Friday, March 07, 2008

John 17:6-9

6"I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. 7Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You. 8For I gave them the words You gave Me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours."

Again Jesus takes hope in God’s faithfulness to Him through the doctrine of election. The Covenant of Redemption is what brought Jesus to do the work God had for Him. There were a specific people Jesus worked for – not one less. And Jesus completed this work to perfection. He speaks in prayer here as if His work is already done. In fact, the active part (life) is done. Only the passive part (death) remains. We see a glimpse here of the ordo salutis – the order of salvation. First comes election. Second comes regeneration. Third comes faith and repentance; faith cannot be genuine apart from repentance. Fourth comes justification. Fifth comes adoption. The list goes on. Sixth comes sanctification; seventh is perseverance. Eighth is death and ninth is glorification.

V9 is challenging to many. Jesus asks nothing but what is agreeable to the will of the Father, because He pleads with the Father on behalf of those only whom the Father Himself willingly loves savingly. He openly declares that He does not pray for the world, because He has no concern in salvation for the world – only for His own flock, which He received from the hand of the Father. But this might be thought to be absurd; for no better rule of prayer can be found than to follow Christ as our Guide and Teacher. Now, we are commanded to pray for all, (1 Timothy 2:8) and Christ Himself afterwards prayed indiscriminately for all, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The prayers we offer for all are still limited to the elect of God. We ought to pray that this man, and that man, and every man, may be saved, and thus include the whole human race, because we cannot yet distinguish the elect from the reprobate; and yet, while we desire the coming of the kingdom of God, we likewise pray that God may destroy His enemies.

There is only this difference between the two cases: we pray for the salvation of all whom we know to have been created after the image of God, and who have the same nature with ourselves; and we leave to the judgment of God those whom He knows to be reprobate. But in the prayer here related, there was some special reason, which ought not to be reproduced as an example; for Christ does not now pray from the mere impulse of faith and of love towards men, but, entering into the heavenly sanctuary, He places before His eyes the secret judgments of the Father, which are concealed from us, so long as we walk by faith. God chooses out of the world those whom He desires to make co-heirs with His Son of life and all creation, and this distinction is not made according to the merit of men, but depends alone on His good-pleasure and purpose. For those who think that the cause of election is in men must begin with faith. Now, Christ expressly declares that they who are given to Him belong to the Father; and it is certain that they are given so as to believe, and that faith flows from this act of giving. If the origin of faith is this act of giving, and if election comes before it in order and time, what remains but that we acknowledge that those whom God wishes to be saved out of the world are elected by free grace? Now since Christ prays for the elect only, it is necessary for us to believe the doctrine of election, if we wish that He should plead with the Father for our salvation.

After laying out the basic intent of His prayer, Jesus begins to give the reasons for His praying in this way, and for these specific persons – and the fundamental reason goes back to the Father’s will, together with the effects that it has produced. Now, what has this will accomplished? First, as the Son is One with the Father, and always in perfect agreement with Him, the will of the Father has been brought to concrete reality through the effectual working of the Son. Remember in the prologue how Jesus, the “Word of God,” brings to reality God’s intention? So here, when God planned to redeem a wayward people to Himself, it was Jesus who actually redeemed them, and brought them back to a true knowledge of God: or, in His own words, He “revealed” the Father’s name to them. Within the Trinity there is always perfect unity – and so the Father’s will inevitably finds its concrete expression in the Son’s activity. So God’s will flows into Jesus’ life and death. The effects of the Father’s will do not stop with the Son’s ministry; for flowing down, from the Father through the Son, is the effect of this sovereign will on the people He has chosen. The Father selected a people, Jesus revealed the Father to them, and now they know that everything Jesus has done came from the Father. The words of God were in the Father’s heart and revealed through the Son’s ministry on earth; and now, they are received and held fast by the people God has chosen. We could sum this wonderful reality up by saying that everything good, in this life and the next, is from the Father and comes down through the Son, because of His work of redemption about to be accomplished on the cross. And this work is so powerful that it cannot fail to secure eternal life, which is nothing other than the true knowledge of God, for everyone for whom it was intended.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

John 17:1-5

1After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: 2"Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. 4I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify Me in your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began."

John, by declaring, “After Jesus said this,” is showing us that the proper course to follow upon learning doctrine (as Jesus had taught in this Upper Room Discourse) involves prayer. Knowledge is worthless apart from the blessing of God. Thus this prayer serves as a seal or ratification of the information He has revealed to His beloved disciples. Jesus prays first for Himself in v1-5. In v6-19, Jesus prays for the disciples, and in v20-26 Jesus prays for the people of God everywhere at all times – including us!

Notice that Jesus looked to heaven. This could be to note the grandeur of creation, but we shouldn’t be caught up with the outward posture so much as with the inward posture. Jesus has set His heart on things above. In v2, notice that Jesus has authority over all people, but this authority is not for His sake. Think back to John 5:21. Jesus has authority, so that He may give eternal life to the elect, those whom God has chosen to give to His Son to win to glory. Calvin says, “The kingdom of Christ extends, no doubt, to all men; but it brings salvation to none but the elect, who with voluntary obedience follow the voice of the Shepherd; for the others are compelled by violence to disobey Him, till at length He utterly bruise them with His iron scepter.”

In a sense, Jesus’ prayer summarizes everything that has gone before it. We see Jesus’ unswerving obedience to the Father; His oneness with the Father; His death that would bring glory to the Father and also to Himself; His role as the only One who truly reveals the Father to men; the fact that there is a certain group of people, called out from the world, whom God has chosen to give Him; the need for love and unity among the disciples; their mission to the world; and their final destiny in the Father’s presence. But I think it’s wrong to call this a summary. A summary is what an author does when he wants to review all the points that he has made; but in this case, it is quite the opposite. Here, Jesus is not reviewing anything, but pouring out His soul long before John ever wrote the gospel. The fact that all of Jesus’ specific requests, as to what precisely His imminent death and resurrection should accomplish, are things that John’s gospel has emphasized tells us that John must have considered this prayer so important that he intentionally designed his gospel account around fleshing out the truths which he had heard in Jesus’ prayer. This chapter is not the John’s summary; it is his foundation.

Jesus begins by requesting glory to result for both the Father and Himself from His giving to the people whom the Father had given to Him “true life” – which is “intimate knowledge of and fellowship with the Father.” Back in the Garden of Eden, this fellowship is what man was created for; and until man has regained the purpose for which he was created, his life is just a state of living death – we are dead in our sins. True life, eternal life, is nothing but a restoration of that original purpose of knowing God – and this is what Jesus’ death would accomplish. If you remember from John 3, eternal life does not mean everlasting life, though it does last forever. Rather, eternal life speaks of the quality of life being true and perfect.

Notice first that this whole process did not add glory to God, as if He were only somewhat glorious before, and He became more glorious after – no, Jesus prays that God would glorify Him with the glory that He already had before the world was created. God’s glory would not be added to, but the glory He already had would be displayed. Thus the purpose of redemption with respect to God is connected to the purpose of redemption with respect to man: man’s life, his eternal joy, and everything good consists in knowing God; and God’s glorification consists of His making Himself known for who He is, as the already infinitely glorious God. So, before we move on, let us briefly reflect on how this event displays who God is. First, the essential nature of God is complex and interpersonal; God is a Trinity, and within that inter-Triune relationship, the different persons of the Godhead are constantly fellowshipping with each other, loving each other, and bringing each other glory – but each in different ways. Humans cannot understand that abstract (but unimaginably beautiful) relationship without the help of some example; and the perfect example of how the Trinity naturally relates to each other is the practical outworking of their different roles in this central event of history, the redemption of man: in this work, we see how the Father relates to the Son, planning for Him a perfect work, which will bring great glory to Him, and promising Him, in exchange for that perfect work, a magnificent reward – namely, that He would give to Him a special people, and also bring all created things under His feet, as their Master and Lord (Psalm 2:6-8; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:18-20; Ephesians 1:10,20-23). We see how the Son relates to the Father, always in perfect accord with His will, and always obeying Him exactly. We see how the Spirit relates to the Father and the Son, proceeding from Them in order to bring to life those whom the Father and Son have chosen (John 5:21; 15:26). All of these actual realities mirror for us precisely what the triune God is in His essential nature. Without such a concrete example, we would never be able to comprehend the nature of God. And so, in the work of redemption, the triune God displays Himself for who He is, in all His glory – and we who have been called by Him get the unspeakable joy of seeing His glory in the accomplishment of this great work!

And, besides the relationship of the persons of the Trinity, we can see innumerable attributes of the all-glorious God as we could never have seen them in any other way: we can see His wrath against sin, and His unyielding justice – for God was pleased to crush His own beloved and sinless Son, rather than turn His back on the terrible affront to His holiness which sin constitutes. We can see the depths of His love and mercy and grace in that God would be willing to undergo the horror of divine wrath, the consternation of inter-Triune separation and break of fellowship, the indignity and shame and reproach and pain of being numbered with sinners and suffering as a sinner deserves to suffer – all to bring back to God men who deserve nothing but what Jesus, undeserving as He was, actually underwent. And so we will continue for all eternity to marvel at the mystery and wonder of what God displayed of His glorious character when Jesus died.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Review John's Gospel So Far / Preview John 17

During the course of our journey through John’ gospel, we have also taken a journey through the tabernacle, and we have seen how all of its imagery is fulfilled in Jesus. He is the Lamb of God, offered upon the brazen altar at the entrance to the courtyard. He is the laver (ceremonial wash-basin) by which the priests were cleansed, and in Him is the water of everlasting life. He is the table of the bread of the presence, nourishing those who eat of Him with the true life of fellowship with God. He is the golden lamp stand, or candlestick, the tabernacle’s only source of light. And now, just before He offers Himself up for our sins, we see that He is likewise the fulfillment of the symbolism in the altar of incense.

This altar of incense, which stood immediately before the holy veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, unlike the altar in the courtyard, was overlaid with solid gold (Exodus 30:1-6). And, unlike the altar in the courtyard, it was not for the blood of burnt offerings, but for the burning of fragrant incense, which rose up as a sweet smell to God – with one important exception. Leviticus 4:1-12 tells us that, when the anointed priest of Israel sinned, he was to take some blood from the bull which he had offered on the brazen altar for his sin, and to place it on the altar of incense. So what does all this mean? Well, at least in the case of the anointed priest, the sweet smell of incense signified the pleasant and peaceful effects of the bloody sacrifice that had been offered. The brazen altar was a place of death and blood, and could not help but look and smell somewhat gruesome; but the effects were altogether lovely, for they included forgiveness and reconciliation to God. This sweet result of a bitter sacrifice was the symbolic intent of the altar of incense. But more than just that, the altar of incense also signified the prayers of the saints, rising up to God as pleas for forgiveness, grace, and deliverance from their enemies. Because the blood sacrifices had been efficacious, God was pleased with these prayers of faith, and willing to answer them. Revelation 8:1-5 contains a beautiful example of this symbolism.

Now, let us think of Christ, in relation to the symbolism of the altar of incense: just as the anointed priest, He had a sacrifice to offer – but His sacrifice was His own body! And just as the priest, He went before God on the basis of that sacrifice, and offered up His prayer for the people’s forgiveness. The priest put the blood of the sacrifice on the altar of incense, and said, as it were, “Now, because of this blood, forget the sin which I have brought upon this people, and hear my prayer for their reconciliation.” In the same way Jesus took His own blood and offered it up to God, saying, “Now, because of this blood, let Your people be reconciled to You!”

But how much greater is Jesus than the old High Priest, for He did not have to offer the same ineffectual offerings for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people; no, He offered up Himself, as the sinless sacrifice, to atone for His people forever (Hebrews 9:23-10:14). And, just as His atonement was effective, He likewise connected it with His effective intercession, so that we who have fled to Jesus for refuge might be doubly sure of our forgiveness and favor with God (Hebrews 5:5-10). He is the Lamb of God, who offered Himself up on the brazen altar as the effectual, atoning sacrifice for our sins; but He is also the priest who brings the blood of that sacrifice before God, as an effective, intercessory plea for the people. At the brazen altar, we see Jesus, our sacrifice; at the altar of incense, we see Jesus, our High Priest; and in the conjunction of His two, diverse ministries at these places, we have an immovable hope: we cannot fear God’s just wrath any longer, for the blood of Christ satisfies the strictest demands of justice; and we cannot fear that God will forget about the law-satisfying blood of Christ when He looks upon us, for Jesus continually offers it up to Him as the sweet smell of His accomplished reconciliation. We have rejoiced with John the Baptist in Jesus our sacrificial Lamb; now, let us rejoice before the throne of God in Jesus our intercessory High Priest!

And so we come to chapter 17, in which we have an amazing and precious glimpse of Jesus, standing in the tabernacle, and offering up the blood of His own self-sacrifice as a plea to God for His people’s forgiveness. This passage has long been called, most appropriately, “Jesus’ high-priestly prayer”; for in it He offers up His pleas to the Father in our behalf, as our own High Priest, the one who mediates, intercedes, and brings us to God. What could possibly be more comforting, more exhilarating, more practical for our everyday lives than to hear Jesus, who is One with the Father, and who is always heard and answered by Him (John 11:41-42), plead specifically for us with such strong devotion, asking for spiritual blessings beyond our wildest dreams? In this chapter, we can do that very thing: we can come into the holy place of the tabernacle and hear our great High Priest as He brings His blood before the Father, and intercedes for us on that basis. Let us be thankful for Jesus our High Priest as well as for Jesus our spotless Lamb!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

John 16:25-33

25"Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about My Father. 26In that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. 28I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." 29Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now You are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30Now we can see that You know all things and that You do not even need to have anyone ask You questions. This makes us believe that You came from God." 31"You believe at last!" Jesus answered. 32"But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for My Father is with Me. 33I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Jesus finally brings everything to a conclusion, speaking about the security that is ours because we have come to know God as our Father. While He was on earth, Jesus spoke in parables, and few understood Him. But now, He was speaking plainly. God permits us to be stupefied for a time, in order to humble us by a conviction of our own weakness, lack of understanding, and poverty; but He causes those whom He enlightens by His Spirit to make such progress, that the word of God becomes known and familiar to them. This is the beginning of that progression for the disciples, who were now bold enough only to ask Jesus about the Father. Soon they would be bold to approach the Father Himself in Jesus’ name. The disciples were far above those who had no relish for the word of the Gospel, and yet they were still like children learning the alphabet, in comparison of the new wisdom to be bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit. Their joy would grow.

Soon, the disciples would be filled with the Spirit, even as Jesus had promised – but before then (He tells them so that they do not fall into lasting unbelief when it happens), they will all abandon Jesus. But still, they will not be utterly lost, for Jesus has wrought an unstoppable victory. He has overcome the world. Jesus’ question is ironic, as if He had said, “Don’t boast of being full of faith, for the trial that will scatter you from Me is at hand.” We ought to restrain our foolish confidence (Galatians 6:3). Furthermore, notice that the scattering of these disciples does not leave Jesus alone. His Father is with Him. And if we find ourselves alone in the world – like Elijah supposed – then we need only remember the presence of God to realize that we’ve never been alone; we never will be. Finally, in v33, we see that Jesus has revealed these things to His disciples to encourage them to persevere. They can and will fight to the end, knowing that victory is won in Jesus.

The farewell discourse of Jesus is deep beyond measure. To understand more of this discourse, just look to 1 John. The Trinity glorified and the covenant of redemption revealed should comfort us, knowing the truth of Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our roots (genuine faith in Christ and the gospel) grow deeper by studying God’s word, simply because we have the Spirit of God. God lives in us, despite our sin!

Monday, March 03, 2008

John 16:17-24

17Some of His disciples said to one another, "What does He mean by saying, 'In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me,' and 'Because I am going to the Father'?" 18They kept asking, "What does He mean by 'a little while'? We don't understand what He is saying." 19Jesus saw that they wanted to ask Him about this, so He said to them, "Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me'? 20I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23In that day you will no longer ask Me anything. I tell you the truth, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."

Jesus’ disciples immediately illustrate what He has just said about the necessity of the Spirit’s ministry: for once again, they fail to understand His teachings (v17-18) – it is only after His resurrection that they will understand, and that painful experience of His crucifixion will result in the abundant joy found in His resurrection. So Jesus explains His words further, using the illustration of a woman going through great pain to deliver a baby. Resurrection changes everything, because death no longer has any power. 1 Corinthians 15:55

When He died on the cross, in just a few hours, they would be filled with grief. But when they see Him again, after He has been raised from the dead, they will be filled with a joy that no one can take away. Then, they will receive the Spirit and will understand what Jesus has taught them. Then, they will not still be wondering about when Jesus will show them the Father, but they will understand that, in Jesus’ name, they may go directly to Him in prayer, certain that He will hear them – for He is their Father too! Truly, the world and all the powers of darkness rejoiced when they saw Jesus hanging on the cross; but three days later they fled in terror, struck with a deathblow from which they would never recover (Colossians 2:13-15). The disciples sorrowed when they saw Jesus on the cross; but three days later, or at least when believed He was raised, they were filled with a joy that made them forget their sorrow – just as a woman who has just given birth forgets her pain and rejoices in her new child.

V23-24, which Jesus will effectively repeat in v26-27, indicate that the believers can go directly to the Father with prayers and supplications – in Jesus’ name. The disciples were bold enough only to ask Jesus about the Father; but soon they would be bold to approach the Father Himself in Jesus’ name. Jesus remains our Mediator, but His mediation is completed. Still, He sits at the right hand of the Father ever and always interceding for us.