Loss, Gain, and Lady Jane Grey

In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Think about those who heard this. Perhaps the Greeks who came in v20-22 heard Jesus say the hour of His glorification had come in v23 and thought it meant something else, that Jesus was about to set up His dominion on the earth and crush Israel’s enemies once and for all. To them, v24 would’ve been confusing and disappointing.[i]‘What? The hour of your glorification has come and you’re speaking of dying?’ What Jesus implicitly stated with the donkey in His triumphal entry He now explicitly states here in an agrarian paradox. For Jesus, the way to fruitfulness lies through death, the way to gain lies through loss, the way to glorification lies through humiliation. Or to say it another way, like the seed whose death is the germination of life for a great crop, so too Jesus’ death produces an abundant harvest.[ii]When you hold a kernel of wheat (or an acorn) in your hand you cannot see all that is in it. It looks rather small and unimpressive but it contains a world of life on the inside. How does all that world of life get out? By the kernel being shoved beneath the ground. Then, and only then, life breaks forth out of it for all to see as new plants burst upward out of the ground. By speaking like this in v24 Jesus is saying that by dying He will bear much fruit. He will be plunged beneath the ground in death and put in the tomb. From the appearance of things this will look very unimpressive and disappointing. But this death will cause the life within Him to burst forth from the grave in resurrection power which in turn causes more resurrection fruit to come forth all over the globe.

v24 is about Jesus and what will soon happen to Him. When Jesus goes on further to v25 He applies this same principle to those who follow Him. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Jesus is saying the way to truly love life is by losing it and the way to truly gain eternal life is by hating our life in this world. This is the cost of discipleship, this is the cost of following Jesus, this is self-denial. This principle is the secret of the Christian life. Spiritually speaking, do you want to be rich? You must become poor in spirit. Do you want to be first? You must be willing to be last. Do you want to lead? You must be willing to serve. Do you want to live? You must be willing to die.[iv]Or perhaps think of it like this. Our conversion is a twofold event. On one hand it is as bright as dawn for we have been born again, raised to walk in new life, filled with the Spirit, and are now adopted children of God. On the other hand it is as dark as night for a death has occurred. Not the death of anyone else, no, the tombstone has our own name on it for our old nature has died. This means our will, our agenda, our plans, our desires, our loves, and ultimately our whole life is over. Someone may think, ‘Well geez, isn’t becoming a Christian by free grace?’ Of course it is, salvation is free indeed, but it costs us everything. Until you come to the end of yourself true life in Christ cannot begin. Are you willing to do this? If not, you have no part with Christ. If so, you’ve learned the secret of the Christian life. That by dying to self and dying to sin you have found out who you really are and discovered your true identity, not in yourself but in Christ.

Many these days are now reading blogs like this and attending healthy churches because they want their theology reformed, but how few want their lives reformed as well! We must learn anew. The character of Christ must also be the character of all those in His Kingdom. Like Jesus, our greatest gain comes by loss.

Lady Jane Grey is a mammoth historical figure in the Protestant Reformation. She, only being a teenager, caught wind of Reformation teaching and began teaching it to others. The local catholic priest heard of this and set up a debate with a catholic theologian to squash efforts and embarrass her, but to everyone’s shock she not only held her own, she presented the teachings of Scripture with such accuracy and fervor that she persuaded more than half in attendance that day. For this she was to be executed. And as the day came she gave her Bible to her sister Katherine with a note inside it that said, “If you with good mind read it, and with earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life…my good sister…deny the world, defy the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord…with whom even in death there is life.”[v]

May God make us more and more like Lady Jane Grey.

 

 

Citations:

[i]R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 306.

[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 438.

[iii]J.C. Ryle, quoted in Hughes, page 95.

[iv]Hughes, page 307.

[v]Lady Jane Grey, quoted in Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 98.

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Deliberate Demilitarization with a Donkey

History has known many grand entries.

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one such entry. After the dinner party His friends threw for Him, beginning in John 12:12 we see the events that unfolded on the next day. Passover was once again approaching and Jesus decided to come into Jerusalem, being fully aware and already knowing that the chief priests and the Pharisees had put a price on His head. We read in John 12:12-13 that those who had come into the city to celebrate the feasts leading up to Passover heard of His coming and went out to greet Him.

Now, in the Jewish year three occasions held a prominent importance. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. While Tabernacles was the most festive and joyous feast because it was a celebration of the end of harvest, Passover was, without a doubt, the most solemn occasion of the three. Here they remembered the Exodus liberation when the blood of the Lamb covered, protected, and saved them from the angel of death. Because Passover was such a cherished event for the Jews, almost every Jew from the nation would come to Jerusalem for it. The historian Josephus points out to us that on average around 2.7 million Jews would come to the city for the occasion.

So when we read that the large crowd heard Jesus was coming into town and then see this large crowd going to out to greet Jesus on His way into town in, do not imagine a small band by the side of the road making their way to greet Jesus. Picture it as it was. Near 2.5 million people vying for a spot close to the road to get a look at this Jesus who taught great things and did great things as well. So in He came and this massive hoard of people “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Notice they brought palm branches with them. Question: palms are nowhere prescribed in any of the feasts of Israel, so why did they get them and bring them to the roadside? Answer: because of what they meant. 200 years earlier the Maccabees, after much struggle, finally and fully removed the wicked tyrants of the Seleucid empire who desecrated the temple and restored the true worship of God once more. After this removal and restoration took place they people celebrated with music, dance, feasting, and the waving of palm branches. From that point on the palm became a national symbol of military triumph the eventual liberation the Messiah would bring.

See then what these people were saying by bringing the palms with them. They thought Jesus would do to the wicked Romans what the Maccabees did to the wicked Seleucids. They thought Jesus would at any moment stop, blast the trumpet, and call the nation to pick up arms against Caesar. They thought Jesus would be their conquering King who would crush their enemies once and for all. This is seen in all the ‘Hosanna’s’ they cry out as well. Hosanna means ‘save now’ and it comes from Psalm 118 where we find the following, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save now (Hosanna!), we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (v22-26a) They were indeed looking for salvation from Jesus, but they were looking for it militarily. They were indeed looking to Jesus to redeem them, to deliver them, but they missed what His redemption and deliverance was truly about. That they added that last bit on about Jesus being the true ‘King of Israel’ shows that they wanted Him to be their King and usher in a new kingdom, and King He was and a Kingdom He would bring! But He would not be the King nor bring the kingdom they wanted.

Because He so disappointed the military desires of the people they would soon usher this so called king to a throne they would construct for Him, a throne made of wood, in the shape of a cross.

Jesus further illustrated these things with what He did next. In John 12:14-15 we read, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” The quote is a combination of two Old Testament passages, Isaiah 40:9 which says, “Go up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” And Zechariah 9:9-10 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Having read these two passages which John has combined in v15 and knowing what kind of king the people were rejoicing in with palms as He came into the city, see what these two Old Testament passages put forward to us about the special kind of king Jesus came to be. These passages do not speak of a conquering King riding His war horse into the city, eager and ready to rouse he nation to revolt once again. No, these two passages speak of leaving fear behind, taking up great joy, and rejoicing loudly. Why? Because as they look and behold the King who is coming with righteousness and salvation, they see that He is a King like no other! He is humble, riding on a donkey not a royal steed, bringing peace to all nations in His global kingdom. By coming into the city in this way Jesus further deliberately demilitarizes the vision of a war bent king by coming as the Prince of Peace. He wasn’t the king they expected, but He was the King God had long ago appointed. This continues to show us how a crowd that cheered Him so loudly here on Palm Sunday could mock Him so wickedly on Good Friday.

If there ever was a picture to keep in your mind about who Jesus is, it is this one. He doesn’t come raging in fury bent on revolt riding a royal steed, but comes meek and lowly riding on a donkey bringing peace to the world through His gospel. If ever there was a picture to keep in your mind of what the Church is, it is this one. The gospel is a gospel of peace not of worldly power. We don’t spread the gospel of peace to this world with sword, might, or human strength, but with gentleness, humility, and peace. In this way the Church exists in this world to reflect the character of God to this world.

Indeed, Jesus is a King unlike any other, and He leads and builds His Church to be a people unlike any other.

Learning From Mary’s Extravagance

As John 11 ends and the chief priests came to agreement that they needed to kill Jesus, we saw Jesus leave the city and go to Ephraim to be with His disciples. As John 12 begins in v1 we see Jesus return to Bethany six days before the Passover to be with His friends again. John reminds us that Bethany was where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And because He came His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw Him a dinner party.

Now, we don’t see a guest list here. It could’ve been just the four of them or it could’ve included many people from the village who had been at the tomb when Jesus resurrected Lazarus. We do see what the three friends were doing though. Martha is doing the serving, Lazarus is doing the eating and reclining at the table no doubt enjoying being alive, and Mary, well Mary does something so extravagant that it caused quite a stir. John tells us in v3, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.”

We see an action like this and are a bit confused because this custom seems a bit distant from us. In their day expensive ointments or perfumes like this were often used and poured on someone’s head for special days whether it be a wedding or a festivity of some kind. In describing this event John seems to go out of his way here to point out that this action was fantastically expensive.[ii] Mary grabbed perfume, not just any perfume but expensive perfume, not made from any old plant by the side of the road, no, this stuff was made from pure nard, and she poured all of it out, a whole jar of it. In v5 we learn more, that this much of that kind of perfume costs 300 denarii, which was a year’s salary to a common worker. This is the equivalent of $40,000 today. In a few seconds, in one pour, it’s all gone. Some conclude from this that these friends must have been wealthy to be able to afford perfume like this. If they were they show a good example of not hoarding riches but using riches for good and godly purposes. But we don’t know of their wealth or lack thereof, the perfume could’ve been a family heirloom, something of a prized possession in the home.[iii] Whatever their economic status was, that she used this whole costly jar up in this moment showed what she truly valued.

This action was not only fantastically expensive, it was action was fantastically humble. Mary didn’t anoint His head but His feet. Bathing wasn’t as common then as it is today and streets were not as clean then as they are today. Taking these things into account and adding the heat of the day into the mix, you can only imagine how nasty and smelly feet were back then. Because of this when one entered someone’s home either a slave or they themselves would have to wash their feet so nothing would get tracked in. To attend to ones feet in this day was the duty of the lowliest of slaves.[iv] This act is all the more striking because in this day a Jewish woman wouldn’t normally let down their hair in public, to do so was seen as a mark of loose morals.[v] Recall that John the Baptist once said he was unworthy to even untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet (1:27). That Mary attended to Christ’s feet and wiped them off with her own hair, was her own way of saying the same thing, and it indicated that she was gladly willing to not only freely give to Him what was very costly to her, she was also willing to do the lowliest of tasks for the sake of Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, seeing how each of these three show their inward devotion to Christ outwardly, once said, “The children of God do not always feel moved to serve the Lord Jesus in the same fashion or to express their love to Him in precisely the same manner.”[vi] Martha served, Lazarus reclined, and Mary, what an example we see in Mary, she gave sacrificially and served humbly. Mary’s love for Christ was extravagant and her actions remind us that it is always appropriate for an extravagant display of devotion to Christ. Perhaps Mary was thinking of Isaiah’s vision of beautiful feet, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7).[vii] Perhaps she looked at Christ, who He was, what He was doing, what He was teaching, and concluded that He was worthy, worthy of everything she had.

Here’s my question for you: what could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory?

Is there an offering to big?

Is there a song to loud?

Is there a study too deep?

Is there a heart to happy?

No!

So, what are you, right now, giving to Christ that shows your love for Him? What could you, right now, give to Christ that shows your love for Him? Is it extravagant? Is it costly? It is sacrificial? When it comes down to it, if we know Jesus we’ll recognize that in Him we have more than any earthly possession could ever give us. This frees us to give extravagantly, not only to one another, but back to God as well.

When we see the result of Mary’s very visible devotion in v3b, that the whole house was filled with a pleasant aroma, we cannot help but think of the pleasant aroma of gospel grace that every church and every heart as we serve one another sacrificially and humbly.[viii]

May this be true of us.

 

Citations:

[i] Richard Phillips, John 12-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 72-73.

[ii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 576.

[iii] Phillips, page 73.

[iv] Morris, page 576.

[v] Morris, page 576-577.

[vi] Spurgeon Study Bible, notes on John 12:2-3, page 1444.

[vii] Wolfgang Musculus, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 437.

[viii] Johannes Brenz, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 439.

The Folly of Sunday Morning Segregation

At the end of John 11 a group of unbelieving Jews sneaks off and tattles on Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead. The result is that a council is gathered. But the surprising result of the council is that a spiritually dead man proclaims the global atoning work of Christ. We see much in this scene.

The council is made up of chief priests and Pharisees and the initial hullabaloo of the council begins with the words we find in John 11:47-48, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” These words expose much about their hearts.

Firstly, they’re at a loss. They acknowledge that Jesus has truly performed many miracles and that everyone will believe if they continue allowing Him the freedom to do so. It’s understandable that they would feel like this but do you see how they’re making a bit of an exaggeration? Have they forgotten how the massive crowds left Him once He began teaching hard things at the end of John 6? Have they forgotten that just now a group of Jews came to tattle on Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead? Have they forgotten that not everyone has believed in Him? It seems they have.

Secondly, note their continuing unbelief. They do truly acknowledge that Jesus has done these miracles, yet this acknowledgement doesn’t lead to belief, it only spurs them toward a more wholehearted opposition.[i] This is usually not what we see happen. People in Scripture who recognize Jesus’ power to do what no one else can do usually respond to Him by falling at His feet calling Him Lord. So why do these guys grow more hostile after recognizing His true power? Because of the hardness of the their hearts. They know Jesus’ miracles to be true, to be powerful, and therefore they know His claims to be God must be true as well. But that doesn’t push them toward belief. It pushed them deeper into unbelief.

Thirdly, they’re fearful and anxious. If Jesus continues to gain momentum with the people they believe they’ll lose two things: their place and their nation. By referring to their ‘nation’ they mean the Romans will see Jesus’ movement as a rogue religious Jewish threat and desire to put a quick end to it militarily. If that happens they’ll lose the religious freedom Rome now gives them as a nation and since their religion is what by and large defines them as a nation, Israel as a whole would be lost. But I’m not convinced that’s their main concern.[ii] By stating the concern they have for their ‘place’ first shows what they’re really worried about. Sure the nation may be lost, sure their religion could be wiped out by Rome, but if all that goes what also goes with it? Their prominent role in the spotlight as chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. So, Jesus was threatening their position of power and prestige among the people. This was their main concern.[iii]

After this first outburst of anxiety this council is silenced by their leader. Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up in v49-50 saying, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Into this frazzled mix Caiaphas brings sharp rebuke. He makes it clear that they have no idea how to see this situation for what it is and that only he has a clear enough insight to see things as they are and give the needed answer.[iv] In his wisdom he suggests that they need to kill Jesus in order to save the people. Now be sure to understand that he didn’t mean this in a Christian sense, he meant that they must execute Jesus so that their ‘place’ and ‘nation’ as a whole would continue to exist.[v] But we, and really any reader of John’s gospel after the cross, can’t help but see more in his words. Caiaphas calls for the execution of Jesus for the purpose of self-preservation, but we see a call for the execution of Jesus for the purpose salvation. Lest we think we’re just reading too much into Caiaphas’ words, the beloved disciple John gives us proper interpretation in v51-52, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Now we must pause and linger to see what is being said to us.

I bring these things up because in v51-52 we come face to face with one of the most important matters in the entire Scripture, the atonement of Jesus Christ. The questions ‘Why did Jesus die?’, ‘Who did Jesus die for?’, and ‘What did His death accomplish?’ are all answered for us in this text. In its simplest form we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a death for others and not a death for Himself.[vi] How is it a death for others? It is a death intended to gather in the children of God spread across the nations. In theological terms we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death. Meaning that on the cross, Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice, taking our curse upon Himself, bearing the penalty we deserve, satisfying divine justice in our place as our substitute, so sinners like us could be reconciled to God and welcomed into His family at the feather touch of faith. Caiaphas believed it was either the nation or Jesus that would die, and that if Jesus died the nation would live. It would be his life for theirs.[vii] Caiaphas callously and cynically was speaking only in political terms of what Jesus’ death would mean for Israel. But unbeknownst to him, he spoke (prophesied) of what Jesus had come to do as the Lamb of God, not just for believing Israelites but for all those from every nation who believe as well. The irony John points out to us here is that what Caiaphas intended for harm God intended for the eternal salvation of His global people.

Be reminded, in v51-52, why Jesus died, who He died for, and what His death accomplished. But also be reminded that His death is a death that is global in its scope. Any person, from any nation, people, or tribe that hears the gospel, and is struck by the depth of their sin, struck by the breadth of Christ’s beauty, turns away from that sin, and turns toward Christ in faith will become children of God.

Because this gospel is global in its scope every ministry in every nation should be global in its scope. This not only moves us toward giving to missions and sending missionaries to spread the gospel in other parts of the world, this moves us toward being intentional about becoming congregations that reflect the global nature of the gospel. In our racially divided world, do you see what a breath of fresh air the Church ought to be? It is a sad truth of our time that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours of the week. v52 ought to make you grieve at that reality.

The global nature of the gospel demands that the culture of Christ’s Church not be defined by the color of our skin but in our common bond in Christ.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to have more than mono-ethnic congregations.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to cease living mono-ethnic lives.

From seeing the global nature of the atonement we must embrace the global scope of the gospel. May this be your desire: there is a wideness in God’s mercy as wide as the sea, far it be from me that His mercy ends with me.

 

 

Citations:

[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 563.

[ii] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 420-421.

[iii] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 215-216.

[iv] Morris, page 567.

[v] Carson, page 422.

[vi] Morris, page 568.

[vii] Morris, page 568.

A Surprising Belief

We now turn one more surprise as John 10:22-42 ends. In v40-42 we read, “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there He remained. And many came to Him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in Him there.”

Having left the city He would not see again until Palm Sunday, we would think His influence would begin to decrease. But it doesn’t. In fact, His flock keeps growing out on the other side of the Jordan. Interesting isn’t it? In the place where one would think He would be welcomed men tried to stone Him and in the place where one would think people couldn’t find Him many men believed in Him.[i] But don’t stop there. Ask the question, ‘Why did they come?’ Answer, because John’s powerful testimony still lingered. John didn’t do any miracles among them and yet through his holy life and the power of his gospel preaching God transformed these people.

We have seen three surprises in this text: His statement of unity with the Father, His accusation of blasphemy, and continued belief even outside the city. I want to leave you this. Know the truth, live the truth, tell the truth.[ii]

Know the Truth

These Pharisees knew Scripture, but they were more committed to their own personal preferences than they were to anything in Scripture. Most of you reading this own a Bible, most of you carried one into church each week, but sadly many Christians don’t read or study their Bibles to actually know what it says. So naturally, they are carried along with the tide of cultural opinion and believe many false things, some of which are eternal in consequence. How will we stand boldly in front the wolves of our day or learn the difference between the voice of our Shepherd and the voice of stranger’s if we don’t know the truth? Indeed we cannot.

Live the Truth

Jesus was able to point to His life for all the evidence of the truth these Jews needed. They could clearly see the Father by looking at Him. Can you do the same? Sure, sure, Christians aren’t perfect and won’t ever be till glory, but as you see between Father and Son here, so too, there is a family resemblance between God and us. What is the resemblance? Holiness.

Tell the Truth

Jesus stood calm and collected before a mob with stones in hand. John the Baptist told his hearers of the Lamb of God soon to come and change everything. We’re called to do the same. See here in v40-42 an unmistakable truth – God often extraordinarily blesses the faithful and ordinary preaching of His Word in unlikely ways with unlikely power. When you see this kind of true and genuine revival take place out in the booney’s of Jerusalem in v41, or somewhere else in history, isn’t there some part of you that’s is crying out, ‘O’ God do it again!’ I personally can’t do miracles or work wonders or signs, I cannot preach as powerful as John the Baptist. So you may ask, well what hope is there for us here at my church if I can’t do those things?

Much!

Though I cannot work wonders and though I cannot preach like John the Baptist, and though you cannot do these things either, we can preach the same powerful Christ. When His Word is preached in power of the Spirit what always happens? God is glorified and men are saved, transformed, and secured forever.

Citations:

[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 531.

[ii] Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 670-671.

A Surprising Blasphemy

They had asked for a clear reply from Jesus, and as they pick up stones to end His life in John 10:31, it seems that Jesus’ words were a bit too clear for their liking.[i]

In the midst of their fury do not miss the calm courage of Christ as He stands firm though surrounded by these violent wolves.[ii] As they pick up stones the conversation continues in v32-33, “Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father, for which of them are you going to stone Me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone You but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’”

Jesus asked which of His works stirred them to such violence. They answer that none of His works have prompted them to this and that they are stoning Him for making Himself God. Well, we ought to ask, ‘How did He make Himself out to be God?’ Answer, ‘His works!’ So though they say it wasn’t any of His works that moved them to pick up stones, it was really His works coupled with His Words that was just too much for them to bear. Now, Leviticus 24:16 does indeed say the penalty for blasphemy is stoning, but it also says that the execution can only be carried out after a trial had been done and the evidence was plain for all to see. Skipping the process of law and disregarding God’s ways these Pharisee’s intended to take the Law of God into their own hands and be judge, jury, and executioner.[iii]

Can you see how backward they are in their accusation? The Jews claim He, a mere man, was making Himself to be God by speaking this way, yet in reality He was true God who had become true Man. High as His claims were, they were grounded in the truth. His works are the very works of God, His Words are the very Words of God. He isn’t making Himself to be anything, rather, by His works and Words He’s showing Himself to be what He is![iv] One with the Father.

Jesus again answered them in v34-36 saying, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” This reply is a bit technical, some have said Jesus is scared pointing to some kind of Jewish loophole so they wouldn’t stone Him. Wrong. Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t you remember Psalm 82:6 when human rulers are referred to as ‘gods’ and ‘sons of the Most High’? No one picked up stones and tried to kill them? Why then are seeking to kill Me for saying ‘I am the Son of God?’’ By making an argument like this Jesus isn’t saying that He is like these mere humans called gods in Psalm 82:6, no. He is saying that if it was ok for these men to be called gods and sons of the Most High back then, how much more appropriate is it for Him who is one with the Father to be called the Son of God? More so, Jesus isn’t pulling this stuff out of the air, or making it up, He’s speaking about what Scripture says. Even when it is inconvenient to believe, we must submit to it, for the “Scripture cannot be broken.” Even more so, He had surprised them before with a lofty statement of unity and divinity, now He turns the tables again and surprises them with His own accusation of blasphemy. ‘You think it’s blasphemy for Me to say things like this? I am the true sent One from the Father, so for you to deny such reality is an even larger blasphemy.’[v]

Why are they the ones really blaspheming? v37-38, “If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” Or in other words, ‘If I am not truly doing supernatural works, you shouldn’t believe Me. But I am doing them, and you cannot avoid how supernatural they are. Don’t begin with Me, begin with My works. They will clearly show you that I and the Father are one.’ As with Moses, with Elijah, and even with the Apostolic era…we see here again with Jesus. Jesus performs miracles, signs, and wonders not to wow people as if He were just putting on a show or to prove that the supernatural really exists, no. Miracles were proof, validating evidence that He was who He said He was.

But as we read v39 and see yet another attempt to seize Him, we’re reminded that regardless what miraculous things take place, the blind don’t see Christ’s beauty, those dead in sin don’t see Christ’s divinity, and those who are not sheep do not know the voice of the Shepherd.

Citations:

[i] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 197.

[ii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 524.

[iii] Morris, page 524.

[iv] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 234.

[v] Sproul, page 198.

A Surprising Unity

The Pharisee’s asked Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

From this point on in the John 10 we see Jesus’ answering their question, as they asked, plainly. He speaks of unity between Himself and the Father and the everlasting safety this unity brings their sheep. It is a glorious passage, full of depth and detail concerning both who Christ is and who we are in Him. Because of this, these verses demand our keen attention. We firstly see, surprising unity.

Surprising Unity (v25-30)

As Jesus begins to unfold His plain answer to their question He begins discussing the works He’s already done saying in v25, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me…” It doesn’t take much convincing to believe chocolate is delightful once you taste it, so too, after seeing the kind of things Jesus did and hearing the kind of words He said it doesn’t take long to realize that Jesus is the Messiah. He isn’t the new kid on the block. He’s been around, He’s taught many times, He’s given many signs, and these things He’s done ought to be sufficient evidence and proof of who He really is. Who else can turn water to wine? Who else can heal the sick, restore the lame, feed 5,000, walk on the water, and heal a man born blind? They say He hasn’t told them who He is yet, but Jesus reminds them that He already has. He’s done these works not only in the Father’s name, these works also bear witness that He is the sent one from the Father. You’d think after hearing all He has said and seeing all He has done, that they would believe!

But as plain as it may be, they still don’t believe. Why? v26 gives us the answer, “…you do not believe because you are not among My sheep.” Jesus isn’t saying they do not believe because they are not among His sheep yet, or that by believing in Him they then could belong among His flock. Jesus words are sharp and clear, they do not believe because they do not belong. Similar to Pharaoh growing harder in heart with each plague that hit Egypt, these Pharisees grow harder in heart with every work done by Christ. With each authoritative teaching, each powerful sign, and each miraculous wonder, their hatred of Him grows. Why? They’re not sheep, they’re wolves.[1]

He continues on in v27-29 with a list of blessings that His true sheep enjoy, “My Sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Again, there is a profound intimacy between this Good Shepherd and His sheep. They know Him, they are known by Him, they know His voice, He leads them, they follow Him, they receive eternal life from Him, they are chosen by the Father and given to the Son, and they are forever secure in Him, so secure that no one or nothing is strong enough to snatch them out of His hand. Just as a Father holds onto his child walking by the road to ensure the child’s safety, so too true sheep are forever secure, not because they hold on to the Shepherd, but because the Shepherd forever holds onto them.[2]

Only God can do the things in v27-29, and only God’s children enjoy and benefit from these things. By stating these things plainly Jesus is telling them that He is the Christ. But in case they missed it, He makes a stunning statement in v30, “I and the Father are one.” This statement is surprising. Not to us, we know who this Jesus is, and our convinced that He is God. This statement is terribly surprising to the Pharisees listening. They had long loved and affirmed the words of the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4 that says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Ages upon ages the Jewish people held dear the doctrine of God’s oneness. Jesus’ words here echo the Shema and make the great claim that the oneness of God they held dear for so long is in reality a oneness among multiple Persons who are co-equal and co-eternal in power and glory. Though no one has seen God the Father, Jesus states that He has made Him known, thus, whoever sees Him sees the Father.[3] That this great surprising statement of triune unity among the Godhead comes on the heels of the promises made about keeping His sheep safe and secure, Jesus is saying the work of keeping the sheep is a work of both the Father and the Son.

So, the surprising unity among the Trinity shows itself here to be the foundation of our eternal safety and security. We have a reason as vastly deeper than the Grand Canyon to be of good cheer here, because this doesn’t mean the sheep will be saved “…from all earthly disaster, but that they will be saved, no matter what earthly disaster may befall.”[4] Or in other words, we will persevere in faith to the end only because the triune God preserves us.

I am aware than on any given day it is not rare for someone who is not a Christian to be reading this blog. That’s great, we’re glad you’re reading. Let me point out two things to you.

First, this safety and security in view here is not a promise made to you. As far as the Bible is concerned if you remain in your sin and unbelief you have no reason to expect safety and security in the life to come. In fact you have every reason to be terrified of the life to come. That ought to concern you. This leads me to the second item, we want this promise to be for you. Do you know that today you can actually become a Christian? That you can repent of your sin and turn toward Christ in faith and be saved forevermore and become a new creation right now?

Weigh these things heavily now, one day you’ll wish you had.

 

Citations:

[1] Pastoral Apprentice Mike Joas spoke of this similarity in our application grid meeting.

[2] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 196.

[3] Reformation Study Bible, notes on John 10:38, page 1877.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 521.

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

In John 9 by rejecting the man born blind but now healed and kicking him out of synagogue the Pharisees have shown themselves to be such horrid shepherds of Israel. As John 10 begins Jesus rebukes the Pharisees further. Here Jesus (in His last public discourse of John’s gospel) makes a clear distinction between them as false shepherds who abuse God’s people and Himself as the good shepherd who rules over and leads God’s people well.[1]

In John 10 Jesus is using a ‘figure of speech’ here, a kind of metaphor if you will. This kind of language tells a firm and grounded truth through an untruth.[2] For example, if I say ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a cow’ I’m not intending to say I could eat a cow but that I could eat a whole lot. No one would take me literally if they heard me say that. Similarly, when Jesus is speaking of Himself here as the shepherd, and speaking of all those who believe in Him as sheep, is He saying He is literally a shepherd? Or that we are literally sheep? Of course not. The language Jesus employs here, though untrue in an exact literal sense, is intended to symbolize a deeply encouraging truth. There is a profound intimacy between God and His people. They know God’s voice and when they hear it what do they do? They follow His lead. Jesus is saying He’s the true shepherd of Israel and the Pharisees are false shepherds. This is what’s in view for us here in v1-21.

Here are four takeaways from it:

Christ is our Shepherd

If you’ve repented of sin and believed in Him, Christ is your Shepherd. You belong to Him, He’s called you by name, He’s sought you out, He’s died for you, brought you into the pen, and He now leads you. The elders at your churches aren’t your shepherds. You don’t belong to them. Undershepherds they may be, but that’s all they’ll ever be. The shepherds of Israel failed, the Pharisees failed, your elders will fail you, therefore keep your eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd, He will never fail you.[3] By laying down His life for us He forever secured us in His pen, rest in Him

We’re Sheep

It seems from all accounts, that sheep aren’t the wisest members of the animal kingdom. They’re foolish, easily frightened, ever wandering, yet at other times stubbornly immovable. Some have even seen them walking directly into open fire.[4] Do not wonder that here and many other places in Scripture God likens us to be sheep. We too are often foolish, easily frightened, and wander off where we shouldn’t. But Christ, as our good shepherd, chases us down, and brings us back. I know some of you are in the midst of hard seasons of life. I want you to be encouraged here. We, like sheep, don’t often understand why things play out the way they do, or what the Shepherd is doing using both His rod and staff in leading us…but we do know our Shepherd. Trust Him, rest in His care, and take heart…“God is not calling you to make great promises to Him, He’s calling you to trust the great promises He has made to you.”[5]

Wolves are Real

In this life of following Christ, not everyone will be like Christ and not every gospel preached is Christ’s. Wolves will try to sneak in, climb over the wall, and use and abuse you for selfish purposes. Many have used this very passage to try and do just that, teaching v10 in such a way as to make us believe God wants us to be rich and materially prosperous, and that all trials that come our way are the result of our lack of faith. Take caution, be aware, and keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Even if everyone around you goes off in a different direction, you keep on Christ’s heels. How?

This leads to my last thought…

Remember, His Voice is His Word

True sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Our Shepherd not only laid down His life for us in the crucifixion, He not only took that life back up in the resurrection, our Shepherd ascended and sent His Spirit out to give us His voice. Do you know His voice? Or is His voice a stranger to you? Do you follow His voice? Or do you follow your own way? Do you sit underneath His voice and study His voice enough to be able to recognize the voice of a stranger?

 

 

Citations:

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 498.

[2] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, page 33.

[3] Sproul, page 190-192.

[4] Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 267.

[5] Kevin Dibbley, quoted in a Tim Challies meme this past week.

His Love is Better than Life

My wife woke up today to a single long stem Rose, a card, and some Reese’s chocolates hearts from myself and our two boys. Why? Because we want to make much of her, of her love, her care, and her hard work. We want to remind her of how greatly we appreciate all she does for us. We could do this every day of the year in reality but we did it today because it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s our hope she feels loved, cherished, and adored from this. In other words we want to make much of her today.

Do not confuse Valentine’s Day love with how God loves us. The two loves are not the same. Let me explain…

Psalm 63:2-3 says, “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

These verses in Psalm 63 have always stuck out to me because of the transition David makes within it. In 63:2 David says that He has seen God in His sanctuary and beheld Him in His glory and power. In 63:3 David then says in response “because Your love is better than life my lips will praise you.” A question rises up upon seeing this. Why would David not say “because Your glory is better than life?” Didn’t he see His glory? How does God’s love come into the mix here?

I think the answer is quite revealing about the manner in which God loves mankind as well as revealing about the manner in which man receives the love of God. Here’s what I think is happening in these two verses.

David saw the glory and power of God and he rejoiced in that glory by praising God. Particularly, in praising the love of God. What then is the connection between seeing God’s glory and power and praising God’s love? I think it’s this. After seeing God’s glory and rejoicing in that glory by praising God, David expressed his joy in God’s love because allowing us to behold His glory is the primary way God loves us.

This would mean that God’s love does not make much of us (man-centered view), but God Himself (God-centered view). God is beheld in His glory, God is then praised in response, man’s soul is filled with joy, and God is glorified and made much of. This displays that God is love precisely because He graciously gives the elect the greatest possession they could ever have – Himself!

Balancing Word and Spirit

I am a reformed cessationist. I believe that God can do whatever He wants to do and often does surprise us in His works today. But I also believe that all apostolic activity has ceased and we now rely solely on the Word of God. Believe it or not I have many friends who do not hold this position. They would be considered reformed as well but would call themselves charismatic continuationists. They believe there is much activity of God today similar to that of the apostolic era. After spending time around people like me and people not like me I’ve come to believe that a few cautions are necessary in both of our lives. These cautions are more like road barriers that function to keep us from going on the road. We all tend toward one side of the road but we should all ai at a certain balance. What do I mean? Keep reading…

The Word without the Spirit

Often in the reformed circles I run in you see congregations very into intellectual and theological conversations. This is not bad, but to engage in such theological activity without relying on the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts is very unhealthy. In reality, we’re seeking to find the truth of God in the Word of God without the help of the Spirit of God. If we’re not banking of the Spirit of God to open our eyes to see the wonders of the Word, we must think we can see these wonders on our own. The Word without the Spirit is insufficient to teach us the will of God for our salvation – because it is only by the Spirit that we are able to truly comprehend and receive the truth within it. 1 Cor. 2:14 makes this clear, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The Spirit without the Word

The opposite is just as true. Just as it is the temptation of reformed congregations to fall into the former error, the error of the charismatic congregation is the opposite. To seek the Spirit of God without or apart from the Word of God is also insufficient to teach us the will of God for our salvation. God could reveal His truth to us in this way but He has never told us in His Word that He’ll do it this way.

So if we’re to know the will of God for our salvation we must have both the gift of His Word accompanied by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Beware Additional Revelation

That God used to speak to His people through the prophets, and now does so in these last days by His Son, teaches us that God’s work of prophetic revelation is complete in Christ, and in His inspired Word. This is why the warning at the end of Revelation to ‘not add to this Scripture’ is meaningful for the book of Revelation and the whole of Scripture as well. Therefore, if we want to know God, we don’t need to look any further than the Scripture, because only there do we find the Spirit inspired truth about Jesus Christ.

Yet don’t we seem to struggle with this in our day? Even within the soundest of churches, how often do we feel the pressure or the weight of the popular notion that the Bible is not enough for us? Our experience and church activities reveal that we yearn for ‘more’ whatever that may be. This is why people go to things like the devotional book ‘Jesus Calling’ and the prayer book ‘The Circle Maker.’ Both of these things communicate that the Scripture is not enough, but when you add this ‘new method’ of prayer or ‘new knowledge from God’ to the Bible, you’ll reach a spiritual level you never thought possible. We should not seek after such things and seek extra or additional revelation from God. God’s prophetic work through His Son and His Spirit is sufficient, this is why 2 Peter 1:3 says, “We have all we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.”

Since these things are sufficient, we dare not seek more. But in seeking them, may we ever rely on the Spirit of God.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 2)

This past Monday I began thinking through the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer coming to the conclusion that, based on James 1:13-15, this cannot mean that God tempts us in any way. What then does this mean? To that we now turn…

The True Meaning

When we pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are first acknowledging that God rules over all things in His sovereign, wise, and good rule. That there are no “maverick molecules”[1] in the universe, but all things are governed according to His will. Secondly, we are asking that God, if it be in line with His sovereign will, would not lead us into positions where we can be easily tempted and likely to fall.[2] It means we ask Him to preserve us from these things, or if He sees fit to bring us into seasons of trial that He strengthens us to stand firm, lessen the attractiveness of sin, or expel the allure of sin with a superior affection for Himself…in order to remain faithful to Him.[3] Thirdly, we are submitting ourselves to God in such a request knowing that every trial He brings our way is to be accepted and “counted all joy” as God’s necessary means to conforming us into the image of Christ.

As one commentator put it, “…there can be no virtue without temptations to vice…In few things is God’s power of bringing good out of evil seen more clearly than when He turns what the devil intends as ‘occasions of falling’ into opportunities that may be ‘for our wealth’; for every temptation vanquished adds to the strength and richness of the soul.”[4] So in this request we’re not asking God to not tempt us, He doesn’t tempt us. We are not asking that God not allow us to be tempted but saying “Lord, don’t let us succumb to temptation” or “Don’t abandon us to temptation.”[5] We, sad as it is to admit, do find ourselves giving in to temptation but in those moments we do so by rejecting the way of escape God always provides as 1 Cor. 10:13 tells us. So when we give in we have only ourselves to blame.[6] This means, we do not fall into sin. No, we sin because we want to and don’t want God to help us.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s there is a story told of the fate of two men under the reign of bloody Mary. Both of these men were condemned to burn at the stake for being and teaching Reformation principles. One of the men boasted loudly to the other prisoners that he would be a ‘man’ in the fire, that he was grounded in the gospel of Christ and would never imagine denying Christ given the chance. Even as the day dawned, he spoke of his imminent death in the most pious of terms, saying that he was like a bride made ready for the wedding day. Well, the other man could not have been more opposite. He too was eager to not deny Christ but admitted that he was terrified of burning at the stake and suffering so greatly. He was so scared he feared that he would recant when the first flame came near him. So he begged the other man to pray for him and wept over his weakness and fear. The other man responded to his pleas for help by rebuking him for acting like a coward. The day came, they were tied to the stake, and at the first sight of the fire the one who had been so bold recanted, was released, and people say he never returned to Christ. The other man, trembling, stood firm as a rock praying, “Father, lead me not into temptation” as he died a cruel but courageous death.[7]

We do not approach trials saying “Bring it on!” We don’t look for them to show how strong we are.[8] If we’re honest we’d all like to avoid them, and be more faithful in them. That’s what this request is getting at. Here’s the lesson for us. We all must undergo various trials and temptations to grow in Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this (this being the great salvation and living hope we now have) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Well, as the first half of v13 is put negatively, the second half is put positively. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second half of the verse supports all we’ve been discussing so far and connects the temptations we encounter in life and desires to be saved from to their evil consequences and true source. Temptations, when given into, bring about some nasty consequences, and temptations, truly do come from the tempter, from the devil. This is why some say it should say “evil one” there instead of “evil.” I disagree. It is not just the devil in view, but all the evil dwells within our hearts, all the evil that results from giving into temptations, as well as all the evil produced directly by Satan. From these things we want deliverance, and praise God, He often does just that!

The Real Ending

Now, as we come to the ending you should all look down to your Bibles and look at that little footnote that says, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This is not included in the earliest of manuscripts we have of Matthew and because it is not there most translations do not include it within the text, but leave it to the footnotes.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says that it does not matter whether this doxology was there originally or not, and that these words are fitting to for any Christian to say! He also adds that ending prayer with praise is suitable after beginning a prayer with praise, because it forms a kind of bookends to healthy prayer. But, as much as I agree with everything Lloyd-Jones says in those statements I want to encourage to you to believe that the prayer actually does stop with the word “evil.” I say this because seeing the ending of the prayer at ‘evil’ forms a vivid contrast to how the prayer began. “Our Father in heaven…, deliver us from evil.” As the blood bought covenantal adopted children of God, we live in between the times. We live in the overlap of the ages. We have one foot remaining in this present evil age and one foot, by God’s grace, in the age to come. We see something of this eschatological reality even here, that all of our lives are lived between God and the devil. Thus, the natural reaction of the Christian to this could only be a cry for help.

And in v13, the whole of the Lord’s Prayer in general, God has given us such a cry.[9]

 

Citations:

[1] A fond saying of the late R.C. Sproul.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2, page 76.

[3] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 103.

[4] Plummer, page 102-103.

[5] O’Donnell, page 171.

[6] Craig Blomberg, Matthew – The New American Commentary, page 120.

[7] O’Donnell, page 171-172.

[8] O’Donnell, page 172.

[9] O’Donnell, page 173.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 1)

Coming now to the sixth and final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I have four thoughts to give you.

The Context

Thus far in our trek through the Lord’s Prayer we have gleaned much benefit for our soul’s good by paying close attention to the context of the prayer, especially noticing the ordering of Matthew 6 as a whole and the individual requests within the prayer as well. We’ve seen that we do not begin prayer with any kind of petition but an opening address that acknowledges the goodness (Our Father) and greatness of God (in heaven). By beginning like this we’re reminded of the privileges of our adoption by God through the redemptive work of Christ, that He is our Father who has made us His own children and given us access to Him in Christ anytime we so desire. Then after beginning in God with prayer the very first priority we’re to move towards is His glory, that His name, fame, and reputation would be hallowed, magnified, or made much of.

After this we ask that both His Kingdom and His Will would come into our earthly context, serving the purpose of His glory, as they already are in God’s context, heaven. Then we descend from the heights of glory into the mundane and common affairs of human existence when we see v11 and the request for our daily bread. This reminds us that God is cosmic in His majesty but that God also cares about our ordinary physical/spiritual needs in this life as well. Then we come to the two-sided coin of v12-13 about our own sin and struggles. In v12 we’re told to pray for forgiveness, that our past guilt from our previous sins may be forgiven and in v13 we’re told to pray that God would deliver us from incurring new guilt by committing new sin.[1] So right away in v13 we’re brought face to face with the reality we must acknowledge, just as we need God to help with our past sins, we need God’s assistance to face future struggles. v13 is the prayer of a weak person to a strong God.[2]

The Obvious Question/Answer

As with v12, here in v13, right on the surface of this text lies a question that seems hard to answer but isn’t hard at all upon further study. The question is this: does v13 teach that God is one who leads us or brings us to temptation? Recall just a few chapters earlier when Matthew 4:1 told us “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” So right away we know there’s more to this than meets the eye. To answer it definitively we must go to James 1:13, where we read “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

In James 1:13 we find a blasphemous accusation. Some think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would ever accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible. We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”

Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials. This should not be so, this cannot be so. God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in v14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.” This is ugly isn’t it? God tempts no one, and is not tempted with evil – yet we are lured away and enticed by what? Our own desires. And once desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and once sin is full grown it brings forth death. It really does come from within. The completion of this step-by-step progression into sin may take years to form in the heart, or it may take minutes. We allow sinful desires to grow in our hearts, we give it room to grow, sin then comes forth, and when it roars its ugly head literally all hell breaks lose, and if sin is not dealt with in a Biblically appropriate manner, it will be the end of us.

So we know this isn’t the meaning intended here in Matthew 6:13. But because this isn’t the meaning intended we’re left with a new question, what is the intended meaning?

That question I’ll turn to next week with the final two points…stay tuned.

 

Citations:

[1] A.W. Pink, An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, page 164.

[2] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 171.

He is Himself Our Daily Bread

I have four points to make today in regard to Matthew 6:11.

Transition Comments

Here in this first point let me set v11 into the context of the whole of the Lord’s Prayer.

When we come to Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread” we reach a transition in the Lord’s Prayer similar to the transition we see in the Ten Commandments. In commandments 1-4 we find the first table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to God directly. Then in commandments 5-10 we see the second table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to one another directly. In these two tables of the Law God is first and man is second. Here in the Lord’s Prayer we see similar things. A Godward direction is present in the first three petitions. Hallow Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done are all direct requests for God to come and do something for His glory. After these initial three requests we see something different. Daily bread, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from temptation and evil are all direct requests for God to come and do something for our good.

See again the true pattern to prayer. We’ve seen this pattern time and time again throughout our study on prayer. Prayer doesn’t begin rapid fire of requests for God to come and make our lives better. It begins with God. It begins with praise, with adoration, with requests for His name to hallowed, and for His fame to be known and loved in all the world. It begins with a robust recognition of who we’re speaking to and an honest humility about who we are speaking to Him. The Lord’s Prayer shows us the reality of what tends to the glory of God and the good of man, and that the glory of God comes before the good of man.[1]

Realization of Utter Dependence

Here in this second point I want to make another introductory comment on v11. This request, “Give us this day our daily bread” should remind us of how utterly dependent we are on God for everything.[2] If God willed it He could withhold everything from us. He could stop the sun from shining and giving light and heat. He could stop the rain from watering the earth and making it bring forth plants and turn all of creation into a barren wasteland. He could take back up the breath in our lungs or forbid that our hearts take another beat if He desired to. In our arrogance we forget that God is at this very moment, and at all moments, upholding, preserving, and supporting all things. If He were to stop, we would not continue to exist for even a split second. We could not live a single moment without Him.

A.W. Pink goes further and comments here that not only can God do these things if He wanted to, but because of our sin God would be just to do those things. Pink says, “By asking for our ‘daily bread’ a tacit acknowledgement is made that ‘in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them.’”[3] I think here it would be appropriate to say, fighting for human rights and fighting against various kinds of injustices has its sure place in the life of man. But I think we too often forget that because of our sin, before God we have no rights. Or as the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 21-29 say, mankind did not continue in the estate wherein we were created. In Adam’s fall all man fell into a state of sin and misery. And now we who we created very good have become corrupted and wholly inclined to all evil continually, which causes us to commit actual sins. And because of this, we lost communion with God, gained His displeasure, and are in ourselves children of wrath, slaves to sin, justly deserving the wrath of God in this life and in the life to come.

Taking these things into account, this request “Give us this day our daily bread” is a good reminder for us of our dependence on God for everything…and that any provision that comes to us is of God’s sheer grace.

His Daily Provision

Here in this third point I want to unfold what the words “Give us this day our daily bread” mean. There is a difference of opinion as to what this phrase means and most of it centers around the word ‘daily.’ In the Greek epiousios is literally translated as ‘the next day.’ But as you can imagine, “Give us this day our bread for the next day” can be difficult to understand. Does it mean “Give us this day our…” bread for the current day, bread for future days, needful bread, or bread necessary for our existence?[4] While some do attempt at singling out one of these meanings as the optimal, most simply believe these varied meanings combine easily and prefer to use ‘daily’ as an all encompassing term. There is another debate as to what the bread actually refers to. Some believe it is describing the bread received in the Lord’s Supper, this is called the sacramental view. Others see the bread being a figurative term symbolizing life in Christ’s Kingdom and therefore see this fourth petition and the second petition “Your kingdom come” as asking the same things. These two views on the bread are minority views. Most believe this request for daily bread to be a request asking God to provide literal bread as well as all that is needed for our physical lives in this world. The reason most embrace this view is because the rest of Matthew 6 develops that very point.[5]

Therefore, many things are put forward here for us to embrace.[6] A great humility is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God ‘to give’ us what we need to exist. In order to ask God for this we must put aside our pride thinking we can do this on our own. Moderation is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God for daily bread, not luxury or superabundance, just what is needed. Trust in God is put forward here because after asking God to give us this sustenance we must trust Him to do so. But in trusting Him to do so, Jesus does not intend us to wait and be idle, anxiously awaiting God to answer this apart from our own work and toil. God intends us to work, to be able to earn money to purchase what we need to continue in our lives. And the idea of community is put forward to us here once again in that we pray not “Give me…” but “Give us…our daily bread.” So in praying for ourselves and our needs we must always have an eye on those in our community around us. If God gives you bread abundantly, it could very well be for more than just you. God may intend you to support and sustain another around you who isn’t in a similar state. “Give us…” demands we leave our normal independent mentality and think of our life in Christ as life together.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he mentions an illustration he once heard from A.B. Simpson that helped him understand this a great deal.[7] He said Simpson asked him to think of God differently than most do. Most, he said, think of God as a Father that has given us a great of grace gift in one lump sum and we go on throughout life living on that gift. God does not work that way with us according to Simpson. In fact if God were like this Simpson mentions it wouldn’t be out of bounds to think we would enjoy the lavishness of the gift so much that we would forget the great Giver who gave to us. Rather, Simpson encouraged Lloyd-Jones to think of God like this. Think of God as our great Father, who has truly given us a great gift of grace in Christ, but being our Father He desires that we come to Him continuously and ask for this gift from Him. So in a sense God has put a great deposit for us in the bank, and while He will not allow us to take all of it out at once, He does allow and even want us to come and make daily withdrawals for what we need. Simpson said prayer was the way believers make withdraws for what we need from this great deposit of grace that is now ours in Christ.

Commenting on this Lloyd-Jones says, “This surely is the marvelous thing, that God likes us to come to Him. The God who is self-existent, the great Jehovah, the God who is not dependent on anybody, who is from eternity to eternity, who exists in Himself apart from all – this is the astounding thing, that because we are His children He likes us to come to Him, and likes to hear…our lisping praises and our petitions. That is because God is love; and that is why, though He knows all about our needs, it gives Him great pleasure…when He sees us coming to Him to ask for our daily bread.”[8]

So that God invites us to come to Him for this, awakes us to the realization that God is the giver of all good gifts. And from knowing that God is the source of all that sustains us in this life, our enjoyment of all that sustains us in this life is not diminished but increased. We often sing a hymn saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” This is true, God is God and God is greater and ever above all the gifts He gives to us. But, can I suggest that there is another way to see this? When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, when we look full in His wonderful face, when we see the reality of all that sustains us in this life comes from His hand, all that He has given us will not grow strangely dim but strangely bright, for in His gifts we see the glory of the Giver. Or as Jonathan Edwards says, “In His gifts we can trace the sunbeam back up to the sun.” 

A Thing of Wonder

Here in this last point I want to make a concluding statement, and try, by God’s grace to get you to see how wonderful this statement is. When we come to 6:11 we come down from the heights of glory to the depths of what is common. Jesus takes us from grand spiritual concerns (God’s glory, God’s Kingdom, God’s Will) to our everyday spiritual and physical concerns.[9] That the God of glory is concerned about our little needs is a thing of wonder. This shouldn’t surprise us, it is the teaching of Jesus everywhere. Even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from God’s will, and after telling us that He says we are of much more value than sparrows. More so, all of the hairs of our head are numbered, such that, there is not a hair on our head that God is not concerned about. This means more than hair, it means that there is nothing about our life, even the smallest and most trivial details about us, that are not known to Him on His everlasting throne.

So rejoice, “…the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells with he who has a humble and repentant spirit…in v11 Jesus Christ takes hold of us here on earth and links us with the Almighty God of glory.”[10]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, page 95-96.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount – Vol. 2, page 72.

[3] A.W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, page 163.

[4] William Hendrikson, Baker New Testament Commentary – Matthew, page 332.

[5] Reformation Study Bible, study notes on Matthew 6:11.

[6] Hendrikson, page 333.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, page 71-72.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, page 72.

[9] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 169.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, page 70.

Two White Guys On Race and White Privilege

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, which for 2018 also marks what would have been his 89th birthday. In honor of MLK Day this year I want to point you to a two part conversation from two white guys (Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman) on race, the church, and white privilege. Being a pastor and a white guy I really needed this conversation. It helped me. It opened my eyes to much that I had not previously known about and had honestly never thought about. I should have thought about these things, but haven’t? Why? Because I’m privileged and didn’t even realize it. I’m grateful for these two doing this and helping me become aware of much and encouraging pastors to lead conversations like this one.

Give these chats a listen, they’re only about 30 minutes each but they’re filled with rich content that will benefit you greatly.

Listen to Part 1 here and part 2 here.

Or listen in on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or download the MP3 file.

Our Father in Heaven

As the Prayer of Prayers begins, it doesn’t begin with any kind of petition but with an opening address.

We ought to expect such things. No one in his or her right mind would come into the presence of or greet the President of the United States glibly or casually. No, we would be respectful, polite, courteous, maybe even reverential. If we do this with earthly rulers, how much more should this be the case with God who rules over all? How much more should this be the case with the King of kings? There is difficulty in this. Martin Lloyd-Jones comments on this difficulty saying, “We are but human, and we are pressed by the urgency of our position, the cares, the anxieties, the troubles, the anguish of mind, the bleeding heart, whatever it is. And we are so full of this that, like children, we start speaking at once. But if you want to make contact with God, and if you want to feel His everlasting arms about you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment…and remind yourself of what you are about to do.” Lloyd-Jones goes on to speak of Daniel’s prayers when he was vexed about knowing the interpretation of a dream, Jeremiah’s prayers when he was vexed with the state of God’s people, Jesus’ own prayer in John 17, and the prayers of Paul afterwards. None of these began with what vexed them, they all began with an invocation to God. The more we remember what we’re doing in prayer and who we’re speaking to in prayer, the less likely we are to jump into prayer quickly with a rapid fire of requests. That there is an opening address before any petition teaches us much about how prayer ought to begin. See the words with which appropriate prayer begins. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”

I want to unfold four realities in this opening address with one aim – to see how Christians ought to begin with God in prayer.

Pray Like This

Notice the beginning of v9? “Pray then like this…” What does this mean? Does this mean we’re to recite these words? Does this mean we’re to pray in this manner? Or does this mean when you pray it is these matters that must make up our whole prayer life? These questions are clear enough in and of themselves, but the answers have been very different from one person to the next. The more liturgically minded believers recite these words in their exact form very often personally and corporately in worship. The less liturgically minded believers may go years without ever uttering this prayer personally or hearing this prayer uttered corporately. Why such recitation on the one hand and avoidance on the other? I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think either quite gets the point of Jesus here.

Rather than turning this prayer into a rote recitation that feels formal or cold and rather than avoiding this prayer all together for fear of sounding catholic or liturgical, I believe Jesus would have us catch the spirit of this prayer. Meaning that, these things (and perhaps these things in this order), are the matters that ought to be taking up our prayer life. We can choose to recite them sure, but we must not believe that the mere mindless recitation of them has any power; as if ten ‘Our Father’s’ will give us any spiritual benefit. We also can choose to never say these exact words, as long as the content of this prayer fills out the content of our own words in prayer. There is freedom here to be employed and enjoyed. But in this freedom we must be sure to anchor ourselves to the text itself, so that it in an organic manner these things naturally flow forth in our prayer. So we should see the Lord’s Prayer as guardrails which direct and guide us into prayer that is pleasing to God. In this regard John Calvin comments, “God has given us a form in which…everything which is lawful to wish, everything which is conducive to our interest, everything which is necessary to demand. From His goodness in this respect we derive the great comfort of knowing, that as we ask almost in His words, we ask nothing that is absurd, or foreign, or unseasonable, nothing (in short) that is disagreeable to Him.”

Our Father

It is true that there is something very personal about prayer. It’s an intimate moment, where we converse with God, where we linger with God quietly over His Word, where we bare our hearts, where we express our deepest longings, joys, sorrows, and desires. Prayer is intensely personal, so much so that most people feel some level of angst about praying in public. Yet, see how the Lord’s Prayer begins – “Our” not “My.” That “Our” is the first word in this prayer shows us that though prayer is truly private and personal, it is also truly communal and corporate. “When we pray we do not pray alone even if we are alone” (David VanDrunen). We do not pray to a God who has saved us alone, or even to a God who has saved many individuals throughout history. No, we pray to the God who has saved, is saving, and will save a people for Himself from every tribe, language, and tongue. The Church past, present, and future is the community we’re saved into, and in all appropriate prayer has a communal element to it. Be sure to note that the communal element I am speaking of here is the blood bought covenant people, the Church. I am not speaking of some kind of universal brotherhood of mankind underneath a universal fatherhood of God that we’re a part of. No, though God has created all mankind, only His children that He has chosen, pursued, adopted, and saved are free to call Him ‘Father.’

A number of places within Scripture remind us of this. John 1:11-12 says, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…” Galatians 3:23-26 says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” One chapter later Paul expands on this in Galatians 4:4-7 saying, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

This is a Christmas time reality, that the Son of God was sent at the fullness of the times. Born like us, so that we would become like Him, and once we believe in Him we receive adoption as sons, are given His Spirit, given to heart and new desire to cry out to God as Father, and gain an inheritance. In Ephesians Paul brings the sovereignty of God into adoption when he says in 1:5, “In love He (God) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Lastly one of the highest moments in 1 John is when John exclaims in 3:1 saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Think of like this. In regeneration God awakens us, in justification God legally declares us to be righteous, and in adoption God brings us into His family. Adoption comes after these things because it is the result of all that has come before. Because of this we can say it is in truth an apex in the order of our salvation. But do not confuse these doctrines. Regeneration is all about birth, that though we were born sinners God gave us a new birth and made us alive. Justification is all about declaring us to be righteous when we’re not. Regeneration grants us new life and justification clothes us in an alien righteousness. The glory of the doctrine of adoption is that once we’ve been made alive by God and declared righteous by Him He then brings us into a family we’re not naturally born into. So when, through faith, we receive and rest on Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel, God then receives us, brings us into the number of His children, and gives us all the rights, blessings, and privileges belonging to the sons of God. Now because of Christ, in prayer we do not meet a God angry at us, but a God who welcomes us as His own children.

“Our Father” is an appropriate address to begin prayer with, for in the very phrase itself is hidden all kinds of gospel beauty to behold.

In Heaven

As good as these things are, see that the opening address doesn’t end here. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…”

Why address God as the God who is in heaven? Isn’t something like that obvious? Well no, not always with how people go around defining God these days and perhaps in Jesus’ day too. So I think there are two reasons why the opening address ends with this little phrase “…in heaven…” First, it reminds us God is above all things. And second, it reminds us God is in control of all things. Or in other words, what kind of Father do we have? We don’t just have a Father who is a smiley benevolent fellow, we have a Father in heaven, sovereign and ruling over all things. This is the kind of Father we have. How wonderful for us to know this! That God is over and in control of all things in existence, able and powerful to do something about the things weighing on us, this is the God we come to in prayer.

So…

Let’s wrap this up in a sentence or two.

Prayer isn’t to be jumped into obnoxiously, but reverently and respectfully, the way we would enter the President’s Oval Office. And we do not immediately start rattling off all those things pressing on us, we remember who we’re speaking to, God the Father, who is above all things, in control of all things, and through Christ and the Spirit adopted us as His children.

In this manner, appropriate prayer must begin with an opening address that acknowledges the greatness of God, and our gratitude for Him being such a God.