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Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of John’

Jesus’ Words: My Father and Your Father, My God and Your God

March 12, 2013 2 comments

Nearing the end of S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, comes this interesting point regarding Jesus’ words after His resurrection, as recorded in John 20:17:

I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.

This is one of many places in the word of God, where we see the amazing precision of the words spoken.  After all, why did Jesus say “my … and your …” instead of the overall term “our … and our…”?  In the precise language used, we see the distinction in kind between us as adopted children, and Christ the eternal Son.

S. Lewis Johnson explains it well, describing in precise doctrinal terminology the difference between our relationship to God as our Father, versus the relationship that the Son has to the Father within the Triune Godhead:

There is a sense in which His God is our God and His Father is our Father, but there is a further sense which we do not share with Him in the paternal relationship with the eternal God.  He can say that God is His Father by eternal generation.  We cannot say that.  We can say that God is our Father by temporal regeneration.  But He can say it by eternal generation.  He doesn’t need any regeneration.  His relationship is an eternal relationship of Son.  The Father is eternal; the Son is the eternal Son.  We are now sons by temporal regeneration.  So our relationship is different from His, and yet we call Him Father.

Salvation: Going Beyond Charleston (Illustration From S. Lewis Johnson)

February 5, 2013 7 comments

S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, in John 16, is chock full of great exhortations to study the word of God and the importance of God’s word and its depth.  One great illustration to share:

Let’s just imagine a person in England who about fifty years ago has heard about this great city in the United States of America, and since he’s had some relatives have come over here, he’s wanted to come.  So he gets on a boat and he leaves England and he comes to Charleston, South Carolina.  He finds the country magnificent.  Well, it so happens that he’s come through storms on the sea and when he arrives in Charleston, he praises the captain for his skill in bringing the boat through the storms.  He praises the boat because the boat has been able to withstand the storms.  He thanks them for the fellowship that they’ve had, and he arrives in this country.  And then he does not investigate the United States of America at all, but stays in Charleston and about two or three months later goes home.

Well it’s nice of course to have come.  It’s nice to have seen Charleston.  But he has failed to see the United States of America, with all of the magnificent beauties and glories of this country.  I’d like to suggest to you that that’s a picture of many believers.  They have come to faith in Jesus Christ.  They praise the Lord for the salvation that has come to them.  They thank him for the way in which he has brought them through the storms of life to safe harbor.  They enjoy the fellowship on the way, but so far as really coming to know the vast land of the salvation that we have in Christ, they’ve staying in Charleston.  Isn’t that sad?

Many Christians I know are like that.  They thank the Lord for the fact that Christ saved them.  They praise Him for the blood of the cross.  They rejoice that they are saved, that they are going to heaven.  But so far as the vastness of the salvation of God and the truth of God, they have little comprehension of it and little appreciate it.  May God help us to realize that it’s not enough to be saved. Salvation is an entrance into the beginning of the knowledge of God.  That’s the reason we are saved, that we might know him.

The Holy Spirit’s Ministry To The World: S. Lewis Johnson, John 16

January 30, 2013 2 comments

In S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, I’m now in the “Upper Room Discourse” section, which includes Jesus’ statement in John 16:8-11 about the work of the Helper: And when he comes, he will 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 longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

I didn’t always understand what was meant in this section – didn’t closely study the matter, and from general reading thought of it in a negative way as somehow about judgment and condemnation of unbelievers.  S. Lewis Johnson’s message on this text brings out the actual details here, beginning with a discussion of common grace.  The world has the benefit of some of God’s blessings: the general blessing of God’s goodness to all creatures; conscience; and human government with its moral restraint.

Common grace incidentally is not called common because it’s common but rather because it is general.  That is the grace of the Holy Spirit in his general blessing to all creatures, even animals.   Every living thing is the object of the blessing of God.  And consequently the fact that we have food, the fact that we have drink, the fact that we have clothing, the fact that we have the Son and the benefits of the Son and the fact that we have the rain which ministers to our ultimate physical benefit, all of this is part of the general grace of God exercised towards his creatures.  Then the general operations to the Holy Spirit by which he without renewing our hearts and giving us the new birth exercises a moral influence in human society.  Is it not an interesting thing that all over the world in almost every society there is a sense of right and wrong? Sometimes it is not quite the same sense that one would find in more enlightened societies more spiritually in lightened societies, but nevertheless there is a universal sense of a conscious, which men recognize that things are right and some things are wrong.  This is part of God’s common grace.  He exercises moral influence.  He curbs sin.  He promotes order.

Universal human government is the gift of God.  If we didn’t have common grace we would have utter chaos all over the world.  I know some of you think that we already have utter chaos, but you have no idea of what chaos would be if we did not have human government.  That is part of the common grace of God.  And then also those general operations of the Holy Spirit by which he seeks to influence men toward redemption, although not securing redemption, may be called common grace.  In other words the Lord Jesus says many are called, but few are chosen.  The calling of men is common grace.  When the gospel is preached that is the common grace of God it is a general seeking on the part of God to influence society for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

SLJ also notes the correct understanding of “world” here — that it doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit will convince everyone in the world regarding sin, righteousness and judgment.  Rather, this text is talking about how the Holy Spirit will work, through the Christians in the world, to reach some unbelievers: those who will yet come to faith through this general ministry.   The book of Acts gives us two good examples of such unbelievers who are reached:  the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius.

Regarding the three specific things the Holy Spirit will convince the world of:

Sin – “because they do not believe in me.”  Sin is not merely the outward actions, following the Ten Commandments; the root of sin is unbelief.   In other words the essence of sin is not what we do.  The essence of sin is what we believe.  And when we do not believe in the Lord Jesus that is the root of all sin.

Righteousness:  not man’s unrighteousness, but His righteousness is pointed out here:

Now what is it about our Lord’s going to the Father that convinces the world of righteousness? Why does that convince the world of the facts about righteousness if the Lord Jesus goes to the Father? Well now, remember the world is a body of people who cannot receive the Holy Spirit, who not only cannot receive the Holy Spirit but who hate the Lord Jesus Christ.  The world likes to put on a lot of veneer today and so the world will speak with kindly little phrases about the Lord Jesus like He was a great teacher.  …  Not realizing, that is a blasphemy, and furthermore, how can a person who was just a good man but not the eternal God say that He was the Son of God and affirm that salvation is only through Him? All of these statements then become the most arrogant of lies if Jesus is not what He claimed to be.  But the world likes to say, “Yes, He was a good guy.”

Well, the world hates the Lord Jesus Christ.  The world hates the Lord Jesus because He condemns the world.  And the world’s righteousness is unrighteousness in the sight of the triune God, so when the Lord Jesus came and ministered among them, what did the world do to him? They crucified him.  That expresses the idea that God has concerning the goodness of the world.  They have with wicked hands taken Him and crucified Him.  But God when Jesus was placed in the grave on the third day God raised Him from the dead.  And furthermore He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and there He sits as William Perkins says, “Possessed of all sovereignty and authority over the whole of the creation.” Evidently God has a different view of Jesus Christ from the view that the world has of Him.  The world says He’s worthy to die, and to be crucified on a cross.  God says, He is worthy to be raised from the dead.  He is worthy to sit at the right hand of the throne on high.   He is worthy to have put into His hands all authority in heaven and in earth and to give the Holy Spirit to His people.

The judgment to come:

Now the Holy Spirit will convince the world of judgment — not of their future judgment although of course that is plain — but of judgment because the prince of this world has been judged.  So our Lord looks at the fast approaching cross of Calvary where He will bear the sins of sinners, and that by which Satan has a hold upon men will be destroyed because Jesus will bear the penalty.  And Satan is judged in the cross.  And men who believe in the Lord Jesus go free from bondage and penalty and condemnation of sin.  He speaks not of judgment to come, but of the judgment that now has come when He died on the cross at Calvary.  So the death on the cross was a judgment of sin in the person of our substitute the Lord Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Discernment: S. Lewis Johnson, the Sheep Do Not Listen to Strangers

January 9, 2013 9 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series comes this timely observation.  It was true thirty years ago same as now: some professing Christians are easily led astray, going after first one teacher then another. This message from John 10:1-6 puts things into perspective, especially with all the interest in “discernment ministries” and the tendency of some to focus excessively on warning other Christians about false teachers.

Now, we read here, a stranger will they not follow.  So when Paul Tillich calls out we don’t respond.  When Moltmann calls out we don’t respond.  When Bultmann calls out we don’t respond.  When William Barclay calls out we don’t respond.  When Wolfhart Pannenberg calls out we don’t respond.  When Gerhart von Rott, we don’t respond.  When Eichrot, Jako, Kumal, all the great scholars of the present day who are not members of the body so far as we can tell, when they call out as shepherds of the sheep, the true sheep do not respond.  They do not follow the voice of a stranger.

Now that is a problem for me, because there are some people who do not seem to be able to distinguish the voice of our Lord from the voice of strangers.  Isn’t it a remarkable thing?  You probably know some Christians, professing Christians like that.  They hear something and they immediately run after it as if it were something great until they discover that’s not quite as great as it was, and they come back.  And then a new voice is heard and they rush after them.  That makes me wonder, because the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger.  They don’t run after Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy.  They don’t run after Ellen G. White.  They don’t run after Rutherford.  They don’t run after the false voices, they follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  They hear his voice.  They know him.  They follow him.  That should be a word of admonition to us.

Many of the names mentioned above are unfamiliar today, the scholars of liberal (unbelieving) Christianity.  But we can certainly add the current set of questionable teachers — such as Beth Moore, the Jesus Culture, and the latest from John Piper — to the same understanding: the true sheep do not follow the voice of a stranger, and will not be led into such deception.  Yes, sometimes true Christians are those who come out of cults and out of false teaching (who were not believers when they got into those cults).  Sometimes also young, immature Christians (the carnal babes, those recently saved — not the willful carnal) for a time will lose focus and not seek the best teaching.  But as S. Lewis Johnson so well observed here, true Christians will not continue to manifest such behavior; they will not rush after one voice, then to another voice, and so on.  We can trust in God’s sovereignty, that He knows those who are His, and rely on His promise, that His sheep will be able to distinguish our Lord’s voice from the voice of these false teachers.

Hermeneutics: The Gospel of John… as Allegory?

January 2, 2013 4 comments

In online Christian discussion groups, I’ve recently come across a rather unusual idea: an  allegorical approach to the gospel of John (which came out in discussion of the temple cleansings mentioned in John’s gospel as compared to the synoptic gospels).  Aside from the brief note in my old NIV Study Bible, that some people believe it’s referring to one cleansing, I had not met anyone who actually held such a view.  Apparently though, it is “the standard teaching of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and PCA in America that there was only one cleansing and that John’s gospel isn’t Chronological in linearity.”

Beyond the “who cares?” attitude that some may have, interpretation of this incident gets to the heart of hermeneutics and how we approach the Bible.  Do we treat the Bible as plain language, considering everything in the text? Or do we just pick some general theme and approach that a certain Bible book supposedly has, and thus disregard the actual details in that text?

The following is excerpted from a discussion with someone who spiritualizes the gospel of John (in the same allegorical manner as others do with more obvious books, such as another of the apostle John’s books, Revelation).  The conversation includes a second biblical commenter, referred to as BC:

Allegorizer: The Synoptic gospels…Mark begins at the beginning of his ministry. The VERY beginning. Matthew begins at the same time as Luke at Jesus birth. John just wrote his gospel differently. His message and method was different.

Me:  Mark 1:14 skips ahead some period of time after Mark 1:1-13: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This comes AFTER several chapters in the gospel of John, while John the Baptist was still baptizing: note the sequence of days in John 1 and 2, and then John 3 and these details in John 3:22-24: “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).” The early chapters of John occur in-between Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, and before John is put in prison, which is where Mark 1:14 resumes.

Allegorizer:  but you think that Jesus ransacking the temple wasn’t important enough for John the second time around or the synoptics the first time around? If they all record it once, why not record BOTH of them? Both of them were obviously important.

Me: John’s gospel also tells us that the most important contributing factor, humanly speaking, for the Jewish leaders to put Jesus to death, was the resurrection of Lazarus. Now why is that very important event only mentioned in John’s gospel?

Each gospel tells different events as observed by the different writers, and they don’t all include the same details. It is very reasonable from the chronology of John’s gospel, that an earlier temple incident happened, before John the Baptist was put in prison.

Allegorizer: again, John had a different method of writing. He abused Greek to the point where students to this day *hate* reading him.

BC: I can read John without hating his Greek. I read John in English (and Portuguese too), and I can understand that there were two cleansings. Why you mention Greek, I don’t know.

Allegorizer:  My point was that they all have ONE cleansing. if one cleansing is important enough for 3 but not 1 why not the 1 and if 1 why not the 3? They’ve already recorded one. why not record both? Obviously they’re both important.

No, there was but one cleansing. John had a different method behind his writing and the purpose wasn’t to give a chronological biography. You’ll note that the gospel of John can be divided into 7 parts a few ways. 7 I Ams, 7 Signs.

BC:  You ignored (the) point about Lazarus. According to you, that was not important at all since it is not mentioned elsewhere.

Allegorizer: No I didn’t.  The difference is that none of the synoptics recorded Lazarus. I’m looking for consistency. If one cleansing was important enough for John but not the others, then the second was important for the others and not for John. They’re being inconsistent.

Me: So answer the question: if John is just a different type of writing and so non-sequential as to be so difficult to understand, why did he alone mention Lazarus’ restoration to life? Furthermore, why did he bother to put so many time-reference indicators in the text, such as “the next day” repeatedly in John 1 and 2, and indicating that John the Baptist was still free, not yet in prison, at the end of John 3, which clearly comes in John’s sequence of events AFTER John 2.

John 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.
Next verse: 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Then Jesus is there in Jerusalem for the Passover and subsequent events: Nicodemus’ visit, and then in John 3:22 AFTER THIS —
Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

Allegorizer: the clarity of the text is still there, but its chronology isn’t linear. John’s presentation of Jesus’ ministry is thematic (water>healing>healing paralysis>feeding 5000>walking on water>healing the man born blind>raising Lazarus>and an arguable 8th sign rising from death) they build to a climax.

Me: Oh, so because John’s gospel happens to include certain themes — and actually the greatest theme is his seven signs — that means we can ignore everything else in the text?

Final observations:

1)      No doubt the same person who thinks John’s gospel isn’t sequential, thinks Revelation isn’t sequential either. The same author used the same time reference indicators such as “and ” and “after this,” so we can know the chronology.  The underlying hermeneutical issue is the same.

2)    Well said by another person in the discussion:  Just from a human nature standpoint, I can see the crooks at the temple having to be run off more than once……..

Such an approach to God’s word reminded me of Medieval Catholicism, when allegory was the standard approach to God’s word.  Surpringly, though, even the Catholics – going back to Augustine – did get this part right, a sequential-enough understanding to accept two different temple cleansings a few years apart:  In any case, the Church Fathers and Scholastic Doctors believed that there were two Temple cleansings. Most notably, we refer to the authority of Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cornelius a’ Lapide.  John Calvin likewise affirmed the two temple cleansings:

for the other three also relate what we here read that Christ did, but the diversity of the time shows that it was a similar event, but not the same. On two occasions, then, did Christ cleanse the temple from base and profane merchandise; once, when he was beginning to discharge his commission, and another time, (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15; Luke 19:45,) when he was about to leave the world and go to the Father, (John 16:28.)

Presbyterian R.C. Sproul likewise affirms two temple cleansings:

“how long do you think after Jesus did that, that those tables were right side up and the money changers were back in business?  Do you really think that when He goes through and cleans the temple on the first occasion, that that was the end of it? I don’t, for a minute.”

Judges As Types: Why They Are Called gods

December 28, 2012 2 comments

Going through S. Lewis Johnson’s “Gospel of John” series, some great insights concerning Jesus’ statement in John 10:34-36:

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came-and Scripture cannot be broken- 36 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’?

Here Jesus cites Psalm 82:6, which refers to unjust human judges and calls them gods.  What exactly did Jesus mean here?  I’ve heard the general “lesser to greater” argument but hadn’t previously considered this text in depth.

one modern commentator has said that what our Lord is doing is simply using an a fortiori argument.  That is for a still stronger reason if mere men may be called gods then surely I may be called the Son of God.  And it’s not blasphemy for me to be called the Son of God if mere men, unjust judges should be called gods.

This isn’t a fully satisfying answer, though, since – as S. Lewis Johnson notes – after all they’re accusing him of claiming deity, not simply that he’s a God like other men are gods.

Another response given is that Jesus is repelling the technical charge, and that it’s not blasphemy to call someone God who really is God.   So if you can call human judges gods then surely you can call someone who is sanctified and sent into the world the Son of God. 

This may be the sense that was intended, but S. Lewis Johnson then goes a little deeper:  the typology of judges, as a type of God and representing God, and, in the type, showing the unity between the human ruler and God:

Why were judges called gods?  Now that’s not the only place.  In a couple of other places in the Old Testament they’re also called gods.  Why are they called gods?  Why is a judge called a god in the Bible?

Obviously it’s not God in the sense of one who possesses full deity, but yet there is some relationship.  There is some form of representative unity that exists between a human being called a god and the great Triune God in heaven.  Well, judges did have a relationship of limited union with God because they were their divinely delegated representatives.  In Israel, a judge was one who should judge under God, and should judge with the judgment of God.  In that sense they were in limited union with God, very limited union, similar to Paul’s statement in Romans 13 when he calls the magistrates of the cities, ministers of God.

Think of all of our political men.  Of all of the titles that you would think that are least applicable to them, what would stand out most?  Well, I won’t ask you to reply.  I’ll just reply for myself.  What is the least applicable title that I can think of for Senators, and Congressman, and Mayors, and Governors, ministers of God, and yet that’s what they are, ministers of God.  By the providence of God they serve in their office.  … You see they are magistrates of God.  There is a limited sense of union in that they serve ideally and responsibly before God as representatives of him.  They talk about representing the people, but they really are ideally the representatives of God.  That should be their first responsibility.  So there is a limited union then between a magistrate and the Lord God.

In this sense they are types and shadows of a deeper union to come.  All of these things were arranged by God so that they would lead up the great union that exists between the Son and the Father, the mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is absolutely on with the Father.  So the germ of the union between God and man existed in the law, even in unjust judges.  But the Lord Jesus is the one who has perfectly realized the union of God and man in his incarnation and atonement.  And that is indicated by the words, “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world.”  He perfectly realizes the union between man and God.

Now if you can call those little fellows gods, how much more is it proper and right for him to whom all of those limited unions pointed to call him Son of God?  They all pointed forward to him.  The prophets in the Old Testament had a limited union with God, but they pointed forward to the prophet.  The priests of the Old Testament had a limited union with God, but they looked forward to the priest, the eternal priest, the kings likewise to the King.  And the judges looked forward to the judge, and the judge who would do exactly what Psalm 82 said, “But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes,” when you do not respond to the truth of God.  It was a very affective thrust because it reminded them not only of the fact of his right to be called the Son of God, but also of his right to be the ultimate judge of all men including the judges, and especially the judges among the Pharisees and Sadducees who were before his face at this present moment.

It’s a magnificent reply.

Another Spurgeon Merry Christmas

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Times of Feasting: The Merry Bell, the Sermon Bell, and the Funeral Bell

From my recent reading through the Spurgeon volumes, comes this very interesting Christmas sermon: #352, December 23, 1860. This is the most unusual text I’ve ever seen for a “Merry Christmas” message, and yet one that surely does fit with how people actually spend Christmas:  Job 1:4-5, about the feasting of Job’s sons and daughters, and Job’s praying for them.  The point of the message is that it is proper and fitting to celebrate good times, to enjoy feasts with one another.  Spurgeon noted other texts of scripture as well: the wedding feast of Cana in John 2 (and I also just listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s sermon on that text); Jesus’ overall reputation as one who came eating and drinking; and the Old Testament feast days appointed by God Himself.

S. Lewis Johnson (Exposition of John 2):

Our Lord approved festival times.  He came and participated in the joy of the wedding feast.  Some have pictured him as a pale Galilean and done great harm to Christianity because Christianity is not of that negative ascetic character.  So he approved festive times and, I think as Christians, we should approve festive times and participate.

And from Adolph Saphir, “The Divine Unity of Scripture”:

It was the idea of God to make His people happy before Him, so that under the law of Moses there were very few fast days, but a great number of feast days, in which the people were to rejoice before the Lord God in the beautiful harvest, and in all the bounties, with which He had surrounded them.

Spurgeon highlighted the merry bell, the sermon bell, and the funeral bell.

  • The Merry Bell of the festive text.  Good men of old have feasted, as well as Jesus Himself
  • The Sermon Bell: the context of the text, which is instructive.  Let your prayer be, “Hold me up, and I shall be safe.” Let your daily cry be, especially you young Christians, yes and you old Christians. too, “Lord, keep me! Keep my heart, I pray You, for out of it are the issues of my life.”
  • The Funeral Bell: That which follows the text, which is afflictive–  Between the table and the coffin there is but a step; between the feast and the funeral there may be but a day; and the very bell that rings the marriage peal tolls the funeral knell!

The Merry Bell includes the caution – “it may be” that my sons have sinned.  The feasting itself was not sin, though, and Job did not know of any sins, or he would have made the statement definite.  Still, “it may be,” and the remedy:  Job sent for his sons, as a father; he sanctified them as a preacher; he sacrificed for them as a priest.

The Funeral Bell relates to a selection from my readings today (in my 9 list Horner Style Genre Reading): Ecclesiastes 7:2 — ​​​​​​​It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. 

Yet as Ecclesiastes also tells us, there is a time for everything, including the times for feasting and celebrating.  In closing, an excerpt from Spurgeon concerning the Christmas holiday:

In Cromwell’s days, the Puritans thought it an ungodly thing for men to keep Christmas. They, therefore, tried to put it down, and the common crier went through the street announcing that Christmas was henceforth no more to be kept, it being a Popish, if not a heathen ceremony! Now, you do not suppose that after the crier had made the proclamation, any living Englishman took any notice of it! At least I can scarcely imagine that any did, except to laugh at it; for it is idle thus to strain at gnats and stagger under a feather! Albeit that we do not keep the feast as Papists—nor even as a commemorative festival—yet there is a something in old associations that makes us like the day in which a man may shake off the cares of business, and disport himself with his little ones. God forbid I should be such a Puritan as to proclaim the annihilation of any day of rest which falls to the lot of the laboring man! … Though I would not have as many saint’s days as there are in Roman Catholic countries—yet if we had but one or two more days in which the poor man’s household, and the rich man’s family might meet together—it might perhaps be better for us. However, I am quite certain that all the preaching in the world will not put Christmas down—you will meet next Tuesday, and you will feast, and you will rejoice, and each of you, as God has given you substance, will endeavor to make your household glad!

Christ Born, But Also Sent Into the World

December 18, 2012 2 comments

At this time of year we especially celebrate Christ’s birth, the incarnation. Great Christmas hymns often mention “glory to the newborn king,” “Christ is born”  and “the babe, the son of Mary.”  We remember too the infant narratives that indeed describe the human birth of the Christ child, as for instance:

  • Matthew 1:16:  of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
  • Matthew 2:1-4, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem”…”where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” and “where the Christ was to be born.”
  • Luke 1:35– therefore the child to be born
  • Luke 2:7–  she gave birth to her firstborn son
  • Luke 2:11–  For unto you is born this day

Yet beyond these references, it is interesting to note how elsewhere Christ is described, by Himself and others, in terms so very different from all other people.  For instance, we usually refer to a “mother and her child.” Matthew 2, in sharp contrast, several times mentions “the child and his mother.”

Another interesting thing, that I had never thought about before listening to S. Lewis Johnson (something he often mentioned):  only once did Christ refer to Himself as having been born.  It’s part of our everyday conversation for all of us to say “I was born in “ such and such a year, or “I was born in “ (fill-in-the-blank) city or state location.  Christ repeatedly referred to Himself as being sent, as having come into the world.  Only once did He say that He was born – in John 18:37, to a Gentile king, Pilate, who would not have understood Christ’s normal language.  Even then, immediately after saying He was born, Jesus quickly added “and for this purpose I have come into the world.”

Excerpts from S. Lewis Johnson on this interesting point:

This verse is very interesting …  This is the only instance in which the Lord Jesus says that he was born.  His characteristic expression is that he was sent into the world or simply that he came into the world.  And this is the only time that he said that he was born.  And strikingly, of course, he said it to a heathen man.  And then quickly modified it by saying, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.”  In other words, it was characteristic of him to say words that suggested his preexistence.  He was sent.  And he came.  This one time he was born.  And of course the reference is to his human nature.

and

Only once does the Lord Jesus ever say that he was born.  Did you know that?  Well it’s alright to say that, but only once does he ever say that he was born, and do you know, do you remember to whom he said, he was born?  He said it to a man who had no theological understanding at all.  He said it to Pontius Pilate.  He said, “For this cause was I born,” and then in order to not confuse people like me and like you who were such great theologians, he said, I have a word for you, for this cause was I born and for this purpose came I into the world.  That’s the only time he ever said he was born, and it was said to the Roman Curator, Pontius Pilate.

The Good Shepherd: Symbolic Picture of the Man Born Blind in John 9

December 7, 2012 1 comment

In listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, I have now come to the great 10th chapter, the discourses about Jesus as the Shepherd over the Sheep.  Previous teaching that I’ve heard on this subject focused on a few ideas, such as the reference to shepherds in Ezekiel’s prophecy, or comments about the major features of sheep and how we are like sheep.

As always, S. Lewis Johnson went further, with many interesting observations.  Throughout this chapter we see a shepherd who knows us intimately, who knows everything about us, and yet is not ashamed to be our shepherd.  In fact, this great Shepherd delights in being our Shepherd.

Also, the following point, which I had never noticed before: John 10 is connected with the event in John chapter 9, the healing of the blind man.  The words at the beginning of chapter 10 (“Truly, truly” in the ESV) in John’s gospel never occur at the beginning of a new discourse, never introduce any new material.  Rather, the first verses in John 10 give a symbolic picture of John 9.  From this message in the John series:

 Now, in chapter 9 we have the blind man who is healed.  He was blind from his birth.  He’s remarkably healed.  Then we have controversy between the blind man and the Pharisees.  And finally the blind man is thrown out of the synagogue.  But Jesus finds him and unveils himself to him fully, and it is climaxed by his confession, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.  So when we read John 10 we are to think of that particular action.  For example, in John chapter 10 we read of false shepherd in verse 1.  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”  In verse 5 we read, “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him.”

Now these strangers and robbers that he refers to in this symbolic picture, these are references to the cruel actions of the Jews in chapter 9 towards the blind man.  In John 9: 22 we read, ” These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”  These are men who seek to come in some other way, so we are think then when we read of the thieves and robbers, of the Jewish men who sought to keep the blind man from coming to Jesus Christ.

In John chapter 9 we notice the remarkable response of the blind man, and that of course is designed to represent the response of the sheep, referred in chapter 10 and verse 3 and 4.  “To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.  And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.”  So the response of the sheep is like the response of the blind man in John chapter 9.  And the care of the shepherd for the sheep, referred to in chapter 10, is like the care of the Lord Jesus for the blind man for when he was thrown out of the synagogue, according to John 9:34 we immediately read, “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of Man?” and brought him to faith in himself.  So what we have then in chapter 10 is an allegorical or symbolic picture of the event of chapter 9 with further suggestions as to the meaning of what had happened.

Jesus, the Light of the World: The True Pillar of Fire (Exodus Wilderness Wandering)

November 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Jesus is the Light of the World:  in my early Christian years I associated that phrase with a Christian music song (Carman, Jesus is the Light of the World), and the basic gospel message and references in that song: the truth that comes when we are born again, the Holy Spirit working in the heart so that we understand and love that which we hated before.  Also, that Christ does not merely point us to the light (the manner of the teachers of non-Christian religions), but that He actually IS the light.

In S. Lewis Johnson’s series on the gospel of John, I’m now in John chapter 8, considering some additional observations concerning John 8:12, Jesus’ statement: I am the Light of the World.

This statement is part of the two chapters, John 7 and 8, centered around the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem; so we look at the specific events of that time and the things done at this particular feast.  Some commentators therefore connect Jesus’ statement to the candelabra that were lit, in the first days of the feast:   some have suggested that since the candelabra of the temple areas, they were placed in the court of the women, were a significant feature of the celebration of the feast, that he said it in the light of that fact.  The candelabra were lighted on the first day or so of that feast.  And on those first days or so, they shown all over the city, because the light was reflected off of the top of the temple areas so that anyone in Jerusalem who had a courtyard outside of their houses would have the light that came from the candelabra in the temple area. 

However, the candelabra light was only lit in the first days and not continued – whereas Jesus’ statement suggests continuation.  The candelabra were also fixed, stationary objects, not moving about as Jesus describes here:  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. In response, those who see this connection between the candelabra light and Jesus’ statement, say that His statement was made in contrast to the relative darkness of the last days of the feast.

If we look at other statements from this section, though, another association emerges: the Israelites’ time in the wilderness.  Christ has already said that He was the true manna (John 6:32-35) that they ate then.  In John 7:37-38, the last and great day of the feast, Christ identified Himself as that living water which came out from the rock that was struck: in reference to the ceremonial event on the last day of the feast, when the Jews reenacted that great event of the water coming forth from the rock, by which they understood that their God was with them through those forty years in the desert.  Now, the “light of the world” is also a reference to that wilderness experience: the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, that physical manifestation of God present with them.  For as Exodus describes, they continually followed that pillar, moving when the cloud lifted and staying camped when the cloud remained.  So in John 8, this may well be what our Lord was especially thinking of:  “I am the light of the world.”  I am the fulfillment.  I’m the antitype of all that was signified by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire.

From the very next message in SLJ’s Gospel of John series:

All the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. That’s part of our birthright, that’s part of our salvation, to be led by the Spirit. We don’t always follow, but we are constantly led. We don’t have to ask the Lord for guidance; He gives us guidance. The guidance is there; what we need to do is ask the Lord to enable us to follow the guidance that He gives us. We have the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire in better form, in the person of the Holy Spirit.