A timely word.
Hear and heed.
A timely word.
Hear and heed.
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.
[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.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, which for 2018 also marks what would have been his 89th birthday. In honor of MLK Day this year I want to point you to a two part conversation from two white guys (Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman) on race, the church, and white privilege. Being a pastor and a white guy I really needed this conversation. It helped me. It opened my eyes to much that I had not previously known about and had honestly never thought about. I should have thought about these things, but haven’t? Why? Because I’m privileged and didn’t even realize it. I’m grateful for these two doing this and helping me become aware of much and encouraging pastors to lead conversations like this one.
Give these chats a listen, they’re only about 30 minutes each but they’re filled with rich content that will benefit you greatly.
Two nights ago Ed Stetzer of Lifeway and Bryan Loritts from Kainos hosted an evening panel discussion called “Time to Speak” on race, recents events, and the gospel. You can view the entire 2 hour event here. One message was clear from the beginning: we have come very far with race relations since the days of Martin Luther King Jr. but most Americans believe we still have very far to go. I think this statement is true regardless of where your opinion is on recent events.
There were two different panels that discussed these things for an hour each. The first panel was: Voddie Baucham, Bryan Loritts, Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, and Thabiti Anyabwile. The second panel consisted of Derwin Gray, Eric Mason, Trillia Newbell, John Piper, and Albert Tate.
Here are my thoughts….
The discussion in the first panel largely consisted of a dialogue between Voddie Baucham and Thabiti Anyabwile who both have written blog posts about the recent race events of Ferguson and New York in which they took VERY different views. Baucham said this to open the first panel, “For me, when I look at this, regardless of all the other issues surrounding it and the facts that are being debated and disputed, one of the things that we have to keep in mind is the fact that Eric Garner and Mike Brown were not Martin Luther King Jr. There is a difference. There is a distinction between individuals who are living lives that represent what we are fighting for and individuals who are living lives that represent what we are trying to rise above. For me, that was the note that was important to hit that wasn’t being hit.” He went on to say that young black men have a good reason to be afraid of police only if they are breaking the law. This is the kind of living he was taught to avoid as a child, and I agree with him this is the kind of living we should seek to rise above.
Thabiti Anyabwile responded by saying this, “I think it’s ahistorical and is very close to willfully ignorant to argue that there are no systemic injustices in this country, either in its history or in its present. To argue that because we have some high-profile exemplars like the president, the attorney general, and so on, I think we rob ourselves of the sanctifying power of the gospel when the Spirit confronts us about this sin. Racism is just a species of alienation from the fall. It is a particular kind of alienation that operates systematically along the lines of ethnicity, skin color, and so on.” Anyabwile went on to point out reasons why he thought Baucham was wrong. Baucham responded and the two went back and forth for about 35 minutes and in my opinion Baucham made much more sense than Anyabwile. Baucham pointed out the evil patterns in young black culture that lead to events like we’ve seen this past months while Anyabwile focused largely on systematic oppression of police toward certain ‘profiles.’
Darrin Patrick chimed in and said a good clarifying statement, “This is going to be polarizing, it’s going to be difficult, people are going to disagree, but if we can’t have these conversations in the church, how can we possibly expect the world to have them? It’s our chance to have that conversation.”
This first panel was a good one, in which Baucham clearly was the black sheep who, in my opinion, was one of the only ones who spoke what needed to be spoken – things which no one else was willing to say.
Derwin Gray began this panel and, to me, spoke the greatest. Gray, a black pastor, said, “Before the cross there were two different people, Jews and Gentiles. After the cross we have something greater, one new people who are blood soaked and form what we call the Church.” This statement set the stage for the rest of the panel, which made it clearly different and more gospel centered than the first panel (which was by and large only about specific items involving police, Ferguson, and New York).
John Piper than urged pastors “…not to be cowards in the pulpit on social issues such as abortion and race, exhorting them to pre-empt issues biblically by teaching on them from Scripture long before they hit the news cycle.” This is not an issue that will fade away. We will have another Ferguson most likely sometime in the future. Pastors ought to be working, from the pulpit, to prepare our people for such times. Piper then concluded, “There’s discouraging things to see and there’s encouraging things to see (on racial issues and the church). This is encouraging: the number of young, black, theologically rich, socially aware men feels fresh to me. You didn’t see that a generation ago. That feels really hopeful.”
My concluding thoughts:
Overall, it was a good evening of discussion. I greatly benefitted from watching this live event and I am glad Lifeway and Kainos prepared and executed it well, and for free!
Yes, there are things wrong with our justice system. Police sometimes do things they shouldn’t do. But there are many things wrong with black culture that are leading young black men astray. One could say the same thing about lower class (where I live!) white neighborhoods or hispanic neighborhoods too. We are called to be Christlike, love and pray for our enemies, submit to the authorities, and turn the other cheek if we are oppressed. The one thing, as Christians, we’re not called to do is respond with force. Example? The oppressed community in view in James 5:7-12 was called to do two things: wait for God to carry out justice, and trust in God rather than respond with force (click here to listen to my sermon on this text). This is the response we ought to desire regardless of what color our skin is and though that is true Thabiti Anyabwile wore a t-shirt specially made for the evening with names of oppressed black men throughout the past 10 years that did the exact opposite of what is called for in James 5:7-12. His shirt gave the sense similar to what Trip Lee and Lecrae have been saying, “Could’ve been me” – which in my opinion is the wrong response. To hear Thabiti say, “I am Mike Brown” and Lee and Lecrae saying, “Could’ve been me” is only a correct and logical statement if they are breaking the law as these others were. This, to me, is unhelpful dialogue more informed and enflamed by race than the truths of the Gospel.
Bottom line: when we come to Christ by faith we are reconciled to God, and once that happens we find ourselves becoming reconciled to one another. The gospel, not the color of our skin, should shape our view on race. This ought to give us empathy toward all parties involved by placing us firmly in the shoes of both Mike Brown and Officer Wilson.
An encouraging read for today from John Piper on why he is so very thankful for Martin Luther King Jr:
The racial world I grew up in and the one we live in today are amazingly different. Racism remains in many forms in America and around the world. But in the days of my youth the segregation was almost absolute and the defense of it was overt and ugly, without shame.
In 1954, seventeen states required segregated public schools (ABW, 99); In 1956, 85% of all white southerners rejected the statement, “White students and Negro students should go to the same schools”; 73% said that there should be “separate sections for Negros on streetcars and buses”;
62% did not want a Negro “with the same income and education” as them to move into their neighborhood (ABW, 144); In 1963, 82% of all white southerners opposed a federal law that would give “all persons, Negros as well as white, the right to be served in public places such as hotels, restaurants, and similar establishments” (ABW, 139); And in 1952 (when I was six years old), only 20% of southern blacks of voting age were registered to vote.
The upshot of those statistics was an unjust, unsafe, condescending, unwelcoming, demeaning, and humiliating world for blacks. Have you ever paused to ask yourself what separate water fountains and separate restrooms could possibly mean except: You are unclean — like lepers. It was an appalling world.
Between that racially appalling world and this racially imperfect one strode Martin Luther King. We don’t know if the world would have changed without him, but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God. Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws. He was used in the mighty hand of Providence to change the world so that the most appalling, blatant, degrading, public expressions of racism have gone away.
For that, this MLK day is worthy of our thankful reckoning.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life to change the world. And toward the end he was increasingly aware that “the Movement” would cost him his life. The night before he was assassinated by James Earl Ray outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he preached at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple. He had come to Memphis to support the black sanitation workers.
His message came to be called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He began it by surveying world history in response to God’s question: “When would you have liked to be alive?” King answered, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Why? Because “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening in our world.”
What was happening? “We are determined to be men. We are determined to be people.” We are standing up. “A man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.” For a brief window of time — just long enough — MLK was able to use his voice to restrain violence and overcome hate: “We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces. They don’t know what to do.” He kindled a kind of fire that no dogs could quench and no fire hoses could put out.
It was “a dangerous kind of unselfishness.” Like the Good Samaritan. “The Levite asked, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ That’s the question before you tonight.”
A dangerous unselfishness. So dangerous it would cost MLK his life. And he saw it coming. That morning there was a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta to Memphis. He felt it coming. So he closed his sermon prophetically:
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Ten hours later he was dead. My world was changed forever. And I am thankful.