Monday, December 31, 2007

John 8:48-57

48The Jews answered Him, "Aren't we right in saying that You are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?" 49"I am not possessed by a demon," said Jesus, "but I honor My Father and you dishonor Me. 50I am not seeking glory for Myself; but there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge. 51I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death." 52At this the Jews exclaimed, "Now we know that You are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet You say that if anyone keeps Your word, he will never taste death. 53Are You greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do You think You are?" 54Jesus replied, "If I glorify Myself, My glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the One who glorifies Me. 55Though you do not know Him, I know Him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad." 57"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to Him, "and You have seen Abraham!"

The Jews find nothing of substance to say against Jesus, so they resort to name-calling in an effort to ridicule or taunt Him. Clearly lacking judgment, the Jews lash out in a verbal attack against Him, foolishly calling Jesus a demon-possessed Samaritan. They reckoned Samaritans to be apostate corrupters of the law; a demon possessed one must really be a lunatic! In response, Jesus refuted only the charge of demon-possession. Augustine suggests that Jesus was not afraid to identify with all of the elect, including those from Samaria, which He would be visiting soon (chapter 4). Calling Jesus a Samaritan was no big deal; but calling Him demon-possessed was, of course, blasphemous. Thus Jesus turned “the other cheek,” and rather than defending Himself against these outrageous statements, He decided to uphold the name of the Father for His glory.

In v51, Jesus claimed once again that eternal life could only come to the one who believed (and lived) the truths that Jesus was teaching – the Gospel. “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” And at this statement, the hardened Jews are made more confident that Jesus is truly demon-possessed. He is claiming that the one who keeps His word will never die. That is pretty crazy to an unbeliever. And these unbelievers are stupefied. Yet Jesus speaks of believers – who will experience death – as passing from the earthly realm to the heavenly kingdom. There will be no heavenly kingdom for unbelievers. They proclaim that even Abraham died along with the prophets, so the wonder how Jesus could dare to make a statement such as what He said. They are only perceiving physical words and sensing no spiritual meaning behind them. It’s what we’ve been saying all along (1 Corinthians 2:14). And they are driven by this logic to ask Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Abraham? Who do You think You are?”

They wrongly compare Abraham and the prophets to Jesus, as if the stars can be noticed in the presence of our sun. Jesus’ light makes the light of the other notables of the faith fade away. Notice they are still referring to Abraham as their father in asking this question; and notice that they are asking Jesus to tell them who He thinks He is. Of course, they are asking somewhat rhetorically, as a method of rebuke. It’s like, “How dare You say such things!” But the question is important. Who does Jesus think He is?

Jesus responds to this question with an indirect answer: “I am the One who knows the Father and keeps His Word.” He is not seeking His own glory, as the Jews accuse Him of doing. And He is certainly not looking for them to glorify Him; rather, He desires only the glory that the Father will give Him; Jesus desires God’s glory. So let us seek the glory of Christ, who makes us to share in His glory by His grace. When Jesus says in v54 that Jews claim Jesus’ Father as their God, He implies that they don’t know God; they don’t know Jesus’ Father. We learn that a true profession of faith is that which proceeds from true knowledge. And knowledge comes from Spirit through the Word. Consequently, all who boast in the name of God without agreement with the Word of God are hypocrites (called liars here). And in v55, Jesus explains that He must testify of His Father, because He does know Him. If He did not testify of the Father, He would be a hypocrite (liar) like them. Since silence would be a treacherous denial of the truth for Jesus, it ought to be likewise for His true disciples. That God reveals Himself to us for the purpose of confessing to the world the faith we have in our hearts is remarkable; it ought powerfully to strike terror into our minds, that hypocrites who either deny the truth of God or disfigure it for the sake of political correctness, are not simply gently reproved, but are rebuked as children of the devil (1 John 5:3; 2 John 6). Speak up!

In v56, Jesus explains that “their father” Abraham rejoiced, because he believed in the Christ who was to come; Abraham longed for Messiah when He was absent, while these Jews despise Messiah when He is present. Jesus displays that they are by no means true sons of Abraham, for they share not the faith of Abraham. Jesus’ assertion concerning Abraham applies to all the saints. Whoever desires to be reckoned in the number of the godly, let him rejoice, as he ought to do, in the presence of Christ, for which Abraham ardently longed. Jesus concludes that Abraham saw the day of Messiah and was glad. Commentators disagree on this statement, but the Jews take Jesus to mean that He has seen Abraham. And by declaring that Jesus was not yet fifty, the Jews allow Him room to be much older than He was (did He look old?); it still wasn’t going to be enough, they thought, because Abraham had lived two thousand years earlier and had long been deceased. The Jews thereby ridicule His claim to know anything about Abraham’s faith. They’re thinking, “How dare He say anything about Abraham!” They mistakenly esteemed Abraham as being far greater than Jesus; yet Abraham could not give eternal life, and Jesus is the Life.

Friday, December 21, 2007

John 8:39-47

39"Abraham is our father," they answered. "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would 40 do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the things your own father does." "We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God Himself." 42Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on My own; but He sent Me. 43Why is My language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me! 46Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe Me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

Jesus’ rebuke hits home, and the Jews show how strongly they resist His truthful teaching. When they answer that Abraham is their father, they are not merely clinging to their physical ancestry; they are exclaiming that they, by this physical ancestry, are unconditionally heirs to God’s promises to Abraham. They are hypocrites, and clinging to this seemingly logical stance (after all, they really are physical Jewish people), they reveal their opposition to God with hardened obstinacy. It is at this point that Jesus becomes even more offensive. He declares that the Jews are not truly Abraham’s children, or else they would do what Abraham did – and Abraham believed in the teaching of God. Yes, they were physically descended from Abraham, but that’s not what makes a child of Abraham (Romans 9:6-10). In reality their spiritual father was the devil, and they were enslaved to him and to their own sin – that is why they will not listen to Jesus’ words, which come from the Father; and that is why they do not love Jesus, but seek to kill Him. As Jesus says, “Abraham did not do such things.”

The Jews then deny that they are illegitimate children (likely poking fun at Jesus – the rumor of His being a bastard child), and they boldly claim God Himself as their father. This is saying the same thing as before – that they are truly Abraham’s offspring – but in a way which Jews rarely did. Jews did not often call God “Father,” though they acknowledged it to be the case. They reason thus: “God adopted for Himself the family of Abraham; therefore, since we are Abraham’s descendants, we must be the children of God.” We can see how they thought that they had holiness from the womb, because they were sprung from a holy root. Jesus’ reply in v42 argues that whoever is a child of God will acknowledge and cherish His Son; but since these Jews (who had professed belief shortly before) hate Jesus, they have no reason to boast that you are God’s children.” Notice from this passage that there is no fear of God where Christ is rejected. Hypocritical religion shelters itself by frequent use of the name of God, but agreement with the Father is impossible without love for His Son, Jesus.

In v43, Jesus asks and answers a question, “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.” Jesus is speaking the same language as His audience, yet with this question, He intended to take out of their hands what was the subject of their continual boasting, that they are led by reason and judgment to oppose Him. He is essentially calling them stupid, foolish, and lacking reason. And His answer reveals again their inability. 1 Corinthians 2:14 Apart from being made spiritual through regeneration, these people cannot grasp spiritual things. They cannot understand, because they will not.

Jesus, in v44, calls the Jews children of the devil, not only because they imitate him (“they want to do his work”), but because they are led by his instigation to fight against Christ (“they belong to him”). We are called the children of God, not only because we resemble Him, but also because He governs us by His Spirit, because Christ lives vigorously in us, so as to conform us to the image of His Father. Understanding the devil is an intriguing study, and one often avoided out of fear or apathy. Without going into great detail, we can look at Jesus’ words here for safe and sound teaching. “He was a murderer from the beginning.” This does not mean that he has always been a murderer, as the sense in which Jesus is “from the beginning.” Rather is called a murderer from the beginning, because he contrived the destruction, or the fall, of mankind (cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23). He introduced sin when there had been none. We read next that the devil is “not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.” This first phrase lends us to think that he was not always a rebel, but fell from the state of cherishing truth (Isaiah 14:11-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Revelation 12:7-13). The second phrase confirms his apostasy. Because he has entirely turned from the truth, he has been given over to his disdain beyond hope for repair. Finally, we read, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” This statement is regarded to mean that the blame for falsehood belongs not to God, who created the devil, but to the devil himself, who has corrupted the good that God created. The devil, who knows nothing but to contrive corruptions, frauds, and delusions, is the anti-Christ; as a liar and murderer, having blinded the eyes of his children, he is contrary to Jesus, the truth and the life and the One who opens the blind eyes.

Notice the shocking statement in v45. “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.” This statement reveals the reality of mankind’s depravity. Unless the Spirit changes our natures through the rebirth, we are hostile to God and cannot please Him; we suppress the truth by our wickedness; we exchange the truth of God for a lie; we worship and serve created things, rather than the Creator (Romans 8:7-8; 1:18,25). In v46, Jesus asks a rhetorical question by which He claims to be sinless and perfectly righteous. He neither actually sinned nor potentially sinned. Though tempted in every way, Jesus was incapable of sinning. And He is upholding His doctrine as truth; there is no reason to doubt Him because of His impeccable character. He’s saying that His audience wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them in the face. They weren’t capable of recognizing truth because, even though they were physical sons of Abraham, they were spiritual sons of the devil. Because they belong to the devil, and not to God, they are neither willing nor able to hear and believe in Jesus. In v47, without saying anything about Himself, Jesus charges his audience with being at war with God. There is not a more evident sign of a reprobate mind than when one cannot endure the teachings of Jesus. To agree with Jesus’ teaching is to reveal yourself as elect.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

John 8:31-38

Verses 31-47 make up one of the most revealing passages in all of Scripture of the depths of human sinfulness and the necessity of God's electing grace in bringing us to genuine saving faith in Christ. It's one of my favorite passages. Let's look at it today and tomorrow.

31To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can You say that we shall be set free?" 34Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill Me, because you have no room for My word. 38I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.

John sets a new context now. Jesus had been teaching to the crowd, likely the day after the Feast of Tabernacles ended. The Pharisees interrupted, and Jesus rebuked them repeatedly, as we saw last time. But through that dialogue, many Jews “put their faith in Him” (v30). And I mentioned as we closed last time that these people had a fraudulent faith – a people group John often discusses in his Gospel. Jesus now turns to this group of Jewish people professing faith in Him, and He begins to teach them about genuine discipleship.

Jesus is suggesting here that many profess to be disciples are, in reality, not His disciples and thus have no right to be called His disciples. Those who do not hold fast to His teaching are rightly considered hypocrites – frauds. They say they believe one thing, yet their actions show that they believe another. They do not live consistently with what they proclaim, and it is sad that we are all guilty of this at times. It has been said that hypocrisy within the Church is the top thing keeping potential visitors away. With His words, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.” Jesus is saying that it is not enough for anyone to have merely heard the word gladly (as in the parable of the sower – the four soils). It is true and good that faith starts out, but it was never genuine if perseverance – namely repentance and fruit – doesn’t accompany it. Do you want to be called a disciple of Jesus? Then hold fast to His teaching; persevere in the message of the Gospel. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8), so that others may see the good that you do and glorify God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).

Next, having claimed that people with genuine faith will continue to believe His words, Jesus says that it is only by holding fast to the truth of His teaching that the Jews would find true truth and freedom. He says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Only by holding fast to the teaching of Jesus will you come to know the truth; and only by knowing the truth will you be set free. And we’ll talk about why it is that we need to be set free in a minute. For now, note that the lifelong pursuit of Christ’s teaching, which is the Word of God, which is truth, should be our aim as believers, for we are set free by it. Calvin says, “In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it.” Nothing is more excellent or desirable than the knowledge of the Gospel.

At Jesus’ teaching, the shallowness of their faith becomes apparent – for their hope of freedom, which they are unconvinced that they need, is actually in their being descended from Abraham, not in holding fast to Jesus’ teaching by grace through faith. Jesus has raised the issue of liberty and freedom; these people were imprisoned, and they didn’t know it. They are insulted when Jesus suggests freedom to be a blessing they do not yet possess. The Jews had the audacity to say they’ve never been slaves to anyone; yet the sound of Roman soldiers could be heard everywhere in Jerusalem. But that’s not even what Jesus was talking about.

Jesus wasn’t speaking of political tyranny or shackles-and-chains style physical bondage. He says very clearly what He’s talking about in v34, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” It’s the message He had come to preach. His opening message in the gospel accounts is a quotation from Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me…to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” It’s liberty from the bondage of sin and its effects, freedom from the shackles and chains of sin and guilt.

Calvin notes that “it is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble.” Many philosophers understand Jesus’ teaching here to mean that man is a slave by his own choice, and that by the same choice he is able to return to freedom. But Jesus is not saying that at all. Rather, He means that all who are not set free by Him, who alone has inherent freedom, are sinners by nature, enslaved to the sin nature from conception. Yet this slavery is voluntary, so that they who necessarily sin are not compelled to sin. Jesus is comparing grace and nature; men are destitute of freedom by nature, unless they gain it through the channel of faith, received by grace. And the truth Jesus teaches, the Gospel, is the instrument by which we obtain our faith, and our freedom.

Do you know where this bondage manifests itself the most? It’s in our native inability to believe the Gospel. People say, “I can believe in Jesus any time I want.” No they can’t. Do you remember what Jesus just said twice in chapter six: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” You cannot come to Jesus in your own strength or by you own native ability. Unless Jesus’ Father in heaven draws (drags) you to Jesus, you cannot come, believe, or repent. That’s where your bondage is evidenced the most, and Jesus is saying, “I’ve come to set you free. I’ve come to show you the way out of that bondage, and the way out of that prison.” All men are free to obey their greatest desire; but every man will always be captive to his greatest desire. Thus, when Jesus sets us free by regeneration, He changes our natures, which yield new desires. This commences the battle within that we all know about and struggle with. Until we die or Jesus returns, we must wrestle with desires that pull us both ways. We cannot believe unless our greatest desire is to believe; we will not have belief as our greatest desire until we experience regeneration by the Spirit. Once we are drawn in that way, we will believe, because freed from bondage to the sinful nature, belief becomes our greatest desire.

Lastly, notice that Jesus concedes their point that they are Abraham’s descendants; yet He ridicules them for glorifying themselves by that title without following in the footsteps of this hero of the faith. They lacked his most commendable trait – the obedience of faith, or the obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5). Nothing is farther from the truth, as they do not resemble the man whom they claim as their father. Jesus says that there is no room for His Word in them. Wishing to see Him dead, they more clearly resemble their true father – Satan – a liar and murderer, as we’ll see. At the end of v38, our text reads, “you do what you have heard from your father.” Perhaps a better rendering would be that of a challenge, “Go ahead and do what you have heard from your father. I challenge you to act on your desires and take My life. Prove Me right; show that you are children of the devil!”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

John 8:21-30

21Once more Jesus said to them, "I am going away, and you will look for Me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come." 22This made the Jews ask, "Will He kill Himself? Is that why He says, 'Where I go, you cannot come'?" 23But He continued, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the One I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." 25"Who are You?" they asked. 26"Just what I have been claiming all along," Jesus replied. "I have much to say in judgment of you. But He who sent Me is reliable, and what I have heard from Him I tell the world." 27They did not understand that He was telling them about His Father. 28So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the One I claim to be and that I do nothing on My own but speak just what the Father has taught Me. 29The One who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do what pleases Him." 30Even as He spoke, many put their faith in Him.

After John’s brief interlude, Jesus brings up another lesson that had been a point of discussion in the past – “Where I go, you cannot come.” And just like the first time this statement was made, there was confusion over its meaning. The people thought He was going to Greece. But this time, Jesus makes Himself clear. They realize He’s talking about the afterlife, because they ask, “Will He kill Himself?” But their question is mockery, as in, “If He kills Himself, we acknowledge that we cannot accompany Him, because we do not choose to do so.” They regarded Jesus’ absence as insignificant, thinking they’d finally gain victory over Him. But Jesus, of course, is speaking of their destiny after death. When they (the scribes and Pharisees) died, they would not go where Christ would be after His own death, for they would still be in their sins, because they did not believe in Him.

Jesus rebukes them again, saying, “You are from below (this world); I am from above (not of this world).” Calvin says that these synonymous statements are doubly issued for the emphasis that “no man, therefore, will ever be qualified to become a disciple of Christ, till Christ has formed him by His Spirit. And hence it arises that faith is so seldom found in the world, because all mankind are naturally opposed and averse to Christ, except those whom He elevates by the special grace of His Holy Spirit.” Having stated that they would die in their sin (singular) in v21, Jesus expressed that unbelief (the singular sin) was the source of all other sins. Apart from repentance in faith from this singular sin, all else loses importance in the realm of God’s wrath; thus in v24, Jesus says that they will die in their sins (plural), signifying all the particular sins that will be held against them on Judgment Day. Some suggest that unbelief alone incurs the wrath of God, but this is false; all of our sins will be held against us – including the unforgivable one, that of unbelief (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). Jesus tells us at the end of v24 that the solution to this problem of sin is to believe that He is the One He claims to be, that He is Messiah.

Jesus’ response to the question, “Who are You?” in v25 is difficult to translate and interpret. We have it, “Just what I have been claiming all along.” The KJV renders it, “Even that I said to you from the beginning.” We could spend the rest of our time looking at what commentators have to say, but a summary of what Jesus said to them might be this: “You pretend to be disciples of the Prophets and lovers of the Law, looking to the eternal covenant of God, but though I was promised from the beginning and present Myself before you, still you reject Me.” And in v26, Jesus changes the subject, effectively threatening the judgment of God against unbelievers on the ground that God must inevitably defend His truth; and the scribes and Pharisees, and presumably others in the undoubtedly large crowd, just don’t get it.

Eventually they would see Jesus glorified (v28), but they would not be able to be with Him, for they rejected the words of the Father, which Jesus was clearly teaching them. He declares that, after they have been struck with new and unexpressed horror at the wrath of God, then and only then will they be made fully aware of what they have done. The wicked will at length feel how great a loss they have suffered by rejecting the freely offered Christ. They will feel it, but it will be too late, for there will be no more room for repentance (2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:13,15). Jesus alludes in v28 to the outward form of His death, that He was to be lifted up on the cross; but He undoubtedly looked chiefly to the glorious result of it, soon to follow, contrary to the expectation of all. And in v29, Jesus boasts that He is neither alone nor without strength, for God the Father, who sent Him, was with Him by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. That’s the mentality that brings Paul to declare, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), and such is the courage with which we ought to live.

Jesus says some seriously grim things in the close of this passage. He declares, “Unless your sins are covered and dealt with, unless propitiation is made, unless a redemption price is paid, you will die in your sins. You will die under the judgment of God, unless you believe in Me.” That’s an unmistakably exclusive statement. He is the only way to be saved. And if you believe in Him, if you are united to Him by faith, you will never again walk in total darkness. You will never experience the darkness of the wrath of God. Would a “good moral teacher,” as some say Jesus was, carry on a discourse like this? No way.

John reveals that through these harsh words, many people in the audience believed Jesus and “put their faith in Him.” It is primarily this group whom Jesus will address next time as we look at the rest of this chapter, and we’ll see that the shallowness of their faith becomes apparent – for their hope for freedom is actually in their being descended from Abraham, not in Christ. Many of these so-called believers were frauds, just like those in John 2:23-24. Of course, their error is something that John had addressed from the beginning, when he clearly explained that God’s children were not those who were descended from Abraham, but those who were given a new birth by the Spirit (John 1:12-13; Romans 9:6-8). But having fraudulent faith mustn’t describe us. We ought to be able to say with John Wesley, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

John 8:13-20

13The Pharisees challenged Him, "Here You are, appearing as Your own witness; Your testimony is not valid." 14Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on My own behalf, My testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16But if I do judge, My decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent Me. 17In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18I am One who testifies for Myself; My other witness is the Father, who sent Me." 19Then they asked Him, "Where is Your father?" 20"You do not know Me or My Father," Jesus replied. "If you knew Me, you would know My Father also." He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized Him, because His time had not yet come.

It’s the same old argument and controversy that the Jews have had with Him before, and Jesus will make the same offensive claims that had alienated Him from the religious leadership before: first, that they are unable to believe in God, and second, that He truly is God in the flesh – only this time, Jesus will make these claims even more clearly and emphatically. But for now, notice that the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ claim reveals that they understood what He was saying – that’s why they refuted Him by saying His testimony was invalid. They are saying to Him, “We see what You’re saying, but it’s no use; we won’t be convinced of Your testimony unless another agrees with You.” They immediately point to what Jesus had said in an earlier argument. He was bearing witness of Himself, so His witness must not be true – even He had said that His witness was not true if it came from Himself.

In response, Jesus claims further that His testimony alone is enough, because He does not fit the ordinary class of human beings. He knows from whence He came, and He knows where He’s going. Ordinary men who testify for themselves to their advantage should be scrutinized, but the Son of Man does not fall under that classification. His rank is higher than that of men, though He has lowered Himself for a time. And the unbelief of mankind in no way hinders His glory, the glory that is rightly His by the authority of the Father (Philippians 2:5-11). With these words, Jesus clarified that His witness is indeed true, because it does not originate with Him, but comes from the Father. He’s saying, “I am an expert witness about heaven and God. I come from there, from Him. I’m an eyewitness. The Father testifies of Me too. Since there are two expert Witnesses, both in agreement, My claim is valid.”

Furthermore, Jesus describes their judgment as being by human standards, or “according to the flesh” – as opposed to “according to the Spirit.” This means either, or both, that their judgments are wicked and/or that their judgments are based on outside appearances and not on the heart, or the motive. And when Jesus says that He passes judgment on no one, He is speaking of this context. He is not taking the liberty – though it belongs to Him – to issue judgment on this matter; He is merely teaching at this moment. The Pharisees, however, do take the liberty to judge – even though they have not that right, given their hypocrisy. He’s rebuking them repeatedly and seemingly without mercy (though we know He is being merciful by not destroying them immediately). This view of Jesus’ statement is upheld by His next statement, “If I do judge, My decisions are right…because I stand with the Father, who sent Me.” His point is that everything He does proceeds from the Father; everything involving Jesus ought to be deemed Divine.

The Pharisees ask about Jesus’ father in v19, though not likely expecting Him to point them to Joseph (the rumor regarding Jesus’ earthly father was that He was a bastard child). With this question they suggest that they do not value Jesus’ Father highly enough to ascribe any significance to Jesus for the Father’s sake. This is a very audacious question to ask with the arrogance seen behind it. And Jesus does not give them a direct reply. He doesn’t answer their question – it deserves no response – but, He instead turns the argument back on the Pharisees and tells them that they do not know His Father, God the Father – for if they did, they would know and cherish Jesus for who He is. To see Jesus is to see God the Father. And these hypocrites saw neither.

But we do see by the grace of God, and as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we are being transformed into His image. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of God, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (NKJV). Finally, as mentioned earlier, John tells us that Jesus was speaking in the Temple treasury area. With the authority the Pharisees had, they should have been able to remove Jesus quickly and easily from His teaching post. But God guarded Him and caused men to hear Him, and those savage Pharisees did not touch Him, though they strongly desired to put an end to Him. God’s sovereign providence is amazing, and I can’t help but mention parts of the first two points of The Westminster Confession of Faith’s third chapter: (1) God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; (2) He has not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

Monday, December 17, 2007

John 8:12

12When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

John picks up here either the day after the Feast of the Tabernacles confrontation or immediately after this intrusion by the Pharisees into Jesus’ teaching ministry. And Jerusalem would still be teeming with families – four times the normal number of people in Jerusalem – due to the Feast. And so the context of what Jesus says here is critical. Allow me to elaborate:

We read in v20 that Jesus was speaking near the Temple treasury, where the offerings were contributed. It was in the court of women on the Temple campus that the treasury was found. Now the court of women was open to the elements, for there was no roof in the courtyard, and at the Feast of Tabernacles, candles would be lit on the floor. Perhaps hundreds or even thousands of candles would be lit to remain aglow for the whole week, until the Feast of Tabernacles was over. Then all of the candles would go out. If you were walking around at night within a couple miles of the Temple during the Feast, you’d see the glow of light, because it was open to the elements. It must have been quite a sight. Perhaps some of the families went for a little walk each night just outside the city in order to see the glow of light emerging from the Temple. And here’s the point. When the Feast of Tabernacles is finished, the lights are put out. And the excitement is gone. And there’s a return to darkness. But that’s the moment when Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” It’s perfect timing; it’s God’s timing. The words are nice, but when they – for the Jewish people – are combined with the cultural / traditional events (the signs pointing forward to the reality), it’s amazing. Once again, Jesus is declaring, “Your Feast points to Me. I am the reality which your Feast symbolizes.” Part of what the Feast of Tabernacles was about was the Exodus period when a pillar of light led the people through the wilderness, and Jesus is saying, “I am that light. I’m the One who leads the people of God into the ways of salvation and into the ways of truth and into the ways of fullness.”

So when Jesus asserts with fervency and authority, that He is “the light of the world,” He is saying two things. First, He is saying, by implication, that apart from Himself, men and women are in darkness; their minds are darkened; they’re blind and cannot see. And in the following chapter, He will illustrate His claim, by the sign-miracle of giving sight to the man born blind. John plants the theme that Jesus is coming into the world as the light of the world to dispel the darkness right in the prologue of the Gospel. There is first the darkness that describes the old covenant – it was merely a shadow of what was to come. Remember, “Out with the old and in with the new.” John alluded to this in the prologue of His Gospel as well – “The Law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” and, “of His fullness we have all received one blessing after another” – “grace upon grace.” There is also a darkness that lies in the human heart; there is the darkness of the natural man’s mind. This is the darkness of John 3 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 and Romans 8 – the mind of sinful man is sin and death and hostile to God and cannot please God, and the natural man cannot understand spiritual things, and man loves darkness and hates the light and will not come into the light, for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Second, Jesus is declaring to be the fulfillment of prophecy. “Light” is a critical word for John; it’s meant to make us think hard about it. Isaiah 9:2 (see also v1-3,6-7) says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Upon them a light has dawned.” Jesus is saying, “I am that light; I am the One of whom the Old Testament speaks; I am the fulfillment of every promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament; I am He.” The author of Hebrews declares Jesus to be the radiance, the light, of the glory of God. John writes in his first epistle that God is light. He writes in the Book of Revelation that the city of God has no need of the sun or moon or stars, because Jesus is the light. It is a beautiful picture. When Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” He is making a claim to absolute Deity.

Friday, December 14, 2007

John 8:1-11

1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. 7But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11"No one, Sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

John summarized the conclusion of the major confrontation ending the Feast of Tabernacles by saying that everyone went to his own house – a strange ending to a major conflict, but not a surprising one considering God’s providence and the repeated assertion that it was not yet Jesus’ time to be arrested. John continues from that explanation into what we call chapter 8, saying that when everyone went to his own house, Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives. He had no house, and while He certainly could have sought refuge at the home of a friend or disciple, He sought His Father in prayer. It was a much-needed time of prayerful solitude after the exhausting festival experience. But it was a short-lived time, for in the morning, Jesus returned to the temple courts to teach – and “all the people gathered around Him.” This was the day after the Feast of Tabernacles had ended.

The scribes and Pharisees display their wickedness in this effort to slander Jesus. They reveal to Jesus that they have a plain commandment of the Law; therefore, it follows that they act maliciously in putting to Jesus this question, as if it were a doubtful matter. Their intention was to make Jesus either disagree with Moses by acquitting this woman or violate the Roman law (Rome alone had the authority to call for capital punishment) by consenting to stone her in agreement with Moses’ command – adulteresses are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24), and it would certainly be unlawful to acquit this guilty woman. But the man involved was also to be tried and put to death. Why didn’t they bring the man along with the woman to Jesus? They weren’t seeking true justice. It was a ploy to lure Jesus into trouble. The Pharisees were hoping He would disagree with Moses, so they could accuse Him. But if He agreed, the Roman government might come after Him It was a tough scenario – but not for Jesus!

Commentators disagree on the reason for Jesus’ writing on the ground. Liberals say He was buying time, trying to think of what to say. Others say that He was writing a condemning message to them similar to the writing on the wall from Daniel 5:5,25-28. But more likely, He was just showing their unworthiness and His disgust with them. By bending down and doodling, Jesus was “doing nothing” or turning His back on them. He was not giving them attention, for they deserved none. Yet they persisted, v7 tells us. And that’s when Jesus answers according to the custom of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:7). God commanded that the witnesses should, with their own hands, be the first to apply the punishment due. By saying this, Jesus gets them to disqualify themselves from the role of judge and witness. The reason for this law was to ensure greater caution in bearing testimony. Calvin says:

There are many who proceed rashly to overwhelm their brother by perjury, because they do not think that they inflict a deadly wound by their tongue. And this very argument had weight with those slanderers, desperate as they were; for no sooner do they obtain a sight of it, than they lay aside those fierce passions with which they were swelled when they came. Jesus does not here forbid sinners to do their duty in correcting the sins of others; but He only reproves hypocrites, who mildly flatter themselves and their vices, but are excessively severe, and even act the part of felons, in censuring others. No man, therefore, shall be prevented by his own sins from correcting the sins of others, and even from punishing them, when it may be found necessary, provided that both in himself and in others he hate what ought to be condemned; and in addition to all this, every man ought to begin by interrogating his own conscience, and by acting both as witness and judge against himself, before he come to others. In this manner shall we, without hating men, make war with sins.
The KJV and NKJV add within v9 that the accusers, “being convicted by their conscience,” went away one by one. Again, within the context of manuscript evidence, this addition may be unreliable, but it is no doubt true. And we learn a great lesson with these words, that there is great power in the conscience. Though those wicked hypocrites intended to entrap Christ by their ploy, as soon as He pierces their consciences by a single phrase, shame puts them to flight. While it is possible that their shame before men had greater influence over them than the fear of God, more importantly, they acknowledge themselves to be guilty, and they depart confounded. A summons to the judgment-seat of God is the hammer with which hypocrites are broken of their pride. But notice too that this conviction of sin, both extends to everyone – from the oldest and presumably most understanding of what Jesus is saying to the youngest and least understanding – and differs from true repentance. True repentance should not have driven them to seek a place of concealment to avoid the presence of the Judge, but rather to go directly to Him in order to implore His forgiveness.

Finally, Jesus demonstrates His own intrinsic authority to forgive this sinner who openly acknowledged her sin. Just as with the Sabbath controversy, when the Pharisees attempt to show Jesus’ lawlessness, He instead proves that they themselves are the guilty ones, and that He is able to forgive and restore. There is nothing better for us than to be brought, as guilty, to His tribunal, provided that we surrender ourselves mildly and submissively to His reign. There is nothing worse for us than to find ourselves before Him unwilling to repent and be forgiven. And when Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin,” He is not acquitting this woman; He is simply not presently taking the office of Judge. She has no more accusers; neither has she had a proper and just trial. Jesus will take the office of Judge at His second coming, but here during His first coming, His role is not that. Rather He is to seek and save the lost as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Thus, He exhorts the woman to repentance and comforts her by a promise of grace. The design of the grace of Christ is that the sinner, being reconciled to God, may honor the Author of his salvation by a good and holy life. Though this exhortation looks forward to the future, still it humbles sinners by recalling to remembrance their past life (Ephesians 2). Repent!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

John 7:40-53

40On hearing His words, some of the people said, "Surely this Man is the Prophet." 41Others said, "He is the Christ." 42Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" 43Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44Some wanted to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him. 45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring Him in?" 46"No one ever spoke the way this Man does," the guards declared. 47"You mean He has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. 48"Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in Him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law - there is a curse on them." 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51"Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?" 52They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." 53Then each went to his own home.

Throughout the rest of the chapter, we see the various responses to Christ’s teaching. Some say that He’s The Prophet of Deuteronomy 18; this is good and makes them reverent and teachable, but it falls short of saving faith. Others say He is the Christ; and they are correct, but still others argue with them, unable to accept that profession, refuting it on account of His residence in Galilee, knowing that the Scriptures claim that the Messiah comes from David’s town of Bethlehem. This third group was so close! They could have easily cleared up the confusion on this if they had taken the initiative to inquire into His birthplace and history. Calvin says, “Such is our natural disposition; in matters of little consequence we are ashamed of being indolent, while, in the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, we slumber without any concern. It is likewise of importance to observe, that those men are diligent and industrious in seeking an excuse for turning aside from Christ, but, at the same time, are astonishingly slow and dull in receiving sound doctrine. In this manner, out of the Scriptures themselves, which lead us by the hand to Christ, men frequently make obstacles for themselves, that they may not come to Christ.” Most of you know that I’m from Louisville. But do any of you know where I was born? You don’t care, because you’re not contemplating the possibility that I am Messiah. But wouldn’t you have investigated my history a bit further, comparing it the Scriptures, if I was doing miracles and proclaiming to be the Messiah. Lastly note here that disagreements arise because one or more groups are incorrect, compared to the teaching of Christ. That’s how it is for us. When we disagree, it’s because one or both of us are incongruent with Scripture. That’s painful to realize, but let it help us to test ourselves constantly (2 Timothy 2:15).

Note the repeated reality from v44. Some tried to seize Him, but were prevented by the providence of God. It seems so harsh to be so offended by someone that you would seek to do them harm. But that’s what Jesus’ teaching had caused. Matthew 10:34 says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Luke 12:51 phrases it this way: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Next, the servants of the Pharisees, the temple guards, amazed but unchanged upon hearing Jesus’ authoritative words (Isaiah 11:4), are powerless to seize Him (see John 18:6). So they return from the failed attempt to arrest Jesus. And note the Pharisees’ response: “Why didn’t you bring Him in?” The Pharisees, having clearly made up their minds about Jesus by now (v47), are surprised that their soldiers were unable to capture Jesus. They see themselves as sovereignly powerful and governing unopposed. They fail to realize against whom they are fighting (Acts 5:38-39). They claim to know the law and deny that the mob does; they even claim that the mob is cursed, as if Jesus has some form of demonic power over those who believe in Him. They suggest that if one has any intellectual sense about him, if a person has a significant amount of higher education, then it would be impossible to believe in Jesus. Doesn’t that frame of mind ring true today as well? Furthermore, they make every effort to denounce the questioning of the soldiers. Are you being seduced too? Are you so foolish to fall into His trap? This line of questioning is a tool of Satan to keep those who are near the truth from taking hold of it.

The only glimmer of light to be seen among their ranks is Nicodemus, who, although still timid and weak, is starting to give some evidence that he truly was regenerated and given faith in Christ at the occasion of his nighttime visit to speak with Him. John presents him as neutral on this occasion; his faith may have taken root, but it has not budded and produced fruit yet. He is unwilling to condemn Jesus without hearing from Him, as a result of his one-on-one conversation, but he is far from siding with those who declared Him to be the Christ. Rather, Nicodemus wants to continue the investigation to get more evidence before prosecuting and issuing a verdict so rashly (v51). And his question is rhetorical with a bit of sarcasm. The Pharisees have just claimed to know the law, and Nicodemus is among their group. So he knows the law well, as they claim to; but he points out through a question that they are being rash to condemn Jesus without further investigation under the law’s guidelines. But his own turn on him with criticism, saying, “Are you from Galilee too?” (Anyone from Galilee was held in contempt by the Sanhedrin for being from a mixed-race region with little zeal for the law.) The extreme violence to which they are excited against Nicodemus, shows with what furious hatred they burned against Christ; for he had not avowedly undertaken to defend Christ, but had only said that He ought not to be condemned before He was heard.

Nicodemus was verbally ridiculed here (a form of persecution) for His lack of zeal for the law – so his own group claimed – but he was clearly the one being truly zealous for the law, wanting to hold to it rather than stray from it. The Pharisees, desiring nothing other than to maintain and increase their political sway with the people practically dare Nicodemus to carry out an investigation. And we don’t hear a response from Nicodemus at this point; he is silenced by their mockery. But their charge to him, “Look in to it,” may have prompted him to do just that. Maybe Nicodemus didn’t have all the answers and was still wrestling with the whole thing. Perhaps he learned, ironically upon the Pharisees charge to investigate (they were certain that he’d find nothing in support of Jesus), that Jesus did indeed perfectly fit the Scriptures’ description of the Messiah. And the confirmation of his already weak faith only served to strengthen and encourage him. The next time we hear of Nicodemus, he is assisting in the burial of Jesus, having generously contributed to the anointing of His body. Does persecution – even the slightest degree – cause you to persevere? Rejoice in your sufferings, for they leading to your perseverance, character development, and increased hope in the truth of Jesus.

Some later manuscripts include v53, “Then each went to his own home.” This can be attributed only to the hand of God. With enragement such as this, it couldn’t have ended peacefully apart from God’s providence. They’re ready for violence against defenseless Jesus, and then they just go home. When so formidable a conspiracy is dissolved, who will not acknowledge that they were scattered by the hand of God? His time had not yet come.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

John 7:32-39

32The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about Him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest Him. 33Jesus said, "I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the One who sent Me. 34You will look for Me, but you will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come." 35The Jews said to one another, "Where does this Man intend to go that we cannot find Him? Will He go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36What did He mean when He said, 'You will look for Me, but you will not find Me,' and 'Where I am, you cannot come'?" 37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

The Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest Jesus, in addition to or among the group trying to seize Him from v30. By saying that He was about to go where no one could find Him, Jesus was primarily addressing those attempting to seize Him – His enemies, the Pharisees; He meant that He was about to go to heaven, after He had accomplished redemption. It is as if He had said, “You will never hinder My Father from receiving Me into His heavenly glory once I have completed the work for which He sent Me. Not only will I be glorified in My Father’s presence and before all creation after My death, but you can’t experience it, because of your wickedness.” For us, we need to seek the Lord while He may be found, because there will come a time when it is too late. Isaiah 55:6; Hebrews 3:7-8,15; 4:7 The crowd did not understand but wondered if Jesus’ statement – You won’t find Me – was meant to imply that He could not be seized. Was He about to depart their region for good, to find the Jews scattered among the Greeks, or barbarians – to teach them instead? They weren’t sure, and they exhibit their stupidity by thinking along these lines; they weren’t the least bit threatened by Jesus’ utterance about being unable to come where He goes (John 13:33,36-37). Jesus said plainly, “I go to the One who sent Me.” Why would they think He was going to Greece or other countries?

Here, between v36 and v37, we have a time gap. We go from the middle of the weeklong Feast to the last and greatest day. Did Jesus just slip away for a day or two to avoid arrest? He shows no fear of death by returning, as He knew when His time would arrive. Would you like to know your time? Why/why not? Regardless, John builds up the story to this climax, and he sets the stage. Allow me to explain:

It’s the great event of the Jewish calendar. Rabbis used to say that if you’ve never rejoiced at the Feast of Tabernacles, then you’ve never rejoiced. It was of great value to be at the Feast of Tabernacles and to see the ritual – in remembrance of the water from the rock during the Exodus (Numbers 20:2-13) – that would take place. For seven days the priests would go to the Pool of Siloam and they would be carrying golden pitchers; they would fill those pitchers with water and then make their way through the streets of Jerusalem towards the Temple courts and they would be singing songs of praise to God. The streets would be crowded with tens of thousands of people from all over Judea and Galilee and the Diaspora, or Dispersion, who would make their way to Jerusalem. On those seven days, they would gather in the streets to watch this procession as the priests carried these golden pitchers towards the Temple. And then one of the priests would take the pitcher and pour out water and a regular offering of wine before the Lord, beside the altar of sacrifice in the Temple where the daily sacrifice would be offered. This was to symbolize the blessings of the Messianic Age, when life-giving water would stream out over all the earth, just as the water flowed from the rock in the wilderness. And the people of God would wave their branches and they would cry out, “God is our Savior; let us draw water from the wells of salvation.”

And then on the last day of the feast, having done this once on day one, twice on day two, etc., they would go around the altar seven times, and then the chosen priest would pour out the water and wine before the Lord by the altar. And he would raise his hand and the whole congregation would fall silent. It was the climax of the Feast of Tabernacles. And at that moment of silence on this occasion, Jesus stands up and cries out loudly, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” Can you imagine it? “Whoever believes in Me as the Scripture has said, ‘streams of living water will flow from within Him.’” Other translations render the quote this way: “Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water.” So in essence, Jesus is saying, “Only I can fulfill this reality – I am the true Rock from which the water of life flows.” And, in order to illustrate His claim from the Scriptures, He alludes to a passage – commentators disagree over which one – Isaiah 12:3; 44:3; 55:1; 58:11; Zechariah 14:8, and applies it to Himself. Jesus is saying, “Moses offered pictures and symbols, but I offer the reality. This Feast of Tabernacles ritual that you’ve been doing for centuries is all about Me!” Are you thirsty for the waters that lead to salvation? If you are, it is because the Spirit of God has graciously kindled that thirst in you. And if you are, be pleased to know that Christ – the fountain of life – offers an inexhaustible and abundant flow, so that our desires for His drink will never be disappointed (John 1:16; 4:14; 6:35 are in view). We drink from His fountain by faith – to come and to believe are synonymous, as we saw in chapter 6.

In order to make clear just what Christ is saying, John then tells us in v39 that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, whom He would send out into the world. The Messianic Age would be one in which the Spirit would flow out over all the earth – echoing a multitude of Old Testament Scripture passages, such as Jeremiah 2 (especially v13) and Ezekiel 34-37 – and bring life to the nations. And, just as the water flowed from the rock in the wilderness (Numbers 20:2-13), so the Spirit would proceed from the true Rock, giving life to all God’s people. As a result of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God, as a consequence of the Father delighting in all that Jesus offered and accomplished, He pours out the Spirit of Jesus. It’s not accidental that John records Jesus’ cry on the cross: “I am thirsty” (John 19:28). He took our thirstiness upon Himself in order that our thirst might be quenched by faith in Him. To those who are thirsty He hands the thirst-quenching Spirit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

John 7:20-31

20"You are demon-possessed," the crowd answered. "Who is trying to kill You?" 21Jesus said to them, "I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with Me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." 25At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, "Isn't this the Man they are trying to kill? 26Here He is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to Him. Have the authorities really concluded that He is the Christ? 27But we know where this Man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where He is from." 28Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, "Yes, you know Me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on My own, but He who sent Me is true. You do not know Him, 29but I know Him because I am from Him and He sent Me." 30At this they tried to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him, because His time had not yet come. 31Still, many in the crowd put their faith in Him. They said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more miraculous signs than this Man?"

The Jews are appalled at Jesus’ assessment and even suggest that He is demon-possessed to speak so foolishly. But in order to prove His point that they are actually breaking Moses’ law, Jesus reminds them of the miracle that He had done the last time in Jerusalem (John 5), when He healed a man on the Sabbath – it was for this miracle and the teaching that followed it regarding His equality with God that the Jews were trying to kill Him. Those who saw Jesus perform this miracle were astonished, because they presumed that He broke the Sabbath.

Jesus then reminded His indignant audience that circumcision, which brought man into a covenant relationship with God, was allowed by the Pharisees on the Sabbath, despite Moses’ command that no work be done on the Sabbath. His point was that the work of restoring sinful man was clearly excluded from the law; it was proper to circumcise even on the Sabbath – circumcision, done on the eight day no matter when that fell, over-rode the Sabbath, so to speak. Since that was true, the Jews should not have been trying to kill Jesus; He simply restored a man from the devastating effects of the curse on the Sabbath day, essentially the same thing symbolized by circumcision. In fact, Jesus’ argument was not only to compare similar practices, but also to show that that which He performed was the greater of the two similar practices, since it was a complete healing and restoration of a man – body and soul. Jesus’ work represented the reality to which the sign of circumcision pointed. If the Jews allowed for a man to receive circumcision on the Sabbath, then they should have allowed Jesus to accomplish the very work of restoration and salvation to which circumcision pointed – without condemning Him. But they were not willing, because they were not righteous.

At this point the Jews, those living in Jerusalem and aware of the leadership’s very-real-plot to kill Jesus, wonder why, after these accusations, the leadership did not even speak to, or against, Him. The only explanation they can come up with is that they really did know that He was the Messiah. And yet, even granting this much, they were not willing to accept Him as the Messiah, because they “knew” where he was from (v27) – Galilee, from where the Messiah could not possibly come, so they thought. Micah 5:2 The road to faith is often difficult, bumpy, and even mountainous, but even if it was smooth and easy, humanity would make an excuse, as we see here.

But even in response to this unasked question, Jesus yells, “You know everything, yet you know nothing.” His answer was clear: “You should already know where I come from, if you know God – because He is the One who sent Me. I didn’t come from Galilee or anywhere else on earth – I came from God. And everyone who knows God will know Me.” Jesus said in v29, “I am from Him and He sent Me.” These two clauses are said to refer to the two natures in Christ – the first Divine (I am from Him) and the second human (He sent Me). Finally, Jesus’ assertion that those who refuse to believe in Him do not know God (v28) produced two basic responses: some of the Jews attempted to seize Him (presumably for blasphemy), and “many in the crowd put their faith in Him” as the Messiah.

(1) The ones who tried to seize Him failed, because it wasn’t His time to be seized. Calvin reckons this teaching to drive us to consider God’s providence, saying, “The time of every man’s death has been fixed by God. It is difficult to believe, while we are subject to so many accidents, exposed to so many open and concealed attacks both from men and beasts, and liable to so many diseases, that we are safe from all risk until God is pleased to call us away. But we ought to struggle against our own distrust; and we ought to attend first to the doctrine itself which is here taught, and next, to the object at which it aims, and the exhortation which is drawn from it, namely, that each of us, casting all his cares on God, (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7) should follow his own calling, and not be led away from the performance of his duty by any fears. Yet let no man go beyond his own bounds; for confidence in the providence of God must not go farther than God Himself commands.” (2) The ones who put their faith in Him prove that the Gospel will not fail to produce fruit, even thought they did so with lack of good motive. They decided that Jesus had to be the Messiah, because, surely even the Christ – if it wasn’t Jesus – wouldn’t perform more miracles than Jesus had done. This is not the best reason to believe, but God takes faith the size of a mustard seed and grows it into a tree large enough to provide shade for a multitude.

Monday, December 10, 2007

John 7:11-19

11Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for Him and asking, "Where is that Man?" 12Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about Him. Some said, "He is a good Man." 13Others replied, "No, He deceives the people." But no one would say anything publicly about Him for fear of the Jews. 14Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15The Jews were amazed and asked, "How did this Man get such learning without having studied?" 16Jesus answered, "My teaching is not My own. It comes from Him who sent Me. 17If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the One who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill Me?"

John explains that the brothers of Jesus were not the only ones expecting His presence at the Feast. All of the common people – those who knew about Jesus and His ordinary methods during the first year or two of His ministry – were looking for Him there, and there was widespread gossip over who He was. But even those who believed that Jesus is a “good Man” fail to believe in Him as the Son of God and promised Messiah. This fact will become clear as the dialog between Jesus and the Jews unfolds over the next few days. Notice, as we did with “world,” the various meanings of “The Jews.” This one is perhaps more difficult to discern, as it has cultural imprints on the meaning. The first group of Jews mentioned (v11) is the crowd of common Jewish people. The second group of Jews mentioned (v13) is that of the rulers, the leadership, the governing body of Jews. It is crucial here to notice the condition of God’s Church.

The common Jews were hungry for the promised redemption; yet, when Christ appeared to them, there was confusion. Some remained in suspense, and others flat out rejected Him; there was a variety of opinions, shared only through murmuring and secret gossip. Calvin says, “That [the common Jews] whisper secretly is an indication of the tyranny which the priests and scribes exercised over them. It is a shocking exhibition, indeed, that this Church, which was at that time the only Church on earth, is here represented to us as a confused and shapeless chaos. They who rule, instead of pastors, hold the people oppressed by fear and terror, and throughout the whole body there is shameful desolation and lamentable disorder.”

Jesus arrived secretly, but eventually made His presence known to everyone by publicly teaching in the temple courts. How was He able to do this? Teaching time had been common during the ancient times of this festive celebration, but in more recent times, the teachers had failed to step up with any message to deliver. It might be akin to a worship service with no sermon, which is fine, except that the pulpit remained, and there had traditionally been a message. Activities were carrying on. Jesus simply made His way to the pulpit and began speaking. This happened halfway through the Feast when most everyone who was coming had arrived by now.

Although Jesus doesn’t perform any miracles here, the authority and power of His teaching is so great that the Jews marvel in amazement and question its origin. They don’t recall Jesus having had any formal education; therefore, they struggle to accept His teaching, though it was remarkable. How sad! But I find myself with the same mentality. I like to find out as much as I can about those who teach me. Once I am comfortable with their background, I appreciate almost everything they say. When someone who I don’t know much about teaches, I automatically treat them and their message as less significant than my favorite teachers.

Jesus responds, saying that His teaching comes straight from the Father, and anyone who desires to do the Father’s will would know that this is the Father’s doctrine. Jesus is telling the crowd, “When you see a teacher with right doctrine not trained in the school of men, know that he has been taught by God. Sound judgment flows from fear and reverence for God, and if your minds are well disposed to the fear of God, you will easily perceive if what he teaches is true or not. If you are entirely devoted to obedience to God, He will certainly give you discernment as your guide.” It brings to mind thoughts of the Bereans, who out of their noble character, tested the words of Paul, whose past they questioned or whom they knew little about, against the Scriptures and found them true. Obeying the clear teachings of God is the best way to discern the more obscure teachings. Don’t argue about whether or not it is right to pray for the dead if your are in the midst of an adulterous relationship. Obey first, then ask questions.

John does not likely include the full text of Jesus’ teaching from this day; rather, he probably gives us only the primary topics in summary form. Nevertheless, we can tell that Jesus is not teaching for His own glory, but for the glory of the Father; and this fact alone should convince the Jews that He is righteous (v18). However, since the people did not even believe the Father (for they were not even willing to follow the law of Moses, which the Father gave to them, as v19 declares), they would not believe in Jesus, but would instead try to kill Him. This murderous intent proves their resistance to the Father’s law. Something other than zealousness for the law of God – for they do not obey it – has excited the Jews to such great rage as to seek to put Him to death. Often times, we may observe the wicked fighting against God and sound doctrine by pretending to do so from pious motives.

Friday, December 07, 2007

John 7:1-10

1After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take His life. 2But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, 3Jesus' brothers said to Him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that Your disciples may see the miracles You do. 4No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since You are doing these things, show Yourself to the world." 5For even His own brothers did not believe in Him. 6Therefore Jesus told them, "The right time for Me has not yet come; for you any time is right. 7The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify that what it does is evil. 8You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for Me the right time has not yet come." 9Having said this, He stayed in Galilee. 10However, after His brothers had left for the Feast, He went also, not publicly, but in secret.

It is no mere coincidence that the events of chapter 7, and Christ’s subsequent teachings, took place during the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths / Ingathering / Sukkot) (Leviticus 23:24-44). This was the third major Feast – Passover (March / April), Pentecost (May / June), and Tabernacles (September / October). As we have already noted with the Tabernacle itself, we find that Christ likewise fulfills all of the symbolism of the great religious Feasts of the Jews.

John tells us that Jesus went around in Galilee to avoid the Jews were have been seeking His death ever since He debated the Pharisees over the Sabbath and claimed to be equal with God (John 5:18). The lesson for us is this: though we, like Jesus, know that our days are precisely numbered by the fore-ordinance of the Father, yet we ought not live recklessly; neither shall we live so cautiously as to neglect the reasons for living.

Jesus’ brothers (including all His relatives), still not believing on Him, suggest that He go to the Feast of Tabernacles (one week long, occurring in September and October to recall the Exodus and commemorate the harvest, the gathering of the crops), and do signs in public to regain His lost following. This recommendation is likely in light of the mass exodus of His followers (John 6:66) after His controversial teachings on His equality with God the Father, the blindness and inability of natural man, and the necessity of eating His flesh. They are poking fun at Him, saying, “You lost all Your disciples because of Your radical claims – they will all be in Jerusalem for the Feast, and the only way to get them back is to go up and do some miracles for them. You can’t expect the world to believe You, if You hide Yourself from the world.” And that sort of thinking is exactly what Jesus condemned in the Jews who had left Him. Their demand for more signs was evidence of their lack of true faith. We might here learn that it is often times our unbelieving relatives who tease us about our faith more frequently and intensely than others. Do not be surprised. Finally, we can grasp the importance of spiritual relationships, as opposed to worldly ones. Consider the reply of Jesus to the woman who declared Mary blessed to be Jesus’ mother (Luke 11:27-28).

Jesus tells His brothers that, although they are of the world, He is not. Any time is appropriate for them to go up to the feast, for they are worldly and friends of the world and do not even belong to the Father; they share no union with Him in this regard, at least at this point in time. But Jesus is at odds with the world; it is not friendly toward Him. He belongs to the Father, unlike His brothers, and always follows His will – and so for Him, there is a definite, appointed time for everything that He does. He is not saying that He will not go up to the feast at all (“yet” in v8), but that there is an appointed time for Him, according to the Father’s plan of redemption. His goal is not for the world to believe in Him – He knows they will hate Him, because He exposes their evil deeds. Isn’t that interesting? It fits with John’s commentary on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus from John 3. Those in darkness hate the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed (see also John 16:8). In fact, throughout John’s message, it is clear that Jesus expects the world to reject Him and only those whom the Father has given Him to believe and so be saved. This reality will only become clearer throughout the rest of the Gospel (John 8; 10:25-27; 17:6-10).

Note the use of the word “world.” The brothers first accuse Him of hiding Himself from the world by remaining in Galilee. Then He says that the world cannot hate them, but that the world hates Him. John uses “The world” – it has been said – in at least 13 different ways in his writings alone, not to mention the ways that other Bible authors use it. Pay close attention to this and be sure you have the correct meaning in mind as you read and study Scripture.

Ironically, the brothers, who are on friendly terms with unbelievers and the world at large, go to the Feast to experience the ritualistic worship that they had always been part of, and they leave Jesus, the One who fulfills the Feast they are about to attend, behind in Galilee. Then Jesus goes secretly, and He will find that there are four groups of people present at the Feast. They’re all trying to figure out who Jesus really is. We see here represented by Jesus’ brothers are the group of Galilean Jews. This group comes down (or goes up as they would have said) to Jerusalem to celebrate this Feast, and standing out in appearance and accent from the southern Jews, they were excited, hoping to see Jesus. They had experienced His presence and miracles the most, and had perhaps the best idea what to make of Him, yet as we saw in chapter 6, they failed to appraise Him correctly. The second group represented in chapter 7 (v35) is the Judean Jews. These folks are not from northern Galilee, but they’re not Jerusalem Jews either. They didn’t know what to make of Jesus, as they had probably had the least experience with Him of the four groups. Thirdly, we have the Jerusalem Jews (v25). They were the most knowledgeable, so they thought, of these first three groups. Recognizing the leadership’s disdain for Jesus, they wondered why the leadership did not arrest Him here and now. They could not accept Him as Messiah, for they knew He came from Galilee; they thought it could not be known from whence the Messiah would come. And finally, we have the Jewish leadership, namely the Pharisees (v32). They have made up their minds, at least by the end of this chapter, to have Jesus executed. It is good that all four groups realize the importance of the question, “Who is Jesus?” Our world sadly pushes the question to the side, failing to see how that question truly is the most important ever asked.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

John 6:67-71

67"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God." 70Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" 71(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray Him.)

Before John concludes this almost entirely negative example of unbelief, he demonstrates the truth of Christ’s teaching that there exists a body of chosen persons who will indeed come to Jesus. These are represented by the twelve, who do not leave Jesus because of His hard sayings – on the contrary, they confess – through Peter’s mouth – that Jesus’ teachings are the words of life, and that they have believed in Him. The disciples, having been quickened, except for Judas, believe Jesus’ teaching to be wholesome; furthermore, they acknowledge the truth from Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Did they grasp everything Jesus had just taught? Certainly not at this point. But the key is that they believed Him to be the only fountain of life; they trusted Him completely. Union with Him was key. Jesus’ question to the twelve is meant to strengthen and confirm their faith, which was a necessary task after they witnessed the departure of so many. And this example serves us today – we who believe ought to continue with God, even if we lack a single companion. Jesus does not respond to their response with relief or surprise, but simply observed that their belief came because He had chosen them.

His reply is like this: “You twelve alone remain out of a large company. If your faith has not been shaken by the unbelief of many, prepare for a new contest; for this company, though small, will still lose one more.” Jesus declares that a “devil” is in their midst, an imposter and betrayer; and this lest Judas’ future treachery should seem to invalidate His saying that all whom the Father has chosen, without exception, would be given eternal life. Judas is no exception, therefore, as from the beginning, Jesus knew who he was and what he would do. We do not read that Judas was at all moved by Jesus’ declaration. Calvin says, “Hypocrites are so stupid that they do not feel their sores, and in the presence of men they have such hardened effrontery, that they do not scruple to prefer themselves to the very best of men.”

We might leave tonight with Peter’s words. “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” I think of God speaking to Job. What can Job say but, “I’m sorry”? To whom shall I go? Who do you run to in your sin? How foolish it is to flee from the One who forgives? It’s hard to see past the potential for punishment and condemnation. But, as v37 declares, “All that the Father gives will come to Jesus, and the one who comes, He will never drive away.” He will certainly not them cast out.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

John 6:60-66

60On hearing it, many of His disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" 61Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him. 65He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled him." 66From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

Now, the multitude – here called His disciples (John 2:23-25), having professed to follow Him – illustrate Christ’s difficult teaching that it is impossible for anyone to believe unless the Father grants him faith. By disbelieving His statements and departing His presence offended (v66), they confirm the truth of His statements. In fact, they unwittingly confess as much, asking the rhetorical question, “Who can accept it?” Other translations render the question, “Who is able to hear it?” The answer, which Jesus has repeatedly given and will again give in v65 is, “No one – unless the Father draws Him, enables Him, grants faith to him, bestows faith on him.”

It’s interesting that the disciples secretly say that Jesus’ teaching is hard, when, in fact, it is their hearts that are hard. They still prefer to internally blame Jesus for their condition, rather than submit to His authority. The reality is that Jesus’ word is hard, like a fire or a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29), and thus, only the elect, only the good soil, receives it gladly and bears fruit accordingly. And their question is condemning. “Who can accept it?” Or “who is able to hear it?” They are saying to one another, “This man cannot be trusted. He is unacceptable. His words must not be heard.” And that, of course, is nothing more than rejecting Christ. But there’s more. Jesus, though not privy to the conversation, is plainly aware of their grumbling. His question, “Does this offend you?” might at first sound like a dagger pressing into an open wound. “Hah! This is nothing compared to what’s going to happen!” But I think it’s gentler: “You need not be offended at this teaching, for I will authenticate My words to you by My resurrection from the dead.” Jesus responds to their unbelief that He is the eternal Son of God, who descended from heaven, by predicting that He would ascend to heaven, and thus prove that He first descended from there. But as we know from Luke 16:31, even the resurrection will not do what the Spirit must do to regenerate a man and make him willing and able to believe. Also their secrecy reveals that they don’t want Jesus to correct them. We must turn to Jesus, not away from Him, when we are confused, lack understanding and desire to know more. But we must be willing to submit to what is said. And these grumblers were not willing, as shown by their secrecy.

The first half of v63 has been mutilated been over-analyzing and re-wording over the years. It seems pretty straightforward when we just read it in context. Some say that by saying, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing,” Jesus is merely emphasizing His teaching that the temporal physical signs He provided were not the important thing; rather, it was the spiritual truths they signified that had eternal, life-giving value. It may have been that, but I can’t help but recall Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus from John 3:6. This is practically a repetition. Only the Spirit can grant new life through regeneration, and new life is both willing and able to believe these sayings. With this view of v63, we can clearly see the reason for Jesus to repeat His unpopular observation from v44 in v65, “No one can [is able to] come unto Me unless the Father has enabled him [unless it is granted or given him from the Father].” Jesus repeatedly explains to this large gathering what He had already repeatedly taught Nicodemus One-on-one. The Spirit must work effectively in a man for faith to result. Some say that God does indeed grant everyone enabling grace; but this cannot be. Calvin concludes, “If this grace were bestowed on all without exception, it would have been unseasonable and inappropriate to have mentioned it in this passage; for we must understand that it was Christ’s design to show that not many believe the Gospel; faith proceeds only from the revelation of the Spirit.”

In v63b, Jesus says that the words He has spoken are spirit and life. This word “spirit” is different than the first. The first “Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, and this “spirit” simply means “spiritual,” again referring us to the truth of 1 Corinthians 2:14. The flesh counts for nothing; natural man cannot discern spiritual words. It takes the Holy Spirit to quicken us to grasp spiritual words, and the grasping thereof results in faith. And faith leads to everlasting life. Thus salvation is all of grace – by grace, through faith in Jesus. When Jesus says, “There are some of you who do not believe,” He’s rebuking their stubborn and proud depravity. As we saw in Romans, no one can blame God for not regenerating them by His Spirit. We are responsible to believe in Jesus. And furthermore, He knew from the beginning which of the “disciples” were hypocrites. It’s no surprise to Jesus when what is about to happen in v66 takes place. 2 Timothy 2:19 “The Lord knows those who are His.” He doesn’t know about people, foreseeing who will choose to believe in Him; rather, He intimately knows His chosen ones and brings them to Himself.

Finally, the grand result of this discourse, this sermon, for the multitude, is that many of His “disciples” turned back and followed Him no more. They could not accept the hard teaching of the Savior. How true is that for many people we know? Some have said that it would have been better had they never had this conversation, which occasioned the apostasy of so many. But it was necessary that what had been foretold concerning Christ (Isaiah 8:14 – a trap and a stumbling block to the Jews) should be perceived in His message. Calvin concludes: “The Son of God undoubtedly knew well what was useful, and yet we see that He cannot avoid offending many of His disciples. Whatever then may be the dislike entertained by many persons for pure doctrine, still we are not at liberty to suppress it. Only let the teachers of the Church advance boldly amidst all offenses. And if it happen that many apostatize, let us not be disgusted at the word of God, because it is not relished by the reprobate; for they who are so much shaken by the revolt of some that, when those persons fall away, they are immediately discouraged, are too delicate and tender.”