel where we must take caution. If we are prone to be the kind of person who goes along the tide of our time, this verse will likely cause us to shrink back in disgust because divine judgment, condemnation, and hell have no place in our modern belief systems. It is said that we can believe in anything we want to and act in any way we so desire so long as those beliefs do not make anyone else uncomfortable. See the truth of John 3:18 – our decisions, actions, and behaviors we live by today not only impact and govern who we will be tomorrow but will determine where we will be for eternity. Jesus does not shrink back in His teaching. There is a real place called hell, which is full of real people, who face a continual onslaught of real horror. Just as one who dismisses the Mona Lisa as a load of rubbish doesn’t tell us anything about the Mona Lisa but tells us much about himself, the one who dismisses Jesus Christ doesn’t pass judgment on Jesus, but passes judgment on himself. If such a person remains in their unbelief until the end, God will confirm that judgment by casting them into hell forever.[4]

We should not only take caution here, let’s pause real quick.

I get it. I do. I know believing in v18 might put you in awkward places with people these days, I get it. I also get it that most of you in this room would profess to believe in the reality of hell with your mouth. But…while we say we believe in hell with our mouths, I fear we live as if hell didn’t exist and everyone was going to heaven because of how little we share the gospel with our unbelieving neighbors.[5] v18 isn’t merely describing the doctrine of hell, it’s describing actual people who actually lived their lives around you and me. I get that sharing the gospel is hard, but in view of v18 aren’t you willing to endure some hard stuff in your life to get the gospel out there? Aren’t you willing to be thought less of, to be belittled, mocked, ridiculed, maybe even hurt, or possibly lose our lives for the cause of this gospel? If we’re not willing to live like this we’re not living the kind of Christianity the Bible gives us. The old hymn says it well, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness in the sea. God forbid, that Your mercy stop with me.”

So we’ve seen how Jesus was sent by God to save the world. We’ve seen how some reject Him and condemn themselves. Now, let’s turn to v19-20 to see the dark realities that lead people to reject Jesus.

Dark Realities (3:19-20)

If you asked someone about the state of man in the 21st century, what do you think they would say? Surely the answers to such a question would be broad and numerous, but I do think most of the answers would sound something like this, ‘Human beings do have some faults, we see some of the consequences of this in various wars and injustices present in our world, but by and large we are mostly good in nature and want to do good for others.’ When it comes down to it, when asked about himself man loves to proclaim his own goodness, this is true across the board. Even the vilest of offenders point to others who are worse than they are. While this opinion of mankind is very common outside the Church among unbelieving circles, it never ceases to amaze me that this opinion is easily found inside the Church as well because of how clear the Bible speaks to this.

In v19-20 John gives his answer to the state of man, not just for his own time, but for all time. “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world (‘the light’ here is a reference to Jesus who has already been identified in 1:4-5 as the light of life and who will later be identified in John 8:12 as the Light of the world), and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John’s view of man, the Bible’s view of man, God’s view of man does not follow suit with man’s lofty estimation of himself. John proposes the exact opposite by stating three dark realities about mankind in v19-20.

First, in John’s own words, man rejects the light that has come into the world for a reason, and that reason is, at its core, an issue of love. Mankind rejects the light because we love something else more. What do we love more? Darkness. Man prefers, desires, fancies, and longs and yearns for darkness. Do you see here more of why our own actions condemn us? If given an option, apart from the saving and transforming grace of God lost man will, 10 out of 10 times, choose darkness over light, wickedness over righteousness, disobedience over obedience… ultimately this is a choice of Satan over Jesus Christ. Dark Reality #1: We Love Darkness.

Second, not only does John say we love the darkness, he adds that we hate the light. This hatred that is the sad and natural consequence of loving the darkness. The more we long for and live in darkness the more we’ll love the darkness. And the more we love the darkness the more we’ll hate the light. It’s as if our hearts become nocturnal creatures unable to survive in the light but able to thrive in darkness. Dark Reality #2: We Hate the Light

Third, why do we hate the light and love the darkness? John tells us its because our works our evil. So John’s argument in v19 is that we love the darkness and hate the light because our works are evil. In v20 he unfolds this a bit more saying, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” You see, in the light there’s something you can’t do at all with any measure of success, but in the darkness that very same thing is quick, constant, and simple – hiding. If we lived in the light our evil deeds would be exposed for all to see and everyone would know exactly who we are. If we’re honest, full exposure is man’s worst fear. We know this is true, one of the most common nightmares people have is being naked in a public place. We have and maintain various social media profiles where we present ourselves to the world, not as we truly appear, but as we want to appear before the world. One crazy fact I ran into this week is that 50% of adults are hiding something from someone they love in their underwear drawer.

We fear being exposed, and I think everyone knows why. We fear being exposed because we believe we’ll be rejected if people really knew who we were. If they really knew you, what you’re into, what you struggle with, what you can’t quit doing, no one would be your friends and no one would even allow you into the church building. So when Sunday morning or evening come around we shape up, try to look like our social media version of ourselves, and walk into church pretending everything is ok with other people who are doing the exact same thing. Martin Luther described it like this, “If my sins were announced to the world, what now is only known in my heart, the world would surely hang me. The world honors me, but if it knew who I really am, everyone would spit on me. I would deserve to be decapitated.”[6]

So who is man? According to the apostle John, we are darkness loving, light hating people who fear being known for who and what we really are. Like a sick person who slips into greater and greater sickness by believing themselves to be well and refusing treatment, we become more and more blind and cold to the blazing light of Christ by believing ourselves to be well and refusing the treatment of Christ, the Great Physician.[7]

That v17 has happened in a v19-20 world, is staggeringly gracious of God is it not?!

Bright Realities (3:21)

Thankfully, v21 begins with that hopeful word, “But…” which tells us that even though most of mankind can be summarized by the dark realities of v19-20, not everyone fits that description. Some people are summarized by the bright realities of the gospel. v21, “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 is not teaching salvation by works or by nature.[8] In v21 he is speaking of one who is true in contrast to those who are false and phony in v19-20. This true individual shows his true nature, or truthful nature, by the works he does in his life. Works that aren’t the root of salvation, but works that are the fruit of salvation. Remember we’re in John 3, where John speaks of the new birth and man’s inability to raise himself to new life by who he is or what he does. So when we see the person in v21 who is true and does what is true by coming to the light rather than loving the darkness and hating the light – we can conclude that the reason this person is true, the reason this person does what is true, and the reason this person walks into the light with no fear of exposure is because God has awoken their hearts by the power of the Spirit through the gospel of His Son.

Simply put, v19-20 describe those who are not born again while v21 describes the one who is, and the difference between the two is made clear in their life.

Conclusion:

So Church, see a distinction being made. Those who are false, those who reject the gospel, fear coming to the light lest they be exposed for the frauds they really are. Those who are true, those who embrace the gospel by faith, come to the light (come to Jesus, gather with His Church) so that their new nature is put on display for the world to see. We do not believe works save us, no sir. We believe we’re saved by faith alone, but Church – do you see that faith is never alone? Once we’re saved by faith and the Christian life begins, that faith begins going public through good works. These works are proof to the watching world that you are no longer living in darkness, but have come to the light of life.

 

This passage is calling you to do good works, and it doesn’t do so by saying “Do this, do that!” or “Try harder, do better!” No, it calls you like this, “Remember who you are. God has saved you, God has brought you to the light, live as children of light!”

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 46.

[2] Johannes Brenz, John, Reformation Commentary, page 106.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 233.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 91.

[5] David Platt, YouTube: David Platt on Universalism, Rob Bell, Love Wins, Heaven and Hell, accessed 4.19.17.

[6] Martin Luther, John, Reformation Commentary, page 107.

[7] Johannes Brenz, John, Reformation Commentary, page 107.

[8] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 233-235.

Easter Sermon – John 3:16 – The Passage Everyone Knows

Those of you who are members of SonRise have already heard and seen this before, but for those of you who are newer to SonRise (or if it’s your first time here) let me briefly explain what we’re seeking to accomplish in this preaching portion of the service. In our preaching we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which just means we’re committed to preaching the Bible. We do believe there is a drastic difference between simply using the Bible in preaching and preaching the Bible. Using the Bible in preaching is when the preacher initially brainstorms and thinks up his own ideas that he thinks will benefit the church then secondly brings those ideas to the Bible to give them a biblical justification. Preaching the Bible, what we aim to do, is different. We initially seek to come to the Bible to see what God’s ideas are for us His people and then secondly we come to this pulpit with a passage of Scripture to be explained and applied for the congregation. We don’t seek to do this randomly but orderly, as we work through books of the Bible. So when we come to specific passages week after week we come to them in their own context, having already examined the verses that come before as well as anticipating the verses that come after.

This is our goal, we don’t do it perfectly, but we aim to be faithful handlers of God’s Word. We are currently in the beginnings of a sermon series walking through the gospel of John, so go ahead and open your Bibles to John 3. If you do not have a Bible you can understand we have one for you in the back, and if you’ve already picked one of those Bibles up you’ll find John 3 on page 518. Our passage within John 3 for today is one that you’ve all probably never heard before, John 3:16. We’ll read it, we’ll pray, and then we’ll get to it.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Pray with me…

In 1917 pastor and hymn writer Frederick Lehman wrote the following words, “The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell, it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell; the guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win, His erring child He reconciled and pardoned from his sin…Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”[1]

These words describe the beauty and wonder of the boundless and wonderful love of God. This love is revealed to us all over the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see a holy God in love choosing, pursuing, rescuing, changing, and keeping sinful men and women for the glory of His name. There are literally 1,000 places we could go to in Scripture to see this love revealed to us in manifold splendor, but there is one place which rises above all others. John 3:16 is the most famous, the most well known, as well as the most prized verse in the whole Bible. This verse is literally everywhere: from Tim Tebow’s eye black to the lips of every evangelist, from countless posters at sporting events to innumerable bumper stickers, from the pulpits of churches around the world the millions of Christians in those churches, John 3:16 is without a doubt a massive source of comfort and security. But while this is without a doubt the most well known verse of all the Bible, I also think it is also without a doubt one of the most misunderstood and distorted verses in all of the Bible. I believe this to be true because one can know John 3:16 without really knowing what it teaches. Everyone loves it’s big, grand, and universal scope, but no one gives a thought to how particular the verse is. So let’s dig in shall we?

I am going to walk through the verse slowly, grappling with 6 points today:

1) “For…”

This first word of the verse isn’t a throwaway word for it connects John 3:16 to the larger context of John 3. So in order to know what John 3:16 means we must see it in the context it comes to us. In John 3:1-15 we witness the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus where Jesus unfolds the details of what He calls the new birth and what it means to be born again. It was difficult for Nicodemus to hear and embrace these things, he was confused and a bit appalled at what Jesus had to say, even after Jesus used earthly imagery to explain what He meant Nicodemus still doesn’t get it. Jesus then in v14-15 draws a parallel between His own Person and Work with the bronze serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness in Numbers 21. Then seemingly in order to drive that point home, we then have John 3:16 being the very next verse and the ‘for’ means that v16 is a continuation and implication of v14-15. But pause and ask, who said v16? Most red letter Bibles use red in John 3:3, v5-8, and v10-21, leading us to believe the famous words of John 3:16 were given to us from the lips of Jesus Himself. But, I differ in opinion here, and think that the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus ended at v15, which would mean John 3:16 is where the apostle John’s reflection on this meeting begins.[2] And the first thing John has to say about this meeting has become the most famous verse in the entire Bible. This opening word, “For…” answers a question we have. What does this evening meeting’s dialogue ultimately mean? “For…” is the indication to us that the apostle John is about to tell us.

2) “For God…”

So John 3:16 is not only meant to be read and understood in the context of v1-15, but that the very next word is ‘God’ tells us that John 3:16 is first and foremost about God. Before this verse is ever about you or me this verse is about God. It tells us who He is, what He is like, and what He has done. “For God…” reminds us that there is a God who exists, that this world and we ourselves are not a cosmic accident or a result of chance, and that this God is not a distant God, but a God who is near to the creation and the creatures He has made. Many deny God’s existence saying He is a figment of our imagination similar to the tooth fairy, and just as we all grew up and out of our childish belief in the tooth fairy we must also grow up and out of our childish belief about God. I tell you today that God is not a mere symbol that mankind created and attaches meaning to. God is not a divine fairy tale character. God is not a figment of our imagination. What does John 3:16 say? The reality of John 3:16 is that before any of us existed, and before this world existed God was! The wonder of John 3:16 is that this God, who was and is fully sufficient, independent, lacking nothing, out of sheer grace created this world and every human on it so that we would glorify Him by enjoying Him forever. John 3:16 is rightly and surely a verse loaded with good news, but the first piece of good news John 3:16 gives us is this: “God is, and He has not remained silent.”[3] What then did God do toward this world He made?

3) “For God so loved the world…”

Just like a full size crunch bar gets better and better with each bite, so too, the glory and beauty of John 3:16 gets better and better with each phrase. We have seen that there is a God – holy, just, independent, gracious, and fully sufficient. We have seen that this God isn’t aloof from the world He made. We now see here that this God who made the world has a certain disposition toward this world, toward us, He loves. “For God so loved the world…” Two things are important to see here:

a) How we interpret the word ‘so’ is incredibly important to how we interpret this verse. For example most of us, being native English speakers, interpret the word ‘so’ to carry a meaning of intensity as when a husband says to his wife ‘I love you sooo much.’ This is a legitimate use of the word ‘so’ in English but this notion of intensity is not in view in the original Greek word here. Rather than intensity, the Greek meaning of the word ‘so’ is one of ‘manner’ which makes John 3:16 say something like, “For God loved the world in this manner…” or “For God loved the world like this…”

b) How we interpret the word ‘world’ is also incredibly important. John’s use of the Greek word ‘cosmos’ which means ‘world’ is an all-encompassing word that includes the entire created order. It’s not so much referring to individual people, but referring to all God has made. God, therefore has a loving disposition toward all He has made. Knowing this should then lead to us being surprised because this world is a fallen world. We believe that when our first parents Adam and Eve bit the fruit they plunged mankind into death, and the entire created order fell from its original position. Thus, ever since Genesis 3 this world has been a fallen world, filled with a humanity that is hostile to God, unwilling to submit to God, and rebellious to God. Yet, in spite of this continual rebellion and hostility God what? He loved this world? John 3:16 says so. That God would love a world like this, filled with sinful people like us, does not communicate our own value or worth – no – it communicates the greatness of His love that is characteristic of who He is.

But this poses a new question: how did God love the world?

4) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”

How did God love the world? He loved the world that He gave to it. So God isn’t merely a God of who is characterized by love, but this love moved Him to give. What did He give? He gave that which was most dear to Himself, His one, unique, and only Son.[4] Now comes the larger question: why did He give His Son? Think of it like this. If you don’t like me, you could probably hide around the church until everyone left, pop out as I’m locking up and punch me in the face. There probably wouldn’t be very serious consequences to doing that, you probably could just leave like normal, go home and have lunch while I’m lying on the floor knocked out. Now contrast punching me in the face with trying to punch President Trump in the face. It is highly likely the moment you tried to get close enough to do so that a secret service member will take his gun out and shoot you. Why? He’s the President, there are very serious consequences/penalties to trying to harm him. But why is there a difference in punishment between harming President Trump and harming me? Because the nature of punishment is measured by who the crime is committed against.

Now come back to John 3:16. Remember, we have sinned against the highest One there is, God. And because we sinned against God who is the cosmic King of all, even the smallest of sins against Him is cosmic treason. Why then did God in love give His Son? To to live the perfect life we never could have lived and die the death we deserved to die. So Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was given by God live for us, die for us, and wonder of wonders…the very thing we’re celebrating today…rise for us.

5) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him…”

Wrongly, many assume John 3:16 says something like “For God so loved the world that God sent His only Son to save everyone.” The word ‘whoever’ truly is universal in its scope, but do you see how the verse places a condition on how to gain the benefits of Christ’s work? ‘Whoever…believes.’ The great and loving work of God through Christ is not doled out to everyone in general. No, it only applies to those who believe, those who trust, those who come to Christ clinging to Him as we would cling to a parachute while skydiving. This is none other than the ‘way of salvation.’ God doesn’t say He gave His Son to whoever obeys His commandments, or that He gave His Son to whoever does not sin, or that He gave His Son to whoever does not struggle with doubt or despair. No, He gave His Son to whoever believes. Charles Spurgeon once said it like this, “Faith, however slender, saves the soul.”[5]

I wonder, what are you believing in today? What are you trusting in? What are you clinging to? Perhaps some of you know the facts of the gospel, you may even believe that those facts are true, but you’re not believing in them one bit to save your soul. No, the life you’re now living is a life of unstable hopes and you’re looking to many other things in this world to give you stability and rescue from the evils you feel within your own fallen and sinful heart. If that’s you be challenged, hoping in the world or in other people will leave you distressed, only hoping in Christ will bring you rest. Or perhaps you’re discouraged and feel that you’re too weak or despairing to grab ahold of Christ by faith, that the pit you’ve fallen into is far too deep to get out of, so deep that the sun itself doesn’t even shine where you exist day by day. Be encouraged, for the smallest faith receives the same strong Christ as the strongest faith in the world.[6] Whether you’re barely entering your teens, in the middle of life, or gaining more and more of a grey head – ‘whoever believes’ is a call from God that has no limit!

And finally we’ve come to it:

6) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

See here a contrast God intends us to see. The end of unbelief is the beginning of eternal suffering in hell, while the end of belief is the beginning of pleasure forevermore in heaven. This is not just a matter for the future. For all hard-hearted sinners who reject the Son of God will be hardened even more in this life, while all hard-hearted sinners who embrace the Son of God are softened and experience the spiritual blessings and benefits of the New Covenant Christ came to begin even now.

Conclusion:

John 3:16, the great love of God to unlovable sinners. The righteous work of Christ for the unrighteous. The bright call of the gospel to those who sit in darkness. Have you ever wondered why we can trust what Jesus said and did throughout His ministry as good, true, and beautiful? How do we know it isn’t all made up? We can trust these things for one reason, the very reason we gather together for worship this morning, the resurrection.

After preaching the gospel to an audience in Athens, Paul says in Acts 17:30-31, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

 

 

 

Citations:

[1] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 89.

[2] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 44. See also Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 228.

[3] See Francis Shaeffer, He is There and He Is Not Silent, Tyndale House, 1972.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 230.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, Immeasurable Love, sermon delivered on 1850 in the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

[6] Jared Wilson, There is No Faith So Little That it is Not Saving, For the Church Blog, accessed 4/13/17.

The New Birth, Part 2 – John 3:9-15

“I was years and years upon the brink of hell – I mean in my own feeling. I was unhappy, I was desponding, I was despairing. I dreamed of hell. My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost.”

These are the words the older Charles Spurgeon used to describe his early years. Because of this inward turmoil he decided to go to church on a snowy January morning in 1850. On his way the snowstorm picked up and trying to avoid the wind the young Spurgeon darted down a side street and quickly entered a small Methodist chapel. He walked in and sat down. The snowstorm had apparently held the pastor at home that morning, so one of the elders stepped into the pulpit and read Isaiah 45:22, “Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” In looking back on this moment Spurgeon said, “He had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, and there was nothing needed-by me, at any rate except his text. Then stopping, he looked and pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery…[1]

We’ll pick this up again at the end the sermon.

For now, turn to John 3:9-15 where we’ll linger today. A few weeks ago we began John 3 and witnessed the beginning of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. In these first 8 verses Nicodemus is told about the new birth, the blindness and inability of natural man to see and enter the Kingdom of God, and he is confused. Echoing his previous question in v4, in v9 he asks Jesus again, “How can these things be?” To which Jesus abruptly answers, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Recall Nicodemus was no simpleton. He was a Pharisee, even more, a member of the governing body called the Sanhedrin. This means he was a Jew among Jews, a scholar among scholars, a theologian among theologians. That Jesus refers to him as ‘the teacher of Israel’ shows us that Nicodemus probably held a teaching position among this elite group. So, of all people Jesus implies that he ought to know that man cannot come to God in his own strength. Even if being born again was new to him, he shouldn’t have greeted it with such bewilderment.[2]

Jesus continues in v11-13, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Here Jesus tells Nicodemus of the reliability of His message and of the reliability of Himself. In v11 Jesus ‘we speak’ and ‘we know’ and ‘we have seen’ and ‘our testimony’ to indicate that not only Jesus and John the Baptist are united in their message but that Jesus and His disciples are united as well. Perhaps Jesus used the word ‘we’ because some of His disciples were even present at this evening meeting, but we don’t know that for sure.[3] In v12 Jesus reminds Nicodemus that He’s used earthly imagery of birth and wind to explain these things but Nicodemus still didn’t understand Him. Than in v13 Jesus gives Nicodemus the ultimate reason why he should Jesus – only He has come down from heaven, therefore, only He can truly testify to heavenly realities. This would’ve challenged Nicodemus because he, along with the rest of the Sanhedrin, were known and respected among all Jews as the authorities in matters of divinity. Jesus levels the playing field here by elevating Himself above all other men. Only the One who ascended into and descended from heaven can speak of its glories with authority.

Then we come to the main point of v9-15 where Jesus speaks of a parallel between His Person and Work and the work of a fiery serpent in Numbers chapter 21. v14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

Out of all the things Jesus could have chosen to tell Nicodemus to help him understand what the Son of Man has done for men, He said this? Yes, and I think it was the perfect thing to tell Nicodemus for one reason; it met Nicodemus precisely where he was. Nicodemus would have already known this history about Moses and the serpent from his own childhood very well.[4] He would have immediately known what, when, and where this event occurred. He probably could have immediately recited the whole story back to Jesus then and there. But you see the mastery in Jesus’ choosing this story, because Nicodemus knew it well, he only have a short jump to make in order to understand what Jesus is saying about Himself being lifting up!

So, let’s go back to see what Jesus is saying here. Numbers 21:4-9 says, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

Because of their complaining, God sends fiery serpents into the camp, and many people were bitten and infected with the serpent’s deadly venom. These serpents were not called fiery because they were on fire, it’s because when they bit someone, their venom burned through their veins. The people went back to Moses, confess their guilt, and asked Moses to pray for them, He did and God told Moses to craft a serpent out of bronze and set it high on a pole for the people to see, so that those who look will be healed.

That’s it. That’s the whole account. God’s people sin, then God in punishment and wrath, sends the serpents to bite them. Then God in mercy; provides a way of escape by another serpent. And all they have to do to be healed is look at it. The serpent Moses made was the visible sign of an invisible healing for all who thought they were about to die. But you must imagine that not all of the bitten people could see the serpent Moses made. Even if Moses was carrying the serpent through the camp to make it more accessible, there were thousands and thousands of Israelites. So in order to get a look at the serpent, the Israelites had to get themselves into a position to see it. It’s easy to imagine that many bitten Israelites were so angry at God and so angry at Moses for bringing them into the wilderness that they didn’t even bother to go and look, despite the burning pain the venom caused. It’s a sad tale for these individuals, for they perished as God said they would. But for those who wanted to be healed, for those who believed they would be saved by looking at the serpent, they did all they could do to get a peak at it. Nothing would stop them from pushing their way through the crowd, running as fast as their failing health would allow, mustering up all the might they had just to gaze in faith at this serpent on a pole and be saved from certain death.

Perhaps now we can understand what Jesus is up to in this conversation with Nicodemus. Even though Nicodemus knew this story, he didn’t know that it spoke of things greater than itself. He didn’t know the story points forward into the fullness of time when God would again save His people. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” When the Israelites looked to the serpent for rescue and healing from the serpent’s venom, we get a shadowy picture of what Jesus came to earth to accomplish for His Bride. Just as the serpent was lifted up, and the people looked to it for healing and new life, so too, if anyone looks to Jesus, the Son of Man, in faith when He is lifted up on the cross, he will be saved, he will be rescued from the venom of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and he will be granted everlasting life!

The irony is thick, for just as Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent and plunged into death, so too now, we must look to the one who is lifted up like Moses’ serpent to be saved from that very plunge into death.[5] For on the cross Jesus would drink the venom and suffer and feel the sting of death for all who would one day believe in Him.[6] Jesus told Nicodemus then, and Jesus is telling you now that He, in the place of the snake, is the source of the healing and rescue from the poison of sin and the wrath of God. The Israelites were bitten from a serpent and saved by another serpent, so too, we fell to spiritual death in the first Adam, but can be made alive again by the Last Adam Jesus Christ! The poisoned Israelites only had to look to be saved, so too we, who are poisoned from sin, only need to look to Jesus to be saved. As they had to believe Moses and believe this deadly venom would kill them, we must believe Jesus and believe that we have a sinful nature to be saved from! All they had to do was look and be saved then, all you have to do today is look and be saved today.

But I am saddened, as some thought it was foolish to look at a serpent for healing back then, trusting in their own wisdom over God’s, so too I fear that many of those we know and love, perhaps some of you here today, think it is foolish to look to a man on a cross for salvation today. In the eye of natural fallen man this cross is merely the death of a felon, a place of utter disgrace, a mere symbol that we have attached meaning to. “But to the eye of faith it was (and is) the supreme glory.”[7] You see, to those who’ve been healed by this fountain that washes us white as snow, the cross is not merely the apex of the Christ’s humiliation but the means of His exaltation as well.[8] This is what Phil. 2:6b-9a means when it says, “…though He was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him…” At the cross Jesus was lifted high bearing our shame, but from the cross and flowing out of the cross is an exaltation that the redeemed will glory in for all eternity.

So Nicodemus has the answer to his question in v9, “How can these things be?” As the Israelites felt as if they had been born again after being healed from the fiery serpent’s venom, so too the greater new birth happens, we can see and enter the Kingdom of God only through faith in the saving work of Christ on the cross.[9]

Conclusion:

Now let’s return to young Spurgeon to see the rest of the story, “Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” In looking back on this moment Spurgeon said, “He had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, and there was nothing needed-by me, at any rate except his text. Then stopping, he looked and pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery and he said ‘That young man there looks very miserable…young man…lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it’s just, ‘Look.’ A man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth thousands a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. Many of you are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some of you are miserable, and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you’ll be saved. Look to Jesus Christ. You have nothing to do but to look and live!”

Spurgeon fondly remarks of this moment in his autobiography saying, “I know not what else he said – I did not take much notice of it – I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word ‘Look!’ what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have looked my eyes away. Then and there the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun, and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before. ‘Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.’”[10]

Church, “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” You have nothing to do but look and live!

 

 

Citations:

[1] Mary Ann Jeffrey, Christian History ‘Spurgeon’s Conversion’, ChristianityToday.com, accessed on 4/7/17.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 221.

[3] F.F. Bruce mentions this may be why the apostle John uses similar language in his own epistle (see 1 John 1:3), The Gospel of John, page 86-87.

[4] Ibid, page 88.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 87.

[6] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 43-44.

[7] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 226.

[8] Ibid, page 226.

[9] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 88-89.

[10] David Burnette, Look and Live: Charles Spurgeon’s Conversion, radical.net, accessed on 4.9.17.

Mark 4 – Conversion

Thus far in our first Sunday of the month series through the 9marks of a healthy church we’ve covered expositional preaching, biblical doctrine, and the gospel. Today we turn to the 4th mark of a healthy church, a biblical understanding of conversion.

In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”[1]

Perhaps you feel even here in the introduction of this topic, the disdain our culture thinks of it? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.

When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul.

Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphuo, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’ In regards to the transformation of conversion two passages drive this home to us.

An Unveiling Glory – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants. To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.

Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So from this first passage we learn that conversion is a transformative moment, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.

Creating A New Creation – 2 Corinthians 5:14-19

“…we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Here Paul is laying out the ministry of reconciliation all believers have received from God. He died so that those who live would no longer selfishly live for themselves but for the glory of Christ who died and was raised for them in v14-15. Because Christ died that we would live for His glory Paul says he no longer regards those who believe in Christ according to flesh in v16. How then does Paul regard believers? v17 tells us, he regards us as what we truly are – new creations of God. The old has passed, the new has come. How did this happen? v18-19 tell us. All of this is from God, who sent His Son to reconcile us to Himself and then give us the ministry of reconciliation after His resurrection.

This is all good and well but where does the Holy Spirit come into this? Through the theme of creation. Back in Genesis 1 who was hovering over the waters? The Spirit. What then did God do to create all we see today? He spoke His Word by the power of His Spirit into the darkness and created all things. Paul uses this exact argument one chapter earlier to describe how God made new creations out of us at conversion. In 2 Cor. 4:6 he says, “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the meaning of 3:18 and 5:17 is that just as God accomplished creation through His Word and Spirit, so too, God accomplished our conversion by His Word and Spirit too, transforming us and making us new creations.

Conclusion:

Let’s end our time on this 4th mark of a healthy church by asking and answering five simple questions[2] about conversion:

1) Is Change Needed?

While the world tells us all day long that we’re just fine, that we’re ok, and that nothing about us needs to change in order to live a successful life – the Bible gives us a different picture. The Bible describes us as being “in debt, bankrupt, enslaved, and even dead.”[3] The Bible tells us that we’re not born ok, and that from birth we are hostile to God, unwilling to submit to God, and only want to do what displeases God. This isn’t good, and because we’re all born this way we need to change in order to become acceptable to God. In fact, we must change if we’re to come into God’s Kingdom. So, is change needed? Yes, change is needed.

2) Is Change Really Possible?

I’ve once heard it said, “Past performance predicts future behavior.” Do you believe that? I don’t. You know why? Because while many skeptically see true and lasting change as impossible and implausible, the Bible teaches us that anyone who turns away from sin and trusts in Christ for salvation will truly be changed. The gospel makes us new men and new women. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of this change God would one day do through the gospel when he says “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” So, is change really possible? Not only is it possible, it is promised for all who turn from sin and embrace the gospel.

3) What Change do we Need?

Many people recognize that they are not the kind of people they would like to be. Perhaps they’re too rude, perhaps they’re too timid, or perhaps they’re too selfish. Most people try and build habits into their lives so that over time they become the people they would like to be. The gospel isn’t like that. The gospel isn’t a way to become a better you, it’s a way to become a new you. It’s not about making a few changes here and there, it’s about completely renovating the house, foundation and all. You may be surprised to hear that the Bible teaches that you do not just decide to follow Jesus in order to come into God’s Kingdom. No, you must be converted, you must be born again to see God’s Kingdom. So, what change do we need? We need to be resurrected.

4) What Will this Change Involve?

Three things[4]: a) first, we must know the facts of the gospel. We must know it was God who made the good world we live in. We must know it was our sin that turned it bad. We must know God, who was under no obligation to do so, sent His own to seek and save the lost, and we must know what it is to respond to this message with repentance and faith. b) second, we must not only know these facts, we must believe them these facts are true. It’s one thing to know that water is wet, it’s an entirely other thing to walk outside in the rain with no umbrella. We must know the facts of the gospel, and believe they are true. c) thirdly and lastly, we must trust in the facts of the gospel. In other words, we must believe them to be so true that we turn from trusting in ourselves and what we think we can do to trusting in Christ and what He can actually do. So, what does this change involve? Knowing, believing, and trusting so deeply that we love the God we once hated, and hate the sin we once so dearly loved.

5) How Does this Great Change Happen?

Listen to how Peter answers this in 1 Peter 1:23, “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God…” Think about this. In every local church it’s a temptation to think that if we run the right programs, have the right kind of youth ministry, sing the right kind songs, or employ the right kinds of methods that we’ll become a larger and healthier church full of people eager for the message of the gospel. But if we shift to using manmade methods to grow a church the eventual outcome is clear and sad: the living and enduring Word of God will be “reduced in order to get people into church, and eventually our entire message will have to remain reduced in order to convince those people to stay in the church.”[5]

Since we know the power of God for salvation is in the Word, since we know the power to transform our dead and cold hearts is in the Word, and since we know the power to make us new creations is in the Word, everything we do as a church must be centered on and lashed to the Word. Because sinners like you and me are born again through the living and enduring Word of God we must seek to become creatures of the Word.

Yes, change is needed. Yes, change is possible. Yes, we must become new, not just better. Yes, we must know the gospel, believe the gospel, and bank on the gospel. And yes, all of these things, all of this great work of God inside the soul of man that we call conversion, is brought about by living and enduring Word of God.

So when it comes to the health of a local church, of our church, of any church, a biblical understanding of conversion is necessary because it will keep the Word of God, ever before the people of God.

 

Citations:

[1] David Wells, Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural, page 13, italics mark my own changes in wording.

[2] These five questions come from Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, page 104.

[3] Ibid, page 108.

[4] These three things are, theologically speaking, notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

[5] Pastor Tom Buck posted this on his twitter this past week.

The New Birth, Part 1 – John 3:1-8

 

Inside the classic Voyage of the Dawn Treader we find, what is in my opinion, the second greatest piece of Biblical imagery in the entire Narnian mythology. A young boy named Eustace becomes an ugly scaly dragon as a consequence for being selfish and stubborn. The reader feels somewhat happy this happens to him because he has been such a nuisance to the voyage. Eustace repentantly realizes his mistake and desperately wants to become a boy again, so he tries and tries to tear into and rip off his dragon skin. There’s just one problem, he can’t get his dragon skin off no matter how hard he tries. The deeper he tries to go into his dragon scales, the more pain he feels. After hours of self-determining effort on Eustace’s part, Aslan comes to his aid and leads him to a well to bathe in. But since he’s a dragon he cannot enter the well. Eustace realizes his skin must come off first. Eustace tries again to painfully tear through the layers of dragon skin and gets farther this time but still sees that he cannot do it on his own. To which Aslan says, “You’ll have to let me undress you.” Listen as I read how Eustace described the event.

 “I was so afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is fun to see it coming away…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft…then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I had no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me…with his paws…in new clothes.” Lewis then comments within his own story saying, “It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But…the cure had begun.”[1]

I begin with Lewis’ account of the undragoning of Eustace this morning because in our text we find Jesus introducing a similar but greater reality, the reality of being ‘born again.’ Follow along as I read our text for this morning, John 3:1-8.

 

Four items to note in these eight verses:

1) An Evening Meeting (v1-2)

2) The New Birth and Sight (v3-4)

3) The New Birth and the Spirit (v5-6)

4) The New Birth and the Wind (v7-8)

 

An Evening Meeting (v1-2)

In these opening verses we meet Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee which meant he was part of the most strict, severe, and rigid religious sects of his day. This isn’t our first run in with a Pharisee in John’s gospel, recall that earlier we ran into a group of messengers sent by the Pharisee’s in 1:24. John says Nicodemus was also a “ruler of the Jews” which means he was a member of the governing body over all Jewish people, the Sanhedrin. This is something similar a senator in our government today.[2] Being highly educated, a skilled theologian, a respected member of his community, a Jew among Jews, Nicodemus was no simpleton. v2 says he came at night to see Jesus. Many have speculated as to why he came at night but we really don’t know for sure. He could’ve wanted the other members of the Sanhedrin to be unaware of this meeting. He could’ve wanted to meet with Jesus at a time when He wouldn’t be busy. The darkness of the night could’ve even been descriptive of the darkness and blindness within his own heart. We don’t know why he came at night, and since John isn’t concerned with telling us we shouldn’t give ourselves to speculation.

Once he arrived he greets Jesus by respectfully calling him ‘Rabbi’ saying that a few of them (notice he says ‘we’ not ‘I’ in v2?) know that He is from God due to His signs and miracles. Even though John has only recorded one miracle from Jesus so far in his account, the water turned to wine at the Wedding in Cana, we learn from this that Jesus had done more miracles and from all these signs He had grabbed the attention of a few within the highest echelon of Jewish leadership. So could it be that here in John 3 we see these religious elites send one of their own to do some further investigation? Perhaps.

The New Birth and Sight (v3-4)

Jesus doesn’t respond with gratitude for Nicodemus’ respectful words, which opens up the possibility that they weren’t words of respect, maybe they were words of political posturing. Whatever kind of words they were, remember John 2:25. Jesus knows what’s in all men, so He knows what Nicodemus needs to hear so He says in v3, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus then, countless millions through history, and we today just learned that the new birth is absolutely necessary if we’re to see the Kingdom. Recall Jesus had come announcing the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Here with Nicodemus Jesus says only those who are born again, or born from above, will be able to see the Kingdom of God. So see something here Jesus is saying about natural man apart from the grace of God. In our lost condition we’re unable to see, we’re blind to the beauty of Christ. Unless the Spirit opens the eyes to see the glory of the gospel.

This phrase ‘born again’ in the original Greek is written in the aorist passive tense which means that being born again is a one time action completed in the past, and that those who experience being born again are entirely passive in the process. Meaning that it is something that happens to them, not something they of their own power produce. This parallels what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2. When God saved us and made us alive with Christ we were…what? Dead in our sins. And because we were dead we couldn’t do anything to save ourselves. So too in the new birth Jesus is saying that we are passive in it. God is the One who must open our eyes to see the His Kingdom. No man can do this on his own. Now it’s not wrong to think you had a part to play in your salvation, but let the truth of this text rearrange your opinion of the part you played in it. Yes you had a part, you did the sinning and God did the saving.[3] So see a truth that will put a song in your soul. Natural man cannot open his or her own eyes to see the Kingdom of God, and our eyes must be opened, we must be born again if we’re to see the Kingdom. If you’ve had your eyes opened by God, if you see the glory and grandeur of Jesus in the gospel you have been a recipient of the free and sovereign grace of God. Even though you were dead in sin He chased you down, and as the spring sun melts away cold winter snow, so too God’s grace has warmed and softened your stony heart.

Nicodemus is clearly struggling to understand this. He believes Jesus is speaking of something of a ‘gynecological miracle’[4] in v4 saying, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” This questions brings us to our third point today…

The New Birth and the Spirit (v5-6)

As Jesus cut straight to the chase in v3 right after Nicodemus’ opening words in v2, so Jesus does this again in v5-6 right after Nicodemus’ question in v4. He doesn’t respond to Nicodemus’ question, He simply continues to expand on the new birth saying in v5, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” I must say there is a difficulty with this text, not so much with the idea of being born by the Spirit – we know what that means, that it must be the Holy Spirit who regenerates or makes us alive, and Jesus will even expand on the Spirit’s work in the new birth again in v6-8. The difficulty comes when John says in order to enter the kingdom we must be born of water. Unless we’re born of water we’ll never enter the Kingdom of God. One option is that this is referring to baptism. Which would mean one must be baptized and made alive by the Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom. We must reject this right away though. Because baptism, though important, does not save and is not required for salvation. Think of the thief on the cross to whom Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” His entire Christian life was just a few moments, he never got baptized, and Jesus promised him that that very day He would be with Him in paradise. Baptism, being the sign of the covenant is incredibly important, but it does not save us and isn’t required for salvation.

What then does water mean here? I think water refers to the washing or purification of the Holy Spirit in the new birth.[5] So when John says we must be born of water and Spirit Jesus intends us to learn that in the new birth the Holy Spirit (as Ezekiel 36:25 says) sprinkles us clean and purifies us of all our stains and then implants His new life within us. The result of this action of the Spirit in us, is entrance into the Kingdom. I think Jesus uses language like this with Nicodemus because being he was a Pharisee and many of the Pharisee’s rejected and frowned on the baptism of John the Baptist, which was a ritual of purification similar to what Jesus is speaking of here in v5.[6]

Jesus continues saying in v6, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” Natural life produces natural life, but if there is to be spiritual life in us we must be born again. This was a lesson Nicodemus needed to hear. Most Jews of this time thought that because they were Abraham’s physical descendants they were guaranteed a place in the Kingdom of God. But physical descent does not produce spiritual life. Jesus’ Kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom and only those who’ve been made alive by the Spirit see that Kingdom and enter into it. This is a lesson we must be reminded of too. Is the Kingdom of God only for middle upper class white people? Is the Kingdom only for Americans? Is it only for those raised in a Christian home? Is it only for those who have been homeschooled or go to Christian schools and then onto Christian universities? No, social status, ethnicity, or education can’t bring you into the Kingdom. Only the Spirit of God brings you into the Kingdom. What is the Spirit’s work like?

The New Birth and the Wind (v7-8)

v7-8, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.”

Jesus uses an analogy to drive His point home to Nicodemus. In Greek He uses the word ‘pnuema’ which can be translated breath, wind, or spirit. Most translations opt for wind but really any of these three words work in this context. We know the meaning He’s getting at. We can feel the Spirit, sense the Spirit, know the Spirit even, but we cannot see Him, and we don’t understand how He enters our hearts. Just as we cannot know these things, so too natural man cannot truly understand those who are born of and walk in step with the Spirit.

I want to linger on this a moment and apply this. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he, being a natural man who has not yet experienced the grace of God the Holy Spirit making him alive, cannot truly understand those who are born of the Spirit. This means if you’re a Christian, you’ve experienced the new birth, and because the Spirit of God has cleansed you and made you new, your life should perplex the unbelievers you know. So ask yourself the questions, ‘Does my life look different than the world around me? Does it look like I value what they value? Am I thrilled about the same things as they? Is my marriage different than their marriages? Do I parent my kids the same way they parent theirs? Do I use my money, time, resources like they do?’ All these questions are helpful because they push one reality to the surface…the new birth changes everything. Which means, you cannot be born again and remain the same. The new birth gives you new values, new passions, new goals, new glories, new aspirations, and new desires which show the world around us that we are no longer what we once were. I wonder, would your life confuse Nicodemus? Or would he see you and completely understand what makes you tick?

Conclusion:

It is my hope and desire that for all of you, the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning for sinners is not a formal or external matter of Sunday morning religion, having no transformative power in you.[7] Perhaps you’re put off or embarrassed of claiming to be born again because of how negative the term is now thought of today. If this is you the message you need to hear today is clear – you must be born again.

If you have been born again, if you have been born from above, and felt the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit wash you and make new, the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and reigning contains a rich sweetness in it. You truly do see God as a fount which brings every blessing to you as we sang of earlier. If this is you the message you need to hear today is also clear – dive deeper into the great work the Holy Spirit has done to you, swim in the ocean of the new birth and watch in wonder as God continues to wash away your corruption and bring you to deeper and deeper levels of joy in the gospel.

 

 

Citations:

[1] C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Chronicles of Narnia, page 473-476.

[2] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 34.

[3] H.B. Charles Jr. tweeted this last week on his twitter account.

[4] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word commentary series, page 79.

[5] Others who believe this are: John Calvin (Commentary on John 3:5), Kaspar Von Schwenckfeld (Corpus Schwenkfeldianorum) These previous sources are found in John: Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 92-93. R.C. Sproul also holds and explains this view in John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 38-39.

[6] Leon Morris, John, NICNT, page 216.

[7] John Piper, Finally Alive, page 17-18.

Jesus: Making the Temple Great Again – John 2:12-25

As our pastor is out this Sunday with his family, one of our elders Chad Clark stepped into fill the pulpit as we continue on in our series through John’s gospel. We enjoy having a pastor to lead us most weeks, but we also enjoy having multiple elders who are also equipped and called by God to teach us God’s Word. May you be blessed by the exposition of God’s Word as you listen.

From Water, to Wine, to Glory – John 2:1-11

In 1857 a woman named Anne Cousin wrote a hymn called ‘The Sands of Time Are Sinking.’ Part of that hymn reads as follows:

“O Christ, He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love! The streams of earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above. There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land…O I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved’s mine! He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.” I stand upon His merit—I know no other stand, not even where glory dwelleth, in Immanuel’s land.”

These words describe the conversion experience with the imagery of bringing poor vile sinners into Christ’s house of wine where those sinners turned saints drink deeply of the delight found in Christ. Let me ask you: do you know the words of this hymn to be your own experience? Do you know what it is to drink deeply of the wine of Christ? Or do these words leave you feeling confused and perplexed about what they’re describing? Wherever you are in regard to this imagery, pray with me, that these words (and more so this text before us) would come alive to us today.

Follow along as I read John 2:1-11.

Three points to see today as we walk through this passage:

a) The Problem (v1-5)

b) The Solution (v6-10)

c) The Glory (v11) 

 

The Problem (v1-5)

Normally in our day when we talk about weddings we talk about things like the number of people in attendance, the decorations, the flowers, the music, the groom’s face, and of course last but not at all least…the beauty of the bride in her dress. But as we get into this passage we see right away that John is concerned about certain details of this wedding, and very un-concerned with other details of the wedding. He mentions there is a wedding in Cana, but mentions nothing about the bride and groom at all. Rather, he immediately begins talking about two people and a problem. The two people are Mary and Jesus, and the problem is that the wine has run out. Now, first century Jewish wedding customs are very different than our own. Wine back then was a symbol of means and hospitality, in that the groom was to provide enough refreshments for all the guests invited under penalty of law. Maybe more guests came than originally invited, maybe he couldn’t afford to provide enough for the guests, or maybe the guests drank more than he had planned for – so as v3 tells us, they ran out of wine. Which would have been enormously embarrassing to the groom and his family.

Notice that when the wine runs out, Mary, the mother of Jesus, tells Jesus in v3, “They have no wine.” I don’t think Mary is just giving Jesus a snid-bit of information here about what’s going on at the wedding. I think she is asking Jesus to step in and save the day by solving this problem for them, and thereby revealing who He is (the Son of God) to all in attendance. Let me show you why I think this. Up until this time Jesus had not performed a miracle, and Mary knew who her Son was. Mary remembered that before Jesus was born angels spoke to her saying He would be the Messiah. Mary remembered that she conceived Jesus while she was a virgin. Mary knew that the whole fabric of Jesus’ life stamped Him as different than every other human in history. She knew He was the long awaited Messiah, the Christ, who would save God’s people once and for all, and by telling Him the wine had ran out, she is asking Jesus to take action, reveal who He was, and begin His long-awaited Messianic ministry.

Jesus’ response to Mary further proves that she was asking Him to do this. Jesus replies in v4, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Now, I ought to make clear that it was a common practice as well as good manners in this culture to call older women and your own mother “woman.” This is similar to our usage of the word madam or ma’am in our culture.[1] So do not think it disrespectful for Jesus to call her this. After all Jesus called her ‘woman’ again when He was on the cross (John 19:26) and called the Samaritan at the well ‘woman’ as well (John 4:21). Rather than asking if this is disrespectful or not, ask another question. Why did He do it? Why turn down His mother’s request? I think Jesus wants to make it crystal clear that He has a supreme allegiance to His Father’s will above every other will, including His mother’s. Jesus’ reply shows that His mother’s desires for Him to reveal His glory in a very public manner is not pleasing to Him, it is not in line with what His Father wants. He follows His Father’s will over Mary’s will – always. The phrase “My hour has not yet come” shows us that there will come an hour when Jesus will reveal who He is in a public fashion that will leave no doubt as to His deity. Jesus knows this hour is coming, He knows the day will come when He must do this, but that time is not now. This is a gentle rebuke to Mary for wanting Him to do something before He intends to.[2]

That Jesus calls her “woman” shows us also that according to Jesus, Mary is similar to every other woman on the planet. Yes, she is the mother of Jesus, she is the one who carried Him, who nursed Him, who cared for, provided for, and raised Him. But now, Jesus denies her request. In Luke 11:27-28 there is a similar event. Jesus is teaching, and someone cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Jesus answered and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” You see the point Jesus is making there, and the point He is displaying here with His Mom? Mary is special for sure, blessed of course, but she does not have any special favor from God because of her family relation to Jesus. Mary does not have a special advantage over the rest of mankind, and in this text she is seen as a follower of Jesus, not family.[3] What should this teach us? No one physically attached to Jesus has any special grace from Jesus! Followers who come to Him and receive salvation from Him do so by faith, not by family lineage. So be encouraged here church, if you desire to come to Jesus, it doesn’t matter who your family is, what they’ve done whether it be good or bad. Anyone who comes by faith, who comes repenting and believing in Jesus enters in.

Mary responds to this in v5 with advice that we, and Christians throughout all time, should follow, “Do whatever He tells you.”

The Solution (v6-10)

The interesting thing about this miracle is both the quantity and the quality of the wine Jesus creates. John says that there were six stone water jars at the wedding being used for ritual purification, each being able to hold 20-30 gallons of water. That’s anywhere between 120-180 gallons of water. This is no small amount of liquid! After Jesus had commanded the servants to fill these jars with water, he told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the wedding feast. They did, and the master (being surprised) called the groom over and said in v10, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” After tasting the good wine the master of the feast was astonished that the groom had been so gracious, because the quality of this wine was so good.

So we’ve got quantity and quality here. 120-180 gallons of fine wine, created from the Son of God Himself. The question we should ask at this point is “Why?” After gently rebuking Mary, Jesus goes ahead and answers her request by turning the water into wine, revealing His deity and power to the servants, His disciples, and His mother. I thought He only obeyed the Father? I thought His time had not yet come? Well, it hasn’t, but Jesus goes ahead and performs this first miracle to let a small group of people know what’s to come. In the Old Testament both the prophet Amos speaks of the days when the Messiah will come and bring an abundance of wine with Him. Amos 9:13-14 says, “Behold, the days are coming…” declares the LORD “…when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”

An abundance of wine was thought of in Jewish thinking as a blessing of the age to come! A gift the Messiah would bring to indicate that He has brought the Kingdom of God with Him. So when Jesus replaces the water with fine wine, do you see what He’s doing? The jars of water were meant for Law-keeping and Jesus fills them with new wine. This shows us that the Old Testament law is being done away with, and that with the coming of Jesus comes a new age, a new rule, and a new kingdom. Let me illustrate: I know of a pastor who always eats a cookie before the rest of his meal during his church’s Wednesday evening dinner. He calls it his “eschatological cookie” and as he eats it he says to the congregation, “This is my eschatological cookie, a foretaste of the greater desert to come.” This is what I think Jesus is up to in this miracle.

So we deny the liberal position that Jesus used a kind of trickery here instead of actually performing a miracle. We also deny the hyper conservative position that’s embarrassed Jesus would make more instead of rebuking people for drinking wine in the first place. Both of these positions miss the point. Jesus didn’t perform this miracle, or any of His miracles to impress people or to show that the supernatural really did exist. He did all of them, and this one in Cana in particular, to show that He is the One who is bringing the blessings of the age to come into this world! Unlike the groom who failed to provide enough wine for his own wedding party, Jesus is the greater Bridegroom who provides abundantly for His own people. When all other wines run out, His wine never will! Through the free offer of the gospel, His ever-flowing wine is extended to undeserving sinners. Isaiah 55:1-2, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” So let me ask you: what wine are you drinking? Wine that makes you drunk with the lusts of the world? Or the best and most pure wine that Jesus, the perfect Bridegroom, gives to His Church?

If you do not receive this wine, the wine of the Kingdom, then you are like a person dying of thirst in the desert who comes across a beautiful oasis, only to eat a mouthful of sand thinking it will satisfy you. Stop eating sand, come to the wedding, come to Jesus, He is gushing with the wine of the age to come, and His wine will satisfy your souls!

The Glory (v11) – conclusion:

So we have seen the problem in v1-5, and the solution in v6-10, now we turn to v11 where we see the glory.

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” This verse has one thing to teach us, that’s it. Jesus revealed His power for a purpose, and the purpose was to reveal His glory. This should not surprise us at all because this is the theme of the entire Bible! God revealed His glory by creating the world – Psalm 19. God revealed His glory by creating mankind – Isaiah 43. God revealed His glory by creating and calling out the nation of Israel – Isaiah 49. God revealed His glory by rescuing Israel from Egypt – Psalm 106:7-8. God revealed His glory and showed His power by raising Pharaoh up against Moses – Exodus 14. God revealed His glory by leading Israel through the wilderness – Ezekiel 20.

God reveals His glory by causing our good works – Matthew 5:16. God reveals His glory by predestining a people for Himself – Ephesians 1:3-14. God reveals His glory by answering prayer – John 14:13. God reveals His glory by forgiving our sins – 1 John 2:12. God reveals His glory by receiving us into His fellowship – Romans 15:7. God reveals His glory by sending out His Spirit into our hearts – John 16:14. God reveals His glory by telling us to do all things to and for His glory – 1 Cor. 10:31. God reveals His glory by ordering all things for the sake of His glory – Romans 11:33-36. And most of all, the one event which God revealed His glory to the uttermost was when God revealed His glory through the death of His Son Jesus for sin on the cross – Romans 3:21-26, because through His Son Jesus many, many, many, people will glorify God for His mercy – Romans 15:8-9, and those many, many people will see the glory of God in the loving and tender face of Jesus Christ – 2 Cor. 4:6.

So you see, when Jesus used His power at that wedding in Cana, He did so purposefully – to show a small group of people His glory. And John included it here in his gospel – so you would see His glory, be stunned by it, cherish it, and enjoy it as the joy of all your joys, and the pleasure of all your pleasures!

Did you notice what happened when Jesus revealed His glory at the wedding? Look at the end of v11, “…And His disciples believed in Him.” When the glory of Christ is revealed, or when the glory of Christ goes public, faith in Christ is born! Most people think the “glory of God” is something abstract that they cannot get at or see with any clarity. This miracle teaches us that we don’t need to look to any other place to see the glory of God in this world – we only need to look to Jesus!

Once we believe in Him after seeing His glory we shall all one day be at a greater wedding ceremony, the wedding supper of the Lamb, where we shall drink the sweet wine of the kingdom for all eternity with the King Himself.[4]

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expository Commentary, page 20-21.

[2] Ibid, page 21.

[3] John Piper, Obedient Son, Ultimate Purifier, All-Providing Bridegroom, sermon from December 14, 2008, desiringgod.org.

[4] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 63-65.

Mark 3 – The Gospel

 

At the end of Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings there is a scene to behold. Far into the dark and evil land of Mordor a solemn and weary Samwise Gamgee looked up into the sky, saw the clouds part, and beheld a single star. Tolkien describes this moment like this, “Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”[1]

In the evil and fallenness of our own present existence we often feel a similar despair, and may be tempted to lose all hope. But like the single star that smote Sam’s heart with a beauty that revived his soul for the journey before him, so too, there is one thing that can smite our hearts with a fierce beauty and revive us again – the good news, or the gospel of, Jesus Christ.

“One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of His sweet grace and love…” says Jonathan Edwards “…will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given a whole year.”

Being that it is the first Sunday of the month we return today to our series going through the 9Marks of a healthy church. We’ve already covered the first two marks – expository preaching and biblical theology. Today we turn to the center of both of those marks, as we turn to the third mark of a healthy church – the gospel. To see the wonders of the gospel I want to take you to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where we see three things:

a) A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2), b) An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7), and c) An Application of the Gospel (v8-11)

Follow along as I read 1 Cor. 15:1-11

A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2)

Here at the end of a long letter to the Corinthians Paul begins chapter 15 (which contains his famous defense of the resurrection) by reminding them of the gospel he had once preached to them. He says they not only received it at first in the past, but that they continue in the present moment to stand fast in it and are being saved by it. So for these Corinthians, and really for all Christians, believing in the gospel is part of our past, something that we at one time did. Whether it was from our parents, friends, a book, a preacher or however we heard it, we heard the gospel, felt convinced of it’s truthfulness, repented of our sin, embraced it by faith, and experienced the power of God in salvation – this is a past memory for all Christians. But notice how Paul is speaking here: belief in the gospel is not just something involving our past, it’s also something that has an ongoing present and future importance to us.[2]

Yes our past is settled, but because of the gospel our present is secure and our future is certain. Thus, we can hold fast to Christ amid the troubles of this world knowing that Christ has been, is, and always will be holding fast to us.

Note the “if” as v2 ends? After all the glory of receiving, standing in, and continuing to be saved by the gospel, Paul says “if you continue to hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” There is a warning for us here, a call to examine how we first believed in Christ. We will only stand in and be saved by the gospel in the end if we received it correctly at the beginning, that is in true repentance and true faith. By this Paul means, if we cease to hold fast to the gospel in the present moment it is evidence that we, at first, believed in the gospel in vain. Or we can read this another other way – if we truly believed in the gospel at first, we will hold fast to it for all our days.

Perhaps an illustration will help. This past Christmas we got our boys a trampoline, and my father in law Walter and I had the joy of assembling it. We began, thought things we’re going well, and before we knew it we had reached the last step in the instructions. We we’re excited, we called the boys out to see it, and attempted to do this last step, and found that we couldn’t do it. Confused we walked backwards through the directions making sure we did everything we we’re supposed to and sure enough, you know what step we did wrong? Step 1. So back we went, did step 1 correctly, and were relieved as we the found the last step possible to complete. In a much larger way, if you find that you’re not holding fast to Christ in the present moment you may just find that you did step 1 with Christ wrongly. And if we find that we have begun wrong, the best way forward is to go back and began again. Well what is the gospel Paul is eager to remind them of?

b) An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7)

Let me read these words again, so they wash over you afresh. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind them that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.

Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.

Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church[3], and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us.

c) An Application of the Gospel (v8-11)

Commenting on v8-11 pastor Stephen Um says, “Paul speaks about the gospel as something he has experienced – something that ought to be having an effect on the Corinthian believers. It is not merely an idea or institutional religion. It is not even a way of looking at the world. It is historical news with ultimate personal impact.”[4] So let’s ask the question, what kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is a twofold impact in which self is dethroned and God in His grace takes center place. Some people, well intending, argue against the kind of self-deprecation in view in v8-11 and think of it as something unhealthy. But I want to plead with you this morning to embrace it and to begin cultivating a holy self-deprecation yourself.

Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is. This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new. So church, gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must be die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you.

Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace leads to a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone.

So naturally the question comes up, are you laboring for the kingdom in your day to day? More so, are you wearing yourself out in kingdom work? Are you showing other believers this life-giving message through serving them in the Church? Are you spreading this life-giving message through sharing it with the lost in the world? Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are already filled to the brim, but I fear our schedules betray us, revealing our hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.

I was reading this and I was thinking two things rising up within me: church, get grace and get to work! Not to earn favor from God but work from the favor of God already given in the gospel! You know what a grace fueled diligence leads to? Zeal without burnout.[5] This is the Christian life. A God-given, grace-fueled, and gospel-fed kingdom labor.

Conclusion:

So to wrap this up. I do wonder if on the surface of things you think talking to a group of Christians about what the gospel is is as unnecessary as explaining what a hammer is to a group of carpenters.[6] But as Paul was eager to remind these Corinthians of the gospel, I’m eager to remind you as well. A deep belief and embrace of the gospel and the kind of full life the gospel leads to is a mark of a healthy local church. Sure we gather together to sing of the gospel, to pray over and from the gospel, to hear preaching about the gospel, and to see the gospel in the sacraments, but has this gospel gotten into your soul? Has it reminded you of the propositions of good news? Has it dethroned self? Has it opened your eyes to a holy self-deprecation? Has gospel grace reoriented your schedules and filled them with kingdom work? I pray it has, and I pray it continues to do so.

As that small star high up in the sky smote Sam Gamgee’s heart with beauty, may the gospel, may this gospel, ever smite your heart with the beauty of God.

 

 

Citations:

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, quoted in Ray Ortlund’s The Gospel, page 55.

[2] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 259.

[3] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, page 296.

[4] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 261.

[5] Christopher Ash has a book about this that’s worth reading, Zeal Without Burnout.

[6] Greg Gilbert speaks of this in the opening pages of his small book, What is the Gospel?

The First Disciples – John 1:35-51

 

What are you seeking? Really, what are you seeking? You could’ve slept in today, you could’ve had a nice relaxing morning at home, you could’ve caught up with a friend over breakfast, you could’ve gone for a run, you could’ve done a million other things this morning. So, when it really comes down to it, why did you come to worship today? What are you seeking? I’m sure present among us here are a number of answers to this question. Some of you are here seeking relief from guilt over wrong done or good left undone, others of you are here seeking to show someone else how religious or devout you are, still others of you are here because you want God to give you something and by coming to church you think He’ll be more inclined to do so. Maybe, just maybe, there are some of you here today who want Jesus simply for Jesus’ sake. Maybe some of you are here this morning because you want to know Jesus better. Today we’ll see 4 men who wanted just that. They leave all they know, follow Jesus, simply because they want to know Him more.

Recall that John the Baptist had been telling his followers about the coming One who is greater than everyone and since this coming One, since Jesus had come on the scene John is now seeking to send his followers to Him. It’s here in our passage today we see the beginning of the transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to the ministry of Jesus.

Follow along as I read our passage today, John 1:35-51.

As soon as the passage begins we see John continuing to do what he has been doing for some time now. Two days prior John had told the Jewish religious leaders of the greatness of Jesus. The next day John saw Jesus and proclaimed to all his followers that Jesus was the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Now, from v35-42 we see the dawn of another day where John is standing with two of his followers. And from v43-51 we find yet another new day upon us where Jesus is calling more disciples to Himself. As we did last week, today we’ll use these two days as our two headings for this text.

Day One: John the Sender

In v35 when John the Baptist sees Jesus again he says directly to two of his followers, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” These two seemed to get that John wasn’t merely repeating the same message from the previous few days, but was directly addressing them and urging them to leave and follow Jesus.[1] And in v37 that’s exactly what they do, “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” You would think that Jesus, who’s just starting His ministry and perhaps wanting to gain a following, would respond by saying something like ‘Great, thanks for believing in the cause, you’ve made a great choice, quickly sign here on the dotted line before you change your mind.’ But He does no such thing. v38 shows how Jesus responds to this saying, “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’”

This question, ‘What are you seeking?’ are the first words of Jesus in John’s gospel. Let’s take a few minutes to notice two things in this question.

FIRST note the response of the two who had come to follow Jesus in v38. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Surely they didn’t leave the Baptist to come over inform Jesus about where He’s staying to make sure He knows the best and most affordable accommodations in town. What they were communicating to Jesus is that what they wanted with Him could not be settled in a few minutes and that they wanted to come with Him and have a long talk.[2] Jesus, knowing the day was growing late (v39 says it was the 10th hour, or 4pm – which was quitting time in Israel) and seeing they wanted to get to talk with Him to get to know Him better, was eager to give them what they wanted and told them to ‘come and see’ where He was staying. So off they went.

SECOND what Jesus asked these two men is a question that we can and should ask of ourselves today. Many people say they follow Jesus, but not many people follow Him for the right reasons. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Just a few verses later in Matthew 7:21 Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…many will say to Me…’did we not do many mighty works in Your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” These two passages mean it’s very possible to think you’re a Christian, to think you spend every day of your life serving God, to spend every Sunday of your life in worship and still miss the point of it all. So church, what Jesus asked these first disciples I now ask you, “What are you seeking?” Have you come here today to continue some kind of religious habit or to put on a façade before others? Or have you come to know Jesus more? This is what Andrew and the unnamed disciple wanted, and do you see how this impacts Andrew? He was so moved by spending the evening with Jesus that he went and found his brother Simon and said in v41, “We have found the Messiah, the Christ.” Then in v42 Simon comes to see Jesus with Andrew and Jesus renames him from Simon to Cephas (or Peter). Many speculate as to why Jesus renames Simon to Peter here but John Calvin cuts through it all when he comments, “…all this amounts to nothing more than that Simon will be a very different person from what he now is.”[3]

You see Church, among all the reasons people follow Jesus, there is one reason that is true, to know Him as He is. Not as we want Him to be, not as we’d like Him to be, but to know Him as He is. When we come for this reason, we’ll find that Jesus makes us into very different people than we once were. John Calvin encouraged the readers of his commentary on John by saying this, “This kind and gracious invitation, which was once made to two persons, now belongs to all. We ought not therefore to fear that Christ will withdraw from us or refuse to us easy access, provided that He sees us desirous to come to Him; but, on the contrary, He will stretch out His hand to assist our endeavors. And how will he not meet those who come to Him…that He may bring them back to the right road?”[4]

Day Two: Jesus the Ladder

As the second day in our passage begins in v43 we see Jesus heading off to Galilee where He found a man named Philip and said “Follow Me.” Just as Andrew, Simon now Peter, and the unnamed disciple of the previous day had experienced Jesus changing their lives, Philip now experiences this too. That someone like Philip is changed into someone new is meant to be surprising to us because we get some background info on him in v44. He’s from Bethsaida, the very place Jesus would later rebuke for their general spirit of hardened unbelief, in spite of the numerous miracles He did there. Even among such a spiritually blind and dead people Jesus calls one of them to new life.

What does Philip do in this new life of following Jesus? In v45-46 we see him going to tell another about Jesus. He finds Nathanael and says “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip knows a few things, but we can see here that he doesn’t have a thorough understanding of who Jesus is yet. He knows that the all of the Old Testament, from Moses through the prophets, had a greater Prophet in view who has now come! But while he knew and understood this he had a foggy idea of Jesus’ virgin birth, His divinity and humanity, and who His Father really is because he refers to Jesus as from Nazareth and the ‘son of Joseph’ rather than from Bethlehem and the ‘Son of God.’ Nathanael took Philip’s thin theology and cast immediate doubt on it. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Rather than debating him there on the spot about the quality of Nazareth verses other towns in the surrounding region Philip gave a great reply, one that you and I should probably use more than we’re do now. He said, “Come and see.”

Nathanael agrees to go with Philip to see this Jesus and in v47-51 we witness a conversation Nathanael has with Jesus that changes everything for him. As he is approaching Jesus says in v47, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” By saying this Jesus means that within the people of Israel there are two groups.[5] There are those who are Israelites in name only, and there are Israelites who are Israelites indeed! The former group is proud of their heredity, that they are Abraham’s flesh and blood circumcised descendants. But though this group may truly have descended from Abraham they pervert the faith of Abraham by adding all kinds of man-made inventions and regulations to it. Contrasting this group is the latter group in view, those like Nathanael, Israelites indeed! These too are descended from Abraham and circumcised like he was, but unlike the others these Israelites share the faith of Abraham. In this sense they resemble the humbled Israel of Genesis 32 rather than the prideful Jacob of Genesis 28. Nathanael wonders at this and asks in v48, “How do You know me?” Jesus again causes him to wonder by responding “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

This is a puzzling moment in John’s gospel. We don’t know what this refers to. Did Nathanael have some kind of memorable spiritual experience with God under a fig tree earlier in his life? Does the image of fig tree mean ‘a home’ here as it does in other parts of Scripture, or does Jesus literally mean a fig tree? We don’t know what Nathanael experienced with God under a fig tree or in his home, but we do know two things for sure – Nathanael remembers it, and when he learns that Jesus knows of this moment as well he makes an immediate confession of faith saying in v49, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael’s confession is very similar to the confession of the woman at the well in John 4 who went around saying “Come, see the Man who told me all I’ve ever done!”

Jesus answered Nathanael in v50-51 saying, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This statement took Nathanael and all those present with them back to Genesis 28 when prideful Jacob was on the run after stealing his brother’s birthright. Alone, scared, and worn out from fleeing Jacob laid down, found a rock for his pillow, and went to sleep. He would never forget what he dreamed. Genesis 28:12 gives us the dream, “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” A few verses later we read that when Jacob woke he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God…the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:16-17). You see what Jesus is doing in quoting this verse? He’s telling His first disciples that He is the ladder! He’s telling them He is the means by which God descends to us, and He is the means by which we ascend to God! These are the greater things He speaks about in v50. And just as Jacob awoke from his sleep in Genesis 28 to praise God in a fearful gladness, so too, will these first disciples, and we ourselves, will be brought to a fearful gladness when we behold the work of God in setting a ladder from earth to heaven, that is Jesus Himself.

But there’s a difference between what happened with Jacob and what happens with the disciples and with us. You see, when Jacob awoke he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Too many people come to church week after week, sing the great songs of our faith, hear the preaching of the Word, see the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, see the love between us, and even though God is in this place, they go away not knowing it.[6] By God’s grace, I pray that’s not true of you today, and that you’ve seen glory in the work of Christ today.

Conclusion:

Two concluding reminders today:

a) Be reminded of the gospel. Pastor Scotty Smith comments on this passage saying, “The most important qualification for Jesus’ disciples is to know…who He is and what He has done…In the span of 16 verses, Jesus is identified as ‘the Lamb of God,’ ‘the Messiah,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the King of Israel,’ and ‘Son of Man’ – all messianic names that take on a fuller meaning throughout John’s gospel. At the heart of all these names is the truth that Jesus has come…to be the ladder from heaven to earth of which Jacob dreamed (Gen. 28:12).”[7]

Be reminded of this very thing this morning. “We do not climb our way up to God; God in Christ came down to us.”[8] As these first disciples left John the Baptist and all else they know to follow Jesus, may you hear this gospel today and do the same.

b) Be reminded of sharing the gospel. Do you see a pattern in these first disciples? Do you see the pattern that we’re to have present in our own lives? Jesus calls us to Himself, changes us, makes us new, and then we go tell others about Him. I know this is hard, and that we often find it easier to talk to God about men than it is to talk to men about God. But if we don’t regularly share the gospel with others, there’s something deeply wrong with our faith.

So let me make it a little easier for you? This coming Easter we’ll be continuing in our series through John’s gospel, and on Easter Sunday morning we’ll be on the most famous verse of the Bible – John 3:16. Lord willing, we’ll gather together to sing about this verse, pray about this verse, and the whole sermon will be just on this verse. It’s going to be a good day to invite a friend to come with you. Nothing will change about our service, it will be what we do each Sunday we gather together. But it’s Easter, and since many unbelievers will be looking to go to church anyway, why not invite them here, so they can hear the gospel, and then take them out to lunch to talk about the gospel afterwards? Perhaps God may do a work and change everything for them on that Sunday morning?

John the Baptist came proclaiming ‘Behold the Lamb!’ Once we behold this Lamb may our lips will forever proclaim ‘Worthy is the Lamb!’ (Rev. 4-5)

 

 

Citations:

[1] Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 81.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, page 156-157.

[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, paragraph 72061 of 99995 (via Accordance Bible Software).

[4] John Calvin, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 54.

[5] Martin Luther, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 61.

[6] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 57.

[7] Study Notes, Gospel Transformation Bible, page 1409.

[8] Ibid, page 1409.

The Testimony of John – John 1:19-34

 

Dr. Stephen Nichols begins his new book A Time for Confidence with the following illustration[1]:

Henry Wanyoike was a Kenyan distance runner. Usually distance runners peak in their 30’s and some even continue to peak into their 40’s. Henry though, at 21 years old, was only 10 seconds off world record pace for the 5K and 10K. Before long it seemed the whole nation could see the bright future in front of him. But one night everything changed for Henry Wanyoike. In May 1995 he had a stroke and lost his sight. Having lost his eyesight he grew depressed and stopped running until he went to a school for the blind where he was encouraged to take it up again. At first he stumbled and fell even with people helping him, but eventually he found his bearings. In a few years time Henry had made waves again setting world records at the Paralympic Games and World Championships in the 5K and 10K. In 2005 he set another world record, this time in the London marathon, only to beat his own record again seven days later in Hamburg, Germany. Since these world records he has held political office in Kenya and has done much to raise awareness for the blind. Henry’s story of perseverance still inspires many Kenyans and many others around the world. He was recently interviewed by Runner’s World magazine and was asked the key to his success and he told them this, “Vision is more powerful than sight.”

“Vision is more powerful than sight.” You know, I read that this past week and thought ‘many people see Jesus and see nothing at all. I long for people to catch the vision of Him as He really is!’ Where are you this morning? Have you seen Jesus and seen little? Or have you been wrecked and reoriented by the vision of who He really is? In our text today we come face to face with a man who not only saw Jesus but had been gripped with the vision of who He really is and had come to proclaim it to all who would hear.

Follow along as I read our passage for this morning, John 1:19-34.

Up until this point in John chapter 1 we have only heard John the Apostle’s testimony about who Jesus is and what He came to do. Now beginning in v19 we hear the testimony of John the Baptist, and his testimony covers a two day span. On day one (v19-28) we see the Baptist interacting with the Jews. On day two (v29-34) we see the Baptist interacting with Jesus. We’ll use these two days as our two headings today.

Day One: John with the Jews (v19-28)

In our day not much is made of John the Baptist.[2] We may wonder at his wild clothing of camel hair and even wilder diet of honey covered locusts, but beyond that we don’t pay much more attention to him than that. It was a different story in the first century. You see, going all the way back to Moses the nation of Israel had a long history of prophets. Men who functioned as the mouthpiece of God among the people of God. Well, the last man in this long line of prophets was a man named Malachi, and after Malachi’s ministry there had been silence from God for 400 years. Can you imagine what that would’ve been like? There was always a prophet of God, but then comes 400 years of nothing. As the Israelites in Egypt wondered if they’d ever know freedom again after 400 years of slavery, the later Israelites probably wondered if God would ever speak to them again after 400 years of silence. But then came a bizarre figure from the desert named John the Baptist who preached a bizarre message saying, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me” (John 1:15). Right before Jesus came onto the scene John’s ministry gained a massive following as he preached about the One greater than himself. Matthew chapter 3 tells us of this massive following when he says most of Jerusalem, Judea, and all around the region of the Jordan river came out to follow John. And John began baptizing them to prepare them for the Messiah to come, and the religious leaders of the day grew suspicious and inquisitive. They simply could not ignore him.

In v19 the Jews (who in v24 we find out to be the Pharisees) sent a group of religious leaders to John the Baptist and they asked “Who are you?” The phrase in v20 “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed” may sound strange to our modern ears but in the original Greek to begin and end a phrase with the same word is a way to convey a strong emphasis. So what did John want to strongly emphasize? “I am not the Christ.” Even though the Jewish leaders didn’t ask if he was the Christ or the Messiah, commentator Leon Morris says “John discerned the drift of the inquiry.”[3] John knew the time in which he lived, that it was a time ripe with Messianic expectation, and so he answered the question they were really asking and confessed, “I am not the Christ.” These religious leaders were scholars in their own right, they knew Malachi 4:5 foretold that before the great and awesome day of the Lord God would send Elijah so they asked, “Are you Elijah?” John said, “I am not.” You should know that some think John is lying here. They think this because an angel told John’s father that his son would come in the power and spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17) and even Jesus said John represented Elijah (Matt. 11:14). Perplexing yes, lying? No. Think of it like this, the Jewish leaders believed God would physically send Elijah back before the Messiah came, and John isn’t Elijah. But his ministry carries with it an Elijah-esq tone because he is the forerunner to Jesus. So there truly is a sense in which John is Elijah and a sense in which he is not. Well, the leaders are clearly a bit frustrated at John’s responses so they ask again, “Are you the Prophet?” Notice they didn’t ask “Are you a prophet?” but “Are you THE Prophet?” They want to know if he’s the Messiah, the long awaited Prophet to come. John’s answer gets even shorter this time and he just says, “No.”

Angered by now, the leaders say what you’d expect them say, “Who are you? We have to give an answer to those who sent us.” John’s next answer is telling. In order to tell them who he is John quotes Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” In it’s original context Isaiah 40:3 refers to the voice of one calling the people of Israel back home from their exile. John uses this passage to state that he is the ultimate fulfillment of this passage, that he is the long awaited voice who prepares the way for the long awaited Prophet who will bring God’s people back home from their greater exile through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. F.F. Bruce comments on this passage saying, “The redemption which Christ was to accomplish was now on the eve of its appearance, and it was John’s high honor to be the voice announcing its near approach.”[4]

To say this group of religious leaders was unsatisfied with John’s answers is probably fitting. John’s answers weren’t what they were looking for, but who John was wasn’t the only thing that they were wondering about. They also wanted to know why he was baptizing. So in v25 they ask their next question, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” Surely someone with this large of a following and someone baptizing others has to hold, or think he holds, some kind of authority. They were in effect asking, “Whose authority gives you the right to baptize?” The clarity of John’s answers stand out remarkably against the backdrop of the masked interrogations from the Jewish leaders. In v26-27 John begins to unfold his lowly position and the exalted position of the One who’s soon to come. He says “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

You ever heard or used the expression ‘don’t miss the forest for the trees?’ It’s a common expression meant to convey that sometimes we can get so caught up with the details of a thing that we miss the larger picture of what’s really happening. One who is missing the forest for the trees is someone who needs to take a step back and get a wider glimpse of things. That’s the argument John is making with these Jewish leaders. Their concerned with John and his doings when something and Someone infinitely greater than John is already here. But the more John tells them about this coming One they don’t know but ought to know, the more questions they ask about him and his baptizing. The illustration John uses is pointed. In the first century it was the slaves job to untie the straps of sandals. It was one of the lowliest of duties because of the all mess and junk people walked through in the streets. John says ‘the One who is coming is so great, so grand, and so lofty that I’m not even worthy to untie His sandals.’ Thus ends the events of day one.

Day Two: John with Jesus (v29-34)

I want to begin describing day two in v32-33 because there we learn something of what John the Baptist had been told by God concerning Jesus. In v32-33 John says, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” We learn here that John the Baptist was told by God to go and baptize with water, and that while he’s baptizing he was to be on the look out for the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Someone like a dove. That will be the Christ, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. So, when John commenced his baptizing he was eagerly awaiting this moment…and finally the day came. It was and some 40 days before this event in v29-34 but it would be a baptism John would never forget. A Man named Jesus had come to be baptized by John and as Jesus stood in the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, the Father’s voice sounded for all to hear, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17). John would never forget that day. Having experienced that moment with Jesus then is what leads to this event with Jesus here. Like I said some 40 days had passed since then and John is still baptizing. He then sees Jesus coming toward him and in v29 John proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

The idea of a Lamb was very familiar to many in this first century culture. Each year there were multiple events for those who were Jews, some daily, where a lamb was sacrificed on the altar within the temple for the sins of the people. And each year every Jewish family participated in the greatest of those celebrations, the Passover, when they remembered how God saved them out of slavery in Egypt by the death of a lamb who absorbed the wrath of God in their place as their substitute. By pointing to Jesus and calling Him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” John takes this familiar lamb imagery and places it upon a Jesus Himself. So see here something often unnoticed. At the very beginning of His ministry do you see that Jesus’ death is already in view? He has just begun and even here we get a glimpse that this One will one day absorb God’s wrath on behalf of all who would one day place their faith in Him.

The testimony the Baptist gave earlier to the Jewish leaders about the soon to be Christ he now applies to the present Christ in v30, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me.” John even didn’t know Him once, but at His baptism and now here again before all those present the nature of Jesus and the scope of His work is revealed. So, naturally John the Baptist concludes his testimony in v34 saying, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Conclusion:

Recall that we began today with the blind Kenyan runner who said, “Vision is more powerful than sight.” Such a statement rings true for Christians in our generation. We live in a time when the truth claims of Christianity are becoming unpopular and more and more politically incorrect. This can sometimes bring a pressure to be more of a surface level or cultural Christian than a kind of Christian who holds deep convictions and is gripped with a boldness like John the Baptist. Yet, in spite of such cultural pressure, we have a need for confidence. I want to end by making an appeal to you to gain a true and rich vision of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist knew who Jesus was, I want you to know too. Not just know Him as in knowing about Him, but knowing Him in the experience of your hearts.

The following words come from a man named J.C. Ryle in 1888. They are just as applicable today as they were then. Through them may God grant you to see who Jesus really is, or can be for you:

“I set before you Jesus Christ this day, as the treasury of your souls, and I invite you to begin by going to Him, if you would so run as to obtain. Let this be your first step – go to Christ. Do you want to consult friends? He is the best friend, ‘a friend that sticks closer than a brother’ (Prov. 18:24). Do you feel unworthy because of your sins? Fear not, His blood cleanses from all sin, ‘Though your sins be like scarlet, you shall white as snow; though they are like crimson, you shall become like wool’ (Isaiah 1:18). Do you feel weak, and unable to follow Him? Fear not, He will give you power to become sons and daughters of God. He will give you the Holy Spirit to dwell in you, and seal you for His own. A new heart will He give you, and a new spirit He will put within you. Are you troubled or harassed with extraordinary difficulties? Fear not, there is no disease of soul that He cannot heal. Do you feel doubt? Cast it aside, ‘Come to Me’ He says (Matt. 11:28); ‘he who comes to Me I will by no means cast away’ (John 6:37). He knows your heart. He knows your trials and temptations, He knows your difficulties and foes. He was once much like yourself, He knows your experience, He was tempted in all ways you are. Surely, you are without excuse today if you turn from such a Savior and Friend as this. Hear the request I make of you this day, seek to be ever-acquainted with Jesus Christ.”[5]

For hell bound sinners like you and I this is good news indeed! John the Baptist knew it, and proclaimed it for all to hear. May God grant that you know it and are just as eager to proclaim it too.

 

Citations:

[1] Nichols, Stephen, A Time for Confidence, Reformation Trust 2016, page 1-3.

[2] R.C. Sproul, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary – John, Reformation Trust 2009, page 7-8

[3] Morris, Leon, John, NICOT, page 132-133.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 49.

[5] J.C. Ryle, Thoughts For Young Men, page 40-42.

The Prologue, Part 4 – John 1:17-18

 

We have spent 3 weeks so far on John’s prologue, and we’ve seen wonders within it; wonders that form and fill out many of the essential truths of the Christian faith. Today we finish his prologue by looking at v17-18. And right away we see something new. v14 told us that Christ was full of grace and truth, now we find in v17-18 that by Christ grace and truth has come to us.

Follow along as I read the whole of John’s prologue, one last time.

Two points to see in these two closing verses: Christ the Fulfiller (v17) & Christ the Revealer (v18)

Christ the Fulfiller (v17)

In v17 we see a contrast and comparison of what God did through Moses and what God is now doing in Jesus Christ. The contrast John brings to us is Moses and law against Christ and grace/truth. “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” I want to ask John why he brings this up and what it means, but before asking those questions I want to encourage you to take caution with this comparison. John does not intend to teach us that God wasn’t gracious or truthful with Moses or with His people in the Law, not at all. Remember when God revealed Himself to Moses He proclaimed that He was “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Ex. 34:6) So grace and truth were present in the law. John’s point is that grace and truth are ultimately and fully revealed in Jesus Christ. In this sense Christ is the Fulfiller, or the fulfillment of the law. And we can even go beyond this and say that Christ is not only the fulfillment of the law, He is the fulfillment and culmination of the entire Old Testament. Jesus displaces the law as the divine revelation of God. We’ll see this in numerous ways throughout John’s gospel: the wine of new creation far exceeds the wine of Jewish religion, the new temple supersedes the old temple, the new birth, not physical birth, is the entrance into covenant life with God, the living water Christ brings is superior to the water of Jacob’s well, the bread of life is the reality the manna in the wilderness could only point to, and on and on. God was gracious to redeem Israel from slavery and reveal the law to them, no doubt. John’s point here is that what God did with Israel, was a preview of the greater grace God is now showing to the Church through His Son Jesus.

So back to our questions: why did John bring this comparison up and what does it mean? In a manner of speaking we’ve already answered it: John brings up this comparison to show that Christ is the fulfillment of the law. But that means a few things we should take note of:

First, that Christ is the Fulfiller of the law means Jesus is superior to the law. Think back to the moment when God, through Moses, gave His people the law. It was a gloriously terrible moment for Israel. All the people were assembled before Sinai. They were glad and thankful to have been rescued from the slavery of Egypt. But the God that had rescued them terrified them in His glory. He called Moses up to the mountain and wrote the law with His own hands. Moses had to do this twice because of the golden calf incident, but once the people had the law they learned not only who God is, they learned what He required of them. Through the law God had revealed His will to them, giving them direction and guidance for their life as His chosen and redeemed people. The law truly had a glory about it and because of that glory the people of Israel held Moses in the high esteem. And not only Moses is in view here, but every Old Testament prophet after Moses all the way up until Jesus in view because they all preached Moses to the God’s people. They preached the law. Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, and all the others preached the law of God to God’s people because it was the law that God revealed His will to His people. In this sense all these prophets were calling Israel back to the pattern of life God had called them to in His law. But then something new came, but not something entirely new. No longer did God send a prophet to preach His law to His people, no, God Himself came and walked among us in the Person of His eternal Son, Jesus Christ. And no longer was God going to give them His law, but He writes it onto our hearts. John is saying the glory of Moses giving God’s law to Israel is nothing when compared to Christ through whom God gave us grace and truth.

God puts this on display for me to see every time I go to the gym in the morning. So there I am, I’ve been going for a few months now, I’m slowly working my way up and I think I’m lifting some pretty heavy weight. So I grow a little proud of myself to see the improvement and strength I’ve gained…Then I look to my right and on the bench press next to me sits a guy who makes the Hulk look small, and the more weight he puts on his bench press the less my weight looks. Sure I may have a gained some strength these past few months, but in comparison to this guy, I look like a little kid playing on the monkey bars.

Hebrews 3 compares Moses and Jesus like this when it says, “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses – as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself…Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” So while Moses deserves honor for being a faithful servant in the house of God, Jesus deserves greater honor and glory because He, as God’s Son, is over God’s entire house. A ‘greater than’ argument is being made in v17. Jesus is superior to the law.

Second, that Christ is the Fulfiller of the law means Jesus can do what the law never could. Probably the most important verse in the law of God is found in Deut. 6:25, which says, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.” I say this is the most important verse in the law of God because of what it promises. If we are careful to obey all this law, it will be righteousness for us. If, we obey it will be righteousness to us. If we obey all of God’s law we can stand before God in full assurance that we have done enough to earn a right standing with God. This verse is true, but what’s the problem with it? We can’t do it. Because of our sin, we can’t obey God’s law. I wonder if you agree with that. I wonder if that rubs you the wrong way. Proverbs 20:6 says every man loves to proclaim his own goodness. But let me ask, have any of you ever told a lie? Any of you ever stolen anything? Any of you ever disobeyed your parents? I thought so. By our own admission, we are lying, thieving, disobedient children, and that’s only three of the Ten Commandments, there’s seven more, how do you think we’ll do on those? If we obeyed all of God’s law we would be counted righteous, but because of who we are, sinners, God’s law is very good at one and only one thing: condemning us. Can you now taste the despair the law brings to us? We need a perfect righteousness to be acceptable to God, and we can’t do it! Despair over your own ability to keep the law, yes, but do not forget what I said a few moments ago, Jesus can do, and has done, what the law never could! While the law condemns, Jesus saves! Paul even tells us that God gave us the law for that very purpose in Galatians 3:24 saying, “The law was out guardian (or tutor) until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” See it? God gave us His law to chase to the foot of the cross where we behold the only One who is righteous! Hebrews 10 says it too, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

So we could conclude this: what was impossible under the law is now possible in Christ. We can say more: what was impossible under the law is now purchased for us in Christ! God didn’t send Jesus to make redemption possible, He sent Him to purchase a people. Therefore, we are no longer under law, but under grace. Or as Dave Arnold puts it, “If you’re a Christian coming to worship, you don’t come to a courthouse and find guilt and sentencing, you come to a church and find redemption and forgiveness.”

Jesus is the fulfiller because He is superior to the law and has done what it couldn’t do.

Christ the Revealer (v18)

Popular new age teacher Deepak Chopra has said, “Asking about where we can seek God is like standing in an ocean and asking to get wet. God’s only love and God’s already in you.” Steve McSwain, the Ambassador to the Council on World Religions said it even stronger, “If we think God is somewhere ‘up there’ while we are ‘down here’, God cannot be found at all. God is within you.” There are many people and opinions floating around today like this, asking us to put off the old religion that says the holy God is separated from sinners like us. They tell us that when we go around knocking on all sorts of doors trying to find truth, that we should just stop, rest, and realize that we’re knocking from the inside. John has a different opinion. His opinion has been embraced by the Church in all ages, and must continue to be embraced today, “No one has ever seen God, the only God who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.”

No one has seen God in His full array of glory and beauty. Even Moses had to be shielded from the full glory of God. Only one Person has made God known – the God who is at the Father’s side – Jesus Christ. This word ‘known’ stands out at the end of v18 doesn’t it? The final word in John’s prologue is ‘exegeomai’ which is translated into English as ‘to make known.’ Did you know this is where we get the word ‘exegesis’ and ‘exegete’ from? To properly exegete a passage, or to do the work of exegesis is to pull from a passage what is really there, rather than pulling out a meaning we’ve put into the text ourselves. All this to say, in opposition to all new age talk going on these days, which is really old age thought repackaged is Jesus, who exegetes, or makes God known to us. This is the final word in John’s prologue and perhaps we could say it’s the most important word. Where we do find God? How do we seek God today? In what way has God revealed Himself to mankind? If we want to know who God is, we need look no farther than Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you remember the scene in John 14 when the Philip, probably speaking for all the disciples, in a moment of frustration with Jesus said, “Just show us the Father and that would be enough for us!” Philip here reveals his lack of faith. If he could just see God the Father in all His glory that would be enough; that would give him all the evidence that Jesus truly is who He says He is. How many say the same thing today? How many of you in moments where unbelief seems to blitz upon you have said the same? Just show me who you are God, and that’ll be enough. Jesus responds with words of brilliant clarity, “Have I been with you so long and you still do not know Me Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” Do you want to know who God is? You simply have to look to Jesus. Now, God truly did reveal Himself to all Israel through His law, but He was veiled to a certain degree because the people couldn’t handle being exposed to who He truly is. The law in this sense, though a true revelation of God, wasn’t a full revelation of God. We see hints of a greater revealing in v17, and sure enough, when we get to v18 that’s exactly what we see. Through Jesus Christ, the invisible God has fully, finally, and visibly revealed Himself. Hebrews 1:1-3 puts it like this, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…(who is)…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.”

Let me end with two thoughts:

1) Both Moses and Christ are necessary for us. Hear Johannes Brenz, “The Word of the Lord has two offices: to kill and to give life, to reveal and remit sin, to work wrath and to make grace known, to demand righteousness and to give righteousness…the Law was revealed through Moses, but the gospel was revealed through Christ. Indeed these are the two famous preachers in the world…Both these preachers are necessary…for Moses without Christ drives one to despair, Christ without Moses makes people careless and proud…through the law Moses made it known that we are cursed, condemned, and children of wrath. Through the gospel Christ made it known that God Himself accomplished what the law could only promise – a perfect righteousness.”

2) Take great caution here Church, many voices today – Deepak Chopra, Steve McSwain, Rob Bell, Oprah, and the like – are trying to persuade you that you don’t need to go searching for who God is ‘out there’ in His holiness because God is already with you, within you, and all around you. B.B. Warfield expresses the caution we must take very well when he says, “He who begins by seeking God within himself, may end by confusing himself with God.” Church, because God has fully and finally made Himself known in Christ, the only way you can know God is in, by, and through Christ. And because the only way you can know God is in, by, and through Christ, the only way to know God is through Christ’s gospel.

What do we find in gospel of Christ? Grace and Truth.

Is that enough for us? Indeed, it is more than enough.