Friday, February 29, 2008

John 16:5-16

5"Now I am going to Him who sent Me, yet none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' 6Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in Me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you. 15All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is Mine and make it known to you. 16In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me."

First, in v5, notice the curious remark of Jesus. He has told them that He is going away, yet none of them asked where He was going. As v6 reveals, they were too grief-stricken to concern themselves with His destination. How would you react if your wife said, “I’m leaving.” Or maybe a better example would be this. How would your children react if you said, “I’m leaving, and you can’t come.” The first thought is not, “Where are you going?” but “Why?” The same thing is happening for these disciples, but Jesus doesn’t get to that concern. Rather, He says that it is a good thing that He is leaving.

The disciples are in despair that Jesus is leaving; they are worried about how they will find the way to see Him again (remember Thomas’ question); but the one question they are not sufficiently concerned with is where Jesus is going. But the answer to that question makes all the difference in the world: Jesus is going to the Father, to sit at His right hand in victory – and it is only when He sits in victory that the Spirit will come. There’s a bit of a mystery involved with why the Holy Spirit can’t indwell people who are in the physical presence of Jesus, but we trust that to be true. Jesus must go to send the Spirit, and beginning in v8, He speaks about one of the Holy Spirit’s roles: to convict the world of guilt, or as it would be better rendered, to expose the guilt of the world. When / how were you convicted?

The Spirit of God will play a very central role in this last and greatest of all redemptive eras before the final state of glorification on the new earth. The Spirit will go throughout the world, bringing to light men’s sin, showing them of the coming judgment, foreshadowed when the ruler of the world, Satan, was condemned by Christ’s work on the cross, and revealing to them the nature of true righteousness, which Jesus alone was demonstrating when He was on the earth. When Jesus was in His physical body, only a few thousand people could hear Him at once, and see the display of perfect righteousness. But when He sent His Spirit, He was able to speak to the individual hearts of countless men and women about all these things that he had spoken of on earth and demonstrated on the cross. And the disciples would be the mouthpieces of the Spirit’s work in the world. See Acts for the beginnings of this.

Jesus explains here how the Holy Spirit drives people to Christ and makes Him known to the elect more fully than He could even be known in the flesh – for by the Spirit, He lives in you! The disciples would be better off for Jesus to discontinue His explanation of these spiritual things, because they had had their fill – they were unable to understand any more of the mighty and powerful words of Jesus. But the Spirit, when He came, would enable them to understand. He would speak the very words of Jesus, just as Jesus speaks the very words of the Father – but He would also open the hearts of the disciples to understand these words. Jesus’ teaching ministry to His disciples was certainly a wonderful and necessary thing. But as great as it was, the teaching ministry of the Spirit, according to the divine plan, would be even better and more effective in unveiling blinded hearts to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)!

The great fear of the disciples is that if Jesus goes away, they will know Him less; but Jesus is saying that the opposite is true. He’s talking about the Scriptures. He’s talking about the way the Holy Spirit will take these disciples and through them bring to the Church the gospels and the Epistles that we have been studying ever since we first came to Jesus Christ by faith, and as a consequence, have grown to know Him more and more. As a result of His going away, He would actually be nearer to them. Wouldn’t you have liked to hear Jesus speak this discourse? Jesus is saying to the disciples that there’s a better place to be than in the upper room. It’s right here with this Book open before you, and its pages being opened up and expounded. Jesus is saying that we should prefer to have the Scriptures than to have Him present in our midst.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

John 16:1-4

1"All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. 2They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3They will do such things because they have not known the Father or Me. 4I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you."

If we think about this discourse as a whole, it is effectively a grand sermon that begins and ends with the same point. The point, back in chapter 14 was this, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” And the point at the end of chapter 16 is the same, “In Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So Jesus is preaching a grand sermon called, “How to have peace and keep you heart from distress,” to His small audience of eleven men. Jesus teaches the disciples about the Father, about Himself, and about the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is meant to give us peace. In this portion of chapter 16, Jesus continues from chapter 15, where He explained that God’s pruning of the branches to cause them to bear more fruit would come to the disciples in the form of persecution. The news gets direr here, as Jesus reveals that this persecution would lead to excommunication from the Jewish synagogue, and even death.

In v1, Jesus says that the reason He told the disciples everything in chapter 15 was so that they would not go astray. Prophecy has an amazing ability to hold our attention. Think of the Jews, who even today believe that Messiah is coming, thanks to the prophecy spoken to them 2500 years ago. These disciples trusted Jesus, so His explaining to them what would happen in the days (and years) to come held their attention and kept them from straying. When excommunication threatens religious folks, fear sets in and perhaps keeps them in check; but knowing about it in advance strengthens people to face the threat and maintain their course in the way of the Lord. For example, Martin Luther was asked to renounce his position before the archdiocese, and his reply was, “Here I stand; I can do nothing more.” V2 is one of my favorites, because it speaks so intimately to the reality of martyrdom, especially in light of Muslim aggression. The true Islam would have any non-believers killed as a service to God. Jesus says that time is coming. It is now here. V3 adds to this explanation. Why would people killing others think they were doing God a favor? Because they have never known God, and they have certainly never known Christ. Thus we learn what a serious offense it is to never come to know the Lord. The fruit of unbelief is increasing wickedness.

In 1685, there was Margaret McLoughlin, a 63 year-old widow and Margaret Wilson, a young girl of 18, and both of them had refused to bow to the order that they should worship according to Episcopalian rules. They just simply wouldn’t do that and Margaret McLaughlin had taken every opportunity to go and hear Presbyterian ministers preaching the gospel, and for which she was put in prison with no bed and no fire to keep her warm. When the Abduration Oath was put to them, they refused it and were found guilty “and the sentence was that upon the 11th of May, instant, both of them should be tied to stakes fixed within the flood mark of the water near of Bladnoch near Wigtown where the sea flows at high water, there to be drowned. The two women were brought from Wigtown with a numerous crowd of spectators to so extraordinary and execution. Major Windram with some soldiers guarded them to the place of execution. The old woman’s stake was a good way in beyond the other, and she was first dispatched in order to terrify the other to a compliance with such oaths and conditions as they required; but in vain, for she had adhered to her principles with an unshaken steadfastness. When the water was overflowing her fellow martyr, some about Margaret Wilson asked her what she thought of the other now struggling with the pangs of death. She answered, “What do I see but Christ wrestling there? Think you that we are the sufferers? No, it is Christ in us for He sends none a warfare upon their own charges.” And Margaret Wilson was at the stake and she sang the 25th Psalm from verse 7 downward a good way and read the eighth chapter of Romans with a great deal of cheerfulness and then prayed. And while at prayer, the water covered her, but before she was quite dead they pulled her up and held her out of the water until she was recovered and able to speak and then by Major Windram’s orders she was asked if she would pray for the king. She answered she wished the salvation of all men and the damnation of none. One deeply affected with the death of the other and her case said, “Dear Margaret, say ‘God save the king,’ and she answered in the greatest steadiness and composure, “God save him, if He will for it is his salvation I desire.” Whereupon some of the relations nearby, desirous to have her life spared if possible, called out to Major Windram, “Sir, she hath said it, she hath said it!” Whereupon the Major came near and offered to her the abduration charging her instantly to swear it, otherwise returning her to the water. Most deliberately she refused and said, “I will not. I am one of Christ’s children. Let me go.” Upon which she was thrust down again into the water where she finished her course with joy.

Finally, v4 reveals why Jesus told the disciples this harsher news about their potential martyrdom. They are to remember that He warned them; this recollection would serve to encourage their faith. This harsh news was not to be told too soon, for Jesus was/is bearing the brunt of the persecution. Once He departs, however, the disciples will become the main target of persecution. And as a poorly rooted faith might flee at this news of potential martyrdom; a deep-rooted faith, as we’ve seen, stands firm even in the most unbearable of circumstances.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

John 15:26-27

26"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning."

Jesus moves on to explain how He will continue to reveal Himself to mankind – as He had done while on earth – even after His departure. And so, for a third time, Jesus reminds them that He will send the Spirit. Yes, the world will hate them, persecute them, cast them out of the synagogues, and even kill them (as we’ll see in John 16:1-4); but they would be strengthened and comforted through it all by the Spirit of God who would dwell within them. He would bring to their minds what Jesus had taught, as they studied and reflected upon His word, and this would be exactly what they would need to persevere and finally to triumph. And so the case remains today. When we are persecuted, tempted, hard-pressed by doubts, fears, and indwelling sin, we must look to the word of God to be reminded of the love of God revealed in His Son; and the Spirit of God will cause our faith to grow through all opposition.

The Holy Spirit here is called the Counselor. Isn’t that appropriate, given the context? Jesus has spoken words to a vast audience of Jews (and some Gentiles too). But they, as a whole, have refused to appreciate those words. Thus, when a few are convinced of the truth of Jesus’ words, those few might struggle with the reality that they are indeed few in number. Why, if this is so clear to me, are so few people embracing the truth? We need a Counselor in circumstances such as these, the Holy Spirit to continue to testify to Jesus Christ in the face of opposition from the world in which we live, to encourage us to hold fast to the only Savior, Jesus Christ. And this is exactly who Jesus provides, One who would drive His people to Himself and keep them there. 1 Corinthians 2:12 says, “But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God.” Calvin says, “This single witness powerfully drives away, scatters, and overturns, all that the world rears up to obscure or crush the truth of God. All who are endued with this Spirit are so far from being in danger of falling into despondency on account of the hatred or contempt of the world, that every one of them will obtain glorious victory over the whole world. Yet we must beware of relying on the good opinion of men; for so long as faith shall wonder in this manner, or rather, as soon as it shall have gone out of the sanctuary of God, it must become involved in miserable uncertainty. It must, therefore, be brought back to the inward and secret testimony of the Spirit, which, believers know, has been given to them from heaven.”

As they followed the example of Christ, they would find themselves walking the same path (v27), a path that passed through persecution but ended in victory. But, empowered by the Spirit, they would not waver, but instead would rejoice to share in the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings, knowing that they would also partake of the power of His resurrection life (Philippians 3:8-11). And the phrase, “for you have been with Me from the beginning,” is added as further confirmation of the truth of the gospel. There should be no doubt of who Jesus is, of what He is doing, and what will happen next. When we face doubt, we must return to the Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, our Counselor, and led into prayer for comfort, understanding, and empowering. John understood this well (see 1 John 1:1).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

John 15:18-25

18"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master' [John 13:16]. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates Me hates My Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both Me and My Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated Me without reason' [Psalms 35:19; 69:4]."

Jesus is warning the disciples of impending persecution in v18-20. He uses the word hate repeatedly. He’s saying that God’s pruning will come to them in the form of persecution. (Calvin says here that a preacher of the whole and true gospel will never be able to escape the world’s hatred.) In the opening verses of chapter 16, when He tells them why He’s saying these things, in order that they might know in advance and not be caught off guard; He even speaks of their impending death. Perhaps John was thinking of the death of his brother, James (Acts 12:2) as he recorded these words from his memory. Who knows what form God’s pruning shears will work in our lives? Have you experienced pruning that you’d like to share?

If the disciples have learned one thing well, throughout the course of their time with Jesus, it is that the world as a whole is opposed to Him and hates Him. Ultimately, this is because the world loves their own father, the devil, and hates God (as we saw in John 8:31-47). Jesus came to reveal the Father to men; and when men hated Jesus, they showed that they hated God the Father, even while they were claiming to worship Him. Furthermore, we see the reason the world will hate Jesus’ disciples – they are not of the world (anymore). Jesus has chosen them out of the world (this means “set apart” or sanctified. Yet, as Jesus will pray in John 17, disciples of Christ are to remain in the world (physically) but be not of the world (spiritually). By the word “world,” Jesus is referring to a massive number of unregenerate souls serving their father, the devil, in darkness.

Jesus tells His disciples in v20 to remember that no servant is greater than his master. When the world hates us, it is only because the world hates Jesus; when sinners turn to Christ for forgiveness and righteousness as a result of our evangelism, it is only because they heed the words of Christ spoken to them internally by the Holy Spirit. Thus when the world rages in hatred against Christians, it is out of ignorance, for they suppress the knowledge they have of the Creator God and act in ignorance to the reality of His presence and impending judgment.

V22, along with v24, has often been used to suggest that the only sin is that of unbelief. There are vast theological problems with this assessment. Just to mention one, consider that if this assessment was true, it would be a grievous error to proclaim the gospel to foreign lands; they would certainly be better off to have never heard of Jesus, than to have heard and thereby been forced to decide one way or another. Jesus is declaring, rather, that His words to the Jews serve as the final element of revelation that they will receive – with their willful rejection of Christ, they are making their final decision on their eternal destiny. This is much like Romans, where Paul gives all of the benefits of being Jewish. It’s not enough.

Jesus’ words and actions among the people, then, served as the final stamp of their wickedness and just condemnation. Even if they had an excuse for their sins (ignorance) before Jesus came (which they didn’t), their unwarranted rejection of Him left them without excuse; although this, too, was a fulfillment of prophecy (see Psalm 35:19; 69:4). How unreasonable it is to hate God! Yet the world at large did so by their denial of Jesus Christ; but Jesus had chosen His disciples out of the world, and so it would be different with them. They loved Jesus, and hence, the Father; but the world would hate them,, and hence, the Father. This is the exclusivity of the Christian faith. One cannot love God and despise Jesus; one cannot love God and fail to worship Jesus as only Savior and Lord. This is from the mouth of Jesus Himself! For us, when the world crashes down, our reply – abiding in Jesus – ought to be to quote Scripture. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).

Monday, February 25, 2008

John 15:9-17

9"As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. 10If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love. 11I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are My friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. 17This is My command: Love each other.

Notice again as Jesus works in His teaching to show the progress our union with Him makes and the purpose for which it transpires. The progress of our union with Christ is many-fold: perseverance in suffering and persecution, God-ordained fruit, answered prayer, enhanced witness, experiencing the love of Christ, complete joy, and ultimately God’s glory, in which we get to share. Jesus uses this word “remain,” or, in some translations, “abide,” numerous times in this chapter. We need to be careful with it, because some use it to speak of a spiritual experience that only some achieve – a level of holiness and blessing and sanctification that is beyond the warfare and spiritual struggle where most of us are. Jesus clearly teaches that in this world, we are never beyond struggle. To abide in Jesus is to cling to His love and His word – even in these times of struggle that each of us face. And in clinging to His love and His word, we learn the method of perseverance and sanctification – obey His commands.

Do you get joy from obeying God’s commands? Jesus did! For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. He knew what He was buying, and He did it with pure Selflessness. We should enjoy obeying – for His glory, never for our own; for we must always remember that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. Augustine once prayed, “Lord, the good in me, You wrought; everything else is my fault.” And this is true. When we fend off an attack from Satan, it is by grace – for surely we are too weak to win on our own. But when we yield to the enemy, we prove our weakness and learn to be ever repenting to trust Christ alone. He’s the One who obeyed the Law on our behalf. Indeed, trusting Him alone, abiding in Him, remaining in Him, is the obedience required (Romans 1:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Lastly, the whole reason for Jesus to explain this to His disciples is that their joy might be complete. The Gospel of salvation by grace is indeed cause for great joy!

We certainly must strive to love God first (our priority), but it is impossible to love God without loving each other. Thus, the two objects of our love (God and others) are not prioritized by which happens first – loving each occurs simultaneously.

Once again, Jesus repeats His great commandment, to love even as He loved, a commandment that includes the whole law in its very essence (Romans 13:10). But, whereas the outward commandments of the law, written on stone, might be done in a superficial way by anyone, this commandment of Christ-like love is utterly impossible to the natural man. Anyone weighing his works against this standard will find them all as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)! But Jesus does not leave them without comfort in this impossible task – instead, He reminds them that they did not choose Him, but Jesus chose them; and He is certainly able to do what we are unable to do. Yes, His commandments are too great for us. But we ought not despair, but rather be full of faith, first, because He has invincibly determined to produce good fruits in us who have believed (Ephesians 2:10), and second, because He has given us His Spirit to open our hearts to His unfailing love. Through our immersion in the Word of God, the Spirit will bring to our minds what Jesus has said and will begin to change us into that image revealed to us in the face of Jesus – and in this way, our joy will be complete (v11).

Our relationship with Jesus is so close that He calls us friends. “What a friend we have in Jesus!” But a question arises as Romans 5:8,10 declares that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners and God’s enemies. How can we be both friends and enemies simultaneously? Martin Luther never could wrap his brain around this mystery, declaring in Latin, “Simul justus et peccator” – at the same time, saint and sinner.

The second half of v15 is interesting too. Jesus says this: “Everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.” He’s saying that there is nothing we need to know in relation to the message of the gospel that has gone unsaid. Jesus has forwarded to His disciples every detail that the Father wanted Him to convey. We have all that we need; let us eat the food of Jesus and be satisfied (Mark 6:42). The second half of v16 again declares that Jesus’ disciples will receive whatever they ask in Jesus’ name, in accordance with their bearing of lasting fruit. Again, we think of Ephesians 2:10. It is God who gives growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). Thus we guard against pride in our labor on one hand and failure to pray diligently on the other hand. And finally, v17 calls specifically these disciples of Jesus, as ministers of the gospel, to love each other – working together for the building up of the Church, not multiple heaps, but one great mountain to the glory of God.