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John 8:12 – The Light of the World

Before we get into our text for this morning I’d like to give a brief explanation as to why we’re temporarily moving past John 7:53-8:11.

In most of our Bibles you’ll find brackets around this text with a little note that says, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts omit this passage.” At first a comment like this can jar the soul, that something in the Bible may really not be in the Bible. All this means is that the earliest and best copies of Scripture do not include this passage, and because of this it is likely not something John the apostle wrote. Yet, rather than leave it out altogether we still find it in our Bibles, why? Well, though the earliest copies leave it out some of the later copies keep it in, placing it in a variety of locations. Some place it here at the end of John 7, others put it at the very end of John’s gospel, others even put it at the end of Luke 21. The bottom line is this – if John 7:53-8:11 isn’t original to John’s gospel, but a later addition, it doesn’t mean it never happened, it most likely did occur and we can glean a great deal from it. But because it’s location within the text seems difficult to place, it means the annual Feast of Booths or Tabernacles which began in chapter 7 continues on into chapter 8. Which means the very next thing Jesus says at this feast after making the ultimate offer of living water in 7:37-39 is the great I AM statement of John 8:12.

So this morning we will move on ahead to 8:12 to continue tracking with the events of the feast. We will come back to 7:53-8:11 once the scene at the feast is over at the end of chapter 8.

Recall Jesus had just given a powerful and vivid invitation and promise of ultimate satisfaction. Any who came to Him and believed in Him would find rivers of living water flowing in them and through them. This offer of living water would’ve been entirely understandable to this crowd who was gathered together during a dry time of year to celebrate God’s providing for them in the wilderness. But throughout this feast more than manna, quail meat, or water from the rock was remembered and celebrated. There was a special ceremony of illumination to remember the light of God’s guidance. At this ceremony four large lamps or candles were lit in the evening to symbolize the pillar of fire that led them by night. Some say these candles were as tall as the temple walls themselves, so that when they were lit the whole of the temple and much of the city would be lit up as well.[1] After being lit the Levitical orchestra would begin play and the people would light their own smaller torches in response and spend the entire evening dancing, singing, and rejoicing in that light.[2]

Into this context Jesus once again speaks up and says in 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

This verse stands forth from John’s gospel as a multifaceted diamond, shining brightly and brilliantly from every angle we look at it. So this morning, we’re going to slow down and take a look at three ways this verse shines out at us.

The True Fiery Glory

What Jesus has to say about Himself here would have been hard to misunderstand. Not only does He use the literal name of God “I AM” to make His point, but in the midst of this ceremony of illumination at the end of feast week, He proclaims Himself to be the very light of God.

See this scene in your imagination.

Four towering candles are blazing high above the people and they are reminded of the pillar of the fiery glory of God that led them by night in the wilderness. This pillar was a real life display of the great glory of God. The same glory that was revealed against Pharaoh in the plagues, the same glory that led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, the same glory that they then saw shroud Mt. Sinai. It was this great glory that threatened anyone who came near the mountain, that thundered as the Law was given to Moses, that fell on the tabernacle and later the temple once they were completed. This same glory was the substance of the cloud that guarded them by day and the substance of the fiery pillar that guarded them by night. In this regard the pillar of fire not only would’ve proved dreadful and terrifying to anyone who’d tried to attack Israel, at times it also proved dreadful and terrifying for Israel because they too couldn’t go near it without being struck dead.

Yet here is Jesus Christ, making the astounding claim that He is the truer fiery pillar of glory come in human flesh, the light of God’s holiness come to God’s people once again. This time though, unlike before that glory is accessible, touchable even. Anyone could come to Him and learn from Him, all were invited to believe in Him, and those who came, those who believed…were filled with the “light of life.”

Of this moment the old man Zechariah rejoiced in Luke 1 saying “Because of the tender mercy of our God…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). Later when Jesus was born do you remember what the Shepherds saw? In Luke 2:9 it says, “…an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.” There is something about the glory of God that shines out a terrible wonder. That warns us to not come near unless we are right with this God of glory. Lesson? As creation began with a light of glory in Genesis 1, so too the dawn of new creation began with the birth of Jesus Christ, who would grow up to one day stand in the midst of the ceremony on feast week and proclaim Himself to be the true fiery glory of God, the blazing center of all His manifold wonder, the very light of the world.

Jesus has throughout the past three chapters of John shown Himself to be the fulfillment of all of God’s provision in the wilderness. In chapter 6 Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the bread of life that’s greater than the manna from heaven. In chapter 7 Jesus proclaimed that by coming to Him and believing in Him we experience rivers of living water rushing in and out of us that’s greater than the water which gushed out of the rock. And here in chapter 8 Jesus proclaims Himself, not to be a light in the world, but the very light of the world that outshines the pillar of fire that led them through those dark wilderness nights. This means as Israel followed the pillar of fiery glory by night, we follow Christ, the true pillar of fiery glory. This brings us to the next this verse shines out at us.

Following Fiery Glory

Notice when Jesus says He is the light of the world that He isn’t a light for the whole world, He is only the light for those who follow Him. When the cloud and pillar moved, Israel moved. When the cloud and pillar stopped, Israel stopped and made camp.[3] This shows us what it means to follow Christ. Where Christ goes, we go. What His Word commands, we obey. What His Word promises, we trust. In other words, following Christ means we are not free to map out our own course through life.[4] To follow Christ means we follow His lead, not our own. J.C. Ryle puts it like this, “To follow Christ is to commit ourselves wholly and entirely to Him as our only leader and Savior, and to submit ourselves to Him in every matter of doctrine and practice.”[5] Do you know what this means? In regard to doctrine we follow Christ, meaning we’re not free to believe what we think is true, what we’d like to be true, or what we want to be true. We’re to believe what the Word says, no matter the cost to us. Similarly, in regard to practice we follow Christ, meaning we’re not free to live how we want to, make up our rules, or disregard God’s truth for our opinions. We’re to live as He would have us, again, no matter the cost to us.

So you see, it really doesn’t matter if you profess faith. Many people profess to be Christians and live wickedly everyday. No, true religion, true faith, true following Christ is more than a mere profession of faith, it’s possessing that faith that matters, or perhaps being possessed by it that matters.

Allow me to illustrate. I truly do appreciate the ministry of David Platt, and what God is doing through him. I’ll never forget the first few times I heard him preach. The preaching was strong, the call was deep, and the reward of Christ was clear! I remember thinking ‘WOW, God has made a new John Piper!’ But really, his book Radical really helped me see through the fog of American consumeristic Christianity and see what it really looked like to live life as a disciple of Christ. But, for all the good I’ve gleaned from Platt you know one thing I don’t like? Calling the book Radical gives the impression that this kind of forsaking all to follow Christ is for those who really want to know God and mature in faith. You know what the book should’ve been called? Normal. Why? Because living radically for Jesus isn’t something mature Christians do, it’s something Christians do. The radical life of following Christ should be normal for Christians, so if it’s not normal for you, you may be a Christian in name only and function as a kind of practical atheist.

Church, this is kind of life we’re called to in following Christ. If we choose to follow our own will we must also see that we’re choosing to reject God’s and if we choose to follow God’s will we must also see that we’re choosing to reject ours. So, what will you choose? Who is sovereign in you? God or you? Your choice will determine whether your life is in the light or in the dark. I wonder if all of you sitting here today are following this Christ. Are you? Or do you embrace the world’s values, serve the world’s priorities, and dream the world’s dreams?[6] Perhaps you’re not acting on these things in any external way, but internally do you wish you could live life as if God didn’t exist so you could give free reign to your passions and pleasures? Perhaps some of you are acting on these things in an external way and you believe you’re doing a wonderful job of secretly managing two opposing lifestyles. Do not be deceived, repent, and see clearly the terror of the fiery pillar of Christ.

I get it though, really. We live in a dark world where what ought to happen doesn’t. The upright should be the ones ruling our cities, states, and nations. But it’s often the wicked who rise to power and prominence in our world. Those who labor diligently to care for their families should be the ones who advance and get ahead in life. But it’s often the dishonest and crooked who move ahead in life. Justice should flow like water through our cities, yet injustices all of kinds reign. Isaiah 8:22 describes what we experience, “Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” Even in our hearts, the good we often yearn to do we don’t do and by not doing it we make way for the evil we hate to consume us. No wonder why Paul speaks in Ephesians 6:12 of the “cosmic powers over this present darkness.”

Our world is a dark place indeed, no doubt about that. Even so, Jesus, the true pillar of fiery glory is the light of the world and all those who follow Him will never walk in darkness.

This brings us to our final point.

Becoming Fiery Glory

Think back with me to John 1. As John begins his gospel he says in v4-5, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This light of Christ is the light of men. Yes it’s true that Jesus is the true fiery pillar of glory shining out a terrible wonder. It’s true that whoever follows His fiery glory doesn’t walk in darkness but walks bright in this dark world. But it’s also true that those who follow His fiery glory become, in a very real sense, a fiery glory of their own. How so? Remember Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The light of life flows into our dark sinful souls and changes everything with its brightness.

Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 5:8 when he says, “…at one time you were darkness…” Notice he doesn’t say at one time we were in the dark, but that we were darkness. “…at one time you were darkness, but now (because of the gospel) you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” The light of life has changed us into an entirely new person.

It is said that the moon is the lesser light in the sky, and in one sense this is true. The moon doesn’t shine near as bright as the sun. But in another sense this is not true, for the moon doesn’t shine at all of it’s own accord. The moon shines yes, but all of it’s light comes from another source, it’s only a reflection of the sun. In the same manner, saved sinners don’t have any brightness of their own that shines. No, our light is derivative…it comes from another source, from Christ Himself. So Jesus can truthfully say of us in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” And again in 13:43, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Or if I can say such a thing, when we become a believer we become a moon of Christ. 

Conclusion:

There is something very Christmasy and Adventy about John 8:12 isn’t there? In it the great promise of Isaiah 9:2 comes to fulfillment before our eyes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

Do you feel dark? Do you feel the deep and cavernous darkness within you? Or do you feel that much of your days, though perfectly sunny, are spent walking around in the darkness? Take heart, with the birth of the Christ, came the light of the world. This light would shine for a time, but would be rejected and snuffed out on the cross, for us. But the darkness of men could not snuff out the light of life forever, and with His resurrection came light powerful enough to resurrect our dark and sinful hearts, causing them to shine like stars in the sky with gospel grace.

In Him there is light for thousands of dark nights, and in Him there is warmth for thousands of cold hearts.

 

 

Citations: 

[1] Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 232.

[2] John MacArthur Study Bible, notes on John 8:12-21, page 1598.

[3] Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 515.

[4] William Hendriksen, quoted in Phillips, page 515.

[5] J.C. Ryle, quoted in Phillips, page 515.

[6] Ibid., page 516.

John 7:37-52 – A Satisfying Division

In the Bible the idea of ‘the week’ really matters. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day satisfied with His work. This gives us the pattern and structure of what a week should be and look like. That’s why we see the command of the Sabbath rest as the fourth commandment. But with the dawn of Christ comes something new. All over the place Jesus presents His Work as the true meaning of the Sabbath and Himself as where our souls find true Sabbath rest. We see this as John’s gospel begins. In chapters 1-2 we see the very first week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It begins in John 1:29 the moment John the Baptist cried out “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” and it ends at the famous wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water to wine. When all the guests present at the wedding felt the satisfaction of the best wine they’ve ever tasted, what they didn’t know is that Jesus (on the seventh day of this first week) gave a taste of what His kingdom looks like. And it looked like satisfaction.

We also see this as John’s gospel ends in the very last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This is the week containing Jesus’ triumphal entry in chapter 12, His Upper Room discourse in chapter 13-17, and His Passion from chapter 18-20. As we saw satisfaction at the end of Jesus’ first week we see satisfaction at the end of Jesus’ last week. Not in the richest of wine as before, but in the crucified, died, buried, but now risen Christ![1] These two weeks form bookends to John’s gospel. But there are many other important weeks present throughout John, and one of the most important is the Feast of Booths in John 7. John 7:1-13 showed Jesus begin this week privately, but our text today, v37-52 shows Jesus end this week publicly. Knowing how Jesus’ first and last week ended in John’s gospel – with the kingdom power of satisfying rest – it should not surprise us to see the same here as Jesus stands among the crowd on the last day of feast week to offer none other than ultimate satisfaction. Yet, we see more on this last day of feast week in v37-52. We not only see satisfaction, we see deep division that comes as a result of Christ’s offer of ultimate satisfaction.

So that’s where we’re headed this morning, let’s examine this passage and see it’s power for us today. 

Christ the Satisfier (v37-39)

The feast week has now concluded, all the ceremonies and rituals are at an end, and all those who came to Jerusalem will soon depart for home. But before they leave there is one more grand gathering. Notice v37? This last day of the feast is called ‘the great day’ where everything would be wrapped up and concluded. Into this context Jesus comes forward again. Not to merely answer objections from His foes, but to teach. It says in v37 He cried out, He exclaimed, shouted even. See here a passion in Christ to preach the truth here. This large crowd is leaving soon, back to their homes and villages around the nation. This moment may be the last chance Jesus has to speak to many of them. And being a particular dry time of year this group is likely thinking of their need of physical rainwater to live, and so Jesus’ words have a unique relevance to their true need.[2] He stood up and cries out, “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 streams of living water.’” He had once told the same thing to the Samaritan woman, and He had on a few occasions shared the same things with small companies and local crowds before. But never before in John’s gospel had Jesus so publicly declared that He is the source and great fountain of salvation.[3]

The great claim and great invitation is held out in v37, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Then the great promise comes in v38 that explains what coming to Christ looks like. “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” So to come to Christ is to believe in Christ, and to believe in Christ brings the great fount of satisfaction into the soul that quenches the soul’s deepest desires. And adding glory onto glory here, v39 brings more clarification about what this means. This soul satisfaction found in the living water of Christ, has everything to do with the life of the Spirit in the heart of sinners. John’s add-on comment in v39 points this out. That this is how the Spirit will function in us, but for them this must wait until Jesus has been crucified, died, buried, risen, and ascended. Then and only then, will the Spirit come. And sure enough, after Jesus was glorified in His humiliation and exaltation Pentecost happened. And everything changed. Those who formerly ran away in fear of being killed along with Jesus were now boldly preaching the gospel and rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer with and for Christ.

But backup a bit and think of how these words would’ve hit the ears of this crowd. They had gathered together all week to celebrate the many ways in which God had provided for them in the wilderness wanderings. Remember some of the ways God did this? The cloud of glory by day and fiery pillar of glory by night? Manna from heaven? Quail meat? When these words of Christ about streams of living water hit the ears of the audience they would’ve recalled one way in particular God had provided for them. At a particularly low moment in their wilderness wanderings, when all the people were grumbling and ready to kill Moses, God commanded Moses to strike a rock, and do you remember what happened? Water gushed out for them to drink. And they drank and were satisfied. You see the parallel Jesus is speaking of? Jesus is saying He is the true fountain of life and reliever of all spiritual wants.[4] He is the Rock God will one day strike with the full force of His wrath. Though He was ever obedient and fully deserving of all the covenant blessings He received all the covenant curses for us. And from this wrathful blow against Him, a billow of living water will flow forth, at conversion, by the Spirit, into the souls of all who will believe. And as a river flows to bring life and refreshment to weary dry land, so too the Spirit flows in the believer to satisfy and refresh the weary and dry soul.[5]

Anyone thirsty? Anyone lived a life of going from well to well to well to well and found nothing but emptiness of hollow promises? O do I have good news for you today. In Christ crucified, risen, and reigning there is flowing forth a mighty rushing river. A river which Psalm 1 mentions, that gives drink to all those who meditate day and night on the Law of the Lord, making them evergreen in every season. A river which Psalm 46 mentions, that makes glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. A river which Revelation 22 calls the river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. This water is none other than the living water Christ is extending to them here and extending to you today.

Church, I know you’re thirsty, the question is: will you, as Psalm 36:8 says, drink of the river of God’s delight?

Christ the Divider (v40-52)

Sometimes when the clarity of the pleasure and satisfaction that can be had in the gospel is preached there is not only satisfaction that results. Sometimes the result is division. And this shouldn’t surprise us, for Jesus Himself had said in Matthew 10:34-35, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…” We see this in the rest of our passage in two ways. First, in v40-44 there is division among the people. Second, in v45-52 there is division among the Pharisees.

Among the people in v40-44 see the opinions present. Some said “He is a Prophet!” Maybe these people heard Jesus make the offer of living water and think He is the greater Prophet like Moses as Deut. 18:15 calls for. Others said “He is the Christ!” This group seems to be on the right track, after all this is the truth! But the way it’s stated in v41 seems to give the notion that it was just an opinion for conversation and not a cherished belief.[6] Whatever depth of belief that group had when they said ‘He is the Christ’ their statement instantly got shut down by others in the crowd who said “He can’t be the Christ, remember he comes from Galilee, the Christ will come from Bethlehem where David was.” For another time in chapter 7 we see variety of reactions from those who hear the preaching of Christ. We find the same thing at work today. Anytime the gospel is preached, we find reaction to it for better or for worse. The one thing that never happens when the gospel is preached is nothing. In this crowd at the feast some believed in Him others wanted to arrest Him. But, despite the varied reactions to Him, we read in v44 that no one could lay hands on Him. Why couldn’t they? Because as 7:8 says before, His time “has not yet fully come.”

Division wasn’t limited only to the crowd, but existed among the Pharisee’s too, we see this next in v45-52. In v45 we learn an interesting detail, that the Pharisee’s didn’t even think Jesus worthy of coming out of their ivory tower but stayed deceptively behind the scenes and sent city officers to go arrest Jesus.[7] These officers were sent out in v32 to nab Him but here in v45 we see them come back empty handed. Understandably the Pharisee’s were furious and asked “Why did you not bring him?” Their answer in v46 is one of the most famous statements about Jesus in all of Scripture. They didn’t blame the crowds for being hostile or too riotous, that was not the reason they didn’t arrest Him. It had everything to do with Jesus Himself. They said, “No one ever spoke like this man.” These officers recognized that when it came to the quality of Christ, they found Him pure and wise. When it came to the characteristics of Christ, they found Him serious and earnest. When it came to the matter of His message, they found it unmatched and incomparable. They were sent to arrest Jesus, but Jesus’ powerful preaching arrested them! They were sent to take Jesus captive, but Jesus’ offer of ultimate satisfaction captivated them![8]

The Pharisee’s response to these officers not arresting Jesus is appalling. “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” They haven’t believed been captivated with Jesus and His teaching, and since they’re the ones who clearly define what is religiously appropriate they can’t believe anyone else has as well. More so, because this crowd has been so captivated by Christ they condemn the very crowds of people they’ve just spent the whole week ministering to and conclude that they know nothing of the Law. Can you get a sense of the religious elitism and arrogance in view here? We see this and get disgusted and think, ‘Ugh, I know some Christians like this. Who think they’re the crem de la crem of Christianity and that whoever doesn’t believe like they do are worthless.’ This is sadly too often true in the Church and we should repent of such sinful pride. But don’t be deceived, we may recognize how disgusting these Pharisee’s are being, but we don’t often recognize that this is what most of the unbelieving world thinks of us! Snobby religious elites who’ve got everything figured out and who are content to watch the rest of the world go to hell.

Yet remember the example of the apostle Paul. When the truth came and transformed him he didn’t conclude himself to be superior to everyone else, he considered himself to a servant to everyone else. May such an attitude be present among us and be true of as a congregation.

Before we write off all the Pharisee’s as arrogant religious elites, there was one among them who stood out. In v50-51 it is none other than Nicodemus, the one who’d had the secret evening visit with Jesus back in John 3, who speaks up now in Christ’s defense. If he came out and boldly testified for Christ, as many do throughout John’s gospel, it would’ve surely further enraged his already raging colleagues. So he goes to the Law, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Notice his caution. They had condemned the crowd for not knowing the Law, they had boasted in their own mastery of the Law, but here Nicodemus points out their own disregard for that very Law. They were using the Law to condemn Jesus, but weren’t following the Law themselves.[9]

We know with certainty that Nicodemus had come to believe in Jesus by the end of John’s gospel when he is there taking Jesus down off the cross and preparing His body for burial. Though he and Jesus had a lengthy chat about being born again in chapter 3, we do not know if Nicodemus had been born again by this time here in chapter 7. But we can see him growing nearer to the kingdom in what he says. Nonetheless, the rage of the Pharisee’s continues on, even against him. v52, “Are you from Galilee too? (in other words – are you in league with this Jesus too?) Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” Well, not technically. In their rage they seem to have forgotten their own Law as Nicodemus pointed out, and that the prophet Jonah was in fact a Galilean. Be warned…religious prideful rage can blind us from the deepest of beauties.

Conclusion:

Satisfaction and division. These two things, which we tend to separate and believe they have little to do with one another, have clearly been set before us. If we could sum up this passage into one statement and one question it would be this. Jesus offers ultimate satisfaction to those who come to Him; this satisfaction is gained by believing in Him, and experienced in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But this offer of satisfaction is on His terms, and will at some time or another produce deep division between you and those around you. That’s the statement.

Now the question: are you still willing to drink?

 

 

 

Citations:

[1] Richard Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary: John 1-10, page 479-480.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 421.

[3] Charles H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 31, page 674.

[4] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, vol. 2, page 45.

[5] Richard Phillips, page 485.

[6] Ibid., page 491.

[7] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, page 327.

[8] Richard Phillips, page 493.

[9] R.C. Sproul, John: St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 146.

John 7:25-36 – Seeking the Face of Christ

With our pastor out of town for the thanksgiving holiday we’ve invited Reverend Brian Zitt to come and preach to us. He picked up where pastor Adam left off the previous week, in John 7:25-36, enjoy!

John 7:14-24 – Christ the Scholar

This Sunday we move into our second week of John 7-8. Here the enemies of Jesus bring more objections against Jesus than any other place in Scripture. And Jesus answers them all. With Thanksgiving a few days away and Christmas and New Years right around the corner, it’s good for us to see this. Why? I’ve found it is this time of year when most people often air their opinions of and objections about Jesus as well. With so much talk of Jesus in the air it’s good for us to see Him clearly answer every objection thrown at Him. Specifically for us here in John 7:14-24 Jesus decides to become very public in a very hostile environment. What He does, what He says, and how the crowds of people respond to Him is all very instructive for us.

Recall, as John 7 began we saw in v2 that the annual Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles was about to begin in Jerusalem where all Jews were to come to the city and remember and celebrate how God led them and provided for them in their wilderness wanderings. Jesus, who had been going about for sometime in Galilee, is given the advice to go to this feast and reveal who He is publicly and powerfully. This advice, given from His half brothers, Jesus rejects…telling them He will not go and reveal who He is at this feast as they want Him to do. We then saw in v10 that after His brothers left for the feast, Jesus also goes to the feast, not publicly as they desired, but privately. And apparently even though everyone believed Jesus wasn’t at the feast He was still the talk of the feast.[1] Even in His absence He was the One providing all the conversation.[2] Then a moment comes that changes everything for all those at the feast. v14 tells us, “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.”

So Jesus, though coming to the feast in private because the Jewish leaders want to kill Him, decides to no longer remain private. And not only does He no longer wish to remain private, He goes up and makes Himself known in the most public setting He could, at the temple, where He begins teaching. This is where the scene begins for us today in v14-24. And coming to this passage we see a sort of back and forth conversation, or question and answer dialogue between Jesus, the Jews, and the crowd. Interestingly enough, John doesn’t reveal to us what Jesus taught in this moment, which tells us for John’s purposes in writing this gospel, at least in this section, has more to do with the interaction between Jesus and the general Jerusalem population rather than what He taught. So after He spends some time teaching the Jew’s respond with the first question in v15, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”

At first you may think, ‘Why we’re they surprised at His teaching, haven’t they hard it before?’ Well, perhaps they haven’t. This festival brought many Jews from all around the nation and Jesus hadn’t been back to Jerusalem in quite a while. So for many of these people, this would’ve been the first time they we’re exposed to His teaching.[3] That they asked “How is it that this man has learning?” means they were wondering how Jesus, who wasn’t a Rabbi or a Rabbi’s disciple, could teach like or better than most Rabbi’s.[4] He hadn’t devoted much of his life to any of their educational systems, He was nothing more than a carpenter’s son to them. That word “learning” in v15 literally means letters in Greek, indicating that His teaching displayed a vast depth in and knowledge of the sacred letters of God, i.e. the Scripture. Jesus’ answer in v16 would’ve shocked them, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” Unlike the Jewish leaders and other Rabbi’s who often quoted other teachers and many various opinions of the day Jesus makes it clear that His teaching isn’t based on His own experience, schooling, or knowledge of the scholars of their time. No, His teaching was entirely unique.

I believe this is something too often forgot today. We live in a time when preaching and teaching largely consists of those who have thunk up something to say and then go in search of Bible verses to back it up. What Jesus says here “My teaching is not mine…” ought to be every pastor’s motto.[5] The question I am often reminded of when I sit down to study is ‘Who gets to decide what is preached in the pulpit?’ The answer to that question isn’t me! The answer isn’t any man! God and God alone decides what is said behind His sacred desk. We do not invent things to say and then try to justify them with Scripture. Rather, the content of Scripture is what we must say because God alone has the authority to speak to His people. These Jews were used to being in academic circles, used to hearing Rabbi’s with proper credentials. Even so today many churches look to the same things in their own pastor, and though a proper education isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t everything. We should be remember, a pastor may have been to a great seminary where he had the best training possible, a pastor may have a very dynamic and appealing personality, a pastor may draw crowds and crowds of people. But the diploma hanging on the wall, his personality, and the size of the church isn’t where true authority comes from. The only preaching that carries God’s very authority is preaching that submits to and is derived from the sacred letters of God. This is in a sense what Jesus says, and in this He helps us learn how to distinguish between true and false teaching. Where was His teaching from? “My teaching is…His who sent Me.” In other words, His teaching has no earthly source, His teaching cites no earthly scholar, His teaching is of divine origin.[6]

Jesus’ response in v16 would’ve been enough to cause quite a stir but He continues on. In v17-18 He keeps going and says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on My own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of Him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” This means that what Jesus said in v16 should be clear and evident to those who are sincerely seeking God. Anyone who wills, or desires, or wishes, or resolves, or purposes to know God’s will will gain a true sense and discernment that Jesus’ teaching isn’t from His own authority, but is from God, and also that Jesus in teaching (as v18 says) is seeking the glory of Him who sent Him. If these Jews were really seeking God, if they were really listening to God’s Word, they would get it. But they aren’t, so they don’t. Theologian Leon Morris says here, “His hearers raised the question of His competence as a teacher, He raises the question of their competence as hearers.”[7]

So the question for you today is similar. When Jesus’ teaching hits your ears, whether it be about His divinity, His humanity, His sovereignty, or His role among the Trinity – do you sit at His feet eager and willing to learn though these things may be hard? Or do you stand before Him arguing, unwilling to bend your will to His will? For those of you standing and arguing there is a needed rebuke here. How dare you stand before the Son of God Himself – God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God – and act surprised that He would know wisdom at all like these Jews. You need to be rebuked for your arrogance. But for those of you sitting at Jesus’ feet, eager to learn but finding it hard to understand there is a promise for you in v17. If you will to know God’s will, you will. You may initially hear and think of the Word of God as an external thing, but the more you sink the teeth of your soul into it the more you’ll find God making His Word an internal thing for you. You’ll feel the sap true Vine alive and well flowing through you causing growth and change. And as you grow in your capacity to understand and know God’s will you’ll find the resolve and readiness to do God’s will growing also.[8]

Jesus in v19 continues to call them out saying, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill Me?” He brings Moses up because these schooled Jewish theologians questioning His credentials claim to follow the Law of God. Yet, despite what they claim they are trying to kill Jesus, even though the Law says “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Jesus had clearly implied in v18 that He is true, but another implication of v18 is that the Jews who question His teaching are false. They would’ve picked up on this, were probably beginning to boil in anger and in wounded Jewish zeal. Few things are as dangerous as wounded pride. Just as an acorn, though small, contains within it a whole forest, so too pride, though thought of as a small sin, contains within it a host of wickedness.

It seems before they’re able to muster up any kind of response to Jesus, this back and forth dialogue continues with the crowd blurting out their own response in v20, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” I find this moment ripe with tension. Notice it’s the crowd here speaking “Who is trying to kill you?” Remember, most of the citizens of Jerusalem likely remember the hostility present between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees but this is feast time. Sure all the normal citizens are there but the city is overrun with visitors from all around the nation who know nothing of the hatred brewing in the Jewish leaders toward Jesus. They hear what Jesus has to say, that people are trying to kill Him for what He’s teaching and they conclude that He has some kind of martyr complex, or is demon possessed. All the while, who is silent in this tension filled scene? The Jews. The crowd may be thinking Jesus is a fool here, but the Jews say nothing. Do you wonder why? John never tells us but I think they’re silent because they know it’s true. They do indeed want to kill Him, they know it’s ungrounded and wicked, but they won’t change, the crowd won’t stay in the dark for long, but for now the Jews remain silent.

But Jesus doesn’t. He keeps going, and tells the crowd why their leaders want to kill Him.

v21-24, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?”

Here Jesus refers back to one of His miracles. Two chapters earlier in John 5:1-17, we see Jesus heal, in Jerusalem and on the Sabbath, a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years. This caused such a stir among the Jewish leaders, that they sought to kill Jesus. This is the incident Jesus refers to here in v21-24. But notice what Jesus says about it. These Jews held so closely to the Law that they would judiciously avoid anything remotely resembling ‘work’ on the Sabbath, in order to keep it pure. But God in the Law (and even further back with the Patriarchs) commanded every male born in Israel to be circumcised at 8 days old no matter what. This they did; even when a circumcision fell on a Sabbath these Jews would circumcise the boy without hesitation. Jesus’ argument is simple but pointed. If they would perform a circumcision on a Sabbath without hesitation, and circumcision was thought to make that boy ritually or ceremonially clean, why are they angry when Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath, and that healing made his whole body well?[9] Jesus is pointing out that these Jewish leaders pridefully keep the letter of the Law, while Jesus understands and lives by the spirit of the Law. Their religious habit had blinded them from seeing the true meaning of circumcision, and so when Jesus comes along teaching and doing miracles, pointing out that true meaning, they get so worked up that they try to end His life.

Again we see that wounded pride is as dangerous as a cornered lion. Even more precisely, see in these Jews the great danger of wounded religious pride. See what it leads to? A murderous rage. So Jesus’ concluding instruction for all His hearers, at least for now is found in v24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” This is where our text ends, but it’s not where we end this morning.

Conclusion:

I’d like to end by pointing out how these words met those who originally heard it, and how these words ought to hit us today.

What did right judgment look like for this crowd?

For these Jews and for this crowd v24 means they ought to judge or discern Christ rightly. From the appearance of things these Jews looked like the most devoted religious people in the world, but their heart in observing the Sabbath so strictly (v18) was all about seeking their own glory, not God’s. And so though they look religious, they’re the furthest thing from it. They have claimed to walk with and know God, but the live by and vex others with the commandments of men. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? We often misunderstand it thinking the only son who’s lost is the younger brother. But the older brother in the story of the prodigal son was just as lost as the younger. In fact, he was more lost. Though his life looked well ordered and faithful, he was furious when his father threw his younger brother a party when he returned home. This reveals that he too only loved his father for his stuff. All this to say, v24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” for this crowd is a rebuke to the Jews and a warning to the visiting crowd. The rebuke is that these Jews are false, the warning is that there are a lot of people who look very religious in this world who are on their way to hell. Don’t be one of them.

What does right judgment look like for us?

People often quote Matthew 7:1 in opposition to those who show any hint of a judgmental attitude toward others, “Judge not, that you not be judged.” This happens outside the Church for sure, but it also happens within the Church. While Jesus’ statement here should encourage us toward a gracious posture to all people, Jesus is in no way recommending us to put our critical thinking on the shelf in the Christian life and be 100% accepting of everyone or everything. Rather, for us v24 is a call to a right judgment, to a true discerning, and to a willingness to make proper distinctions. What kind of distinctions are we being called to make in v24? A distinction between what is true and what is false. On one hand we should deeply and personally embrace the truth. On the other hand we should seriously and solemnly warn against what is false. It is not popular, it is not hip, it sounds judgmental to our modern sensibilities, but if we do not judge, all things, with right judgment we won’t have renewed minds we’ll have polluted minds.

When I was a kid every time our family went on vacation, we drove. We never flew, ever. We enjoyed this though, and developed certain habits in our road trips over the years. One of the habits was stopping at antique stores off the highway. I was always eager to go in and see what baseball cards they had, but would then end up walking around with my mother looking at dishes. Not any kind of dishes, no, mom only wanted authentic blue willow dishes. So as the years went on, and we went to these antique stores I grew in my ability to spot a real blue willow from a fake. I knew what to look for in the color, in the images on the plate, in the engraving on the back, even the weight of the plates. Such that by the time I was a teenager I only had to look at a blue willow plate to see if it was genuine or not. I think Jesus is telling us the Christian life looks like this. We don’t study heresy, we don’t lean into polluted doctrine, or wrong theology, heavens no. Judging with right judgment means we know the real thing so well that we can spot a fake a mile away. Can you? Or do you get confused at all the varying gospels preached around the world today? Remember the promise in v17. Anyone who wills, or desires to know God’s will, will hear Christ’s teaching and will know and feel that this Christ is genuine. That is, the preaching of the gospel falls on the ears of those who want to know God, and they hear a symphony of glory, while the proud and arrogant hear nothing but static.

I would be no preacher of the gospel if I didn’t ask, do you hear the symphony of God’s grace when you hear Christ’s teaching? When you hear the gospel? That Christ, the eternal Son of God became Man to enable men to become sons of God. Or does it do nothing within you? If you hear the symphony of glory you’ll end up at the opposite conclusion than this crowd.[10] They thought Christ had a demon after hearing Him. No, to those who have ears to hear, they know He was then, is today, and always be Lord over all. By God’s grace may you judge Christ rightly.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 129.

[2] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 174.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 404.

[4] Ibid., page 405.

[5] Richard Phillips, John 1-10, Reformed Expository Commentary, page 460-461.

[6] Leon Morris, page 405.

[7] Ibid., page 406.

[8] Richard Phillips, page 460-464.

[9] Leon Morris, page 408.

[10] Richard Phillips, page 468.

John 7:1-13 – Strife About & At the Feast

As we begin John 7 we must remember what just took place in John 6. Jesus has just given His ‘Bread of Life’ discourse and as a result of it many of His followers chose not to follow Him any longer because His words didn’t suit their fancy. They wanted a political general, someone powerful to physically defend them not someone bringing a spiritual kingdom to them. The drama of their rejection of Him doesn’t stop when chapter 6 is over, it continues on into chapter 7.[1] And now that it has begun, we see this rejection steadily slide into greater and greater hostility ending with His crucifixion. I think this is timely for us as we enter the thanksgiving and Christmas season because this is the time of year when questions and objections abound concerning Jesus. Who He is, why He came, what He taught. In fact, when we enter into chapters 7-8 of John’s gospel we enter the arena of Jesus’ enemies who say more against Jesus in these two chapters than any other place in all four gospels. Therefore, as we enter into the holiday season, prepare not only to hear many objections to Jesus, prepare to see them answered.[2]

Narrowing down into our text today, John 7:1-13, there are two moments of strife for us to see and learn from.

Family Strife (v1-9)

v1-2 sets the stage for us, “After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.”

Here we see the hostility had risen so high, that Jesus could not walk freely in Judea because the Jews wanted to not only arrest Him, but kill Him. Most likely some time had gone by between the end of chapter 6 and the beginning of chapter 7. We see a hint of this in the words “After this” and “went about in Galilee.” After the events of chapter 6 Jesus moved around freely, spoke freely, lived freely in Galilee, because there He was out of the sight and reach of the Jewish leaders. Remember we also saw a hint of this back in John 6:4 when it mentioned the time when Jesus fed the multitude was during Passover. So the time between that moment and this moment, or the time between the Passover and this Feast of Booths, was around 6 months. This tells us much. Usually disputes and hard feelings lessen as time passes, I’m sure you’ve found this to be true in your life many times. Here in this case we find the opposite. As time had gone on, the words of Christ throughout chapter 6 lingered in the ears of the Jews, so much so that their ill will toward Him persisted and increased. So Jesus avoided Judea and Jerusalem and remained in Galilee. But it was feast time. The Feast of Booths was about to take place and all Jews from all over the nation were to attend this seven day celebration of God’s provision for them in wilderness and the end of harvest time.

Naturally then, Jesus’ brothers come to Him in v3-4 and say, “Leave here and go to Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works You are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show yourself to the world.” You may at first think these words are encouraging words from Jesus’ own family. Words that respectfully guide and give instruction. v5 tells us otherwise, and helps us understand and interpret the manner in which their ‘advice’ is given. v5 says, “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” Interesting that such advice would come from unbelief isn’t it? This clues us in that they do not have Jesus’ interest in mind, but something else. There are many opinions as to the motive of this advice. Maybe[3] the brothers had seen the great works of Christ and simply wanted others to see them. Maybe they want all those who’ve just left Jesus to see more wonders and that’s why they tell Him this. Maybe they sense a coming revolt and encourage Jesus to go show Himself publicly so that those wanting revolt will be stirred and some kind of political turmoil will result in Jerusalem. Maybe, there’s a tone of arrogance in these words, that they believe they know better than Jesus and speak down to Him in a kind of condescending manner. Maybe they just give simple advice, that Jesus has to get more public than Galilee to get noticed. If He wants to be seen as the Messiah He needs to do these works out in the open, where everyone would see them, in the nation’s capital, in Jerusalem.

Whatever they were thinking, whatever the reasoning behind their counsel we see one thing clearly, their counsel is worldly and their eyes are blind to the beauty of Christ. For 30 years they had grown up with Him, played with Him, slept in the same room as Him and yet couldn’t see the truth about who He was. Most of us see this and are baffled that people so close to Christ missed it! And yet, we are often blind to the fact that we can be faithful church attenders, faithful givers, and faithful in serving the local church, maybe even for 30 years and still miss it! Do not be so quick to accuse these brothers for their blindness while the same blindness exists, probably, all around us.

This scene is eerily similar to the first miracle of Jesus, at the wedding in Cana when He turned water to wine, remember that? The groom didn’t provide enough wine, it embarrassingly ran out, and Mary the mother of Jesus went up to Him and asked Him to solve this issue publicly so that they all would know who He was? Remember what Jesus said to her? John 2:5, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Notice how Jesus responds to His brothers request in v6-8, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” Many people close to Jesus wanted Jesus to show Himself, to show His power to many, and put on a massive show of wonders to prove who He truly was. But as He did with His mother back in chapter 2 He does with His brothers here in chapter 7. He separates Himself from them, refusing to do what they set before Him and bow the knee to their misguided and blind agenda for His life. So there in Galilee Jesus remains, and off His brothers go to the feast, doubtless believing Jesus has dramatically failed to live up to their expectations of what a true Messiah ought to be.[4]

This past August a few of us went to Vietnam to visit some missionaries. I knew we were going to go out into the villages and I knew that in those villages we were going to partake in some cuisine that is very foreign to my tastes. I had certain expectations, that we’d be having a nice time, talking of gospel growth and gospel gatherings in that area, and that eventually someone would bring out a plate of thumb thick grub worms for us to eat. My prior expectations produced some real concern in me. I knew it would’ve been rude to not try it, I wasn’t worried about trying it, I was worried about how would I react once it was in my mouth and I chomped through the bug’s thick juices and bones. Sure enough the time came and our team was offered a plate full of grasshoppers. I was a bit relieved that it wasn’t grub worms but nonetheless I’ve never eaten a grasshopper before. My prior expectations stirred up my concern anew, my angst grew high, I knew I had to do it to be courteous, so I grabbed one and ate it. To my surprise it wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was tasty enough that I grabbed another one from the plate and threw that one in my mouth and while the first bug didn’t in anyway match my dreadful expectations, the second bug did in everyway. It was bigger and therefore didn’t get cooked all the way through, and so as you can imagine juices flowed out and I immediately stopped chewing and swallowed to get rid of it.

I share this story to simply say, expectations really matter. My expectations about eating bugs produced a certain amount of nervousness in me and that caused me to worry about our meals. The expectations of the brothers of Jesus about what a Messiah would be deeply distorted their view of Jesus. The question for us then is simple: do you, like these brothers, believe that God has failed to live up to your expectations? Have you become angry with Jesus when Jesus doesn’t bow the knee to your agenda? When He does something you think He shouldn’t, or doesn’t do something you think He should? Feeling like this is understandable, we experience loads of things that can push us in this direction whether it be sickness, sorrow, or scandal. We often respond to God in these moments with anger and unbelief. But as understandable as these moments are they are enormously inexcusable. We are the ones in the wrong, we are the ones who need to repent, and we are the ones who need to readjust our expectations according to Scripture. Remember, God is not under our judgment, ever. Why do we live as though He were? I’ll tell you why. It’s because we’re fallen sinful people, ever in need of continuing renovation of the soul. Praise God He does this, right?

We’ve see His own brothers murmur about Him, as the text moves on we see the murmuring doesn’t stay with them, it expands to the general public.

Public Strife (v10-13)

What happens next catches us off guard. Jesus had told His brothers in v6-8 that it is not His time to go to Jerusalem and reveal His power, but in v10 what does He do? He goes to Jerusalem. Is this deception, inconsistency, or even a change of mind here? No.[5] Well then what is going on? Much. Earlier in v6-8 when Jesus responds to His brothers He said He would not go up with them because His “time has not yet fully come.” By speaking like this He was not saying the time was wrong chronologically, as if He just needed to wait to right time on the clock to go. No, He was saying the present moment wasn’t the suitable time or the right time to publicly show Himself to the world as they wanted. That time would one day come, when all would see His manifold power displayed very publicly in the seeming weakness of His death on the cross. If He went as the brothers suggested the Jews would kill Him, because the world hates Him because He calls out their sin. He will not die at a Feast of Booths. That’s not the plan. He will die, yes. And His death will be a very public event, yes. But His death will be at a Passover yet to come when He will take up the role of the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That time was soon approaching, but it had not come yet. Jesus never told His brothers He wouldn’t go, He just said He wouldn’t go and do according to their plans. What then are His plans? Or more precisely, what are His Father’s plans? To go up secretly. So off He goes, never to see Galilee again before His death.[6]

In v11 the scene transitions to this feast and we read, “The Jews were looking for Him at the feast, and saying, ‘Where is He?’” The Jews mentioned here are the same Jews v1 referenced who want to kill Him. They must have been thinking that if everyone is supposed to come to the feast Jesus will be showing up as well. So they were on the lookout for Him, likely walking among the crowds, ever observing to notice anything that happened out of place, but at least for now there is no sign of Him. Apparently even though everyone believed Jesus wasn’t at the feast He was still the talk of the feast.[7] Even in His absence He was the One providing all the juicy conversation.[8] Yet, there was a sense of fear among the people. Though all we’re talking about Him, about His works, and about His teaching everyone was afraid to talk too loudly for fear of the Jews. We see this in v12-13, “And there was much muttering about Him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, He is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of Him.”

Opinions of Christ were not in short supply at the feast and ironically amid all this talk about Jesus, Jesus remained hidden. That He remained hidden while all this talk is happening about Him is the epitome of irony. He who will one day return to judge the living and the dead remains silent and secret while the world judges Him. In a true sense we see Jesus here silently bearing the judgments of the world. All this talk, all these opinions in v12 that He is bearing is but a preview of the coming day when He will publicly bear the greater judgment of God in behalf of scoffers like these who will one day believe.

But I think there’s more to press into here in v12-13. I think we see this in the reality that even though 2,000 years have passed since this moment, our world today is still very much caught up in the same conversation. The world around us is ever speaking of Jesus in the exact same ways aren’t they? Some saying He’s a good teacher, others saying He’s a false teacher who created His own religion. You should be concerned about what other people around you are saying and believing about Jesus. The more you know about what your friend, neighbor, and co-worker believes about Jesus the more eager you ought to be about sharing the gospel with them. Since this conversation is ever taking place, we ought to be the ones who jump in because we know the truth about who He is. Even if these conversations take place within our own families or in the general public, we should never shy away from them.

As important as this is for us to learn, there’s a greater and more pointed challenge for us here. Sure the world may be ever caught up with discussing who Jesus is, what matters most isn’t what the world says about Jesus, what matters is what you say about Him.[9] Who do you say He is? Is He just a good teacher? Is He a false teacher leading many astray? Do you believe in Him? Do you take Him at His word? Do you just like to be in on the conversation because it’s juicy and controversial? Or maybe for fear of those around you, you don’t ever speak of Jesus at all? They don’t know you’re a Christian and you prefer it like that because you know that if they knew it your life would be a lot harder.

Church, God is holy, you are sinful, Christ came to redeem sinners, and now God is calling the whole world to repent and believe in Him. You will see many people around you respond to this gospel message in multiple ways, what will you do? That is the question that begs an answer today.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 215.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 392.

[3] Ibid., page 395 gives this whole list of options.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 172.

[5] Charles Erdman, The Gospel of John, page 68-70, this section was very helpful to me in understanding this passage.

[6] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 173.

[7] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 129.

[8] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 174.

[9] Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 458.

John 6:60-71 – The Bread of Heaven, Part 5

Whether you’re brand new to SonRise or have been around SonRise for a while, let me briefly state what we seek to accomplish in this sermon moment each week. During the preaching portion of our Sunday morning gathering we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which means we do not aim at saying anything new but seek to only say what God has already said, such that the point of the text is the point of the sermon. In this sense whichever elder preaches the sermon we aim to be the nothing but waiters, whose task is taking the Chef’s meal and bringing it to the table without changing it in any way, shape, or form. 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 and 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]

Having just finished our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, today we’re picking back in our series on John’s gospel, which we began in January and plan to be in for some time. John’s gospel may be new for some of us, it may be very familiar to others 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 that you’re welcome to keep if you’d like. If you’ve already picked up one of those Bibles you’ll find our passage today, John 6:60-71, on page 520. I’ll pray, and then we’ll get to it. Let’s pray.

Two things to see today: False Converts (v60-66) and True Converts (v67-71).

False Converts (v60-66)

During the first part of Jesus’ ministry many people were attracted to Him. Some indeed wholeheartedly but certainly some only loosely. As chapter 6 progresses we see Jesus put this crowd to the test. His claims about who He is and what He has come to do are becoming clearer, they are rising to the surface, and because of it we see a sifting taking place between those who are true and those who are false.[3] In v60 we read, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” After hearing their question we should ask our own. What did they hear from Jesus that was so hard? Answer: all Christ had to say to them in chapter 6.

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, right after the miracle and for sometime after, seeks to make Him king 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 to merely meet materialistic expectations, or to be the political leader they wanted Him to be. 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. He takes time to explain this to the crowds clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. In v27 He called them 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.” After some grumbling Jesus makes a statement in v44 about God’s sovereign grace saying the only ones who’ll sink the teeth of their souls into the Bread of life are those whom the Father draws. In v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. In v51 we see 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 a shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52. And by the time v60 comes around it is no longer just the crowd who is having trouble with Jesus’ teaching, it’s His very own disciples.

That they said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand these things Jesus had just taught. They got it that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally about Him being the true manna from heaven, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They understood these to be claims of divinity. They understood the necessity of sovereign grace to reveal divine truth to sinful man. By saying that these were hard words they meant they were severe words, offensive words even, words that they found hard to accept, words that were more than they could endure.[4] In his commentary on John’s gospel John Calvin comments here saying, “The hardness wasn’t in the teaching of Christ, but the hearts of those who heard it.”[5]

So, Jesus knowing these things said in v61-65, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus doesn’t say anything here to help ease their grumbling or soften His teaching. If anything His words here call them out and therefore probably increase their grumbling. He says if they had seen His ascension to glory, where He was before He came to walk among them, they would believe and wouldn’t grumble. Why then do they grumble at His teaching? The answer is simple but it is difficult for us to hear: they grumbled in v60 because His Word isn’t enough. This then is why Jesus in v63-65 says only the Spirit, not the flesh, can give life. The words He has spoken are that very life-filled vocabulary and because they respond to it with unbelief shows that, though they have followed Him for a time, they are false. This doesn’t surprise Jesus, as v64-65 remind us, He knows the hearts of men. Then we see a sad scene after this rebuke in v66. “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

I wonder how v60-66 hits you. When many others would have changed or altered their message to make it less offensive, Jesus doesn’t. Here we see false converts, those who followed for a time but turned back and left Him in the end. They had been interested in Jesus not for who He is or for what He teaches but for how they thought they could use Jesus for their own purposes. They’re false because when Jesus’ teaching doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas and agendas they leave Jesus.

This sounds an awful lot like today doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like you. I meet with a group of pastors once a month for fellowship, prayer, and study and at our last meeting one of them told us he had been preaching through the book of Romans and found that his congregation responded in a way that saddened him. During the series he said there were two times when people left the church. He said they left when he covered the sinfulness of man in chapter 1, and he said even more left when he covered the sovereignty of God in chapter 9. What happened? Why did they leave? The clear teaching of the Word of God didn’t fit into their predetermined box. Rather than submitting to what the Word says and living underneath it these people left and found another church that didn’t preach things foreign to what they already believed to be true.

Be challenged Church, most of you will say v60-66 doesn’t describe you, but ask: are you deceiving yourself? What this crowd in John 6 wanted Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered they would not receive. Does that describe you? If so, you have every reason to fear the wrath of God because regardless what you say you are, you’re lost and you too are a false convert. Or perhaps you truly do believe in Jesus but have come to the point where you’re frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, or have become frustrated with the Christian life because it isn’t as easy as you thought. If this is you, may I ask you a question? When did Jesus ever promise a life of ease in following Him? When did Jesus ever say His teaching was simple? Too many Christians in our day are coddled by the church and not encouraged to grow up and press on toward maturity. Too many of us are content and comfortable in our faith, and because of this we shy away from anything or anyone who’ll rock the boat too much.

Is this the kind of faith you’ve bought into? Let’s be real for a moment – the idol of comfort is one of the great sins of the American church. We love to be comfortable. If we thought about it long enough, we would see that we’ve unloaded all of this into our spiritual lives and have come to believe that Jesus exists to make us more comfortable in this life. That He exists for us rather than we for Him. Passages like this, where Jesus intentionally disrupts the comforts of others and does nothing to alleviate discomfort make me want to say – if the Jesus you’re following never makes your life uncomfortable, you’re not following this Jesus in John 6. Jesus doesn’t give participation trophies, He gives a crown of life to those who persevere by sovereign grace!

May you do just that.

True Converts (v67-71)

v60-66 showed how many of the disciples of Jesus were repelled by His teaching, now in v67-71 comes the big test. “What will the twelve do?”[6]

This is exactly the question Jesus poses to the twelve in v67, “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” That Jesus asked this to the twelve does not show any weakness or worry on Jesus’ part. He’s asking this to push them to one way or another, and displaying for them just how costly it is to truly follow Him. I think as much as the previous section of this passage challenged us, there is as much in this last passage to encourage us. Are some of you prone to doubt, prone to be rash, prone to be hotheaded, impatient, slow to understand, weak, small, insignificant, or foolish? All of these attributes are present in the twelve and more, and yet here they are in v67-71; probably feeling as much of the hardness of Jesus’ teaching as those before, but rather than leave like the rest they’re staying.

There’s only one question that comes to mind when we see them stay: why?

Why would they continue to follow someone whose teaching is so hard that it decreases His influence? Why stay when everyone else is leaving? Why stay when it costs this much to do so? Well, could we not ask similar questions of one another today? Being a Christ follower today doesn’t make one popular, if anything, it puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to advancement in most arenas within our current culture. Why do we stay? Why do we come to worship this One who is thought to be so out of touch with modern society? Why are we a part of this thing called Christianity?

That Peter answers Jesus’ question is no surprise to anyone familiar with Peter’s actions in the gospels. He is often the one who, for better or for worse, immediately says what he is thinking. There are places this did not help him, but what we see in v68-69 of him is beautiful. It is not only the answer Peter gives for himself and the twelve, it is also the answer we must give to the same questions in our present secular age. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” This confession of Peter shows that Peter, though not fully getting it, knows a few things really well, so well that he seems to be mastered by them. Peter knows that there is no one else worth going to. Peter knows what Jesus Himself said back in v63, that His words are spirit and life that give eternal life. And Peter knows what He believes, that this Jesus is the Christ He claims to be. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have moments in them where they record a similarly great confession from Peter. This is John’s. And in all four gospels, it’s after Peter’s confession that things begin to get very hard for Jesus and those following Him.

These words put Peter and the rest of the twelve at odds with the rest of the society around them because they publicly display that they are with the Jesus. In contrast to the false disciples who defected from Christ, Peter and the twelve stood out as true disciples who were devoted to Christ. And yes, if we claim the name of Christ this great confession must be our confession too even if what these words did for them they also do now for us; separating us from the world because they publicly display to the world that we are with Christ.

This is all good and true, but let’s come at this from another angle to peer deeper into this. What was it that separated Peter and the twelve from the false converts of their day? And, what is it that separates you and I from the false converts of our day? Answer: while Peter did not deny that the teaching of Christ was hard, he acknowledged that Jesus’ words were words of life.[7] Do you? This was the one thing the separated the twelve from all those who left. They heard the teaching of Christ, felt the difficult weight and reality of what He was saying, and trusted Him anyway. Do you do this when the teaching of Christ doesn’t mesh with you? Or, when the Bible disagrees with you, do you understand that you’re the one in error and not it?

Did you see how Jesus ends the passage in v70-71? “Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for He, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” They have just been through a trial where they had to choose to follow Jesus even if that decision brought very public and unpopular consequences. Now Jesus, by ending this way, prepares His disciples for an even greater trial. It’s as if He’s saying, “You twelve now remain out of what was once a large following. If your faith hasn’t been shaken by the unbelief of many, get ready for something harder. For our number, though small, includes one who is a devil.”[8]

Conclusion:

So church, God has set before you this morning two examples of what to do when following Jesus gets hard; defection or devotion, what will you choose?

[9]Jesus may confuse us at times. He may perplex us and may even provoke us with things He says. And yet, do you see enough beauty in Jesus, do you see enough worthy of your trust in Jesus to say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…No one ever spoke like you. No one ever acted like you. No was ever so strong and meek, authoritative and gentle, profound and simple, powerful and yet willing to be killed, just and yet willing to be treated unjustly, worthy of honor and yet willing to be dishonored, deserving of immediate obedience and yet patient with people like us, able to answer every question and yet willing to remain silent under abuse, capable of coming down from the cross in flaming judgment and yet committed not to use that power…no one is like You Lord, You are the Holy One of God.”

 

 

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 382.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 162.

[5] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentary’s – The Gospels, page 711.

[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, page 388.

[7] R.C. Sproul, John: St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, page 126.

[8] John Calvin, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 255.

[9] John Piper, You Have the Words of Eternal Life, Desiring God Sermons, 12.20.2009, accessed on deisringgod.org.

Five Solas – Soli Deo Gloria

It was a privilege to have Tanner Cline as our guest preacher this Sunday. Pastor Tanner is a good friend of Pastor Adam, he spoke at the Publicans conference yesterday, and serves as pastor to Hopewell Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Covington, GA. We we’re encouraged to hear from him this past week, you’ll be encouraged as well. Enjoy!

Five Solas – Solus Christus

Here in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation we find ourselves at part 4 in our sermon series through the “Five Solas” or the five large themes of the reformation. We’re doing this 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 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 fourth of these, Solus Christus (Christ Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is Hebrews 1:1-4, you heard Andrew read it before, let’s see what God has for us in it.

The author of Hebrews, whoever it was, in these first four verses quickly brings his readers to his main point: Jesus is better than all that’s come before. Specifically for us, there are three things to see in this text: Christ the Prophet, Christ the Priest, and Christ the King.

Christ the Prophet (v1-2a)

In these first two verses of Hebrews we see a great deal not of what man has done to get to God but what God has done to reveal Himself to man. It is here we see Christ as Prophet. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke…” God is not a silent God, God is a God who speaks. If God had remained silent nothing that has been made would’ve been made.[2] Yet, into the dark void of Genesis 1:2 came God’s strong and divine words of creative power in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light!” And there was light. God not only spoke all of creation into existence, but as the author of Hebrews says “…God spoke to our fathers by the prophets…” This means the same voice that crafted the world, called out to God’s people through the prophets. The calling of the prophet was to stand in the gap between God and man representing God as His mouthpiece. God would reveal His secret counsels to these prophets and then they would reveal the same to God’s people. They weren’t to edit, alter, amend, try to improve, or take away from the message to any degree. They were to simply give the message as is. This they did in many ways from Moses to Malachi whether by writing, proclaiming, miracles, or visions. This was how it worked back then, God revealed Himself, to His people, by His Word, through His prophet.

In v2 there is a transition to something new. “…but in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son…” Notice the author of Hebrews believes we’re not waiting for a future period of time called the ‘last days’, no, we’re already in the last days. And more so, the event that the marked the transition into the last days was when God, who once spoke by prophets, began speaking by His very own Son. So, we see here that God reveals Himself to His people in two stages: first to Israel by the prophets, and now to us, the Church, by His Son. It is these two stages that correspond to what we call the Old and New Testaments. Or the Old and New Covenants.

God’s divine revelation then, is truly progressive. I don’t mean the idea of God evolves from one generation to the next, of course not, He is the same forever and ever. I also do not mean God’s revelation progresses from something less true to more true, or less worthy to more worthy, or from less mature to more mature. The progression of God’s divine revelation from the Old Testament to the New Testament is a progression from promise to fulfillment, from shadow to reality. So we see a true progression here, but be sure to note that God’s progression in how He reveals Himself to His people is a progression up to Christ, and a progression no further than Christ.[3] Prophet after prophet was sent by God to God’s people with messages of hope, justice, mercy, judgment, and the promise of a coming Redeemer. Then it happened. When the fullness of time had come the unthinkable took place when the Son of God Himself came in the flesh to be our Redeemer.

The contrast being made in v1-2 is vast. God once spoke in many ways to Israel by the prophets, God now speaks in one way to the Church by His Son. Then, the prophets spoke the Word of God to God’s people, now Jesus Christ is the very Word of God come to God’s people.[4] Therefore, Christ is the perfect, full, and final revelation of who God is and what God requires of man. He is the Prophet of prophets.

Christ the Priest (v2b-3a)

In this third verse of Hebrews we see a great deal, not of what man has done to become right with God, but what God has done to make man right with Himself. It is here we see Christ as Priest. But before we get the great priestly statement at the end of v3, look what comes before it in the end of v2 and the beginning of v3. “…whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He (Christ) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” These identity statements about who Christ is are loaded with life-altering reality, so loaded in fact we could do a whole sermon on each on of them. But for our purposes today just notice them briefly. Who is Jesus Christ? What does He do? Jesus Christ is the heir of all things, for His Father owns everything and has given all things into His hands. He is the Creator of the world, for He is the very Word of God which was God and was with God in the beginning. He is radiance of the glory of God, for He is the ultimate display of the God we see in the Isaiah 6 vision. He is the exact imprint of God’s nature, for God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him. And lastly, He is the upholder of the universe, for He is not only the powerful Word which made the world, He is the powerful Word which sustains the world. This Christ, who created all, sustains all, and is fully God, this majestic and sovereign Christ did something very priestly for us. See it in the end of v3? He and He alone, made purification for sins.

Here we come to the great Priestly work of Christ. In the Old Testament, as the prophet would go before the people as God’s representative, so too, the priest would go before God as the people’s representative. And being the representative of the people these priests would have to make sacrifices. Sacrifices for their own sins, sacrifices for the people’s sins, sacrifices on feast days, and sacrifices on festival days. Sacrifice upon sacrifice standing in the gap for the people before God. This was the calling and duty of the priest, and in that calling we see with clarity the work of Christ. He too made a sacrifice for sin. He too stood in the gap between God and man. But He made no sacrifice for His own sins, He didn’t have any, and He didn’t make repeated sacrifices, He made one.

The glory of His priestly sacrifice is twofold: first, His sacrifice is a one time event, which, covers all the sin, of all God’s people, for all of time. Second, He not only made the sacrifice for the people, He was the sacrifice for the people. The catechism quoted earlier says it so well, as our Redeemer “Christ executed the office of priest, in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.” So this Great High Priest Jesus Christ not only created the heavens but came down from them to make new creations out of us. He not only sustains and upholds the universe by the Word of His power, but He allowed Himself to be prevailed upon so that we would know the power of the cross. He is the Priest of priests.

Christ the King (v3b-4)

Notice what quickly follows the author’s description of His priestly work? “After He made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” It is worth noting that in the instructions for the furniture for the tabernacle and temple there was no instruction to make a seat for the high priest. This is because he was always up and doing work, making all kinds of various sacrifices for this and for that. But here we see something different in Christ. After He made, once for all, purification for sins, what did He do? He sat down! Why did He sit down? Because it was his way of physically saying what He audibly said on the cross “It is finished!” And He didn’t sit down in lawn chair, or a cushy lazy boy recliner, He sat down on a throne. And not just any throne, it God’s throne. What does this mean? This Christ is not just true Prophet, not just true Priest, He is true King. The King of kings who rules and reigns over all things.

This makes me think of that moment in Tolkien’s The Return of the King when all the heroes labored and toiled and fought to aid Frodo and Sam in getting the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom to destroy the enemy. What happened after the enemy was destroyed? Aragorn took up his rightful place in Gondor, and sat down on the throne as king. What was the result of his kingly reign? All of Middle Earth was ushered into a lasting peace. How much greater then are those events that have truly taken place in our own world when Christ the King put the devil to an open shame in His crucifixion and resurrection? How much grander is the throne He sat down on? How much deeper is the peace that comes to the citizens of His kingdom as a result? Infinitely so.

Conclusion:

Let’s now answer our last question, why did Solus Christus matter so much during the reformation, and why does it still matter today?

We’ve talked much about Luther’s life these past weeks. Let me describe one more moment from his life to answer this question.

Once Luther began seeing the power of gospel grace and the powerlessness of our own works to save, he heard reports of a preacher who had just come to Wittenberg. This preacher’s name was John Tetzel. Tetzel came into the town square and said, “Good people of Wittenberg, have you not at one time or another burned your hand in the fire? And felt it torment you day and night? How greatly you ought to fear, then, the fires of hell, which are able to burn and torment your soul for all eternity. Your Pope, Leo X, offers you grace for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tonight and only tonight you can snatch any loved one or rescue yourself from the fires of hell for a few coins. “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The technical term for this is called an indulgence. And Tetzel just happened to be the most famous indulgence preachers around.

Luther heard this and was vexed in his soul! Why? Because Tetzel’s message was clear: give money to the Pope, and you will be saved. In response to Tetzel Luther wrote his 95 theses and numerous other books against the wicked doctrines of the Popes, past and present. For writing what he did, Pope Leo X sent Luther warning letter, called a Papal Bull, telling him to repent or else. Luther refused to repent and responded instead by publicly burning a copy of the letter. A few weeks later he preached about this in one of his Sunday sermons saying, “Yes you have heard, it’s true. I’ve been summoned to Rome. While I’m gone remember, we obsess with indulgences…God isn’t an angry God who only wants your money. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly…If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Christ’s work alone saves, not ours. This was what vexed Luther.

Now why do these things matter today? You may think the preaching of indulgences was a thing of the past, but you’d be mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church not only still uses and offers indulgences, but Pope Francis has been known to use them often. Remember, when an indulgence is offered, what is being communicated is that if you do this, if you go here, or if you give this amount of money, you’ll be saved from the fires and torment of hell. There seems to be no place for the truths of Christ standing forth in majestic wonder as the true Prophet, true Priest, and true King, alone in His exclusive identity, and alone in His sufficiency to save. The center of Tetzel’s preaching was that man could buy His way into heaven, Luther heard it and it vexed his soul because Christ’s work to save was being thrust aside! Today it’s really no different. By and large the center of protestant preaching is that man can use God to gain self-esteem, purpose, and worth, and even though Christ crucified is thrust aside and absent from this message…we hear it and our souls aren’t vexed at all! Where is Christ???? Where is His Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly work for us? Sadly, though we say we reject Catholicism our message is eerily similar to Tetzel’s message. Sure, we may not say that we can buy our way into heaven, but we do say we can use heaven to buy whatever we want.

Church. We need to repent and return to Christ. When we turn to this particular Sola we turn to the linchpin, the hub, the apex, and the center of all reformation theology, indeed, of all biblical theology. Christ is the glory of Sola Scriptura, for He alone is the Word made flesh and He alone is the interpretive end of all Scripture. Christ is the glory of Sola Gratia, for He alone is the grace of God personified. Christ is the glory of Sola Fide, for He alone is the object of saving faith. And Christ is the glory of Soli Deo Gloria, for He alone is the radiance of the glory of God.[5]

Far be it from us to think the reformation or any theology coming from it that boasts the label of ‘reformed’ centers on men like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or any other famous man or woman in the history of the Church. Far be it from us to think God exists to make much of us! May you be vexed at the man centeredness of the Christian world around us, and rid your soul of such narcissism. We have no need for any other prophet to provide us with new revelation, we have no need for any other priest to mediate between us and God, and we have no need for any other king to rule God’s Church.[6]

Christ alone stands at the center of God’s eternal purposes, so, Christ and Christ alone must stand at the center of all our life and doctrine.[7]

 

 

Citations:

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

[2] F.F. Bruce, NICNT: Hebrews, page 2-3.

[3] Ibid., page 2-3.

[4] Kay Arthur, Hebrews: The Key to Living by Faith, page 21.

[5] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 14.

[6] Ibid., page 13.

[7] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 13.

Five Solas – Sola Fide

Here in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation we find ourselves at part 3 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 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 third of these, Sola Fide (Faith Alone). To show us what this is and why it matters our text this morning is Romans 1:16-17, you heard it read before, let’s see what God has for us in it.

1:16-17 is not only the distinctive theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans, you could say it is a two sentence summary of Paul’s entire theology.[2] What therefore, is Paul’s theology all about? It’s all about righteousness. I want to ask three questions that rise to the surface in this text.[3]

Why is Paul Eager to Preach In Rome? (v16a)

Why is he eager to do this? Don’t they as Christians already know the gospel? Haven’t they already believed it? Apparently Paul thinks the gospel is something Christians need to hear just as much as non-Christians need to hear. For Paul the gospel itself is not just a call for the lost to be saved, but a call for the saved to keep living by faith.[4] But why is Paul eager to preach the gospel in Rome? Being a Roman citizen, he would’ve known of all the immoral activity and social issues going in Rome, why didn’t he want to address these things?[5] Rome was a city full of slavery, but he didn’t want to address the dignity of life. Rome was a city of lust, but he didn’t want to address their sexual immorality. Rome was a city of economic prejudice, but he didn’t want to address their economy. Rome was a city of war, but he didn’t want to address their border expansion. Rome was a city with all kinds of social sin, but he didn’t want to preach a social gospel. Rome was one of, if not, the largest city in the world at this time and in comparison to their size and power the believers within Rome would’ve been very easily tempted to be ashamed of the gospel.

So what’s the first thing Paul says? Though he truly knows all these social issues are important, Paul doesn’t begin with them. Instead he begins in boldness saying “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…” I find this very encouraging. Do you? These Romans are very much like you and I. They lived in a time when everything in Rome was advanced and advancing. The tide of this culture was always seemingly coming in, strongly pushing an agenda out to every citizen telling them to get in line with we’re headed or be tossed into the Coliseum and face the lions. In contrast to the power and might of Rome, nothing would have looked more foolish or weak than a religion centered on a crucified Messiah. They we’re greatly tempted to be ashamed of the gospel. Do we not live in similar times?

Just this past week Oxford University, one of the most prestigious and notable Universities in the world, held it’s fresher’s fair, where the new incoming freshman can see all the student activities and organizations open to them on campus. But for the first time in it’s history, which goes back all the way to 1263, the college banned any Christian groups from setting up a table at the fair. Why? They said, “We recognize the wonderful advantages in having Christian representatives at the fresher’s fair but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshman who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford…Christianity’s influence on many marginalized communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”[6] This isn’t fake news, this is where the tide of our culture is going.

So as the Romans were then, we now, are tempted of being ashamed of the gospel because the tide of our culture is pushing against us. But again, that Paul said he was unashamed encourages me (and it ought to encourage you) because he too felt this temptation deeply. For his faith he was imprisoned, chased out of town, laughed at, regarded as a fool, and stoned.[7] In the face of all of this he boldly declared to the Romans that he would not bow the knee to Rome’s agenda. His deepest allegiance belongs to Christ, no matter if that puts him at odds with the very world that needs Christ.

So why was Paul eager to preach in Rome? Because he was not ashamed of the gospel. This leads us to our next question:

Why is Paul Unashamed of the Gospel? (v16b)

We find the answer to this question in the next phrase of v16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel…(why?)…for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel? Because the gospel is power. The word power here in Greek is the word dunamis, which is where we get our word dynamic or dynamite.[8] That we have created those words from this earlier Greek word shows us a glimpse at what’s being displayed in this word dunamis. It means the gospel itself is power to actually do something. It isn’t just a story, or a set of rules, or a philosophical system, it’s power. And not just any kind of power, but the very power of God. Do not miss this Church. In the gospel there is a power that lifts man out of and above the temptations of cowardice, shame, and fear. The very content of the gospel message itself creates a peaceful boldness in us wherever we find ourselves to be. But what does this power do? Paul is clear. God’s power in the gospel is for what? “…the power of God for…salvation…” The gospel’s power saves, it rescues, it redeems, and it reorients affections of the heart. Who is this gospel power intended to save? Not all men, not those who are born into certain families, not those who live in certain countries, not those who have a certain skin color, not even those who try to work their hardest to earn it. Who then is saved by this gospel power? “…it is the power of God for salvation to everyone…who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Yes the Jews were the covenant people of God and received the promises of God before any others, but now the gospel power goes out to the Gentile world.

What comes forth in blazing clarity when this word ‘believe’ comes in view? Faith. The power of God in the gospel is grabbed ahold of how? By faith! Faith therefore does not just know the right things, it’s not even agreeing that those things are true. Doesn’t James say even the demons believe and shudder? Faith is not any sort of naming or claiming something for ourselves, no. True faith, faith that lays ahold of the power of God in the gospel, is a faith that banks on, trusts in, and clings to Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel.[9] It is a whole-souled confidence in the God who not only makes commands and demands of us, but the God who also approves and provides all that is needed for our salvation in Jesus Christ.

So here we see two things: the power of God breaking into the plight of man. This is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. This is why he is eager to encourage the Romans to not be ashamed of the gospel. And this is why I am eager to encourage you to not be ashamed of the gospel either. Indeed, no one need blush at being the recipient or instrument of such powerful gospel grace.[10] Just as Paul proclaimed Christ as the very wisdom of God in the “wise” city of Corinth (1 Cor. 1:26-31), so too here he proclaims Christ and His gospel to be the very power of God in the “powerful” city of Rome.

This leads us to our last question.

Why is the Gospel the Power of God for Salvation? (v17)

We find this answer in v17, “For in it (in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Why is the gospel the power of God for salvation? Because in it a righteousness is revealed. What kind of righteousness is this in v17? Could it be the attribute of God’s righteousness in view? That He always does what is right, that He is Himself the standard of all rightness, and that He is always faithful to His promises? No. Could it be our own righteousness in view? That we ourselves have by our works and merit earned a righteousness that puts us in right standing with God? No. Well what is it? I submit that the righteousness in view here is none other than the righteousness God requires of us, demands of us, but also freely gives to us in Jesus Christ.

This begs the question doesn’t it? How is this righteousness given to us? Paul says it in v17 “…from faith for faith, as it is written ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Here Paul quotes the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) to prove his case. In context God through the prophet Habakkuk is calling His people to have faith in God in the face of the impending Babylonian exile. In the face of such wrath faith is necessary. So too Paul sees Habakkuk’s call to God’s people then as a pattern of God’s work that has come to fulfillment in the gospel. Just as they lived by faith then, so too we live by faith now.[11] Just as the wrath of the Babylonians was almost upon them then, do you see what comes next in Romans 1:18? God’s wrath revealed from heaven against the sin of man. Lesson? In the face of such wrath faith is necessary.

Here we see the glory of the great exchange. On the cross “God for our sake made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Yes, the blood of Jesus washes our sin away finally and forever, but He also gives to us, reckons to us, or imputes to us His own righteousness that He displayed in His perfect life. On one hand He gets our sin and as a result He bore the curse we deserved. On the other hand we get His righteousness and get the approval and welcome of God we cannot merit on our own.

So why is the gospel the power of God for salvation? Because in the gospel Christ’s righteousness is not only revealed but received by faith alone. This is justification by faith alone, or this is Sola Fide.

Conclusion:

As we’ve done each week in our Five Solas series let’s return to where we began. Our original question was, why did Sola Fide matter so greatly during the reformation and why does it still matter today?

The answer to both questions comes to us in the notion of our works. Luther’s conversion story shows this well.

He knew well the Catholic doctrine that the way one is saved is by a combination of God’s grace and man’s work. But as a young monk Luther was acutely aware of his many sins. Try and try as he may, he never felt he was good enough, for God’s Law demanded perfection and he couldn’t match its demands. So he would spend hours in confession, one time he even spent six hours confessing sins but ended that occasion in despair when he realized there may be sins he’s committed but isn’t aware of them. He panicked and thought: “Sins to be forgiven must be confessed. To be confessed they must be recognized and remembered. If they are not recognized and remembered they cannot be confessed. If they are not confessed, they are not forgiven.”[12] His mentor Johann Staupitz told Luther to see God as love by looking to Christ. Luther responded by saying, “God out of mere delight hardens men and damns them for eternity…is this who is said to be full of such mercy and goodness? This is cruel, intolerable even. Love God? I hate Him!”[13] His mentor than did the unthinkable, against Luther’s wishes he made him a professor of theology in the University. Luther was tasked with teaching through the Psalms and Paul’s letter to the Romans. And the moment came, in studying Romans 1:16-17 that Luther was finally converted. Here’s his own words, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but this one expression ‘the righteousness of God.’ I took it to mean that righteousness is God punishing the wicked. And my situation was just that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled, with no confidence in my own works. Therefore I did not love this just and angry God, I hated Him and murmured against Him…yet I clung to Paul, longing to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the phrase ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and mercy God justifies us through faith. I felt myself reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”[14]

For Luther, to hear that we are saved and given the righteousness of God, not through our own works, but by faith was like entering the gates of paradise. Then all of sudden something surprised him. He knew the role and place of works in the Christian life. Works don’t save, but they show we have been saved. Works aren’t the foundation of our salvation, they’re the necessary consequence of it. We’re not saved by good works, we’re saved unto good works. So for Luther and the rest of the reformers faith alone saved, but faith was never alone.

Fast forward to today. We think salvation works like this. We are a frog that has fallen into a jar of milk, and after realizing we cannot jump out of this jar, we do the only thing we can…we start paddling. So we paddle and paddle and paddle and slowly but surely we paddle that milk into butter and launch ourselves to freedom.[15] We may say Amazing Grace is one of our favorite hymns, but deep down we think if we just do our best we’ll get to heaven one day. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We need once again to return to Scripture to see that…Our works, on their best day, are still filthy rags before our Holy God. Our works aren’t enough to make us right with God. Therefore we could never do enough, and ought to despair of our efforts. But though despairing of ourselves we need not lose hope, because of Christ. His works, His gospel works for us and given to us through faith are always enough.

So Church, may your confidence ever be, not in your own works, but in Christ’s works for us. May we always boast in Sola Fide, Faith alone! Because through faith we grab hold of the great gospel power of God. Indeed, we grab hold of God Himself.

 

 

Citations:

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

[2] C.K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, page 27. See also Thomas Schreiner, Romans: BECNT, page 58.

[3] Ibid., page 26.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes, page 2158.

[5] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Vol. 1, page 161.

[6] Albert Mohler, The Briefing, from October 11, 2017, accessed via Albert Mohler app.

[7] John MacArthur Study Bible, notes, page 1692.

[8] To say because of this, that the gospel has an explosive power (similar to dynamite) is to force a modern idea onto a term that doesn’t carry such a meaning. We should not do this.

[9] These three kinds of faith are the historical categories of: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

[10] Frederic Louis Godet, Romans, page 91.

[11] Beale & Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, page 611.

[12] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, page 42.

[13] Ibid., page 44.

[14] Ibid., page 49-50.

[15] Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 83.

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.