Conversion: The Renovation of the Soul

In his book Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural David Wells says, “Conversions of all kinds are commonplace in our world today. An alcoholic turns from drink to sobriety. Westerners afflicted with boredom renounce their way of life and seek meaning from Eastern gurus. One person joins a cult and closes the door on his or her prior way of life; another looks for the power hidden within and turns away from institutional religion. Although these ‘conversions’ may be triggered by dramatic crises and result in changed behaviors, they are not conversions in any Christian sense. If they do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result…If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.”

Perhaps you feel the disdain our culture thinks of this? Conversion in our day conveys a negative image or a moment of forced decision, as if someone were strong-arming you into making a decision you don’t want to make. But I submit that this notion is largely an unfair view of conversion. For example if we were to look in a thesaurus we would find the following synonyms for the word conversion: change, adaptation, alteration, renovation, transfiguration, exchange, and even transformation. Interesting isn’t it? That our cultures view of the word conversion is so negative while the synonyms bring nothing but positive pictures into view. I suppose the negative idea of conversion has crept in from Church history; specifically those moments on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the aisle when conversion was done by coercion. When it was forced either by trial, by inquisition, or by war. These are stains on the history of Christianity and are evidence that the Church is full of fallen men and women. Events like these have long lingered in the mind of man giving us our modern distaste for the idea of conversion.

When we come to the Bible we see an entirely refreshing and positive view of conversion. Rather than being seen as coercion we see it as the great work of the Holy Spirit in beginning the Christian life by raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is the moment of transformation, when we become, by the work of the Spirit, something we never thought we would ever be. Conversion in the Christian sense of the word, in the biblical sense of the word is nothing less than a complete renovation of the soul. Throughout the Scriptures there is one word rises to the top when we discuss conversion. This word in Greek is metamorphous, which as you can probably guess is where we get the English word metamorphosis. When this Greek word shows up in the New Testament it is usually translated into English as ‘transformation.’

See this in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 which says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Here Paul is comparing the glory of the Old and New Covenants.

To illustrate this comparison he speaks firstly of Moses, who had to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites wouldn’t be terrorized by the glory of God. Paul says even in his day when the Law is read there is still a veil over the hearts of the Israelites. “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16). More so, Paul seems to interrupt his argument with a statement about the freedom that comes into the heart when the Holy Spirit removes the veils and takes up residence within us. But upon further examination Paul isn’t interrupting anything. Paul makes this statement about the Spirit in v17 in order to tell us that the One who does the work of removing this veil over our hearts is the Holy Spirit Himself, and because the Spirit does this, we now have freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the Law, freedom from the veil over our eyes, freedom from the veil over our hearts. Freedom from the shadowy nature of the old covenant. Freedom in the crystal clear nature of the new covenant. Freedom to see the glory of God with nothing hindering our sight. Freedom to finally draw near to God without sheer and utter terror.

Then, in what has to be one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Paul summarizes by detailing this Spirit produced metamorphosis and transformation saying that in the New Covenant all those who come to Christ by faith, now, with an unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord. And from beholding God’s glory we are literally transformed by that glory into another kind of person. Initially this is the moment of conversion, or resurrection, of the new birth. But notice that once God transforms us, that transformation doesn’t end, it continues on progressively from one degree of glory to another. This progressive work of transformation is called sanctification, where God, by exposing us to more of His glory, makes us into His holy image. So the initial moment of transformation in view here is a one time act of God’s free grace on us, and the progressive transformation in view here is the continual work of God’s free grace in us. If there is any doubt in the reader as to who is responsible for this unveiling, transforming, metamorphosing work, Paul makes it clear in v18, “This (all of this grace!) comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Be reminded: we learn here that conversion is a transformation, where the Holy Spirit does the work of removing the veil over our hearts so that we can truly behold the glory of God. And from beholding the glory of God, what happens? We are transformed…initially and marvelously and throughout our lives God the Spirit continues to transform us to greater and greater degrees. Notice the end of v18 again, “For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is why Paul is able to call believers letters written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God in 3:3.

Change is needed, change is possible, and in Christ by faith that change is the epitome of renovation!

Advertisements

Sin is Like Pickles

Widely known for it’s licentiousness and loose living Corinth was one of the chief cities especially suited for sowing wild oats. So many oats were sown that Corinth reaped a widespread reputation for being the epicenter of vice in the 1stcentury. But sadly, within Corinth itself the Church had a worse reputation and to this very day whenever one speaks of the Corinthians the sin of chapter 5 quickly rises to the surface.[i]Why? Not solely because of sexual immorality. No, something worse was allowed to exist among them, something so atrocious that the pagans even blushed at it. Listen to Paul describe the specifics in 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.”

This man’s mother had most likely died and he was now living with his stepmother who may or may not have already divorced his father because of this sinful relationship.[ii]Whatever the details were there is no doubt about what’s happening here. 5:1 implies that this had been going on for sometime and was still going on at the time Paul wrote this letter to them. In such cases Paul is clear. The Church in Corinth must discipline the wayward man. Listen to 5:2-5, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

Yes this man’s sin needs rebuking, but see how Paul calls out the Church in Corinth for how they’ve tolerated this man’s sin and allowed it to exist? This sin should’ve humbled them, shamed them, and brought the Church to repentance but v2 says they were arrogant. Perhaps they justified this man’s sin away saying it was a unique circumstance that required some more thought before any action is taken. Perhaps they saw it as a matter of this man’s Christian liberty to do as he pleased. Perhaps because such stout early Church theologians had taught them they thought God would overlook such things. Notice what Paul’s instruction is. Does he say this man’s membership is to be suspended? Or that this man should be enter into a lengthy counseling program? Or even that this man should be sent off to a rehab center where he can heal and grow. No, none of that is in play here. Paul’s instruction is simple and straightforward. “Let him who has done this be removed from among you…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh…” On this man Paul has already pronounced the judgment the Church wouldn’t. So, he says, the very next time they assemble together in the name of the Lord Jesus, to worship the Lord Jesus, they are to remove the man who refuses to obey the Lord Jesus. Why? For His own good. To destroy the unruly lusts of his sinful flesh for sure, but more “…so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” If he refuses to obey Christ, the Church can no longer affirm his profession of faith in Christ, which means he must be removed from the Church of Christ for the very purpose of rebuking him, humbling him, bringing him to repentance so that he’ll be saved, in the end, on the day of Christ.

Many think this kind of excommunication is arrogant judgment within the Church that’s inconsistent with love, but it’s in fact the opposite. Love cannot be true where there is no discipline. Hebrews 12:6 tells us “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines…” Remember, as the Father let his prodigal son wander off with his inheritance to allow the bitter consequences of what he’d chosen be experienced, so too this man in Corinth was to be removed so he’d experience the consequences of his sin.[iii]To not obey the Lord in removing this man who’s not obeying the Lord is also sin against the Lord. The Corinthians apparently weren’t willing to do it, so Paul commanded them to do it, for this man’s own good, in effect saying, ‘Love him in this way.’

Paul goes further. He says the wayward man in view shouldn’t only be removed for his own good, but should be removed for the good of the Church as well. We see this in 5:6-13 where Paul warns them of the effects sin can have when left undealt with.

It’s like pickles…follow me here.

Pickles are to some people what make the sandwich or burger complete, providing that last little garnish that elevates the flavors to their highest potential. These people are wrong and they are not to be trusted. Why take a perfectly good cucumber (or anything for that matter) and drop it into vinegar to make it better? I hate pickles. Not only do they taste awful, they leave a residue that is impossible to remove. For example…once at Chick-Fil-A I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich without pickles. Accidently someone put pickles on it, it was brought to the table, I picked it up and opened it to see if pickles were left off or not (as has become my custom)…and to my dismay they were still there! I knew what was going to happen. As quick as I could I reached down and took them off, cleaned my hands off, and looked back at the bun and saw those two little green circles where the pickle juice had soaked into the bun. It was all over. I ate the sandwich, don’t hear me wrong, but the instant I bit near those circles you could taste and smell the green ooze of pickle juice…it had invaded this perfectly good sandwich.

Lesson?

Sin left undealt with is like pickles, it invades everything in a church.

Paul uses another image, one from the Passover. Like leaven that easily and quickly goes through the whole dough, sin left alone in the congregation eventually effects and impacts the whole congregation. Or to say it another way, sin no one deals with eventually becomes sin that everyone deals with.[iv]What can they do to become pure once again? They must remove the old leaven so they would become a new lump. This is, after all, why Christ the true Passover Lamb was sacrificed – to make His people pure and holy. As Israel was set free from Egypt as a result of the Passover and made a clean break from them, so too the Christian from the work of Christ the Passover Lamb has been set free from the world, the flesh, and devil and because of Christ’s work we are now to make a clean break from the sin that entangles us.[v]If the Corinthians continue in their sinful arrogance they show themselves to be soaked through with the leaven of malice and evil, when they were bought and redeemed and filled with the Spirit of God in order to soak them through with the gospel leaven of sincerity and truth.

 

Citations:

[i]F.W. Grosheide, 1 Corinthians – NICNT, page 119.

[ii]John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, page 122.

[iii]Mark Dever, Twelve Challenges Churches Face, page 52.

[iv]Dever, page 53.

[v]MacArthur, page 129.

The Grand Symphony – The Doctrine of Christ

John 1:1-18 form what has come to be known as ‘The Prologue.’ Only John gives us an introduction like this. Matthew and Luke begin with birth narratives while Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. John begins with an 18 verse introduction intended to answer basic questions about Jesus. Questions like: Who is He? Why did He come? Where is He from? As John answers these questions we cannot help but find ourselves simply astounded. Concerning this prologue the study notes in the Gospel Transformation study Bible say this, “The prologue of John’s gospel is like the opening movement of a grand symphony. It is meant to grab our attention and draw us into the story – the story of all stories.”[i]R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John likewise states, “No portion of the New Testament captured the imagination and the attention of the Christian intellectual community for the first three centuries more than this brief section.”[ii]

As it captured them, may God now capture us.

“In the beginning…” These first three words are words we should all be familiar with. John isn’t the only one to begin his writing with them, Moses begins Genesis with them as well. That John uses the same words here is intended to teach us that just as God did His work of creation then, God is now doing His work of new creation here. How does God intend to carry out His work of new creation? v1-3 continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Think back to Genesis again. In Genesis we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence saying each time “Let there be…” and there was. Now in this work of new creation it’s clear that God’s bringing it about by something John calls “the Word.” This Word is not only present in beginning of all things, John says the Word is God and the Word is with God. When John says the Word is God shows that the Word is Deity. When John says the Word is with God he shows that the Word is distinct or distinguished from God. Both full-blown Deity and divine distinction are present in this ‘Word.’

To further add to this did you notice there’s an addition in v3 that’s not in v1-2? v3 refers to the Word as “Him.” This prohibits us from speaking of the Word as an impersonal force or some kind of vague power. That John refers to the Word as ‘Him’ means the Word is a Person, indeed one of the three Persons in the Trinity. To further add again, when taking into account the Greek translation of Word, which is ‘logos’, leads us to even more. The ‘logos’ was a Greek philosophical concept used to convey an abstract force that brought harmony, order, and reason into the universe. So in order for the Greeks to be wise or on the right path to wisdom they had to be in touch with the logos. Well John uses this loaded Greek term here in the beginning of his gospel to teach us the true meaning of ‘logos.’ It’s not an impersonal force that brings harmony, order, and reason into the universe, no, the ‘logos’ is none other than God’s divine self-expression. Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms this saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He (the Son) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” This Word of John 1:1-3 is none other than the Word God spoke to create the world in Genesis 1. But it’s more than just language, the Word is God wrapped in skin, or to say it another way God’s very Son.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s normal. John is a very simple writer, but the way he combines simplicity and profundity often leaves us wondering if we’ve understood all his intends us to. Try to think of it like this. If I want to know who a person is, I listen to what they say because a person’s words reveal what they are thinking. Well, do you want to know who God is? Do you want to know what God’s thoughts are? Praise the Lord God is and He is not silent! God has revealed Himself by speaking, and His Word to us is His very Son!

Historically this prologue is significant. Throughout the history of the Church many have rejected these very things, taught other things, been tried by Church councils, and condemned as heretics for teaching false doctrine about Christ. Men such as Arius, Apollinarius, Eutychus, and Nestorius are some examples of men who denied the truths taught in John 1 and instead believed Jesus is something less. Arius, using his term homoiousios, denied the full deity of Christ and put forth the idea that Christ was the first or greatest ‘created’ being who was of a different nature than God. This was denied by the Council of Nicea (325 AD) but it was Athanasius who led the charge arguing for homoousios, namely, that Christ was of the exact same nature as the Father. These things made up the following Nicene Creed produced from this council.

Later, Apollinarius believed the divine logos took the place of a rational human soul in Christ and therefore made Christ not fully human. This was denied by the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) where a full deity and full humanity were both upheld. Later Nestorius taught that the two natures of Christ were so distinct from each other that Christ was a combination of two separate persons. Around the same time Eutychus taught that the two persons of Christ were so unified that almost all distinctions between them disappeared. Both of these were denied by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) and the following Chalcedonian Creed produced from it. The creed makes an argument using the Greek word hypostasis (which is where the phrase ‘hypostatic union’ comes from) meaning that Christ’s divine and human natures are united in one being. Or to say it another way, Christ’s work as Savior involved both His natures and if He were without one of these natures, or if these natures were mixed or confused, there would be no salvation for us.

From all of these false teachers and false teaching the early Church came to embrace four specific things about Christ. First, Jesus Christ is fully divine. Second, Jesus Christ is fully human. Third, the divine and human natures of Christ are distinct. And fourth, the divine and human nature of Christ are united in one Person. Anything less than this is a departure from true Christology.

In more modern times the Jehovah’s Witnesses have altered the translation of John 1:1 because they reject Jesus’ deity. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also altered the translation of John 1:1 for the same reason. Sincere as these people may be, to deny the truth of Jesus’ deity is to reject Christianity. Remember what I said earlier, as this small flathead was fundamental to my work in the shop, the truths taught in John 1 (and many other places) is fundamental to Christian belief. To move away from it will still leave you with many beliefs, but those beliefs will not be Christian to any degree.

When we move ahead to John 1:4-5 we see John bring up themes that are all found in abundance within Genesis: life, light, and darkness. Not surprisingly these are some of the major themes of John’s gospel. Specifically in v4-5 we see that while God spoke the world into being and shattered the dark void during creation, so too God sent His Word into the world and the Word’s life and light shatter the dark void of this sinful world during new creation. The Word of v1-3 in v4-5 is the source of life and this life is the source of all light in the world and in men. No wonder why John includes the time when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). It is true, light and darkness are opposites. It’s also true that some speak of the Christian life as a battle between these opposites. Though this is true to a degree, do not believe the lie that they are opposites of equal power. The light of the Word, the light of Christ overcomes all darkness.

This is why John would later write this in 1 John 2:8, “…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” So through the Word life and light come into the darkness, and even though some may mock at the song or phrase, when one comes to faith in Christ one truly has ‘seen the light.’

 

Citations:

[i]The Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on John 1:1-18, page 1407.

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

From Passover to Lord’s Supper

The word sacrament comes from the Latin word ‘sacramentum’ meaning a solemn or sacred oath. Roman Catholics believe there to be seven sacraments, most Protestants only believe there to be two of them; baptism, given to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Lord’ Supper, given to us in Jesus’ teaching in the upper room (Matthew 26:26-29). In addition to the word sacrament is the word ordinance, which simply means a statute or command Jesus ordained for the Church. The difference between these two words comes down to what we believe is happening while engaging in these activities. To prefer the title ordinance over the title sacrament generally means one believes there is no grace communicated from God to those participating in the activities themselves. To prefer the title sacrament over the title ordinance generally means one believes there is grace communicated from God to those participating in the activities themselves. I prefer to call baptism and the Lord’s Supper sacraments because I believe God strengthens us in His grace through them, but I also do not mind the term ordinance either because these two practices truly have been ordained by God for the Church.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 92 asks, “What is a Sacrament? A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” Did you notice that both the word sacrament and ordinance are present in this definition? Though we find people rejecting one title in preference of the other, it’s good to use both in defining what they are.

We can also state generally that both sacraments function as signs and seals. Signs, in that what the preaching of the gospel is to our ears, the sacraments are to our eyes.This means they visibly signify or show the invisible truth of God to us. In a very real sense the sacraments are a dramatized display of the gospel. But they are also seals. Just as a ruler in ancient times would seal a document with his royal seal to communicate that the message was from him and carried his authority, so too, the sacraments are visible seals from God promising that all who receive them truly participate in the grace given through them. Paul makes this point well in Romans 4:11-12 saying, “Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

As with all sound doctrine we must look into the whole of Scripture to find the whole overview of any particular doctrine. And this is especially true when we come to the Lord’s Supper, because its roots take us all the way back to the Exodus. Recall that during and after God redeemed Israel out of slavery in Egypt He instituted the Passover. As the final plague was drawing near God warned His people (in Exodus 12) to prepare for this moment by putting the blood of an unblemished lamb on each doorpost of their homes. The people were then to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in haste with their belts on and sandals on their feet. As God passed through to strike down the first born of the land of Egypt He saw the blood and passed over all the homes who have done this. This hasty meal was to be a memorial day feast celebrating the beginning of Israel’s new year from this day forward and it was these things that each prophet of God called the people of God back to throughout the Old Covenant. Then there’s a change.

As Jesus’ hour was drawing near He gathered together with His disciples to celebrate this Passover one last time in Luke 22. At this meal in the Upper Room Jesus did something new. Rather than repeating what the Israelites had done for ages and ages, He changed things. Here is how Luke recounts the moment. “And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:14-21).

As God instituted the Passover long ago for the remembrance of what He did to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt and from the death of the first born, so too here Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper for the remembrance of what He was about to do to redeem God’s people from a greater slavery, sin, and a greater Pharaoh, Satan. And just as the Passover was to be a repeated event for Israel each year as they did life together in the land God brought them to, so too the Lord’s Supper is to be a repeated event for the Church as we do life together where God has placed us.

As often as the Church does this, her members see Christ’s death showed forth and are, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism question 96 says, “…not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of His body and blood, with all His benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 2

Two weeks ago we looked at the first scene showing us Job’s rare pearls (1:6-12). Today let’s look to scene 2.

Scene 2: Earth (1:13-22)

Here we move from heaven to earth, from the first specific day in v6 to a new specific day in v13. This day begins like any other day but ends up being a day he’ll never forget. Four messengers each with their own message come to him, they end up being, to him, more like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.[6]

v13-19 tells us the horrific details, “Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

v13 sets the stage and we see that all his children were together in the oldest brothers home having one of their festivities. v14-15 is the first intrusion where we see a messenger come with news that all of Job’s oxen and donkey’s have been taken and the servants caring for them have been killed. Before we can catch our breath another messenger comes in v16 with the second intrusion saying all of Job’s sheep were destroyed by fire from heaven (lighting) and the servants caring for them have been killed. Again, before we can catch our breath from these first two messages, in v17 we see another messenger come saying all of Job’s camels have been stolen and the servants caring for them have been killed. First was the oxen and donkeys with some servants, then the sheep with some servants, then the camels with the rest of the servants. As these three messages hit Job wave after wave he stands in a stunned silence, probably unable to believe he has been bankrupted and stripped of most of his wealth in one afternoon. He’s gone from riches to rags.

But poor Job[7]doesn’t have time to process these losses when the fourth and final messenger comes. And we as the reader dread what’s coming next. We’ve felt wave upon wave with Job, and as this fourth wave approaches we think back to v13 wondering why we were told that all his kids were together. Then the worst news comes, a great wind has blown down the house with all the children in it, and they are dead. If we dwell on these four waves long enough it is not hard to weep with Job. Two terrorist attacks and two natural disasters leave Job basically all alone.

We, again, remember: the glory of God is more important than our comfort. We know it’s true, and Job does too, but Job didn’t get our privilege of seeing behind the curtain into the details of God’s providential governance of all things. What will he do? Will he curse God and reveal that he only loved God for God’s gifts? Or will he reveal that He loves God still, for God alone, despite what has occurred? v20-21 show us, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

After all that has taken place what does he do? He acknowledges that one day he will die and leave it all behind, and he worships God confessing that God is God and that dark as his road may now be whatever God ordains for him is right. Job words have stood the test of time. Speaking of them Charles Spurgeon said, “Some of the rarest pearls have been found in the deepest waters, and some of the choicest utterances of believers have come when God’s waves and billows have been made to roll over them.”[8]

In v22 we see a wonderful conclusion to a truly horrible story, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

By remaining godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of Jesus Christ who remained faithful while walking a harder road for us.

 

 

Citations:

[6] Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 48.

[7] Ash, page 48.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Study Bible, page 642.

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 1

In the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayer’s, a prayer named Man’s Great End begins with the following words, “Lord of all being, there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify You who have given me my being…truly, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose.”[1]In other words, our lives only matter if they serve the great purpose of the glory of God. Therefore it would be right to say that the glory of God is more important than our comfort. Right? Isn’t this a statement one we would all agree with? Of course we would. But, are there not some consequences to this statement that make us a bit uncomfortable? Yes the glory of God is the most important reality in all of life, but would we still believe that if God saw fit to glorify Himself by allowing suffering to come into our lives? We want to say “Yes!” but an honest assessment of our hearts may reveal a different answer and bring us to our knees in repentance.

In Job 1:1-5 we we’re introduced to a world where everything has a shiny veneer, a world where everything runs as it ought to run, where the great are also the godly and the good. But as v6 begins we see that this well ordered world is about to given to a very real and uncomfortable level of disorder. But in the disorder we’ll see one thing clearly. In God’s world there is a godly man who is great and, wonder upon wonder, when all of his greatness is taken away he continues to be a godly man.[2]This shows us that, to Job, God is worthy of worship because of who He is apart from anything He’s done for us. By remaining to be godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of another man who would walk this road of suffering for us, Jesus Christ.

In 1:6-2:13 there are four scenes to witness:

Scene 1: Heaven (1:6-12)

v6 begins “Now there was a day…” and what a day it was! The events of this day would change Job’s life forever, and the ironic thing about it is that throughout the book of Job we never read of Job being made aware of the events of this day (which is itself a reason why Job couldn’t have written this book himself). We read that the sons of God, meaning the heavenly court or the divine council, came to stand before God. That they came to present themselves before God and stood before God shows us that these supernatural beings, though higher than men, are lower than God. Only God is on the throne and that these beings come when summoned shows us as much. It also prohibits us from believing this scene is something similar to a sort of Mt. Olympus scene where gods of equal power converse about how to run this world. This scene is nothing like that. Here only God is God, only God is in rules, and only God wields authoritative power in this gathering. All those present are the ones through whom God governs the world. No doubt, this is a meeting that makes any earthly governing body look puny in comparison.

Now, we do not know the guest list for this meeting but we are told in v6 of one individual who was present, Satan. We also do not know if he was a regular attender at these meetings or a regular member of the divine council, or if he was something of an uninvited guest or a kind of meeting crasher here. Whatever the case is, God speaks to him saying in v7, “From where have you come?” Remember God is God. He will not learn anything that He does not already know in Satan’s answer. In this sense God’s question to Satan here is similar to God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:9 where God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” This was meant to reveal to Adam the weight of his own folly and sin, that he was hiding from the God who made him. The question was not meant to tell God something that he didn’t already know. So, that God asks Satan this question shows us that God already knows his reply and already knows that Satan is up to no good.

Satan’s response confirms this, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” This is a slippery answer, similar to the answer a teenager would give his parents when they ask what they’ve been doing all day. “Nothing, just stuff.”[3]The answer reveals that there’s more to the story that the individual in question doesn’t want to share. Clearly then Satan is up to something but God is aware his slipperiness and aware of his plans to attack one of His own. So He states in v8, “Have you considered My servant Job?” God then repeats in v8 what we’ve already seen in v1. He is blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. Commenting on v8 Christopher Ash says, “These fateful words, singling out Job as conspicuously genuine and godly, are to prove devastating in their consequences for Job.” Just as Jesus heard about His friend Lazarus being sick and waited two days for him to die before coming to help, so too, God, being very pleased by the life of Job, is the One who points Satan in the direction of Job.

But Satan believes something different about Job. That he’s not as holy as he may appear to be. In v9-10 Satan accuses Job before God saying he’s godly and upright because God has hedged him in so tightly, blessed the work of his hands so greatly, and increased his possessions so vastly. This is why Job is really godly, not because of who God is but because of what Job can get from God in return.[4]More so, Satan says in v11 that the only way to publicly establish if Job truly loves God or not is to take away this hedge, remove his greatness, and eliminate all his prosperity. Satan’s intentions here are horrible for sure, but do not miss that they’re correct. Now, God already knows what Job would do if all he has were removed, but no one else does. So its true that the only way to publicly prove to the watching world that Job loves God for God and not just for what he can get from God is to take away all he has. Flip the story around for a moment. If Job were a holy poor man, wouldn’t it be similar logic to give him riches to be sure that his holiness wasn’t just the result of his poverty? Indeed it would.[5]Either way, rich Job becoming poor Job or poor Job becoming rich Job, the root of Job’s love toward God will be exposed and all will see if it’s genuine. So, in v12 God gives the terrible instruction and permission, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Pause here. We do not like the idea of God permitting Satan to attack Job, but that is what happens. For all his hatred Satan is doing something here for the glory of God.

Do you see it?

In a deep way it is necessary for it to be publicly seen by the watching world that God is worthy of worship apart from His gifts and blessings given to men. So ironically God uses Satan to play a role in this. It’s a role of opposition to be sure, hostile and hateful, but a role nonetheless that God wields for His own glory. Do not think Satan is God’s equal and the two of them are now locked in an epic chess game over the true affections of Job. No, God is God. He knows the end from beginning, and more so, He ordains all things that come to pass.

All of this teaches us that Satan is nothing more than ‘God’s Satan’ as Martin Luther was fond of saying. He’s only able to go where God allows him to go. So when, in the governance of all things, God sees fit to glorify Himself through the devil, He does so, and we perhaps remember our first thought again – God’s glory is more important than our comfort. Job got a first hand lesson in this, Christ got a first hand lesson in this, and we ourselves (though I’d say in a vastly lesser manner) must remember this every time we suffer in any way, shape, or form. That more is happening than meets the eye, and that God is always leading us well.

 

Citations:

[1]Valley of Vision, page 13.

[2]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 37.

[3]Ash, page 42.

[4]Ash, page 43.

[5]Ash, page 44.

A Well Run World

Victorian author Thomas Carlyle once said, “Job is the grandest book ever written with pen.”[i]In the introduction to Job the recently published Systematic Theology Study Bible says, “Job is a literary and theological masterpiece. It combines surprising narratives and heated conversations that test the mettle of its main characters. The book’s goal is wisdom, which here and other OT books amount to balanced living based on a proper understanding of God and people.”[ii]And lastly, in the introduction to Job the also recently published Spurgeon Study Bible says, “The book of Job teaches that suffering comes to everyone, the righteous and unrighteous alike. God does not always keep the righteous from danger or suffering. Ultimately God controls all of life’s situations, including limiting the power of Satan. God’s comfort and strength are always available to the trusting soul.”[iii]

Before getting into Job 1:1-5 allow me to make two introductory comments.[iv]

First, Job is a very long book, forty-two chapters to be exact. And while we are very familiar with the beginning and end of the story, most of us have no idea what to do with the middle. But ask a question here at the start, ‘Why is Job so long?’ Perhaps the answer is that God wants to take us on a journey. A journey that will take some time. Through this journey God intends to make you into a different person. How? By entering into, becoming familiar with, and being unsettled by the suffering of Job. And learning that when suffering is in view, there is no easy answer. There is no quick fix. So rightly handled, Job cannot be distilled to a few sermons and general application. You must enter it and listen carefully. But not only is Job’s suffering in view, Christ’s suffering is also in view. Indeed without Christ’s suffering coming into view in Job’s suffering Job would only be a record of unanswered agony.[v]

Second, Job is poetry. Other than chapter 1, 2, and 42 all the rest of Job is poetic and we must remember that. Poetry always has a personal take on something, aiming not just at the head but at the heart of the reader. Because of this on one hand poetry is well suited to speak to the needs of the whole person. But on the other hand we must recognize that poetry doesn’t often sum things up in neat and clearly defined categories. Rather it tends to slowly work on us, revealing deeper and deeper layers as we dive deeper into it again and again. Christopher Ash on this very point says, “You cannot ‘do’ Job as a one-day tourist might ‘do’ Florence.”[vi]

As you can imagine there have been many commentaries, books, sermons, and songs produced from these forty-two chapters. A glaring omission in most all of them is Christ. How are we to see Christ in Job’s suffering? To see this, I’ve chosen Christopher Ash’s commentary to be our guide. It is careful, compelling, and Christ-centered. I encourage you get a copy of it and read it devotionally at some time in your life. I promise, you’ll find it very worth your time.

So without further ado, let’s look into Job 1:1-5.

If I were to ask you ‘What kind of world would you like to live in?’ what would you say? We’d eventually all come around to similar answers I think. We’d like to live in a world where that isn’t fallen, a world where the wicked don’t prosper and the good aren’t trampled on. Our friends across the pond in the U.K. have a saying to describe a gathering or meeting of important people. When talking about it they say ‘the great and the good were there.’ Isn’t that the kind of world what we want? Where the great men and women leading our world always do good, governing with justly and humbly? This well run world is what we find as Job begins.

v1-5 tell us four things about this prominent man from Uz.[vii]

His Place

Job lived “…in the land of Uz…” We don’t know much of Uz in Scripture. We read of it in Lamentations 4:21 which says, “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz…” So from all we can gather it seems Uz was a city in Edom, a pagan land east of the promise land. Notice here not mainly where Uz is but where it is not. It isn’t in Israel and Job’s story never really comes into anything having to do with Israel at all. Most think Job was a contemporary of Abraham so remember the Jewish people hadn’t become a people yet, they weren’t enslaved in Egypt yet, God hadn’t given His Law yet, and He hadn’t brought them into the promis land yet. Before all these things, here is a man named Job who should’ve known almost nothing of God, yet truly does know God, trusted in God, and worshipped God.

His Godliness

Of all the things we hear of Job in v1-5 one of the most important things we hear of is his godliness. v1 says it, Job was, “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” This same word that shows up here as blameless is used elsewhere in Scripture. In Joshua 24:14 it is translated as sincerity. In Judges 9:16 it is translated as integrity. God calls Abraham to walk in this blameless way in Genesis 17:1, and in Psalm 119:1 we find that blessing will come to those whose way is blameless. So when Job is in view, what you see is what you get. This is the opposite of hypocrisy, a pretending to be something outwardly while knowing it’s a different story inwardly. Centuries later Paul had to counsel Timothy on how to pastor those who “…had the appearance of godliness but denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Job is refreshing for us to see, for he has the appearance of godliness because there was real godliness about him.

He feared God and turned away from evil meaning verticallyhe had a true devotion/love for God. He was an upright man meaning horizontallyhe was honest and moral in his dealings with others. Job was a man you could trust to give you counsel and a man you could trust to do business with. Job was a man with true piety, and is certainly an exemplary model for Christians in all ages.

His Greatness

In v2-3 we learn Job has seven sons, three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. From these things there is only one conclusion we can arrive at, Job “…was the greatest man of all the people of the east.”

Seven sons was seen as something of a goal to aim at. Naomi’s friends describe Ruth as “…being more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). When the formerly barren Hannah has children she praises God saying in 1 Samuel 2:15, “The barren has born seven!” The number seven symbolizes a complete number, and in this culture sons were not only a help with daily work but were also a promise of an extended family lineage. What more could you want then seven sons? Well, how about daughters? Three of them to be exact, which is also seen as a number of completion. Job’s quiver is full and his life is blessed for it. And in addition to his children we see him having an enormous amount of possessions. When you combine all his animals and servants that manage his entire estate we come to see that Job is a man of great wealth and power. So great and so powerful that there is no one like this man in all the east.

On this point Christopher Ash says of Job in his commentary, “Job was, on a regional or local scale, what Adam was meant to be on a global scale – a great, rich, and powerful ruler.”[viii]Pause on this and note. Job was enormously blessed by God, and Job was immensely faithful. But we also notice that there’s another thing about Job we see in v4-5 that shows us more of the story.

His Anxiety

In v4-5 we see that each time his sons and daughters got together for one of their birthdays, a festivity, or a feast day Job grew anxious. He would call each of them to his house for a ceremony. Rising early in the morning he prepare a burnt offering for each one of them. As God’s people would come into being, be rescued from Egypt, and be given God’s Law, they were commanded to do burnt offerings as well. This offering was an expensive ceremony, where a whole animal was burned up in fire. The fire symbolized God’s anger toward sin, the animal symbolized the sinner, and that the fire would then consume the animal entirely symbolized what God would do to sinners for their sin unless redemption occurs. As Job did this for each one of his children, perhaps he pointed to it and said, ‘This one is for you’ until all his children would be represented in their own offering. Seeing this we can rightfully ask, ‘Why go to all this trouble and expense to do this after each family get together?’ v5 tells us, Job would think, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Job had a deep integrity that is clear, but he isn’t so certain about his children. This, Job did continually.

So, in v1-5 the stage set for what is to come. In v1-3 we meet the man himself and in v4-5 we see what he did continually. “This sets a happy scene with one shadow. The happiness consists in a good man being good, a pious man being a prosperous man. It is a picture of the world being as the world ought to be, a world where the righteous lead. It is ironically a world where the prosperity seems to be true.”[ix]The shadow is that even in this seemingly perfect setting something dark lurks beneath the surface. Job is anxious about it after every family gathering. Even in this perfect scene we learn two great truths. First, in the best and most materially abundant of environments the possibility still exists for men and women to curse God in their hearts. Second, only sacrifice – bloody, gory, wrathful, substitutionary, atoning, sacrifice – can cover such sinful hearts.

 

Citations:

[i]Quoted in Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 15.

[ii]Systematic Theology Study Bible, page 567.

[iii]Spurgeon Study Bible, page 640.

[iv]Ash, page 22.

[v]Ash, page 15.

[vi]Ash, page 23.

[vii]Ash, page 30-36.

[viii]Ash, page 34.

[ix]Ash, page 35.

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.

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.