Posts Tagged ‘Wells’
John 14:15-21 (90 Days With Jesus, Day 67)
15″If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
I have done a lot of talking on this blog, and in this series of meditations on John’s Gospel, about the nature of discipleship, what it costs, what its demands are. Being a disciple of Jesus is not cheap, nor is the grace that creates disciples in the first place. Cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer, is the downfall of the Christian Church. And David Wells has written powerfully about how the church has become less powerful because we have adopted the methodologies of the prevailing culture rather than teaching the hard truth about God, the Cross, and the cost of discipleship. In a sense, we have lessened the demands of a Holy God by forcing God into our shapes and sizes and ideas instead of allowing His thoughts to shape us. So Wells,
“Holiness is what defines God’s character most fundamentally, and a vision of this holiness should inspire his people and evoke their worship, sustain their character, fuel their passion for truth, and encourage persistence in efforts to do his will and call on his name in petitionary prayer” (God in the Wasteland, 136)
Wells wrote many such things and we ignore his prophetic voice to our own peril. The author of Hebrews wrote it this way, “It is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Wells wrote, “In His holiness God is not to be trifled with; familiarity with God inherently borders on contempt and is subject to judgment” (Wasteland, 141). But the sad truth is that the American Church, in its ongoing charge to be taken seriously and be considered relevant and to have a voice that is heard, has trivialized God’s holiness and the demands of discipleship, the wonders of loving obedience, and blessings of Trinitarian fellowship. What is the solution?
Elton Trueblood wrote in his little book A Place to Stand that what is needed, desperately, ‘is the emergence of Christian intellectuals. If Basic Christianity is to survive, it must be served by a highly dedicated and highly trained group of persons who are unabashed and unapologetic in the face of opposition and ridicule’ (A Place to Stand, 20 1969). I wonder if this is true or not. Don’t get me wrong: We need highly trained specialists whose focus is in areas of apologetics and logic and theology. My question is where do they come from? I think those people come not from the high towers of academia, but from the rank and file of the church. Their training, thus, begins from the pulpit.
Now this all serves as a brief introduction to my thoughts about what Jesus said here in John 14. Jesus said: If you love me, you will obey me. He did not equivocate. He did not mince words. He did not pull punches. While we are certainly not saved because we obey commands, there is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus fully expected we would obey his commands—not to be saved—but because we are saved. As we thus grow in our love of Christ our obedience demonstrates the character of Christ and the Spirit whom Jesus gives shapes, molds, perfects and sanctifies the Christian. Eventually, there will be no doubt in the minds of those who see us that God lives in us by His Spirit.
The point, I think, is rather clear and far reaching. If we truly love Jesus then we are not merely going to be hear his word. Nor are we merely going to mouth words like ‘I love Jesus.’ If we truly love Jesus then we are committed to obey Jesus. He is the authority to whom we answer. He is the one to whose Lordship we submit. “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do these things.” Now what he says is this, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” There is virtually no difference between these two statements. It is impossible to say that you love Jesus and not submit to his authority to dictate commands and his authority to demand of us holiness and perfection.
Am I advocating perfectionism? No. Am I saying we will never falter, fall, sin, do the wrong thing? No. Am I saying we should just be happy to rest in his grace and that we don’t really have to make any effort? No. What I am saying is that true love is true delight. In other words, if we really love Jesus it is a delight and an honor and pure joy to serve him by obeying him. We don’t think of this as an unreachable or unrealistic goal to achieve. We think of this as an everyday adventure to say, “Lord, how may I obey and serve you today?” It is, in the words of AW Tozer, the ‘Pursuit of God.’ It is the ongoing hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is the ongoing first seeking of His Kingdom and His righteousness. It is pure delight! Pure joy! It is pure blessedness! It is what we were created for and what we were not created for. That is, we were not created for slavish disobedience and slavery to the flesh. We were created for fellowship in Christ through obedience to His perfect will.
Is this not what he says? “If you obey…I will send the Counselor to be with you forever…he lives in you and will be in you…I will not leave you…I will come to you…Because I live you will live…I am in the Father…you are in me…I am in you…he who loves me will be loved by my Father…and I will love him too…and show myself to him…” Do you get it? We were created not to be pawns or playthings or disobedient devil worshipers. We were created to live in fellowship with God. Jesus is talking here about perfect fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! (See 1 John 1-2.) If there is anything that is a hindrance to fellowship it is most certainly disobedience because in disobedience we have ceased pursuing God and righteousness first.
I don’t know if I am adequately explaining this or not. I hope I am because what I see taking place in a lot of churches is exactly the opposite. I see striving and chasing and pursuit of many things that have nothing to do, necessarily, with the pursuit of holiness. There’s too much fluff; too much seeking of the ‘experience’ instead of the real Thing. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me” (KJV). What I wonder is if all the fluff that exists in churches is fluff because we love Jesus or because we want stuff? What is the pursuit really of?
Christianity is not merely a discipline to be mastered. Christianity is a joy. We don’t obey to get saved or to get happiness or to get necessarily anything. We obey because we love. We love because we are loved. There is fellowship and peace in loving obedience to Jesus Christ. We pursue, followeth hard after God, because we love Him. Is this not what God truly desires of his people most? Does God require anything of us be the impassioned pursuit of his holiness? Can we think about the fact that He gave us life and be full of love and joy and so seek the One who has shown us such favor? “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, NIV).
Just ask yourself what you are pursuing. Ask yourself why you are pursuing God. Why are you striving to be obedient? Is it because you truly love Jesus and desire perfect fellowship with Him? Or is it something else, something less, something here? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they will be filled.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” 33″We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” 34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? 35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. 40Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed 41and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” 42And in that place many believed in Jesus.
I’d like to preface today’s thoughts by adding one final point to what I said in yesterday’s meditation. In the context of John 10:22-30 Jesus is talking to his opponents. They were questioning him as to His identity and He answers quite emphatically, and unmistakeably. Well, while there may still be an evangelistic tone to these statements, there is also exhortation. You see, it is no longer his ‘opponents’ who primarily read this Gospel, but His Church. These words, then, are spoken now to the Church. An important question to ask, with this in mind is this: Why would Jesus need to remind the Church that ‘He and the Father are one,’ and that His ‘sheep listen to his voice’? He also says, ‘I know them,’ and ‘they follow me.’ This only deepens the level of accountability we have to Jesus because if He ‘knows’ us, then how can we do anything apart from Him? How can we hide anything from Him? Does anything escape His carefully watching eyes? Or does the Scripture say, ‘then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits [ Or the sevenfold Spirit] of God sent out into all the earth’ for no apparent reason? (Revelation 5:6, NIV).
In fact, nothing in the church escapes the Son of Man who ‘walks among the Lampstands’ (Revelation 1:12-13). The problem with a lot of church leadership nowadays is that at a very fundamental level they think Jesus is unaware of what’s going on in the church, they do not believe He is ‘still in charge,’ or, worse, that He will do anything about it if He is in charge. The reason? Well, on the one hand they have a profoundly deficient view of who the Biblical Jesus is and, on the other hand, they do not have sound biblical preaching teaching them what the Bible says. These two in tandem produce a church that tolerates the the pathetic non-gospel preaching of such folks as Joel Osteen, and tolerates the pressures from homosexual activists fighting for God-blessed ordination and inclusion in the Body of Christ apart from repentance.
I was debating with a man the other day who made it quite abundant that he ‘is’ a Christian. We argued back and forth until he finally confessed that he has no confidence in the biblical witness at all suggesting that Jesus was not really crucified, but ‘hanged’, and that the Bible has ‘historical contradictions’ in it. But he still calls himself a Christian, but what kind of Christian? And is this a valid assumption to make about oneself when the very Scriptures that define us are called into question, disrepute, and reproach? There is only one kind of Christian and that is the kind, said David Wells, that is ‘constituted and defined by the Word of God.’ He goes on, ‘There is a core that identifies Christians in every age, and every culture. It is this Biblical confession that has to be preserved.’ There is no Christianity apart from a Biblically defined, Holy Spirit revealed, Christ centered, Christianity. The only way this will realistically happen is if Christians, beginning with preachers in the pulpits, start preaching the Jesus of the Scripture and none other.
Funny thing about his opponents: They got it! They didn’t believe it, but they got it! They understood perfectly well that Jesus was saying, “I am God.” Their response was typical: they tried to stone him (31), accuse him of blasphemy (33) and, they tried to seize him (39). But they would not take him at face value. I’m convinced that the Biblical Message about Jesus will make at least as many enemies as it makes ‘many who believe.’ It’s a hard message, and according to John MacArthur, “Hard to Believe.” But no one could seize Jesus for proclaiming the truth; and didn’t he say that no one can snatch us from the Father’s hand? So why we shrink back when it comes to the Gospel?
Again, it comes back to the church because these words, evangelistic though they undoubtedly are, are primarily in existence for the teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness of the Church. What is he saying about the church when he says these things? Has it so come about that the church is now full of opponents of Christ? I have another example that I saw at another blog (www.alittleleaven.com). There’s a church in Minnesota advertising a new sermon series to be preached soon: The Gospel According to the Police (a secular music group). A Little Leaven wrote:
Another church has sadly sold out to the demon god of relevance.
This time it is Oak Hills Church in Eagan Minnesota. Their upcoming sermon series is entitled The Gospel According to the Police.
Please note: The Police are not a Christian Band. Their lyrics are not on par with the scriptures and their ‘gospel’ (if it could even be called that) is a different gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ. But who’s going to let these pesky little details get in the way of a ‘culturally engaging’ sermon series designed to help grow a church?
Obviously, not Oak Hills. Here is what their site says about the series:
Each week we’ll explore the music of the band “The Police” and the questions they raise about life. Sermon/song titles include:“Hole in My Life”: Everyone has to make the decision to follow Christ and stay on the path to full devotion.
“Spirits in a Material World”: We have to plug-in to God and others at our weekend services.
“So Lonely”: We have to charge-up to become like Christ in small group gatherings.
“Driven to Tears”: We have to live-out our faith by serving at Oak Hills or in our community.
“Message in a Bottle”: Live a missional life.
Well this would be just fine and dandy IF the church was called to explore the questions of life raised by secular rock bands. But it’s NOT. Instead, the church is called to preach the word of God, preach Christ and Him crucified for sinners and teach that which is in accord with sound doctrine.
And isn’t the author right?
I think I know what it is. You see if we start preaching this Jesus who claimed to be God then we will no longer be relevant. But as Jesus takes center stage in our preaching, we will become more potent, faithful, and biblically relevant. Maybe we’re afraid that people will treat us the way they treated Jesus: with contempt, accusations, violence. Maybe they won’t want to hear anything we have to say if we talk about sin and repentance and judgment. Perhaps we’re afraid we’ll be threatened—And we will! What is worse: A person who is not a Christian at all? Or a person who is a ‘wrong’ Christian, an error filled Christian, an unsaved Christian, a deluded Christian who thinks he is saved but in fact is not? Churches must stop persisting in the delusion that we are helping people by keeping them ‘in the Pew’ and ‘out of Christ.’ I’m convinced, in agreement with David Wells, that even though there are variations on certain biblical concepts that cause disagreement, that there is a core to our belief that does not change from generation to generation. There is such a thing as orthodoxy that begins and ends with Jesus, the Son of God.
Let me speak metaphorically for a moment. These opponents of Jesus resorted to violence because of their opposition to Jesus’ claims (in this case, that He Is God). I wonder if the Church hasn’t done the same? Do you think the church believes that it can actually improve the message of Jesus if it just tweaks it here and there a little? If we leave out essential, biblical content like Jesus’ divinity, Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ radical, counter-cultural call to discipleship, judgment on sin, repentance, Jesus as the Only Way to Eternal Life, then maybe we can attract a little larger crowd and keep them around a little longer, but have we ‘helped’ them? I don’t think that will work, nor do I think it is right. I wonder if the church doesn’t done violence to Jesus when we try to ‘shut him up’? I wonder if we are actually his opponents when when we challenge his teaching? The short and long answer is, ‘Yes, we do.’
I’ll close with two thoughts from David Wells that I believe address this concern.
“Christ’s Gospel calls sinners to surrender their self-centeredness, to stop granting sovereignty to their own needs and recognize his claim of sovereignty over their lives. This is the reversal, the transposition of loyalties that is entailed in all genuine Christian believing” (God in the Wasteland, 82).
“The Church is called to declare the message of the cross, not to uncover God’s hidden purposes in the world or the secrets of his inner therapy. It is called to tell the world what God has said about sin, not to guess at what he might be saying through daily circumstances or whispering in private intuition. And it is called to make known the coming judgment. God’s glory requires this judgment, and the church awaits in hope the moment when truth will be put forever on the throne and error forever on the scaffold” (God in the Wasteland, 185).
I wrote in the margin, next to the second comment: Amen! Amen! Now is the business of those called to preach to make known this message to the world. But judgment begins with the house of God. First we declare this message to the church and in His powerful Name set the church free to belong to Him only. Then to trust that the Spirit of Jesus will ratify these truths in our hearts so that we will have the authority and courage to preach to the lost world. What I’m saying is this: Until the Church recovers the courage and backbone to preach the entire counsel of God, as Jesus did, then we have no right to preach at all and the church will continue to fall under judgment. Until we have the nerve to leave nothing out of the proclamation, we have no moral or theological authority to say anything about anything. We have a derived authority that comes from the Word of God. Until the Word of God is preached, the Church is a meaningless collection of misfits. But when the Word of God is declared boldly, in its entirety, then the Church is a powerful force to be reckoned with on this planet, and the very gates of Hell will mount no defense against the Church. Until then, we will continue to be overrun, overturned, and rather shallow.
A Call to Preachers: If You Sincerely desire your church to be what the Bible declares a Church to be: Preach the Gospel, in season, out of season. Leave nothing out of the proclamation. Mince no words. Pull no punches. Leave nothing to chance. Fearlessly declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ, without shame, without fear. Preach the Gospel of Jesus, the Biblical Jesus; Jesus, the Son of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!
22Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
I’d like to take this text in a direction that perhaps is not entirely obvious or necessitated by the context. Jesus made these statements to opponents (which in itself is revealing!), but he also made them to the Church which reads this Gospel according to John. We do well to pay close attention to the manner in which he speaks to his opponents, but we do much better to pay attention to the words he spoke to them. So, I may not be entirely within the scope of context, but I don’t think I have abused the text to make my point.
Isn’t that the problem with most people: You tell them plainly who Jesus is and they simply refuse to believe. There are a lot of reasons why people say they don’t believe, but it still boils down to unbelief. But there is no other way. They asked; he answered. He is the Christ, the Messiah. The onus, thus, is on them: they are the ones who don’t believe. Those who do believe hear his voice and listen to him. The benefits are great: Eternal life, no perishing, no one can take us from Him and wreck our salvation. We cannot be taken from Him because we are protected by the Father. Then: I and the Father are one. Right there is the single most plainly spoken statement about Jesus’ self-understanding, about His complete identity: He is God.
The implications of this statement are astounding, nearly incomprehensible. It is staggering, astonishing, and yet absolutely comforting and reassuring. The implications are quite revealing, not least because we are told that Jesus is the head of the Church (which necessarily means he is the head of every Christian). This means that the church, if the church functions (I realize that is a rather simplistic choice of words) with Christ at the Center, as the Center, defining the Center. We do not operate apart from His sovereignty or His governance. It also means that Jesus’ interest in the church is not some mere passing acquaintance. It means that his association with the church is the Father’s association with the Church. It means that His intentions for the Church are the Father’s intentions for the Church. It means that He and the Father are in complete accord when it comes to Church and those who belong to the Church. It means that we are answerable to Him, to Him alone, in our conduct as Christians and our membership in His Body. There is no other way but Jesus.
Well this is, frankly, astonishing because there are many nowadays who are quite convinced that, in fact, they run the church. So important people convene a meeting and begin discussing this subject or that subject. I suppose they pray and listen to position papers too. They do so gather in the Name of Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of the Holy God. So how do they come up with the idea that Jesus Christ, who is One with the Father and the Head of the Church, would tolerate sin in His body? To what God are they praying when they conclude that sin is A-OK in the Church and those practicing shall not be punished? Don Carson rightly asks how we think God ‘feels’ about the sin that cost the life of His Son. “How does rebellion appear to One so incomparably transcendent that even the superpowers appear to his eyes like the fine dust in a balance? How does rebellion appear to One who measures our sin by the death of His Son?” (How Long O Lord?, 86). I wonder: Christ died to make a people unto himself, pure and holy, a Kingdom of priests who will declare his praises and many in the church have turned the church into a place where any and every kind of sin is validated, justified, practiced, and applauded.
Jesus’ intentions for the church are no different than God’s because Jesus is, indeed, God. There is no difference of opinion on how things ought to be done: Jesus’ Way. There is no other way for them to be done: Jesus’ Way. There are no two ways about it: Jesus’ Way. Well, how do we know this? David Wells, in that lecture I mentioned in another post (The Disappearance of Evangelical Theology, pt 2) makes this point clear: For us to be Christ centered is to be begin by understanding the Scripture. Our Center, he says, is Christ: Understood theologically: Biblically Mediated, Biblically defined. In other words, we don’t have a right to redefine Jesus, or His Scripture in the way we wish that it looked. We have no right to challenge the Biblical Witness. We have no right to ‘re-imagine’ Jesus, or ‘re-imagine’ the Church. We have the Scripture: Our sole Rule of Faith and Practice. This is what Jesus said: My sheep listen to My Voice.
So we must understand His Voice. We must listen to His Voice. We must be careful to discern His Voice. We must be cautious not to stray from what is written. Again, Wells, “The Christian life is Christian only to the extent to which it is constituted and defined by the Word of God.” I submit to you that the Church, in her efforts to be ‘relevant’, has altered this and we thus have a disjunction between Scripture and practice. The Church has decided that it can do away with certain doctrines as antiquated, or irrelevant. The Church has decided that one must not be hastily or harshly judged for heretical teachings (on which see Albert Mohler http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=987). The Church must be tolerant, even of those who are openly practicing sin because we don’t want to offend them or drive them away from God’s love (with their wallets firmly squeezed between the material on their slacks!). After all, we are told, God loves the sinner and hates the sin. And who are Christians to judge! (But in the Church we are to judge!)
But at what expense? What is the cost of listening to man centered theological extracts, heresy at best, and diminishing the Word of Christ? What is the cost to the Church, to the Gospel, of such a tolerance for sin and such an intolerance for the faith once delivered? What price will the church pay for it’s incomprehensible tolerance and justification of sin and heresy? Funny thing is, and I don’t know where I heard this, but the Word of God includes all the Scripture, not just the words in Red. In other words, it’s all binding on the Christian, on the Church. What has taken place in the Church is that people figure they can meddle, correct for culture, make adjustments on the fly as if God’s Word were not sufficient. Even the popularization of the Gospel in the form of ‘Christian fiction’ or ‘Christian psychology’ or ‘Christian (insert popular ism here)’ is a bastardization of the Gospel which was given to us that we might believe in Jesus and have life in His Name alone.
Much of what goes on in the church is shameful and embarrassing. It is disgraceful and an abomination to a Holy God. David Wells makes an important statement at the end of his lecture concerning the Gospel in the Church. He perceptively says, “Where would we be if there had not been men and women down through the ages who insisted on handing down the teachings of the Apostles in tact to the next generation? We wouldn’t be here!”
But he doesn’t leave it there. “Where,” he asks, “will the next generation be as we hand this truth on to them?” One wonders. What will be the theological legacy this generation will leave to the next generation? We have only one choice: We must, as His sheep, listen to His voice. I think it is safe to say that we can ignore the cacophony of voices we hear clamoring about the rights of this group and that group. There is only One Body. But which voice will we listen to? Which voice will we hear? Whose sheep are we, anyhow?
Soli Deo Gloria!
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
It appears, taking these words at face value, that there are only two options available to people. On the one hand, some clearly belong to God. On the other hand, some clearly belong to the devil. Within those two ownerships are people content to carry out the will of their respective father. On the one hand, if God is our Father, then we love Jesus. On the other hand, if the devil is our father, then we are hell-bent on murder. Within those two fatherhoods, there are two languages. On the one hand, if God is your Father, you can understand Jesus—the truth. On the other hand, if the devil is your father, you understand his language—which is lies. If you belong to God, you are able to hear what God says, it makes sense, and it is your life. If you don’t belong to God, you cannot hear what Jesus is saying, it makes no sense, and is, in fact, the very reason why you don’t believe (45). If you belong to God, you carry out God’s will and you, like Jesus, always do what pleases him (8:29). If you belong to the devil, then you want always to carry out your father’s desire (44). It’s a tough life.
But that is what Jesus is saying. He said it specifically to people who were listening to him that day—people who were challenging his authority to determine who is and who is not a true disciple. Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’ Here are the things he is saying.
If we are truly his disciple, then we will hear and listen and understand and obey his commands, his teachings. If we are not, well, we’re not simply doing our own will. Those things that humans do contrary to the will of God are the terrible will of the devil; his desires. So frankly this means that many people in this world are serious trouble because they are doing the desires of their father, the devil. This means anything contrary to the will of God, anything that doesn’t please him, is the desire of the devil; that is, not that he wills it or commands it, but that he is ‘happy’ when people are disobedient to the will God. Whatever that means.
I’ll leave off that point for now that I might jump on another point. Jesus said, ‘Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.’ What was it about the truth that so offended people and turned them away from Jesus? If we always say the truth will people always turn away? I think yes. Why? Because Jesus has said that some people only hear and understand the language of their father, the devil, which is lies. The truth is, some folks simply cannot understand truth.
There is this ongoing assault on truth in this world. It is reminiscent of the Ministry of Truth in 1984 which was really dedicated the propagation of lies. There is an undercurrent even in the church nowadays. There are many who say that we should be careful when we make claims about truth because, in their words, we can’t really know the truth. I think that is wrong precisely because it is like saying we cannot know Jesus, the embodiment of truth. But anything less than the truth is a lie, and thus ultimately the work of the devil. There is no room for the work of the devil inside the church. In other words, there is no room in the church for anything other than the truth, and no room for anyone in the church who is not for the truth. This is what Jesus will say later, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (18:37b).
Philip Ryken is right: “Today the foundations are under attack. It would be hard to think of even a single major doctrine of the Christian faith that is not under attack in these postmodern times…But no attack is more fundamental that the attack on truth itself, the assault on the very claim that some things are true and others are false” (Philip Ryken, Only One Way, 83-84)
Another author, quoted by Ryken puts only slightly more bluntly:
“A solid sense of truth is foundering in America at large. Vaporized by critical theories, obscured by clouds of euphemism and jargon, outpaced by humor and hype, overlooked for style and image, and eroded by advertising, truth in America is anything but marching on…With magnificent exceptions, evangelicals reflect this truth-decay and reinforce it…Contemporary evangelicals are no longer people of truth.” (Os Guinness, No God but God, 18, as quoted by Philip Ryken, Only One Way, 84).
In another book by Guinness, Time For Truth, he writes of the assault on truth and the rather insidious manner in which the assault takes place:
“Not only the possibility but the worthwhileness of truth and virtue are emptied of meaning. Whatever someone may profess, things are always other than they pretend, darker and murkier than they make out. Our proper response, we are taught, should be to view every claim with a sense of irony, interpret everything with suspicion, and pursue ‘truth’ and ‘virtue’ with the central agenda of unmasking and dismantling them.” (32)
David F. Wells is even, perhaps, more unappealing to those truth dismantlers in the church. His book, No Place For Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, is a scathing, damning rebuke of the no-truth generation of ‘theologians’ and ‘preachers’ manning the lecterns of Christian based colleges and universities and, more specifically, the pulpits of churches. In fact, he begins with the church (p. 6)—and mustn’t he? All those little children who are sent off to bible college each fall have had their primary education in things of God by the church: little felt Jesus’ and Pauls, happy stories of arks and ‘fitting’ the battle of Jericho, and such like. But how many go to college armed already with a degree in theology because their preacher cared that they know Scripture more than how to deal with a bad break-up? He writes,
“Outside is a world that ignores what is most important to Christians and that is in fact now organizing itself on the basis of that rejection. Within the larger society, secularism seems natural because it gives plausibility; within that same society, Christian faith seems odd, and the context strips it of truthfulness. The bias of our experience in the modern world tilts heavily against a perception that the Christian faith is true and equally heavily toward a perception that secularism is truth.” (p. 87)
You can see that this is a big problem in our world. But if Jesus says, ‘you don’t believe me because I preach the truth’ (45), he also asks, ‘If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?’ (46). It must have something to do with the one to whom we belong. If we belong to the devil, well, ‘You belong to your father the devil and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.’ Or we embrace the truth that is embodied in Jesus Christ. There can be no two ways about it and this is very limiting. But we see in this world the results of those who belong to their father the devil. We see their work: they are liars, they spread lies, they foment aggression and hatred based on lies. Sadly, there’s a lot devil manipulation going on in the pulpits of American churches today.
This is why, in my humble opinion, it is becoming every more imperative for preachers of the gospel to preach the truth of Jesus. Jesus said he was not ‘here on my own, but the Father sent me.’ God wanted us to know the truth and sent the Truth in Jesus Christ. What right does a preacher have to say something that is contradictory to what Jesus said and taught? John wrote it earlier, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The front lines against the assault on truth, against teh assault on Christ himself, is the church. The church must continue to bear arms against this assault: Our weapon is the Word of God. There must be preachers who are willing to risk it all, that is, risk that people might not believe, that they might reject Christ, that their churches may not be as large, and preach the truth. We must educate our young people before they go off to college and the university and the seminary (places where, with some exceptions, lies are continuing to be taught in the name of academic freedom). I’m calling for the church to preach the truth, not that I have a right to make the call, but for the sake of those to whom we are preaching: The lies must be countered because when lies prevail, God is diminished; when lies take over, God is finished. When lies are our native tongue, then we belong to the devil, not God.
Of course this doesn’t mean that God somehow vanishes or goes away or that his will is thwarted—May it Never Be! One could equally say that God’s will is done in the very rejection of truth in Christ. But there is something to be said about God’s rejection of us as well. As Wells writes, it’s a two way street: “A Culture for whom God is no longer present believes everything…When we believe nothing, we open the doors to believing anything. And the same is truth within the precincts of the Christian faith” (p. 9). When lies are propped up and purported to be truth—why would God ‘hang around’? God’s will will, indeed, be done. We cannot thwart it, but we reject it and Him at our own peril. When we accept the lie, we reject the truth. And then what is left? What is left when truth is gone? What is left when God has, ultimately, rejected us? Why wouldn’t people want to believe the truth when Jesus spoke it? Probably because people, ultimately, love the lie.
I’ll close with Wells:
Soli Deo Gloria!
45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46″No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared. 47″You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48″Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51″Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” 52They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Merrill Tenney makes a good point about the cooperative work between the Sadducees & Pharisees: “Since the high priest belonged to the Sadducean party, the coalition of the Pharisees and Sadducees was significant. The two groups were strongly opposed to each other in doctrine (Acts 23:7). In spite of their differences, their common animosity toward Jesus induced them to combine for action against him” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, John, 88). Isn’t it amazing how people from such divergent positions can unite together against a common cause, in this case Jesus? I’d be willing to bet you could do the same thing with conservatives and liberals in our government: as long as Jesus is the object of their scorn, united they will be. We see this taking place at the end of every Gospel story. Jews and Romans, notoriously hateful of one another, working together to see Jesus crucified. The world had grand designs on itself and Jesus is not a part of those plans: he must be ruthlessly eliminated, purposely cut-off, permanently disabled.
Still it is difficult not to see the courage of those guards who were commissioned to arrest Jesus and yet came back sans Jesus, empty-handed. And what were they impressed with? “No one, no man, has ever spoken the way this man does.” He is unique in instruction, singular in his prophecy, unparalleled in his revelation. No one speaks like he does. This does not mean that Jesus was far more eloquent than anyone else (although, I’m not saying he wasn’t). It means that his teaching was remarkable for its content. It’s what the people said after he preached the Sermon on the Mount: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29). Or in Mark 3:27: “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’”
They were overwhelmed by Jesus’ teaching—the content of his teaching. No one compared to him and these guards had never heard anything like it before. I suspect that the religious authorities were a bit perturbed by this sort of ‘compliment’. “You mean he has deceived you too? Has any one of us believed in him? That is supposed to be a sign of authority or intelligence. In other words, “Look, you hayseeds, us smart folk haven’t believed in him, and those folks who have are accursed. Why, then, would you want to be associated with a group of cursed people? Wouldn’t you be wiser to be on our side and do what you are told since we, obviously, are smarter and not cursed?” Well that cinches it for me! I’m gonna follow the smart folk of this world because the obviously know much more than I do. They are far better equipped to handle all the details of who and what we should believe in. Right?
Nicodemus has a little courage too. Who knows what his intent was? I don’t, but at least he was willing to stand up to general decency and give a curtsy to the law: Does our law condemn anyone without a trial? But these folks did not even want to listen to Nicodemus or the guards let alone Jesus. Jesus was not going to get a fair trial in that town—and the end of the Gospels bear this out in full force. I cannot help but notice, however, that Nicodemus (this time) allowed those who opposed Jesus to have the last word. Maybe it was by design. Maybe he said just enough to allow those in opposition to Jesus to indict themselves and show their true colors?
So where does a prophet come from? Their last words are: “Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” In a sense, Jesus did not come from Galilee because he was, in fact, sent from the Father. He points this out several times. That is clearly not their point; it may be mine.
What they did was this. They worked with their avowed theological enemies in their opposition to Jesus, they resorted to snooty condescension and intellectual hubris, and they were about to commit an illegality by denying someone the full scope of the law’s protection (condemnation without trial). You can see they were going out of their way to oppose Jesus at every turn, every twist, every point they could. And they did so quite apart, it appears, from any pangs of conscience whatsoever. They wouldn’t listen to the guards. They wouldn’t listen to their own (Nicodemus). They wouldn’t listen to the Law (which Nicodemus invoked).
Sadly, folks do the same sort of things today. I hate to keep saying it, but that was the overall point of chapter 7 of John’s Gospel. What shall we do? What shall we say? How shall we respond? Shall we respond with bewildered fear like the guards? Shall we respond to citing technical aspects of the Law as Nicodemus did? Shall we respond in silence when insulted as Nicodemus did? At some point we are all going to have to say something about Jesus. I don’t think indifference, apathy, or silence is going to cut it. Those who speak the loudest, and those who hold the power of intimidation, and those reputed to be intellectual giants will not always be the ones to win or hold sway over the majority. What is required is someone brash enough to testify to what they believe in the presence of uncontrolled outrage and hatred.
Chapter seven took quite a while to traverse. There’s a lot of important theological material in this chapter. I’d like to leave you with a couple of important observations as we finish this chapter and proceed to chapter 8 of John on our 90 Days with Jesus journey.
First, Jesus does not move according to our time schedules. We can no more make God adjust his plans than we can extinguish the sun. He has his own purposes, his own plans, his own time-table for how and when things on this earth will be accomplished. To be sure, we are a part of that plan, but we are not privy to all the details. So while we pray, we bear in mind his sovereignty and wisdom. And while we live, we continue to have faith that God has not abandoned us or forgotten us. We lovingly trust and obey and have confidence that even when our plans fall to pieces and fail miserably His do not.
Second, Jesus expected much opposition from those who opposed him. That sounds a wee bit redundant but what else can I say? Opposition from those who oppose Christ does not lessen as time goes on but in fact increases and grows more vehement. There is a great deal of tension in chapter 7. There are those who can’t make up their minds, there are those who have already decided they are opposed, there are his brothers who think he’s a kook, and there are the disciples who silently follow Jesus. There is much violence and a lot of tension and maneuvering in this chapter. I don’t think Christians in the West have clearly marked this in their lives. We enjoy relative peace and comfort in our lives. I wonder if we are fully prepared for the sort of opposition that we can certainly expect at some point? Those opposed to Jesus will not long tolerate those who follow Jesus.
Third, Jesus said that his teaching was not his own, but that it came from the one who sent him, namely, God. If this is true, and I assume beyond doubt, that it is, then what is the response of people who hear these words? More, what is the content of those who profess to be prophets for the church? If the content of our preaching is not in line with that of Jesus’ preaching then how can it possibly be in line with message of God the Father? The reason we have the Scripture is precisely so that our preaching and teaching remain orthodox. More preachers would do well to put away their books on purpose, secrets, best lives, and prayers of obscure OT characters and open their Bibles and see exactly what Jesus preached and taught. If our teaching and preaching does not line up with His, there is reason to believe that we are not preaching orthodox Christianity.
Fourth, Jesus said that if we have thirst we should go to him and drink. Scarcely can I imagine this means anything other than that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that what he means to give us is the means of our preservation and sanctification (viz., the Spirit). I must be critical again of what I see in this world of churchianity. There is a mass exodus away from serious theological thinking and deep, passionate, committed study of God’s Word in favor of some short term psychological feel-goodism. Peruse the shelves at the local Christian bookstore and you will find they resemble the self-help section of Barnes & Noble with the only exception being the word ‘Christian’ affixed to the dust jacket somewhere. If Jesus gives the Spirit then we should be in pursuit of Jesus and the Spirit will create the life in us that we lack. In my estimation, this is tied directly to the Jesus’ words that his teaching is not his own but from the One who sent him. Our problem is that we have are profoundly suspicious of God’s Word and we are highly concerned as to whether or not it is reliably sufficient to create in us the new life God has promised. And if we cannot trust the Bible’s reliability, how can we preach it? Thus we resort to preaching from the books of popular authors who make Scripture palatable and easy, but no more reliable.
There’s much more to say about these matters. I submit to you that it is a theological problem we have in our churches. Too many are concerned with bread and milk—not many want to dig deep and unravel the complexities and perplexities of the real, biblical Jesus. What ends up happening is exactly what we see in John 7: A bunch of people who can’t make up their minds who Jesus is, what he is about, whether to arrest him or not, whether he is a prophet at all or The Prophet in fact. This is the problem we are faced with in our world. There is not enough teaching on what the Bible says about Jesus. The violence increases. The hostility does not abate. The animosity continues supplanting the popularity. It should be no different now. When Christ again is being truly preached from pulpits in the Church we will see the opposition rise. So long as we are content to be popular among the world’s inhabitants we will be ‘safe’. Safe, however, is always a relative term. What is better? Being safe from the world and caught in the hands of angry God or being in constant mortal peril and yet being guarded by the Lamb who is the Lion?
“What have been the eras of the Church’s greatest influence? What have been the moments of its most powerful impact on the world? Not the epochs of its visible might and splendour; not the age succeeding Constantine, when Christianity became imperialist, and all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them seemed ready to bow beneath the sceptre of Christ; not in the days of the great medieval pontiffs, when Christ’s vicar in Rome wielded a sovereignty more absolute than that of any secular monarch on the earth; not the later nineteenth century, when the Church became infected with the prevailing humanistic optimism, which was quite sure that man was the architect of his own destinies, that a wonderful utopian kingdom of God was waiting him just around the corner, and that the very momentum of his progress was bound to carry him thither. Not in such times as these has the Church exercised its strongest leverage upon the soul and conscience of the world: but in the days when it has been crucified with Christ, and has counted all things but loss for His sake; days when, smitten with a great contrition and repentance, it has cried out to God from the depths” (James S. Stewart, as quoted by David F. Wells in Above All Earthly Pow’rs, p 310).
There you have it. I’m sorry about the length of this post. I hope that does not deter you from reading and taking to heart what I have to say. Until chapter 8 I remain, affectionately yours in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!
25At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? 27But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” 28Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” 30At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. 31Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?”
In yesterday’s meditation, we learned that Jesus’ teaching does not come from himself but the Father. People thus reject Jesus’ teaching at their own peril: In rejecting His teaching they are rejecting the authority behind the teaching (The Father), the subject of the revelation (God’s Will), and the intentions behind the prophecy (transformation by God’s intent). Now what he is saying here is this: “I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true.”
But notice what the people’s response is to this newest revelation: More objections. They object to Jesus’ teaching because they are convinced that he is not educated enough or, at least, that he was not educated by the ‘right’ people or the ‘right sort’ of people. Now they object to him again: “But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” Objection after objection. They keep looking for reasons to not follow Jesus and searching for excuses not to believe in him. Furthermore, their response to him is always the same: violence, persecution, attempts at murder. They really do not like Jesus and search for any reason they can to lay him to waste. This time it is no different: At this they tried to seize him.
So here then it was not their ignorance that prevented them from knowing and loving Jesus. It was, in fact, their knowledge. In verses 14-15, they objected because they did not know where Jesus got his teaching form. Here they object because they do know where he is from. Jesus cannot win either way. But I think there is something more to it than that. I think these people were just, much like many in today’s world, searching and searching for reasons to reject Jesus. But if I hear Jesus’ answer correctly, then I am hearing him say to these people who objected: No, in fact, you don’t know me at all. As Jesus will later say in the Gospel: “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” He also says, “Anyone who has seen me has see the Father” (John 14:7-9).
I suppose that if people want to find reasons to object to Jesus they will find them easily enough. There is an entire discipline of Biblical studies dedicated to the task of refuting such objections (it’s called apologetics). Murray thus says that, in spite of the fact that we live in a different time and age and culture than when this book was first written, ‘…the revelation of God in Christ is directed to our age no less than to people in the first century of our era…And the challenge of Jesus’ claim to be the bearer of the revelation of God and the instrument of his redemption demands of every one of us an answer that we can give before the judgment seat of God, for that is what in the end will be required of us’ (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36, John, GR Beasley-Murray, 123).
So, the particular objections John wrote about may or may not be particularly relevant to us in this present culture. We are not Jews who would fret about something such as where Jesus was from or where he got his teaching (ie., his education). Indeed, the questions were even deeper than that in John’s context. Just examine all the different things people were saying about him in the chapter (v 1-5, 12-15, 25-27, 31, 35-36, 40-52). They objected to nearly every conceivable aspect of his life: Education, pedigree, race (he was from Galilee), etc, and at every objection they were ready to arrest him or kill him or persecute him. Still, in our culture we face a not entirely different set of objections that all trace their main point back to the same root: People still do not want to believe that Jesus is the Way, the exclusive Way, to the Father. “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” What about him did they not want to believe in? Well, read chapter 6 again and see!
This is the problem we face today. It’s not so much that people even object to Jesus necessarily. Many religions have grasped him and melted him into their pantheon of religious instruction. But Jesus is no mere teacher of wonderful, blissful things (as I pointed out yesterday). As long as Jesus is a good teacher, a humanitarian, an animal lover, an anti-global warming poster child, or some other such non-sense, Jesus is ‘just alright with me’ is the mantra for many folks—even Christians! But when cross-carrying Christians, rightfully and under obligation and mandate and because of love, preach that Jesus is exclusively the Messiah, God, the Crucified and Resurrected Sovereign Lord, well, then those who have lauded his teaching, moral character, and social activism turn back and no longer follow him. It is not strange to me at all that chapter 7 follows chapter 6 in this sense: Jesus made, in chapter 6, some of his most divisive, contumacious, and public claims to exclusivity yet in John’s Gospel, and many turned back, following him no longer. Now we see in chapter 7 their objections articulated, their hatred escalated, and their violence accelerated.
This is no different from our own world. And, to be sure, people cannot have it both ways. You cannot have Jesus the good, moral, upstanding citizen teacher and reject his exclusive claims to Supremacy and Sovereignty. This will not do. David Wells rightly notes, “The only way in which we can be God-centered, then, is to be Christ-centered, for God is salvifically know known nowhere else. It is popularly argued to the contrary that to be Christ-centered is to be other than God-centered because it excludes all religious options other than Christianity and hence excludes much of what God is doing in the world today. Whatever the attractions of this argument, it is simply unscriptural. It makes the reality of God diffuse, assails the uniqueness of his revelation in Christ, dispenses with Christ’s saving death, and upends the premise of the entire biblical narrative, which is that God alone has reality, while the gods and goddesses of the pagans are nonentities. The New Testament unequivocally sounds the note of Christ’s uniqueness, the clarion call of historical particularity, which vitiates every other religious claim” (God in the Wasteland, 132).
So, if God is doing anything in this world, he is doing it through Christ. Apart from Christ, God does nothing. He holds all things together in Christ. He saves through Christ. So, if people have rejected Jesus on this ground or that ground they have rejected God’s appointed heir, God’s appointed Messiah, God’s chosen Servant. Apart from Christ there is no one sent from God. Jesus came from God and that very fact teaches us a great deal about the manner in which we should respond to Jesus.
I hope this 32nd Day of 90 is blessed for you!
Soli Deo Gloria!
39Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41And because of his words many more became believers. 42They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
“Christianity is not up for sale. Its price has already been fixed and that price is the complete and ongoing surrender to Christ of those who embrace him by faith. It can only be had on his own terms. It can be had only as a whole. It refuses to offer only selections of its teachings. Furthermore, the Church is not its retailing outlet. Its preachers are not its peddlers and those who are Christians are not its consumers. It cannot legitimately be had as a bargain though the marketplace is full of bargain hunters…No. Let us think instead of the Church as its voice of proclamation, not its sales agent, its practitioner, not its marketing firm. And in that proclamation there is inevitable cultural confrontation. More precisely, there is confrontation between Christ, in and through the biblical Word, and the rebellion of the human heart. This is confrontation of those whose face is that of a particular culture but whose heart is that of the fallen world. We cannot forget that.”—David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 308-309
First, the Samaritans came out from the town because of the woman’s testimony and as a result of this coming out many believed in him. Well this was certainly the intended result. Her testimony was compelling whatever ‘He told me everything I ever did’ might actually mean. I disagree that she ‘shared her experience’ with the town folk. Instead, she went and shared Jesus’ words, ‘he told me everything I ever did.’ It was not her experience that persuaded people, but Jesus’ words. Even so their faith did not end there. Jesus stayed with them for two more days. Then verse 41.
Second, ‘And because of his words many more became believers.’ So this woman’s testimony did not stand on its own. Jesus’ testimony confirmed what she had been saying and also had the effect of causing many more to become believers. Again, the intended result—producing believers—was accomplished. But it was not mere experience that persuaded the first group and an additional group. No, again, it was the words of Jesus. They heard for themselves what Jesus was saying. They heard for themselves his testimony. Because of his ‘words’ many more became believers.’
Here’s the part that is most important to consider in today’s meditation: We know that this man is really the Savior of the World. They believed something about Jesus because of something Jesus said. It had something to do with what he told them, something we are not privy to. What did he say over the course of two days that so convinced them? Better, how did all these people give up their day jobs for two whole days to do nothing but sit and listen to what He had to say? (Did they take breaks for volleyball or shuffleboard? Did they sit in a circle like a sort of ‘Sermon in Samaria’? What was the content of his instruction to them?
I hate to harp on this, but here’s the simple truth. There were no gimmicks, no tricks, not nonsense, no fliers, no banners, and certainly no side-show. These people went out and listened to what Jesus had to say. On the other hand, there’s this: Jesus had something to say. I suspect that the content of his message is found in part in the words he spoke to the woman. I suspect he discoursed about freedom of worship, His identity as Messiah, eternal life, Living Water, springs of water that well up inside, the reaper gathering wages for eternal life and all such things. But whatever it was, it was surely the Gospel. The fact remains, the people went out to listen and Jesus had something to say.
Churches need to get a grip on this. People come to worship, they come from cities, they come from the country, they come from here and there; we meet them by wells, water-coolers, at ball games, at the soccer field, and all such places as this and more. So, when they come out, when we meet them, do we in fact have something to say? I don’t mean fluffy nonsense that has nothing to do with pointing to Jesus, the Messiah. I mean precisely that: Do we persuade them about Jesus the Messiah? I suspect that is the real content of Jesus’ message that day. They believed precisely because he took the time to explain things about himself. This is also our job: If we expect people to believe, then we must tell them about Jesus. Jesus must be the content of our message, our testimony, our proclamation. If we don’t tell them about Jesus how can they ever announce, “We know that He really is the Savior of the World”? And isn’t that quite the point of Gospel proclamation?
All I’m saying is that churches would do better from the pulpit if churches had preachers who stood up and pointed to Jesus and not to anything else. I’m steadfast on this belief. There are other venues for learning about good sex, managing finances, raising children and the like. But the only place people will hear the Gospel is from the church. The Church, in my judgment, must be about the business of proclaiming Jesus: Every time, All the Time, and At Every Opportunity. It is Jesus people need; it is Jesus people must hear about.
Jesus is the One, the only One, Who is the Savior of the World. That we must not forget.
I hope your 16th Day of 90 is Blessed in the Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria!
31″The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
Ours is a world that is dominated by many gods. Ours is a world that is filled to the brim with theologies of these gods. These gods have their apologists, their theologians, their exegetes. These gods have their preachers and teachers and singers and dancers. These gods have their bibles and their bible colleges and their PhD professors. These gods have their own churches. The difference between our world and the world of, say, the apostle Paul is that he had to walk through Athens to get a glimpse of all these gods. The Athenians had them stacked and erected and perched all around for people to see; all they had to do was walk. Our world is much, much easier. I’d say, to an extent, that we are much closer to Laban from Jacob’s day whose daughter Rachel stole some of his ‘household gods.’ I don’t know really what that means: ‘household gods.’ But I’m guess it’s not as far removed from us as we might think. Laban kept them in the house; the Athenians perched them all around town; we do both.
Our gods are all over: we perch them in town squares and call them memorials or nativities. We line them up on shelves in our living rooms so that visitors can see, smell, and touch them. We have their sermons preached to us nightly as we watch the television or listen to the radio or surf the internet. Sometimes we go out to the park and hold a collective worship service with others: cheering, clapping, hooting, participating in responsive readings, and singing their songs of praise and adoration. The gods have come down among us, we say. We invite them in for dinner or we share with them, or make an offering to them, through Visa and Master Card or Amex or Discover. Truly we are a remarkably religious society. And yet, we are profoundly empty, hollow, and virtually meaningless.
We can make a religion (or a god) out of anything. It really doesn’t even require much thought or effort. I visited a web page yesterday and listened to an old man prattle on for about 15 minutes (the entire video was nearly 60 minutes long!) about the joys, benefits, intellectually satisfying, and benevolent nature of secular humanism. His stated purpose is to prove that one can live this way, with joy, intelligence, benevolence, quite apart from any religion. The clear point he is making, however, is that these can be had quite apart from Christianity. As I watched, I actually felt sorry for that man. He who deigned to feel sorry for us, who obfuscated the reality of Christian faith and human centered religion, and who set-up himself and his ilk as the martyrs in this nation—‘the poor, persecuted, secular humanists’—was a actually a pathetic lump of flesh with no hope beyond his secular, humanist, fleshly life. He was hopeless despite his efforts to remain hopeful. His means would be his end. For him, there was no sacrifice left. God have mercy.
But John here makes the point that we needed outside help. His point is that we cannot for a moment save ourselves by or in our flesh. That is why Someone was sent ‘from above.’ And John further demonstrates this One’s superiority by stating that He is Above All. This leaves no room for any other. The One (and this is more than a neuter marker of identity; it is also a singular marker as in ‘One and Only’) from above is above all. David Wells notes, “There is nothing in the modern world that is a match for the power of God and nothing in the modern culture which diminishes our understanding of the greatness of Christ” (Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 11).
But it’s worse. Wells also notes that the place once held by God in this world has been replaced by human beings: “Meaning and morality, which only God could give, were taken to be purely human accomplishments; but in promising what only God could do, the Enlightenment sowed the seeds of its own downfall. It promised too much. It promised, in fact, that all human problems could be solved by purely natural means—and that, plainly, rested on false assumptions. It both underestimated the magnitude of the problems and overestimated the capacity of human nature to remedy them” (Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 31). Sadly, there are prophets of human nature still convinced that we no longer need outside interference or intervention. We don’t need God, God the Holy and True, to do anything—if He even exists—or intervene in any way. We have created gods in our own image, they are at our beck and call, we worship them, they serve us; it’s a very convenient relationship.
But the fact that God did in fact intervene in history proves to us that this premise is fallacious. In fact, we cannot solve our own problems. Indeed, the gods we have created are indifferent and incapable of solving our problems. And, ironically, we have identified not the problems which need solved, but the symptoms of the problem. The problem is that we are sinners, corrupt, degenerate, depraved. We are in a condition unsuited for saving anything because everything we touch falls to pieces. God knows this and thus He sent His One and Only Son. And this One from above, who is above all (31 two times), also testifies as to what He has seen and heard—and no one accepts him. We are told later the reason we don’t accept him is that we don’t want to hear the truth; we’d rather believe the lie. But the One from Above, who is above all, who testifies to what He has seen and heard, speaks, John tells us, ‘the very words of God.’ That is, we have God’s testimony about us, to us, for us. God informs us of our position and our needs. Apart from His opinion and testimony we can only rely upon ourselves and history has shown that man is thoroughly incapable of making sound judgments about anything.
So we learn: The Father Loves the Son and has placed all things in His hands. This means all things and nothing is outside of his control. This means that secular humanism cannot save us. The enlightenment cannot save us. Politicians cannot save us—no matter how many promises they make. Money and technology cannot save us. (As a sidenote, Wells insightfully notes, “Along the way, however, we have come to think that happiness is unattainable and unimaginable in the absence of comfort and affluence. The means to reach this end—capitalism and technology—have, in the absence of serious engagement with the truth of God and the God of that truth, become themselves the final ends of life”, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 47.) It also also means that this world is still under the Sovereign control of the Son. Paul said later, “All things hold together in Him.” We need this continued Providence. We need this continued guidance. We need His constant intervention. We need the ‘whole world in his hands.’ As John writes, “The one who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.” We certify God’s truthfulness because we accept his assessment of our situation and His remedy.
The final end? There is only One Savior: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” I need not say anything about this because it says all that needs to be said. There is simply no hope outside of Christ. I am here today, in this meditation, making the appeal to all who read these words: Return to Christ. Surrender to Him. Don’t you understand that apart from Christ there is only death, decay and decadence? Don’t you understand that those outside of Christ are already succumbing to the wrath of God which ‘remains on’ them? I make this appeal to the church and to the Christians who claim Christ: Return to the Way of Christ. Banish from your midst all the buying and selling and living and pursuing the empty gods of this world. If Jesus is in fact Above All Things, and in fact Everything has been placed in His hands, and in fact there is no other way to eternal life but through the Son, then isn’t it time for the church to start believing it?
I heard someone say recently, in a sermon, that the church has always been good at orthodoxy and poor at orthopraxy. In other words, we believe the right things but do not do the right things. I disagree. I think the reason we don’t do the right things is precisely because don’t know and believe the right things. It seems to me, I say so humbly, that it is high time for the Church to renounce its ways and one again Lift Jesus High. In my humble opinion, when Jesus has again been elevated in the church, then the church will do the right things. Until then, I submit, the church will continue to be inundated and overwhelmed by wrong things—things that do not have the least bit to do with salvation through Christ alone and everything to do with exalting the god we call ‘the American Christian.’ Jesus is the Way. The Only Way. He is Above All.
22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 27To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.
Here we are on Day 11. It is now 12:21 AM, Monday Morning, June 11, 2007. I really should be sleeping. I’m not tired though. I just looked over some of the ‘statistics’ for my blog—Life Under the Blue Sky—they seem a bit low, but I forgot some people read at the Life in the Aquarium blog too. But I digress. I sometimes forget that its not quite about me. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Jesus has graciously prepared the way for this word by speaking first of self-denial. Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake. If in the end we know only him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto him” (The Cost of Discipleship, 88).
Here is an interesting passage of Scripture that begins with a quiet and serene setting. A flowing river, disciples gathered around baptizing eager converts or penitents, harmony all around—except for that fight that broke out among some of those baptizing. The argument sort of gets dropped, but John’s disciples do use it as a pretext for asking their master why he doesn’t seem more concerned about this Jesus fella who is gaining more disciples. But John does not seem to care; in fact, he seems downright elated: I have done my job, my joy is now complete. (I think too that John’s statements concerning Jesus the Lamb of God were also John’s way of saying, “Look! There’s the One you should be following.” That’s why he said it twice. He wondered why people were still hanging around him.)
John then says the most astonishing thing a human being has ever uttered: He must become greater; I must become less. John doesn’t get involved in the argument. John does not care that more people are going to Jesus. John does not go out of his way to attract attention to himself. He always points to Jesus and is not jealous when Jesus begins to rise in stature. How could he? John, in my estimation, perfectly understood his role. He accepted what God gave him and did not throw a fit that it was not more. Really, that is about it for these verses. John was doing all he could to get out of the way so that people could see Jesus.
So here’s what I’m thinking about this. We need to get out of the way too. It’s no wonder, isn’t then, why God chooses us to be his messengers? Who else but us could so adequately make the case that this message is from God and not us? And that is precisely why we must continue to preach the gospel! That is precisely why we must continue to preach Christ Crucified! That is exactly why the treasure is hidden in dirty vessels like John the Baptist, me, and many others just like us. God hides his message in us and says: Point away to Jesus. I can’t emphasize this enough. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Jesus, the Supremacy of Jesus, the Above-all-there-is-Jesus, the Son of God Jesus, the Lamb of God Jesus.
I don’t even want to tell you today what I think the problem is in most preaching, but it has something to do with preachers being far too concerned about their job security and the approval of parishioners and the respect of their peers and colleagues. Hey, I’m a preacher, I’m most likely part of that problem to some extent so I think I’m safe to criticize my own. But I have to say something about: Preaching, preachers, prophets nowadays are far too self-centered. They know too much about too many things and so instead of preaching the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, the Whole of the Scripture, preaching takes on new shapes and dimensions and rises to new levels of oratory and rhetoric and psychology. But preachers are to be more like John and get out of the way. God doesn’t need us to stand up and glorify ourselves. God needs preachers to point to Jesus. There is something to be said about preachers not being so smart about so many things and instead being prophetic geniuses when it comes to the cross and the Crucified Lord.
David Wells, writing about the place of Scripture in the church, wrote in God in the Wasteland, “The fact that this Word is now so silent, that it has so small a part to play in the church’s worship, understanding, and spiritual nurture, goes a long way toward explaining why God, in his holiness, is also a stranger to the church…And so it is that God is disappearing from his church, being edged out by the self, naked and alone, as the source of all mystery and meaning” (149). Wells has much more to say about this, but let me sum up the main idea which is this: When the church becomes so full of us, it becomes emptied of God (there’s not room for both in the Body). When preaching, that means by which God has ordained his Gospel to be announced, is less filled with, constructed from, and centered on Scripture, what else is left to preach but the self–and many are profound exegetes of their culture, themselves, and films but not of Scripture. And I submit to you that man’s life, man’s experience, man’s wisdom is not sufficient enough to guide the lost or the redeemed through this life; and it cannot even come close to leading people to that Place where the Houses are build by the Hands of God. Wells concludes, “Without this transcendent Word in its life, the church has no rudder, no compass, no provisions. Without the Word, it has no capacity to stand outside its culture, to detect and wrench itself free from the seductions of modernity. Without the Word, the church has no meaning” (150).
All of this is an example of what happens in the church when we become more and Christ becomes less. When Christ becomes less then we don’t even have ‘use’ for the Scripture let alone reverence and dependence upon it. When we become more and Christ becomes less then the mission of Christ is less about the Cross and more about our ideas which are decidedly cross-less. My encouragement to you today is this: Make it your ambition, or not your ambition just your life, to become less. It’s hard to want to not be all things to all people at all times. It’s hard to be the moon and not the sun. It’s hard to get out of the way, but do it anyhow. Be a servant. Accept what God has given you and find joy and satisfaction in seeing Jesus exalted, lifted up, gaining, growing, becoming more. Become less so that Jesus can become more. When what matters most in your life is Jesus and not you…well, then what matters most will matter most. And that matters. It seems to me that Scripture is convinced that God can do far more with less than He can with more. Ours is a culture of more, and to a great degree this pathetic philosophy has penetrated the hearts and minds of church folk. The Way of Jesus is counter-cultural: Narrow ways, foolishness, weakness, and, surprisingly, less.
12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” 17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.
Friends, after today, you will have read two chapters in John’s Gospel. This is good progress. You have taken your time, read slowly, and chewed on only a few passages each day. You have allowed them to sink deep into your heart and there take root as you learn about the Jesus you follow, and learn about how to follow the Jesus you know. Congratulations! This is not small thing in our hurry up world. The hurry up world says it has to be done today and delights in large, massive quantities. We are taking the long stroll, the far look, and the slow journey. We are not tourists visiting interesting sites; we are disciples on the narrow road, on a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’ Also, please feel free to leave me your thoughts by clicking the ‘comment’ link.
The (physical) place of worship had turned into a place of economics; the practice of worship has turned into an empty, hollow, market place where God is not at the center. As such, worshipers were marginalized, worship was de-sacralized, and other less vital functions were elevated and imperialized. It sounds strange to say it in such a way, but consider this: what dominates us controls us, what is important to us takes precedence. Here in the temple clearly what dominated people’s lives was not theology, not worship, and not the Presence, but economics, power, and control. It was a market, Jesus said, a place where buying and selling, bartering and bickering, haggling and harassing were taking place not necessarily to the exclusion of worship, but more prominently than worship and in distraction of worship. In other words, the place of worship, the atmosphere of worship, the spirit of worship were all subjected to the whims of humans. Human interraction, human function, human beings and their needs and wants were centralized; God was marginalized. Does this sound at all familiar?
Imagine you invited a friend over to your house for a nice dinner and conversation. Imagine you had planned out a nice afternoon together of fellowship, eating, drinking, making merry and simply enjoying one another’s company and conversation. Imagine, now, that your friend arrives and sets up a yard-sale in your front yard and begins hawking and hollering at other guests you had invited. There would be no fellowship, no companionship, no conversation that would be enjoyable. Intimacy would turn into rape. And, I suppose, you would be jealous that you had to compete with your guest for the affections of your friends and neighbors–in your own house! It’s not the best analogy, but I think it suffices. In the house of God there is only One Master and He is not keen on sharing the limelight. It’s His House. Now whatever else this passage teaches us I think it certainly teaches us this: Jesus’ purificaction of the temple was an act of judgment against those who had been invited guests. He wasn’t angry with a building, but with people; people he knew all too well. And His point was clearly this: The God who lives here will not tolerate competition. Would that such zeal would consume many of those who are invited guests in the house of God today. But I suspect that the same exact thing happens in many ‘temples’ today: There is competition for attention, competition for Centralization, competition for Glory & Praise. This is what happens when God is marginalized, when worship is economized, when the sacred is trivialized. God is moved out and man takes over; can man keep anything pure and righteous?
David Wells wrote, “It is hard to miss in the evangelical world—in the vacuous worship that is so prevalent, for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith, in the psychologized preaching that follows this shift, in the erosion of its conviction, in its strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the culture, in its reveling in the irrational. And it would have made few of these capitulations to modernity had not its capacity for truth diminished. It is not hard to see these things; avoiding them is what is difficult” (No Place for Truth, 95). I think what was happening that day is this: Jesus was not only purifying the temple, creating space, centralizing God once again (we say ‘cleansing’), he was also emptying it of all that deadness that inhabitited it and preparing it for new life. This is precisely why he ties this action to his resurrection: Destroy this temple, he said, and I will raise it up again in three days. He was saying, through actions, that the true purpose for the temple will never again be found in Jerusalem’s physical ediface, but will be found in Himself. He was telling the people, through word and deed, that the temple would be destroyed: His was also an act of judgment. But no matter! The true temple would be raised up and the function and purpose of the temple will be reestablished and never again corrupted. Jesus is the true temple and in Him, the Resurrected Lord, God will never again be marginalized, man will never be centralized, man will no longer control and ‘change’ (‘you have turned it into…something you desire’) the purpose of the temple and worship will continue freely and unabated by those who seek God. (Why do we prefer busy markets to worship?)
I think it is no wonder that Jesus would not entrust himself to man. The Bible says, “He knew what was in man.” I don’t suppose that has changed. Man has found a way to corrupt the church, to ‘turn it into something it was not intended to be’, the make man the center and life of the church, and, worse, we have found a way to do this to Jesus. I hate to say it, but man, within whom lies so many evils and ills, has found a way to corrupt the temple once again. We have found a way to make Jesus serve our purposes. We have found a way to use him. If man could not rightly serve in the physical structure the Presence inhabited, do you think we can or will rightly serve the Lord Jesus who inhabits us? Or do you think that we, like the temple rulers then, will once again turn the temple into something we can control, corrupt, and use? I cannot help but wonder if this is not already the truth. David Wells again:
“This is why we need reformation rather than revival. The habits of the modern world, now so ubiquitous in the evangelical world, need to be put to death, not given new life. [This is essentially what Jesus was saying in his judgement of the temple that day. And a new temple would be established in Himself.] They need to be rooted out, not simply papered over with fresh religious enthusiasm. And they are by this point so invincible that nothing less than the intrusion of God in his grace, nothing less than a full recovery of his truth, will suffice…In this regard, the death of theology has profound ramifications. Theology is dying not because the academy has failed to devise adequate procedures for reconstructing it but because the church has lost its capacity for it. And while some hail this loss as a step forward toward the hope of new evangelical vitality, it is in fact a sign of creeping death. The emptiness of evangelical faith without theology echoes the emptiness of modern life. Both have elected to cross over into a world in which God has no place, in which reality has been rewritten, in which Christ has become redundant, his Word irrelevant, and the Church must now find new reasons for its existence” (No Place for Truth, 301)
Judgment. Destruction. Resurrection. I wonder if it would take this much for the church to realize afresh that we are slowly killing ourselves by removing God from the Center? What will it take for Jesus to entrust himself to us? Woe is us if we try to turn the True Temple into something we can manage, manipulate, and master. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. And judgment begins with the house of God.
I have spoken to you and written much about and quote often from David F. Wells whose four books, No Place for Truth, Losing our Virtue, God in the Wasteland, and Above All Earthly Pow’rs, should be read by every Christian in America, and have so powerfully stirred up a holy dissatisfaction in me that I have completed altered and repented of my former way of handling Scripture, being the church, following Jesus, and preaching the Gospel. I post here a link to the website Desiring God hosted by John Piper. This link should take you to a page where you can listen to David F. Wells’ sermon The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. There are also several other sermons on this page that you should listen to. Again, it is worth your time to listen to David Wells. Scroll down the page, and locate the sermon by David Wells and click it, then get ready to listen.