The Gospel of John: The Preparation for a Miracle, Part One.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11:1-6).

During the next several days we will be studying the familiar story of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. The chapter can be divided into three major categories. The first category is the preparation for the miracle (11:1–16).

Let’s begin by looking at the facts as John presents them. To begin with, a certain man was ill. We do not know what particular illness plagued the man. The word ill, and illness, is from the Greek word ἀσθενέω (astheneo) meaning to be sick, disabled and weak. This leads us to believe that the man in question was suffering from some kind of disease as opposed to an injury.

John also informs us that the man in particular was Lazarus of Bethany. Bethany was a small town located on the east side of the Mount of Olives and the City of Jerusalem. Bethany is about two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18) along the road leading to Jericho.

Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. This is the first mention of this family in this Gospel. John comments to his readers that this particular woman named Mary, since there were several Mary’s in Jesus’ life, was the one who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:1-8). At this time of this writing, the church was already familiar with the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus prior to His death and resurrection. Luke records that Mary and Martha ministered to Jesus by their hospitality (Luke 10:38).

In light of Lazarus’ illness, his sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother was ill. This is a possible indication that the illness was serious and life threatening. As the text unfolds, we will see that this was true.

John adds the sisters saying “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” While the message was direct and to the point, so also was its intent. The sisters communicate their distress over their brother’s condition and they desire some alleviation for the brother from the illness. Their hope in healing is because Jesus loves Lazarus.

One commentator writes, “Since Jesus was in the Transjordan and Lazarus was near Jerusalem, the message to Jesus would most likely have taken one whole day to reach him. Surely by omniscience, Jesus already knew of Lazarus’s condition (see v. 6; 1:47). He may have died before the messenger reached Jesus, since he was dead four days (11:17) when Jesus arrived, after a two-day delay (v. 6) and a one-day journey.”

Upon receiving the news, Jesus announces to His disciples “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus is not being ambivalent about Lazarus’ situation but wants His disciples to know that the illness is not deadly and will glorify God.

Almost as a coda, or an addendum, John again states that Jesus not only loved Lazarus but also Mary and Martha. This statement will set the reader up for verse 6 which states that Jesus delayed in coming to the scene. Why the delay?

John Calvin explains that, “As Christ is the only mirror of the grace of God, we are taught by this delay on His part that we ought not to judge the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes. When we have often prayed to Him He often delays His assistance, either that He may increase still more our ardor in prayer or that He may exercise our patience and at the same time accustom us to obedience. Let believers then implore the assistance of God, but let them also learn to suspend their desires if He does not stretch out His hand for their assistance as soon as they may think that necessity requires; for whatever may be His delay, He never sleeps and never forgets His people.”

As Pastor Burk Parsons concludes, “At times, God might seem to delay in responding to our prayers and our needs. God’s timing is not our timing, and His timing is always perfect. If we are tempted to believe God has forgotten us, let us remember that what seems to be a delay is actually His working out His perfectly timed plan for us and for His creation.”

More to come!

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: A True Shepherd, Part Two.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (John 10:1-6)

What are some of the characteristics of a true and faithful shepherd? The qualities which a literal shepherd of sheep in ancient and present Israel certainly apply to the Lord Jesus Christ and His relationship to his followers or disciples. In the immediate aftermath of healing a man born blind in John 9, and the dialogue which followed with the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders known as the Pharisees, Jesus shared a parable in John 10:1-21 regarding a typical or faithful shepherd and his relationship to his sheep. One of the most significant characteristics of the shepherd was being a guardian and protector of the sheep.

The IVP Background Commentary states, It (John 10) is based on Old Testament images of God as the shepherd of Israel (Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23:1; 28:9; 77:20; 99:6; Is 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11–31), of Israel as his flock (Psalm 74:1; 78:52; 79:13; 100:3) and of abusive or unfaithful religious leaders as destroyers of his flock (Jeremiah 23:1–2; Ezekiel 34). Faithful human shepherds (Jeremiah 3:15) included Moses, David (2 Samuel 5:2; Psalm 78:71–72) and the Davidic Messiah (Micah 5:4).”

Pastor Burk Parsons explains that, “When we hear the word shepherd, we typically think of a gentle, mild-mannered man in a relaxed posture surrounded by sheep grazing in a serene valley with beautiful hills. But that’s only part of the picture. Shepherds are first and foremost guardians and protectors of the sheep. They must be gentle and strong, tender and courageous, caring and fierce. Today, in many parts of the world, as in the ancient Near East, shepherds are some of the most skilled hunters and warriors among their people.”

I discovered that shepherds carry not only rods but also staffs (Psalm 23). What I once thought were two words referring to the same instrument, I discovered I was mistaken.

The rod was a short club that could be thrown with great speed at a fast-approaching predator. The rod was also used to discipline the sheep when they were fighting, to examine the sheep, beneath their wool, to ensure they were free from skin diseases, and to also number the sheep (Ezekiel 20:37).

The staff, on the other hand, was a much longer, narrow rod with a crook on the end that was used for many purposes. It was primarily used to guide the sheep and to rescue them from thickets or from the crag of a rock.

The shepherd’s rod and staff were always visible to the sheep. The shepherd always walked and dwelt among his sheep, rather than sit on a hillside overlooking the sheep. He was always with them. His rod and his staff, the tools he used to guard, rescue, and protect his sheep, were a constant comfort to his flock. In John 10, Jesus describes in His parable the characteristics of the true shepherd.

First, true shepherd enters by the gate to the sheepfold and not by another way, as would a thief or a robber. During the cold winter months, sheep were kept inside a pen at night. The pen, or corral, usually had a stone wall, which might have briers on top of it.  Remember, winter was approaching at the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles (John 7-9). Jewish law distinguished thieves from robbers in that the former broke in, whereas the latter often lived in the wilderness and would have no reason to enter the sheep pen other than by the gate. Jesus said, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens.” Jesus is the true shepherd of believing sinners.

Second, the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” We follow and hear the voice of the Lord when we obey His Word.

What is true of literal shepherds is also true of our spiritual shepherd: the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the true Shepherd and Savior of our souls. His voice, or word, we are to follow and obey.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Shepherd of your soul? Are you following Him by obedience to His Word: the Bible?

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: The Arrival of Jesus in Bethany. Part One.

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:17-26)

In studying the familiar story of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, John 11 can be divided into four major categories. The first category is the preparation for the miracle (11:1–16). The second is the arrival of Jesus prior to the miracle (vv. 17–36). The third is the miracle itself (vs. 38-44). The fourth and final category is the results of the miracles (vs. 45-57).

When John mentions that Lazarus had been dead for four days, he wants us to understand that Lazarus was indeed dead. With a tip of the hat to Charles Dickens and his announcement of the reality of Jacob Marley being surely dead at the beginning of The Christmas Carol, it can also be said that “Lazarus was dead. There is no doubt whatever about that. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story I am going to relate.”

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “The ancient Jewish rabbis believed that when a person dies, his soul hovers near his body for three days, which meant it was theoretically possible for the soul to reenter the body during that period and bring it back to life. After day three, the soul would depart and death was irreversible. The body would remain in the grave until the resurrection at the end of the age. Given that belief, John’s mention that four days have passed since Lazarus’ death when Jesus arrives at Bethany is an important detail (John 11:17). All hope of a natural explanation for Lazarus’ resurrection has passed, so when our Lord raises Him, it will be a particularly clear proof of His supernatural power and authority. When He calls Lazarus forth from the grave, it will prove that He possesses life in Himself (vv. 43–44; see 5:25–29).”

Lazarus was in a tomb. Dr. John MacArthur provides historical and cultural insight regarding what Lazarus’ tomb would have been like.

“The term “tomb” means a stone sepulcher. In first-century Israel such a grave was common. Either a cave or rock area would be hewn out, the floor inside leveled and graded to make a shallow descent. Shelves were cut out or constructed inside the area in order to bury additional family members. A rock was rolled in front to prevent wild animals or grave robbers from entering (see also v. 38). The evangelist made special mention of the fourth day (see note on v. 3) in order to stress the magnitude of the miracle, for the Jews did not embalm and by then the body would have been in a state of rapid decomposition.”

There is a possibility that Mary, Martha and Lazarus belonged to a prominent family. Many came to console the sisters. As one commentator explains, Bethany was near Jerusalem and many of these Jews would have come from there. That Mary owned such an expensive bottle of perfume would seem to support the idea that the family had some wealth and would have been well known (12:1–8). If this is true, Jesus’ miracle takes on some additional significance. By raising a well-known person to life, Jesus is ensuring that many people will hear of this act and see who He is. The fact the Jews were there, an identifying title for the Pharisees and Sadducees, only heightens the suspense of what will happen when Jesus arrives on the scene.

When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went and met Him. The text says Mary remained seated in the house. This perhaps is an indication that Martha was a woman of action while Mary was a person of contemplation (See Luke 10:38-42). John does not make a judgment as to which sister acted more appropriately but only to reveal their consistent contrast of personalities.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Martha is not rebuking Jesus but only affirming her absolute trust in Jesus. Her statement is a confession of a sincere faith in Jesus. However, she attributes any resurrection of her brother to be from God the Father at his point in the conversation.

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha is not expecting an immediate resurrection of her brother but that is what she is going to get.

Was Martha placing a limit upon Jesus? Perhaps! Perhaps we do the same.

More to come.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: The Preparation for a Miracle, Part Two.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:8-16)

During the next several days we will be studying the familiar story of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. The chapter can be divided into three major categories. The first category is the preparation for the miracle (11:1–16).

Upon hearing the news that Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus told His disciples that they were going back to Judea. The disciples’ exhibit some seldom seen insight into Jesus’ statement because they know full well that His enemies, the religious leaders of the Jews, are seeking to execute Him for blaspheme. They incredulously ask Jesus if He is going back to that situation. Jesus responds rhetorically that as there are twelve hours in a day so He is going back to Judea.

Dr. John Walvoord explains that, His disciples knew that His going to Judea, would be dangerous (10:31). So they tried to prevent Him from going. Jesus spoke in a veiled way to illustrate that it would not be too dangerous to go to Bethany. In one sense He was speaking of walking (living) in physical light or darkness. In the spiritual realm when one lives by the will of God he is safe. Living in the realm of evil is dangerous. As long as He followed God’s plan, no harm would come till the appointed time.”

Jesus then begins telling His disciples in a subtle way that Lazarus had died but that He was going to raise him from dead. John records that the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” John adds the comment that “Jesus had spoken of his (Lazarus’) death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.” The disciples fall back into a familiar pattern of not completely understanding Jesus’ meaning behind His statements. The text then says, “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Dr. Walvoord adds, As was often the case in the Gospels, Jesus was speaking about one thing but the disciples were thinking about another. The words Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there seem shocking at first. But if Lazarus had not died, the disciples (and readers of all ages) would not have had this unique opportunity to have their faith quickened. Lazarus’ death was so that you may believe.”

John seems to depict the disciple Thomas in what has come to be known as his typecast cynical outlook on life when he records Thomas saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” However, Dr. Walvoord states, “Thomas is often called “doubting Thomas” because of the incident recorded in 20:24–25. But here he took the leadership and showed his commitment to Christ, even to death. That we may die with Him is ironic. On one level it reveals Thomas’ ignorance of the uniqueness of Christ’s atoning death. On another level it is prophetic of many disciples’ destinies (12:25).”

It is often the little things in life, such as conversations we have had with other people that take on a greater significance when followed by an incident of lasting importance. Little did I realize that conversations I had with Christians prior to my conversion would turn out to be sown seeds of the Gospel which would eventually result in my conversion to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Pay special attention to the dialogue you have with others today. Sow the seeds of the Gospel as you can, when, where and with whom you can.    

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: We are Lazarus.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:1-4).

One of the most familiar miracles Jesus every performed was the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The only account of this miraculous event is found in John 11. The miracle illustrates, as the feeding of the 5000 taught that Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6) and the healing of the man born blind that Jesus is the light of the world (John 9), that Jesus is also the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26).

John 11 marks a significant shift in focus by the Apostle John in his treatment of Jesus’ life and ministry. John 10:40-42 signaled the concluding record of Jesus’ public ministry. From John 11:1 on through the remainder of John’s Gospel, Jesus moved into seclusion and ministered to his own disciples and those who loved him as he prepared to face death by crucifixion. John 11-12 form the transition to chapters 13-21 which record the passion of Christ.

Dr. John MacArthur writes, “As chapter 11 begins, Jesus stands in the shadow of facing the cross. The little time that he had in the area beyond the Jordan (cf. Matt. 19:1–20:34Mark 10:1–52Luke 17:11–19:28) would soon come to an end. John picked up the story (John 11:55–57) after he moved back into the area of Jerusalem, and his death on the cross was only a few days away. In those last few days before his death, the scene in John’s Gospel changes from hatred and rejection (10:39) to an unmistakable and blessed witness of the glory of Christ. All the rejection and hatred could not dim his glory as displayed through the resurrection of Lazarus.”

John records Jesus saying that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death but rather it would be for the glory of God. The raising of Lazarus from the dead displays Jesus’ glory in three ways: 1) it pointed to his deity; 2) it strengthened the faith of the disciples; and 3) it led directly to the cross (12:23).

During the next several days we will be studying this familiar story. The chapter can be divided as follows: 1) the preparation for the miracle (11:1–16); 2) the arrival of Jesus prior to the miracle (vv. 17–36); 3) the performing of the miracle (vv. 37–44); and 4) the results of the miracle (vv. 45–57).

Lest we think that this story is just a story rooted in the biblical history of Jesus’ life and ministry, we should realize that Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from his physical death illustrated our Lord’s giving resurrected life to sinners from their spiritual death.

Ephesians 2:1-5 says, And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—.”

As Jesus raised Lazarus, so too Jesus raises unto new life all those called by God the Father, through the preaching of the Gospel and by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Let us read and study this familiar story with fresh eyes and understanding of our place in the narrative.

Soli deo Gloria!    

The Gospel of John: A Mandate to Remember.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.” (John 10:40-42)

I love studying history. Always have! As a child and a high school student, and then later on as a high school history and Bible teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed learning and teaching the truths of history: especially American history.

I recently re-watched a DVD series from Focus on the Family entitled The Truth Project. It was produced in 2006 and features such Bible teachers and apologists for the Christian faith as Del Tackett, R.C. Sproul, Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness. It is designed for small groups in order to equip believers with a comprehensive and biblical world view.

One of the episodes in the series features a lecture by Dr. Tackett on the importance of achieving accuracy in our study of history. Particularly, biblical history. As I watched with a fresh and renewed awareness, I paid particular attention to the following statements.

  • “What you believe in the present is determined by the past. Therefore, history becomes increasingly important.”
  • “If I can changed your historical context, I can change the way you view the present. This is the power of historical revisionism.”
  • “He who controls the past controls the future.”
  • People without a heritage are easily persuaded.”
  • “God has given us a mandate to remember.” (See Joshua 4:1-7; Judges 2:1-15; Isaiah 464:8-11; I Corinthians 11:23-26).
  • “Our problem is that we are forgetting what we should remember and we keep remembering what we should forget.”

One quote about the importance of remembering past events comes from the writings of George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What he meant was that remembering the past is necessary to avoid repeating past mistakes. This truth can be applied not only politically, economically, and culturally but also theologically and spiritually in our walk with God.

Sir Winston Churchill said something similar when he wrote, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We must always look forward, but we have to understand our history in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past. I have seen too many instances where people continue to pursue wrong courses of action because they do not take the time to think critically about what has happened in the past.”

Today’s text reveals that Jesus withdrew from the hostile Jewish religious leaders and went across the Jordan into an area known as Perea. Perea was a region immediately east of the Jordan River, northeast of the Dead Sea and southeast of Galilee. Perea was also notable because it had been the location of John the Baptist’s ministry (John 1:28). It was in this location that the people received Jesus much more favorably. This is probably because John the Baptist had prepared the people there. Even though by this time John was dead, He was still having an influence in people’s lives as they remembered his witness. Many believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ because of the Holy Spirit’s continuing work through John the Baptist.

Isaiah 46:8-11 says, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

Within the context, the prophet Isaiah records God declaring the readers are to recall: 1) all the past history of fulfilled prophecies, as well as 2) miraculous deliverances such as that from Egypt, and 3) providential blessings Israel has experienced. All of these are ample evidence that he alone is God. How much more so today when Jesus calls the church to remember His sacrifice on the cross through the ordinance of Communion (I Corinthians 11:23-26).

Dr. Michael Horton, professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California and author of the book Christless Christianity, was recently asked in an interview what he considered to be the greatest threat to Orthodox (biblical) Christianity today. Dr. Horton replied:

“Shallowness. It is far worse than heresy. At least heretics take the gospel seriously enough to distort and deny it. And heresy always makes the church think more deeply about what it believes and why it believes it. However, shallowness is deadly for the Christian Faith.”

“If you just need some helpful advice, encouragement, inspiration, and uplift from your religion, you just need enough water to get your feet wet. A few slogans and insights will suffice. But Christianity bets all its chips on certain events that happened in history. “If Christ is not raised,” Paul said, “then we are of all people the most to be pitied.” After all, he says, we are false witnesses-perjurers-and Jesus is a fraud. You have not lived a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life if Christ was not raised from the dead; you’ve been duped, and we’re accomplices in that, Paul said (1 Corinthians 15).” 

Dr. Horton concluded by saying, “The gospel is not a religious feeling, a spiritual journey within, or pious advice. It is a story in the words of the British playwright Dorothy Sayers, “the greatest story ever told.” From this unfolding drama of redemption from Genesis to Revelation arise doctrines, which lead to wonder and thanksgiving, motivating grateful love and service to our neighbors. All of this requires that we submit to the discipline of listening, understanding, and growing in our faith.”

History, and particularly biblical history, is not a field of deep weeds which are best avoided. Rather, God commands His children to remember the truths of the past in order to avoid mistakes in the present which will impact the future.

God has given us a mandate to remember.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Gospel of John: I said, you are gods.

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.” (John 10:34-39).

There are several portions within John’s Gospel that may not be as familiar to believers as other portions. Most Christians are familiar with John 3 and perhaps even the chapters pertaining to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17). But within John, there is a section which may be obscure to many within the church. It has to do with Jesus’ response to the religious leaders in John 10 and His statement to them that “you are gods.” What does this phrase mean?

The phrase is taken from Psalm 82:6 which indicates to us that Jesus held a high view of the Old Testament Scriptures. Psalm 82:1-7 says, God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah! Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”

Dr. John MacArthur explains, “Quoted from Ps. 82:6 where God calls some unjust judges “gods” and pronounces calamity against them. Jesus’ argument is that this psalm proves that the word “god” can be legitimately used to refer to others than God himself. His reasoning is that if there are others whom God can address as “god” or “sons of the Most High,” why then should the Jews object to Jesus’ statement that he is “the Son of God” (John 10:36)?”

Even this biblical argument would not dissuade the religious leaders from trying once again to arrest Jesus. Jesus, however, escaped from their hands (cf. 5:13; 8:59; 12:36). No explanation is given by John as to how Jesus escaped.

Pastor Burk Parsons concludes, “Civil authorities have been given the right to bear the sword by God Himself (Rom. 13:1–7), so they have a kind of “divine” authority that has been delegated to them. We know, however, that earthly judges often fail to do justice. Christ, on the other hand, possesses divine authority inherently according to His divine nature. He never fails to do justice, and we trust Him knowing that where earthly justice fails in this life, divine justice will prevail in the next.”

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: The Testimony of Unbelievers.

“The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:31-33).

I cannot recall how many times I have been asked to defend and locate in Scripture Jesus’ claims to be God. Thus far, we have taken note of several times John’s Gospel records Jesus’ claim for deity. These include the familiar “I Am” statements which include Jesus’ words found in John 10 that He was not only the “Gate” for the sheep but also the “Good Shepherd” of the sheep.

I would submit that not only did Jesus claim to be God but His enemies understood and recognized that He claimed to be God. This would explain their response on at least three occasions in John’s Gospel where the religious leaders plot and plan to execute Jesus for such a claim (John 5:18; 8:59; 10:31).

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “Nothing could better identify someone as a false prophet than for him to claim that he was God. So, it is evident that the Jews believed Jesus was claiming to be deity when He said, “I and the Father are one,” because they took up stones and charged Him with blasphemy (John 10:30–36). Modern cults try to argue that Jesus never claimed to be God, but the response of the Jewish authorities shows that they recognized exactly what He was teaching about Himself.

Dr. John MacArthur writes, “For the third time John records that the Jews attempted to stone Jesus (see 5:18; 8:59). Jesus’ assertion (10:30) that he was One with the Father affirmed his claim to deity and caused the Jews to seek his execution (v. 33). Although the OT permitted stoning in certain instances (e.g. Lev. 24:16), the Romans reserved the right of capital punishment for themselves (John 18:31). Nevertheless, out-of-control Jews attempted a mob action in lieu of legal proceedings (see Acts 7:54–60).”

There was no doubt in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders that Jesus was claiming to be God. Therefore, if unbelievers do not believe Jesus’ disciples when they claim that He is God (Romans 9:1-5; I Timothy 1:17), perhaps we should direct them to what Jesus’ enemies understood about who He claimed to be.

Dr. Sproul concludes by saying, “If Jesus were an ordinary mortal, His claims of deity would be blasphemous. But His works prove that He was sent by the Father and attest to the veracity of His words that He is the incarnate Son of God (vv. 37–39). Moreover, Jesus’ claim of unity with the Father was unique. While believers can say that they are in God and God is in them (3:21; Rom. 8:9), this mutual indwelling is not the same as that of the Son and the Father. Augustine of Hippo comments: “The Son says not, ‘the Father is in me, and I in Him,’ as men can say it. For if we think well, we are in God; and if we live well, God is in us: believers, by participating in His grace, and being illuminated by Himself, are in Him, and He in us. But not so is it with the only-begotten Son: He is in the Father, and the Father in Him; as one who is equal is in him whose equal he is. . . . Recognize the prerogative of the Lord, and the privilege of the servant. The prerogative of the Lord is equality with the Father: the privilege of the servant is fellowship with the Savior.”

While acknowledging that Jesus claimed to be God does not in any way mean that people will accept such a claim to be true. However, I think we can dispense with the erroneous suggestion that Jesus never made such a claim to be God. Indeed He did and His enemy’s reaction proves it.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: The Security of the Believer.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)

I am convinced that the Bible promises that all those who place their faith in Jesus Christ receive eternal life and will never perish (John 3:16). This promise is at the heart of the Gospel message of why Jesus came to provide a substitutionary atonement for our justification and glorification (Romans 8:28-30).

One of the most beloved statements, of what is often referred to the eternal security of the believer, is found in John 10:28-29. If comes from the spoken, and recorded, words of Jesus. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

A true believer in Christ is identified by three characteristics in John 10:27. They understand the Gospel or the revelation of Jesus (I Corinthians 2:1-14). This is only possible by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). Second, Jesus knows them. To know means that Jesus acknowledges believers belong to Him. Third, true believers obediently follow Christ (Ephesians 2:10). They demonstrate their covenant relationship with Christ by a changed life lived for Christ.

In light of this condition, Jesus gives a promise. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Dr. John Walvoord writes, This is one of the clearest statements in the Bible that one who believes in Jesus for salvation will never be lost. Believers sin and stumble, but Jesus as the perfect Shepherd loses none of His flock (cf. Luke 22:31–32). Eternal life is a gift (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 10:10; Romans 6:23). If one has it, he has it eternally. They shall never perish is a strong affirmation in the Greek meaning that they will indeed not ever perish”; cf. John 3:16. The security of the sheep is found in the ability of the Shepherd to defend and preserve His flock. Such security does not depend on the ability of the frail sheep. No one can even snatch His sheep out of His hand. “Snatch” is harpasei, related to harpax (“ravenous wolves, robbers”).”

Not only does Jesus promise what He will do, but also states what God the Father has already done. “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

Dr. Walvoored continues by stating, My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. That is, no one is strong enough to snatch any of Jesus’ flock from the Father’s hand (or from Jesus’ hand, v. 28). As the NIV margin states, verse 29a in many early Greek manuscripts reads, “What My Father has given Me is greater than all.” The thought of the verse in either case is that the Father who is omnipotent secures the flock by His power and protection. God’s plan of salvation for Jesus’ flock cannot be aborted.”

God the Father and God the Son are in complete and perfect harmony. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” Both have the closest possible unity of purpose in the complete salvation and deliverance of sinners saved by grace alone, through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.

As Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary John, “We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because He holds tightly to us.”

John Calvin states, The salvation of all the elect is not less certain than the power of God is invincible.”

Pastor Buke Parsons concludes, “To believe that those who have truly trusted in Christ alone for salvation can be finally lost is to imply that the Lord is not strong enough to hold onto us, which calls His omnipotence into question. If we truly believe that God is all-powerful, we will believe that no one who actually rests in Christ will ever be lost.

A friend of mine, who was primarily responsible for mentoring me as a new believer in Christ, often remarked to me that John 10:28-29 could be personalized by substituting our own names in place of the personal pronouns found in the text. Therefore, the text would read as follows: “I give them (Tom) eternal life, and they (Tom) will never perish, and no one will snatch them (Tom) out of my hand. My Father, who has given them (Tom) to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them (Tom) out of the Father’s hand.”

Take time today to claim the promise Jesus makes in John 10:28-29 is yours. May this text bring you lasting and blessed assurance.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Gospel of John: Capable Speaking; Incapable Understanding.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)

At first, we might not recognize that John’s reference to the Jewish Feast of Dedication was actually a mention of the celebration of Hanukkah. Hanukkah, which means “to dedicate” in the Hebrew, celebrates the Israelite victory over the Syrian leader Antiochus Epiphanes IV around 165 B.C. The festival, even today, celebrates and remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights.

As one historian explains, “In c. 170 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes IV conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the Jewish temple by setting up a pagan altar to displace the altar of God. Under the leadership of an old priest named Mattathias (his family name was called the Hasmoneans), the Jews fought guerrilla warfare (known as the Maccabean Revolt—166–142 B.C.) against Syria and freed the temple and the land from Syrian dominance until 63 B.C. when Rome (Pompey) took control of Palestine. It was in 164 B.C. on 25 Chislev (December approximately), that the Jews liberated the temple and rededicated it. The celebration is also known as the “Feast of Lights” because of the lighting of lamps and candles in Jewish homes to commemorate the event.”

John not only tells us about the setting but also the season: “it was winter.” Two months had elapsed since Jesus’ last confrontation with the Jews (7:1–10:21) at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2), which was in October. Jesus again returned to the temple area. John wants us to understand that the cold weather most likely prompted Jesus to walk on the eastern side of the temple in the sheltered area of Solomon’s porch. This location, following Jesus’ resurrection, became the regular gathering place of Christians where they would proclaim the gospel (see Acts 3:11; 5:12).

It was during this holiday celebration that the Jews, specifically the Jewish religious leaders, once again began harassing Jesus. The phrase “gathered around Him” means to surround and to press in on every side. You get the sense of a mob atmosphere filled with growing antagonism and animosity.

The Jews continually said to Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They command Jesus to identify Himself to them as to whether or not He is the Messiah. Imagine the arrogance of created beings demanding and commanding the Creator to do something.

Jesus responded by saying, ““I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”

There are three cause and effect statements found in John 10:25-26. They communicate volumes on the clarity of God’s revelation to fallen man and fallen man’s inability to comprehend God’s revelation.

The first statement is “I told you and you do not believe.” Jesus stated many times in many meaningful ways to the Jewish religious leaders that He was the Messiah. He used, for example, statements such as being the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Light of the World (John 8:12), and the Gate and the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). He even declared to them that He was Yahweh (John 8:58), to which they took up stones to stone Him for blaspheme (John 8:59). Their response was continual unbelief. They refused to trust, depend, commit and worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The second statement is “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” Jesus not only stated on many occasions that He was the Messiah but He also demonstrated miraculous power which belongs to God and God alone. He stated He was the Bread of Life in the immediate aftermath of feeding a multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread (John 6:1-21). He stated that He was the Light of the World immediately prior to healing a man born blind (John 9). Jesus’ works gave testimony and support of the truth of His words and claims to be God.

The third statement is “but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” This final statement explains the condition of the religious leader’s hearts and why they refuse to receive Jesus as the Christ (John 1:12-13). They do not believe because they are not elect. God has not chosen them unto salvation (John 3:1-8; 6:37-65). It is not that they will not believe, it is that they cannot.

However, as one pastor explains, “Christ’s sheep—the elect—on the other hand see in Jesus’ words and works that He is the Messiah and Savior.” They are able to do so because they are born again by the Holy Spirit (John: 1-8; I Corinthians 2:10-14).

How do you know whether you are elect unto salvation? Do you believe Jesus’ recorded words and accept His recorded works as testimony of His identity as God and Savior? If you do, it is because God chose to regenerate you by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel. Therefore, give God all the glory for what He has done solely by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of John: The Great Divide!

“There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21).

When I was a youth pastor in West Michigan for nine years one of the most exciting and much anticipated annual youth activities was our Michigan vs. Michigan State Party. It involved members of the youth group, and youth group adult leadership, dressing in their favorite team colors, either maize and blue or green and white, enjoying delicious food which my wife Diana prepared and watching the Michigan/Michigan State Football game. Those in the youth group, whose team lost, provided refreshments to their fellow youth group winners at the following Sunday evening’s youth social.

An important part of the gathering was decorating our basement for the event. Streamers, tablecloths, napkins, cups and plates were adorned with each university’s respective colors. One place where Diana and I were able to purchase these supplies was at a store called The Great Divide. As you entered the store, one half was green and white while the other half was maize and blue. It was a pretty awesome place which contributed to our young people having a lot of fun. Oh by the way and in case you’re interested, this year’s game is October 20 at East Lansing. Go Blue!

On a much grandeur scale, there arose a great divide between the people hearing Jesus’ words that He was the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep only to take up His life again by His bodily resurrection. This was not the first time this great divide occurred (see John 7:1-13) about who Jesus was and what He would accomplish.

One commentator explains that, “Jesus has said several times in John 10:1–16 that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. When the gospel goes forth and the elect hear it, there is no doubt that they will believe. Those who are not His sheep will not hear His voice. They will not follow Him to the end; they will either reject Him outright or, having never had saving faith to begin with, will go out from His people and abandon their profession (1 John 2:19). The last three verses of today’s passage provide something of an illustration of this point, as they show many of the Jews again rejecting Jesus (John 10:19–21). Assuming that they never came to saving faith later on, these individuals were clearly not among the sheep of Christ.”

The great divide regarding who Jesus is continues to this day. It is not a frivolous issue or a fun game. There are those who have faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Others reject Him. This great divide is also an eternal one with eternal consequences: life or death. On which side of the great divide are you?

Soli deo Gloria!