Friday, November 09, 2007

John 5:14-18

14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Him. 17Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

Jesus re-introduces Himself to the man and tells him to stop sinning. Although he had been delivered from a physical sickness, the man was still under the weight of a far greater calamity – eternal judgment. Faith in Jesus as a mere provider of physical benefits, without the spiritual knowledge of Him as God and Messiah, was not a saving faith. We’ve seen that over and over in John’s Gospel. So Jesus sought him out, found him at the Temple (suggesting that the man was realizing the magnitude of what had occurred and rightly wanted to worship God), and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Commentators are divided on this statement. Some suggest that Jesus is claiming that the reason for this man’s paralysis was that he had sinned in some way. Others disagree, claiming that we are to infer from Jesus’ statement that the man is now being made spiritually well. “You are well AGAIN.” He was healed twice, both physically and spiritually, both at the words of the Healer. Evidence that this man has truly come to know who Jesus is and loves Him with all his heart, evidence of a changed heart, of a converted life, of a regenerate soul, the evidence of that will be that he will not go on sinning anymore. Not that he will be sinless, but that he will sin less; his desire will be to be free from slavery to sin.

The man responds by telling the Jews that the Healer was Jesus. The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Again, we get an illustration of the proper course of action when receiving Christ as Savior. The man sought out the Pharisees to make right on his earlier statement. He had said that he didn’t know who healed him. Now he knows, and he wants them to know. He wants to honor Christ for what He has done, as should we. Soli Deo Gloria – To God be the Glory.

The Jews persecute Jesus for healing on the Sabbath; He responds declaring His Father’s will, making Himself equal with God, and draws assassination attempts. Picture the Jews saying harshly to Jesus, “Who do You think You are? You’re coming from the less-respected north region down here to the well-respected southern territory, to Jerusalem. You’re upsetting the traditions – specifically Sabbath observation – that have kept this city together for decades and centuries.” That’s persecution. But with Jesus’ response, He’ll draw death threats. He replies, “My Father is always working, and I am working too.” Jesus is claiming that the One who created the world, the One who gave the Sabbath Day, the One who sustains us and blesses life – even on the Sabbath day – is His Father. And as the unique Son of the Father, by healing the disabled man on the Sabbath, He was imitating the work of His Father. He had not broken the law (John says, “…not only was He breaking the Sabbath…” because that was the opinion of His accusers); rather He was claiming to have upheld it. And the Jews understood what He was saying. “He was making Himself equal with God.” So they stepped up their persecution, trying to put Him to death.

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature of the Sabbath came into even sharper focus when Jesus explained why He should be healing on the Sabbath. It was because God the Father was constantly at work to accomplish the plan of redemption and usher in the final Sabbath; and so Jesus, as the true Son of the Father, was also constantly at work for the same purpose. By asserting this much, Jesus is claiming that He and God the Father are equally involved in the constant government of the world, and the unfolding of redemptive history – which, as the Pharisees quickly recognized, is a claim to equality with God. Because Jesus had “broken the Sabbath” (although He had actually fulfilled its essential principle) and had made a blasphemous claim to equality with God (according to the Pharisees’ perception that He was a mere man), He deserved to be condemned. The Pharisees saw His miracles, but they did not exhibit saving faith; therefore, their dissension escalated continually throughout Jesus’ ministry.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

John 5:7-13

7"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." 8Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat." 11But he replied, "The Man who made me well said to me, 'Pick up your mat and walk.' " 12So they asked him, "Who is this Fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?" 13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

The man’s helplessness and Jesus’ effective response on the Sabbath. Based on the man’s answer to Jesus’ question, we can see clearly that the man didn’t get it. Just as Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman didn’t get it, this man doesn’t get it. When Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” He’s asking, “Do you want Me to make you well?” It’s a “Yes” or “No” answer. And the man rambles on, complaining that no one can help him fall in the water and that even when someone is there to help him, another disabled person beats him into the pool. He fails to realize that Jesus can heal him without assistance.

Jesus, unsurprised by the man’s explanation of his misfortune, illustrates God’s forbearance when we limit God’s work to our own abilities. Take careful note of Jesus’ words: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” Jesus commands the man to do something that he is incapable of doing. This man – for practically as long as he can remember – has been unable to get up and walk. Yet Jesus tells him to do just that. It’s almost cruel. But then we remember that Jesus is the One speaking; Jesus is One without who nothing was made that had been made. Jesus is the One who spoke the universe into existence. By His word, “Let there be light,” there was light. By His word, the universe is sustained. And right here, by His word, this man who had not stood or walked in 38 years, stands and walks. “At once he was cured.”

It’s an example of sovereign grace. Does God command us to do what we cannot do? Yes. And He makes us able and willing to do it. And thinking about this event recalls my mind to C.S. Lewis’ argument about the Person of Jesus: He’s not just a moral teacher. He’s not a good man, if He says, “Get up,” to a man who cannot stand and cannot work in the man to make Him stand. He’s more than that. He is God Incarnate, or He’s a lunatic. You decide. “Do you want to get well?” Do you trust this Jesus? Do you want this Jesus?

Jewish legalism and blindness; the healed man speaks of Jesus’ authority with a wrong motive. Right at the end of v9, John shows us why this story is important part; this healing took place on the Sabbath; therefore, conflict unfolds between Jesus and the Pharisees over the nature of the Sabbath. Everybody in Jerusalem knows the man who was healed. He had been a city fixture near that pool for 38 years, and now he’s up walking around, no doubt with a smile on his face. And people are pointing, saying, “Wow! Look who it is!” But our friends, the Pharisees, they see this man, and look at v10 to see the first words out of their mouth. “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” Are they correct? What if they are? Jeremiah 17:21 says, “Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day.” You must not do any unnecessary work – no carrying loads to make a profit – on the Lord’s Day. But man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was graciously made for man – to enjoy and rejoice and bring joy. The Pharisees had no joy and brought no joy, because they knew nothing about grace. Law without grace equals legalism; and by condemning acts of mercy, even the overturning of sickness (which was a result of sin and the curse), on the Sabbath, the Pharisees demonstrated their misunderstanding of the true nature of the Sabbath. The true Sabbath will take place when, after the labor that characterizes this cursed world, God brings His children into a perfect rest in His presence, away from every sickness and disease. Jesus, of course, by healing this miserable man, was fulfilling the very heart of the Sabbath command, and giving a foretaste of the day when He would fulfill it completely and perfectly, in the eternal Kingdom. He also healed on the Sabbath, perhaps to make the miracle more widely known and/or to bring about the occasion to discourse with the Pharisees. We’ll focus more on this conflict as we look at v16-30.

Lastly here, notice in v11 the man’s response to the Pharisees shameful accusation. “But the Man who made me well said…” There are two ways to look at this. First and positively, the man recognizes Jesus’ authority over that of the Pharisees – even over that of the law (albeit misinterpreted). Negatively however, the man uses “the Man who healed him” – he doesn’t even know who it was – to shift the blame for his disobedience to the law. The Pharisees say, “You’re disobeying.” The man says, “It’s not my fault.” That reminds me of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam said, “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit…” And Eve said, “The Serpent deceived me…” The reality is that this man is no better off now than he was as an invalid. He needed spiritual healing, not blame shifting. He needed Jesus, and to know that Jesus healed him, and he needed to tell people about Jesus.

In v12-13, John teaches us a subtle, but important message. Testimony is only useful if it helps others. “I was healed!” By who? How? “I don’t know.” Something’s missing there – the most important thing. How can God be glorified by a healing, by an answered prayer, by a healthy birth, by a peaceful death, if we cannot give Him credit for His blessing? How many people – believers or otherwise – do you know who cannot explain why or how they know they are blessed in some way? Do you ever hear, “I was so lucky,” “It was a coincidence,” “We are so fortunate”? All of these are poor word choices. Instead, we should be unashamed to say, “I was so blessed by the Lord,” “The Lord was watching over me,” “We are so blessed by God’s providence.” And we could probably take it further than this, but the point is Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone be the Glory.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

John 5:1-6

1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [- and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.] 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

This chapter begins a new section in John’s Gospel – with the introduction of Jesus’ monologues, we move from the laver, the ceremonial wash basin, in our tour of the Old Testament Tabernacle to the Tent of Meeting, where the Bread of Presence is kept. In the latter half of the chapter, Jesus refers to four sources of testimony about Himself: John the Baptist, His own works, God the Father, and Scripture itself. Jesus sternly confronts His accusers with their unbelief. He will do this with even more candor in later chapters, namely 6, 8, and 10; so consider this monologue a preview of what’s to come.

John sets the context for Jesus’ miraculous healing. John leaves his timeline behind at this point and gives us no clue how much time passes between chapters 4 and 5. If we presume that it was a matter of days or even weeks, we can argue from the mention of “four months until harvest,” that Jesus mentioned to His disciples in chapter 4 that this is the second of the three major Jewish Feasts, the Feast of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10; 2 Chronicles 8:13) or Feast of the Harvest of the Firstfruits (Exodus 23:16; Numbers 28:26)). Whatever feast it was, Jesus is obedient to the law, which required His attendance and participation in Jerusalem.

John gives us the context for the miracle he’s about to describe. There was a pool near the sheep gate in Jerusalem, the name of which is hard to translate. You may have a footnote in your translation by Bethesda, which means the place of fishing, with other potential names. These other names mean other things (Betheder means the place of the flock, which fits with “Sheep Gate;” others call it the place of pouring-out). Whatever its name, this pool was a common and well-known place, a busy place with five covered porches for “hanging out,” likely while the sheep to be sacrificed were taken to be watered or where the priests came to get water for cleaning up the Temple area. It was a place, perhaps, for crippled people to beg as passers-by walked to the Temple; it was a place, as John relates to us, of mysterious healing – though it is likely that not many people had been healed there. V3b-4 are included in only a few of the less important manuscripts, so it could be that they were inserted sometime later by someone wanting to add some mystery or some foundation for angel-worship or something. We don’t know. I’ve included it just so we could talk about it. It’s almost like the rumor of the fountain of youth. How many people wasted away waiting for or looking for it? The point is that a great number of disabled people – the blind, lame, and paralyzed – are stuck in this routine of hopelessly hoping in the hopeless.

The invalid man and Jesus’ introductory question. John introduces us now to an invalid man who had been disabled for 38 years. It is likely that this was a typical day for this aging man. Wake up, nothing new, hope to find a way to get to the pool at Bethesda, hope the waters stir that day, hope he gets to fall in first, and hope he is healed. But most days, the water didn’t stir, and even when it did (due to the instability of an underground spring), he was never the first to fall in, and even then, most who fell in when the water stirred went away unhealed. It’s almost hypnotically hopeless. His situation was hopeless. He wanted physical healing and had nothing in mind in terms of spiritual healing. It’s an illustration of the human spiritual condition. Was that you?

But look who comes to the man in his hopelessness: Jesus. Out of a great number of disabled people, Jesus selects this man to address. John points that out to show us the sovereignty of God in election and grace and mercy. It could be that he was the worst off of that great number of ailing folks. It could be that he was situated most conveniently in Jesus’ path through the area. But I think Jesus chose to come to this man, because this man was eternally loved and chosen before the foundation of the world to be a Son of the Most High Creator God. That’s unconditional election. This man contributed nothing to Jesus’ motive for choosing to heal him. And John gives us a glimpse of that here. He’ll detail it later.

And notice the question Jesus asks the man: “Do you want to get well?” Is this a silly question, or what? Of course the man wants to get well. He’s been like this for 38 years; he’s been trying to fall into the pool when it stirs; of course he wants to get well! But wait just a minute… Maybe it was the perfect question. Maybe this man had grown accustomed to his condition over his 38 years of invalidity. Maybe he had forgotten why he did his daily routine. Maybe he was just in a rut. And so Jesus is driving at something that’s at the very heart of this man’s problem. His problem was more than just his physical paralysis. His problem lay deep-rooted in his will and desire. He was at the place where healing was possible. He was in the presence of the One who could make that healing possible. And for us, take note that it’s possible to be in a place of possible healing and yet choose not to have the blessing. That’s our problem as well. Let’s stop and ask ourselves what we want. Do we desire to be healed? Do we know what that means? Do we want it? So many people are in the presence of the Healer, but do they really want what He offers? Do we really want to be filled with God’s Spirit? If we are, we will never be the same. Things must change. Do we want that? Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?”

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

John 4:25-26

25The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us." 26Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am He."

The woman reveals her knowledge of Messiah; Jesus says, “That’s Me!” The woman reveals that she knows Messiah is coming, and that He will explain everything to her (the people). His discourse regarding the extraordinary change in the Church of God probably kindled in her mind everything she had learned of Messiah as a little girl. Her language indicates a soon coming Messiah, and that should be expected, as many people in the region were wondering about and even expecting the arrival of the mysterious figure known as Messiah, or Christ. Furthermore, it is clear from her language that the woman prefers Jesus to Moses and to all the Prophets in the office of teaching; for she comprehends in a few words that the Law was not absolutely perfect or adequate for salvation, that nothing more than first principles was delivered in it, and that it pointed to Messiah. If she hadn’t recognized these things, she would not have said that the Messiah “will explain everything to us.” There is an implied contrast between Him and the Prophets. She seems to realize that Messiah’s role will be to lead His disciples to the goal, whereas the Prophets were merely pointing in the direction of Messiah.

Jesus’ answer to her essentially unasked question (Who is Messiah?) is that He is Messiah. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Temple worship. He is the Temple. When He acknowledges to the woman that He is the Messiah, He presents Himself as her Teacher, in compliance with the expectation which she had formed. By using these words, ‘I who speak to you am He,’ Jesus employs the name Messiah as a seal to ratify the truth of His Gospel; for we must remember that He was anointed by the Father, and that the Spirit of God rested on Him, that He might bring to us the message of salvation, as Isaiah 61:1 declares: “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 bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

In conclusion, there’s a seven-fold stage through which this woman seems to pass. (1) Total alienation. As the story begins, she is casually proud, standing above Jesus. She thinks she’s in control; she knows things that He doesn’t. Yet she’s blind and cannot see at all. Her intentions are hostile through arrogance or sarcastic apathy. (2) Curiosity, or fascination. When she hears Jesus speak about waters of life – if she drinks them, she would never thirst again – her heart and mind begin to race. And all this drudgery of coming out to the well to draw water would go away – in her confusion, she asks if she might experience this water. (3) Conviction. The woman sees Jesus merely as a man. But Jesus is the Great Physician; He knows where to touch – it will hurt – and He says to her, “Go, call your husband.” (4) Self-protection. “I have no husband,” she said. And she has had five husbands. And the man she is now with is not her husband, and it suddenly dawns on this woman that Jesus knows things about her that she thought He didn’t know. (5) Careful investigation. She realizes that here was One standing before her who knew the deepest secrets of her heart and exposed the sinfulness and the waywardness of her lifestyle. And she begins to grope near the truth, saying in v19, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.” (6) Spiritual awakening. She finds a fulfillment in Jesus in the words in v26. “I who speak to you am He.” That is, the Christ, the Messiah, the One she had vaguely heard about, the One the Jews were looking and longing for, the One the Old Testament Scriptures speak of. (7) Taste of grace. We’ll pick up the story next time as she leaves her water pots and goes into the city and says to everyone she can find in v29, “Come, see a Man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”

So we have glimpsed a little more of the nature of Christ’s promised Kingdom. It provides eternal joy to those who enter into it, as Christ demonstrated with the miracle at the wedding in Cana; yet for those who rejected its spiritual nature, in favor of the physical signs that pointed to it, it brings judgment. This long-awaited Kingdom is substantial (it possesses the substance, or reality, that the physical nation of Israel only typified physically) and universal (its bounds are worldwide and multi-ethnic). Christ fulfills, with true spiritual life and blessings, the things that were present in physical symbols, under the patriarchs. Jacob’s well gave physical water – but Christ would give spiritual water (eternal life by the Spirit). Later, we’ll see that Israel (and the twelve disciples) ate physical bread (Moses) – but Christ provides bread of eternal substance. Thy Kingdom come…

Monday, November 05, 2007

John 4:19-24

19"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that You are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." 21Jesus declared, "Believe Me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

The woman is defensive and perhaps tries to change the subject – or maybe she genuinely wants to learn as a fruit of conviction and repentance; Jesus speaks the truth in love. Calvin explains v19: “Not only does the woman modestly acknowledge her fault, but, being ready and prepared to listen to the doctrine of Christ, which she had formerly disdained, she now desires and requests it of her own accord. Repentance, therefore, is the commencement of true docility…and opens the gate for entering into the school of Christ. Again, the woman teaches us by her example, that when we meet with any teacher, we ought to avail ourselves of this opportunity, that we may not be ungrateful to God… [as He gives us teachers from whom we have opportunity to learn].”

Some have suggested that the woman is trying to change the subject after Jesus makes her uncomfortable about her promiscuity. Others suggest that she is displaying the fruit of conviction and repentance, passing from what is particular to what is general. Perhaps she wishes to be generally instructed concerning the pure worship of God. She does the right thing when she consults Jesus, whom she perceives to be a Prophet, that she may not fall into a mistake in the worship of God. It is as if she inquired at God Himself in what manner He chooses to be worshipped; for nothing is more wicked – according to Calvin – than to contrive various modes of worship without the authority of the Word of God.

The historian Josephus records historical details about the beginnings of the Jewish / Samaritan disagreements and confusion over particular worship detail (see Antiquities 11:7-2 and 8-2 and 2 Kings 17:27). We won’t go into those details, but the important thing to note is that the Samaritans and the Jews were both zealous to worship rightly and both were relying on their interpretations of what their Fathers or ancestors had prescribed and set forward as examples. Thus, the argument was genuine – though both groups were failing to worship as God had prescribed in His Word – in Spirit and in truth.

Jesus explains that the worship of God as a result of the work He was doing is not confined to a particular location. Remember – out with the old and in with the new. Calvin adds, “By calling God Father, [Jesus] seems indirectly to contrast Him with the Fathers whom the woman had mentioned, and to convey this instruction, that God will be a common Father to all, so that He will be generally worshiped without distinction of places or nations.”

Jesus then goes on, in v22-24, to explain that reality more fully. First He says that the Samaritans were worshiping what they do not know and that the Jews were worshiping what they do know. Picture Paul in Athens pointing out the altar with a sign, “To an unknown god.” People will worship; that’s a fact. And Jesus says that the Samaritans were trying to worship God, but they didn’t know God. On the other hand, the Jews (Jesus gives them credit here) were not worshiping some unknown deity. They knew God, and they were worshiping Him. To their discredit, their worship was merely exterior ritual (as a whole). They lacked the interior reality – as Jesus later points out to the Pharisees in all four Gospel accounts. “He who does not have the Son does not have the Father” (John 5:23; 2 John 1:9). The point is that the Jews have a truer worship as they had the law (just as we have His Word), while the Samaritans were not given the law and relied only on what “the Fathers” passed down (similar to Catholics who know not the Bible). Their worship was not based on truth. The evidence for that, Jesus says, is that salvation is from the Jews. We talked about the benefits of being a Jew in our Romans study, and the benefits were given so they might be lights to the Gentiles (Jonah). And of course, Jesus is salvation, and as a Jew, He came from the Jews. But Jesus points out that even the Jews’ worship was inadequate – only a type or symbol of the worship that Jesus was inaugurating. Now that Jesus was bringing in the new, the argument between the Samaritans and Jews would be insignificant.

There are many questions that can be asked regarding true worship in spirit and in truth and spiritual worship versus physical worship and all of that. Plainly, worship must be Christ-centered, because it is Christ-commanded. And worship should be Word-driven. We pray the Bible back to God; we sing the Bible back to God; and we preach the Bible back to God. It’s that simple – though needless to say, much more complex.

Finally, Jesus says that God is spirit. Calvin comments, “This single consideration, when the inquiry relates to the worship of God, ought to be sufficient for restraining the wantonness of our mind, that God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence. And if hypocrites are so blinded by their own pride, that they are not afraid to subject God to their opinion, or rather to their unlawful desires, let us know that this modesty does not hold the lowest place in the true worship of God, to regard with suspicion whatever is gratifying according to the flesh. Besides, as we cannot ascend to the height of God, let us remember that we ought to seek from His word the rule by which we are governed."