John

The Counselor Has Come To You (John 16:7-14)

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (or Advocate) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince (or convict) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-14)

This is part of the last recorded teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John, which was the last of the gospels to be written.[1] If there was ever a time to look for Jesus to bring home the most important things, it’s during this teaching. This passage is not long, but it’s loaded.

“It is to your advantage that I go away.”

So this is a big deal. Here’s Jesus, the one and only incarnation of God in the flesh – and he’s telling his disciples it’s to their advantage that He leave so that the Holy Spirit’s presence will now be a part of their life in some way that it was not before. That’s huge. It’s not that the Holy Spirit is more important that Jesus; it’s just that Jesus had done Jesus’ work, and it’s time for the Holy Spirit to do the Holy Spirit’s  work. So what is this work?

  • Bringing conviction or convincing to the world of humanity’s sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the coming judgment
  • Giving the inspiration for what would become known as the New Testament[i]
  • Pointing toward the glory of Jesus, which seems to be a direct reference to how the written Scripture will glorify Jesus – something which John explicitly claims to be doing at the end of his gospel.[ii] (John 20:31)

I have some extra explanation for the second two points at the end of this post. My main focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do for the world.

The conviction of our sin, because we do not believe in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit convicts of sin in a way that drives us to the only one who can forgive us and save us. This requires a conviction about who Jesus is, obviously, but it also requires a conviction about the reality of sin. How can we appreciate a Savior when we have no idea we need saving?

It’s the lead here in Jesus’ teaching. If you want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in you, you will know this because God will put the reality of your sins in front of you. We can walk away from the work of the Holy Spirit with a lot results – hope, peace, encouragement, conviction -  but no one walks away from a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit proud. “Godly sorrow brings repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Before the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we might think we’re not that bad. We might think, “I’m doing pretty good on my own; my sin is not that big of a deal.” Not when the Holy Spirit is working in us. Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon:

The Holy Spirit does not come to make sinners comfortable in their sins, but to cause them to grieve over their sins. He does not help them to forget their sin, or think little of it, but He comes to convince them of the horrible enormity of their iniquity. It is no work of the Spirit to pipe to men’s dancing. He does not bring forth flute, harp, dulcimer and all kinds of music to charm the unbelieving into a good opinion of themselves, but He comes to make sin appear sin, and to let us see its fearful consequences. He comes to wound so that no human balm can heal, to kill so that no earthly power can make us live.

The flowers bedeck the meadows when the grass is green, but lo, a burning wind comes from the desert and the grass withers and the flowers fall away. What is it that makes the beauty and excellence of human righteousness to wither as the green herb? Isaiah says it is “because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it.” There is a withering work of the Spirit of God which we must experience or we shall never know His quickening and restoring power.

The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are not just mistake-prone; we are rebels at war with a holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit shines a light on our sins and then makes us look at them in all their ugliness. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to get to work in your life, buckle up, because you are going to end up on your knees at the foot of the cross.That’s a daunting but beautiful thing. As several testimonies highlighted the past several weeks, repentance is a gift. In the great awakening of 1860-61 in Great Britain, a high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town:

"Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man's eyes to see the real state of heart. Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven." (J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain) https://enduringword.com/commentary/john-16/

Godly sorrow brings repentance, and repentance is crucial not just to entering into the Kingdom of God but experiencing life within it to the fullness.

I want to be careful here. If we are crushed into hopeless despair by our sin, that’s a different thing. Satan can distort our awareness of our guilt  (the debt we incur because of our sin) so that it drives us to self-destructive despair.  When that happens we increasingly see us and our sin, and we just spiral downward into self-loathing.

Godly sorrow always points us to God, which means we will always have hope in the midst of our conviction. God will make us kneel before He raises us up, but he will never make us grovel and then kick us while we are down. If that’s what you are experiencing, that’s not the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Holy Spirit will free you from.

Repentance is a gift. So is the conviction that brings us the initial awareness of our guilt. This godly awareness is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. It is a gift of love. It’s in our awareness of our guilt that we know God has not given up on us; he is pursuing us like ‘the hound of heaven’ - relentless, close, involved. He’s not an Orwellian Big Brother, waiting to stomp a holy boot in our face and grind us under his tyranny. He’s a loving Father who wants spiritual boys and girls to grow into righteous men and women; he’s a Master Builder who never stops turning the shack of our lives into a mansion.

In our peace we feel God’s presence; in our hope and joy we feel His presence. We can’t forget that in our awareness of our guilt we feel His presence too. It’s a sign that God is at work in us. Spurgeon again:

“A sinner is a sacred thing: the Holy Ghost hath made him so… a man truly convinced of sin by the Spirit of God is a being to be sought after as a jewel that will adorn the crown of the Redeemer.”  http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols28-30/chs1708.pdf

 

The conviction of Jesus’ righteousness

Righteousness is another way of saying ‘being right with God.’ We have what the Bible calls a Counselor or Advocate in Jesus. This is a legal term; we have someone who defends us in God’s court. He is the attorney for the accused – us – and on our own, we have only plea: “Guilty.” Jesus is not there to excuse or explain away what we have done; he’s not there not to argue for our awesomeness. He’s there to display His.

Jesus makes it so that His intrinsic righteousness – that is, the holy perfection of his nature in which there is not even a smudge of sin or evil – is given to us through his forgiveness and by his grace.  In Jesus, we see how a God whose holiness demands that He judge sin and evil is also a God whose holiness demands that He provide a way of escape. So God did not turn a blind eye to our sin; instead, He satisfied His own demand for justice.

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  •  “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)
  • “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
  • “There is, therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “God has united you with Christ Jesus… Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

When we are convicted of sin, we will feel the daunting weight of justice. We will be convicted of the impossibility of paying for our own sins. But this godly conviction will turn our eyes to Jesus, and we will be amazed by the goodness, holiness, and righteousness of the perfect savior who took our sins upon himself, who died that we could live.

One way you know the Holy Spirit is at work in you is that you are convicted of sin. The next way is that in the midst of that conviction there is a growing appreciation for the righteous love and provision of Jesus.

 

The conviction of a final judgment of evil

First, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Act 17:31). Jesus singles out the  ‘ruler of this world,’ another way of referring to Satan, but this includes all that has plagued the world because of Satan’s destructive work.  It’s not just Satan; it’s the havoc he has unleashed on the world.[2]  All injustice, pain and suffering will one day have their reckoning.

Tim Keller likes to say that in the day of final judgment ‘all that is bad will be undone.’ The answer to the question, “What will God do about evil?” is that He will judge it.  Why He waits as long as He does is not necessarily ours to know. But what He will one day do is known. God will have the final word. God wins.

 

So how does this impact our life today?

First, if you are not aware of your sinfulness, pray to God that the Holy Spirit convicts you. You need to be at the foot of the cross.

Second if you are aware of your sinfulness, don’t be discouraged by it. Remember that God loves you enough to convict you. If you are retreating into shame and despair, pray that the Holy Spirit’s conviction brings about a godly sorrow, one that leads you to repentance and takes your eyes off of your sin and onto Christ.

Third, pray that God uses His Spirit to increase your appreciation of Jesus. Pray that you can truly appreciate the goodness, holiness and majesty of Christ.

Finally, don’t forget that one day evil will be judged. Satan’s power will be obliterated. One day there will be a New Heaven and New Earth where God will wipe away all tears and all sorrow, and we will live in its fullness with our Savor.

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[1] https://carm.org/when-were-gospels-written-and-by-whom

[2] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/20-14.htm

[i] In verses 7-11 Jesus talked about what the Holy Spirit will do for the world; in versed 12-14, Jesus appears to shift and talk specifically now to the disciples about how the Holy Spirit will help them in their writing of Scripture (John 16: 12-14; John 15:26). As I have been studying commentaries on these verses, almost everyone is in agreement that, considering the context, this is about God’s role within the writers of Scripture so that they get the sacred text right. This particular passage was a promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be present and faithful in the apostolic founding of the church so that they could record and teach all that Jesus had taught, and even inspire them on issues that Jesus had not directly addressed. Lots of good commentaries that further explain this are available at biblehub.com.

The Holy Spirit would even instruct them on “things to come,” which most likely includes two things: insight into the future as we look toward the judgment followed by the rebuilding of the New Heaven and Earth, as well as guiding the founders of the church by helping them understand how the Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and teaching will impact the newly formed church that is now inhabiting God’s spiritual kingdom here on earth.

Some commentators note two potential implications of this passage: First, an ongoing sense that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth as we study that same Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to record truth, and the Holy Spirit also works within us so that we understand it. Second, an implication that the Holy Spirit will work from then on in all believers to lead them into truth, which typically means giving personal guidance or insight.

Both of those inferences offer truth about how the Holy Spirit works within believers. If I look at this teaching in this context, it's hard for me to see that was what Jesus intended to convey in this particular passage. However, I believe support is found elsewhere in the Bible.

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[ii]He will glorify me.” The Holy Spirit always points toward Christ. There are different ways this happens – through the convictions I mentioned earlier, through the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, or through the fruit of the Holy Spirit displayed in our lives. But in all these things, we know the Holy Spirit is at work if Jesus is glorified.

If people are glorified, or churches, or ministries obscure the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If events overshadow the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If the gifts and their manifestation point toward the people using them, or if people are inclined to seek the gifts and not the giver, that’s a problem. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is not at work, but if anything or anyone increases while Christ decreases, something has gone wrong.

The Glory Of God (John 13-17)

When we think of someone having glory, we tend to think of some who is either wildly over-promoted or who is an egomaniac. Children say, “Look at me!” and we think it’s cute, but when adults do this we think they are narcissists. If you are a Brian Regan fan, you are familiar with his Me Monster, the person who constantly turns every conversation back to himself. There’s this great line in Gladiator when he says to the monstrously proud emperor: “The time for honoring yourself is at an end.”

In the book of John, Jesus is constantly telling people to glorify God, and He is glad that through the salvation of people He himself is glorified. And then he says God will glorify those whom he has chosen, called and justified.[1]  So, if you are a Christian, you believe God is glorious; you believe He knows it and wants others to know it; and you believe that God wants to make you glorious. The language of glory and the reality of glorification is directly connected with God and with us. I don’t know about you, but I think that all sounds exciting even as I feel a little – maybe a lot -  uncomfortable.

Why? Because I don’t think we have a great understanding of glory. That’s not the Bible’s fault. I suspect it has a lot to do with how we see our fallen world distort or ruin our perspective on what makes something or someone glorious, and how we should respond.

So let’s talk about glory and glorificiation, because we are going to need a biblically grounded view of this if we are going to have a true view of God and of ourselves as followers of Christ. We will begin with a small sample of verses from the book of John that capture the biblical use of the word ‘glory’ as it relates to God, people, shame, suffering and hair.

  • John 8:54: “Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory (doksa) is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies (doksazo) me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’”
  • John 11:4  “His [Lazarus] sickness will not end in his death but will bring great glory (doksa) to God. As these events unfold, the Son of God will be glorified (doksa).””
  • John 12:23 “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (in reference to his crucifixion)
  • John 12:42- 43 “…the Pharisees continued their threats to expel all His followers from the synagogue. Here’s why: they loved the glory (doksa) of men more than they desired to glorify (doksa) God.”
  • John 14:13 “Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory (doksazo) from the Son.”
  • John 15:8 “I am the vine, and you are the branches…. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory (doksazo) to the Father.”
  • John 17:9-10 “This request is not for the entire world; it is for those whom You have given to Me because they are Yours… Through them I have been glorified (doksazo).”
  • John 21:19  Peter would glorify God by his death.

A couple other examples not found in the book of John:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:15 “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory (doksa) to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”
  • Philippians 3:19: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory (doksa) is in their shame.”
  • Ephesians 3:13 “So I ask you not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory (doksa).”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify (doksa) God in your body.”
  • Matthew 5:16  “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify (doksazo) your Father in heaven.”
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18  “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious (doksa) image.”

Paul even writes in 1 Corinthians 15 how there are different levels of glory for stars and moons as well as for the physical body and the resurrected body. Add them all up, and that’s a lot of glory, and over some seemingly odd things. So, let’s dig.

Dóksa is the Greek word that means "that which evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth." Doksazo is related, and it means “to ascribe weight by recognizing real substance (value).” It acknowledges the true character of someone or the essence of something, exalts a glorious rank or position, and seeks to increase renown.[2]  

So it is praise-worthy; it’s inherently weighted with value; it’s something good in its essence or nature; it’s achieves a good goal or fulfills purpose; it’s something that brings renown or honor; it’s the majesty associated with perfection.[3] Understanding how this one word is used for all kinds of things can help us make sense of some of the puzzling Bible verses.

  • Paul said long hair was a woman’s glory because in the city of Corinth, it was praise-worthy or evoked good opinion. The women whom the culture admired all had long hair; it was considered a sign of inherent or intrinsic worth. Long hair exalted them and increased their renown.
  • Shame can be our glory when a sinful, destructive lifestyle is something we exalt in to make us famous.
  • Suffering is for the glory of others because it shows the intrinsic value of other people. The Christians in Ephesus had a very real ‘weight and substance’ (they mattered!), so much so that Paul considered suffering for them to be a privilege.
  • We can glorify God with our body through sexual purity because in so doing we are acknowledging the real value of our sexuality, and then directing it toward God’s designed way, thus protecting the intrinsic worth and true essence of our sexual nature – which in turn evokes the “good opinion” not just of God but of others.
  • Jesus said he would be glorified in His death (John 13:31). That act of sacrifice was loaded with value; it would bring renown or a reputation of an event and God who could forgive the sins of the world, and it was the perfect way in which He fulfilled His purpose on earth (John 18:37).

With all this in mind, I will attempt a condensed definition of glory: “That which is present in someone or something whose nature, character and/or actions are worthy of honor.”  

TYPES OF GLORY (ways in which someone’s nature, character and/or actions are worthy of honor)

  • Intrinsic:  Because God is the Creator, there is a type of glory embedded in everything.[4] It’s embedded in the very nature of things crafted by the Master Designer. There are different levels of this, of course.  A tree has its own kind of glory. A horse is glorious as a horse. You, however, are far more glorious because you are created in God’s image.  That is the greatest glory God grants to any part of His creation.  There is nothing the Hubble telescope captures that compares to your glory. This could also include the idea that there is a design and purpose for your life in a deeply spiritual sense (to glorify God and be transformed into the image of Christ) and on a practical level (you have a unique set of personality traits, character, skills, and opportunities).[5]
  • Inherited: Everyone is born with a citizenship in a country, which may or may not be glorious.  You have a racial or ethnic glory – there is a biological history of who you are. You have a family glory  - or at least that’s God design for the family. IN all these cases, sinners in a fallen world can turn this potential glory into shame.
  • Granted: Knighthood. Honorary degrees. Perhaps even adoption fits into this category. In fact, adoption may be the best example because knighthood and honorary degrees, while given as a gift, are both earned to some degree. The Bible portrays adoption into the family of God as one of the most glorious things that can happen to us. That is a granted glory: we weren’t born into his family biologically; we didn’t inherit it; and we can’t earn it (which is our next category). It was given to us in an act of grace and love. Perhaps we should add suffering.
  • Earned: We are rewarded for completing task (“Well done!”) Real degrees. Awards of all kinds. NBA champs. Fittest Man/Woman in the world; promotions; elections. Earned glory fall into the category of what the Bible calls “the glory of men.” This is not necessarily a bad thing; some things we have received or that we do are worthy of being applauded.  I was watching the Crossfit Games this past week, and let me tell you, those athletes deserve huge props for what they accomplished. They have earned a moment of glory from the crowd. But then there’s next year. If they don’t win again, their name fades. In ten years, only true fans know who they are, and in 50 years, nobody cares. The Bible is very clear that the ‘praise of men” ought not be a goal that drives our lives. It withers like cut grass (1 Peter 1:24); it’s s crown that fades (1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Peter 5:4).  The glory of people will fade; the glory of God remains for eternity.  (Perhaps we should add suffering here; God will glorify us as we suffer for him, and that’s a glory that we earn by our suffering for the sake of the Gospel. That glory is not temporary and will not fade.)

GOD’S GLORY IS INTRINSIC

It is not inherited, granted or earned. Christian philosophers like to say that God is a maximal being – he has no room to grow; he is perfectly full of all his attributes.  When we say that God is love, truth, life; that he is full of kindness and anger; that he is just and merciful; we mean He is perfectly and completely these things, and they all intertwine and balance in ways we cannot possibly conceive. His will is the best will possible. His acts are the absolute best acts that can be conceived or done.

God does not need our attention to build His glory. He’s just fine on his own. When we see and acknowledge God for who he is, we are not giving temporary applause to a fleeting, imperfect person. We see True Glory in  God’s perfect nature; the eternal, profound weightiness of His existence: his real, indescribably valuable substance; His perfect (albeit mysterious) work in the world.

GOD’S GLORY IS OVERWHELMING

The Bible tells us that we can’t handle seeing the glory of God’s nature. Exodus 33 records that when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God allows Moses to see His back but not His face.  God clarifies what this means: “ You can see my goodness and my acts of mercy and compassion, but you can’t see me directly.” In the next chapter, when God does pass before Moses, here’s what He says:

“The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished...” (Exodus 34:6-7)

It’s all actions. On this side of Heaven, we see God’s glory by His work in the world, which reveals his nature in a way that has to be hidden to some degree (Revelation 22:4). It won’t be until we get to Heaven that we will see God as He is (1 John 3:2).

(Worth noting: When John records in Revelations that he had just a vision of God, he fell down as if he were dead (Revelation 1). We cannot handle ‘seeing the face of God’ on this side of Heaven. I hear more and more popular church teachers talk about being caught up into Heaven and personally talking with Jesus or talking with God face-to-face. If I look to the Bible, I have to believe this is not happening literally or they would be dead. Even if it’s a claimed vision of God, look to the testimony of John again. If they have a legitimate vision of God, I would expect that either they can’t talk about (which was Paul’s experience – 2 Corinthians 12:2) or and they would fall down as if dead and be totally undone. I have yet to hear this in modern reports, so based on the record of Scripture, I must conclude they are not visiting or having visions of God.)

GOD SHARES HIS GLORY WITH HIS CHILDREN

We need to make a distinction between some language in the Old Testament vs. New Testament on this issue. Isaiah 42:8 says that God will not yield His glory or praise to another. What does this mean?

  • First, there is no other God like him. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords (Revelations 19:16).
  • Second, He is Israel’s covenant-making God who protects, leads, and delivers them, and Israel had better not give the credit to anyone else.

That’s the Old Testament context for God saying he will not share his glory. I’m talking about a different kind of sharing to which the New Testament refers. So let’s go back to my opening remarks about people who are egomaniacs when they demand attention.  We must see the stark contrast between a person who says “Look at me!” and a God who says the same.

We try to get people’s attention to fan the flames of our fading, temporary glory. It’s why we get so obnoxious. It’s why, for example, our cultural conversation is getting worse. People get attention like never before because of social media. They are also competing with more people than ever before. So they say or do something - and it fades. So they do something more controversial. It fades too. Building and sustaining a glory that relies on the attention and praise of others is exhausting and destructive.

And as we give glory to God, He doesn’t just absorb it like a person would. God does something very different: He gives His glory to us, and as we are transformed miraculously into the image of Christ with ever increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18), that glorious transformation points toward the glory of a God who can work that kind of miraculous transformation. Here’s how Romans 8:28-30 describes it:

“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.”

Egomaniacs absorb your time and attention because they want to be the only ones who matter. They want you to disappear, to lose your value in the light of their glory. God demands our time and attention so He can in turn transform us by the light of His glory into the kind of people God intended for us to be.

When we commit to Jesus there is not a diminishing of our value or a disappearance of our self; it’s a transformation into the fullness of whom God intended us to be. His glorious nature is revealed when He brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life in a way that testifies to the world that it is only Christ in us that gives us the hope of true and lasting glory (Colossians 1:27).

So that’s glory. But we are called to glorify. That’s a verb, not a noun. We are supposed to do something on behalf of that which is glorious. Glorification can be defined this way: “Acknowledging, honoring and promoting someone with glory.”

Affirm Intrinsic Glory

This can be done with people by acknowledging the image of God in them, and by seeing the character traits/gifts/skills/opportunities that make them uniquely them. Proverbs admonishes parents, “Raise up children in the way they should go…” Josh McDowell has made the point that this isn’t about the paths of righteousness; it’s about seeing the strengths in your children and helping them to flourish in the way they are built to go. There is a glory that God imparts to us by letting us bear His image, and that shows up not just in our intrinsic value, but in our unique creation.

Be in awe of the intrinsic glory of God. It is supreme. It is flawless. We don’t have to hedge our bets like we do with people. With people, we say: “I know you are image bearer and all, but I think the image of a jerk got mixed up in there somehow. You might be a special snowflake, but you’re melting.” There are no qualifications when it comes to God. God is the only one who deserves unreserved affirmation of the intrinsic glory of His very nature.

Applaud Glorious Actions

We do this with people all the time. Masons build fireplaces; firemen put out fires; cooks make meals. When their work is done with excellence, properly displayed and clearly seen, people applaud and nobody objects. Applause and appreciation is what is supposed to follow from work well done.  Our leaders are supposed to “praise those who do well” (1 Peter 2:14). Jesus will say to those in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). It’s a good thing to give proper applause for glorious actions.

Worship God for what He has done (which is a revelation of His character). If we think it’s good to praise other people for what they do well, how much more should we be praising God? God is the Creator of all things. He saves us from the spiritual death that follows sin; He has the power to heal us on every level (and He does so at times in this life and for good in the next). He judges rightly; He punishes fairly; He shows mercy generously; He loves profoundly and relentlessly. And when the perfect work of God in properly seen and understood, praise is the natural and necessary response.[6]

Reflect/Emulate That Which Is Glorious

On a person-to-person level, we see this all the time. It’s what kids do to parents, purposefully when they are young and unwittingly when they are older. There’s a country song: “I’ve been watching you, Dad, ain’t that cool. I’m your buckaroo I want to be like you.”  For better or worse, kids reflect their parents to some degree.

It’s how protégés honor their teachers. It’s how coaches pay homage to the coaches who coached them.  We reflect others when songs or books change us or we begin to talk like the people around us (if we were in the South, I would say that ‘all ya’ll do that’). We are always reflecting. I’m not sure we have a choice – which is why it is so important to be aware of whose image we are reflecting.

When we see something that we believe is glorious (go back to my earlier definition), we don’t just copy it, we spread it around. We want what we love or admire to go viral. We tell others and try to get them excited about the one to whom we believe glory is due.

This principle is at work spiritually between us and God. Moses’ face reflected God’s glory (Exodus 34:29); followers of Christ will increasingly be transformed into His image and in so doing will reflect His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is our glorification of a glorious God by living a life in which our attitudes, words, and actions reflect His glory. I will let Andrew Murray, a Dutch Reformed missionary to South Africa in the late 1800’s, have the last word:

“This is the glory of God, that He is the alone and ever-flowing fountain of all life and goodness and happiness, and that His creatures can have all this only as He gives it and works it in them. His working all in all, this is His glory. And the only glory His creature, His child, can give Him is this -- receiving all He is willing to give, yielding to Him to let Him work, and then acknowledging that He has done it. Thus God Himself shows forth His glory in us; in our willing surrender to Him, and our joyful acknowledgment that He does all, we glorify Him. And so our life and work is glorified, as it has one purpose with all God's own work, that in all things God may be glorified, whose is the glory for ever and ever.'

The glory of God as Creator was seen in His making man in His own image. The glory of God as Redeemer is seen in the work He carries on for saving men, and bringing them to Himself. This glory is the glory of His holy love, casting sin out of the heart, and dwelling there. The only glory we can bring to God is to yield ourselves to His redeeming love to take possession of us, to fill us with love to others, and so through us to show forth His glory. Let this be the one end of our lives -- to glorify God; in living to work for Him, as of the strength which God supplieth'; and winning souls to know and live for His glory.Lord! teach us to serve in the strength which God supplieth, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Andrew Murray, “Working For God”

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Recommend Resources

https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/view.cgi?n=2322

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/glory/

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-to-do-good-so-that-god-gets-the-glory

http://www.puritansermons.com/watson/watson5.htm

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2010/10/05/how-can-i-glorify-god/

https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/blog/glorifying-god-all-things-all-times

FOOTNOTES

[1] Paul tells us in Romans, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (doksazo). “

[2] http://biblehub.com/greek/1391.htm

[3] http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/doxa.html

[4] 1 Corinthians 15: 39-44  For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.”

[5] “Don’t Neglect Your Gift”

[6] I don’t have the time to delve into the problem of pain and suffering. How is God glorified through that? It’s an important question. For now, I will point you toward an article at TC Apologetics, “The Problem Of Pain,” which is the first in a series. http://tcapologetics.org/the-problem-of-pain/?print=pdf

 

Jesus' New Command (John 13,15)

After the Lord’s Supper in John 13, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples that goes on for several chapters (13-17). He revisits multiple themes which will build on life in the Kingdom of God. This is John's last lengthy recorded conversation of Jesus talkining to his disciples. Judas has left to betray him; time is short. These chapters give us a condensed focus: “Remember this.” Jesus highlight a number of different themes from these chapters; my focus here is on what he had to say about loving other people in a way that does justice to the Kingdom of God and brings honor and glory to Jesus.

One of Jesus’ most famous teachings is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This was a brilliant distillation of all 600+ Old Testament laws. If you do the first properly, the second should follow naturally. If you don’t do the second, it’s a pretty good indication that you aren’t doing the first well either.[1] This summary of the law raises two immediate questions.

  • “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everybody is your neighbor, even those you most dislike for religious and cultural reasons.[2]
  • What does it mean to love your neighbor “as yourself”?  Didn’t Jesus just say we have to die to ourselves? How does this work? And there may be an even more haunting question that comes with this: “What if I don’t love myself? Does this mean I can’t love other people?”

So let’s talk about what it means to love ourselves. We all love ourselves in the sense that we consistently desire and strive for our own self-interested fulfillment or goals. It is the conscious or unconscious motive of all of us. We are the primary focus in our lives. We are the one to whom we are most committed. In people with an inordinate amount of pride, this is obvious. In people who lack a sense of self-esteem or self-worth, this is not so obvious even though it is still present. The one wallowing in self-debasement and self-rejection still has the self as the focus of their attention, time and emotion as much as those who glories in themself. For both the self-satisfied and the self-loathing, their focus on themselves betrays their deepest level of commitment. In this sense all people love themselves.

With that very brief introduction the love of self in mind (and I know it's a complex topic), it's worth noting that the ‘love of self’ is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • God created us in Him image, and there is a value, worth and dignity to all of us. If we don't have some measure of appreciation or recognition of this, and we don't think and act in ways that promote our flourisning and that honor this reality, then we are not seeing ourselves biblically.
  • We see the love of self assumed and accepted in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19, God gives a list of actions that his people should and should not do: don’t lie, steal or cheat; take care of the poor; don’t show favoritism; pay good wages; don’t mock the deaf and blind; take care of immigrants, etc). Twice God summarizes: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (verses 18 and 34). In other words, you would want others to do this for you. Why? You think you are important, and that you matter, and that you deserve justice and mercy.You love yourself. As you would have done to you (because you think you matter), do to others - they matter too.
  • We see this in the New Testament as well. Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself" assumes that we clearly already love ourselves, and he doesn't say to stop. Paul argued in Ephesians 5 that each husband should love his wife as himself (5:33), "for no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it" (5:29).

So, biblically speaking, a love of self is assumed and not condemned. Emotional and spiritual health will include a proper understanding of our value, worth and dignity as image bearers of God; how we view ourselves is important, because how we love others is intertwined with how we love ourselves.

The problem is the degree and the manner in which we love ourselves. Paul warned in 2 Timothy 3:1-2 that "...in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves" (“someone preoccupied with their own selfish desires”[3]).  He was not giving new biblical insight into human psyche. He was warning about an inordinate love of self that sacrifices everyone else. [4]

In his condensed version of the Law, Jesus was not commanding us to learn how to love ourselves so we could better love others. Achieving self-love was not the point in God’s Law or in Jesus’ command: it was the assumed default. He was commanding that people who obviously are self-centered and self-interested act in a way that promotes and supports the interests and good of those around them. Greg Laurie provides a great summary:

“When Scripture says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ it is not saying, ‘First learn to love yourself, and then love your neighbor.’ Rather, it is saying, ‘It is obvious you already love yourself. Love your neighbor in the same way.’”[5]

This raises a new dilemma. Perhaps our idea of what it means to love ourselves is terribly flawed. Matt Chandler likes to say that we don’t lie to anyone more than we lie to ourselves. Similarly, it may well be true that of all the people who love us, we are the worst - not because we hate ourselves but because we don’t actually know how to love ourselves well.

  • Have you ever pampered yourself when you should have been more disciplined, and as a result what felt good and rewarding in the moment bogged you down in the long run?
  • Have you ever followed your heart when you should have followed your head, and what you thought would make you happy blew up and hurt you?
  • Have you ever ignored good advice because it was hard and the boundaries would rob you of freedom – only to find out later that those boundaries were exactly what you needed to keep you from becoming enslaved to sinful habits?
  • Have you ever surround yourself with friends who only told you what you wanted to hear about how to live your life, and that echo chamber was so nice - until the shame and guilt of what they encouraged caught up with you?

In all these cases, we were convinced that we knew the best way to love ourselves and our lives, but our understanding of what it meant to love was terribly flawed. Is it any wonder we have a hard time loving others well if the standard is “as you love yourself”?    

Lest you think Jesus messed something up here by giving a bad teaching, see the context. When Jesus condensed the Law into “Love God and love others as you love yourself,” he was honoring the Law as the Law : “This is how you can understand what God has revealed to you so far”.  And as I pointed out, Jesus is calling them out of self-centeredness.

But Jesus was constantly making statements of contrast: “You have heard the Law say this…but I say.”  The Law was good but incomplete; Jesus showed the fulfillment. There was a greater, deeper way of understanding almost everything in the law – and that included love.  In his final teaching to his disciples, Jesus completes His revelation by giving them what he calls a “new law” of what it means to fully love well in the Kingdom of God.

John 13:33-35. “33 My children, My time here is brief. You will be searching for Me; and as I told the Jews, “You cannot go where I am going.” 34 So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. 35 Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others…”

John 15:12-13. “12 My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. 13 There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends.”

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So the Law insisted that you can’t just love yourself; you have to love others. That was step one. Jesus fulfills or completes this teaching by revealing that it is the way Jesus loved us, not the way we love ourselves, that is meant to guide us. So, what does that look like? I am going to highlight four ways this happens; this is not a complete list, but I believe these are foundational principles.

1. Christ-like love is sacrificial.

This is, I believe, the most profound aspect of the love of Jesus. After writing this gospel, John wrote several letters to the early church. We read in 1 John:

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." (1 John 4:7-9 NIV)

In Jesus we see the ultimate (and unique) expression of the reality that the one who loves must die either physically or metaphorically.  Jesus did what no one else could in dying to atone for our sin and offer eternal salvation, but if we want to live with others in genuine, loving relationship, we are going to have to lay down our lives for them in some fashion. No one truly loves if they refuse to sacrifice for the one they love. We may not lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel or for others, but we are called to do it all the time in smaller ways. That’s hard enough, but it gets harder:

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. " (Luke 6:27- 36 NIV)

Do you want to live as children of God? You must love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you, give of yourself without an expectation of a return, and be merciful and kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

You may have heard that there is a heated presidential race taking place this year in a nation where religious liberties are eroding and many of our cities are on the boiling point of civil unrest. Perhaps more than ever there is a sense of “us vs. them” permeating our culture, and Christians are increasingly perceived or portrayed – fairly or unfairly - as being on the side of anger, injustice and meanness.

Can you imagine how the national conversation might be going right now if Christians were known for their love? If we held each other accountable and said, “Brother/sister, are you loving the ones who you believe are your enemies?  Are you doing good to those who hate you? Are you offering prayers of blessing for those who curse you?”

The early church upended Roman culture by living radically self-sacrificial lives of love and service to each other and to the Romans. [6] They preached the gospel (at great cost), but they cared for the poor, the sick, the slaves, and the outcasts to such a degree that the Roman anger and contempt shows up in their historian’s writing. And they first permeated and then transformed the Roman world with a love that embodied the love of Christ.

Christians have never brought about positive and lasting cultural change through anger and despair. It’s always been through hope, grace and love.[7] When we love others as God loves us, His name is glorified; His reputation is made great; the true beauty of His spiritual Kingdom is shown to a world in need of hope and redemption.

2. Christ-like love is not conditional.

No one had to be good enough to come to Jesus. While they were dead in our sins, Christ died for them as he does for us (Ephesians 2). He took tax collectors who were pawns of the Romans, soldiers who were part of the oppressors, prostitutes, Samaritans who were of Jewish heritage but worshipped idols, fishermen, carpenters, the religiously arrogant, the humble and sincere… he offered the Kingdom of Heaven to them all.

If we are to love others like Christ loves us, we must offer the kind of love that does not require someone to be good enough before we love them.  This is not a naïve love that overlooks the reality of people’s lives. We all have baggage, and wisdom requires that the love we offer is guided by boundaries for their sake and ours. This is not a love that compromises on truth and holiness; love doesn’t enable sin.

When we offer unconditional love, we cannot merely commit to the good of other people only when they reach a condition we deem acceptable.  It must be offered while they are, in some sense, still deeply unacceptable.  If you have ever been the recipient of this kind of love, you know how beautiful it is.  There is a freedom in being able to say, “I’m not good enough,” and having someone say in return, “I know. And yet I love you.“ There is peace; there is safety; there is hope.

3. Christ-like love is tangible.

I like this quote from Teresa of Avila that captures a biblical principle of the role of Christians as “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12)

“Christ has no body on earth but yours. no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

Words of love are often necessary, but they are not sufficient. Love must be shown.  Jesus did not spend his time talking about how compassionate he was. Jesus embodied it.  You can post articles and change your Facebook profile picture or march in solidarity for a cause, but if that’s all you do, what’s the point? Nobody benefits. Nobody’s life is changed. I’m not saying you should stop doing that, but it’s what you do in the ordinary moments of every day life that matter the most.

I can tell my son Vincent that I care about him until I’m blue in the face, but if I don’t play Munchkins with him or take him the Boardman or watch a movie with him, my words will be hollow. It’ s that tangible investment in his life that lights him up. That’s a reality that translates everywhere. We must be faithfully present, living out the principles to which we claim to adhere. It will be costly; it will be hard. It is also a crucial way in which God brings about transformation in and through you. 

4. Christ-like love desires both justice and mercy.

Recently there has been a lot of coverage of shooting by and of police, as well as the shootings at the nightclub in Orlando and now Munich this past week. Those who love rightly desire that justice be done. If there is evil embedded in individual hearts, groups or systems, those who love cannot be silent or complacent.

And those who love are full of a hope that the presence and power of Jesus is strong enough to root out evil and injustice from the hearts and minds of everybody. The hope of the transformative power of the gospel includes the belief that victims can find justice, healing and peace - and that the perpetrators can be brought to repentance, forgiveness and holiness.

As Jesus was dying on a cross, he prayed for his killers: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34) Jesus didn’t mean they were unintelligent. He said they didn’t understand. And this did not make Jesus rage – it made him grieve.

When is the last time you watched the news and prayed, “Oh, dear God, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”? When is the last time the news made us grieve instead of rage?

We cannot isolate justice and mercy. If the only thing for which we pray and fight is justice, we will become heartless and vindictive. If the only thing for which we pray and strive is mercy, we will enable the very thing that breaks this world and our hearts.  We must pray for God’s righteous justice to roll down lest the world be overtaken by evil; we must simultaneously pray for Christ’s sweet mercy to rise in and through us for the same reason.[8]

And as we love like Christ, we begin to see the answer to the prayer Jesus told us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There is hope that even on this side of heaven the reality of the Kingdom of God can impact the world. The more we appreciate and understand the love Jesus has for us, the more our ability to love is transformed, and the more we love other like Christ loved us. And in all this we will see how God has ordered His Kingdom for our good and His glory.

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[1] “If you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

[2] See Karl’s sermon for more info on why the Jews and Samaritans hated each other (“Faith, Like Water, Flows Downhill”. https://clgonline.org/grace-like-water-flows-downhill/

[3] http://biblehub.com/greek/5367.htm

[4] Remember: when we love, somebody dies. (“Dying To Live.” https://clgonline.org/dying-live-john-12/

[5] http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-problem-with-self-esteem-130595/

[6] Read “A Love Without Condition,” http://www.earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

[7] “Lessons for Today’s Church from the Life of the Early Church,” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/lessons-for-todays-church-from-the-life-of-the-early-church/

[8] Check out a two-part series from Matt Chandler, “Justice and Racial Reconciliation” and “Justice and Law Enforcement.” You can read them at http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/.

Freedom From Slavery (John 8)

As part of the series we are in on the Gospel of John, I (Jeff Martin) will be speaking from John 8:31-59. This passage in John 8 continues to focus on Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem.

It describes an encounter in the Jerusalem Temple between Jesus and a group of Jews from Judea, which included a number of Pharisees. Recall the context from last Sunday – this is right after the incident with the Woman Caught In Adultery. The Pharisees were very publicly reminded of their sinfulness.

There is quite a bit of back and forth in this encounter with Jesus. The Pharisees rarely concede an inch to Jesus on any of His points. Almost every time Jesus makes a proclamation, the Judeans, led by the Pharisees immediately make a rebuttal or negation of Jesus’ statement. At one point, Jesus just unloads. It’s quite stunning, and shows the passion that Jesus has for the truth, specifically how He defines it. Let’s read this passage together.[1]

John 8:31-59

31b So Jesus said to the Judeans who had trusted him, “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples, 32 you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. 35 Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever. 36 So if the Son frees you, you will really be free! 37 I know you are the seed of Abraham. Yet you are out to kill me, because what I am saying makes no headway in you. 38 I say what my Father has shown me; you do what your father has told you!”

39 They answered him, “Our father is Abraham.”

Jesus replied, “If you are children of Abraham, then do the things Abraham did! 40 As it is, you are out to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did nothing like that!  41 You are doing the things your father does.”

“We’re not illegitimate children!” they said to him. “We have only one Father — God!”

42 Jesus replied to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me; because I came out from God; and now I have arrived here. I did not come on my own; he sent me.  43 Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t bear to listen to my message. 44 You belong to your father, Satan, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar — indeed, the inventor of the lie!  45 But as for me, because I tell the truth you don’t believe me. 46 Which one of you can show me where I’m wrong? If I’m telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  47 Whoever belongs to God listens to what God says; the reason you don’t listen is that you don’t belong to God.”

48 The Judeans answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying you are from Samaria and have a demon?”

49 Jesus replied, “Me? I have no demon. I am honoring my Father. But you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking praise for myself. There is One who is seeking it, and he is the judge.

51 Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever obeys my teaching will never see death.”

52 The Judeans said to him, “Now we know for sure that you have a demon! Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever obeys my teaching will never taste death.’ 53 Our father Abraham died; you aren’t greater than he, are you? And the prophets also died. Who do you think you are?”

54 Jesus answered, “If I praise myself, my praise counts for nothing. The One who is praising me is my Father, the very one about whom you keep saying, ‘He is our God.’ 55 Now you have not known him, but I do know him; indeed, if I were to say that I don’t know him, I would be a liar like you! But I do know him, and I obey his word.  56 Abraham, your father, was glad that he would see my day; then he saw it and was overjoyed.”

57 “Why, you’re not yet fifty years old,” the Judeans replied, “and you have seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said to them, “Yes, indeed! Before Abraham came into being, I AM!”

59 At this, they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus was hidden and left the Temple grounds.

In verses 31 through 59 of John chapter 8, I believe Jesus is offering a way to freedom from slavery to sin.  The Jews reject Jesus promise for freedom. Instead, they make a claim to freedom via their inheritance as the seed of Abraham. Jesus assures the Jews that His way is the only way to true freedom in this life and eternally, and that they would do well to “do the things Abraham did!”, if they want to make the claim to his inheritance.

We will look at why would we want this freedom Jesus offers, what this freedom looks like, Jesus’ promise ( You Will Know The Truth and The Truth Will Set You Free!), and where we begin.

WHY WOULD WE WANT THIS FREEDOM JESUS OFFERS?

So we can be free from sin (v.34).  One of the effects of sin is shame. Our shame ultimately causes us to withdraw from those we love, including Jesus, our family and friends.

  • To honor God as our father (v.42)
  • To gain eternal life (v.51)
  • To carry out God’s desires (v. 43), which will help us grow deeper in love with Him and strengthen our faith and trust in Him.

As our love, faith and trust in Him grows, we will look to Him no matter the circumstances of our lives. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 [2], which states that He was sent to:

  • heal the brokenhearted;
  • proclaim freedom to the captives;
  • let out into light those bound in the dark;
  • comfort all who mourn.

We see Jesus doing this all throughout the gospel of John (the Samaritan woman, the lame man, the woman caught in adultery), and I have clearly seen him do this in my life (more on this later). The love we experience as we move deeper in relationship with Him, enables us to do these things for others as well.

As I grow into deeper faith in Jesus, I understand one major difference between the old me and the new me, and that is:   My faith was shallow and weak. I did not trust in the leadership of Christ Jesus then, as I more fully do now. 

WHAT DOES THIS FREEDOM LOOK LIKE?

Maybe this is best described by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians in that all of us, who have turned to Jesus as Lord, will see, as in a mirror, that we are slowly being changed into His very image. Not into Him, but someone that we, and others, would begin to recognize as reflecting Jesus, in our thoughts, words and deeds. [3]

So, from the time we begin to place our trust in Jesus as Lord, until the time of His return, or until our last breath, we should see progress in the transformation of our lives, to be more like Him.  From the old to the new, we are reborn!]

JESUS’ PROMISE - YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!

In verses 31 and 32 below, we see how Jesus calls into obedience, those Jews who have placed their trust in Him, with freedom as the outcome. Please note the logic or sequence in verses 31 and 32: first trust and obey, then freedom follows.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had trusted him: “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples, 32 you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Immediately thereafter, in verse 33, the Jews make the appeal to their inheritance.

33 They answered, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?”

What does Jesus mean?

34 Jesus answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.  35Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever.

Paul explains in Romans 6:16, when we present ourselves as obedient slaves, then to the one we obey, we are slaves. Either we are a slave to sin, which leads to death. Or we are enslaved to obedience to God, which leads to our being made righteous. Jesus then reinforces that He is the source of freedom from slavery to sin.

36“So if the Son frees you, you will really be free!”

There is a kind of natural deconstruction of verses 31, 32 and 34. What do we need to do? Be a disciple. How do we become a disciple? By obeying Jesus. What do we need to know?  The truth. Why do we need to know the truth? To be set free from slavery to sin. So, obeying Jesus by being His disciple leads us to the truth, and the truth leads to freedom from slavery to sin.

WHERE DO WE BEGIN? Be a Disciple!

In Jesus’ era, there were many rabbis (which means scholar or teacher). Rabbis had disciples who were their students or followers. The use of this word “disciple” by Jesus is intended to describe this relationship. The relationship between a disciple and their rabbi is very close:

  • not only did the disciple learn facts,
  • reasoning processes and
  • how to perform religious practices from their rabbi,
  • the disciple also regarded their rabbi as an example to be imitated in conduct and character.

The rabbi, in turn, was considered responsible for their disciples. [2]

You can see from Jesus’ use of this word disciple that He expects us to go deep in our respective relationships with Him:

  • By learning truth from Him, through reading the Word and in prayer,
  • Understanding His reasoning processes,
  • Participating in His religious practices, and
  • Imitating Him.

This requires us to engage in more than just a head level knowledge of who He is and what He is about. He in turn has a responsibility to us! Which He fulfills via His Holy Spirit who is the comforting Counselor who convicts us of sin, leading us to righteousness and the Spirit of Truth, guiding us into all truth – primarily through the study of His word and by prayer.

CONCLUSION

The Lord encounters us every day, in His creation, and most importantly in His word and through prayer. He has sent His Spirit, the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. To bring revelation of scripture, to guide us into His truth. The Lord loves us. He desires us, to be in relationship with us. He wants our hearts. To this there can be no doubt. Just consider what He did for us on the cross. He wants to free us from bondage to sin and usher us into an ever deeper understanding of what it means to be children of the Living God.

I can’t escape this sense that I am to share my story, about the sin in my life and the goodness of the Lord in setting me free from the bondage of sin bit by bit as we move deeper together in relationship.

I am a modern example of the prodigal son. That is, I spent about 35 years of my life, living life my way, which was away from the Lord and deep into sin. I was knee deep in the “miry clay” of sin and it is Jesus who has lifted me out of the clay and set me on the rock of His salvation.

I grew up in a Christian home. We went to Church nearly every Sunday. We attended Bible Camp in the summer, attended missions in the inner city of Detroit with my Grandmother, and I read my Bible regularly. But, as a teenager, I engaged in activities that were in rebellion, otherwise known as sin, toward God. These activities included a fair amount of partying with various drugs and alcohol.

More critically I entered into a very intimate emotional and physical relationship with my first girlfriend, which, given our ages, neither one of us was prepared for. This relationship resulted in her pregnancy, which was terminated. I have not interacted with her since that time, but given how this impacted me, I can only venture that she was impacted far more deeply than I can imagine. This was a pivotal experience that shook the foundation of my life, and rather than repenting and turning to the Lord, I turned away and I decided I could “fix” the emotional mess I was in, on my own.

This was a bad decision.

What started out as an attempt to resolve the emotional issues I was facing as part of my losing a child and the inadequacy I felt about not being able to live up to my responsibilities – due to my age, I lived my life by going deeper and deeper into behavior that was in clear rebellion against God, resulting in my having multiple marriages, and my not walking in the light of the Lord’s Word for nearly 35 years.

Fortunately for me, God is gracious and merciful and He never stopped pursuing me.

I finally began to respond to the Lord’s pursuit of my heart. And the best way I knew how to respond was to start going to church. This was in 2009. We attended church in the typical Sunday morning manner. But there was a problem for me. You see, I can get pretty uptight about being late. Adriana, in contrast, doesn’t. We are, thankfully meeting somewhere in the middle on this issue. So, we frequently arrived late to church, where we were ushered right up to the only empty seats – in the front row. To say the least, my heart was not postured in a way that allowed the Lord to penetrate it.

I think by providence, my sister and her family were attending a church here in town that met at 5:00pm on Sunday. Ahh, now I had plenty of time to get to church on time.

We started to attend this church at 5:00. Many of the times in worship were spent by me on my knees weeping as I began to turn my eyes away from me and toward Him. The Word of the Lord that our Pastor, Pastor Jim Roe shared, went straight to my heart. I can recall many times sitting in the pew just weeping over the Lord working me over – about the way I lived my life, calling me into repentance and more importantly about how much He loves me. Through continued worship, time in His Word and in prayer, I have been in Jesus’ school of character development ever since, as He sets me free from my sin.

Here’s the big question: What are we to do? We are to be obedient, obedient to Jesus as His disciple, by:

  • Worshipping Him.
  • Serving Him
  • Learning the truth about Him and what He taught by studying the scriptures.
  • Understanding His reasoning processes – thinking like He does.
  • Participate in His religious practices  (communing with Him and receiving truth of and from Him, through study of His Word and by prayer)
  • Imitating Him, by being gracious and loving others as He does.
  • Trusting in His promises.
  • Interceding via prayer with Him on our behalf and on behalf of others.

The questions are - how will you respond? Will you go deeper? Do you desire the freedom from sin Jesus held out to us in His promise?  Imagine your life becoming freed from those chains that bind us.

In closing, I would like to read a couple of stanzas from an old hymn.

In 1887, at a revival meeting hosted by Dwight Moody, a young man stood to speak, and it soon be­came clear he knew lit­tle Christ­ian doc­trine. But he fin­ished by say­ing, “I’m not quite sure—but I’m go­ing to trust, and I’m go­ing to obey.” These words were jotted down and turned into the hymnal, “Trust and Obey”.[3]

 

When we walk with the Lord In the light of His word

What a glory He sheds on our way

While we do His good will He abides with us still

And with all who will trust and obey

 

But we never can prove the delights of His love

Until all on the altar we lay

For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows

Are for them who will trust and obey

 

Trust and obey For there's no other way To be happy in Jesus But to trust and obey

________________________________________________

[1] Stern, David H.. Complete Jewish Bible: An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New Testament). Messianic Jewish Communications. Kindle Edition.

[2] Luke 4:18-19.

[3] http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/r/trstobey.htm

Dying To Live (John 12)

You may have heard of an autobiographical book (and eventually a  movie) called Eat Pray Love written by Liz Gilbert in 2006. Here’s a brief synopsis thanks to Google:

“Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.”

A quest for self-discovery. Sounds fantastic!  But this was not the first time Gilbert had discovered something about herself. In 2015, Gilbert wrote an article in the New York Times in entitled “Confessions Of A Seduction Addict.”[1] In it she describes what she found out about herself in the years before the events Eat Pray Love.

"It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.… If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different…

Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always…

In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for… If you asked me what I was up to, I might have claimed that I was a helpless romantic — and how can you judge that? If really cornered, I might have argued that I was a revolutionary feminist, taking brazen agency over my own sexuality…

For the first time, I forced myself to admit that I had a problem — indeed, that I was a problem. Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop…"

She then tells a story about meeting a man to whom she was really attracted but whom she resisted. She stopped her pattern of destructive behavior. As far as one can tell when the article ends, all is well. It’s heart-breaking to read, but there’s an apparently happy ending. Then she traveled on her quest for self-discovery as chronicled in Eat Pray Love, which culminated in her marrying someone new. Then, one year after her perhaps too hasty article about her move into maturity, this appeared in the New York Times[2]:

"Ms. Gilbert, speaking directly to her readers in a Facebook post, said that after 12 years she was separating from José Nunes, the Brazilian importer whom she met during her travels and later married, and who was a central character in the book… In April, Ms. Gilbert said that she missed travel: “I’ve never been to Japan, Iceland, South Africa and other places that it would be a pity to come to this earth and miss.”

So there was no happy ending. In her journey of self-discovery she discovered things about herself, but to what end? To what purpose? The act of discovery is not enough. One needs to discover not just things but true and good things – and then allow those things to transform you.

Mrs. Gilbert’s self-discovery didn’t solve an apparently returning restlessness, what some would call an existential void that she has had all her life. It might manifest in different ways at different times, but what she was seeking at the deepest level simply won’t be found - and can’t be found - with the things she is pursuing. They offer her moments and times that are strong and even feel overwhelmingly good in the moment – but they don’t last. They can’t. They are only glimpse of what she’s looking for, like seeing a snapshot of the Grand Canyon and thinking it’s the same thing as being there.

Sadly, her story has a lot of fans who are apparently convinced that her approach is the way to a good life. The Daily Mail wrote just this week:

“Eat Pray Love had struck a chord with an entire generation of women who, Gilbert feels, didn’t ‘get the memo that they are in charge of their own lives.’”[3]

Frankly, as much as she used the language of choice, self-empowerment and self-discovery, I didn’t get the impression that she has been in charge of her life.

We all serve something to which we give our allegiance. To use biblical language, we will all be servants or slaves to something. We all give our lives to something that we believe will ultimately satisfy our deepest longings, and that thing we first intrigues us, then it molds us, then leads us, and then defines us. You don’t have to be a Christian to see this. I am fascinated with the insight by a novelist named David Foster Wallace. He was not a Christian by any stretch, but he noted the following:

“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”

He finished his 2005 speech[4] by saying,

 “It is about making it to thirty, or maybe fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”

David Foster Wallace did not make it to 50. Four years after he gave this speech, he committed suicide. I am reminded of what the always quotable C.S. Lewis had to say:

"Thomas More said... 'If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.' Will it really make no difference if it was women [or men] or patriotism, cocaine or art, whiskey or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have all missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in the desert, by which choice of route he missed the only well?"

Everybody worships. And we will either worship something that always leaves us unsatisfied – “wells that run dry or leave us thirsty,” (Isaiah 58) and leads us to disillusionment, unhappiness or despair, or we will draw our refreshment from a well that will never run dry and will lead to hope and satisfaction as we worship a God who meets us in the deepest and most profound levels of our longing (John 4).

_____________________________________________________________________

Jesus’ final public teaching is recorded in John 12. It is an exhortation, and appeal to the people to respond to a God of life. He had just raised Lazarus, and he had quite a crowd following him. In this teaching he makes the turn from physical resurrection to spiritual resurrection. I told you last week we will talk about how to experience the fullness of life in Christ on this side of heaven, so here we go with a quick review: It will be glorious but messy.

It won’t yet be perfection – even God’s people wait in anticipation for the final renewal of all things. But there is a fullness that God offers through Christ in this life in anticipation of the life to come.  Jesus comes back to a theme again and again.  If we pursue Christ, he will mold us an eventually define us. In the process, the glory of Jesus will be seen by us and in us.I’m condensing all of the teaching in this chapter to one paragraph that focuses on what I believe is the main topic.

 I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest. The one who loves this life will lose it, and the one who despises it in this world will have life forevermore. Anyone who serves Me must follow My path; anyone who serves Me will want to be where I am, and he will be honored by the Father… (v.23-26)

How do we experience the fullness of this beautiful, messy life on this side of heaven?

  • We must love Christ more than ourselves.
  • We must love the Kingdom of Heaven more than the Kingdoms of Earth.
  • We must ‘die’ to self and follow the teaching and the path of Jesus.  

This ‘call to die” sounds unusual, but the reality is that everybody dies to something so they can live for something else.  Everybody eventually enslaves themselves to something that they believe will bring them the greatest freedom.  The radical part of this call is not the call to die: the radical part is the call to die to self and for someone else – in this case, Jesus.

But this dying to self is not simply the way to bring life to ourselves.  It’s how we bring life to everyone around us. Everybody worships , right? And whenever we worship, somebody dies, and it will be either us or others.

  • If I worship my comfort, I will sacrifice my wife and kids. They will pay the cost of my comfort. “Stop bothering me. We will talk when I’m good and ready. No, you adjust your hopes and dreams and priorities because they don’t match mine.”  I will sacrifice my friends. “You upset or hurt me. Clearly you are the problem. I need a better class of friends.” I remain dead in my selfishness and sin, and I drag down those close to me.
  • If I worship my reputation, I will sacrifice any of you who don’t make me look good. “You think I’m wrong? You’re an idiot. You don’t like how I pastor? You clearly have a heart issue. You are winning an argument with me? I will lash out and try to humiliate you or keep beating this argument to death because I can’t be wrong.”  And I will remain dead in myself selfishness and sin and drag down those around me.
  • If I worship money, I will choose work time over relationship time and I will choose profit over people.  If I worship my health, I will make everyone else take second place to my diet and workout schedule. If I worship sex, all that will matter is my fulfillment and my happiness, and I will sacrifice the dignity and autonomy of people around me as I manipulate and pressure and use… And I will remain dead in my selfishness and sin and drag down those around me.

You want to know what you worship? Ask yourself whom you sacrifice; then ask yourself why.

____________________________________________________________________

So what do we do if we are caught in this trap? To use language from last week, how do we turn from being dead to being fully alive? What does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices, wholly acceptable unto God? (Romans 12:1)This is going to take several weeks, and John conveniently gives us more insight in the next several chapters in which Jesus is teaching his disciples about life in the Kingdome. But we are going to stay focused today on the first crucial step: dying to self.

 In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living. In the days when you lived as slaves to sin, you had no obligation to do the right thing. In that regard, you were free. But what do you have to show from your former lives besides shame? The outcome of that life is death, guaranteed. But now that you have been emancipated from the death grip of sin and are God’s slave, you have a different sort of life, a growing holiness. The outcome of that life is eternal life. The payoff for a life of sin is death, but God is offering us a free gift—eternal life through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. (Romans 6: 19-23)

It begins with a commitment to Jesus. Acknowledge the reality of who Jesus is; surrender your life to Him; commit to following his path.  This is the biblical idea of ‘dying’ so that we can be raised to life. We must commit to learning what it means to love Jesus and others more than ourselves, to valuing the kingdom of God over the Kingdom of the earth. And part of that re-ordering of our loves and priorities is learning where to place our focus: specifically, how to sacrifice ourselves. We turn to C.S. Lewis again for a great summary:

“The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.

Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

I remember thinking as a young man that I wanted to make a difference in the Kingdom of God. I really wanted my life to count. I saw some older folks who were godly and whose presence had really impacted my life. I knew it was because of Jesus at work in them, and I wanted that! It took me years to realize I couldn't just want that. I had to be willing to die. If I wanted to live, I had to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). If I wanted the power of the resurrection, I needed to participate in the fellowship of His suffering (Philippians 3:10).

  • If I wanted to become wise, I had to die prioritize certain things in my life that would lead to wisdom.
  • If I wanted to self-controlled, I had to practice self-control.
  • If I wanted to overcome anger, I had to address my anger and the issues fueling my anger.
  • If I wanted to move from lustful thoughts to pure thoughts, I had to change my habits and my focus and bring in something new. 

There was no amount of wishful thinking that was going to change me in those areas.  There was prayer, and study of the Bible, and seeking Christian counsel both casual and professional that would help to guide me in the path of righteousness.  There was accountability to others. There was reading and studying, then putting into practice what I learned.  

Lest I sound like I am suggesting I have arrived, I am not saying that at all. Ask anyone around me.  The need for new life is ongoing. The problem with a ‘living sacrifice’ is that it can crawl off the altar and put somebody else up there instead. Every day, we surrender our pride, our time, our desires for comfort and fun.

But what we find on the other side of death is resurrection, and when we finally get up on that altar so that we die instead of others and the life of Jesus begins to work in us and through us – then we begin to truly see how the Kingdom of God is meant for our good and God’s glory.

This is the pattern. This is how God accomplishes his work of bringing us to life, then growing us in a new life. Our lives become characterized by self-sacrifice rather than self-indulgence. That sacrifice is not just a vague practice of denial: it’s a purposeful commitment to living for Jesus by living like Jesus. And in that process, that seed of our life that ‘dies’ comes to life and bears a crop in which the goodness of God is multiplied for the good of others and the glory of God.

______________________________

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/confessions-of-a-seduction-addict.html?src=recg&_r=0

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/style/elizabeth-gilbert-separation-eat-pray-love.html?_r=0

[3] Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3683437/What-happens-romance-inspired-thousands-happy-comes-bubble-popping-end.html#ixzz4ECYoi98w

[4] “This Is Water.” http://bulletin.kenyon.edu/x4280.html

The Meeting of Misery and Mercy (John 7 - 8:12)

In the story of the Woman Caught In Adultery, we see Jesus embody God’s perspective on how to balance judgment and mercy.[1] We will first look at the context of the story, then at the person of Jesus, and finally why this story matters to us. Let’s start with some background.

  • This happened on the day after the eight day celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacle/ Feast of Booths. The Jews lived in huts during this time to commemorate how the Israelites lived in tents during the Exodus.
  • Moses had commanded that during the days of this Feast the law be read, so this was an annual, purposeful focus on the Law of God.
  • The main purpose was to thank God for his provision during the past in the wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:39-43) and in the present as seen in the harvest just completed (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).
  • The people were reminded of their profound dependence upon God for provision. They would recite Psalm 118:25 every day: “O Lord, defend/rescue/deliver us, and prosper us.”
  • They had a ceremony in which four different types of plants were brought to the altar. These four plants symbolized four different kinds of Jews. One plant had a good fragrance and a good taste, symbolizing knowledge of the Torah and good deeds. One only had fragrance (only good deeds); one only had taste (only knowledge of the Torah), and one had neither.
  • There was a series of water offerings each morning in the temple, commemorating the provision of water in the wilderness. When Jesus tells them to come to him to drink (7:37-38), he is linking himself to God’s provision in the Exodus.
  • Menorahs would be lit in the House of Water Drawing, which was in the Court of Women in the temple. People would dance and sing, “Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven.”[2]
  • Jesus' proclamation that he is the light of the world (8:12) linked him to the feast's lamp-lighting ceremonies that commemorated the pillar of fire during the Exodus. The morning that Jesus is challenged is the morning that four festival lamps in the court in the Temple ("The light of the world") were put out.
  • Jesus had been teaching from, among other things, the book of Isaiah, and he quoted a prophecy about the Messiah and used it to refer to himself.

So Jesus has been claiming to be the Water and the Light and quoting a revered Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, all to show that he is the Messiah for whom they have been longing. The good news was that the God whom they worshipped during this feast was with them. Many of the people were starting to believe.

The Pharisees want to kill him; they think he was blaspheming. But to kill him they need a formal trial and a Rome-sanctioned execution. So the next morning, on the Sabbath, they meet Jesus in the temple. The temple area was about 35 acres, and in the middle was a courtyard surrounded on three sides by a large, covered walkway that connected the temple court to Herod’s garrison. His soldiers patrolled the courtyard by walking on top of the covered walkways in case anything bad developed. Josephus noted that during feast days, an entire legion (over 4,000 men) would patrol the temple area.

Into this venue, the Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery for judgment. They most likely bring her into the Court of Women. If all went well, they might be able to trick him into ordering capital punishment, and then Rome would take care of their problem. If that didn’t happen, they figured they could show how much more they knew about the law with the hope that this crowd of simpletons would finally reject him as Law Breaker and so reject him as the Messiah. Augustine puts it succinctly:

So the Jews said to themselves, “If he says, ‘Let her be stoned,’ we shall say to him, ‘What has become of your forgiving sins? Aren’t you the one who says, “Your sins are forgiven you?’” But if he says, ‘Let her go,’ we shall say, ‘What has become of your coming to fulfill the law and not to destroy it?’”

This seems like a win/win for the Pharisees. Jesus gets arrested or his lack of knowledge of the Law gets him rejected. Things do not go as planned.

  • First, as has often been noted, they only brought the woman. That’s unusual to say the least. Even then, I took two to tango, and the Law demanded that both be brought to the trial.
  • Second, a formal accusation required two eyewitnesses. There was no circumstantial evidence allowed in a case like this. The eyewitnesses would have warned couple ahead of time about the consequences of their action, the couple had to acknowledge this, and then the witnesses had to watch them do it. Odds are really good those standards were not met. I suspect Jesus (and perhaps the whole crowd) realized this.
  • Third, the death penalty was virtually obsolete in Jewish culture by the time of Jesus[3] (in fact, that sentence was highly unusual ever since the time of Moses). Over the centuries, the Sanhedrin had increasingly made the standards incredibly high because they believed the Law was meant to teach, not kill.[4]
  • Fourth, a kosher (?) trial had to happen in front of a duly constituted court, which included over twenty Sanhedrin leaders who sat in a semicircle so they could be sure they were all paying attention. If capital punishment happened outside of a court ruling, those who administered the punishment were considered murderers.
  • Fifth, the Talmudic Sanhedrin trecate (treatise), written before the time of Christ, clarified Deuteronomy’s command that the eyewitnesses should start the stoning (thus the “cast the first stone”).[5] There apparently aren't any eyewitnesses – or at least the text does not record their presence.
  • Sixth, capital punishment could not be carried out on a day sacred to religion – and this was a Sabbath.

So, following a celebration in which the people prayed for God to save them, and in which they celebrated the combination of Law and Good Deeds, Jesus will show what it looks like when their longings are fulfilled. He begins by honoring the Law.

When an accusation was brought, a priest was required to write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, somewhere where the marks were not permanent – which was usually the dust on the floor of the temple. Early Armenian translations of this passage claim that is the proper understanding of this passage[6] - that Jesus wrote first the name and crime of the woman in the dust on the temple courtyard floor.

After Jesus writes, he says, “Let the sinless one cast the first stone.” It’s a brilliant response. First, I suspect it reminded the crowd of the song that had been sung in that very court - “Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven”. If so, Jesus’ comment reminded them of their sin and chastised them for wanting to do something that is at odds with what they just celebrated. Second, it reveals what the heart of a Savior looks like. I like how St. Augustine puts it:

He did not say, “Do not stone her,” otherwise he would seem to speak contrary to the law. But God forbid that he should say, “Stone her,” for he came not to lose what he found, but to seek what was lost.”

After Jesus says this, He begins writing again; considering the Armenian texts as well as the fact that everyone will eventually leave, it seems reasonable to speculate that he wrote the names and crimes of the Pharisees who broke the law, which was all of them.

 As if exposing their hypocrisy wasn’t bad enough, the very act of writing in the dirt likely made clear they had turned aside from the ways of the Lord. Every year on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), the High Priest would immerse himself in a baptismal tank to be ceremonially cleansed. At the end of Yom Kippur, the people rejoiced that everyone’s sins had been rolled forward another year until Messiah comes. The High Priest would quote the following:

"'Oh YAHWEH, the Mikve (purifying bath) of Israel...' just as the mikveh cleansed me on this day, may the Holy One (Messiah), blessed be his name, cleanse all Israel when He comes."

The priest was referencing Jeremiah 17:13:

"Oh Lord, the Immerser (BAPTIZER ) of Israel, all those who leave your way shall be put to shame (publicly embarrassed), those who turn aside from my ways will have their names written in the dust and blotted out, for they have departed from YHVH, the fountain of the waters of life."

By writing, he points to himself as the Baptizer of Israel, and to the Pharisees as those whose name will be blotted out.[7]

And that was that. The crowd melts away. Jesus asks, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” Jesus responds, “I don’t condemn you either [that is, I am not an eyewitness against you], but stop you sin.” Back to St. Augustine for some thoughts:

Neither will I condemn you." What is this, 0 Lord? Do you therefore favor sins? Not so, evidently. Mark what follows: "Go and sin no more." Therefore the Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not the sinner. For if he was a patron of sin, he would say, ‘Neither will I condemn you; go, live as you will; be secure in my deliverance, however much you will to sin. I will deliver you from all punishment even of hell, and from the tormentors of the infernal world.’ He did not say this. Let them pay attention, then, who love his gentleness in the Lord, and let them fear his truth.... The Lord is gentle, the Lord is long suffering, the Lord is full of pity; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true.” Augustine, Tracates on the Gospel of John)

No one could say Jesus was a Lawbreaker, but He refused to use the Law as a tool of oppression and shame. Going back to the symbols of the previous week: He had the fragrance of the Law and the taste of good deeds. And then, just in case the crowd was missing all the ways Jesus was proclaiming himself to be the Messiah, the Savior they longed for, he immediately says, in a courtyard in which the menorahs and the “light of the world” festival lamps had been lit and then put out,

“I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

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How do we balance judgment and mercy? How should we treat sin – and sinners – in our midst of our church community?[8] This question ought to matter to all of us, because no one in this room is exempt. You will sin; you will have to deal with the sin of others. We are all going to be in the place of either the Pharisees or the woman who sinned at some point in our life. So what do we do? How do we learn from this story? We look to Jesus for our example.

We must exercise righteous judgment of sin and show mercy and grace to sinners. We must love the sinner even as we condemn the sin. This is not always easy.

If we aren't careful we can get so caught up in condemning the sin that we forget to love the sinner. Religious Pharisees think mercy is a sign of moral weakness. They think people get what’s coming to them – especially people whose sins are so visibly public. They appoint themselves as moral watchdogs in the church trained not simply to be truthful and challenging but to tear the sinner to pieces. Their goal is not to point people who deserve judgment toward the mercy found only in Christ. They might never say that out loud, but they condemn the sinner as much as they condemn the sin. Their goal is punishment, not restoration.

When we look to Jesus, we see that our goal should be not to shame, humiliate, or drive to despair those around us who are caught in sin; our goal should be to bring to repentance and restoration those who have fallen. We may need to start by calling sin what it is in the lives of those who refuse to see it in themselves (as Jesus did with the Pharisees). But even if we do that so the self-righteous and proud are humbled – even if we are the self-righteous and proud who are humbled by our honest brothers and sisters in Christ - we must never lose sight of the goal of the Great Physician: to heal the sin-sick soul. The great commentator Matthew Henry wrote,

“In this matter Christ attended to the great work about which he came into the world, that was, to bring sinners to repentance; not to destroy, but to save. He aimed to bring, not only the accused to repentance, by showing her his mercy, but the prosecutors also, by showing them their sins; they thought to ensnare him, he sought to convince and convert them.”

If we are to learn from the example of Jesus, our goal must not be to destroy sinners, but to point them toward a Christ who saves. We must speak the truth about sin, and then show the kind of mercy that leads to a “godly sorrow that brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

If the first thing we have to be careful of is too much judgment of sin, the second thing is becoming so focused on extending mercy to the sinner that we forgot there is a righteous anger towards and a just judgment for sin. This story if often cited as an example of why we shouldn’t exercise judgment, That badly misses the point. Jesus absolutely judges. When Jesus wrote in the dust, he (presumably) wrote that they were all lawbreakers. He didn't let the Pharisees off the hook. He didn’t say to the woman, “Hey, it’s no problem. Go do what you want.” He said, “No one hear can formally accuse you, but…Stop sinning.” He didn’t try to contextualize her situation. He didn’t say, “You’re perfect just the way you are.” In his mercy, he gave her the same kind of truth he gave the Pharisees: she had sinned, and she needed to repent.

Telling the truth about sin is not a bad thing. Offering sincere, honest, biblically sound judgment about sinful actions is not a sign that you are mean; it is a sign that you are wise. If we aren’t careful, we will think that in order to love sinners, we must overlook or minimize sin – and then in the process of loving the sinner we enable the sin. And that is neither loving nor merciful.

Love actually requires honest judgment. Why? Because sin destroys. It eats away at your peace with God, with others, and within ourselves. It corrodes relationships, it distorts love, it puts us squarely on the road to the judgment of God who will make sure that someone gives an answer for sin. If that’s what sin does, what kind of God would not hate sin and judge those who do it? A holy, loving God must use judgment in the service of justice so that evil does not have the last word. For all of us who have experienced the sin of others crush our lives, it is heaven’s promise that someone will answer for the evil done to us.[9]

But we have to be careful. If we don’t confront sin in love, we will be abrasive and mean (see 1 Corinthians 13). And if we don’t do this with an eye on the sin in our own lives, we will do this with a kind of pride that God despises.

Here’s the reality: all of us have hurt others with our words, our attitudes, our choices, our violence. A holy, loving God must judge the evil we do too. We long for judgment when it’ meant for people who have done us wrong, but if God’s judgment were to rain down on us all and give us the justice we deserve right now, we would all beg for mercy. There is no one righteous (Romans 3:10). There is no sin that can be hidden from God, even if you can hide it from your neighbor. If Jesus were here, and we all demanded that judgment for sin be rendered, we would all walk away as our names and our sins were written in the dust on the floor of this church.

We must embrace this tension between justice and mercy. We should love God’s justice (as we see the devastation of sin and the need for someone to hold people to account) but we should also crave God’s mercy (as we see our own sin, condemnation and need for a Savior).

The Law reveals the condition and drives us to grace. No one in the Law was saved by keeping the Law because no one could satisfy the requirements of the Law. Instead, the Law drove them to grace. That is why David, in his marvelously repentant Psalm 51, says of his sin: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness. According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” The superscription of the Psalm says, “For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone to Bathsheba.” (https://bible.org/seriespage/john-chapter-8)

When justice and mercy work together, just judgment drives us to our knees at the foot of the Cross; mercy reaches down from that cross and pulls us to our feet. This is where we look back to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), the embodiment of God’s justice and mercy.

It is on the cross that God’s holy justice was perfectly satisfied while His holy mercy was perfectly displayed.[10] Someone has to pay the price for sin, and God in his mercy said, “Let it be me.” There would be a day when Jesus would take upon himself the sins of the world – and that included the woman and her accusers. And all of us. The Israelite prayer, “O Lord, rescue us, deliver us, save us,” has come true because Jesus has come so that the world through him might be saved.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6VAy9y_iQ]

 

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[1] Your Bible may note, “Many early manuscripts omit 7:53–8:11.” Eusebius, the first historian of the Church, claimed to have learned the story from Papias, who lived from about 60 AD to about 130 AD.[1] The picture is from the earliest known manuscript of John, an Egyptian copy from around 180. Augustine thought the early church removed the story out of fear that adultery would be encouraged by Jesus’ display of mercy. Whatever the reasons, the event is alluded to very early, it appears to have been widely known and accepted in the early church, and it soon appears in the canon.

[2] http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/john_gospel/Chapter%208.htm

[3] (Mishnah Makkot 1:10): “A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death. Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says: they would have multiplied shedders of blood in Israel.” Read a good article here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-death-penalty-in-jewish-tradition/2/

[4] http://www.reformjudaismmag.net/02summer/focus.shtml

[5] “With reference to two offenders subject to this penalty, the Pentateuch says, "Thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people" (Deut. xiii. 10 [A. V. 9]), and again (ib. xvii. 7), "The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people." (Sanh. vi. 4; 45a et seq.; Sifra, Emor, xix.; Sifre, Num. 114; ib. Deut. 89, 90, 149, 151). “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_and_corporal_punishment_in_Judaism#In_Rabbinic_Law

[6] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-8.html

[7] The Bible does not connect those dots, but considering the audience and the context, it seems like a reasonable connection.

[8] I realize the ‘church’ had not started yet, but the religious Jewish community is probably the closest comparison we have before the NT church community began.

[9] So is there any place for judgment and justice when God extends mercy? First, the Bible clearly teaches that there will be practical consequences to our actions. Forgiveness does not necessarily negate the fact that we will reap what we sow. The woman’s adultery may still have ruined her marriage even thought the forgiveness of Christ was available to her. Second, there are consequences to our actions within God ordained systems of government. Those harmed by rape may extend forgiveness, but the rapist will still go to jail – and rightly so. Finally, there is an ultimate day of judgment when we will all give an answer to God for what we have done. It’s possible to the first two forms of judgment can be avoided depending on the nature of the sin, but no one will escape the final accounting.

[10] Read “The Only Thing That Counts” for a better understanding of why Jesus needed to die in order for God’s justice to be satisfied. https://clgonline.org/the-only-thing-that-counts-galatians-51-8/

 

 

Jesus is God (John 1)

(This sermon was given by Scott Smith) Anyone interested in history or biographies? Would you like to hear some inside info about WW1, or all of Edison’s failed inventions? Would you still be interested if I said all this was not based on any study or research, but based on my own first-hand knowledge of what happened - would you still trust me? What if I said I had first-hand knowledge of Jesus?

If you’ve read articles or watched exposés on “The Lost Gospels”[1] and their portrayal of Jesus, you get a  few general truths and a healthy dose of fantasy invented by people with fertile imaginations. If you really want the inside scoop about Jesus’ earthly ministry, his true identity, and his heavenly purpose, you have to listen to someone who was actually there. John, the apostle of Jesus was there.

John wrote John

Sometimes people will say that Christianity was a made-up conspiracy. I have to wonder what the apostles got out of the deal, since all were beaten and imprisoned multiple times, and most of them killed!

John definitely wasn’t in it for the fame. How do I know? Because he didn’t even tell us that he wrote the book! He did not write “The Gospel According to John” on the cover. He never said “I’m John and these are my words” in the text like many others did. However, this book contains things only someone very close to Jesus would know. And there are good reasons to rule out all of Jesus’ inner circle except for John[2].

It’s interesting to note that although John doesn’t say his own name, the name “John” is in the text. It’s good to keep in mind that it is almost always[3] a reference to John the Baptist. When John the apostle referred to himself he would usually use a phrase like “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

John is Well Attested

Of all[4] the New Testament manuscripts[5] we have[6], more are of John’s gospel than any other book. And many of the oldest[7] examples are from John’s gospel[8]. If anyone tells you that John is a forgery, or that it was edited, they simply do not have the facts. If this book is not trustworthy, then we’ve lost most of history[9].

John had an Agenda

John did not merely report the facts. He also included what he believed about the facts. In addition, he told us what to believe, and what to do. This was not a casual informational piece.

For instance, he did not simply tell us details about Jesus’ life and leave us to draw personal conclusions. Far from it. John would relate something Jesus said or did, then say the unmistakable conclusion is that Jesus is God, and therefore you and I must obey him. The gospel of John is not dispassionate reporting – the gospel of John is a call to repentance.

The Message of John

John’s gospel is not like the other three gospels[10]. He doesn’t tell us about the prophecies, the shepherds, or Mary and Joseph finding no room in the inn. In fact, Jesus’ birth is not even mentioned! John doesn’t contain a single parable, and he mentions relatively few miracles. Maybe he didn’t think those details were that interesting. Maybe he thought the other three already covered all those details well enough.

John just jumps right in the deep end: who was Jesus and why did he come? The answer is repeated many ways throughout the book. The short answer is that Jesus was God, and the only way to experience abundant (or eternal) life was through him.

John wrote his gospel late in life. He had plenty of time to mull over the things he had seen and heard from his savior. Rather than the “just the facts ma’am” approach that the first reporter on the scene often takes, John took the longer view – the deeper view. I’m sure he had thought long about the implications of Jesus’ life and death. He had preached countless times, been imprisoned, beaten, and more. He had planted churches and trained the next generation. He had heard and answered all the questions. John wrote his gospel with the wisdom, temperament, and sober-mindedness that only comes with age. He wrote a gospel that communicated the good news of Jesus Christ coming to save us from our sins, and presented it as a theological work to be contended with. Because of this, those of us speaking in this series have our work cut out for us.

People have dissected John’s gospel a number of ways. I’m going to look at two primary focuses of John: The person of Christ and The Importance of Belief. I’m sure we’ll come back to these in the coming months, so I’ll just lay it out briefly this morning.

The Importance of Belief

John’s gospel uses the word “believe” far more than any other book in the bible. He ties everything to the importance of belief. This “belief” he talks about is something worth exploring. We’re not talking simply about awareness of a truth or acceptance of a fact. Those must be in place, to be sure - but that’s not enough. The word belief here comes from the same Greek word[11] that is also often translated as faith. This Greek word has both a noun and verb form. English doesn’t have a verb form of the word “faith”, so the translators use the word “believe” when it’s an action. (Compare to love/love, patient/patience, compassionate/compassion.)

Let’s talk about that word for faith/believe for a moment. When you see these words in scripture, it might be helpful to substitute trust(trust), reliance(rely), or dependence(depend). That’s what biblical faith is, after all. So when we see John or Jesus talking about belief, they aren’t looking for us to merely agree with what they’re saying. They are talking about placing our trust in Christ, about relying on him so much that we’re holding nothing back, and about a dependence that proves we’ve given up control.

This might be a helpful phrase: Profession of faith is not the same as possession of faith.

There is no such thing as being “sort of Christian”. Either your belief affects your life or it does not. Imagine someone claiming to be “pro-life” who shrugged off abortions. Or an environmentalist who doesn’t think twice about littering. Or a health nut who lives at McDonalds. These things just don’t make sense. They make as much sense as a Christian whose way of thinking and living is not radically changed. Here’s just a brief survey of the topic of belief in the book of John:

  • (ch 1) John the Baptist came to bear witness about Jesus, that all might believe
  • (ch 1) All who believed Jesus received the right to be called children of God
  • (ch 2) The disciples heard Jesus’ words and saw his miracles and it caused them to believe
  • (ch 2) The Jews asked Jesus, “what signs will you show us to make us believe?”
  • (ch 3) Whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned but will have eternal life.
  • (ch 4) The woman at the well heard Jesus and believed. The people she told also believed.
  • (ch 4) The official at Capernaum believed because Jesus healed his son
  • (ch 5) “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”
  • (ch 6) Jesus says in order to please God they must believe in Jesus.
  • (ch 6) Again, the Jews asked Jesus, “what signs will you show us to make us believe?”
  • (ch 6) Jesus says whoever comes to him and believes will never hunger or thirst again.
  • (ch 6) Even so, most Jews did not believe
  • (ch 7) Not even Jesus’ own brothers believed in him
  • (ch 7) Jesus said anyone who believed in him would receive the Holy Spirit after Jesus left
  • (ch 8) Jesus said unless you believe you will die in your sins.
  • (ch 8) He said if we believe and abide in his word, we are truly his disciples.
  • (ch 9) Jesus heals a blind man. The Pharisees didn’t believe he had been healed. Then they didn’t believe he was ever blind to begin with. The man found Jesus who had healed him and believed and worshiped him.
  • (ch 10) Jesus says his sheep hear his voice and believe, but those who are not his do not believe
  • (ch 11) Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life – whoever believes in him will live forever.
  • (ch 11) Martha says she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
  • (ch 11) Many who saw Jesus raise Lazarus believed in him.
  • (ch 11) The Chief Priests and the Pharisees become concerned that if they don’t do something, everyone will believe in Jesus and they will lose their power.
  • (ch 13) Jesus predicts his own betrayal as evidence so that they will believe
  • (ch 14) Jesus tells the disciples to believe in him because of his union with the Father, and offers more predictions of the future that they might believe in his authority
  • (ch 14) The disciples believe that Jesus came from God
  • (ch 17) Jesus thanks the Father for those who had believed, and those who would believe in the future
  • (ch 19) John relates the details of the crucifixion in order that those reading might believe
  • (ch 20) Peter and John ran to see Jesus’ tomb empty, and believed he had risen
  • (ch 20) Thomas says he won’t believe unless he sees and touches Jesus. After he does so, he believes.
  • (ch 20) Thesis of John’s book: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John also points out that false belief is a problem. Jesus did many miracles in order to give evidence of his power and therefore show that he came from God. However, Jesus made it clear that belief by itself was insufficient. Consider: Demons believe there is a God[12], and believe Jesus is God[13], and that fact does them no good. There must be genuine faith. Jesus was not looking for people to follow him around as a sideshow. Believing in Christ means to believe he is who he said he was, and to do what he said to do. Those were the things that necessarily followed from a genuine and transforming belief. Jesus was not at all interested in people who liked to see tricks.

A few examples of what John records about false belief:

  • (ch 2) Many believed in Jesus when they saw his miraculous signs, but he did not entrust himself to them because he knew what was in a man.
  • (ch 6) Before preaching, Jesus feeds 5000 people from virtually nothing. Then he began to teach. Upon hearing some difficult words, these people who had just had their bellies miraculously filled turned and walked away. What?!
  • (ch 8) Jesus told the Jews who had just “believed in him”, if you continue in my word then you are my disciples. Meaning, the belief alone didn’t cut it. Evidence of belief is obedience. That is the mark of a real disciple.
  • (ch 12) In the aftermath of Lazarus being raised from the dead, many authorities even believed in Jesus. But because they were afraid of being on the outs with the Pharisees, they did not believe publicly. They valued the glory of man over the glory of God. This sort of “private Christianity” is very common today. If this describes you, I’d encourage you to spend some time thinking about your faith. Are you concerned about what those in public will think? Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that those who deny him should count on Jesus returning the favor. If you hide your faith in Christ from others, scripture gives us good reason to think that you won’t receive the eternal life that you’re counting on.
  • (ch 15) Jesus is the true vine, and we are his branches. God the Father is the vinedresser, examining the health of the entire vine. Branches that do not abide in the vine, or those that do not bear fruit will be pruned away. Judas is the best example of this. Regardless what he or those around him thought, he was never part of the true vine. He may have appeared to be, and he might have even fooled himself at times because of the things he saw and believed. But because he did not persist in the faith, his confidence was misplaced and it cost him his soul. Be very sober-minded about this. Absolutely believe in Christ’s authority because of his miracles. But prove that you understand what that authority means. There is no such thing as making Jesus your savior and not your Lord. Believe, confess, and endure. Work out your salvation as you strain towards your eternal goal.

The Person of Christ

So by now you should have a decent idea what Jesus and John wanted us to believe. It had everything to do with the identity of Jesus, and the implications that came from his identity.

Historically, some have proposed that Jesus didn’t exist at all, that he was an apparition, that he was a prophet, a lunatic, a revolutionary… In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that everyone wants Jesus on their team. Liberal denominations will say Jesus wants them to recycle and endorse homosexuality. Oprah Winfrey talks regularly about Jesus, but admits there are other ways to God. Muslims claim Jesus was a prophet. Mormons say Jesus worked his way up from man to God.

So the big question here is … Who is Jesus?

John has no confusion whatsoever. John is crystal clear that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Holy One sent from God, indeed he was God himself. The answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is what theologians refer to as Christology. John had a remarkably high Christology. You cannot read the book of John and walk away thinking that perhaps John believed Jesus to be merely a political leader. You won’t walk away without the clear message that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. This is High Christology.

And Now for My Text: John 1

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

Oops. My mistake. Wait – that’s exactly what John wanted us to do. He started his gospel the same way Moses started his first book, by introducing the main player in the narrative: God. His readers would not have missed this. John was the type of writer to tease his audience with clues and misdirection until the big reveal. He starts his book with a shot right between the eyes: Jesus is God.

The opening of John is a theologically dense statement that we need to unpack a bit in the time we have left.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. - (John 1:1-18, ESV)

Let’s break it down into some more manageable chunks:

“In the beginning” – Not just recorded time, but time itself. (i.e., “When time itself began…”)

“was” – We’re not talking about something at the beginning. We’re talking about something that preceded the beginning. (Who/what can possibly exist outside of time?)

“the Word” – Think back to Genesis 1. God created by speaking. But The Word from God was not mere sounds – it was an agent. A being. A personal being who brings God the Father’s plan into existence. That is what The Word has always done. Also - up until Christ, God’s word had been written down. It was a thing. A container of information. Now John reveals that the word is all that, but The Word is also a person. The Word is alive – the text through which God spoke, and the person through whom God speaks. Prophets before had quoted the word saying, “thus saith the Lord”. Now, the one who is The Word would say “you have heard it said … but I say”. No more “thus saith the Lord”. No more explanation. No more credentials. Just, “but I say”. Only one being has the clout to speak without the need for someone greater to vouch for him. The Word, whether in scripture or in Christ, reveals the mind of the Father.

the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – There is only one way to unravel this riddle. If the Word was God and also was with God, then there must be some sort of plurality in God. John is alluding to the trinity. This is Trinitarian language. The Father is God, and always has been. The Word is God, and always has been. Neither of them ever came to be. They just are[14].

REVIEW: In verse one alone, we have established that Jesus is God, he is eternal, and we’ve started laying down theology for the Trinity.

The following verses simply restate these truths. (Vs 2 reiterates Jesus’ eternity; Vs 3 & 4 reiterate Jesus’ divinity.)

Vs 5 – Just as physical light dispels darkness, the metaphorical “light” of Christ dispels spiritual darkness, moral murkiness, philosophical conundrums, mysteries of science and all other darkness. Jesus’ light would bring clarity, reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness. His light would stand alone. It would also be this light that his followers would reflect, however dimly, to point a dying world to the source of light.

In these opening five verses, John repeatedly reinforces that Jesus is God himself.

Vs 6-8 – John introduces another John. If you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to think John was speaking of himself. In fact, he was describing John the Baptist as one sent by God for the purpose of preparing the way for Jesus. That John did not talk about himself, but only about the one who would come.

Vs 9 – John said that this one that the Baptizer spoke of was Jesus, the light of the world. This Jesus, The Word, the light, was already in the world, but the world didn’t even know it.

Vs 10 – Not even Jesus’ own people – the people to whom the word had been given; the people who knew that a Messiah was to come – not even these people recognized him.

Vs 11 – Anyone who did receive Jesus (trusted in him, relied upon him, believed in him, found their identity in him) – these were the ones who were his. They were not his based on their bloodline or anything that they did, but only because God regenerated them and made them his.

“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – The eternal God stepped into time. The immaterial became material. The limitless took on our limitations. The light that John the Baptizer had spoken of stepped into our darkness. The creator entered his creation without fanfare or ceremony. He came humbly and was treated shamefully.

“grace upon grace” – We treat him poorly, yet he blesses us. Salvation is a free gift from God. We are so inferior to God and so undeserving of him, the only way to express the reconciliation he brings between God and man is grace upon grace upon grace upon graceWe have earned nothing. God extends to us his grace. That is our only hope.

“law, grace and truth” – God is eternally just. His laws revealed to Moses were just. God is eternally gracious and truthful. His grace and truth existed when he revealed the law to Moses, because God is unchanging. However, his grace and truth had not been fully revealed until the coming of Christ.

Vs 18 – No one has ever seen God. By definition, God is immaterial. By definition, the immaterial and invisible cannot be seen. Throughout history, God has revealed aspects of his character and nature through things that were visible, so that we could understand in some small degree. Not until Christ did this revelation have any fullness. The pillars of fire and smoke gave the Israelites something to follow, but that’s all. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, but there was nothing else God-like about that bush. God appeared as messenger in human form, but revealed only his message. He spoke through prophets, but the prophets were merely men. Not until Jesus was any revelation of God truly God. All of God’s attributes, the fullness of his character, the depth of his true nature – all in Christ.

Review: In these first 18 verses we have enough to refute most of the major heresies that sprung up in the early centuries of the church and culture:

  • There is a God. (atheism)
  • There is one God. (polytheism)
  • God is not a single person. (modalism)
  • Jesus is divine. (Arianism)

The gospel of John is not just a historical account, though it is definitely that. The gospel of John is also a powerful work of theology that demands a response. We cannot view this simply as a nice story of a good man that died because he loved us. We must also see this as the systematic explanation of God’s rescue plan for the damned. John pleads with us to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Closing

In the coming months, you will hear a number of messages focusing on many aspects of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Be on the lookout for who the text says that Jesus is. Be aware of what is said about those who believe and those who reject the message. Be especially aware when you hear the warnings given to those who seek after Jesus because they like his benefits. Jesus can heal. He can work miracles. He can make your situation on earth better. But that is no guarantee that he will. And whether he does or not, be certain that you are sincerely seeking after the true Christ and not a circus performer. Don’t chase signs and flashy miracles. Chase Jesus, Son of God, who is the eternal God himself, the one who holds eternal life in his hand and offers it to you as a free gift. Seek him not through conventions, magazines, and movements, but seek him through saving faith, repentance, and his revelation in his word.

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[1] For instance, that of Thomas, or Judas, or Peter, or Mary, or James…

[2] Great circumstantial case for John’s authorship built by Max Andrews here: http://sententias.org/2013/01/19/gospel-of-john/

[3] Four times the phrase “Simon, son of John” is used. All other references to John are to the baptizer.

[4] Over 5,800 in the original language (Greek), ±25,000 total

[5] I’m referring to only to ancient, hand-written documents

[6] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/

[7] The oldest manuscript currently made public is called Rylands papyrus P52, containing portions of John 18

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_manuscript#Dating_the_New_Testament_manuscripts

[9] https://visualunit.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/nt_reliability1.jpg

[10]Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” gospels because those three present a similar overview (synopsis) of Jesus’ life.

[11] Greek pisteúō (Strongs G4100)

[12] James 2:19

[13] Matthew 8:29

[14] Hint: This is why God called himself “I Am” in the Old Testament, and it is also why Jesus called himself “I Am” in the New Testament.