Monday, April 29, 2019

Will You Believe?

Part 4 of No Greater Love

Text: John 20:30-31




Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30-31). 


John's Purpose Statement

In verses 31, John reveals the reason why he wrote the Gospel of John: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So John’s purpose statement includes two goals:

  1. That people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” 
  2. That “by believing [people] may have life in his name.” 
We need to make sure we understand correctly what John meant when he wrote the words “believe” and “life.”


Signs

John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book” (v. 30). In the Gospel of John, the “signs” of Jesus are his “miracles.” The miracles Jesus did were signs. They showed that he was the Christ. (We say, “Give me a sign.”) In John 2, Jesus performed “the first of his signs”—turning water into wine—and “his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).

In his Gospel, John didn’t include everything Jesus ever said and did. If John had done that, the Gospel of John would have been a much bigger book! But John did include the miracle that—more than any other miracle—shows that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”: the resurrection.

John’s account of the resurrection ends with Thomas seeing the risen Jesus and confessing that Jesus is his “Lord” and his “God” (“My Lord and my God!,” v. 28; cf. 1:1, 14). Have we heard this so often that it’s lost its impact?


Believe

The first part of John’s purpose statement is that people “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” What does it mean to “believe” in Jesus? Is John talking about a belief that is intellectual? Or is he talking about a belief that is life-changing? It’s both. What you believe about Jesus will affect the course of your life.

To “believe” in Jesus is more than believing the truth about him; it also means having enough belief (i.e., confidence) in him to entrust him with our lives. 


Life

The second part of John’s purpose statement is that people “may have life in [Jesus’] name.” What kind of “life” is John talking about?

Is he talking about an easy life? Your best life now?

We should go back to 3:16, where belief in Jesus and life are also mentioned: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The life that John wants us to have is eternal life.

But we should also take a look at what Jesus says in the prayer found in John 17: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). Eternal life is more than a quantity of life (i.e., life without end); it’s also a quality of life.


What Kind of Belief?

Does “believe” in 20:31 mean “come to believe” or “continue to believe”? The Gospel of John encourages both kinds of belief—initial belief and persevering belief.

John’s Gospel shows us that there’s no greater love than the love of Jesus.

Believe in him.

Continue to believe in him.

Believing Without Seeing

Part 3 of No Greater Love

Text: John 20:1-29




Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). 


You Don't Need to See Jesus to Believe

Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

People are often like Thomas: “Unless I see it with my own eyes, I won’t believe it.”

In John 20, there is one person who believes in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus. Who is this person?

It isn’t Thomas. Before Jesus appeared to Thomas, he says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25).

It isn’t Mary Magdalene. Before Jesus appeared to Mary, she assumes that someone had taken the body of Jesus out of the tomb (vv. 2, 13).

It is John himself. Verse 8 says, “Then the other disciple [i.e., John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.”

You can believe in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus, but most people don’t believe without seeing something.

John saw something in the tomb that caused him to believe in the resurrection. What did he see?

John saw “the linen cloths lying [in the tomb], and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (vv. 6-7).

John realized that if someone had stolen the body of Jesus, the linen cloths would not have been left behind as they were. In that moment, he believed that the tomb was empty because Jesus had risen! 


Look at the Evidence

Most people need to see some evidence of the resurrection, before they believe. So let’s look at some of the evidence.

The majority of scholars—both Christian and non-Christian—accept the following statements as facts.

First, Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. There are people who claim that Jesus is a fictional person, but there are also people who believe that the moon landing was fake.

Second, Jesus was crucified. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Christ “suffered the extreme penalty [i.e., crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [1]

Third, the tomb was empty. If the tomb of Jesus had not been empty, the story of his resurrection would have been easily disproved. The enemies didn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty. Instead they invented a lie to explain why the tomb was empty: “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole him away while [the guards] were asleep” (Matt. 28:3). [2]

Fourth, the followers of Jesus believed they had seen the risen Jesus. The followers of Jesus didn’t act like people who had stolen his body. They were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom to spread the story of the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.

Fifth, a notorious enemy of Christianity was converted. The apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church, but something changed the course of his life. Paul claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8). Skeptics will argue that the disciples could have thought they saw the risen Jesus because they wanted to believe that he was alive. But the same can’t be said of Paul.

Yes, the story of the resurrection of a crucified man is an incredible story, but how do you explain these facts?

Also, the Gospel accounts have the ring of truth. Two details in the Gospel provide evidence that the resurrection isn’t a made-up story.

First, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. “Not only is [the story of the resurrection] hard to accept, but culturally such a story from women would be viewed with suspicion.  [3] One of the main proofs that the resurrection story is credible is realization that the first-century church would never have created a story whose main first witnesses were women.” [4]

Second, the first skeptics of the resurrection were the disciples. Thomas wasn’t the only disciple who doubted. “If someone created the story of resurrection, would the apostles have been made to look so incredulous? The account’s honesty has an air of reality, which points to its truth.” [5]

If we’re like Thomas and say, “Unless I see the risen Jesus, I won’t believe,” then how can we believe in any historical event prior to the invention of the camera?


Why Are You Weeping?

Twice Mary Magdalene is asked, “Why are you weeping?” (vv. 13, 15).

She was weeping because the tomb was empty. The body of Jesus was gone.

But the body of Jesus wasn’t gone because someone had taken it. The body of Jesus was gone because he was risen!

In this life, we do weep. There is pain, sorrow, and death. But there’s also hope. There’s hope because of the empty tomb.

Do you have this hope?

If you don’t, receive it through faith in Jesus.

If you do, live like it!

____________________

[1] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115).
[2] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).
[3] The apostles didn’t accept the women’s testimony: “these words seemed to them an idle tale [i.e., nonsense], and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).
[4] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, 607.
[5] Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1899.

It Is Finished!

Part 2 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:28-30




When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (v. 30). 


What Was Finished?

Just before Jesus died, he cried out, “It is finished”! (v. 30). What was finished? 

After Jesus said, “It is finished,” he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). Was Jesus saying that his life was finished?

No, what Jesus really meant was that his work was finished (“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”, v. 28). He was saying, “Mission accomplished!” His mission was to suffer and die for the sins of the world.


Thirsting to Complete His Mission

Before Jesus said, “It is finished,” he said, “I thirst” (v. 28). Why does John tell us this?

First, he wanted to emphasize the humanity of Jesus.

Second, he wanted to portray Jesus as the innocent sufferer. “I thirst” connects the suffering of Jesus to Psalm 69: “For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (v. 21).

Third, I also think that there might be a connection between “I thirst” and “It is finished.”

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me [i.e., the Father] and to accomplish his work” (4:34). To hunger or thirst for something means to desire that thing. You could say, “I thirst for a cold drink.” Or you could say, “I thirst for righteousness” (cf. Matt. 5:6).

The number one desire of Jesus was to “accomplish” the work the Father had sent him to do. And when that work was finished, he said, “I thirst.” He had completed his mission, and now he could drink.


The Work Is Already Done

Many people think that Christianity is about doing lots of good things in order to gain acceptance with God. If that’s true, why was the cross necessary?

Jesus died on the cross to do everything that needed to be done to make salvation possible for us. Everything has been done. “It is finished”


He Gave Up His Life

Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). “Gave up” indicates that the death of Jesus was voluntary. He had declared, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).

There is no greater love than the love of Jesus. “Love so amazing, so divine, / Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Who Was Responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus?

Part 1 of No Greater Love

Text: John 19:1-16a




So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (vv. 5-6a). 


Who Was Responsible?

If you do a Google search for “who was responsible for,” you’ll discover that people want to know who was responsible for various tragic events (e.g., responsibility for the September 11 attacks). 

Sometimes the answer isn’t completely clear (e.g., responsibility for World War I).

What about the crucifixion of Jesus? Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus? 


If They Had Only Known

Before we attempt to answer the question about who was responsible for the crucifixion, we should take some time to consider the flogging and mockery of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. Even before the crucifixion, he suffered greatly.
  • Jesus was “flogged” (v. 1). Sometimes the flogging was so severe that the victim’s entrails or bones became visible. What’s amazing is that some people thought that the flogging “was merciful because it so weakened the prisoner as to hasten his death on the cross.” [1] This speaks volumes about the awfulness of crucifixion. 
  • The Roman soldiers put a “crown of thorns” on his head (v. 2). They were making fun of the idea that this Jesus of Nazareth could be a king. 
  • They dressed him in “a purple robe” (v. 2). 
  • They said: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 3). They were pretending to address him as the Roman Emperor: “Hail, Caesar!” 
  • They “struck him with their hands” (v. 3). 
If only those soldiers had known the true identity of Jesus!

Pilate made two statements about Jesus: “Behold the man!” (v. 5) and “Behold your King!” (v. 14). I think Pilate might have said these things to try to gain sympathy for Jesus (i.e., this man is no threat to anyone). What Pilate didn’t know was the Jesus is the man—God “made flesh” (John 1:14), the King of kings!

Perhaps these two statements that begin with “Behold” are meant to point us back to what John the Baptist said about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29; cf. 36). Like one of the sacrificial lambs, Jesus would die for the sins of humanity.


What About Us?

Let’s get back to the question: Who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus?
  • Was Pilate responsible? Pilate believed that Jesus wasn’t guilty of any crime: “I find no guilt in him” (vv. 4-6). But, in the end, he handed him over to be crucified (v. 16). Why? It was because of fear. Doing the right thing would have hurt him politically: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (v. 12). 
  • Was Judas responsible? Judas betrayed Jesus and delivered him into the hands of his enemies. Why? Maybe because of greed, though thirty pieces of silver wasn’t a life-changing amount of money. 
  • Was Caiaphas responsible? Jesus had said to Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (v. 11). He was probably talking about Caiaphas. He was the Jewish high priest, the head of the Sanhedrin. He and several other Jewish leaders were the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified: “Crucify him, crucify him!” (v. 6). Why? Because of hatred. 
  • What about us? John Stott writes, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us…, we have to see it as something done by us….” [1] Jesus was crucified because of our sin. 

But There's More 

But we still haven’t completely answered the question  about the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus? [Read Isaiah 53:3-7, 10a.] Jesus was crucified because it was the plan of the Father. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isa. 53:10).
  • “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). 
  • “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). 
  • “God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). 
  • “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). 
But Jesus wasn’t forced to die. Jesus was crucified because he laid down his life.
  • “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18; cf. v. 11). 
  • “Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:11).
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He laid down his life not only for us but also because of us. 
When we consider who he really is and what he did for us, how can we say no to Jesus?

____________________

[1] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (vol. 2), p. 1119.
[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 63.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Theology and Doxology

Part 7 of Questioning God

Text: Romans 11:25-36




Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (v. 33). 


THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL 

Paul has an intense desire that Israel be saved.
  • “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen, according to the flesh” (9:1-3). 
  • “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1). 

In verse 25, Paul brings up a “mystery” about Israel: “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers…” (v. 25). In the NT, a “mystery” is truth that has previously been hidden but now revealed. So what’s this mystery? The mystery is this: “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. [1] And in this way all Israel will be saved” (vv. 25-26).
  • Who will be saved? The context makes it clear—in my opinion—that “all Israel” refers to the nation of Israel (as opposed to the “remnant”). Does “all Israel” mean every single Jew? No, but it does mean the majority of Jews. 
  • How will they be saved? Israel will be saved the same way everyone else is saved. There aren’t different ways to be saved. Jesus declared, “I am the way” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). 
  • When will they be saved? Israel will be saved around the time of the second coming. “The Deliverer [i.e., Jesus] will come from Zion [2] [i.e., heaven], he will banish ungodliness from Jacob [i.e., Israel]” (v. 26; cf. Isa. 59:20-21). 

Is it really possible that “all Israel will be saved”? Doesn’t that seem unlikely? It does seem unlikely, but is it less likely than the resurrection of Jesus or his second coming? If we believe Jesus rose from the dead and that he is coming again, then we can believe that Israel will be saved.

Why does Paul use the word “now” in verse 32? “So they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.” If Israel will not be saved until around the time of the second coming, why does Paul say they “now receive mercy”? “The best explanation is that Paul wants to emphasize the imminence of Israel’s salvation. As the next item on the agenda of God’s plan, the return of Christ and the conversion of Israel can take place at any time.” [3]

What about “all” in verse 32? It means “all” without distinction—in other words, all kinds of people—not “all” without exception. This verse is not teaching universalism—the belief that everyone will eventually be saved.


DOXOLOGY 

[Read verses 33-36.] Is Paul expressing frustration in these verses? It’s true that there’s so much about God that we don’t understand: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).

Paul is not filled with frustration because of what he doesn’t know about God; he’s filled with praise because of what he does know about God. We can’t understand everything about God, but what we can understand should cause us to be amazed!

It’s not completely clear in the original Greek if Paul is referring to three or two of God’s attributes in verse 33. The ESV says, “Oh, the depth of the riches [i.e., riches of God’s kindness] and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The NIV says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” If the three-attribute translation is correct, then each of the three rhetorical questions in verses 34 and 35 can be seen as corresponding to one of these attributes.
  • Since God is infinite in knowledge, “who has known the mind of the Lord”? 
  • Since God is infinite in wisdom, “who has been his counselor”? 
  • Since God is infinite in riches, “who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid”? 

From him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36). “God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal.” [4]

Theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. “To him be glory forever. Amen” (v. 36).
  • There should be no worship that is without truth. 
  • There should be no teaching or study of truth without worship. 

Learning about God should always lead to worship of God.

____________________

[1] “God has determined the number of Gentiles to be saved. Once that number is reached, Israel’s hardening comes to an end” (Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 377).
[2] Isaiah 59:20 actually says, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion.” “Zion” in this verse refers to Jerusalem. Jesus will come “from Zion”—the heavenly Jerusalem (see Heb. 12:22)—“to Zion”—the earthly Jerusalem.
[3] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, p. 381.
[4] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, p. 311.