Friday, March 28, 2008

John 18:4-9

4Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" 5"Jesus of Nazareth," they replied.
6"I am He," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground. 7Again He asked them, "Who is it you want?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 8"I told you that I am He," Jesus answered. "If you are looking for Me, then let these men go." 9This happened so that the words He had spoken would be fulfilled: "I have not lost one of those You gave Me" [John 6:39].

Instead of Jesus’ agony, John chooses to record for us Jesus’ mighty, divine power, even in this moment of greatest weakness. He depicts that reality by pointing out that Jesus knew all that was going to happen to Him. And He picks the fight, so to speak. Jesus went out, approaching the oncoming brigade in the night, and asked whom they wanted. All the might of Rome, all the rage of the Jewish leaders, and all the bitter deceit of treachery come out against this lone and deeply distressed Man – and yet, with a simple word, “I am” (the “He” is added in English but is not present in the original), all that ferocious power melts away into terror and helplessness. Isn’t it amazing that they all fall down when Jesus says, “I am.” I wonder if He said it in a surprisingly loud or deep tone. The point is that His voice is powerful. He is the Word of God, and it is by His word that we are regenerated unto eternal life. His powerful word can be deadening or gentle, and He speaks to us gently so often that we may forget the terror that can likewise be found in His words (Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8). These men received just a taste of His power; it didn’t stop them from doing what they came to do. But it wasn’t intended to do that, for Jesus came here to die. Nevertheless, this taste of His power, perhaps, may be for their benefit, so that after this episode, they may have all the more reason to repent and believe in Him.

In a sense, Pilate, the Roman soldiers, and the Jews all crucified Jesus; but ultimately, it was God alone who could have done this thing. No mere creature can lift his hand against the almighty God unless it is by God’s very decree (Acts 2:24; 4:27-28). Ultimately, this was nothing other than Jesus’ own self-sacrifice. This is God Himself willingly offering up His own eternal life for His miserable creatures. No one takes the Son’s life from Him – He lays it down of His own accord (John 10:17-18; Psalm 27).

How great is the contrast between Jesus and all mankind at this point: Jesus displays infinite power and infinite humility, which work together to accomplish an infinite victory – but when we look elsewhere, we see only the Jews, full of pride and rage against God, whom they profess to serve; we see the Roman soldiers, cruel and proud, refusing even to acknowledge the existence of the true God; we see the apostate Judas, with a heart full of the most vile treachery; we see impetuous Peter (v10-11), lashing out in kind against the enemies of Christ and reliant on his own strength, which will soon fail him and leave him so powerless that he despicably denies – not once, but three times – the Lord whom he loves. And if we do not see ourselves as one of these men, either a hypocritical professor still under the authority of Satan; a blaspheming pagan; a treacherous apostate; or a true Christian whose own strength is too weak to perform the slightest good, then we are certainly self-deceived. And perhaps that’s why John wraps up this segment in v9 with his own commentary, reminding us of Jesus’ power to do the work assigned to Him by the Father – to lose none of those given to Him. How good is that news!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

John 18:1-3

1When he had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and He and His disciples went into it. 2Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

After the last supper that Jesus celebrated with His disciples, He went out with them, marching to His death through the dark and gloomy Kidron Valley, into the Garden of Gethsemane. Although John does not record it, this is a time of deep and bitter agony for Jesus, a time when, knowing that He was about to undergo the most horrible ordeal ever encountered by mankind, taking upon Himself the abominable filth of our sins and suffering for them the unmitigated wrath of the Holy God, He poured out His heart to God in unspeakable anguish (Mark 14:32-42).

But let us be grateful that His resolve was firm, that He never ceased to follow the Father’s will to perfection, and that, “having loved us, He loved us to the end” (John 13:1)! And note that John doesn’t record that this was difficult for Jesus. John’s focus has clearly been, throughout our study of his gospel, on the divinity of Jesus. Jesus is the Sovereign Lord. He has this situation completely under His control. He has proclaimed that the time has come, not because He merely foresees it coming, but because He will be the One to orchestrate the coming to pass of the course of His entire life.

Judas arrives, having known the frequent meeting place of the disciples, with a detachment – a large group – of soldiers and officials. This fact shows the guilty conscious of Judas, for if he had thought he was innocent, he would not have needed to bring so large a brigade, complete with weapons to arrest one Man.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Preview of John 18

So far, in our journey through the tabernacle, there is only one place we have not been, a place so holy that only the High Priest could enter it, and only once a year, bringing sacrificial blood for his own sins and the sins of the people. This is the Holy of Holies, a room behind the veil that separated it from the Holy Place, in which was the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, covered with solid gold. This is where God’s glory and presence specifically dwelt, in the days before the Temple, and, as the furniture in the room suggests, it was only because of divine mercy that the Holy God could even dwell among His people; and furthermore, it was only because of the divine covenant that He had made with them.

The one time a year that the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies was the Day of Atonement; and, if the Holy of Holies was the very pinnacle of the Tabernacle arrangement, so the Day of Atonement was the pinnacle of the Jewish year, and the highest expression of the symbolic intent of the Mosaic sacrificial system. Our most detailed description of the Day of Atonement comes from Leviticus 16. There, we read that this was a day of solemn holiness, when all the people would afflict themselves in sorrow for their sins. But the affliction would soon turn to joy: for in that day, God would forgive their sins, on the basis of sacrificial blood. The most telling ceremony of the day was the sacrifice of the two goats. The High Priest would lay his hands upon the head of one goat, and confess all the sins of the people upon it; then, he would kill the other goat, and send the first goat away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Finally, he would take blood from the goat (after taking blood from a sacrificed bull, for his own sins), and place it upon the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, together with incense from the altar of incense.

The events of this day were perhaps the clearest picture we have of Christ’s sacrifice anywhere in the Old Testament. Just as the one goat was killed, so Christ shed His blood for the sins of His people. Just as the other goat had the people’s sins placed upon it and was driven away to the wilderness, so Christ took our sins upon Him, and carried them far away. Just as the blood of the sacrifices and the incense covered the Mercy Seat of God’s presence, so that the priest did not die, so Christ’s blood and high-priestly plea for us cover God’s righteous anger against our sins, so that we might enter His presence without falling under His wrath. And finally, just as this sacrifice was only for those who afflicted themselves because of their sins, so Christ’s self-sacrifice is only for those who are afflicted over their sin, and repentant. In today’s lesson, we have the staggering privilege of observing, not just the typical Day of Atonement, but its true fulfillment, when Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, shed His own blood, took it behind the veil into God’s very presence, satisfied God’s just wrath against our sins, and permanently tore down the veil, having secured an eternal way into the very presence of God, even for the most sinful of men!

If we merely say that the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the central event and purpose of John’s gospel, we are vastly minimizing its importance. The very reason that God created the world in the first place; the reason for the formation of man, God’s image-bearer; the reason for man’s fall; the reason for all of history; the only reason you and I even exist and will forever, either in the eternal joy of God’s presence or the eternal torment of God’s holy wrath – the reason for all created things throughout all of time is nothing other than this event, the perfect and inexhaustible self-display of the character of God in Jesus Christ, the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The only eternal joy we have is the true knowledge of God; and the only place where we can see God so clearly that all of eternity will only reveal new wonders is the cross of Calvary. Let us feast our eyes upon this place, as long as God leaves us in this fallen world! What is your trouble? I can promise you that the answer resides on Mount Calvary, where Jesus shed His precious blood.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

John 17:24-26

24"Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world. 25Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. 26I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that IMyself may be in them."

V24 is the culmination of this great prayer. We see the basis for Jesus’ prayer, the subject of Jesus’ prayer, and the focus of Jesus’ prayer. When Jesus says, “I want those You have given Me to be with Me,” He is revealing that He understands His role as Mediator, and He is praying to the Father with that as the basis, or at least one of the bases, for appealing to God. Another basis is also revealed here. Jesus can make this request of the Father on the basis of the Father’s love for Him, that eternal love. So Jesus’ divinely ordained role and certainty of loving support from the Father serve as the motives for this prayer.

We also see the subject of this prayer – those the Father has given Jesus. This prayer is not for all men everywhere, nor for the world. It is limited to the elect. And this prayer can serve as our basis for missions. Think about fulfilling these words. What effect should Jesus’ prayer on behalf of His elect have on us this evening? It should promote humility. Those of us who believe are the Father’s gift of love to His Son. It should promote dignity. Have you ever been excited to hear that someone is praying for you? Well no one should excite you in this regard like Jesus. He has been praying for you, and He’s doing it now. You are precious in value. Have you ever told someone you’d pray for them and then forgot to do it? I have; I do it all the time. But Jesus never forgets, because you are of utmost value to Him. Finally, it should promote stability. Of all the millions that His Father in heaven has gifted to His Son, He has lost none of them. Your on firm and solid ground; He’s got you and me in His hands. No one can snatch us away – because He prays.

Finally, note the focus of Jesus’ prayer from v24. “I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory.” The answer to the question, “Where is heaven?” is this: Heaven is wherever Jesus is. Think back to the beginning of John 13. In My Father’s house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will return for you, that you may be with Me, where I am. Jesus is praying here for the sanctification of His people. See v17. We can’t be with Jesus where He is while we are sinful. We must be made holy – sanctified. What does Jesus want from you? He wants you to be holy. Jesus is also praying here for our perseverance. In this world, we will have trouble. Jesus prays that we will be preserved and sanctified through these troubles. Romans 5:1-11 comes to mind again. Suffering brings perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. Hope does not disappoint.

Finally, Jesus’ glory has shone through a little bit here and there during His earthly ministry. But Jesus’ prayer is like this: “I want them to see Me as I really am, I want them to see Me in My glory, I in You, and You in Me, and Us in the Spirit, the glorious Trinity.” That’s what Jesus wants for us. Do you see what that’s saying to us? If glory is our destiny, if that is what God is preparing for us, that we might behold that vision of Jesus in all His glory, and share in it, shouldn’t we be preparing ourselves for that? Shouldn’t we be praying and living for that?

This final segment of Jesus’ prayer is so deep and rich to do it justice. Jesus sums everything up with a request that is the very essence and soul of the gospel and Christianity, what we were saved for – what constitutes salvation itself, and eternal life: and that is, that we, who have believed in Him, might be brought to be with Him, and to see His glory. There is no joy, no life, no good thing at all, apart from seeing the glory of Christ. People who speak of salvation and think only of escape from hell, and nothing of the wonder of seeing Christ’s glory, are self-deluded, and know nothing of salvation at all. Heaven will be a place for those who delight in seeing Christ. In fact, true salvation is nothing more than seeing Christ in all His glory. If He were not divinely great and majestic, we would soon be bored with the sight of Him, for God has placed eternity in our hearts, so that only infinite greatness can thrill us forever (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But if He were not meek and gentle, we would rather run to hell than stand before His righteous might, weak and sinful as we are. Show me Your glory! Send down Your presence. I want to see Your face. I can’t go on without You Lord.

Monday, March 24, 2008

John 17:20-23

20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. 22I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are One: 23I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me."

Up to this point, we have had no definite indication that Jesus meant to include us, rather than just the eleven disciples, as the subjects of His prayer; but He certainly had us in mind too, and now He makes this truth explicit, so that we might derive deep personal comfort from Jesus’ pleas just as the disciples did before us. How amazing it is to think that, when we were still children of wrath, and subjects of a hostile world, Jesus was already interceding for our final salvation! He already knew us by name, that according to the Father’s will we would soon be snatched from darkness and death and brought into the marvelous light of Jesus our Savior!

The gospel would never have spread throughout the world if it had been a mere message, with no power to change lives. But Jesus declares that the world will believe in Him through the unity that believers share with God as a result of believing the message. The power of the message lies in God’s power to transform lives through union with Him by faith. If we as believers do not reflect the love and unity of the Trinity in our love for each other, then how will the world see who Jesus is, and believe that the Father has sent Him? Again unity is immensely important.

Unity is certainly a gift of God. God’s love and inter-Triune unity is the essence of His glory, and a love and unity reflective of God’s is nothing less than the gift of God’s very glory, given to us! As astonishing as this doctrine is, we read it clearly in v22. A Christ-like love for each other, a unity representative of the inter-Triune unity of God, is what we ought to seek – and what we will achieve by the grace of God. The purpose of redemption is to display the glory of the true nature of the triune God – and we have been given the astonishing privilege of showing the divine nature to the unbelieving world. But how will we do this, if we are divided among ourselves? Is Christ divided? Is there no love between the Father, Son, and Spirit? We have been given the very glory of God; God’s Spirit has breathed into us His love and is forming within us the image of Christ. Let us display the love and unity with which we have been blessed. In this way, Jesus will gather the full fruits of His already-finished work.