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Five Solas – Sola Gratia

Here in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation we find ourselves at part 2 in our sermon series through the “Five Solas” or the five large themes of the reformation. We’re seeking to find out why they mattered then and why they still matter today. On this anniversary we have a need to answer some questions: do the ministry and writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still matter? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions, as we have said, is a resounding yes. And though there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether.[1] So let’s once again turn to the past, to once again gain insight for today.

The Five Solas are:

-Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone

-Sola Gratia, Grace Alone

-Sola Fide, Faith Alone

-Solus Christus, Christ Alone

-Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God Alone

We now turn our attention to the second of these, Sola Gratia (Grace Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is Ephesians 2:1-8, you heard it read before, let’s see what God has for us in it. There are two things for us to see today.[2]

Hopelessness Without Christ (v1-3)

As Paul begins chapter 2 of Ephesians he mentions the source of our hopelessness is our natural condition. What is our natural condition? “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” This is not a metaphor. This is not meant to be figurative or symbolic. It is meant to be absolute. Every man and woman born into this world isn’t born in danger of death, but in a state of spiritual death.[3] He goes onto describe what kind of life this death produces. In our spiritual death we live life following the course of the world. What world? The world ruled by Satan, or the prince of the power of the air. By following the course of his world we’re really following him and by following him this makes us sons of disobedience. What do sons of disobedience do? They live in the passions of the flesh, they carry out the desires of the body, and they give room for the immoral desires of the mind to grow. What is the Paul’s conclusion of our sinful lives? v3, by nature we are children of wrath. This is not just some drugged out segment of society in view or the populations that fill prisons in view, all mankind is in view here. And rather than improvement, man is prone to deprovement.[4] This is you, this is me, this is every person you’ve ever met, everyday throughout your entire life. Accordingly there are only two kinds of people in this world, and it’s not bad guys and good guys, it’s bad guys and Jesus.

People often come to us (elders) wanting to talk to about their struggles saying something like “I’ve fallen into sin and I need help.” That’s a great place to begin, but it’s not exactly accurate and this text points that out. No one falls into sin. We jump. We sin because we want to. We do not sin because someone hurt us or sinned against us, no. We sin because we love sin. Because of this the sooner we see our sin issues as a battle over what we love in our misguided affections, the sooner we can be on the mend from these struggles.

I feel the pastoral question rising up in my heart at this moment is simple and straightforward: do you believe this? Or do these words hit you as ridiculous? Do you submit to what the Bible has to say about you here, or do these words meet your disapproval? You may be thinking, ‘Wait a minute guy, many people are alive around me everyday. Everyone – from babies to toddlers to children to teenagers to young men and women to the middle aged and the retired – they all seem to be bubbling with imagination, they all seem to think deeply, and burst with creativity, and fully alive in many ways. How in the world could you say they are dead?’ Well, everyone on the planet may be alive in these ways and may even be thriving according to worldly standards. But in the most important way, according to eternal standards, their soul is six feet under. And so, being warm to ways of the wicked world all mankind is born blind to true beauty, dead to true delight, rebellious to true redemption, cold to true clarity, frozen to true feeling, and numb to true knowing.

Throughout the history of man, three views of man have largely been believed and taught.[5] Some believe man is fine and well on his own and therefore doesn’t believe man needs anything (Humanism). Others believe man is sick and therefore believes man needs some medicine to aid our natural effort (Semi-Pelagianism). While Christians believe man is dead and therefore believes man is in need of one thing above all else – resurrection. Bottom line? We are hopeless without Christ.

Now, why go into all this detail on the doctrine of sin? Aren’t we talking about Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) today? Indeed we are. But notice that even the ordering of our passage today reveals that without a true understanding of our fallenness, we cannot understand God’s grace to us. Now that we’ve sailed through the sea of man’s corruption, which could rightly be called the dead sea, we now enter a far vaster and deeper sea, the sea of God’s grace.[6]

Hopefulness With Christ (v4-8)

Paul begins his transition out of our natural helplessness without Christ into our hopefulness with Christ by giving us two of the most promising words in Scripture. “But God…” These two words represent a new beginning. A break from our sinful past. A miraculous act of a sovereign gracious God. Our sin is such that we now know there is no human means of accomplishing our own redemption. We cannot do enough. We are not enough. If any man is to be saved God must intervene, and these two words tell us He has done just that. His intervention into the mess of mankind, His breaking into our brokenness highlights – emphasizes – features – displays His grace.[7] All throughout the Old Testament we see God being gracious to an underserving people. He promised a redeemer who would crush the serpent’s head, He covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with bloody skins, He called and covenanted with Abraham, He redeemed Israel out of slavery, He gave them the Law, He instituted the sacrificial system, He met with them in the tabernacle, He fed them in the wilderness, and He spoke to them through the prophets. All of this was grace. They didn’t deserve any of it. Thus, many rightly define God’s grace by saying it is His unmerited favor given to His people. He did this to them again and again. Until one day, when the fullness of time had come, God intervened one more time…and this time His intervention came in incarnation, when God Himself would break into our world in Christ.

God’s grace, then, isn’t some kind of divine benevolence toward all mankind. It’s not some large smiley divine being who is always cheery. This also means God’s grace is ultimately more than God’s unmerited favor. God’s grace is ultimately a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ.[8]

See how Paul describes it in the text. “…being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses…” What did God do? God “…made us alive together with Christ.” Back in 1:15-20 Paul prays for this Ephesian church and pleads with God in v19-20 that they would know “…the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward those who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead…” See the connection between that prayer and our text today. Paul prays that they would know God’s great power toward those who believe, power that God mightily displayed through raising Christ from the dead. Then in 2:5 we find that we come to know that great resurrection power not only in beholding Christ’s resurrection but by experiencing our own resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life, which God did through His powerful and immeasurable might. Therefore, Paul’s own prayer for this church in 1:19-20 is answered in 2:5.

And just in case we don’t get it Paul inserts that small note in v5 “by grace you have been saved.” Why insert that little comment? To let us know that our salvation, this resurrecting redemption, is all of grace! In v6 he continues on by showing us that our resurrection from death to life through God’s grace in the gospel takes us where Christ’s resurrection took Him. After Christ made satisfaction for sins and rose from the grave He ascended on high, taking a seat at the Father’s right hand to rule and reign over all things. When God’s grace intervenes in our dead hearts and He raises us to new life, He also unites us to Christ so much so that where Christ now is we are as well. Just as we were once physically alive but spiritually dead, so too, now we’re physically present here on earth but spiritually present with Christ in heaven. This means our new life in Christ is (and must be!) new, different – vastly different – than our life before Christ. Did you notice that back in v2-3 Paul described our sinful life in the past tense? “…in which you once walked…among whom we all once lived…” Just as God broken into our fallen world and intervened in His grace through His Son, so too, once saved by that grace of God our lives must make a new break as well. A break away from the old and toward the new. Specifically using language from v5-6, our lives must break away from a life of sin and death toward a life of power and resurrection. What is the source of such a life of gospel power? The grace of God.

Then to give all of this glorious gospel grace a unified purpose, v7 comes to us saying “…so that in the coming ages God might show (display) the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Why did God give dead sinners, who live in the passions of the flesh, carry out the sinful desires of mind and body, and follow the prince of the power of the air, why did God give grace to dead sinners like that? Why did God raise such children of wrath? He did it to dramatically display His grace in Christ to the entire world. That’s what v7 says. The ultimate purpose of giving children of wrath grace is to megaphone the marvelous nature of His grace to the world from age to age until the very end.

Lastly, in v8, Paul gives a wonderful summary of all he’s mentioned thus far in chapter 2. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” Salvation comes by grace, through faith. Why do why do so many fight against this and boast as if they are saved because of something they have done? Do you not see clearly what Paul says here? “This is not your own doing.” Well, if it’s not something we do, how does it happen to us? “It is the gift of God.” As a lion will choose to eat meat over wheat because of its nature, so too a sinner will choose sin over righteousness because of their nature. In order for the lion and the sinner to desire something foreign to their natural taste what has to happen? Their nature has to change. Can a lion do this? Can you do this? Can you change yourself this deeply? You may think you can amend yourself to look a bit nicer and neater, but deep down, every man and woman is still a sin hungry lion. We must have someone greater than us, moved by grace towards us, in power resurrect us. If we’re to be saved, if we’re to hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than sin and wickedness, God must come.

Church, our helplessness without Christ is great, but our hopefulness with Christ abounds. Why? Because of the message of the gospel – we are more sinful than we can imagine, but in Christ (Christ becoming like us, Christ living for us, Christ dying for us, Christ rising for us, and Christ ascending for us), in Christ God loves us more than we can dare hope. It is in this gospel – the gospel that calls us to remember how holy God is, how unholy we are, how pure Christ is, how He bore our impurities for us, how He defeated death for us, and how we are now being called by God to repent and believe in Christ to be saved – it is in this gospel where we see the grace of God.

Conclusion:

So let’s return to where we began. Our original question was, why did Sola Gratia matter so greatly during the reformation and why does it still matter today?[9]

Last week I began the sermon telling of Martin Luther’s early life and transition from monk to reformer. Today I want to answer this question by ending the sermon telling you about the end of Luther’s life and particularly his last words.[10]

Twenty-nine years had passed since he nailed his 95 theses to church door in Wittenberg. Being 62 years old and weary from his life’s work, Luther was asked to come be the mediator in a family dispute in his hometown of Eisleben, Germany. Through Luther’s efforts the dispute was resolved, but he fell ill in the process. Sensing his end was near he wrote his last will and testament and his friend Justus Jonas came to his side and asked him “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther shouted “YES!” The sickness increased, and as death approached Luther uttered his last words, “We are beggars. This is true.”

“We are beggars. This is true.” Do these words surprise you? On the surface of things they certainly don’t seem very hopeful do they? That he would mention his own fallen and sinful condition on his deathbed seems a bit melancholy. I mean, this is Martin Luther we’re talking about. He’d written volumes upon volumes about the nuances of gospel grace, and then on his deathbed he gives us that? I hope you don’t think these words are too strange. In fact I hope you are strangely encouraged by these words. Why? Because Luther knew what we need to know.

After laboring and sweating and agonizing and grinding his soul to the uttermost ends of his limits trying to perform enough good works to become right with God in the monkhood as a good Roman Catholic…he realized something that changed his life. He was not enough. He was a fallen man. He truly was helpless and truly was hopeless before God in his own works. But this truth about him didn’t leave him helpless and hopeless, it left him hopeful, for when he came to the end of himself he found the beginning of life in Christ. When He came to the end of Himself He learned the works that really do save aren’t his own, but Christ’s and Christ’s alone! So when it came time for the great reformer to die, he did not deny, he did not twist, he did not run away from his own fallen nature. He owned it and said “We are beggars. This is true.”

What a great way to proclaim, “…by grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”

The question that he answered on his deathbed is one that each of you must answer as well. ‘How do I, a sinner, become right with a holy God?’ If your answer is anything about things you have done or things you have not done than I’m afraid you’re bankrupt spiritually. “Unlimited confidence in human ability is a product of the fall. It is this false confidence that now fills the Protestant world: from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat the Christian faith as being true simply because it works and brings a crowd.”[11] All of these modern inventions are nothing more than repeats of historical heresies.

Church, may you see God’s grace as not merely necessary, but the sole cause of salvation. When asked how we become right with God may your answer ever be…

Sola Gratia – Grace Alone!

 

 

Citations:

[1] Jonathan Leeman, The Reformation and Your Church, 9Marks October 2017 Journal, page 7.

[2] ESV Study Bible, page 2264.

[3] Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 63.

[4] Ibid., page 65.

[5] Ibid., page 66. See also E.K. Simpson, NICNT: Ephesians and Colossians, page 46-47.

[6] Thomas Goodwin, An Exposition of Ephesians: Vol. 1, page 688.

[7] Carl Trueman, Grace Alone: Salvation As A Gift of God, page 38.

[8] Ibid., page 40. I’ve also heard Dr. David Briones say this as well at Reformation Bible College.

[9] The answers to this question was clarified for me from Keith Mathison’s article on the Reformation Bible College blog – https://www.reformationbiblecollege.org/blog/the-five-solas/.

[10] The following account was taken from Steve Lawson’s, Martin Luther’s Last Words, blog post on Ligonier.

[11] The Cambridge Declaration, page 6-7. Emphasis on end is my own addition.

Five Solas – Sola Scriptura

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany. What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Though there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether.[1] Therefore, today we’re beginning a new sermon series called “Five Solas” where we’ll cover the five large themes of the reformation, finding out why they mattered then, and why they still matter today.

The Five Solas are:

-Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone

-Sola Gratia, Grace Alone

-Sola Fide, Faith Alone

-Solus Christus, Christ Alone

-Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God Alone

Today we turn our attention to the first of these, Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, you heard it read before, let’s see what God has for us in it.

In context v16-17 of 2 Timothy 3 come to us in the midst of Paul calling Timothy to continue on in the gospel. In v14 Paul tells him to continue on in the gospel remembering those who taught it to him. Specifically his mother Eunice, his grandmother Lois, and his mentor the apostle Paul (1:5). In v15 Paul tells him to continue on in the gospel remembering that these people taught him the gospel as a young boy through the Scriptures which, Paul adds, are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Coming out of his instruction in v14-15 Paul then makes another statement about the Scripture. A statement that would become the most famous statement about Scripture in all of Scripture.

v16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Scripture is Inspired

All Scripture. Not just some Scripture, not just the New Testament, not just parts of it we understand, and not just parts of it we like to read often. All Scripture is breathed out by God. Some translations say ‘inspired’ instead of ‘breathed out.’ Both are aiming at the same meaning. To say Scripture is divinely inspired, or to say Scripture is breathed out by God, is to say it is top down revelation, from God to us. Just as you can awkwardly feel the heat of a close-talkers breath when they invade your personal space to talk with you, so too, when you open the Scripture you can feel the exhale of God, the warmth of His breath. And His breath doesn’t stink, it is sweeter than honey according to Psalm 119:103.

So much flows out of the inspiration of Sacred Scripture. This passage is like an all you can buffet of the richest of delicacies. Because Scripture is inspired by God it leads to a whole host of other glorious things as well.

Because Scripture is inspired it means it is the Word of God. I don’t mean the Bible contains the word of God within it, or that by reading the Bible you can find the true Word of God in its teachings. No, the entire Bible – the whole thing – is the Word of God. So, the Bible doesn’t bear witness to the truth, it is the truth. Every word carries with it a divine weight. Jesus held a similar view and in Matthew 5:18 said that until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle, not one iota or dot of Scripture will pass away. The grass may wither, the flower may fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Because Scripture is inspired it means the Scriptures do not err (that’s inerrancy) and more so because it is inspired the Scriptures cannot err (that’s infallibility). Because the Scripture is inspired it means it holds the highest authority over us so that when the Bible speaks to us God speaks to us. Or to say it another way, God through His Word stands over us, rules over us, and makes commands of us. We do not stand over God or His Word as if we were the judge of Him. To say the Bible is authoritative is to say it imposes requirements on us. When God commands, we’re to obey. When God promises, we’re to trust. When God declares, we’re to believe. This is illustrated all throughout Scripture. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Israel, and the prophets all experienced God exercising His authority over them by His Word. God then sends Jesus, His incarnate Word, who exercised God’s authority in His teaching. Jesus then sends out the apostles in His name as ambassadors to exercise this very authority. Now, through the Spirit inspired writing of the apostles the same authority is exercised over you and over me. Throughout all of redemptive history God has, is, and will continue to exercise His authority over all creation through His Word. Therefore to disregard the Bible as if it had no authority over our lives is to disregard God Himself. Church, God is trustworthy and true, so it naturally follows that His Word is trustworthy and true.

Because Scripture is inspired it means it is necessary. We need Scripture in order to know how be reconciled with God, and we need Scripture in order to know how to walk in a manner fully pleasing to God. Only here do we find out who God is and what He demands of us. We need Scripture, it is wisdom from above that transcends human wisdom. No Scripture, no gospel rescue. No gospel rescue, no life.

Because Scripture is inspired it means it is clear. This does not mean everything in the Bible is easy to understand, it does not mean everyone will understand the Bible, it does not mean everyone will agree about how to understand the Bible, and it does not mean we will have no questions about what we find in the Bible.[2] But, it does mean that those things which are necessary for the salvation of man and the Christian life, are so clearly taught in Scripture that anyone willing to look in it can understand them.

Because Scripture is inspired means it is sufficient and contains all that is needed for any aspect of human life. 2 Peter 1:3-4, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who has called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Peter means to tell us that all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life. Some of you may be thinking, ‘Sure, the Bible tells us a lot about God, but what does it have to say about fixing my transmission? Or potty training my dog?’ Fair questions, but listen to the answer. Scripture does indeed contain more information relevant to doctrine than to automotive repairs and dog training, but the sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that those doctrinal truths, those precious promises as Peter put it, teach us how to live while doing automotive repairs and dog training. Thus whatever we do, the Bible will teach us how to do it to God’s glory, in this way – all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life.

Finally, because Scripture is inspired it means it is beautiful. By saying the Scripture has beauty is to say that which it reveals to us carries more beauty than any other thing. What does Scripture reveal to us? God. Who He is, what He’s like, and what He requires of us. He is beautiful in His glory, matchless in His wonder, and stunning in His splendor. He is ultimately what the Scriptures reveal to us, and He is beautiful.

All of this comes from this first phrase in our text today, “All Scripture is God breathed…or inspired.” But continue on now with me. Scripture is not only inspired…

Scripture is Useful

Useful for what you say? Paul tells us as much in the rest of the passage. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (or useful) for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Scripture is useful for teaching. All of Scripture is intended by God to govern, direct, guide, and define all of life. The whole counsel of God for the whole people of God. No preacher comes into any true pulpit with a good thought for the day, or a nice story to share. No, in preaching, in hearing, in reading, and in discipling it is the Word of God that teaches the people of God.

Scripture is useful for reproof and correction. We are by nature bent toward the all the wrong things, and if it weren’t for the Scripture coming along and turning us back to the right path we’d be lost. Scripture admonishes us and calls us to amend our lives so that they’d be more in line with God’s revealed will. It truly is “a lamp to our feet and a light for our path” (Psalm 119:105).

Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. Recall in our sinful state we have no righteousness of our own, only unrighteousness. In our salvation God declared us to be righteous because of Christ’s righteousness reckoned to our account. Now as we grow and mature in Christ, as God sanctifies us, He is making us into what He’s declared us to be, righteous. How does He do this? Through His word, where He trains us in righteousness. Remember 2 Pet. 1:3 we read earlier? “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him…” Thus, it is the Scripture that gives all that is needed for our knowledge of God, and it is also the means God uses to train us in righteousness. Jesus said it better in John 17:17 where He asked the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth, Your Word is truth.”

Lastly, because Scripture is useful for all these things: useful for teaching, useful for reproof, useful for correction, and useful for training in righteousness…through His Word God equips us with all we need for every good work.

Taking all of this together, we can now formulate a definition for Sola Scriptura. The Scripture alone, because it is God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word, is our final authority for life and practice. In the Scripture alone, we behold the peculiar glory of God and from beholding that we grow in the same from degree of glory to the next.[3]

Conclusion:

So let’s return to where we began. Our original question was, why did Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during the reformation and why does it still matter today?[4]

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority. The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. As we’ve said, they believed when Scripture speaks, God speaks. Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and tradition is certainly helpful, but the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books.[5] Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. And with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did the reformers do this? Why were they willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it! Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast out to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does Sola Scriptura still matter today? Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us, and employ modern cultural methods within the Church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. No, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel. The faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.[6]

We need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin? It begins where King Josiah began in 1 Kings 22-23. It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Jonathan Leeman, The Reformation and Your Church, 9Marks October 2017 Journal, page 7.

[2] These four statements on the clarity of Scripture come from Matthew Barrett, God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, page 315-324. This book filled out much of my understanding of sola scriptura.

[3] John Piper, Peculiar Glory. All of it.

[4] The answers to this question was clarified for me from Keith Mathison’s article on the Reformation Bible College blog – https://www.reformationbiblecollege.org/blog/the-five-solas/.

[5] Thirty years after his death the Roman Catholic church dug up and burned Hus’ bones and threw the remains in the river.

[6] Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, The Cambridge Declaration, page 10.

John 6:52-59 – The Bread of Heaven, Part 4

In 1826 the French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin coined a phrase we often use today. In a physiology book covering the subjects of Gout and Gastrointestinal health he said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Over time this phrase has shortened and become ‘you are what you eat.’ Of course no one intends this phrase to be taken literally. Rather it suggests what one eats has a large bearing on one’s health. It’s a fact that one cannot survive very long on a diet of Twinkies, Hot Pockets, and Dr. Pepper. No, we need a well-rounded diet complete with enough fruit and vegetables in order to be healthy. We know this is true physically, but have you ever thought this phrase rings true spiritually as well? You are, spiritually, what you consume. The company you keep, the programs or movies you watch, the books you read, and the music you listen, really everything you do has an impact on the state of your soul.

In our text today, you heard it read earlier, Jesus uses symbolic imagery that describes Him as the food our souls consume. And from following His spiritual diet we’re given eternal life. Let’s examine this text together to see these things first hand.

Throughout John 6 Jesus has been progressing toward one main point. He began in v27 calling us to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” Continuing on in v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. And in v51 we another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Upon coming to v52 we see another shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52 where John says, “The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” This word disputed could be translated from Greek to English as disputed, fighting, quarreled, or contending. Which means the shift from v41 to v52 is a shift to outwardly venting an inward anger and astonishment at His teaching. They simply couldn’t understand Jesus here and so they became angry. They simply couldn’t get past the physical and so, taking Jesus literally they misunderstood what Jesus was teaching metaphorically thinking He was putting forth a form of cannibalism.[1] The result of such misunderstanding among this crowd is similar to a boiling teapot. It may appear calm on the surface but inside it is getting hotter and hotter, to the point where the heat cannot be contained within any longer, and it bursts out. So too this crowd has reached this point in v52 and their bursting out shows itself in an expression of confused anger, probably because they not only didn’t like His teaching, but couldn’t understand His teaching.[2] Speaking of this crowd Herman Ridderbos says in his commentary on John, “It seemed to them increasingly clear that common ground for conversation with Jesus was lacking.”[3]

What does Jesus do? Again He finds Himself standing before an unruly crowd of people. Does He back down? Does He retract some of His earlier statements thinking He went too far? Does He reduce the severity of His words to make them less offensive to His hearers? No, He does none of these things. Rather, He stands firm and responds to this crowd one more time in v53-58. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Many theologians and commentators throughout history disagree about what is exactly being said in this passage. One group believes Jesus to be giving a detailed explanation on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and saying that one can only have eternal life if they partake in the real flesh and real blood of Christ at the communion table. I disagree with this interpretation for many reasons. First, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are not and never become the real flesh and blood of Christ, they are only emblems of the real thing. Second, if Jesus were speaking of the Lord’s Supper this would have made no sense to this crowd or His disciples because He doesn’t institute His Supper until the Upper Room. Third, and perhaps most important of all, the way one receives eternal life is by receiving and resting on Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, not by coming to the Lord’s table.

So since the Lord’s Supper isn’t in view, what is?

I want to persuade you today that Jesus is using symbolic and metaphorical language here to display how we come to Him with a whole-souled appetite and that when we come to Him in faith we find Him wonderfully filling. It’s very similar to how Jesus spoke to the woman at the well in John 4.[4] Remember the scene? She was at Jacob’s well drawing water and He offered her living water that quenches thirst and satisfies the soul. He wasn’t literally offering her water, He was offering Her Himself. So too, here at the end of chapter 6 He speaks of the same soul quenching satisfaction but uses the imagery of bread.

A Divine Hunger (v53-55)

In v53 this truth is spoken negatively, unless you eat Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood you have no life in you. In v54 it is spoken positively, the one who feeds on His flesh and drinks His blood is not only the one who has eternal life, but the one who will be raised up on the last day. Again, the language used here is that of a hungry and whole-souled faith grabbing hold of Christ, believing in Him, banking on Him, and clinging to Him. The result of such grabbing hold of, believing, banking, and clinging has consequences in this life and the life to come. In this life the result is life abundant. In the life to come the result is life eternal. And so Jesus gives us the language of eating and drinking here to show us that we must become those who ingest Him, who seek to take all of Him into us. Just as the physical hunger pains in our stomachs reveal the need for physical food, so too Church, do you see that the spiritual hunger pains in your soul are divinely designed by God to reveal your need for true and lasting spiritual food?[5] And more so, what happens when you feel that empty hollowness cry out for food in your stomach and you eat? You feel the satisfaction of a full belly, and sit back and take a nap. Church, the language Jesus uses here teaches us that it’s very similar with our souls. What happens when you feel that empty hollowness cry out for satisfaction in your soul and you feed it? If you feed that hollow emptiness with any kind of sinful or worldly activities you’ll not only increase the hollowness inside you, you’ll add guilt and shame onto it as well. Jeremiah 2:11-13 speaks of this tragedy and tells us what happens to God when we feast on the world, “My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fount of living waters, and dug out wells for themselves, broken wells that can hold no water.” When we glory, boast, take joy, and drink deeply of sin what happens in the heavens? Did you hear it? All heaven is appalled. All heaven is utterly desolate. Why? Because arrogantly, we think we can find a whole-souled satisfaction apart from God. When we do this God says it is like digging and drinking from a well that has holes.

But if…if, when you feel that empty hollow ring out in your soul and you feast on Christ crucified for sinners, if you feast on Christ as He is offered to you in the gospel you’ll feel a deep and powerful fullness in your soul and perhaps for the first time understand what Psalm 34:8 means when it says “Taste and see that the LORD is good!” Perhaps for the first time you’ll understand what Jesus says here in v55, “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”

So Church, do not be content to let your deepest joy be found in something that can be lost. Christ is the only true sustenance for all our souls cry out for.

A Divine Union (v56-57)

Jesus continues on in v56-57 showing us more of what He means saying, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he will also live because of Me.” Remember Jesus isn’t being literal, He is speaking figuratively employing the images of eating and drinking to display what faith in Christ looks like when it grabs ahold of and possesses Christ. Here we see that the result of a hungry faith feeding on Christ is union with Christ. What is our union with Christ?[6] It is the mystical intimacy between Christ and His people, in which all the benefits of the New Covenant are given to us. In this union only those purchased by Christ experience and enjoy Christ as the source and strength of all blessedness. Remember in v56-57 Jesus said all who feed on His flesh and drink His blood…abide in Him and because they abide in Him they experience…life in Him. Not just any life, but the very life of the Father and Son, that life, that bond, that intimate union is ours by faith in Christ. Just as we received all that comes with the fall in Adam, so too, those who believe in Christ receive all that comes with redemption in Christ.

When Holly and I moved into our home a few years ago we found there was a banana tree in the back yard. It was nice to look at. But as our boys grew and began playing in the backyard more and more it was that banana tree that often took the brunt of being stepped on, knocked over, and almost uprooted a few times. And on top of all this, because it was so sugary it always had a ton of ants on it. So because it was functioning as such an annoyance I decided to get rid of it. I got my small hatchet and with one stroke chopped the thing down. But low and behold a week after it began growing back, and instead of one tree two banana trees began coming up again. I let them grow a little bit and once it got large enough to grab onto I grabbed it and pulled the whole thing out of the ground. I thought surely it wouldn’t come back. But sure enough within a few weeks, it did. The same two tree roots were forming again and already coming up, along with a third smaller root next to them. There were three of them now! So I did what I imagine any man would do in this situation, I resolved to kill this thing for good! I went into our shed, got out our small gasoline tank and poured gasoline down the roots. And it never came up again.

I mention this because our union with Christ is similar to that stubborn banana tree. It never goes away. Once we grab hold of Christ by faith we are united to Him in an inseparable bond for the rest of eternity. In John 15 Jesus explains this union by saying “I am the Vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” So as the vine is the source of life for the plant, Jesus Himself is the source of life for all who believe in Him. Though Christ and His Church are looked on by the world as weak, unimpressive, a people with a religious crutch, fools, and doormats for the world we would respond – outwardly we may look like all those things, but we have been united to God Himself and now there is great power within![7] This is what He holds out to us in v56-57.

A Divine Contrast (v58-59)

Standing among the people in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus brings His teaching to a close once again restating what He has said many times before in chapter 6, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” A divine contrast is designed for us to see here. The manna that fed Israel in the wilderness was intended by God to only be enough for a single serving. Standing in the brightest contrast to that manna is Christ Himself, the bread of heaven, intended by God to be more than a mere meal for all who eat! Remember the disciples once thought they didn’t have enough to feed the multitude, but they picked up twelve full baskets after all had eaten their fill.[8] So too, the one who comes to Christ in faith, even the one struggling to believe Jesus is enough, will be superbly surprised to find a whole-souled satisfaction springing up within.

Conclusion:

I want to close with a simple question. “Is Christ as real to you spiritually as something you physically eat? Is He as much part of you as what you had for breakfast? Do not think it strange, but is Christ as real and useful to you as a hamburger and French fries? I say this because, although He is far more real and useful than these, the unfortunate thing is that for many people He is far less.”[9] Do you keep Him in your life as a mere side dish, they’re for the taking if you desire but surely not the main dish of your soul? Or is He your meat and potatoes?[10] Or as John Calvin said in his commentary on John 6:55, “As the body weakens from the want of physical food, so too the soul becomes impoverished from want of spiritual food.”[11]

I tell you now what that French author said in his book long ago, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” It is simple really, eat junk and you’ll feel like junk. Eat healthy and you’ll grow strong. Church, may you feast on Christ by faith and may He become your whole-souled satisfaction.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Johannes Brenz, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 238.

[2] See study notes in the Reformation Study Bible page 1866, the MacArthur Study Bible page 1592, and the ESV Study Bible page 2035.

[3] Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 239.

[4] R.C. Sproul, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary: John, page 124.

[5] Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth, page 81.

[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 447. See also John Fesko’s chapter Union With Christ in Matthew Barrett’s Reformation Theology, page 423-450.

[7] Martin Luther, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 243-244.

[8] Charles Erdman, The Gospel of John, page 65.

[9] James Boice, quoted in Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 212.

[10] Kent Hughes, Ibid., page 212.

[11] John Calvin, Commentary on John, online.

John 6:41-51 – The Bread of Heaven, Part 3

 

The latest and greatest have always been prized in cultures around the world, but perhaps never more than in our day. Take, for instance, the new Apple products revealed this week. Faster processors, more pixels, less space, better camera, a more efficient interface, all available soon. In the face of that Apple reveal we come here to take another look into the gospel of John, in a sermon series that will likely extend through two or three more Apple reveals. Our fast paced world leaves many of us confused and frustrated by the staggering slow nature of growth in Christ. Yet we gladly press on, refusing to bow the knee to the pace of our culture, giving ourselves to slow and steady growth under the Spirit’s lead, knowing God’s Word never returns void, but always accomplishes the purposes for which He sent.

 

The Anatomy of Grumbling (v41-42)

Up to this point in chapter 6 the crowd Jesus is speaking to is the multitude who ate the miraculous meal on the slopes of Galilee. Recall that crowd witnessed that wonder, missed the greater meaning, searched for Jesus to make Him king, found Him back across the sea in Capernaum, and engaged Him again still trying to make Him king. In v41 we see a shift take place within this chapter. For the first time in John 6 we are told ‘the Jews’ are present. This label ‘the Jews’ is usually reserved for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who are hostile to Jesus and His message. That ‘the Jews’ are included here in v41 likely means the multitude fed by the miracle and still speaking with Jesus here in Capernaum is a mixed multitude.[1] Many within this group are likely hearing and accepting Jesus’ words as life giving and true, but many others are not. It’s these others who resemble the Jews of Jerusalem, it’s these others who begin grumbling, and it’s these others who begin stirring up the crowd.

Listen to all of v41-42, “So the Jews grumbled about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” The shift of v41 is a shift into conflict. Sure, a tension was already present in the crowd because they wanted to make Him king. They loved Him, or more truthful – they loved what He could be for them and what He could do for them – this is why they wanted to make Him king. But when they saw He would not be the king they wanted Him to be they mocked Him, despised Him, and tension turned into open hostility.[2] And as we see John’s gospel progress, this hostility only grows all the way up to the point where the crowds of people execute Him. So, by coming to v41 we’ve now shifted into conflict. But backing up and looking at our passage specifically, we should ask ‘what is the nature of this conflict?’ It’s simple really. It’s something the Jews have done before. In fact, they spent 40 years doing it in the wilderness after the Exodus. They’re grumbling about bread from heaven.

The word translated as ‘grumbled’ in v41 is used 8 times in the New Testament, 6 of those uses are in direct reference to these Jews. It refers to a kind of angry discontent expressed by muttering or murmuring. Why are they grumbling? They’re grumbling about Jesus claiming to be the bread come down from heaven. Why is this claim so ominous to them? v42 shows us. These Jews thought they knew Jesus’ father and mother and because believe they know His parents they wonder how in the world Jesus can say He is from heaven. This is understandable for sure. Mary was really Jesus’ mother and Joseph looked like Jesus’ father to most. If Jesus only had Joseph and Mary for His parents the words He’s saying about being the Bread of heaven would be utter foolishness. So we can understand the grumbling going on here. But though we can understand this grumbling, we also see this grumbling as ridiculous. Ridiculous not in regards to Mary, but in regards to Joseph. They believed Joseph was his father and on that account they grumbled at and refused to believe in Jesus’ teaching about being the bread from heaven. But who was truly Jesus’ Father? It was not Joseph, it was Jehovah, God Almighty. This carries a smidge of irony because this crowd claims to know, love, and serve God.[3] It’s ironic because if they truly did know, love, and serve God they wouldn’t be grumbling at Jesus’ teaching. They’d believe it and embrace it. Yet they grumble.

The fickle nature of the human heart is on display here. We learn much about this crowd and we learn much about ourselves here in v41-42.[4] Our nature is prone to only follow Jesus and believe in His gospel as long as it is favorable to us. Take away personal gain, what happens? We despise the Christ we once embraced. Take away personal comfort, what happens? We mock the Christ we once held dear. Take away full bellies, what happens? We disown the Christ we once followed. Perhaps more appropriate to our situation…take away the normal security of physical safety and shelter when it looks like a category 4 or 5 hurricane is coming your way, what happens? Beforehand we grumble that we have to fear for our lives, we grumble about the traffic headed north, we grumble about not finding gas, and afterwards we grumble that power is still out, we grumble that we still can’t find much bread or milk, and we grumble about the whole inconvenience of Irma.

We live in a flood zone, zone A to be exact, so we we’re evacuated last week. When the reports said Irma was going to hit Tampa as a category 4 for the first time in my life I had to think through what it would be like to lose a home, and after thinking through the possibility of losing our house, and sort of coming to terms with is, you know what I thought? Man dealing with the insurance company is going to be a hassle! I grumbled…Irma exposed my idols in ways I wasn’t prepared to see and I was brought to repentance…

Church, you must see yourself in this crowd. You must see the anatomy of grumbling present in the fickle nature of your own heart. Have we forgotten? When Christ called us He called us to come and die. He didn’t call us to come and then promise a life of comfort. He didn’t call us to come with all of our preconceived ideas and agendas of how we could wield His Kingdom for our purposes and benefit in this world. No, when Christ calls us He calls us to the end of ourselves, and, wonder of wonders, we when we come to Him we find the end of ourselves is where true life in Christ begins.

The Necessity of Rebuke (v43-46)

In v43-46 Jesus sees it as a necessity to rebuke this crowd saying, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me—not that anyone has seen the Father except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.”

See here the unflinching boldness of Christ in the face of an angry crowd.[5] He didn’t say to these grumblers, ‘Well I can understand why you’re upset and grumbling, let Me perhaps try to explain it again.’ No, He said no such thing. Rather, what He implicitly said back in v37 He now makes explicit in v44 telling them of God’s sovereign grace. That He didn’t expect them to understand His teaching and that they would never understand His teaching unless the Father who sent Him drew them in. The language used here in v44 is the language of ability, not permission. We know the difference between these two. Each of us in 3rd grade asked our teachers, ‘Can I go to the bathroom?’ And our teachers (if they were good ones) responded with ‘Of course you can, but may you?’ They did this to us to show us the difference between these words and to slowly encourage us toward a proper politeness.

Jesus employs a similar vocabulary here saying “No man can come” or “No man is able to come unless the Father draws them.” This speaks of man’s inability to come to God apart from the sovereign grace of God. This drawing in view that the Father does in v44 isn’t a kind of wooing or persuading man to do what man can already do in his own strength. No, it’s a move of God upon the soul of man that compels that man to come, giving them the ability to go where they could not go before. Picture it like this, how do you get water out of a well?[6] Do you lean over the edge of the well calling out, ‘Here, water. Here, water, water, water.’ Of course not. Water doesn’t move on it’s own. You have to go get it. So you lower a bucket into the darkness of the well and draw it up. In v44 Jesus is saying this is how God works in the heart of man to save man. Of this verse John Calvin remarked, “It is a false and profane assertion therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from God, who has formed their hearts to obey Him.”[7]

But remember, this is not a verse alone without a context. Too often this is used as a proof text and it’s surrounding content is ignored. Recall, Jesus is rebuking the crowd here, specifically saying that if God were really drawing them in they would understand and embrace His teaching. But what are they doing? They’re grumbling, and that is evidence that God is not drawing them in.

To add another rebuke onto all of this Jesus’ boldly continues in v45 quoting Isaiah (54:13) and Jeremiah (31:34) saying, “‘And they all will be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” Notice what is happening here. In the passages Jesus quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah these prophets are speaking of the time when God would one day come to His people and teach them Himself. No more prophets, no more messengers, no, in this day God Himself will come and teach His people. Of course this is a promise that finds fulfillment in the Messiah. But…that Jesus quotes this prophetic promise of old in reference to His own ministry means Jesus believes Himself to be the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus believes God has come and is now teaching about Himself through Himself.

Now, I know many people do it, but no one can in good conscience believe that Jesus only went around teaching moral niceties never claiming to be God. Clearly here in our passage, in these very verses, Jesus believes Himself to be God come in the flesh. Someone who claims to be such a God would either be mad or a fool……unless it’s true! And you know what? I believe it is, that Jesus is truly God become truly man to teach us about God and man. Do you believe it?

This crowd did not and they were rebuked for it. If you find yourself disbelieving Jesus and rejecting His message today, you’re being rebuked right now just as the crowd was back then. If that’s you v44-46 ought to alarm you. Regardless what you say about your religion if God were truly drawing and teaching you…you wouldn’t be disbelieving, rejecting, or grumbling about His teaching, you’d be coming to Jesus and listening to Jesus. v46 then reminds us, the only ones who truly see God are those who look in faith to Jesus Christ. So again I say, if you look at Jesus and only see foolishness be alarmed, God is not drawing you to Himself and Christ rebukes you for your unbelief.

But see His grace. After rebuking the unbelief in the crowd before Him and any disbelief among us here today, Jesus doesn’t leave us there, He does more. He doesn’t only rebuke, He continues on to restate and repeat His message.

The Joy of Repetition (v47-51)

In v47-51 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

In this last section Jesus returns to what He was teaching before He was so rudely interrupted by the grumbling of the Jews.[8] Beginning with a summary statement of the gospel in v47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life,” Jesus continues on by way on comparison. A comparison that this crowd originally brought up in v31 concerning the manna God gave the Israelites in the wilderness. That manna truly was bread from heaven that the people of God ate and kept eating throughout their journey. But eventually that generation would died as v49 says. Contrasting that image with Himself Jesus boldly declares in v48 “I am the bread of life.” Then again in v51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…” His coming down from heaven is surely a reference to the manna that similarly came down from heaven, as well as His incarnation, in becoming like us that we could become like Him. But more is being said here. v50, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” And again in v51, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Yes incarnation is in view here and that is wondrous (that Christ is the true bread that came down from heaven), but do you see that crucifixion is the main point here (that Christ came down from heaven for the purpose of giving His flesh for the life of the world)? The Israelites of old ate manna in the wilderness that fell from heaven and died, but whoever eats the flesh of Christ, or back in v47 – whoever believes in Him, will not die but live forever. In this way He is the true manna from heaven. And the way we now enter into the life this manna brings is by believing in Him and believing that this bread not only came down from heaven for us, but that this bread of heaven was baked and burnt for us in the furnace of God’s wrath on the cross.[9]

Conclusion:

Perhaps though, you’ve grown weary of hearing Jesus say over and over again in chapter 6 that He is the bread from heaven. It is repeated numerous times all the way from the feeding of the 5,000 to our text today and even beyond until the end of chapter 6. Why so much repetition? Well, let me answer that question by saying this. The joy of gospel repetition is not wearisome to the true believer. After being interrupted by their grumbling and after rebuking the crowd for it, Jesus repeats what He has already said before, and that is no problem for the hungry soul. Why? Because the news that we are hungry and unsatisfied people isn’t new to us. We know we’re hungry and we know that this hunger is our deepest problem. We know our souls are always feeding, and looking for something to sink its teeth into, something that will finally be able to fill the gaping hole inside us. This is not new. But you know what is new for us? It is new to hear Jesus say that our hunger can be quenched when we sink the teeth of souls into Him. And that we enter into this quenched and satisfied life not only through His incarnation but through His crucifixion where He bore our sins for us and willingly took the curse upon Himself that we deserved! That is news we need to hear again and again.

It may be an old old story that looks foolish to the world when compared with latest iPhones. But through the hungry eyes of faith, we find that everything God wants for us, is found in Christ, the bread of heaven.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Johannes Oecolampdius, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 228.

[2] Johannes Brenz, Ibid., page 228-229.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: NICNT, page 370.

[4] Johannes Brenz, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 229.

[5] Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: 1900, Vol 46, page 611.

[6] R.C. Sproul, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary: John, page 118-119.

[7] John Calvin, John Commentary, online.

[8] Heinrich Bullinger, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 233-234.

[9] Johann Wild, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 237.

Irma Sermon – “His Truth Abideth Still”

Good morning Church,
I wish I was addressing you in better circumstances, but it seems Irma is headed right at our city. With such a storm comes dangers and uncertainties and fears about what will happen to our homes, our neighbors, and our city. With all of this in mind I think some gospel encouragement is needed. So go ahead grab your Bibles and open to Daniel 3 and Psalm 46. You there? Great.

Remember the context of Daniel 3? It’s the famous story of the Fiery Furnace. Daniels three friends were commanded to worship King Nebuchadnezzar, they refused, and for it they were sentenced to be thrown into a white hot furnace. After being sentenced this is how they responded to the King: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

We truly believe God is able to move Irma away from Florida. He is Lord over all the earth, He made the world and can wield the world to whatever purpose He ordains. “I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. There is nothing too hard for Me” (Jeremiah 32:27). 

But what if He doesn’t move it? What if He allows it to hit us? How these three responded to the King is how we respond to Irma. In the face of the furnace they resolved to still praise God, so too, in the face of Irma we must resolve to still praise Him. Let me say it again, we will still praise Him if He allows Irma to hit our home.

Now turn to Psalm 46, where we find vocabulary to fill our prayers in light of Irma. These are the words that inspired Martin Luther to write the hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.’ The Psalm reads as follows:

To the choirmaster, of the sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Lesson?

God is our fortress, our refuge, our very present help in trouble (v1). Even when the created order seems to be falling apart (v2-3) and even when nation rises against nation (v6-9). In all of this – we can be still. Why? Because God will still be glorified and made much of in all the earth (v10). Therefore, the Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress (v11).

On this side of the cross we can say more. In light of Christ, in light of Immanuel, God with us, we can say that God’s ultimate presence with us is in Christ. Thus, Christ is our refuge, Christ is our fortress, and Christ will be glorified among all the nations. In Christ God is not only with us, in Christ He is forever for us, in Christ we are always safe, in calm or storm. 

His presence is our peace – Let’s praise Him still.

Praying,

Pastor Adam

Mark 9 – Leadership

Once again we come to the first Sunday of the month. We have set aside these first Sundays for a sermon series on the 9Marks of a healthy church. We have been going through these nine marks, not just because SonRise is a part of the 9Marks church network, but because we believe these nine marks are the ingredients that make a healthy ministry. We’ve looked at expository preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, church membership, church discipline, and discipleship. Today we come to the end of this series by looking at the 9th mark in the 9Marks, leadership.

To begin the topic of leadership I would like you to join me on a brief tour through the history of western civilization. It is possible to define the history of the western world in three large time periods. First is what’s called the premodern time, where it was commonly accepted by all that God had all the answers. So if anyone wanted to know the truth, have meaning, or gain a sense of purpose or identity they would look to God to show them the proper path. Then the renaissance or the enlightenment moved the premodern culture to modern culture. No longer was it believed that God had the answers. For the first time in history, it was commonly accepted by all that man had all the answers. So if anyone wanted to know the truth, have meaning, or gain a sense of purpose or identity they would look to themselves to find the proper path. This time period went on for some time and gave rise to some of the worst world leaders in history. Dictator after dictator burst onto the scene saying ‘I have the answers, follow me!’ Masses and masses of people followed these leaders and died because of them. Slowly but surely people began growing weary of those who abused authority by claiming to have all the answers. This weariness gave rise to the next revolution of thought and culture. Modern man who believed man had all the answers became postmodern man who could care less about answers. No longer do we look to leaders to give us truth, meaning, or a sense of purpose, postmodern man doesn’t think truth, meaning, or purpose really exist. Truth is relative and different for each person they say. This postmodern revolution still rages on today and largely at the center of it is a suspicion of authority, so much so in our day the exercise of authority is thought of as the abuse of authority.

I begin by discussing our current cultural context because when it comes to the 9th mark of a healthy church, when it comes to church leadership, one thing comes squarely into view – authority. So all I ask is that you be what you say you are, Christians, who embrace what the Bible says regardless if it flows with or against the tide of culture.

Our text to examine church leadership is Hebrews 13:17, you heard it read earlier, now let’s take the time to walk through it slowly, phrase by phrase, seeing what God calls us to in it.

The Duty of the People

In chapter Hebrews 13, v17 comes to us within the larger context of 13:10-21 where God gives instructions for how His people are to do life within His Church. The instruction in view in v17, obedience and submission, is the third one mentioned in this larger passage.[1] The same leaders the author calls us to consider and imitate back in 13:7, he calls us to submit to and obey in v17. See this for yourself in the first phrase of v17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”

I know the words obey and submit may bring negative ideas in your mind such as a strong leader forcing a weak follower to do something they don’t want to do, or a leader intentionally making someone feel underneath or lesser than they are. Maybe even the idea of physical or emotional abuse comes to mind when you hear these words. This is not what’s in view in this idea of obedience and submission. Rather the call for people to obey and submit to these leaders is a call to have a certain kind of heart attitude toward the leadership of the church. This kind of heart attitude is one of confiding in, trusting in, relying on, to place hope and confidence in, to yield to, to willingly be convinced by, to believe, to assent to, to listen to, and even to follow. All of these are possible translations for this first phrase in v17. These images describe what the character and behavior of every person within the local church ought to look like. Rather than seeing the leaders, specifically the elders of the Church, as simply managers of people and programs, we’re called by God to see the elders of the church as set apart and gifted men of God who are called by God to lead the people of God. So in a very real and weighty sense, to not obey and submit to them is to not obey and submit to God.

Of course this duty of obedience and submission is not a call to a blanket obedience and submission.[2] If I, or any of the elders, ever call you to do something the Bible forbids, or call you to not do something the Bible commands, it is your duty to disobey us in order to obey God. Sadly, throughout history and even in our day, we don’t have to look very far to find examples of this kind of pastoral abuse. It’s often joked about but Jim Jones really did strong arm 900 of his followers into drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. Other more recent pastors of well known churches really did bully their congregations into submission for years before they were asked to resign. What’s the lesson here? If an elder ever calls you to something sinful or bullies you into submission, that elder is out of order and is allowing chaos and disorder run amuck inside the congregation. But insofar as the elders of a church lead and call you to live in line with the Bible, v17 says it is to be your duty and first instinct to obey and submit to them. Paul asked the church in Thessalonica to do this very thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 saying, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and admonish you and are over you in the Lord, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

When a congregation lives like this with the elders of the church a culture of peace, love, unity, and order is created within the church. But a new questions comes up here though, why? Why are the members of a church called to obey and submit to the elders of that church? We’ve gotten hints of the reason, but the next phrase in Hebrews 13:17 clarifies it fully for us. So we’ve seen the duty of the people, now see…

The Duty of the Elders

Look at the next phrase in v17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give an account.”

As we saw leadership from the view of the people in the first phrase of v17, we now see leadership from the view of the elders in the second phrase of v17. The connecting word between the duty of the people and the duty of the elders is that little word for. The meaning of it is the people should obey and submit to their leaders for (or since or because) the leaders are keeping watch over their souls. In other words the reason the people are to willingly obey and submit to the elders is because their elders are already willingly keeping watch over their souls. The obedience and submission of the people is a response to the watchful shepherding of the elders. This is the order presented to us on the surface of things in v17.

Let’s go a little deeper and ask what does this keeping watch look like? The word translated as ‘keeping watch’ is the Greek word ‘agrupneo’ which literally means to ‘keep awake.’ So v17 is really saying, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are staying awake, or keeping awake, over your souls.” These elders, therefore, are diligently doing a kind of pastoral care that caused them to stay awake or to lose sleep. Why would an elder lose sleep because of pastoral care you may ask? It could be that they lost sleep because true pastoral care demands being available at any hour of the night. Or it could be that they lost sleep because true pastoral care sometimes keeps elders awake at night. Both of these things are likely in view, because both are an ever present reality for the New Testament elder, then and now. The image coming forth of this kind of pastoral care that elders willingly take on themselves is the image of a shepherd tending a flock. Remember the small detail given of the shepherds in the nativity story? They were “keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8).[3] Leadership within the church, or the pastoral shepherding done by the elders of the church is no different. It requires the elder to be ever watchful of the sheep. When multiple demands are pressing, when people are joining, when people are straying, when counsel is needed and accepted, when is needed and given but rejected, when sermons have been prepared and preached, when much prayer has spent, it’s the elder who loses sleep over the congregation.

You ever thought about this? For the elder, deep joy is truly had over those who are walking with the Lord and growing. The apostle John speaks of this in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Yet the opposite is also true. Deep sorrow and grief is felt over those who are diving into sin, ignoring counsel, or slowly drifting away. Paul speaks of this when he says he feels a daily pressure and anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). So, what does church leadership like? It looks like a group of elders willingly watching over and shepherding a congregation, experiencing a daily joy mixed with grief over the congregation, which can and often does result in them losing sleep.

As if the weightiness of pastoral work and care were not already heavy, the author of Hebrews brings it to a whole other level saying, “…for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will have to give an account.” Yes elders are shepherds of the congregation and are truly responsible to the congregation for how they shepherd. But there is a great Shepherd they must answer to, the Good Shepherd Himself, Christ. To Christ, then, every under-shepherd will have to give an answer for how he led, cared for, admonished, taught, pursued, counseled, and loved Christ’s sheep. 1 Peter 5:2-4 speaks of this weightiness also when it calls elders to, “…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” God truly gives the elders and increased responsibility but with that comes an increased accountability.[4] Knowing that God is ultimately the one with whom the elder has to deal, is also another reason why sleep can easily flee. God’s people are just that, His people. Elders don’t have people, they shepherd God’s people. Elders don’t want to harm them but help them. This demands a God-given discernment, that must be pled for in the early hours of the morning.

v17 doesn’t end there. We’ve seen the duty of the people, the duty of the elders, and now the author adds one more phrase to v17 and in that phrase we see our last point…

Shared Delight In These Duties

v17 ends by saying, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning for that would be of no advantage to you.” This final phrase calls the people to so live underneath the authority of their elders that the elders find shepherding them a joy and not a source of grief or groaning. Why? So all would benefit. The opposite of this is just as true. As all benefit when the people obey and submit, so too, all are wounded/stunted when the people disobey and refuse to submit. See here not only that personal actions have congregational implications, see here that God calls you to a shared delight with your elders. A delight that is deep and rich and joyful in the care of your soul. For the people to pursue this joy and for the elders to pursue this joy will profit the whole people.[5] Paul thanked the Philippians for this in Phil. 1:3-4, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy…” Paul thanked the Thessalonians for this as well, telling them in 1 Thess. 2:19-20, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” And again in 1 Thess. 3:9, “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God…”

I want to be careful here, lest too much is given to the elder. v17 has been abused from pastors all around the globe in strong arming congregations to bend to their own desires. When, in reality, v17 is a call for pastors to have joy in serving and loving a people who take joy in having their souls attended to. Both the people and the elders must be willingly gracious with each other, or both their joy will be small.

Conclusion:

Let me sum all this up briefly. Paul, the apostles, and every elder ever since are not Christ. Christ is Christ. That is clear. But when elders lead like Christ, and the people submit to them like Christ, the joy of Christ abounds in all. True leadership within the Church and true membership within the Church is always a reflection of the gospel. What is the gospel? It’s the good news that “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). The love of Christ toward His Church is a costly love. It’s a sacrificial love. It’s a love loaded with good news. This gospel love is a model for how the elders are to lead and love the congregation as under-shepherds. This gospel love is also a model for how the people obey, submit to, and follow the elders. And this gospel love creates gospel joy among the congregation when both the elders and the people respond to one another as they’re called to. So true leadership within the Church begins by the gospel, is upheld by the gospel, and lasts by the gospel.

But, perhaps you think this is all too arranged, or structured and think because of this heavy structure that true love cannot be possible within the Church. People submitting and obeying, elders ruling and leading. Authority is too often abused, why can’t we all just gather together and worship God? Why does there have to be any kind of authority or system of leadership in the church? Well, as much as some want to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to authority…without the authority of church leadership the church would feel like a car with no controls, a busy intersection with no traffic lights, a board game with no rules, a home with no parents, and a road with no guard rails. A church without the authority of leadership may go on for sometime, but in time it would not only become chaotic, it would become tragic.[6] Sure there are many bullies in the pulpit and these men will have to give an account of that one day, but don’t overlook the fact that bullies can also exist in the pew. You may think it’s your calling to keep the pastor humble or in line, it’s not. It’s your job to live joyfully under the leadership of the elders, and it’s the elder’s job to lead faithfully under the Great and Good Shepherd, Christ.

Perhaps I can say it like this: God intends the elders to rule with a loving and sacrificial authority and God intends the people to submit with a loving and sacrificial willingness so that there would be order within His Church. This order is not meant to hinder freedom, but exists to let the good things run free. What are the good things that run free in a church under a healthy grace based gospel leadership? Gospel truth, gospel joy, and gospel growth.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, page 440.

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews – An Anchor for the Soul, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 463.

[3] Thomas Aquinas quoted Luke 2:8 in his own exposition of Hebrews 13:17, see Kent Hughes, page 463.

[4] Ibid., page 464.

[5] John Piper, Desiring God, page 306.

[6] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, page 255.

John 6:35-40 – The Bread of Heaven, Part 2

Those of you who have been around SonRise for a while have heard this before, but let me remind us all what we seek to accomplish in this sermon each week. During the preaching portion of our Sunday morning gatherings we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which means we must not aim at saying something new but seek to only say what God has already said, such that the point of the text is the point of the sermon. We don’t 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 the current passage as well as anticipating the verses that come after. Or to put it another way, we seek to sit underneath the authority and illumination of the Scripture, rather than standing over it using the Scripture to support our own message.

This is our goal, we don’t do it perfectly, but we do aim to be faithful handlers of God’s Word.[1]

We are currently in a sermon series walking through the gospel of John. John’s gospel may be new or may be familiar to some of us, but nonetheless it’s a true story for all of us.[2] 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 our passage today, John 6:35-40, on page 520. I’ll pray, and then we’ll get to it. Let’s pray.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude than seeks to make Him king, right after the miracle and even into the next day, because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs or meet materialistic expectations. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever and ever. He even takes time to explain this to the multitude more clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. The multitude still didn’t quite see what Jesus was saying, so in response to the crowd’s obtuseness Jesus responds with some of the clearest and most powerful language thus far in John’s gospel.

This clear, powerful response is found in John 6:35-40. This is where we pick up today. You heard this text read earlier, let’s go through it now noticing three realities of Christ that are able to forever satisfy our souls. These realities are not just things to agree with, their things we must see, know, and love.

See the Offer of Christ (v35-36)

After this multitude shows their shallow ability to understand what Jesus is saying He speaks in blazing clarity saying in v35, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to Me shall not hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” They were comparing Jesus’ previous miracle to the manna given by God to Israel in the wilderness, but Jesus contrasts Himself with that manna pointing out that the true bread of heaven isn’t something they can pick up and eat, it is nothing less than Himself. He Himself is the food, the bread of heaven come down to give life, and it is only from this bread that men truly obtain the satisfaction we desire.[3]

Becoming a Christian can be described in many ways: being born again, becoming a new creation, getting saved, leaving the old behind and pressing into what’s ahead, turning away from sin and turning toward Christ, etc. Notice here in v35 Jesus describes it in terms of coming to Him and believing in Him. When one comes to Him or believes in Him what’s in view here is a move away from a life that is characterized by hunger, thirst, famine, lack, and an inability to satisfy or quench the deepest desires of our soul. v35 says we move away from that kind of life only when we move toward Christ. This means when we move toward Christ we move into an entirely new kind of human experience. We move into a kind of life where hunger and thirst are no longer possible, where famine and lack have no place or room to settle within us, and where the inability to satisfy or quench the soul’s deepest desires is a thing of the past.

For when we come to Christ He saves us, and when Christ saves us, He becomes the very sustenance of our souls. Of course I do not mean that all hungering or thirsting or longing in the soul vanishes when we’re saved, not at all. In a real sense it’s at the moment of salvation where we, for the first time, taste a true hunger and thirst to know God more and more. Thus, a new kind of hungering and thirsting is created by coming to Christ. So what kind of hunger and thirst then has vanished forever, never to return again upon becoming a Christian? The deep longing of an unsatisfied heart, that is no longer part of our reality.

One of Jesus’s parables puts this on display. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” Here we see what true conversion looks like. We are converted when Christ becomes for us a treasure chest of holy joy. When we see Him, recognize His vast worth, and then, in our joy we let go of all we hold dear so we can have Him! A crucified, risen, and reigning Savior who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His Person our greatest treasure.[4] So saving faith, the kind of faith v35 speaks of that comes to and believes in Jesus, this kind of faith always involves a profound change of heart. It is not mere agreement with a certain set of doctrines.[5] It is seeing Christ in those glorious gospel doctrines standing forth as supremely valuable and worthy of all the affection of your heart and soul. It is gaining a God-given new taste for the bread of heaven, and a new captivating sight of the beauty and glory of Christ!

Listen to John Piper describe this, “Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God. He was an idea, maybe even a good idea or topic for discussion, but not a treasure of delight. Then something miraculous happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First, the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end…And then, faith – the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, I will share in His holiness and behold His glory.”[6]

Church, please don’t miss this. There is a chance you could. There is a chance you could be in church every week for your whole life and miss this. See v36, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” That v36 comes directly after v35 shows that it is possible to see Christ and hear His teaching and see nothing of value, worth, or anything that amazes your soul. You don’t want to be part of this group. v35 is not a distant, abstract reality that we cannot grab ahold of. It is an offer extended by God through Christ that the human soul can feast on forever! To not embrace this offer is the epitome of folly, and to go through life near to Christ, near His people, near His Word and yet miss seeing the glory of who He is, is a horrific tragedy. You don’t want to be found in v36, but in v35.

Know the Promise of Christ (v37)

After speaking in such blazing clarity about what God is offering the world through Himself, Jesus continues on teaching in v37 saying, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” We have seen His offer in v35-36, now see His promise in v37. What is His promise? The promise in view here has three parts to it. First, God the Father gives people to the Son. Second, all the people the Father has given to the Son will come to the Son. Third, all the people who come to the Son will never be cast out. At first you may think v37 has little to nothing to do with v35-36. What, at first glance, does the Father’s giving people to the Son and assuring that all those people will come to the Son and never be cast away by the Son, what does that have to do with the offer of a forever full and satisfied soul in the bread of Christ in v35? At first glance it may not make sense, that’s why we’re to read slowly and take not just a first glance, but a second, third, fourth…a 47th glance if need be to see what God has for us in His Word. Here’s the connection that I think is present between the offer of Christ in v35-36 and the promise of Christ in v37.

That the promise of Christ in v37 comes after the offer of Christ in v35-36 teaches us that the eternal satisfaction of our souls in the bread of life, in Christ Himself, was planned by God before the creation of the world. This means if we now have come to and believe in Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and have experienced that profound heart change from seeing no value in Christ to seeing all value in Christ, God has been, is now, and always will be eager to increase our joy in Jesus. Why do I see that? Because in v37 we find that God has in eternity past given a certain and specific group of people to His Son, and in God’s own timing all of those people will leave sin behind and come to the Son and find that He truly is the bread of life and the very sustenance of their souls. The promise in view in v37 is not only that all these people will come, but that when they come they will not be turned away or cast out. God the Father promises here that the work of the Son will not be in vain, but will accomplish the redemption of all those He has given to the Son. In other words, God the Father didn’t send His Son to make salvation possible but to actually purchase and save a particular people. What people? All the people He gave have to Him as v37 says.

Clearly this is speaking of the sovereignty of God in salvation and displays for us that the reason underneath all other reasons for why people come to Christ when they do is because God the Father chose and gave them to the Son. I once struggled greatly with this doctrine of predestination and kicked against it. You see, I used to interpret v37 backwards, as if it said, “All who come to Me, the Father will give to Me.” But that’s wrong. That’s not what Jesus says here. He says, “All the Father gives to Me, will come to Me.”[7] So it’s ultimately the Father’s choice that creates the possibility for our choice, not the other way around. And once I saw that, the well of my joy in Christ increased significantly! God had planned for my soul to feast on the bread of life and find infinite satisfaction in Jesus, and at the proper moment God opened my eyes and gave me that satisfaction in the gospel of His Son.

Perhaps you have found yourself interpreting v37 backwards like I once did, or perhaps you still do that. As I called you to see the offer of Christ in v35-36, here I call you to know the promise of Christ in v37. Know it, don’t change it to be more to your liking. Know it, embrace Jesus’ words as Jesus gave them. Know it, trust that He knows better and more than you do. When you know it, when you know this promise of sovereign grace planning and producing a sovereign joy in you through gospel, Jesus will become for you a treasure chest of holy joy.

Love the Power of Christ (v38-40)

Jesus makes one more statement to this multitude before Him. It’s found in the last three verses of our text, v38-40, where He says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Here we see a powerful harmony in the community of the Trinity. The Son came down from heaven to do, not His own will, but the will of His Father who sent Him. There is no competition between Father and Son, but a willing submission from Son to Father. That’s what we see in v38. In v39-40 we see more. What is the Father’s will that He sent the Son to do? To keep all those who’ve been given to Him, not just for some time, but for all time. All the way to the end, to the last day. This same thought in v39 is repeated and expanded in v40 where we learn the way the people given to the Son will be kept by the Son is by looking on and believing in the Son. This looking and believing gives eternal life, and ends in resurrection……I see great power here for you and me. Power that has nothing to do with us and power that has everything to do with us. It is a power given from Father to Son to save us, to keep us, and to raise us. It is power from Father to Son to steadily and consistently move our eyes to look at His beauty and move our hearts to believe in His teaching and Person. Yes we look and believe to be saved, but here we see the Son will employ His power to keep us looking and believing until the day, the last day, where He’ll raise us up.

Conclusion:

Think about what we’ve seen so far. We saw the message of salvation in v35-36, that Christ offers through the gospel, full and forever satisfaction in Himself. We then saw how we came to believe in that message in v37, that the Father chose us, gave us to the Son, and because He gave us to the Son, the Son promises to welcome us and never cast us out. Now we see in v38-40 the reason we will continue or remain to be Christians until the end, that Christ, by the power the Father gave to Him will never loosen His grip on us one bit. So we have traveled through the entirety of a human life now – the full and forever satisfaction found by each sinner who looks on and believes in the gospel of v35-36 was planned for us before the foundation of the world in v37. And even more, God will see to it that this soulful satisfaction will continue to rise in us until the day we physically rise from the dead in v38-40.

Think of this passage like this: God planned our joy in the gospel before time, God gave us joy in the gospel at the appointed time, and God will keep our joy in the gospel until the end of time. 

Love this. Love that God is not only willing to keep you, love that God is powerful enough to keep you. All those the Father gives to the Son will be kept by the Son until the day the Son raises us to a heavenly life. That day we’ll see with a blazing clarity what we can only glimpse at now. That Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. That the cross is where God intends this profound heart change is to occur, because it’s at the cross, it’s looking at the cross, and believing what God did at the cross, where our boasting in the world ceases and our boasting in the Son of God begins.

Church, may you see the offer of Christ, may you know the promise of Christ, and may you love the power of Christ freely to given to sinners by God in the gospel. May you boast in this.

 

 

Citations:

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

[2] Kevin DeYoung, The Biggest Story, page 120.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 365. In fact, this whole section in Morris on pages 365-369 is rich with gospel clarity and comfort. I have gleaned and employed much from these pages in this sermon.

[4] John Piper, Desiring God, page 70.

[5] Ibid., page 64.

[6] Ibid., page 71-72.

[7] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 115-117.

John 6:22-34 – The Bread of Heaven, Part 1

It’s been two weeks since we’ve been in John’s gospel so let me remind you where we are. In the beginning of chapter 6 we saw Jesus perform a miracle worthy of all four gospels, the feeding of the 5,000 when He turned a young lad’s lunch into a meal for the multitude. After the crowd had eaten their full they concluded that Jesus would be the perfect political leader they needed, so they sought to take Him and force Him to be king. Jesus knew this, so He left the scene of the miracle and ventured further up the mountain by Himself. When evening came His disciples got into a boat and left to go back home. During their trip a large storm arose, they tried to labor through it, but only made it so far. Then they saw something they’d never forget and grew frightened when they saw Jesus walking on the waves of the sea coming toward them. To their disbelief He got into their boat and calmed their fears with a declaration of His deity in v20 giving us one of His 23 I AM statements saying “It is I (EGO EIMI), do not be afraid.”

Now we come to our passage today, where we see this same crowd of people doing three things, seeking Jesus (v22-24), finding Jesus (v25-27), and misunderstanding Jesus (v28-34).

Seeking Jesus (v22-24)

As we approach v22 in John 6, we find that morning has now come and the same crowd that witnessed the miracle and ate their full was again seeking Jesus (probably still trying to make Him king). But as the morning light dawned they grew confused. v22-24 tell us their confusion had to do with the number of boats present down by the dock. Apparently they knew two things: first, that there had only been one boat present the evening before. And second, that the disciples alone got into that boat and left when evening came to go back to Capernaum. So you see their confusion: if the disciples had used the only boat and left without Jesus why could they not find Jesus? He should still be there somewhere on the mountain, but they couldn’t find Him. Well, during the night other boats had come over from Tiberias after the disciples left, so when they realized they couldn’t find Jesus they got into those boats and set off, this time hoping to find Jesus in Capernaum.

So as our passage opens see the scene that John is painting for us. A crowd of people, the same multitude that ate the miraculous meal is still looking for Jesus…eager to find Him and force Him to be their king. Let’s continue to see what happens.

Finding Jesus (v25-27)

In v25 the crowd of people gets to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they find Jesus in Capernaum, and say to Him “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They know the disciples had taken the only boat, so according to them Jesus had no way of getting to the other side of the Sea, so they’re really asking Jesus, ‘How did you get here?’ Now, they are numerous times that Jesus answers questions people ask Him, but rarely does He answer in ways people want Him to if He answers their questions at all. When we hear this crowd ask their question in v25 we want Jesus to answer them clearly and emphatically just to see their reaction. ‘You’re right, there were no boats for me to take across the sea. How then did I get here? I walked.’[1] But He doesn’t do this, He doesn’t even answer their question. Instead He points out in v26 what the people are really after. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” What does Jesus mean? The reason underneath all other reasons for searching and coming to Jesus was because their hunger had been satisfied. So at the previous day’s miracle “Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread…They were moved not by full hearts, but by full bellies.”[2] True, they witnessed a wonder but they completely missed what the sign signified.

I don’t think this hits us as it should in our current context. We live in a place and time when food is abundant and relatively easy to get, but in this day it was not so easy to come by abundant food. Hunger wasn’t a rare, and for many of them it was a constant reality. So to be hungry and to then see someone come and provide food enough for all to eat as much as they wanted would’ve been something extremely rare, so rare, that once you see this you’d want to do all you could to stay as close as you could to that person. This is what the crowd is feeling as they approach Jesus. But Jesus cuts through their question and addressed their heart issue. They were in a very real sense, fair weather fans of Christ, willing to seek after and even follow Him. But they only sought Him and followed Him for His benefits, or more precisely, when His benefits benefitted them.[3] I believe you and I are challenged here seeing v26, and hearing Jesus’ response to the crowd…because while we may point the finger at other people and believe them to be shallow in their devotion to Christ, I don’t think we have to go very far to find fair weather followers of Christ.

One example: if asked what we believe about the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel peddled on TV most everyone in this room wouldn’t hesitate to denounce it as a false movement, preaching a false gospel, creating false converts. We would quickly say that to believe in God seeking to be rich and secure and comfortable is dishonoring to God and harmful to people. But, pause and think about that. When things are going well, when we or our children remain healthy, when our quality work is being noticed by our boss, when there’s no trouble in life – we are quick to say ‘God is good! Praise Him!’ Where are the people still saying ‘Praise God, God is good!’ when sickness lingers or increases? Where are the people still believing in God’s goodness when work isn’t going so well or when other people get noticed? Where are the people still praising God for His faithfulness when there is trouble in life? We say we denounce the false prosperity message, but why do we stop praising God when we experience anything but prosperity? We are far more fair-weather followers of Christ than we realize, using God for our own ends, believing in Christ only because it increases our own self-esteem, treating Him as nothing more than a cosmic butler who exists to increase our comfort, and eagerly embracing the gospel as if there were no bitterness in Christ’s cross.[4]

This mindset is precisely the mindset of this crowd who approaches Jesus in v25. At the end of chapter 6 we’ll see most of these fair weather followers leave Christ when He begins teaching things that don’t fit their liking. So perhaps we need to hear v26 anew and remember that when we come to Jesus we don’t come on our own terms with our own agenda, we come to Him rightly when we come to Him on His terms, bowing to His agenda, regardless the cost to us.

Jesus continues on in v27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” We all know what this means. Having once been a teenage boy I can remember my mother coming home with a car full of groceries in the morning and wondering that same evening why there wasn’t any food in the house! Physical food doesn’t last.[5] Here Jesus directs this crowd away from worldly labor which results in food that doesn’t last and directs them towards heavenly labor which results in food that endures forever. What is this food? It’s surely not found at Aldi or Publix. It’s spiritual food not physical food, eaten by the soul and not the mouth. More specifically, the food being spoken of here is affection for, love towards, and the abundant life promised in Christ that only comes from communion with Christ.

As you can imagine, this crowd doesn’t quite follow what Jesus is speaking of here, which brings us to our next point. We’ve seen the crowd seek Jesus, find Jesus, we now see them misunderstand Jesus.

Misunderstanding Jesus (v28-34)

In v28-34 we see the crowd misunderstand Jesus three times.

Misunderstanding #1 (v28-29)

After telling them of the food that endures forever they respond saying in v28-29, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Apparently they had understood v27 in part and concluded that they needed this true food that lasts forever. This is good that they got this, but they went wrong in thinking they had to work to get it. We can sympathize with this crowd here. It’s natural for us to think we have to work for God to get something in return from God. One of the reasons we often misunderstand Jesus is because the gospel doesn’t work like that. Romans 4:4-5 explains this when it says, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” It’s faith alone that saves, faith in the work of Christ on our behalf. Jesus corrects this crowd in v29 and says something astonishing, that believing in Him is the work of God. So the food that endures forever is food freely given and food freely received. It comes to us through faith. Notice that according to Jesus faith and work are not separate things, here in this one phrase He links these two ideas together. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Me.” What does this mean? The theologian of early Church history, Augustine, once explained it like this, “Believe, and you’ll find that you have eaten already.”[6] Or in other words, ‘believe in Jesus, and you’ll find your soul full.’

The crowd then showed further misunderstanding as we see their response, which brings us to…

Misunderstanding #2 (v30-33)

They respond to this in v30-31, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” You feel the tone of this response? It seems this crowd is saying something like this, ‘We’re not really interested in the great sign you did yesterday when you fed thousands of us, haven’t you heard God fed Israel everyday for 40 years in the wilderness? Can’t you do something like that?’ We learn something new about this crowd here. Sure they may have accepted that Jesus performed a miracle the day before, but it wasn’t enough for them. After all, that was yesterday and it’s now today. They were looking for something bigger today.[7] They probably wanted this bigger sign because in Jewish culture at this time, there was a belief that the true Messiah would bring Manna from heaven with Him. They clearly believed this. Even so, can you believe they were speaking to Jesus in this way?

This is audacious, that they would impose on Christ the sign they must have before they would believe.[8] ‘Moses gave us bread from heaven, you only gave us common bread. Moses fed a whole nation for 40 years, you only fed the multitude for one meal. Can’t you do something more like that?’ Commenting on this J.C. Ryle points out the obvious similarity in us saying, “They were always deceiving themselves with the idea that they wanted more evidence, and pretending that if they had this evidence they would believe. Thousands in every age do just the same…the plain truth is that it is lack of heart, not lack of evidence, that keeps people back from Christ.”[9] Do you treat Jesus like this? Having the audacity to demand more and more signs and more and more proof of who He is before you will believe in Him? Similar to what Gideon did to God before He would obey Him? If that’s you be honest, all the evidence in the world wouldn’t change your mind would it? The simple truth is that you don’t want to believe in Him, because if you truly believed in Him you’d have to leave your sin behind, and you love your sin too much to leave it. Some of the crowd that day was surely in this position, and I do not doubt that some of you here today may be there as well.

Listen carefully to how Jesus responds to this misunderstanding in v32-33, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” In His response He corrects and clarifies two things for them. First, the manna from heaven wasn’t from Moses, it was from God. Second, the manna itself wasn’t the true bread of heaven, He is. He makes it clear that the manna in the wilderness only fed one nation but He, the true manna/bread of heaven, feeds all those who come to Him from every nation. The manna in the wilderness ran out daily, but He satisfies the souls of those who come to Him forever. There could not be a bigger difference between what the crowd expected from Him and what He came to offer. This crowd was severely mistaken, thinking the dawn of the Messiah would bring an abundance of materialistic wealth similar to the wealth Israel gained in plundering Egypt after the Exodus.

How sad is this scene before us? Here’s a spiritually dead and needy crowd, hungering for more of what they think Jesus can be for them, completely missing the point of everything Jesus is laying out before them. And here is Jesus, whose not come to bring physical manna or satisfy any materialistic expectation of theirs, but to make those who believe in Him spiritually abound in every way imaginable. Everything He’s saying here points to the essentially spiritual nature of the kingdom He is now bringing into the world,[10] and those who are hearing Him can’t seem to get past their preconceived ideas about who the Messiah is and what He’ll bring to them.

Picture it like this. Let’s say Holly and I invite you over for dinner and we prepare a robust meal for you. There’s a big salad to prepare for the greater meal to come. We fix your favorite meat, just the way you like it, steaming garlic and cheesy mashed potatoes, crisp asparagus, and a refreshing choice of beverages to wash it down. What a dinner! But wait, there’s a choice of dessert afterwards, warm thick crusted apple pie, or dark and rich chocolate cake. This would be a meal fit for a king! Say we invited you to come over to enjoy this with us and after we begin serving each other you reach into your pocket and pull out a peanut butter sandwich to eat instead. Noting would be more ridiculous, nothing would be more rude…to have been invited to a feast, prepared for you, laid out for you, offered to you, and you turning it down for something so much smaller. In that moment you’d not only be dishonoring Holly and I, you’d be fooling yourself thinking your peanut butter sandwich is better when even a child can see which meal is better!

This is how this crowd is treating Jesus in this moment, and sadly this is how many people, perhaps you yourself, treat Jesus today. In the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, Christ Himself offers the richest of meals for us to glut our souls on. And what do we do? Turn to something else thinking it will fill up our souls. Believing in Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel will make us spiritually abound in every way imaginable. O that you would see this and stop turning away from it to empty things that can’t satisfy the soul. 

Conclusion:

Misunderstanding #3 (v34)

Misunderstanding #3, and I’ll close with this, is in v34. After all of this they look at Jesus and say, “Sir, give us this bread always.” If only they knew what they were asking for! If only they had eyes to see the glory of the One standing before them! If only they had hearts to feel His joy, ears to hear His Word, a true longing that desired the bread He offers! If only we knew what is at stake for God’s eternal glory and our eternal satisfaction each week we come and gather here! Jesus will continue responding to this crowd, and in so doing, He’s about to make one of the most famous statements in this gospel, which Lord willing, we’ll see next week as we continue in John 6.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, John, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 111.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 358.

[3] Sproul, page 111.

[4] John Calvin, quoted in Leon Morris, NICNT, page 358 – footnote 64.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 207.

[6] Leon Morris, page 360 – footnote 76.

[7] R. Kent Hughes, page 208-209.

[8] Leon Morris, page 362.

[9] Ibid., page 362 – footnote 81.

[10] Ibid., page 364-365.

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.