Friday, January 25, 2008

Yahoo! on Dobson

There was an article published on the front page of today regarding the decline of James Dobson's influence on right wing evangelicals. Here is a quote:

"Dobson has only endorsed one presidential candidate in the past - George W. Bush in 2004, who ran unopposed for the G.O.P. nomination. And the Christian right's most powerful leader may not want to back a candidate so early in the game. Backing a losing horse could devalue the worth of any future Dobson anointment, especially when America is seeing the rise of a younger generation of less combative preachers like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Bill Hybels."

The reason for my choosing this quote has nothing to do with Dobson; rather, I though it interesting that Warren and Hybels are listed with Osteen as the up and coming leaders of Christianity, primarily becase of their non-combatitiveness...

That's not a good sign for Christianity in America....

John 12:1-8

1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. 3Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me."

This chapter serves as both a summary and a climax of the first 11 chapters of theological truth that John has shown us. This portion of John’s gospel concludes the theme of “The Signs,” and when we move to chapter 13, we’ll have a new theme, “The Glory.”

Last time, we looked at the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus overcame the stench of rotting flesh and gave a man new life after four days in the grave. And John, having had much to say in his gospel about the nature of true faith, which advances beyond a mere fascination with miracles and looks to the Person of Jesus Christ alone, begins this chapter with the account of Mary expressing her lavish devotion to Jesus, not for physical signs and blessings, but out of love for Him alone, by recounting the smell of a fragrant offering (faith / life), opposed to the stench of decaying flesh (sin / death).

Is this the same event as the synoptic gospels describe (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50)? Matthew and Mark say this is Simon the Leper’s house, that Mary poured the perfume on Jesus’ head, and that some or all of the disciples were indignant about the apparent waste. If John’s account is the same, we can wonder why Martha was serving if this was Simon’s house. We see that Lazarus was a guest, as noted by his reclining at the table with Jesus. The homeowner would not likely be doing that. We should also ask why John says the perfume was poured on Jesus’ feet, rather than His head. And the answer is that Mary likely anointed His whole body, as there was certainly enough to do so. After all, the whole house was filled with the aroma. It makes sense to consider that John is preparing his audience for the parallel foot-washing episode in chapter 13, while Matthew and Mark are displaying King Jesus by the anointing of His head. Also, some, if not all, of the disciples were indignant about the apparent waste. However, John has the most rebuke for Judas of the gospel writers, so it makes sense that he would be singled out here. We might also observe that perhaps Judas was the first to be angry – on account of his impure motives – and with his remark about the poor brought along the other disciples, who lacked the motive to steal and were merely thinking of the rationale of Judas’ argument.

Luke says that they were at Simon the Pharisee’s home, that an unnamed sinful woman from “that town” (not even Bethany?) came in, wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her feet, and then poured perfume on them. Jesus told Simon a parable and dismissed the woman after declaring her sins forgiven; her faith had saved her. The differences in Luke’s account are much more substantial, even incongruous; thus it is suggested by commentators that Luke’s was different (earlier in Jesus’ ministry), while the other three accounts are of the same event. Pushing aside the event-consistency to focus on John’s account, we must notice first that Martha is serving. She’s serving Jesus, and it goes pretty much unnoticed here. That’s how it ought to be for us. We ought to be able to serve Jesus pretty much unnoticed. God notices, and others benefit. That’s what it’s all about (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

And second, we need to notice that Mary’s act of devotion was sudden and inappropriately extravagant from the human perspective – yet clearly prompted by the Holy Spirit. Jesus certainly did not profit from her action in any tangible way, but the poor could have benefited greatly, as Judas points out. Notice the contrast between Mary – fully devoted to Jesus – and Judas – fully devoted to self. Here we get a clue as to exactly how spiritual apostasy takes place. Bitterness takes root in Judas’ heart with Jesus’ rebuke – “Leave here alone.” It begins to manifest itself there (1 Timothy 6:10); and left unchecked by lack of commitment to spiritual disciplines, it is possible to profess to be a believer, to be a high-standing member of the church and still be unconverted. Keep in mind the apparent waste, though. Even had the perfume been exchanged for cash, and even had Judas helped himself to a percentage of it, we could argue that it still would have been practically better spent that way than to pour it all out on Jesus. But Jesus did not see it as waste; it portrayed the heart attitude, true love and devotion to Him as Messiah, which is worth more than all the cash in the world (consider conversely the attitude of Ananias and Saphira in their generous gift, which of course resulted in their deaths). Mary’s faith, unlike that of the crowds that enjoyed being fed for free, was genuine; the Spirit had overwhelmed her with love and delight for Jesus, the Son of God. There is nothing more precious than that sort of faith; no gift can rival it. Have you ever loved Jesus like that?

This act of Mary also had significance beyond that of demonstrating true faith. This perfume symbolized the precious nature of Christ’s impending death, and how it would be a sweet aroma to God, rising up as the smell of forgiveness and reconciliation for His lost and sinful people. Although Mary, simply trying to express her love as emphatically as possible, might not have recognized this truth, her act in God’s plan had a significance far beyond her own intention. Just as God used Caiaphas, who hated Jesus, to prophesy accurately about the nature of Jesus’ death, so God used this true act of Mary’s loving faith to signify more than anyone could understand at the time.

At any rate, the disciples clearly did not appreciate the significance of so many of these signs until after Jesus had risen from the dead as we’ll see in v16, but later on, they understood, and were strengthened in their faith. This reality, too, was divinely ordained to underscore the necessity of Christ’s completed work of redemption, signified by His resurrection, for the corresponding resurrection of the elect to newness of life, to a new spiritual nature that sees Christ and believes.

Finally notice Jesus’ remark in v8: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.” What an extraordinary thing to say! If Jesus were not the Son of God, would this be a “good” thing to say? If He were not the divine Messiah, who He was and is and forever will be, exactly who He claimed to be, wouldn’t that be the most arrogant thing to say? What if we were talking about whether to give extra charitable contributions or buy the new television? And what if we justified our decision to get the TV by saying that there will always be time to be generous, but this TV will only be available at this price for a limited time? I’m not saying we can’t buy the TV, but let’s make sure our hearts and minds are aligned with God’s will. What is better for the Kingdom? It’s challenging, but it’s arrogant to say that the TV is more important for you than giving to the poor – unless you’re the Messiah, in which case, whatever you say is right and just and good.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

John 11:47-57

47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 8"What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this Man performing many miraculous signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." 49Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! 50You do not realize that it is better for you that one Man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." 51He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53So from that day on they plotted to take His life. 54Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead He withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples. 55When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, "What do you think? Isn't He coming to the Feast at all?" 57But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest Him.

Just as Jesus’ signs and teachings increase, so does the opposition of the Pharisees. At this point, the Jewish leaders have had enough. They do not even care any more whether or not the miracle was done on the Sabbath. They just know that, if Jesus continues doing these miraculous signs, which they fully acknowledge that He is doing, more and more people will believe on Him, and, consequently, fewer and fewer will still be in subjection to them. Specifically, the Romans will notice an uprising and take away the local governing authority that the Jewish leaders had. It was time to stop threatening; they needed to actually do away Jesus for the sake of “their” nation. Their irrational blindness is plain to see, and by asking, “What are we accomplishing?” they are accusing themselves of sloth or idleness or laziness in this matter. They actually have the audacity to think they can stop Jesus from accomplishing the will of God. Even more ironically, their selfish actions effectively accomplish the will of God (Psalm 2:4,12; Romans 9:17-24), which we also see from Caiaphas’ prophecy.

The high priest, Caiaphas, made a remarkable statement, for God used him to give a true prophecy that was completely foreign to what he actually meant. Caiaphas ignored Proverbs 17:15 “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both.” This in itself is an amazing example of how God uses the wicked designs of evil men to accomplish His own holy purposes. We see this truth displayed very clearly in the example of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20); but the most outstanding example of all is the case of Jesus’ crucifixion (Acts 2:22-24). It is fitting, therefore, that even in the events leading up to Christ’s death, God is using the wicked instruments of crucifixion for His good purpose. This is the principle of concurrence, where one word, thought, or deed is brought to pass by two actors, namely God and man, with two distinct purposes, God’s for good and man’s for evil. Caiaphas said that it is better for the people that one man die than that they all perish. He was thinking that Jesus should die before He stirred up all the people to a riot, which would have led to the Romans coming to destroy the nation; but God meant that Jesus would die to bring the people to God – and not just the Jewish people, but also His people from every nation (Revelation 5:9). Jesus has sheep from the Jewish fold and sheep from the Gentiles; and He must bring all of them together, by His death, so that there is one fold and one shepherd (John 10:16; Ephesians 1:10; 2:11-22). (The construction of v51-52 is parallel to that of 1 John 2:2, which we noted in looking at John 3:36. We better understand the one passage by comparing it with the other.)

The chapter concludes with a brief description of the situation. Jesus is not showing Himself in public, because the Jews are trying to kill Him; and even commanding that anyone who knows where He is must report to them, so that they can arrest Him. But the Passover was drawing near – and this Passover will be Jesus’ final celebration in His earthly life. People were beginning to gather in Jerusalem for the pre-Feast ceremonial cleansing. The fame of Jesus was diffused extensively through the whole of Judea; for they who assemble in the temple area, from whatever region of the country they come, are eager to seek Him and converse with one another concerning Him. While they seek Him to se what He’ll do next, they discover that the tyrannical leadership prevents Him from appearing openly. The stage is now set. Soon, they will witness and participate in His final public appearance, when He offers Himself as the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God, which, of course, is the very reason that He came to earth.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John 11:38-46

38Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39"Take away the stone," He said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." 40Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me." 43When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." 45Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him. 46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

As He comes to the gravesite, Jesus is still deeply moved (righteously angered); but without further teaching or admonishing, He commands that the stone sealing the mouth of the grave be taken away. Martha’s astonishment at this command, and her observation that Lazarus must stink by now (The KJV says, “Lord, he stinketh.”), having been dead for four days, indicates that she had not understood Jesus’ promise that He would raise Lazarus, but still thought that He was referring to the resurrection of the last day. (In the next chapter, we’ll get a contrast to this bad odor with the spilling out of a bottle of perfume.) But Jesus reminds her that, if she believes, she will see God’s glory.

Let’s look at what He says to her more closely. First, He asks a rhetorical question, “Did I not tell you?” John has not recorded that Jesus told Mary anything beyond, “Your brother will rise again” (v23), and “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (v25-26). So there was either more said than what John recorded or Jesus expected Mary to “get it” from His words to her. Thus she is blamed for not expecting some Divine work.

Next, Jesus says to her, “If you believed.” We see here the importance of faith in receiving the blessings of God (Psalm 81:10; Matthew 13:58). Faith is nothing more than the channel or the link by which we receive the blessings of God. Picture the cable wire hooked into your television; it’s the same sort of thing. Faith prepares the way for the power, mercy, and goodness of God, that they may be displayed towards us as believers; and in like manner, unbelief, on the other hand, hinders God from approaching us, and may be said to keep His hands shut.

Finally, Jesus says to her, “you would see the glory of God.” He is patient with her sanctification; she already believes in Him, but it’s far from a mature faith. Jesus gently reminds her, and she acquiesces. He says to her what He already told His disciples: raising Lazarus (in this fashion) would be to display the power of the glory of God. What an amazing plan! In the work of redemption, God is glorified when we are given new and eternal life (in the way we were regenerated). God is glorified, and we are enabled to see His glory – which is the essence of eternal life and the foundation of everlasting joy (see John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 1:25-2:4; 4:4-6).

The mourners do then take away the stone; but instead of performing the miracle immediately, as He had done so many times before, Jesus prays audibly, thanking the Father for hearing Him and acknowledging that the Father always hears His prayers. He did this, not for Himself (He did not need to pray to gain any special power for this miracle or anything like that), but so that the audience might learn to enter the Father’s presence through Him, knowing that the Father sent Him. Jesus did not do anything of His own accord, as He told the Pharisees so long ago (John 5:30); what the Father plans, Jesus does, and there is always perfect agreement between Them. This is a comforting truth, when we remember what Jesus prays for us just before His death on the cross (John 17); and when we remember that, after His ascension, He is always interceding for us as our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). The Father and Son do not just endure us; rather, They delight in us. This truth cannot fail to comfort us who, though weak and sinful, have fled to Jesus for refuge.

Now, having prayed to the Father, Jesus raises Lazarus with an authoritative word. And the dead man came out. This wasn’t an impostor; it was the same man who had died four days ago. Jesus then tells the audience to take off his bandages and let him go. They got to touch him to validate that what they were seeing was no mere illusion; they experienced it hands-on. Renowned commentator Matthew Henry said famously that Jesus had to say, “Lazarus, come forth!” because if He had just said, “Come forth,” all the dead would have come forth. And this is true! That’s the power of His word! We saw the power of His word in creation, and we’ll see the power of His word in John 20:16 with the account of Mary after the resurrection. And we see it in 2 Corinthians 4:6: God says, “See!” and we see. And Lazarus (tradition says he was 30 when this happened and lived to be 60) came back after four days. This is no mere resuscitation; this is return from decomposition. Jesus raised others from the dead; but here He reveals His power over a rotting corpse. And don’t you wonder what Lazarus had to say? Why doesn’t John tell us? Lazarus is insignificant here. It’s all about Jesus! Death, the last enemy, is defeated temporarily here as a sign of the permanent victory to come.

At the beginning of his gospel, John made the connection between creation and redemption – just as God, through the agency of His eternal Son, created the world by speaking it into existence; so, when He determined to redeem mankind, He would do so through Jesus, His Son, by an authoritative word. In fact, the goal of redemption is nothing but a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And just as God created man originally, by the word of His mouth, so He creates him anew – creates in him a new and living heart of belief – by His own powerful word. A dead man cannot create life in himself. No more can we, who are “dead in our trespasses and sins,” produce in ourselves the faith that leads to eternal life. But praise be to God, who, according to His mercy and in fulfillment of His promises, raised us up to new life, when we were dead and without hope (Ephesians 2:1-10)! Remember, the raising of Lazarus was a sign-miracle. Unless we learn from this event about how Jesus raises men who are spiritually dead to true and eternal life, we are missing its real intent and purpose. For Lazarus, which happened first? Did he hear Christ’s command before he was made alive? Or was he made alive to hear Christ’s command? Relating that to our spiritual lives, which happened first? Did we hear the gospel, believe it, and get re-born? Or were we re-born to hear and believe the gospel? In both cases, it is the latter. Regeneration must precede faith from a logical perspective, though they may happen simultaneously from a chronological viewpoint.

After the miracle, we see the same response that we have seen so many times before: many of the Jewish eyewitnesses believe in Him (meaning essentially that they were willing to submit to His doctrinal teaching); they were not in all cases believing in Him with saving faith. Some of them, blind and irrationally impious, oppose Jesus and report Him to the Pharisees. We learn from this reality as Calvin says that “before men can profit by miracles, their hearts must be purified; for they who have no fear of God, and no reverence for Him, though they saw heaven and earth mingled, will never cease to reject sound doctrine through obstinate ingratitude.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

John 11:28-37

28And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." 29When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met Him. 31When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34"Where have you laid him?" He asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" 37But some of them said, "Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Martha ran back home to privately (aside) give Mary the good news that Jesus had arrived. It is suggested that they wanted to keep Jesus from attracting a crowd (v30), since they knew His life was at stake at the hands of the Jewish leaders. Mary must have shared Martha’s faith, for they both respond the same way: as soon as they hear of Jesus’ coming, they leave everything, run to Him, and confess that He could have healed Lazarus if only He had been there. As each day passed and He didn’t come, Martha and Mary probably asked the question, “Does Jesus really care?” We ask the same thing. And the only answer that can be given to that question is “He knows what’s best for us.”

Now perhaps Jesus would have talked with Mary, just as He had with Martha, and told her that He alone is the resurrection and the life, and that He would raise Lazarus from his grave. But the comforters who were with Mary, when they saw her leaving the house in such haste, assumed that she was going to the grave to cry, so they followed her. It was their duty to dissuade Mary from going, that the sight of the tomb might not give fresh occasion for her grief; yet they don’t venture to apply so harsh a remedy, but simply contribute to the excess of her grief, by accompanying her to the tomb to mourn with her. Therefore, Jesus and Mary had no opportunity for privacy, as He and Martha had had a few minutes earlier. Mary fell at His feet and stated that He could have prevented this tragedy had He been physically present. There is an acknowledgement of His power, but it falls selfishly short of attributing His true and full power to Him as the Son of God.

When Jesus saw Mary and the rest of the mourners weeping, He was, according to John, both deeply moved (indignant or angry) in His spirit and deeply troubled (saddened). Why would He have been angry? Perhaps He was angry because of the deep sorrow and despair that sin had brought into the world; perhaps He was angry because of the lack of faith that now confronted Him in the presence of all these mourners. Whatever the reason, it is far more amazing that He was deeply troubled and sorrowful. Jesus, holy God and perfect Man, has every reason to be angry with sin and with us sinners – but what amazing love He displays towards us, that He sorrows over our condition with great sympathy, and is willing to give of Himself to make us right again! His emotional display does not result in further teaching; but instead, Jesus asks where Lazarus has been laid so that He could make His way there in preparation for the coming, publicly performed miracle. This was the time for action, not for teaching.

V35 is the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” The people recognize this, and make a note of how much Jesus loved him. Some of them even wonder why He did not prevent his death – if He could give sight to the man born blind, surely He could have healed Lazarus! Sadly, their faith was constantly requiring more miracles, and had not yet progressed to faith in Jesus Himself. Their suggestion borders on malicious slander, as if to say, “If Jesus is so powerful, He should have healed this man.” They are judging His inaction, which is something no man should do regarding God. They believed, with Mary and Martha, that Jesus could have healed Lazarus; but by suggesting that He should have done so, they reveal that they do not yet believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God.