Friday, January 18, 2008

John 11:17-27

17On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home. 21"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask." 23Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27"Yes, Lord," she told Him, "I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

When Jesus finally came to Bethany, the house was filled with many friends (likely from Jerusalem, as John relates the proximity of the suburb) who were comforting Mary and Martha. There may have even been professional mourners, but more likely, this family was highly respected by a multitude of people. Their intentions were to comfort the sisters, but God had another motive in amassing this crowd; a large audience for Jesus’ great miracle was present. However, being so close to Jerusalem, where the Jews were trying to kill Jesus, such a crowd put Him in danger from the Pharisees as well. Even though Jesus did not then die, the series of events that ultimately led to His death were put into play right here. And so Thomas’ prediction that Jesus was going to His death was, in a sense, true.

Martha seems to be somewhat more active than her sister, as we learn from Luke 10:38-42; so it is not surprising that she runs to the outskirts to meet Jesus alone. Her faith in Jesus is commendable, for she believes that He could have prevented this death. But she also mixes in her emotions here, as it seems she would have expected Jesus to prevent Lazarus’ death, when Jesus owed her no such thing. The purest faith seeks first the glory of God over selfish pursuits. Even though Lazarus died, she is not bitter or angry with Him, but she recognizes that He is still able to perform any miracle, simply by asking the Father. However, the miracle of raising her brother from the dead seems completely out of her thoughts (v39). In fact, even when Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, which is a gracious and unrequested promise, she thinks that He is talking about the final resurrection in the end times. It is commendable that she believed in this resurrection; but she does not give any evidence that she has realized that this end-time resurrection is possible only through Jesus. But that is exactly what Jesus is going to tell her.

Jesus tells her: “I am the resurrection and the life.” In other words, the final resurrection, and the eternal life of fellowship with God that follows it, is to be found in Him alone. Resurrection must occur before life. Similarly, regeneration must occur before faith. These chronologically occur at the same time, but there is a logical priority that we discussed when walking through John 3. Jesus shows that He is the commencement of life, and He afterwards adds, that the continuance of life is also a work of His grace. That Jesus speaks of spiritual life is clear from the context as well as numerous other places (John 5:21-25; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Peter 1:23).

When Jesus asks her if she believes this, she responds with a claim as staggering as Peter’s famous confession – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world. This knowledge equals every blessing. She believes in Him, as the One the prophets spoke of, and therefore, as Jesus has just told her, she will never die, neither will her brother Lazarus. To the one who believes in Jesus, death is not death, but simply a passing into eternal life. Although Martha believes these things, she does not yet realize how Jesus will illustrate their truth, by raising her brother from the grave. But soon she would see; and her faith would be vindicated, and the faith of others would be brought to life, just as Lazarus was brought to life – by the authoritative word of Jesus!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

John 11:4-16

4When He heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days. 7Then He said to His disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone You, and yet You are going back there?" 9Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. 10It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." 11After He had said this, He went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. 14So then He told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

Love for His disciples and friends was neither the only nor even the fundamental motivation for what Jesus was about to do. As He tells His disciples in v4, it is ultimately so that God might be glorified – both the Father and the Son (John 5:23). God gets glory when His Son gets glory, because His Son gives that glory to Him. The same works for us, as “sons” of God. This sign, in which Jesus shows Himself to be the resurrection and the life, is done first and foremost for God’s glory and then out of love for His people.

The disciples are comforted when Jesus says that this sickness is not unto death (v4). But we know that it is so severe that Lazarus will die. So how can Jesus say this? He certainly knew that this sickness would cause Lazarus’ death from the beginning. But death was neither the ultimate purpose nor the final outcome of this sickness. Jesus, in order to glorify God and because of His love for His people, was about to change sickness and death into resurrection and life. And the way in which He was about to do this would make clear why He allowed the death in the first place. Everything God does is ultimately for His glory and pen-ultimately for our good. And everything to do with us stems from His love (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11). He delays sometimes for a greater purpose – that we would be conformed to the image of Christ, which often comes through suffering (Philippians 1:29).

This leads us to John’s astonishing statement in v6: because Jesus loved Lazarus, He waited until Lazarus died before coming to Bethany. You drop everything and go if someone you love is sick. The one He loves is sick; therefore He stays an extra two days. How could His love motivate Him to wait until it was too late to heal him of this sickness? Only when we realize the nature of Christ’s miraculous signs does this makes sense. Physical resurrection of a body that is still imperfect and still able to die again is a good and amazing thing. But what it signifies – resurrection to a body that can never die, one that will enjoy eternal life in God’s presence – is far greater. Jesus could have healed Lazarus before he died at all. But because it was a better thing to show to him, as a tiny foretaste, the resurrection life that could be found in Jesus alone, and so produce faith in him and the other disciples around him, by letting him die and raising him again; and, because Jesus loved him and desired the best for him – indeed, had determined to do the best for him – therefore, He waited two days until he had died.

Jesus’ next move was a further astonishment to the disciples. It was strange enough that He had waited until Lazarus died, before going to Bethany. But now, after Lazarus was dead, He was going to go there – even though that would certainly mean death for Himself as well, since the Jews of that region were attempting to kill Him. How could this make any sense at all? This was a sign that the disciples would not fully understand until later. When the disciples attempted to dissuade Jesus from going, they did so, not so much perhaps on His account as on their own, for each of them was thinking selfishly, as the danger was common to all.

Jesus can raise the man who is “dead in his trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-7), and give him eternal life – and He does so by going to His own death on the cross! But Jesus would not be dissuaded by His disciples’ pleas. It was still daylight, the time God ordained for Him to bring light into the world, by means of His sign-miracles (Psalm 91:11). And so He would go to Bethany. The analogy of v11-13 about sleeping and waking is meant for us to think of death and resurrection; many have likely taken this analogy to some extreme for which it was not intended (soul sleep vs. consciousness upon death – see Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Look at the end of v14 and the beginning of v15. “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad…” That’s a strange joy! Loving His disciples, He wanted this event to bring them an increasing belief; had Jesus healed Lazarus instantly with a word, the disciples would have never grasped it. He’ll also get to chat with the sisters about more important things as a result of being absent at Lazarus’ death. Jesus’ joy lies in what’s best for us. In suffering, Calvin says, “we groan and are perplexed and sorrowful, but the Lord rejoices on account of our benefit, and gives a twofold display of His kindness to us in this respect, that He not only pardons our sins, but gladly finds means of correcting them.”

Thomas’ statement in response to Jesus’ strange teaching (v16), was probably occasioned by doubt (after all, he is “doubting Thomas”) and gloomy resignation. Jesus was going to die there in Bethany, and despairingly, all would be lost. But at the same time, he is boldly willing to die with Jesus on account of the doctrine he has learned. Perhaps it’s something akin to “dying while living the truth” opposed to “living a lie.” Just as later in the chapter the high priest unwittingly gives a prophecy of truth (v49-52), so it seems to be the case here. Certainly, it is only as we die with Jesus that we can be raised again to eternal life. Thomas’ statement, then, perfectly illustrates the teaching of Jesus, in relation to this sign miracle. One can only find eternal life by Jesus’ going to His own death, when he himself is also dead. If one would live in Christ, he must also die with Christ. However, rather than zealously make the statement Thomas made, he ought to have rested in the promise and leadership of Jesus. The disciples could not yet grasp the full extent of this teaching; but later, when Christ was raised from the dead, they understood and believed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

John 11:1-3

1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one You love is sick."

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus’ sign-miracles have been growing ever more extraordinary, and His related teachings have become ever more explicit. Finally, in this seventh and final sign, we see the climax of Jesus’ sign-revelation, and the last miracle that John would record before Christ’s own death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. One of the main themes of this chapter is Jesus’ love. We see it for Lazarus (v3), for Martha and Mary (v5), and for the disciples (v15); yet, the reason for this whole episode is not primarily love, but God’s glory (v4).

Previously, we have seen everything necessary for life – eternal life – in Christ alone. He alone can give the water that springs up into everlasting life. He alone can give the true bread – His own body – that sustains eternal life. He alone can give the light that is the life of men – that is, He alone can produce the faith that leads to forgiveness and life in fellowship with the Father. And now, finally and climactically, we see Him giving life itself. John mentions that Lazarus was both the one Jesus loved and the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany. John also tells us that this Mary is the one who poured perfume on Jesus (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13) and wiped His feet with her hair (this will be revealed in John 12).

John sets a new context. Recall that Jesus had left Jerusalem to go across the Jordan to stay at the end of chapter 10. It was the place described in John 1:28 and likely brought back memories of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And there was sort of a revival going on; lots of people were believing in Him. Then He received a message from Mary and Martha; it was short, but their request was made clear. By saying, “The one you love is sick,” they are asking Jesus to come immediately and heal him. Thus we learn two things here: first, that Jesus knows that heart-stopping feeling you get when someone you love is sick; He knows the questions that fly around your head in moments like that. There’s nothing like that that happens to you that He hasn’t experienced. And second, when we pray, we can use few words and appeal to the love of God, knowing He cannot forsake those whom He loves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

John 10:34-42

34Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods' [Psalm 82:6]? 35If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came--and the Scripture cannot be broken-- 36what about the One whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? 37Do not believe Me unless I do what My Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." 39Again they tried to seize Him, but He escaped their grasp. 40Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here He stayed 41and many people came to Him. They said, "Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this Man was true." 42And in that place many believed in Jesus.

In response to their claims against Him, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6, where the Father refers to those to whom His word came as “gods” and “sons of the Most High”. We might call those in civil power or those star athletes who can do amazing things “gods,” though we wouldn’t call a farmer or garbage man a “god.” Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater here: If the Scriptures, which cannot be false (according to the Jews’ standards), call those who received God’s word and were saved both His “sons,” and “gods” (although not in a fundamentally divine sense), then surely Jesus – who was clearly doing good and miraculous works, could not be blaspheming by claiming the same thing about Himself. If it can be said of the Father’s adopted children, who become His children just because of their relationship to Christ, then how much more it can be said of Christ Himself, who is God’s eternal and divine Son! The bottom line is this: Jesus is teaching them how to reason to determine His identity. If His works were not from the Father, there would be no compelling reason to believe Him. But clearly they are, so the Jews are without excuse. Jesus bases Hi identity on a phrase found in a minor psalm of Asaph, supporting the authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), which “cannot be broken.”

The attempt to seize Jesus was so that the Jews might drive Him out of the temple and immediately stone Him; for their rage was only intensified each time Jesus spoke to them. His escape could not be accomplished in any other way than by a wonderful exertion of Divine power, and this reminds us of God’s sovereignty. We are only exposed to the lawless passions of wicked men, which God restrains by His bridle, whenever He thinks fit.

Jesus leaves the hostility and goes back to place where John the Baptist had been working. What can we learn from Jesus’ departure? Should we leave the fight and retreat to more places more open? Should we stay as long as we can before ducking out at the last possible moment? Should we avoid fights altogether? Jesus is fighting a guerilla war here. He appears and riles up the audience, and then He retreats. But notice that His retreats are no moments of isolation. Rather, His successful ministry in terms of gathering followers is during these times of retreat. His ministry is also successful, though in a different light, when is does battle with the Jewish leaders. He hardens them who dwell where the Church ought to be prospering, and He prospers the Church where desolation and poverty abound.

The testimony of John the Baptist is still bearing fruit, for some of John’s disciples, when they see miracles of Jesus, turn to Him in faith. John did no miracles, and Jesus did many. Thus Jesus is greater than John. But miracles should not be the deciding factor in discernment; doctrine ought to be. If a person has miracles but false doctrine, watch out! If a person has true doctrine but no miracles (like John), listen to him. If a person has miracles and true doctrine, he is to be followed closely. The audience rightly concludes, then, that John was a prophet and that He testified of Jesus. And so Jesus ought to be followed closely, since He had miracles and true doctrine – as testified to by John the Baptist.

Jesus’ teachings about Himself as the only way of salvation, and as equal with the Father, continue to outrage the people. And His teaching that they cannot believe Him because the Father has not given them to Him only increases their rage. If we have been enabled to see Jesus as the Light of the world, the true Son of God, the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, the only Door or Gateway to eternal life, then let us give thanks to God the Father, who has made us His sheep through rebirth, or regeneration by the Holy Spirit!

Monday, January 14, 2008

John 10:25-33

25Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in My Father's name speak for Me, 26but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. 27My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father's hand. 30I and the Father are One." 31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, 32but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?" 33"We are not stoning You for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because You, a mere Man, claim to be God."

Jesus then cuts right to the heart of the matter, declaring that the reason they do not believe Him is that they are not His sheep. He does not conceal that He is the Christ, yet He does not teach them as if they were willing to learn from Him, but rather reproaches them with obstinate malice, because, though they had been taught by both the word and works of God, they had not yet made any progress. Accordingly, He imputes to their own fault that they do not know Him. It’s as if He said, “My doctrine is easily enough understood, but the blame lies with you, because you maliciously resist God.” They are doubly obstinate, having had a testimony of His identity in both His miracles and His doctrinal teaching; yet, they despised God. Furthermore, v27 declares that His sheep not only believe Him but also follow Him. The point is that faith without works is dead. The fruit of repentance is crucial.

And Jesus rebukes them further, explaining a higher reason for their unbelief – they are reprobate, not elect. Only Jesus’ sheep can and do recognize His voice and follow Him. This is a hard truth, yet Jesus purposes it for His audience to get them to ask, “Am I known by God?” The question is for us as well. My daughter has asked our neighbor what we often hear, “Do you know God in your heart?” And that’s a fine question to ask, but the more important one is this: “Does God know you?” Galatians 4:9; Matthew 7:21-23 The authority of the Gospel does not depend on the belief of men. Yet the comfort for believers in understanding this truth is that we realize how all the more strongly we are bound to God. The teaching here echoes John 6:37-45. Jesus testifies that our salvation is in His hand. And if this were not enough, He says that they will be safely guarded by the power of His Father. This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that the salvation of all the elect is no less certain than the power of God is invincible. No one will be able to snatch them from Him or from the Father (2 Timothy 1:12). And both the Father and Jesus are holding them, because they are One, the same God.

The Jews are not ready to hear Jesus making Himself equal to God. They had asked if He was the Christ – but at His answer, they are ready to stone Him for the second time. As true religion burns with Spirit-directed zeal to uphold the glory of God, so unbelief gives birth to rage, and the devil causes the wicked to breathe nothing but slaughter. Pretending to desire Jesus to declare Himself Messiah in order that they might follow Him, they are driven to raging and murderous madness by His statement. Yet their oppression of Jesus was given rationale, as if they were acting according to the law, by which God commands that false prophets shall be stoned (Deuteronomy 13:5).

But Jesus, as we have seen, lays down His life of His own accord, and it was not yet time to do so. But before escaping their murderous intentions, He asks them why they desire to kill Him when His works – “from the Father” – bear witness to the truth of His claims. By doing so, He displays that they have no reason for their rash behavior and accuses them of ingratitude. The question has greater force to pierce their consciences than if He had made a direct assertion, but it’s as if He says to them, “God intended to make His Kingdom known to you by My hand. Banish Me as you please; I have done nothing that does not deserve praise and goodwill. In persecuting Me, therefore, you show your rage against the gifts of God.” The Jews have no problem with His miracles – in fact, they follow Him hoping to see more. But they are convinced that He is “a mere man” and therefore blasphemes by claiming to be God. Calvin says, “There are two kinds of blasphemy, either when God is deprived of the honor which belongs to Him, or when anything unsuitable to His nature, or contrary to His nature, is ascribed to Him. They argue therefore that Christ is a blasphemer because, being a mortal man, He lays claim to Divine honor. This would be a just definition of blasphemy, if Christ were nothing more than a man. They only err in that they do not design to contemplate His Divinity, which was conspicuous in His miracles.”