Friday, April 18, 2008

John 20:10-18

10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" 14"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put Him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15"Woman," He said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking He was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.' " 18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that He had said these things to her.

The empty tomb wrought faith in Jesus’ disciples, and they went home; but in order that we might have strong assurance, and the same faith in the risen Messiah, Jesus then showed Himself to many witnesses, of whom the first was Mary Magdalene. She’s there at the tomb alone this time. And when she looks in, she sees two beings, identified as angels, who ask her, “Why are you crying?” She answers with the same words she used in explaining to Peter and John. The other accounts reveal additional conversation: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen, just as He said He would.” Then she hears another voice, behind her, ask again, “Why are you crying?” And she thinks He’s the gardener. She wants to know where He put Jesus’ body. And I’m sure it’s true that she thought He was the gardener, but in reality, He is the gardener.

If we go back to the Garden of Eden, we recall that the first gardener failed. Adam failed. But the second gardener, the second Adam, this very Jesus, did not. He picks up right here with the restoration of creation. He’s the gardener, and John’s gospel has shown us repeatedly how He tills the soil of our hearts with His carefully chosen words in one-on-one and group conversations. When we are still in our sins, we may often have Christ presented before our mind’s eye but to no avail; however, when the voice that thundered into existence the very worlds speaks into our hearts “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6), then we see Him indeed, and our hearts are filled with a joy which all eternity cannot take away. Look at what He says to Mary: “Mary.” That’s all it takes. Jesus says our name and we come to life. Mary and Lazarus have experienced it. And we have too. Remember when Jesus said, “I call My sheep by name and they follow Me” (John 10:3). Calvin says, “The only way in which we are admitted to the true knowledge of Christ is, when He first knows us, and then familiarly invites us to Himself, not by that ordinary voice which sounds indiscriminately in the ears of all, but by that voice with which He especially calls the sheep which the Father hath given to Him.” Galatians 4:9 Jesus also tells her that He is going to His Father, who is our Father, and to His God, who is our God. That’s the unity we share with Christ. As close as He is to the Father, that’s how close we are. He is that way by begotten sonship; we are that way by adoption. But the love of God, amazingly, is the same for both Jesus and us.

Having thus been filled with joy at this recognition of Jesus, Mary wanted to cling to Him, for she still did not recognize that Jesus’ going to be with the Father was better for her than if He had remained on the earth in His physical body. It is great indeed to have Jesus at our side; but soon, we would have Jesus in our very hearts, through His Spirit, whom He was about to send. When Mary had seen the Lord, she immediately renders her obedience to Him in the fullest sense by calling Him Rabboni. She then hastened to tell the good news to those around her, namely His brothers – the apostles, and perhaps eventually His siblings – who also came to faith; and now, nearly 2000 years later, the Church is following in Mary’s footsteps, running to all the nations of the world, proclaiming the joyful news, “We have seen the Lord!”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

John 20:1-9

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put Him!" 3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

John records Mary’s visit to the tomb, but notice that she speaks in the plural in v2. As the other gospels report, there were at least two other women along with Mary Magdalene; Salome was one, and Mary the mother of James was another. Luke’s gospel tells us that the women came and told all the disciples, but John mentions only himself and Peter. Perhaps the two disciples most close to Jesus were the only ones willing to investigate her claim that “they” have taken Jesus’ body. Who is the “they” that Mary refers to? Perhaps she thinks the Jews or the Romans have stolen His body. Why would she think that? Upon hearing this disturbing news, John outruns Peter to the tomb and saw the strips of linen. Peter got there and went in. John joined him, and they saw and believed. They believed not Mary’s speculation but that Jesus had risen. Mary Magdalene made her way to that tomb “while it was still dark” (consider John’s double-meanings), and in her mind it looked as though the darkness had won, and her dear Lord and Savior was buried, lying dead in the tomb. But it would become obvious to her, and to the rest of the disciples, that in actual fact, the light has conquered the darkness. As the sun rose on that Sunday morning, the magnitude of the redemptive event that Jesus had accomplished would boggle their minds. John understands that darkness cannot master the One who is light. Remember his prologue and chapter 3. Jesus has risen. This is not resuscitation. Lazarus came forth with the grave clothes still bound around him. Lazarus came forth to die again. John tells us in v9 that they still didn’t understand the Old Testament. Perhaps in John’s mind, however, some of the words of Jesus are coming back to him. He would be handed over to be crucified and on the third day rise again. I have power to lay down My life and I have power to take it up again.

Throughout his gospel, John has been emphasizing two things, which come to the forefront again at the account of the resurrection: the first is the effect that Jesus’ great miracles were designed to have on those who observed, namely, true faith. And the second is the abundance of reliable testimony to Jesus’ mighty works on earth. Jesus was not just raised from the dead; He was also seen, after having been raised, by over five hundred eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-6). Certainly, this well-testified event should bring us to faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God who has power over death and the grave! Calvin says, “The doctrine of Scripture is so full and complete in every respect that whatever is defective in our faith ought justly to be attributed to ignorance of the Scriptures.”

Of course, all of Jesus’ previous sign-miracles should have taught that much, and the fact that He would be raised from the dead should have been understood from the Scriptures (see, for example, Psalm 16:8-11); but the truth is, even Jesus’ disciples and followers were still blind to these things. Mary Magdalene thought that someone had stolen Jesus’ body; and even John, the beloved disciple, confessed that he did not yet know the Scriptures that proclaimed that Christ must rise from the dead. But He did rise indeed – and this resurrection was the last and greatest of all of His sign-miracles. It was a sign and more than a sign, for it did not just point to Jesus’ ability to give eternal life, but it was the winning of that life itself; and so, it was greater than all the signs before it and the fullest display of His divine power. And finally, this last and greatest act was sufficient to bring Jesus’ disciples to the full knowledge and faith that they had not had until this time. When John saw the empty tomb, “he believed.” This is still the case today: people will resist and doubt and misunderstand no matter how they are confronted with scriptures; but when the Spirit of God takes them by the hand and leads them to the empty tomb of Jesus, when they see the Savior risen from the dead and highly exalted, then the veil falls from their heart, and they see Christ in all His glory, and believe in God who raised Him from the dead.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

John 20: Preview

The resurrection of Jesus was, from eternity, the culmination and pinnacle
of Jesus’ work in the covenant of redemption. In Psalm 2, we read of God
the Father promising to the Son an eternal people and universal dominion
in exchange for His obedient work; and in that context, He says to Him,
“You are My Son; today I have begotten You.” Although theologians have
long recognized the truth that Jesus, God’s Son, is eternally begotten of
the Father (and not made), this is speaking of something different than that
eternal relationship. It is speaking of a specific event, in which the
economical outworking of the Trinity finds the perfect expression of Its
eternally unchanging, essential relationship. So what is that event? Paul
tells us in Acts 13:33 that Psalm 2 was fulfilled when God raised Jesus
from the dead. The resurrection, then, was the culminating moment of the
divine plan of redemption. It was the moment of history when the eternal
relationship between the Father and the Son came to its fullest expression
in Their working out of Their eternal purpose. When God raised Jesus from
the dead, He was then “declared to be the Son of God in power according
to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4). Now, He sits in everlasting victory
upon the throne of David, never again to see corruption – for in His
resurrection He has entered into the fruits of His hard-won victory on the
cross (Acts 2:29-36).

The effects of Jesus’ mighty victory do not stop with His own incorruptible
life and eternal dominion; no, the blessed results of His resurrection flow
down from Himself to all of His children. He was not just begotten of God
by His resurrection from the dead, but He was “the firstborn from the dead”
(Revelation 1:5); and moreover, He was the firstborn, so that He might be
“the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Just as surely as
Jesus is victorious over death for all eternity, so all who belong to Him will
share in His eternal life and victory. Rejoice! If we have died with Christ,
then we have been raised together with Him; and if we have been raised
together with Him, then our true life is hidden with Him in the heavens, and
we will appear with Him in glory, with the unstoppable power of His own
resurrection life (Colossians 3:1-4). How precious is the crowning truth of
all of history: Christ is risen! If He were not risen, we would be “of all men
most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But Christ has indeed risen! For in
truth, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them who have
fallen asleep; for since death came through a man, so also has the
resurrection from the dead come through a Man. For even as in Adam all
die, so also in Christ, all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

John 19:31-42

31Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33But when they came to Jesus and found that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of His bones will be broken" [Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20], 37and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the One they have pierced" [Zechariah 12:10]. 38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. 39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Jesus is now dead; and in His death, we have the fulfillment of the last prophecies (Because He died more quickly than expected, though completely in accordance with God’s prescribed will, His bones were not broken, Psalm 34:20; yet, like God was pierced by Israel’s disobedience, as in, “His Spirit was deeply grieved,” Jesus too was pierced, Zechariah 12:10), as well as the final picture of what His death accomplished. The blood that flowed from His pierced side was for our justification, or absolution from guilt; and the water that flowed from His pierced side was for our sanctification, or purification from sins.

Here is the picture of the King’s royal burial. Joseph (a wealthy senator) and Nicodemus, perhaps secret disciples for some time, now come out of the closet and take their stand with the King. They take their stand with a dead corpse, because they realize – fully at His quickening death – that He is the King. He is worthy of a King’s burial. And we take our stand with a dead corpse as well, according to the world. You see, they don’t believe that Jesus conquered the grave. And so He’s dead. They’re looking for His bones all the time. Why? So they can conquer Christianity once and for all. Without the resurrection, we are to be pitied the most of all men. Yet His bones they’ll never find. For He is risen. Now, Jesus is truly dead; and the final witness to this truth is His burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9). But the tomb cannot hold Him for long – soon He will rise again, the eternal Victor over sin, death, and the grave!

Monday, April 14, 2008

John 19:25-30

25Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30When He had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

Notice the women present at this horrible place; they reveal their genuine love for Jesus by their presence. V25-30 serve as John’s illustration of the King’s last acts. Note the first of three sayings that John records Jesus saying from the cross, “Woman, behold your son.” This demonstrates that, as Jesus hung upon the cross, He was intentionally aware of those individuals for whom He was dying, and was actively working to secure their good. We ought to devote ourselves to the interests of men, so as not in any degree to interfere with the worship and obedience which we owe to God. When we have obeyed God, it will then be the proper time to think about parents, and wife, and children; as Christ attends to His mother, but it is after that He is on the cross, to which He has been called by His Father’s decree.

Jesus here provides for the welfare of His own mother, entrusting her to the care of His beloved disciple John, as He was about to leave (at this time, one must remember, Jesus’ own brothers were not yet believers, and may have not even been in Jerusalem). “Woman” is a polite term, but Jesus is speaking to her not as her Son, but as her King. And John obeys Jesus. In the same way, Jesus is concerned to take care of every one of His followers, and provides for their individual good, even in the smallest matters. How encouraging this should be for us! Jesus did not only die for the Church as a whole – He died for every person within that Church, and He loves each one individually. There are times when He speaks to us as a brother, and there are times when He speaks to us as children. He never speaks to us as enemies, because of what He has done. While we were still enemies, Christ died for the ungodly.

Some time later, after the events described by the other gospel writers happened, Jesus knew that His work had been accomplished. He had felt the abandonment of His Father on our behalf. Remember His outcry, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” And now, Jesus, having intentionally fulfilled every prophecy down to the smallest detail, professes His thirst so that the prophecies of Psalm 22:15 and Psalm 69:21 might be fulfilled. Out of Jesus flows the living water of life, and yet He thirsts. He thirsts, so we don’t have to. He said in John 7, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” He pours out of Himself the water of life, and He thirsts for us. In this short statement, “I thirst,” Jesus signals the forthcoming outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

John points out a customary item present at crucifixion – the jar of wine vinegar. It is thought that this was a beverage (gall) intended to accelerate the death of a criminal who had been tortured enough. They gave it to Jesus, and He took it. Some are perplexed at this event, but it is easily explained. Jesus had done all that He was instructed to do. The only thing left to do was die, and there was nothing prohibiting that from coming more swiftly. He had borne the full extent of God’s wrath against the elect, and that’s why He said, “It is finished.” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

We recognize in Jesus’ final word, tetelestai, “It is finished,” that there is nothing left to be done for our justification (except the resurrection) – God’s plan for redemption has been fully and finally completed, and we who have trusted in Jesus are secure forevermore! When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” He was making a definite assertion that no price remained to be paid for our redemption; He had suffered God’s full wrath against our sins, and He had satisfied the law’s fullest demands for justice. The word means, “Paid in full.” Everything that contributes to the salvation of men is to be found in Christ and ought not to be sought anywhere else.

However, this did not mean that the story of redemption was complete: for even though Jesus had made satisfaction for sin, the final seal of the efficacy of that satisfaction and of His eternal victory over death and the grave (sin’s bitter effects), was yet to come, three days later. The resurrection of Christ is the necessary conclusion to His sacrificial death. If His death really did overcome sin and its results; if it really did deal the deathblow to the Serpent who had waged war against mankind by tempting them to sin; then it was impossible that death should hold Him (Acts 2:22-28). Jesus won the victory on the cross; but the victory that He won was displayed three days later in His resurrection from the dead. In His death, He won for all of His children an eternal, resurrection life. To borrow the title of John Owen’s outstanding work, we have certainly encountered “the death of death in the death of Christ.”