Friday, October 26, 2007

John 3:22-30

22After this, Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that Man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan - the One you testified about - well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him." 27To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of Him.' 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.

John tells us that Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem, went into the countryside, presumably taught them, and baptized. In our next meeting, we’ll see that Jesus did not actually do the baptizing, but His disciples did (John 4:1-2). V23 tells us the John the Baptist was nearby baptizing as well, because there was plenty of water there. Supporters of baptism by immersion and those opposed to baptism by sprinkling make much of this statement, and we can certainly infer from this statement that the method of baptism issued in these examples was indeed immersion. We can, however, infer nothing about the just use of other methods from this passage.

People were coming constantly to be baptized. Note v24, in parenthesis, that all of this was taking place before John was imprisoned. That might give us reason to believe that the Gospel writer has been jumping around in terms of chronology. Perhaps this lends more credibility to the single-Temple-cleansing view that we discussed in chapter 2.

Anyway, the point of this section is to provide the context for an argument that erupts in John’s camp (v25). They were arguing about ceremonial washing. It is suggested that the argument was specifically about how John’s baptism, Jesus’ baptism, and the traditional ceremonial washings were all related. There was numerous washings of purification – thus the tabernacle image of the laver – and perhaps the question was how these new varieties – as the questioners seem to believe that these baptisms were new types of ceremonial cleansings – fit in with the more traditional rites. Perhaps John’s disciples were losing interest in John’s ministry as Jesus’ ministry grew. Remember Andrew and our Gospel writer have already left John the Baptist to follow Jesus instead. Perhaps there were feelings of rivalry among the camps – but certainly not between the leaders of the camps: John and Jesus, and that’s a tribute to both of them. We read in v26 that John’s disciples came to him to say that Jesus’ ministry was growing. Perhaps John’s was shrinking, and his disciples were concerned about failure. Thus they seem to challenge him on this point. John’s response, to which we now look, is crucial in the grand scheme of both their ministries.

John makes a most humble statement in response to the accusation that his ministry is collapsing. Picture him saying, “I am perfectly at ease with the providence of God, for what I am, is what God has made me, and what God has given to me, and I find my joy in that. Indeed, this joy of mine is full, complete, perfect, and overflowing. My satisfaction and contentment come in resting in the providence of God and seeing His glory revealed in the ministry of Jesus. Far be it from me to stand in the light; I’ll gladly move to the shadows, so that He can be magnified. You want to argue about whose ministry is greater, and what is the difference. I wave the white flag; there’s no competition here. Jesus is my all-in-all.” See also Hebrews 5:4.

We must strive to exhibit this attitude! I’m leading this study, but far be it from me to hinder any of you from leading a study – if that’s what you want to do and that’s what you feel called to do. I must become less to exalt my brethren to the glory of Christ and for the greater edification of the Body. Don’t compete for glory – it all belongs to Christ. And to expound on John’s analogy, as the bridegroom, we don’t invite guests to steal away the bride. No, the bride belongs to the bridegroom. Guests are invited to celebrate, but only under the groom and not over him. We lay no claim to the bride. A man can only receive what is given him from above (1 Corinthians 4:7). Amazingly, Jesus will share it with those united to Him by faith – those who by adoption are co-heirs with Him of all things. Our joy is made complete when we see Christ reigning over all creation in glory and splendor and majesty.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

John 3:17-21

17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

  • “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world” – The reason for the Incarnation was not condemnation.
    • Some treat this statement as evidence that no one will be condemned. They just forget to read the next verse.
    • Condemnation was already a reality. People were already condemned. No need to destroy something ruined.
    • It wasn’t time for judgment yet. John 9:39-41; Matthew 10:34; Luke 2:34, 12:49 speak of Jesus coming for judgment, division, and to bring a sword rather than peace. Jesus came to unite His people to Himself and divide His sheep from goats, insiders from outsiders.
    • “the world” – Multiple uses of “the world” here – first is the Incarnation; second is “a humanity hostile to God.”
  • “But to save the world through Him” – Same as above. Jesus came to save “sinners” – “a humanity hostile to God.” Not every person. His people! And His people happen to be a great multitude “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
  • “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.” – Not “whoever,” as in an open number, but “every believing one,” as in the elect.
    • “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Praise God! IS = more than WILL BE… It’s as good as done.
  • “But whoever does not believe stands condemned already” – Unbelief is the climax, the exclamation point on a life of sin and truth suppression (Romans 1:18-32). Some view “unbelief” as the unforgivable sin, and more sin is the punishment. John 5 elaborates.
    • Did Jesus pay for this sin on the cross? John 9:41; John 3:36; 1 Peter 2:8 – Jesus did not atone for all the sins of all men.
  • “Because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – Jesus is clearly the only way to the Father.
    • In all who reject the life-giving Christ, there remains only death (separation from God). Life consists only in faith.
  • “This is the verdict” – This is not an explanation of the sentence of the guilty, but it is how their sentence came about and is worked out.
  • “Light has come into the world” – See John 1:5-11; 8:12. Jesus is the Light, the True Light, and the standard. How people in darkness respond to Him is the concern. What happens when you come out of a matinee? You close your eyes and turn your head.
  • “But men loved darkness instead of light” – In our natural state, before regeneration, we prefer darkness to light.
    • We love our sin as much as Jesus loves doing the will of the Father. Maybe not – but I wanted to saying something shocking. It’s our nature. Until we are transformed (regenerated) by the Holy Spirit, we have only the sin nature. There is no battle within until then. But once we are re-born, a great battle ensues (Romans 7). We are dead in sin and trespasses until God makes us alive (Ephesians 2:1-5). Seeking God doesn’t end at conversion; it begins at conversion.
  • “Because their deeds were evil” – Just as a thief loves stealing and will not run to prison, so men are hypocrites who will not and cannot unmask themselves when light shines in darkness. Pride and, ironically, fear of condemnation are the reasons we don’t expose our sins voluntarily. Blame yourself if you end up condemned. You loved evil deeds more than truth, darkness more than light.
  • "Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" – We may perceive open-mindedness in the world, but the non-elect HATE the light. Notice that it’s only possible to hate the light if you have a guilty conscience. Romans 1:18-32 explains this. You know your deeds are evil, and you know the light exposes them. The irrationality is clear here: Condemnation comes as a result of not coming into the light. Fear of condemnation keeps us in the darkness. Do you see it? There is something morally wrong (spiritual deadness) with the unbeliever. Some run away from the light; some fight against the light. Saul fought against the light until it struck him blind. He was blind before being struck blind, and being struck blind, he was made to see. This is our experience as well. Pride prevents humility until the Spirit breaks our pride.
  • "But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light" – Freed from bondage to the sin nature, hypocrisy, and pride, we who are reborn become not “good-doers”, rather than “evildoers,” but “truth-doers” rather than “evildoers.” Doing the truth involves the mind and body (Romans 12:1-2) in thought, word, and deed. We come into the light to avoid that condemnation we once feared. We “live by the truth” = “We live by Christ.” Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
  • “So that it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done through God” – This is the evidence of rebirth. Literally, this should read, “Truth-doers come into the light so that it may be plainly seen that God has worked their works.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
  • To summarize v16-21, we see the state from which men are saved – utter condemnation, because of their inherent wickedness before God, and inability to come into the light of true faith in Christ – and we see the ultimate source of application, that it is of God, who takes someone who is naturally unwilling to come to the light, and leads him to the truth. The natural hatred all men have for the light, that is, the truth of God in the Gospel, proves that whenever anyone does believe on Christ, it is only because God has done a prior work in his heart (v21).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

John 3:16

16"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  • “For God so loved” – It’s not “sooooo loved.” John is not speaking of intensity, though God’s love is infinitely intense. God’s love is not an emotion or a feeling, though we often get emotional when we love or think of love. God’s love, rather, is an effective benevolence towards its objects. Those whom God loves, by definition of God’s love, receive an actual transforming benefit as a result.
  • “For God so loved the world” – “the world” (kosmos) is used at least 14 different ways in John’s writings alone. What does it mean?
    • This second most memorized verse (behind Romans 8:28) is often misunderstood. John is not speaking here of “the world” as “every single individual ever to be conceived.” We read that God hated Esau.
      • John 12:18-34; 17:9; 3:32; Acts 2:17 (cf. 1:5, 2:39, 1:8); Romans 16:26. Is everyone here? Yes. No.
    • John is counteracting the common belief among Jews that “the kingdom of God,” as Nicodemus understood it, was only for Jews. This is a major theme in John’s Gospel (see chapter 4 & 10:16), and in the entire New Testament, for that matter.
    • Here John has in mind when he writes, “the world,” as this: “A humanity that is hostile to God.” All kinds of people in the world = people from every nation.
    • Revelation 5:9 says of Christ, “You were slain and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
    • 1 John 4:9-10; 2:2 – “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… [and 2:2 from the ESV] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Propitiation is wrath-removal. And Christ did not remove the wrath from unbelievers (John 3:36). 1 John 2:2 is speaking of Jewish believers and believers all over the world (Gentiles). JOHN 11:51-52 Parallel… We’ll discuss it more as we wrap up.
  • “This is how God loved the fallen people of the world” or “Here is the extent of God’s love for the fallen people of the world” would be the most literal rendering of this part of the verse. You may have that as a footnote as well. It actually sets up a limitation in God’s love. There is discrimination in God’s love. There is particularity, but it doesn’t have anything to do with belief or unbelief. It comes from Him (Ephesians 1:5). ABRAHAM / ISRAEL (Wives vs. Sisters). God does not love everybody in a saving way. He doesn’t save unbelievers. And He has an amazing purpose in that (Romans 9-11). Remember, the love of God actually benefits the objects of His love (not merely potential).
  • “He gave” – Even though I have said some things that might make you think I am saying God’s love is not all that we imagine, I am really saying that it’s more than we imagine. He loves His people (believers / the elect) enough to actually save them, rather than merely potentially save them. He loves us enough to give, and this giving carries the tone of a great sacrifice. Jesus was an actual ransom for many; we may say that He was a potential ransom for all, but potential has no meaning to our omniscient God.
  • “He gave His one and only Son” – God gave His one and only Son, His unique Son, to actually save believers. He did not give the Son to save unbelievers. Matthew 1:21 says, His name will be called Jesus “because He will save His people from their sins.”
  • “that” – Here is our next “hina” clause that connects God’s giving of His Son with the eternal life of every believer. God gave His Son to make certain that every believer has eternal life. He will not fail in this assignment.
  • “whoever believes” – “Whoever” might imply an offer to anyone, but there is no “whoever” in the text. Literally, it should read, “Every believing one,” and combined with the “hina” clause, it makes perfect sense.
    • The Gospel is not so much an offer as it is a command. 1 John 3:23 says, “This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.” Acts 17:30 says, “God commands all people everywhere to repent.” But we also read that God grants repentance and belief to some and not others: 2 Timothy 2:25; Acts 11:18; 13:48; Philippians 1:29.
    • Nothing in this verse mentions anything about man’s willingness or ability to believe. For that, we need to look elsewhere: Matthew 19:23-26; John 6:37-44,65; 8:43-47; 10:14-18,26-29; 12:37-40; Romans 5:8; 8:7; 9:16; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1-5.
  • “whoever believes in Him” – Now we get the object of our belief that was missing from v15. Believe in Jesus.
  • “shall not perish” – This phrase has in mind eternal separation from God, which is the Biblical definition of death.
  • “but have eternal life” – As I mentioned in v15, “eternal life” is about quality, not quantity or duration, but it does happen to last forever as well. The fact that it lasts forever is not the glorious part. The fullness and glory of life is what the excitement is about.
  • Why do I believe the Gospel? It’s not about my choice; it’s about God’s grace applied or bestowed to me by His Holy Spirit.
    • Understanding “these things” is critical to worship and living Coram Deo – glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The message is the application.
  • 1 John 3:1 (NKJV) says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” In Greek, the word translated “What manner” (“How great” in the NIV) means, “Out of this world” or from “another realm.” God’s love is other-worldly.

Monday, October 22, 2007

John 3:13-15

13No one has ever gone into heaven except the One who came from heaven - the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

  • “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself (Daniel 7:13-14). It's used 81 times in the 4 Gospels (69 and 12).
  • Jesus has come to earth from heaven to tell us “these things.” No one else has done that, thus He alone has total authority.
  • If authority belongs to Christ in heavenly matters, how much more so does it belong to Him in earthly matters? (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • “Gone into heaven” figuratively symbolizes “having a pure and complete knowledge of the mysteries of God and the light of spiritual understanding.” It is likely that Nicodemus would have understood Jesus’ statement this way.
  • Later (John 6:25-45), the Jewish crowd made up of many “superficial believers” question Jesus’ origin from heaven.
  • Before moving on, let me review verses 9-13 as a whole. By now Nicodemus has twice wondered at what Jesus tells him about regeneration, the heavenly birth that everyone needs in order to see and enter God’s kingdom. So Jesus gives His assessment of the situation. As one who has come from heaven, He has direct knowledge about heavenly matters. Therefore, His testimony about the works of God is true, and He speaks with authority about spiritual things. As trained scholars and religious leaders, Nicodemus and his colleagues appear to be in the best position to understand and believe this testimony, but instead they misunderstand and disbelieve it. This in turn underscores the necessity of regeneration, for unless a person is born again, or born from above, he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God. When it comes to spiritual things, faith and understanding are connected, but the biblical connection between these is that you must be born again, so that you may both believe and understand. Faith and understanding promote and depend on one another, but both are impossible unless one is first born again. This in turn makes faith and understanding dependent on divine sovereignty and not human decision, as Jesus, John, and Paul repeatedly declare to us. Since the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, has come to us from heaven, His testimony about both earthly (natural) and heavenly (spiritual) things is authoritative and reliable.
  • Now Jesus shifts focus from His authority to the purpose for His Incarnation, the heart of His mission (in the Covenant of Redemption).
  • We are introduced in v15 to an important Greek grammar instrument, the “hina” clause, which conveys “in order that” or “for the purpose that” in such a way that the desired result is certain to come about. Keep that in mind as we continue.
  • This episode is found in Numbers 21:4-9. This TYPE of CHRIST serves as evidence that the Bible is inspired. Just as the bronze snake was ugly and nasty on the outside and pure and clean inside, so Jesus was soiled outside (Isaiah 53:2: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him”), and pure and clean inside. As the Hebrew people were wounded by snakes (The Garden of Eden imagery), so we are wounded by sin, and Jesus “bore our sin (the sin of believers – the sin of the elect) in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 tells us that these things happened for us. That’s humbling.
  • “Must be lifted up” – Notice “must” as the description of Jesus’ primary purpose. This is the Father’s Will, that He be put to death.
  • “Lifted up” – There’s a double meaning here.
  • Crucifixion & Exaltation – John 8:28 (I AM); John 12:31-34 = public and open and clear manifestation to all kinds of people from all over the world (Galatians 3:1; Revelation 5:9). Preaching the Gospel (Christ crucified) exalts Christ.
  • “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him” – the “hina” clause here gives assurance that Jesus’ being lifted up will accomplish exactly what it was Designed to do – bestow eternal life upon believers. It’s not “that anyone might (alla) have eternal life if they believe…” Rather, it’s “that believers will (alla) have eternal life because of Christ’s cross-work…” That should be comforting.
  • “everyone who believes” gives this perception of “possibility for all,” but that’s not what it literally states. Literally, it reads, “that every believing one.” It’s particular; it’s limiting. And that’s not popular to say, but that is what the text here says. And we haven’t even gotten to John 3:16 yet… It’s also belief without an object (John 6:47). But we know the object from the context: Jesus.
  • “Eternal life” speaks of quality, not duration or quantity. The Spirit-filled life is completely “other” (holy) than the flesh-life. It never ends.
  • Lastly, it is likely that Jesus finishes speaking to Nicodemus here. Most Bibles carry on the quotation through v21, but you’ve probably got a footnote declaring that it might not be the case. I side with the footnote for three reasons:
  • The text switches to the past tense, which would fit with John’s reflections and commentary, rather than Jesus speaking.
  • Jesus does not call Himself “God’s one and only Son” anywhere, but John call Jesus that several times (1:14,18; 1 John 4:9).
  • V19 echoes John 1:9-11, so the passage really fits best with it being John’s commentary. But it’s no less inspired...