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.”

Monday, December 03, 2007

John 6:52-59

52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" 53Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

At each point in the conversation, the Jews become more offended at Jesus’ difficult teachings. Here, utterly appalled at His teaching that men should eat His flesh and drink His blood, they argue and debate amongst themselves. It was unthinkable to them that He could give life to the world through His flesh; and they did not understand the symbolism of “eating” His flesh. Have you ever devoured a book? It was so good that you couldn’t put it down. That’s what Jesus is saying. “You’ve got to want Me bad enough to eat Me; I’ve got to be your hunger and thirst, your passion. Don’t grumble about My teachings; don’t argue about My words. Want Me – not My miracles, just Me. Unless you are filled with Me – My Spirit as in the New Testament (Romans 8:4-12) – you have no life in you. If you deem My body inedible, if you can’t stomach Me, there is no hope of life for you.” There’s a deep and mystical, intensely intimate union. That’s what Jesus says.

The concept – seemingly easy to grasp – is that if one should eat physical bread, his life would be sustained, and thus applying this to true life, which involves eternal, joyful fellowship with God, the Jews could have understood Jesus to be speaking of the sacrifice of His body and His shedding of His blood to grant eternal life – and a Jew could make this connection with an understanding of the Old Testament. Anyone who believed in Christ’s becoming a perfect blood sacrifice in his own place, and for his own sins, would pass into eternal life. The feeding of the 5000 with physical bread signified the spiritual reality to which Jesus was now speaking. Just as the Son has the eternal life in Himself, through his inter-Trinitarian relationship with the Father, so anyone who ate Christ’s flesh would be given this same eternal life, through his relationship with the God-man, who can be united both to the Father and to mankind, by means of His divine and human nature, which exist in His one Person. Consider views of communion.

Catholicism takes this passage to support their view of the Eucharist (communion), or the Lord’s Supper, that of transubstantiation, where the bread and wine are said to actually become the body and blood of Jesus. Luther disagreed with this interpretation, and to this day, Lutherans hold to consubstantiation, where the Spirit and power of Christ is within the elements of communion; but they are not to be taken as the literal flesh and blood of Jesus – that would amount to cannibalism, said the Reformers. Other Protestants, however, hold neither of these views and claim rather that the elements are merely symbolic to help us recall the sacrifice of Christ as that which saves us. And still others liken communion to something in between Luther’s view and the symbolic-only view. For me, communion has power.

But notice what Calvin says commenting on this passage, and specifically Jesus’ repetitive use of the phrase, “And I will raise him up on the last day”: “It ought to be observed, that Christ so frequently connects the resurrection with eternal life, because our salvation will be hidden till that day. [We must hope for] the last resurrection. From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of His flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:26-29). And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before He had instituted it. It is certain, then, that he now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only. And yet, at the same time, there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation of this sermon. This is also the reason why the Evangelist John makes no mention of the Lord’s Supper.” So this passage often drums up that to which it doesn’t even speak. Rather it points to the unity of Christ and the Father, and the unity of Christ to the believer. Jesus is saying that His work is sufficient and efficient to accomplish the salvation of all united to Him by faith.

And notice v58. Jesus returns to the comparison between the manna and His flesh, with which He had begun this discourse; for it was necessary that He should close the sermon in this manner: “There is no reason why you should prefer Moses to Me, because he fed your fathers in the wilderness; since I supply you with far more excellent food, for I bring heavenly life with Me.” And finally in v59, John almost says it in passing that Jesus was teaching these things in the synagogue. Why? John wants us to understand that it is possible to be in a place of worship, in a place where the Scriptures are opened up on a daily basis, and yet to not understand anything at all about Jesus. People may be very religious, found often in church, where the Gospel is preached – even taking regular communion, thinking they are feasting on Jesus’ body and blood; yet many are still unconverted and have no idea what it means to feed on Christ for eternal life. My father-in-law visited Southeast several years ago now, and we were working out in the gym. We were jogging on the track and a lady in front of us was wearing a Biblical T-shirt, and he asked her the two questions that are useful for determining one’s understanding of Christianity. She failed the test, and he explained the Gospel to her. She was astonished that she could know she had eternal life, and she had been faithfully participating in service and worship at Southeast for 12 years.