Friday, February 15, 2008

John 14:8-14

8Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." 9Jesus answered: "Don't you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you are not just My own. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. 11Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it."

Jesus has just said, “You know the Father and have seen Him,” and what does Philip say? “Show us the Father; that will be enough.” He just said, “Philip, you’ve seen Him!” We are the same way – poor and slow to learn.

Philip understands that Jesus is the One who reveals the Father, and so his statement is really a question in statement form. He’s asking meekly, “Jesus, would You reveal the Father to us right now?” The request shows that Philip does not yet understand what Jesus is saying, any more than Thomas did. Jesus is disappointed with Philip’s words. He is not going to allow them some mystical ability to “see” the invisible God at some point in the future; on the contrary, He Himself is the image of the invisible God, in a form that man can see! Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the invisible God, for Jesus is God, and He and the Father are One in the strongest sense of the word. In fact, they mutually indwell each other! If Philip knew Jesus, he should have realized that he already knew the Father – through Jesus’ words, which were the Father’s, through Jesus’ works, which were the Father’s, and through Jesus’ display of the glory of the Father, which the Father displays in His Son.

Even if Philip had not understood Jesus’ words and teachings on the subject, he ought to have recognized from Jesus’ sign-miracles, at the least, that Jesus was One with the Father, and that He was the One who came down to provide a way to the Father. The very nature of the signs, displaying as they did Jesus’ nature as the Light of the world, the Bread which came down from heaven, the Resurrection and the Life, and so on, ought to have taught him and convinced him of that much. Jesus is the living word – the sermon on God the Father.

Now in v12, Jesus continues on the subject of His sign miracles, and tells the disciples something truly staggering: “Anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing.” Indeed believers (not limited to the twelve) would do greater signs than Jesus had done! How could this be? In order to understand Jesus, we must pay close attention to His reasoning: this astonishing teaching is only true because Jesus is returning to the Father, and together, they would send the Holy Spirit (v16-17); This staggering truth is only true, because Jesus would do mightier works than He had yet done in answer to the prayers of the believers through the power of His Holy Spirit. His power extends to and through the Church as His body. Although this teaching is nearly unbelievable, at first, it begins to make sense when one considers the marvelous plan of redemption: We are in the business of showing people God the Father when we show them Jesus. And we do this knowing the great truth that Jesus taught: “Where I am, there you will also be.”

Jesus would no longer be seen just by thousands – He would make Himself known, through the prayers of His witnessing people, to millions. He would not just walk among men – He would dwell within them through His Spirit! As great as Jesus’ signs were, something better was waiting to be accomplished by His people, or rather, by Jesus Himself as He answered the prayers of and indwelled and worked through His people through His Spirit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

John 14:1-7

In chapter 13:1-30, John related the last major event (the Last Supper) that took place between Jesus and His disciples before He went to the cross. In chapters 13:31-38 and 14-16, John relates the last major discourse that Jesus gave to His disciples before He went to the cross. These three chapters are probably the clearest and fullest record of Jesus’ own teaching that we have anywhere in the Scriptures about His death and the things that would follow. Jesus has told His disciples that He is going where they cannot follow, and He has told Peter that he would deny Him; these were such heavy and sorrowful truths that He changes course and begins to give them words of comfort, words that explain the purpose of this difficult news. Eventually, He will pick up again with His themes of true discipleship, and so on; but for now, His message is one of explanation and comfort.

1"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. 2In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going." 5Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we don't know where You are going, so how can we know the way?" 6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him."

Jesus mentions the Father some 13 times in the first 13 verses, and this has prompted many theologians to call this portion of the text, “Jesus’ Father Sermon.” He comforts the fearful and sorrowful disciples by directing their thoughts to the Father, in whom they already believe with fervent faith, as v1 declares. Jesus knows their hearts are troubled, so He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And Jesus, being the great physician, here the great Cardiologist, offers much in the way of remedy for heart-trouble. He has said that His own heart was troubled on numerous occasions. And from this we can learn that the reason we don’t have to be troubled is because Jesus has been troubled for us. Why should our hearts be troubled if we believe in God?

The disciples are, of course, sorrowful over the news of Jesus’ departure – yet He tells them not to be sorrowful, but instead to trust in Him – they already trust the Father. If they really believed that God the Father loved them, they would trust Jesus, and thereby be certain that He was not about to do something that was not for their good. On the contrary, He was going to prepare for them something far better even than His physical presence with them at that time – a place where they could dwell in the house of the Father and be with Jesus, there in the Father’s presence, forever. To understand fully what Jesus is saying, we must remember where He is going at this particular time, and why He is about to leave the disciples: He is going to His death on the cross – and that is how He is going to prepare a place for them in the Father’s presence. God the Father is holy and just, and will not tolerate sinful men in His house. But according to the Father’s gracious will, Jesus was about to make a way for this unthinkable reality to happen. He was about to prepare a way for sinful men to dwell with the holy God. And the way that He was going to do that involved His leaving the disciples for death on the cross. Of course, the later verses speak of Jesus’ coming to take us up to be with Him, by which He must mean His return to take us up to heaven – but the way that He prepared this place to which He would ultimately take us was nothing other than His immediate leaving of the disciples, in order to offer Himself up on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins.

At this point, Jesus tells the disciples that they already know the way to this place that He is preparing. But the disciples, or at least Thomas in particular, do not yet understand and so ask, “How can we know the way if we do not even know where You are going?” But Jesus Himself is the Way, and they do know Jesus. If they know the Way, then they will surely arrive at the end, which is life in the knowledge of God. In fact, if they know Jesus, they already know God, and have already seen Him – something that no one has done apart from the Son who reveals Him (John 1:18). True life consists of knowing the Father (John 17:3); and there is no life, no truth, and indeed, no way to pursue after either apart from the Father’s greatest self-revelation to man, which is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

Notice that Jesus says, “You know the way,” and Thomas replies, “We can’t know the way.” Thomas is not intentionally, but rather indirectly, refuting Jesus. It is therefore sinful to deny the truth of what Jesus says, even when we don’t understand it. Furthermore, Thomas’ lack of faith is seen in his question, “How can we know the way?” And Jesus answers this question despite the disrespect of his disciple. When Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” He is claiming to be the way – the gate as we saw earlier (the entrance or the beginning) – and the life – the resurrection (the destination or the end) as we saw earlier. But what does He mean by saying, “I am the truth”? This fits perfectly with John’s style, and so there’s no doubt as to why John included this statement in the account. Jesus fulfills the Tabernacle imagery. He is the truth in the sense that He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament types and shadows. Everything comes to its fruition in Jesus, and therefore, He is the truth (the route).

Calvin says, “If any man turn aside from Christ, he will do nothing but go astray; if any man do not rest on Him, he will feed elsewhere on nothing but wind and vanity; if any man, not satisfied with Him alone, wishes to go farther, he will find death instead of life.” Thomas A’Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, says, “Without the way, there is no going; and without the truth there is no knowing; and without the life there is no living.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

John 13:33-38

33"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." 36Simon Peter asked Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus replied, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." 37Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow You now? I will lay down my life for You." 38Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for Me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times!"

Jesus, calling His disciples children, shows how tenderly He cares for them in giving them some sad news: they cannot come where He is going. How would that make you feel – having been with Jesus for three years – and hearing Him say that you can’t come with Him? That’s hard news. But notice too that Jesus tells the disciples that He has already told the Jews this news. So the disciples had heard it before – just not directed to them. And that might have made the news all the more difficult. Just as our guest preacher, Jeff Walling, said about this passage at Southeast a while back, this difficult news caused the disciples to miss the command to love.

Besides the foundational principle of glory in v31-32, we have a foundational application. The servant is not greater than his master; and so, if Christ so loved us, we ought also to love one another (1 John 4:7-11). This is the one great commandment that will govern all Christian ethics and practice throughout the age – a commandment which, though called “new,” was certainly not foreign to the heart of the Old Testament law (indeed it fulfills the law as Romans 13:10 teaches), but which is here brought into a sharpness of relief that the old shadows could never have realized. V34-35 must give us pause for serious and sober-minded reflection: do we truly love one another in such a sacrificial and Christ-imitating way that the world takes note? This is what it means to be a Christian! “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus sandwiches this application of love in v34-35 between v33 and v36, where He says, “Where I am going, you cannot come [or follow].” Look now at v36.

The first thing Peter says is, “Where are You going?” He tuned out the command to love, because he was concerned about Jesus’ imminent departure. But in this question, though he may have missed the new command, we see his genuine love for Jesus. It may be an imperfect love, but it’s authentic. It hasn’t been tested yet, but it will be. And Peter will fail the test. Jesus, rather than answer Peter’s “why?” question, responds with a question of His own: “Will you really lay down your life for Me?” Jesus is rebuking Peter’s self-confidence. Then Jesus tells Peter that he will disown Him three times that very night (v38).

We might wonder how a man like Peter, whose passion for Jesus was always so intense, could betray Him. Jesus said in Luke 22:31-32, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Satan is there, and Jesus effectively says that Satan has asked to destroy him, but Jesus has prayed for him to prevent destruction – unlike Judas. Knowing that Peter would betray him, Jesus instructs Peter in Luke’s gospel to strengthen his brothers when has turned back. So Peter’s (certain) repentance and restoration will not only prove that his love for Jesus is real, it will strengthen that love, enabling Peter to go to his own death by upside down crucifixion for the truth of Jesus Christ. Peter will indeed lay down his life for Jesus (v37), but it won’t happen until he learns that it is Jesus’ love and grace and mercy and strength that makes his own love genuine. In his own strength, Peter can do nothing. Jesus will explain this further in John 15:5: “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” See Philippians 2:13.

This is the case for us as well; we mustn’t rely on ourselves for perseverance, but we may still wonder why or how it works. Why does God grant Satan any of his demands? Why does God tolerate Satan’s activity at all? Why doesn’t God put Revelation 20 in action right now? Why doesn’t God cast Satan into the lake of fire right now? Why go on century after century, permitting Satan to wreak this kind of havoc in the Church? Why does God allow ABC or XYZ to happen? Maybe the answer is, “I don’t know.” That’s the test of faith: to walk hand in hand with God – and persevere in so doing – when He doesn’t give you the answer, except that on the pages of Scripture as a glimpse of the answer. The connection between suffering and glory, as Jesus has been speaking about in regard to Himself, is not merely chronological, but it is causal. There is no path to glory except via the pathway of suffering and trial, and many a Christian has discovered the glory of overcoming suffering, on the other side of battle with the evil one.

Many commentators have pointed out that the comparisons and contrasts of Peter and Judas are the theme in this chapter. We know later that Judas betrays Jesus and feels only remorse over his own condition and situation – this remorse leads to depression and suicide. Peter betrays Jesus and feels a deep and bitter repentance that leads to restoration and transformation. But what’s the difference here in this chapter alone? It seems that there was a sinister attitude in Judas – he didn’t even speak (though in Matthew 26:25, he did say, “Surely not I.”). But Peter was almost na├»ve to the circumstance. He had no evil intentions, unlike Judas. And so for us, we may often exhibit Peter-like denials, motivated by momentary lapses in reliance on God or pride sticking its nose where it does not belong. And let us repent of those occasions. But let us repent all the more when we show ourselves to be more Judas-like in our malicious and pre-meditated acts and patterns of sly and treacherous and deceitful sin.

Monday, February 11, 2008

John 13:21-32

21After He had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray Me." 22His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant. 23One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to Him. 24Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask Him which one He means." 25Leaning back against Jesus, he asked Him, "Lord, who is it?" 26Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. 28"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. 31When he was gone, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him. 32If God is glorified in Him, God will glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.

Notice first that Jesus was troubled in spirit. Perhaps pausing to think about the betrayal He was about to experience was like a penetrating arrow into His soul. Perhaps knowing the love He had for His disciples – including Judas – caused Him pain to know that it wasn’t reciprocated, even if only partially, by Judas. Perhaps this event on the timeline leading to His crucifixion was particularly painful, because it stepped up the pace of everything. There was no turning back.

Jesus has already prepared His true disciples for this event; now, He brings it about in actuality. First, in deep distress of spirit, Jesus tells all the disciples plainly, so that there could be no more room for doubt, that one of them would indeed betray Him (v21). The depth of the eleven disciples’ love and dedication to Jesus may be seen in their response: stunned silence and amazement (v22). How could it be that one of them, who had seen the goodness and greatness of this Messiah, the true Son of God and Man, ever betray Him? Even impetuous Peter is so taken aback at this revelation that he does not dare to speak openly, but motions for John, reclining beside Jesus, to “Ask Him which one He means” (v23-24). John asked Jesus (v25), and Jesus’ answer once again shows the depth of His mercy; for as Calvin says, He would reveal the traitor to John alone and not to all the disciples, and not by giving some sign of condemnation or curse, but by displaying to this impostor the honor of a dignified guest – He selected a piece of bread, dipped it in the oil, and “gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon” (v26). This gentle display, as we’ll see is why John’s gospel points out Judas’ treachery more frequently than the others, and also why, as we’ll see in v28, why none of the other disciples understand why Jesus said what He said in v27. Let’s look at it now.

So far in this chapter, we’ve seen the commencement of the greatest act of love, and we sadly note that it is met with the most malicious act of treachery ever committed. Having taken the piece of bread from Jesus, but having despised the love that extended it, Judas, fully and finally persuaded by Satan (v27) to betray God Incarnate, obeys the sorrowful command not to delay in that which he had already planned to do. This exhortation is not of such a nature that Jesus can be regarded as exciting Judas to do the action; rather it is the language of one who views the crime with horror and detestation. It’s as if He is saying, “Since you’ve given yourself to destruction, go to destruction.” It echoes Romans 1:24-28. And we get explanations of the misunderstanding that the other disciples had regarding this command in v28-29. Of course, they’d understand it all quite clearly with the passage of time. But in v30, we see Judas depart from the presence of the Lord forever; John adds, “And it was night.”

Maybe “And it was night” is just a casual comment by John that it was now dark outside; but maybe John is saying something more significant than that. One commentator said, “These are some of the most pregnant words in the whole of literature.” It was dark, but not only outside, not only because the sun had gone down, but it was dark in Judas’ heart. No light shone there, because no love for Jesus shone there, because Satan had entered into him, because sin had taken hold of Him, and because worldly pleasures had captivated him. The Trinity of evil was choking the very life out of him. “And it was night.”

At this point (v31-32), Jesus begins His final instructions and teachings before He goes to the cross. From here to the end of chapter 17 compose one great block of instructional material which Jesus gives to His disciples, so that they might understand exactly what His death would mean, and why it must come about. Immediately, He brings out the one foundational principle that He will continue to develop and elaborate upon: His impending death is for the glory of God. This must have been unthinkable to His disciples. If there was one thing that did not conjure up thoughts of glory, it was death on a Roman cross. That was the most shameful, despised, and humiliating process the world of fallen men could possible devise. Yet here Jesus was, saying that it would be for the glorification of Himself, the Son of Man, and likewise of the Father. Such is the wonder and the foolishness of the gospel!

The greatest act of humility and condescension in all history is at the same time the greatest act of self-glorification that God would ever perform. It’s accomplishment was the one great design of God from before time began, a design which brought all three members of the Godhead into a marvelous and mutually-glorifying work, the Father planning, the Son purchasing, and the Spirit applying the redemption of man the rebel! There we see God’s glorious character revealed more clearly than at any other time and place. We see His wrath against sin in the crushing of His own dear Son because of it. We see His free, redemptive love in the lengths He goes to be able to have mercy on those for whom He has decreed mercy. We see His grace, His justice, His sovereignty, and His inter-triune relationships of love and mutual glorification all displayed on the cross, as we could never have seen them in any other way. Truly, in this horrible act of injustice, the Father glorified the Son, and the Son glorified the Father.