Friday, April 25, 2008

John 21:15-19

15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "You know that I love You." Jesus said, "Feed My lambs." 6Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love Me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You." Jesus said, "Take care of My sheep." 17The third time He said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love Me?" He said, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." 18Jesus said, "Feed My sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, "Follow Me!"

Even with this sign, Peter is still in need of assurance and comfort. So at the end of their supper together, Jesus comforts Peter’s heart with the exact words that he needed to know that his shocking sin was forgiven, and that he would be used to minister the gospel to the hungry and wayward sheep for whom Christ died. Here, even as Peter had denied Jesus three times, so Jesus extracts from him a confession of love three times (a confession which He knew to be sincere), as if to say, “Your bitter denial is over, and in its place is a true and loyal confession of Me, which will never again be shaken.” Jesus gave to Peter a threefold commission to be His minister, caring for and feeding His flock as a loving and faithful shepherd under the Great Shepherd, Jesus Himself. This call to be a shepherd, or a pastor, is in itself laborious and troublesome; since nothing is more difficult than to keep men under the yoke of God, among whom there are many who are weak, others who are wanton and unsteady, others who are dull and sluggish, and others who are slow and un-teachable. And we, as husbands and fathers are called to a resemblance of this role as well. So the lesson is this: As great as his sin was, Peter was forgiven indeed, and restored to true and fruitful ministry in the service of the King! Truly, God’s grace abounds to the chief of sinners, a fact for which we ought to be most grateful.

Christ does not give to Peter and others the office of feeding all sorts of persons, but only His sheep or His lambs. He elsewhere describes who they are whom He reckons to belong to His flock (John 10:5,27). Calvin says, “Faithful teachers ought to endeavor to gather all to Christ; and as they cannot distinguish between sheep and wild beasts, they ought to try by all methods if they can tame those who resemble wolves rather than sheep. But after having put forth their utmost efforts, their labor will be of no avail to any but the elect sheep; for docility and faith arise from this, that the heavenly Father delivers to His Son, that they may obey Him, those whom He elected before the creation of the world. Again, we are taught by this passage, that none can be fed to salvation by the doctrine of the Gospel but those who are mild and teachable; for it is not without reason that Christ compares His disciples to lambs and sheep; but it must also be observed, that the Spirit of God tames those who by nature were bears or lions.”

Before we continue on, let us note in passing that the difference in the Greek verbs (agape and phileo) for “love” is perhaps not as significant as some would have it be. John often moves back and forth between synonyms for mere stylistic purposes – in fact, he moves back and forth between different words for “sheep” and “feed” in this same passage – and this is probably all that he is doing here. Other commentators make a big deal about the Greek switch, but the key to this passage is the three-times restoration to compliment and overturn the triple denial.

In v18-19, Jesus reveals to Peter the kind of death he would die. It would not be pleasant, but it would be the least Peter could do after comprehending the forgiveness and grace he had received from the Lord Jesus. He would be led where he wouldn’t want to go. The dread of death is certainly natural, for being separated from the body in which our spirits dwell is an uncommon occurrence – indeed only once will we die. Jesus Himself undoubtedly experienced this dread, and He forewarns Peter that he will experience it as well. But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Whatever we experience in our lives is what we are called to experience. The question is this: Are we following Jesus? It may not be pleasant, but there is joy in suffering. So follow Jesus. The exhortation to follow Him is meant to comfort, for Jesus leads us and never drives His sheep. He has been there, and He endured. We experience nothing He has not overcome. So take heart and follow Him. It is noteworthy that a few extraordinary individuals have died with no dread in the most terrifying of tortuous experiences. This can certainly be attributed only to the grace of God in granting an extra measure of His presence and peace during those times.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

John 21:9-14

9When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." 11Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?" They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.

Now Jesus tells the disciples to bring some of the fish, but He’s already got some fish on the fire. The point is that the harvest has nothing to do with them. Yes, bring the fish, but it’s not about your catching them. Jesus catches the fish; He does with them what He wishes. We bring them in through Him. It should have been impossible to drag the net to shore without tearing it. But Jesus governs that as well. This is all to do with the supply and providence and governance and control of Jesus; how Jesus puts a boundary and a hedge around our lives. And it’s as though He’s saying to Peter as the disciple who’s trying to return to the old way of life, “I’m not going to let you return to your old life, because I’ve got something for you to do.” That’s what He does with us too. Have you let the Savior down? Well, Jesus won’t let you return to your old way of life for good. You may visit it occasionally, but you know that doing so isn’t the answer. Going off by yourself or having a pity party isn’t the answer. Coming humbly to Jesus is the answer. Serving Him by loving others is walking in newness of life.

Why is the number of fish – 153 – detailed here? In this sign, we can foresee the amazing results of the disciples’ ministry, when with one sermon, filled with foolishness in the world’s eyes, Peter caught 3000 souls in one day, because the Spirit of Christ was empowering him (Acts 2). And this was only the beginning – soon the foolishness of their message would turn the world upside-down, calling out from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation a multitude of souls redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and caught with the gospel-net of Christ’s fishers of men.

In v12, we read that none of them dared to ask Him, “Who are You?” because they knew He was the Lord Jesus. Some commentators suggest that they weren’t really sure, but they didn’t want to offend Him by asking. Other commentators say that John is simply pointing out that they didn’t have to ask, because they were so certain. Finally, Jesus had appeared to His disciples more than seven times, but John reveals only three. He sets these visitations apart into intervals to show that Jesus confirmed His resurrection on multiple occasions for their benefit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

John 21:1-8

After chapter 20 the gospel of John is, in a sense, finished. John has brought everything to its proper conclusion, the sober wonder of Calvary bursting forth in the triumphant exultation of the empty tomb, the greatest of Jesus’ works producing the greatest confession of faith, and the author’s purpose statement bringing it all to a close. But in another sense this is only the beginning, for just as Jesus prayed for His disciples ahead of time, He was about to send them into the world with a mission just like the mission He was completing. When He finished His work of accomplishing redemption, He then commissioned His disciples with a new work of taking the news of that redemption to the ends of the earth. And so John included chapter 21 as a sort of epilogue, in which he relates how the resurrected Jesus prepared the disciples for their new task, following in the footsteps of Christ.

1Afterward Jesus appeared again to His disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3"I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. 6He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

Peter, likely still bitter in heart over his great failure, had prepared to return to his former life as a fisherman (remember, he was married and likely had a family to support); and six of the other disciples, perhaps confused and uncertain what to do now that Jesus was not with them, were ready to go with him. But Jesus had given His life to prepare these men for more than just salvation (discipleship), and He would not leave them now without any direction; so He appeared to them again and worked for them one last miracle; but whereas all the other miracles in John’s gospel symbolize Jesus’ own redemptive work, now, after His resurrection, He is working a miracle that symbolizes the disciples’ work which they were about to undertake. Remember when Jesus first called the disciples, and promised to make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). In this miracle, He is going to show them just what kind of men-fishers they would be. One who is fishing for men on the basis of his own strength and abilities will never be successful, no matter how knowledgeable he is; for a mere man can never open the heart of another man, no matter how he floods his ears with pleas and arguments. Thus the disciples, though experienced fishermen, did not catch any fish all night; then Jesus came. Where were the other 4 apostles?

The disciples didn’t know it was Jesus when the voice called out, “Haven’t you any fish?” It would have been an irritating question to a fisherman who had been trying to catch fish all night. A simple, “No,” was their reply. The stranger (Jesus) told them to throw their net on the right side of the boat. Now Peter had heard that before; in fact, the last time he heard that, he grudgingly obeyed and caught two boatloads of fish. He said to Jesus back then, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” This time around, he obeys, perhaps not even considering that it could’ve been Jesus. They were at a loss for what to do, since not a single fish had been caught. Yet, by obeying Jesus, the large catch is netted, and John says to Peter, “It is the Lord.” This time, Peter doesn’t say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” Instead, he zealously jumps overboard and wades/swims to shore to get into the presence of Jesus. It’s very different response. And the other disciples follow in the boat, towing the catch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

John 20:24-31

24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it." 26A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27Then He said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe." 28Thomas said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe [or may continue to believe] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.

The results of the resurrection, encountered in the first part of this chapter, come to their greatest expression in the case of “doubting” Thomas, the last of the disciples to see the resurrected Lord. Thomas, meaning “twin,” was not so much a doubter as he was a pessimist. It has been said of Thomas, “a man of gloomy spirit, prone to look on the dark side of everything, and live in the shade. His frigid temperament made him skeptical, hasty in coming to unfavorable conclusions. Thomas was a somewhat a negative person; he was a brooder, tended to be anxious and angst ridden. He was like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. He anticipated the worst all the time, pessimism, rather than doubt, seems to have been his besetting sin.” Thomas was also a realist. The problem with some Christians is that they’re just too gullible. Oftentimes, we just don’t ask the hard questions, and Thomas was prepared to stand on his two feet and ask the really hard questions. He wanted empirical evidence before he would believe.

The account of Thomas’ first sight of the resurrected Christ is in a sense the most perfect illustration of John’s very purpose in writing his gospel, which he will remind us of immediately after he tells us of this event (v30-31). Remember, Thomas was absent from Jesus’ previous appearance to the other apostles. The application in that is this: If you aren’t there, you miss the blessing. Don’t miss the means of grace. Don’t miss the assembling of God’s people together. Jesus had already showed the apostles His hands and side (v20), but Thomas missed it.

Thomas, one week later, is present with the apostles, and Jesus visits again. Nobody told Jesus that Thomas doubted, but Jesus knew. He knows your doubts and questions. And so after the greeting of peace, Jesus immediately confronted Thomas with the evidence of His resurrection. In response, Thomas is filled with a faith in the person of Jesus as the eternal Lord and God of all; and He is not just Lord and God, but to Thomas, “my Lord and my God!” (See also v17 of this chapter.) Calvin says, “Shame compelled him to break out into this expression, in order to condemn his own stupidity.” Thomas begins with the simple, “My Lord,” and he concludes with, “My God.” He moves from making Jesus his master, which is good, to declaring Jesus’ divinity. We must do the same, for Jesus cannot be our master unless He is divine. And certainly, if He is divine, then we must follow Him as our Lord, or master. The very essence of God’s promise of salvation is that God would be our God (Genesis 17:7).

So Thomas finally believes on Jesus. Calvin says, “It was not by mere touching or seeing that Thomas was brought to believe that Christ is God, but, being awakened from sleep, he recalled to remembrance the doctrine which formerly he had almost forgotten. Faith cannot flow from a merely experimental knowledge of events, but must draw its origin from the word of God.” Thus, as the author of Hebrews declares, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And as Paul says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” See 1 Peter 1:8 as well. This is what John’s gospel was written for. And this effect can only occur when one is confronted with the exalted person of Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, eternally victorious over death. And for us, no matter what we are thinking, Jesus is saying, “Come to Me with your questions. Come to Me with your doubt. Come to Me with your demands, and I will answer all of them. Just come and rest with Me.” Calvin comments, “We behold Christ in the gospel no less than if He stood with us. Therefore, if we decide to see Christ, what will make us happy and blessed, let us learn to believe where we do not see.” He is no less near now than He was then. John wrote, “We want to see Jesus,” in chapter 12; and he shows us Jesus here.

Jesus did many other signs and miracles that John did not choose to record. It is an important note, because we are re-affirmed that Jesus confirmed who He was by many signs and wonders – not just seven. John chose those events that most clearly display the nature of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God – events that would designate Him the Water of everlasting life, the Bread which comes down from heaven, the Light of the world, the Good Shepherd and the Door, the Resurrection, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

John has come to recognize that knowing God is eternal life, and he has been filled with the love of Christ, a love which seeks to bring to others the great and lasting good of knowing God, even as Jesus died to bring to men that knowledge; therefore, he is writing these things, so that people might believe in Jesus, and so pass into the eternal life which is in God’s presence and fellowship. In fact, this purpose governs what John has recorded.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Expelled: No Intellignce Allowed

I saw and enjoyed Ben Stein's documentary on opening night (Friday, April 18). I thought it was well done, with the first half quite funny and engaging, and the second rather serious and even more engaging. You'll see lots of reviews and comments, many of which negative and harsh due to the emotional nature this topic (creation vs evolution, or more appropriately for the film, intelligent design vs darwinian or macro-evolution). The film contains segments of interviews with prominent scientists and philosophers worldwide, including Charles Dawkins.

Dawkins is mocked throughout the film for darwinian evolution, which he demands is "fact" despite repeatedly admitting that he doesn't know how it could be possible. One suggestion Dawkins and others have is that of panspermia, the idea that aliens,
after evolving far beyond anything humanity has experienced, seeded the earth with life. They must be running a giant (at least from our perspective) ant farm experiment! Another possibility, according the darwinians is that life spontaneously formed via mutations on the backs of crystals. Ben Stein gets a giggle, yet with confused sadness, out of that suggestion.

The point of the film is to show that a darwinian worldview has constructed a wall around itself, including and especially around the "science" of higher academia, in order to keep "impossible" views from entering the discussion. After panspermia and mutations of crystals are far more likely causes of life than an intelligent designer, right?!

In the end, Stein clearly shows that there is bias, indeed outright discrimination, against many if not all who dare suggest even the mere possibility of an intelligent designer of life. Panspermia is fine; spontaneous mutation on the backs of crystals is fine; but one must never bring th supernatural into science. That is forbidden. And why? Stein points out that if the brilliant scientists of our nation in particular were granted the opportunity to research their theories and hypotheses with the speculation of ID rather than the failing speculation of darwinism, then true science might actually blossom into discoveries we can't imagine. At the very least, there is nothing to lose. Darwinism is a losing effort. Let some folks jump off and go a different direction. Nobody is saying that everybody has to go that way. It's a matter of control, and the darwinists are scared of losing what they've worked so hard to obtain; and it's not science. It's control.

John 20:19-23

19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you." 22And with that He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

The disciples reveal some faith, though mingled with fear, by their togetherness. Jesus came to them that night and blessed them with peace. He takes this moment to link His death and resurrection with the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, some six weeks from now. He shows them His wounds to confirm that He had truly risen from the dead, and He breathes on them, just as God, back in the Garden of Eden, had breathed into man and formed him into a living being. In a sense, Jesus is saying, “The Spirit will come and will breathe into you.” Jesus signified His constant presence to His disciples as well, when He breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, now risen, had fulfilled His promise to give the Spirit to His disciples; and how grateful we should be, for by the power of the Spirit who was now dwelling within them, and who would soon be poured out in even greater measure at Pentecost – by Him, the apostles’ witness would also be powerful, bringing men to true faith in Jesus. They had a message by which they could proclaim the forgiveness of sins (2 Corinthians 5:20), and they had the Spirit to enable them to join the power of God to the word of God, so that those whom they forgave would be forgiven indeed (Jesus alone forgives sins). Let us rejoice, for if Jesus had not given the disciples His Spirit, we would not belong to Jesus today. But now we belong to Him, indwelled by His Spirit, who reveals Him to us more clearly every day, as we seek Him in His word.