Monday, January 26, 2015

The Magnificent Promise (John 14:12-18)


During the 1920s, the great American missionary, E. Stanley Jones returned from the Indian subcontinent to share about the slow advance of the Gospel there. He told of a conversation that he had with Mahatma Gandhi, in which he asked Gandhi, “What would you suggest that we do” to “see Christianity naturalized in India, so that it shall be no longer a foreign thing identified with a foreign people and a foreign government…?” Gandhi replied, “I would suggest, first, that all of you Christians … must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. … Second … I would suggest that you must practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down.” As Jones reflected on this, he confessed, “We are inoculating the world with a mild form of Christianity, so that it is now practically immune against the real thing.” [1]

If you were to survey a multitude of unbelievers around the world today, you may likely find the same sort of attitudes about Christianity and Christians. It is not uncommon for one of our college students to come to me and ask for my response to something that one of their professors has said concerning Christianity. Christians have been accused of imposing Western culture and ideals on the indigenous peoples of Africa, South America, and Asia. Christians have been accused of subjugating women. Christians are often viewed as a sort of medieval version of Al-Qaeda who marched through the near east with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other on a “convert or be killed” crusade. Some of the allegations are entirely fabricated, and ignore the valuable contributions that Christians have made around the world. No movement in history has done more to uphold the rights of women than Christianity, and none has done more good in the areas of medical care, education, poverty, hunger, and providing care for orphans, widows, and other underprivileged people. Still, there are those episodes in Church History, and even in the present day, in which the church has conducted itself very much unlike the Christ whom it claimed to follow.

When those around us are able to draw so sharp a line of distinction between the Christians and the Christ whom we claim to represent, we have to confess that we are failing to live out the promise of Jesus Christ for His people. Jesus made many promises – some of them for the days past, some awaiting future fulfillment; some conditional, some unconditional; some for specific individuals, some universal for all people, and some general for all who trust in Him as their Lord and Savior. Today we come to one of the most magnificent of these promises. This promise applies to anyone and everyone “who believes in” Him (v12). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Every word Jesus said is true, but when He begins with this phrase, He is calling attention to something of unusual importance.[2] And when the promise is spoken, we see how unusually magnificent it is. It would have been sufficiently unfathomable if Jesus had merely said, “he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will also do.” But He actually goes further to say, “and greater works than these he will do.”

Are you a believer in Christ? If so, then Jesus has given you the magnificent promise that you will do, not only what He has done, but even greater things than this! The very thought of it is staggering. The world around us asks why we are not more like Christ, why we do not do the things that Jesus did. They ask too little of us, for Jesus has called us and promised us that we would do even greater things than He did. In order to live out the promise, we must understand it. That is our aim today: to understand this magnificent promise, and to live it out by the power which is promised to us here in the words of the Lord Jesus.

I. The promise of greater works (v12a-b)

When we compare the magnificence of this promise with the realities we see in the Christian Church throughout history and today, we may deduce one of three conclusions. Most simply, we may conclude that Jesus was mistaken; He simply overpromised what we are able to deliver. But any conclusion that involves Jesus being mistaken has taken a wrong turn somewhere, so we can rule that one out immediately. Another conclusion is to assume that Jesus was talking about the raw demonstration of power that we often see at work in His miracles. I was speaking in a Bible conference last November, and during the Q&A, one of those in attendance brought this verse up and asked me, “Why can’t we do the stuff anymore?” Since we do not see demonstrations of divine power like Jesus did in His miracles of healing, alterations of natural processes, and even invalidating death, we may try to limit the application of the promise to the apostles only. There is good reason to do that because of the unique role that the apostles played in the process of revelation. Throughout the book of Acts, particularly in the first half of the book, we do see the apostles doing miracles. God was using these miracles to provide authentication to the revelation that He was bringing into the world through the preaching and writing of these men. So, we might conclude that Jesus was talking about miracles, and He was only promising this to the apostles. This is obviously not true, because He says, “he who believes in Me,” implying that this promise is valid for every Christian of every era. Besides that, one cannot conclude that the miracles done by the apostles in the book of Acts were equal to, much less greater than, those done by Jesus Himself. Therefore we may try, as many do, to limit the application in another way. There are some who say that this promise is for all who believe in Him, but the paucity of miracles in our day is due to our lack of genuine faith. They say that we do not enough faith in Him to do these greater works. While it is true that we could always benefit from greater faith in the Lord Jesus, the fact is that Jesus has always done His work through people of limited faith, even in the New Testament. He does not put any qualifiers on the belief of those for whom this promise is given. If you believe in Him in a saving way as Lord and Savior, then this promise is for you. It is not limited to those of more complete or more perfect faith.

So what other option is there? The other option, the correct one in fact, is to understand these “greater works” as something altogether different than the miracles Jesus did. We have to remember that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isa 55:8-9). We assume that God’s view of greatness is the same as ours. We may consider the things that Jesus did—walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc.—to be the greatest things ever done; but this does not mean that God considers these things to be the greatest things ever done. “Our fixation on the visibly miraculous,” as one writer has said, may be due more to the “scantiness of our knowledge or the vulgarity of our taste” because “physical healings and miracles of nature take place on a level much easier to grasp.”[3] It is not that we have deemed the miracles of Jesus performed in the days of His earthly ministry to be greater than we should. That could hardly be possible. Rather, it is because we have missed the point of His miracles and not rightly understood the surpassing greatness of one miracle that He continues to perform in and through us on a regular basis.

Why did Jesus perform miracles? It was not the reason He came into the world. He was not some sideshow magician who blew into town to perform a few tricks and gather a cult following. No, Jesus came to reveal the Father. In the previous passage, Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, and Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” and He pointed to His words and His works as the means by which the Father had been revealed in Him. His miracles were done to demonstrate to the world the truth of who God is, and who He Himself is, and that He has the power to save humanity from the curse of sin. Every healing, every miracle, was a teaching moment by which Jesus was pointing people to the truth of Himself and His saving mission. Every single demonstration of divine power had a singular aim: to reveal God and to draw people to trust in Him. While He was still in the world, Jesus could only present a partial revelation of that saving power, because He had not ultimately accomplished that salvation until His death and resurrection. Having done that, it would be the mission of the church to carry that message into the whole world – a world that Jesus Himself only visited a small portion of – to proclaim the miracle of salvation that comes by grace through faith in Him. The greater work that Jesus promised to His followers is that of seeing lives transformed by His saving power. You and I can do something Jesus never did: We can proclaim the full Gospel of His saving power as a completed act, accomplished once and for all in Him at the cross and the empty tomb, and we can see lives ransomed from the curse of sin and transformed by His grace!

Do we underestimate the greatness of the miracle of salvation? I suppose for many of us, the idea of Christian conversion is merely that of making bad people good, or good people better. That is why we do not place it above the opening of blinded eyes, the healing of lame legs, or the raising of the dead. But in fact, it is greater than all these, and it is what all of these miracles of Christ demonstrated. We may ask it this way: Which is greater, a picture of something, or the thing itself? Obviously the thing itself is greater than the picture. And Jesus’ miracles were pictures of the reality of His power to save us from our sins. Just as Jesus opened the eyes of some who were blind, so those without Christ are blinded by sin, and only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can open their eyes. We are born spiritually lame, unable to take even one step toward God in our own power; but the Gospel gives new legs to lame people and enables us to draw near to God in Christ. And as the Bible says, we are dead in our sins and trespasses, but in the Gospel we may be made alive with Christ. The physical miracles of Jesus were only partial; the miracle of conversion is complete! And it is greater.

When Jesus sent His disciples out on their first mission trip in Luke 10, they returned rejoicing, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” They were astounded that they had been able to do the great things that Jesus had done, even casting out demons. But Jesus responded sharply to them, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Lk 10:17-20). Which did Jesus consider to be the greater miracle: the exorcism of demon-possessed people, or the salvation that belonged to His followers? He considered salvation to be the greater work! And we must consider this as well! When we do, we will not lament that we lack the power to perform signs and wonders, but we will rejoice that we have partaken of the greater miracle of salvation, and that we can share in that work by extending the fair offer of the Gospel to all nations!

Do you want to see the world changed? What is the answer? Should the church boycott businesses that do not support and uphold our values? Should we strive to get the right men and women elected to positions of power? Should we grow louder and louder in our protests of the ills of society? Friends, while there may be a time and place for each of these things, there is more power to change the world in the simple task of evangelism than in all these things combined! The world will only be changed as people’s hearts are changed, and people’s hearts will only be changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church on a Gospel mission for Jesus Christ is the most powerful force in the world. Our mission as a church is not merely to do whatever it takes to keep the doors open for another generation. Our mission is to open eyes that are blinded, to raise up the spiritually dead, and to restore the spiritually lame, as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and watch Him move into the hearts and lives of people in a transforming way. The greater works that are ours to do are the works of making the world know of Christ and Him crucified for their salvation. There is no greater work than this, and no greater miracle than when it happens.

So, this is the promise: we will do greater works than Jesus did, by proclaiming the full gospel to the whole world—the Good News that Christ has come, Christ has died, and Christ has risen again to save sinners! But before we just rush out the door and embark on a fool-hearty mission that is destined to fail in our own self-efforts (as many have), we must examine the power behind this promise.

II. The power for greater works (vv12c-18).

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at church on one of those frigid Sunday mornings, to be greeted by some disgruntled Sunday School teachers at the door. The second floor classrooms were freezing cold. Well, what could the problem be? The unit is brand new, and all its parts have seemed to function well. The technician who installed it is a smart guy, and he does good work. The thermostat had been set exactly as it should be, according to the written instructions. So what’s the problem? The problem was a little valve in the natural gas line that goes into the furnace. That valve had not been opened, and so the unit was not getting the fuel it needed to produce heat. Once the gas line was opened, the heat kicked in. Friends, the church of Jesus Christ has at times in our long history been just like that furnace. Our founder, the Lord Jesus, did not make any mistakes in establishing His church. We have had people in all the right positions, and we have been busy with a lot of activities. We have an instruction book, the Bible, and we believe it to be true and are trying to do what we do in accordance with what it says. But we see paltry results in the world. Where is the malfunction? I wonder, have we opened the valve for the fuel to enter in? Have we grasped the power that makes the doing of greater things possible? If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to confess that this is the reason that the church has failed to do the greater works that the Lord Jesus promised us. So what is this power behind the greater works? Look at what Jesus says about this. He says that the power for greater works comes from three distinct—but interrelated—sources. They are inseparable, but we must consider them separately in order to understand them.  

            A. The Power of the Exalted Savior (v12c)

Jesus says that all who believe in Him will do what He has done, and even greater things than these, “because I go to the Father.” There are two realties expressed here in this brief statement: one deals with how He is going, and the other deals with where He is going. When Jesus says that He is going to the Father, He is making reference to His impending death and resurrection. The power for greater works is made possible by His atoning sacrifice in dying for our sins and rising from the dead. The death of the Savior makes it possible for the likes of us – sinful people who are separated from God – to be cleansed and forgiven because Jesus has taken our sins upon Himself in His death and received the penalty of our sins on our behalf. Having conquered sin and death for us, He reconciles us to God so that we who were formerly enemies of God could become the children of God, and servants of the Most High. For God to use His only begotten Son to accomplish eternal and divine work in the world is something extraordinary. For Him to use the likes of us to accomplish eternal and divine work is even greater still. And it is only possible because of how Jesus went to the Father through His atoning death and resurrection.

But then there is something here about where Jesus is going that makes it possible for us to do the greater works. When Jesus goes to the Father, He goes to the place of honor – He is exalted at the right hand of the Father. In Psalm 110:1, David wrote, “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” Jesus understood this prophecy to refer to His own exaltation, and the writers of the New Testament took it up as their favorite messianic prophecy, quoted more often than any other, upwards of 20 times. At the right hand of the Father, Jesus is our Advocate (1 Jn 2:1), our Mediator (1 Tim 2:5), our Intecessor (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25), and our Great Provider (Php 4:19), and that brings us to the other two sources of power behind our greater works.

            B. The Power of Effectual Prayer (vv13-15)

Because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, He is our intermediary in prayer. He promises all who trust in Him, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” This is as magnificent a promise as the promise of greater works, but the two are part and parcel of a singular promise. The reason we can do the greater works is because we have access through Jesus Christ to the throne of God, and we have been invited to come with boldness before Him to request whatsoever we desire. He has promised that this prayer will be heard and answered. Before we assume that God has given us a blank check or promised here to grant our every whim and wish, we need to understand that there are several caveats imbedded in this promise.

Jesus says that He will do whatever we ask in His name. To ask in His name does not mean merely to attach His name to the end of our prayers as if His name is some kind of magical incantation that opens the floodgates of heaven. To pray in His name means several distinct things. First, it is to recognize that Jesus and Jesus alone grants us access to the Father. When Jesus said in John 14:6 that no one comes to the Father but through Him, He was obviously referring to salvation and entrance to eternal life in heaven. But He was also speaking of our way of approach to the Father in other aspects as well, including worship and prayer. We have no right to come before the throne of God in our own name. Our access to Him is because of Jesus Christ, so when we come, we must come in His name. This means that the prayer of the Christian in Jesus’ name is the only prayer that God has promised to answer. That is always a controversial notion, because people like to imagine that God answers the prayers of anyone and everyone. It is true that non-Christians sometimes have their prayers answered. This is because God is loving and good, and is always showing His goodness to all people. But God did not promise to always answer the prayer of anyone and everyone. He promised to answer the prayer of the one who comes to Him in the name of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in a way that is consistent with the character and nature of Jesus Christ. This is the same thing that is expressed elsewhere as praying “according to His will” (1 Jn 5:14). When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are doing what C. S. Lewis called “dressing up as Christ.” He says, “You are not a being like the Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit.”[4] But when you pray in His name, you are “dressing up as Christ,” and asking for the same sorts of things that Christ Himself would ask for. You are asking God to give to you, or to the one for whom you are praying, not what you or they deserve, but what Jesus Himself deserves. As F. F. Bruce wrote, “A request made in the Son’s name is treated as if the Son made it.” So when we pray in His name, we need to consider what sorts of things Jesus would ask for if He were in this situation, and pray that way.

Finally, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray with the same purpose in view that Jesus seeks. He says what that purpose is here: “so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus expressly states that His purpose is always to bring glory to His Father. His purpose has not changed. He welcomes us to pray for extraordinary things, for the power to accomplish “greater works”, and when those things align with His purpose of the Father being glorified in the Son, He has promised to answer.

In addition to the caveat of praying in Jesus’ name, we find another one in verse 15: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This informs us that effective prayers are those that are raised from a life of intimate obedience. He promises to answer the prayers of those who love Him and who demonstrate their love for Him in their personal obedience to the way He has called and commanded us to live. We must take sin seriously in our lives because it has the potential to choke out the power that would be ours through prayer. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” But if we love Him, we will obey Him, and He promises to hear and answer when we pray. First John 3:22 says, “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”

So, when a prayer is prayed in Jesus’ name, from a life of intimate obedience, whether it is directed to the Father or to the Lord Jesus, He says that He will do it. So, as we set out to do the greater works that Christ has called us to in the world, we must remember that the power to do these works comes from Him. He will do the works in and through us as we ask Him to, because He has gone to the Father. Ask Him for anything, yes, but friends there is no greater request to make of Him, and none that He would delight more in granting, than the prayer for the greater work of salvation to occur in the lives of our lost friends and neighbors and the unreached multitudes of the world.

And with this we come to the third source of power behind the greater works that Christ has promised that we will do …

            C. The Power of the Indwelling Spirit (vv16-18)

Because Jesus has gone to the Father, He is in position to grant us what we most desperately need: power from on high to do the greater works that He has called us to. The power to do these works, the power to pray effectively, and the power to live in loving obedience to His commands, does not reside within our human abilities. These are supernatural tasks, and they require supernatural power. So, Jesus has promised us that He will ask the Father, and the Father will give to us another Helper. Though Christ is going to the Father, He promises that the Helper will be us forever. Jesus will not leave His people as orphans in the world. He says that He will come to us. He comes to us in the person of the Helper. And this Helper is the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus promises His followers here that the Holy Spirit who has ever been abiding with His followers will be in you.

The follower of Christ, and only the followers of Christ, become the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit at the moment we are converted and become disciples of Jesus. He does not indwell all people. Jesus said that the world cannot receive Him, does not see Him, or know Him. The Holy Spirit only comes to live within those who follow Jesus. If praying in Jesus’ name involves us dressing up as Christ, then the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can be likened to Jesus dressing up as us! As the Holy Spirit works in and through us, God-in-Christ is doing His greater works in the world to bring glory to His name!

Remember in Acts 1:8, just before His ascension into heaven, Jesus promised His followers, “you will be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” That is the greater work, and it is an enormous task! If the missional enterprise of the Christian church depended on our own power and resources, it would be a disaster! And when Christians have attempted to carry it out in our own resources and power, it has been just that! But Jesus did not call us to this task in our own power. Before saying that we would be His witnesses, He said these all important words, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

Divine, supernatural work requires divine, supernatural power. And Jesus has promised us the supernatural power that enables us to do this greater work. It is the power of the exalted Savior who has rescued us from sin through His atoning death and resurrection, and who is seated now at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator, assuring us that our prayers are effective as they are prayed in His name from a life of intimate obedience. He has promised even to live within us in the person of the Holy Spirit, granting us the unlimited and unstoppable power of God as we engage in the greater work.

The world is crying out for Christians to be more like Christ and to do the things that Christ Himself has done. Jesus promises us even more than this. He has promised that through us He will do greater things than He did before. He will bring nations before His throne in redeeming grace. Will you pray, in His name, for the salvation of the lost? Your lost friend or family member, coworker or neighbor, even your enemy? Will you pray for the salvation of world leaders? Will you pray for the salvation of entire nations where the name of Jesus has never been mentioned? And will you go, allowing Jesus to work through you, as you share the good news of His saving power to those in your family and circle of friends, to those who live across the street, to those who live across oceans? And will you give generously and sacrificially to enable others to do this? Will you trust the power of the Gospel to do the greatest work in the world?

In a world that is asking Christians to be more like Christ, Jesus is asking the same and then some. The word Christian essentially means “like Christ.” Isn’t it interesting that the Bible says that the church in Antioch were the first people in the world to be called Christians. They were the first ones to be recognized by outsiders as being “like Christ.” What was so special about them? It was here that the a remarkable movement of global missions began, as Jews and Gentiles alike were confronted with the good news of Jesus in that city, and then from that city, as the church sent the first team of missionaries out to start new gospel churches across the Roman Empire. Where that was being done, people said, “Hey, those people are like Christ. Let’s call them Christians.” And ever since, the world has been looking for people that they would recognize as being like Christ. As we do the greater works Jesus has promised us, the world will see His power at work in us as lives are transformed, and they will know that we are Christians, like Christ, because of the greater works that are done in His name.






[1] E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Indian Road (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1925), 146-147.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 563. Mounce cites Temple within this quotation.
[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 188. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Knowing, Seeing, and Believing (John 14:7-11)

Audio

Knowing, Seeing, and Believing
John 14:7-11

For many years, every night on CNN, Larry King would sit down across the table from the most important newsmakers in the world to interview them. From celebrities to world leaders, to ordinary folks who endured extraordinary circumstances, Larry King interviewed them all. King was once asked, if he could interview anyone from all of history to interview, who would he choose and what would he ask. King replied that he would like to interview Jesus Christ, saying, “I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”[1]

What about you? If you could ask Jesus Christ one question, what would it be? Many people in the first century had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with Jesus. Many astounding questions were asked. Nicodemus asked Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?” The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well asked Him, “Where then do You get that living water?” The rich young ruler asked Him, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Here in verse 8 of our text, Philip indirectly asks Him something even more profound: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” His statement is a desperate appeal to see with his own eyes God Almighty, face-to-face. This, he says, will be “enough”; it will be sufficient; it will satisfy him and the other disciples completely.

In our text today, Jesus speaks to Philip’s request. Verse 7 is what prompts it. Verses 9-11 is how He answers it. But these words are not just for Philip’s benefit. They also help us. Like Philip, we too want to see God. We want to believe in Him and to know Him. It is the underlying motivation for every human endeavor, even when we do not recognize it. So, how can we know God? How can we see Him? How can we believe in Him? Could there be any three greater questions than these? The answer to all three of these questions is the same, and it is very simple. The answer is Jesus. Let’s look at how Jesus presents Himself as the answer to these three all-important questions.

I. To know Jesus is to know God (v7).

Our culture is obsessed with celebrity. There are countless television shows, magazines, and internet sites which exist for the sole purpose of telling us every little thing there is to tell about celebrities: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Spend a couple of hours on the internet, and you can know everything about your favorite singer, actor, or athlete. You can know where they are from, where they went to school, what their family life is like, what kind of car they drive, and what their favorite color is. But, it is one thing to know about someone. It is something else to know them. So it is with God. There are countless books you can read which will tell you a lot about God. Some of them will even tell you the truth about Him. But you can read them all, and walk away knowing much about Him, but not actually knowing Him. To know anyone is to have a personal relationship with them. And the same is true of God. So how can we know Him?

Jesus said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” You need to understand what a radical statement this was, and that for two reasons. First, most certainly, it is a direct claim to deity. Jesus is saying rather directly, as He does many times elsewhere in Scripture, that He and the Father are one. This was radical. But it is also radical because to speak of knowing God in this way was unprecedented. In nearly all Old Testament passages wherein we read of the idea of “knowing God,” it is almost always limited to a future experience, not a present one. In the Psalms, we find one rare exception, maybe two. People are admonished to know the Lord, but there are few if any who would claim to possess such knowledge. Even when we consider the prophets who claimed to be the very spokesmen of God, C. H. Dodd writes, “I cannot discover a place where a prophet expressly says that he knows God.”[2] But here Jesus claims that this whole situation has changed. Now, the knowledge of God is possible because of Him! His followers really know God, because He is God. To know Jesus is to know God.

Now, notice how Jesus has phrased this: “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” This seems to imply that they didn’t really know Him, and therefore they had not yet come to know God. Of course, there is a sense in which they had known Him – well enough at least to leave behind their homes, their careers, and their families to follow Him. But as of yet, they had not come to know Him in full. Jesus was the perfect revelation of His Father, but there was more to be revealed, even in the next 72 hours. Hence, Jesus says, “From now on you know Him.” What would take place that would make this certain knowledge of God possible? On the following day, Jesus would bear the cross and die, and then rise from death on the third day. These things needed to take place so that the fullness of God’s nature could be completely revealed in Jesus. He is a God of infinite holiness and justice, so there must be a demonstration of His perfect wrath and judgment against sin. But He is also a God of infinite love and mercy, thus He was willing to come and dwell among us in the person of Jesus in order to bear our sins as the righteous substitute and endure the just judgment of wrath that our sins deserve as He died in our place. And He is a God of infinite power and glory, so in the resurrection, it is revealed that He has all authority over sin and death and hell, and is able to save sinners who turn to Him in repentance and faith. And so, having accomplished these things, Jesus makes it possible for sinful men and women who are cut off from the knowledge of God because of our unrighteousness to be born again: to be made new in Him, forgiven and cleansed of sin and clothed in the righteousness of Christ; to have a personal relationship with the Almighty God and to really know Him. Once the atoning work of the cross and resurrection are completed, human beings can really know Jesus in all His fullness, and because of what He has done, we can really know God.

So, to know Jesus is to know God. And we may also say that the only way to know God is to know Jesus. Friends, I know that there are many in the world today who would find that statement utterly offensive, but consider what it would mean if there were other ways to know God. First, it would mean that Jesus did not speak truth in verse 6 when He said that no one can come to the Father but through Him. Second, it would mean that the incarnation of Christ was insignificant. If there were other ways to know God, then Jesus didn’t really need to come into the world, and Christmas is just a big waste of time. And if there were other ways to know God, then it would mean that the Cross and resurrection were unnecessary. He suffered and died, and even rose again, all for nothing. But these things are not so. What prevents us from knowing God is our sin. It is not as though God is playing hide and seek with us. He wants us to know Him. But our sin hinders us from knowing Him. While we could not remedy our own sin, God remedied it for us in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. Friends, while there are many paths which claim to lead to God, there are no other paths which claim to rescue and release you from the bondage of sin. Once we realize that this is our problem, we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is the only solution. It is only by knowing Him that we can really know God.

II. To see Jesus is to see God (vv8-9).

From time to time I will hear someone say, “I just can’t believe in things that I cannot see.” Sounds like a reasonable thing to say, doesn’t it? Except that everyday life depends on us believing in things we cannot see. We cannot see oxygen. We cannot see gravity or electricity. We cannot see the wind. But we really do believe that those things are real and present, do we not? When we stop to think about it, there are a number of things that we actually believe in which we cannot see. So, can we see God? That is what Philip wants to see. “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” It might have seemed like a small thing to ask to Philip, but in reality, what he was asking for was something that no human being had ever been able to experience.

In one sense the request is noble. After all, is there any higher experience that the human imagination could fathom than to see God in all His “unimaginable splendor and transcendent glory”? We long to see beauty. We appreciate the beauty of nature because it shows the handiwork of God. We appreciate the beauty of art because the creation of art is one of the highest forms man has of imitating God. We appreciate the beauty we behold in one another because we were made in God’s image. And if that image within us, which has been marred and defaced by the ugliness of sin, retains such great beauty, then how beautiful must be the vision of God Himself? So, yes, in this sense, Philip’s request is noble.

There is another sense, however, in which his request is audacious. On the one hand, it is audacious because it is an implicit denial of the truth of Jesus’ own words. Had Jesus not just said, “From now on you know Him, and have seen Him”? Philip is essentially saying to Him, “No, we haven’t. We want to, but we have not yet.” To deny the veracity of Jesus’ words is audacious, at the very least.

On the other hand, the request is also audacious in its presumption. It is on par with the request of Moses in Exodus 33. After witnessing all of God’s gracious and powerful acts in the Exodus from Egypt, Moses prayed to the Lord, “Show me Your glory.” But do you remember how the Lord answered Moses? He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you;” but, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” (Ex 33:18-20). One glimpse of the fullness of the Lord by the eyes of sinful men would incinerate us! There were appearances of the Lord to humanity from time to time in the Old Testament – we call them “theophanies,” appearances of God – yet, in all these instances, the vision of the Lord was mitigated through some means in order to spare the life of the one who saw Him. Even the angels of heaven in Isaiah’s vision had to cover their faces before the holiness and glory of God. Though angels, though Moses, and though all the saints of ancient times were forbidden from seeing God, Philip has the audacity to ask for a special exception.  

Had Jesus responded with a stern rebuke against the presumptiveness of His disciple here, we would not think it unjust. And, in fact, there is a rebuke, but it is a gentle and gracious one. He does not rebuke Philip for asking, but rather because Philip has not already seen what has plainly been shown Him. Jesus says, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?” (v9). One scholar writes that “these are words which no mere man has a right to utter.”[3] Another says that “to the ancient world this was the most staggering thing Jesus ever said.”[4] While in previous generations, no one could look upon the Lord and live, in Jesus, we are commanded to look upon Him in order to live, for to see Him is to see the invisible God made manifest in our midst. John said of Him, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18). When we see Jesus, we see God, for God shows Himself to us in Him.

What does God look like? The simple answer is that He looks like Jesus. If you want to see God, look at Jesus, for He is the visible image of the invisible God. Second Corinthians 4:6 says that we have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. You recall how in the Second Commandment, God had forbidden all attempts to craft an image as a representation of Him (Ex 20:4). That is because He has only one visible representation: Jesus Christ. But what does Jesus look like? Does He look like the One we see in our stained glass windows? Does He look like the One the Shroud of Turin or the One in Holman Hunt’s famous Head of Christ or DaVinci’s Last Supper? Isn’t it interesting that we really don’t know what Jesus looked like? Of all that the Bible tells us about Jesus, it does not tell us what He looked like. In fact, the only description we have in Scripture of Jesus’ appearance actually tells us what He did not look like. In Isaiah’s majestic depiction of the Suffering Servant, the prophet said of the Messiah, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa 53:3).

So, if seeing Jesus is to see God, how can we see Jesus if we don’t know what He looks like today? Philip and his fellow disciples could look upon Him face-to-face, but we cannot. I think it says something profound to us, that when God chose to provide an enduring testament to His glory and grace, He did not inspire men to draw pictures. He inspired them to write words. We often hear it said that the contemporary era in which we live is the “age of the eye,” where a picture is worth a thousand words and seeing is believing. Our eyes are bombarded with images every day, and yet when we come to the Bible, and when we come to church, we are met with words rather than pictures. Are we woefully behind the times? No, in fact, every era has aspired to be “the age of the eye.” Remember what attracted Eve to the forbidden fruit? She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6).  But no person since Adam and Eve has ever lived in the age of the eye. Ever since the entrance of sin into the human race, we have lived in the “age of the ear.”[5] Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The age of the eye is yet to come. The Bible promises to those who have believed on Jesus through His word that we will “see Him as He is.” Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12 KJV). Only then and there, with new eyes that can withstand the vision, will we be able to see Him with our eyes. Until that day, we have the Word of God to tell us what God is like as He is revealed through Jesus Christ. We see Him, as it were, with our ears here and now. We have this perfect record of Jesus Christ, and when we see Him with our ears as we give attention to God’s word, we behold God in Him. We cry out like Philip, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough.” Jesus says to us, even as He did to Philip, “You have seen Him, for when you see Me – even when you behold Me by the eye of faith – you see Him.” And it is enough.

To know Jesus is to know God. To see Jesus is to see God. We come now to the third issue:

III. To believe Jesus is to believe in God (vv10-11).

Someone sent me a YouTube clip the other evening that I got a real kick out of. It was a guy talking about the power of believing in oneself. He held a big sheet of plywood over his head, and said that he could break with his head by believing in himself. After beating himself senseless numerous times, he finally gave up and stormed off, mumbling aloud, “I don’t believe in myself as much.” He made an outlandish claim, but he couldn’t back it up. Friends, in the history of the world, no one made more outlandish claims than Jesus. But the difference between His claims and those of so many others is that He backed His claims up. Otherwise, we have no reason to believe in Him. As C. S. Lewis famously said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said … would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”[6] Jesus said, “If you know Me, you know God. If you have seen Me, you have seen God.” Bold claims. I wonder, do we believe Him?

You notice I said, “believe Him,” not “believe in Him.” There are great numbers of people who claim to believe in Jesus, but I wonder how many actually believe Him?
It is interesting that the only imperative (or command) we find in our text here in John 14 today is the word “Believe.” In verse 11, Jesus does not say, “Believe in Me.” He says, “Believe Me.” This is not a call to turn to Him in saving faith; He is speaking to those who have already done so. But He says to them, “Believe Me.” The issue is that of His reliability. He has said that He is God – to know Him is to know God, to see Him is to see God. Do you believe Him? That is what is at issue here. In verse 10, He says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” In verse 11, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” But these are more than just empty words. Jesus offers us something that no maker of outlandish claims is willing to offer: He offers us proof – and not just one evidence, but two.

Why should we believe Jesus in what He says about Himself and His unique role and relationship with God the Father? He says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative.” Previously, Jesus had said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (7:16). He said, “[I] told you the truth, which I heard from God” (8:40). He said, “I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (12:49). Jesus is telling His disciples here, “You have heard Me speak, and You know that I have spoken to You the very words of God.” It is as though Jesus invites us to take His words and compare them against the words which God has spoken at times past. The writer of Hebrews said, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:1-2). You want evidence to believe Jesus? He says you can believe on the basis of His words.

But this is not all. He goes on to say, “the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (vv10-11). If faith cannot rise to the challenge of taking Jesus at His word, He offers us the evidence of the works which He has done. These are not human works. They are the works of God, that no one other than God could do. Consider how He turned water into wine; how He multiplied five loaves and two fish into a meal that fed thousands; how He raised Lazarus from the dead; how He healed so many with the touch of His hand or the word of His power; consider how He Himself will conquer death in His own resurrection. We call them miracles; He calls them works. What for us is beyond comprehension is for Him all in a day’s work. No mere man can do these things. Only God can do them. He offers us to consider all His works and compare them to any works of man and any works of God. Are these things not consistent with the power and character of God? How then can we conclude that He is not who He claims to be? How could we not believe Him on the basis of both His words and His works?

While John the Baptist was imprisoned and awaiting his execution, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” Jesus answered, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Lk 7:20-22). The evidence He offered to John is the same that He offers to Philip here, and it is the same He offers us all. His words and His works testify to us that to know Him is to know God; to see Him is to see God; and to believe Him is ultimately the only way to truly believe in God.

Do you know God? The question is not, “Do you know about Him?”, but do you know Him? Have you come into a personal relationship with God? How can you do that? Friends, the only way is through Jesus because of what He has done for you in His life, His death, and His resurrection. He has removed the barrier of sin that kept you separated from God by dying in your place to receive your penalty so that you might be able to know Him. If you know Jesus, you know God.

Have you seen God? To see Jesus is to see God. We must behold Him today with the eye of faith. When we look upon the Christ who is presented to us in the Bible, we see God manifesting Himself as a human being, fully God and fully man. In former times, it was declared that no one could look on God and live. Jesus has come to us, so that by looking upon Him, we may really live. We may have the life that God intended for us to have, abundant and eternal with Him, and then the eye of faith will close, and we will see Him – really see Him with new eyes, face-to-face, in all of His glory. And He will look like Jesus, because He is the visible revelation of the invisible God.

Have you believed Jesus? You may say, “If I didn’t believe in Jesus, I wouldn’t be here.” But the question is not “Do you believe in Him?” It is, “Do you believe Him?” Do you believe what He says about who He is and what He has done? He says that He is God, and He offers us the evidence of His words and His works to validate His claim. Do you believe Him? If you believe Him, then you have believed God, and believed in God. For if the God in whom you believe is not the One who has come to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, then you believe in a false god, the figment of one’s imagination, and an idol who is powerless to save. But this God came to us in order to save us. You can believe Him in all that He says about Himself, about you, about life, death, heaven, and hell. Believe Him, for only in so doing can you truly believe in the One True God.



[1] Quoted in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word, 1994), xviii.
[2] C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1998), 163.
[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 643.
[4] William Barclay, The Gospel of John (Daily Study Bible; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 2:159.
[5] Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 18-22.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 52. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Untroubled Heart (John 14:1-6)


About a year or so ago, Business Insider featured a piece about the most famous books set in every state in America. For the state of Vermont, the book chosen was Eleanor Porter’s 1913 novel Pollyanna.[1] I never read it, but I did see the Disney movie based on it. If you are familiar with the story, then you know that the title character, Pollyanna, is an orphaned child with a bright outlook on life. She likes to play what she calls “the Glad Game.” In every situation, Pollyanna tries to find something to be glad about. So for example, on one Christmas when she did not receive the doll she was hoping for, but a pair of crutches instead, she was glad that she didn’t need them. She is a lovable character whose infectious optimism soon begins to permeate the lives of everyone she meets. It makes for a fun story and a cute movie, but in real life things are different. We’ve come to use her name, Pollyanna, to describe someone who is unreasonably and illogically optimistic. It does not take long to have a Pollyanna perspective challenged in the real world. And for most of us, the Pollyanna perspective that others might have is not contagious, only annoying.

The fact is that the world in which we live is radically corrupted by sin. Suffering, tragedy, and hardship, in all of their various manifestations are unavoidable. The Bible does not deny this but affirms it throughout. Job said it pretty well, “Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil” (14:1). Christians are not exempt from this turmoil. Jesus promised us, “In the world, you have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). The message of Paul and Barnabas to the believers they encountered in Asia Minor was “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Though there are many who presume that the Bible espouses a kind of Pollyanna outlook on life and the world, and many Christians who try to adopt that perspective, the reality is that the Bible tells us that we can and should expect our lives in this world to be hard. Nowhere are we encouraged to pretend otherwise. You have endured difficult things. Oh sure, some have had it worse, and a few perhaps have had it better, but all of us have had our share of hardships, and they will continue.

Consider the disciples in our text. They have left all that they had behind: family, careers, possessions. They had given everything to follow Jesus and for three years they have been in His constant companionship. He has become to them their friend, their teacher, and their Lord. All of their hopes for the present and future were pinned on Him. They had rejoiced as He received the hero’s welcome as He entered Jerusalem on Sunday. Now, less than a week later, they have gathered into an upper room with Him where He has told them that He will be leaving them. He has made it clear that on the coming day, He will be put to death. They had been shamed by their unwillingness to serve one another by washing one another’s feet. They had been shocked by the announcement that one of them would betray the Lord, and startled at the announcement that even Peter would deny Him. They were greatly troubled in their hearts.

Now you notice here that Jesus does not speak to them in a Pollyanna way. He doesn’t say, “Well, fellows, look on the bright side.” He doesn’t ask if they are troubled or why. He knows they are troubled. He says to them, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” The way it is worded, He is acknowledging that their hearts are troubled, and He is inviting them to overcome that condition. But this is not some meaningless drivel like, “Don’t worry, be happy.” You know how it feels when you are greatly troubled and someone gives you that sort of hollow, “There, there now, don’t worry, it will be alright.” It does not help. Jesus’ words to His disciples are not empty and meaningless platitudes. He is telling them here in this text how they can overcome the troubled condition of their hearts. And the words which He speaks to them apply to us as well. When we find ourselves in that familiar position of having a troubled heart, we can look to these words and find comfort and strength. These, then, become the secrets of the untroubled heart.

I. The untroubled heart believes in the Person of Christ (v1).

I saw an old Peanuts comic many years ago that featured Lucy and Linus gazing out the window at a pouring rain. Lucy said, “Do you think it is just going to flood the whole world?” Linus said, “Oh no, it will never do that. God says in Genesis Chapter 9 that He’d only destroy the world once with a flood. And He sent a rainbow in the sky as a promise that it would never happen again.” Lucy said, “That sure takes a load off my shoulders.” And Linus said, “Sound doctrine has a way of doing that.” You know, it really does. And so, when Jesus sought to comfort the troubled hearts of His disciples, He pointed them in the direction of sound doctrine. He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

The word “believe” has a wide range of meaning. There is an important sense in which, when we say “to believe in God” or “believe in Jesus”, we mean to turn to Him in repentance and to exercising saving faith in Him. That is, we mean that one should trust that by His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus can save us from our sins if we place our faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Certainly, if a person has a troubled heart and has never turned to Jesus to be saved, then they have good reason to be troubled – in fact, they should probably be more troubled than they know to be! Whether your heart is troubled or not, it is never bad advice to turn to Jesus and be saved!

That said, this is not what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying, “If you would just get saved, your hearts would not be troubled anymore.” That would be a lie. Jesus is talking to men who have already believed in Him in that way. They are His disciples. Therefore, it is encouraging to us to know that if we are Christians and are troubled in our hearts, we aren’t encountering anything unusual. Even the very first Christians experienced this. And Jesus comforts them by encouraging them to believe in God and in Himself. He is speaking of what one writer has called “a quiet disposition of trust.”[2]

Are you troubled in heart? Believe in God! Don’t be a functional atheist. A functional atheist is a person who may believe in God but lives as if God does not exist. Do not forget that you live in a world that is under the sovereign providence of the God who is able to intervene in your circumstances. Your situation may look impossible to you, but nothing is impossible to Him. Rest in the fact that He is able to handle the things that trouble your heart. The universe in which you live is well within the jurisdiction of the Almighty who knows all, who can do all, who loves you and who is a good Father to His children.   

But this belief in God that Jesus calls us to is not just some generic spirituality. Surveys done around the world demonstrate that the vast majority of the human race believes in some sort of deity, but Jesus is not just telling His disciples to believe in any or every so-called Higher Power. This is specific. He says, “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” Jesus is calling us to exercise the same level of faith we have in God toward Himself. To believe in God apart from Christ is a form of idolatry, for the only God who exists is the One who is revealed to us through Christ! If someone believes in God, but not in Christ, then they do not believe in God. So, Jesus is saying, “Believe in Me as you do in God; believe in God through Me because I am the ultimate revelation of Him, and there is no way to believe in Him apart from Me.”

When our hearts are troubled, we can receive comfort through believing in the Person of Christ, because He is the God who has come to us, the God who has become one of us, and the God who rescues us from our sin. If He is able to save us from the greatest of all possible calamities, namely an eternal separation from God in the agony of hell, then is it not a rather small thing to entrust Him with the worries and cares that burden your heart today? When our hearts are troubled, the God in whom we place our quiet confidence is the One who has manifested Himself in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He understands our human hardships because He endured them Himself. He is able to “sympathize with our weakness” (Heb 4:15). He is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). He is not a philosophical construct, He is a living Person, and He calls us to believe, to trust, and to rest in Him. We have entrusted eternity to this Jesus, can we not entrust Him with today? This is a secret of an untroubled heart: to believe in the person of Christ.

Let’s look at another of these secrets of the untroubled heart here:

II. The untroubled heart believes in the promises of Christ (vv2-3).

There is comfort to be found by troubled hearts within the promises of God’s Word. The Psalmist recognized this in the midst of his own troubles. In Psalm 119: 50, he prays, “This is my comfort in affliction, that Your word has revived me.” Later, he says, “O may Your lovingkindness comfort me, according to Your word to Your servant” (119:76). The Word of God brings comfort to troubled hearts. And the Lord Jesus is the Word which has become flesh to dwell among us (Jn 1:14). Paul writes, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (in Jesus) they are yes” (2 Cor 1:20). Jesus Christ is the focus and fulfillment of all of God’s promises, therefore when He makes a promise to us, we can believe those promises! He says here, concerning His promise, “If it were not so, I would have told you.” We can trust all that He has told us, we can trust that He has told us everything we need to know, and that He has not told us anything that is untrue or unnecessary. When our hearts are troubled, we can believe in His promises.

Notice that He promises us something here about a place and something about a presence. Look at the promise of place: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places.” He is speaking of heaven, and He is saying that there is ample space for us to dwell there. There are many dwelling places. Now, some of you may balk at this phrase “dwelling places” because you learned this verse at a young age from the King James Version, and there it says “many mansions.” We can thank William Tyndale for bringing the word “mansions” into the English Bible here.[3] It was an appropriate translation in his day, for in Old English the word “mansion” simply meant “a place to abide,” which is exactly what the underlying Greek word means. But, for a long time now, the English word “mansion” has carried the idea of a palatial estate. This has been romanticized in stories and songs for us, instilling in us the hope that every person will have a lavish and opulent palace in heaven. That is reading far more into the text than is there. You may think that it is taking away something from the promise, but it is not. In fact, the idea of a grand palace actually undercuts the central focus of the promise. The idea is that of a family home. In Jesus’ day, it was customary for sons to add to their father’s house once they married, so that the father’s house was enlarged into a large compound surrounding a communal courtyard.[4] So the idea is not that every person gets his or her own extravagant mansion in heaven, but everyone is invited dwell in intimate proximity with God the Father in His own family estate.

Jesus is promising His troubled followers that they are not home yet! In this world, our hearts will be often troubled. Every hardship ought to to rip open a desperate homesickness in us and remind us that we should feel “out of place” here. The real place of a son or daughter is at home with the Father. And Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom, has returned to the Father’s house to prepare a place for His bride, the Church, so that we may all dwell together for eternity. There, in that place, the Bible promises us that God will dwell among us, and we shall be His people, and God Himself will be among us, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain (Rev 21:4).

This brings us to the second part of this promise—that of presence. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” That is a wonderful promise. There have been many fanciful notions of Jesus, up in heaven, rolling up His sleeves and nailing boards and laying bricks to build us a place. But that is not the idea. It is not that He went to heaven in order to begin preparing the place, but that His going actually prepares the place for us, and us for the place. The focus is not on the place, but on the presence. We cannot enter into the presence of God if we are not first cleansed of our sin. And it is in His going away – going away to the cross, going away to the tomb, rising again to go away in His ascension to Heaven – that we are saved and washed clean of our sins that we may enter into His presence in that place. And with that place now prepared by the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, He promises, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.” The promise is comforting to us, not because of the opulence of our mansion but because of the intimacy of His presence. Within each of us, there is an insatiable longing to be in the presence of God. David prayed, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that shall I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple” (Psa 27:4). This is the longing of us all, and all the more as our hearts are troubled in this world. There is comfort in knowing that this longing shall be satisfied forever as we are received by the Lord Jesus, unto Himself, that we may be where He is. And there is comfort as well in knowing that it is not only our desire to be with Him, but it is His desire for us to be with Him. And He has promised to those for whom this place has been prepared that we will be in His presence.

John Piper asks, “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, an no human conflict or any natural desires, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”[5] Let me phrase it this way – if you could have the place (the mansion, the palace) apart from the presence of God-in-Christ, would that satisfy you? Let me humbly suggest that if you could be satisfied with the place apart from the presence that a subtle idolatry may have crept into your troubled hearts unaware. The glory of Christ’s promise includes a place, yes, but it is focused on the presence of God in which we will dwell forever. This is a promise that satisfies yearning souls and that comforts troubled hearts. So great is the promise of the intimacy of His presence that He has already given us a foretaste of it by indwelling His people in the person of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is an earnest, a downpayment if you will, of the promise of eternal life in His presence. So greatly does He long for you to be in His presence, He has come into our presence, and abides in our presence as the Spirit indwells us. As glorious as His presence in our lives is today – and it is GLORIOUS – there is even greater glory awaiting when we behold the Lord Jesus face-to-face in our eternal home with Him.

The untroubled heart bears many secrets. It believes in the person of Christ and in the promise of Christ. But there is a third secret of the untroubled heart here:

III. The untroubled heart believes in the provision of Christ (vv4-6).

You probably know the disciple Thomas by his nickname: “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t like that name for Thomas. I prefer to call him “Honest Thomas.” We’ve all known people like Thomas. They blurt out loud what the rest of us are just thinking quietly to ourselves. That’s what Thomas is doing here in verse 5. Jesus had said to them in verse 4, after the promise of the place and the presence, “You know the way where I am going.” There are eleven guys sitting there listening to Jesus (remember, Judas Iscariot has already left the room), and I can envision ten of them nodding their heads, stroking their chins, maybe uttering quietly, “Yes, yes, we know the way.” But every single one of them is as confused as Thomas. Thomas is just the only one who has the guts to be honest. Thomas blurts out, “We don’t have a clue where you are going, and therefore we most certainly do not know the way!”

Now, what is going on here? Jesus said they knew. Thomas, at least, says he doesn’t know, and he claims to speak for them all. So, was Jesus wrong about what they knew? Was the One who, at times past had demonstrated that He was acutely aware of the hidden thoughts in the hearts and minds of others sorely mistaken about what His disciples did and did not know? No, Jesus was exactly right. They did know where He was going, and they did know the way. They just didn’t know that they knew.

Have you ever known something you didn’t know you knew? If I said to you, “You know the one whose father had an almond orchard in California,” you might say (like Thomas), “I don’t have the foggiest notion who that is.” But you do know her. She has played this organ almost every Sunday for the last 27 years. You didn’t think you knew who I was talking about, but you did, in fact, know her. So, when Jesus says to His disciples, “You know the way where I am going,” He was exactly right. Thomas and all the rest of them really knew the way. Thomas just didn’t know he knew the way. He knew Jesus. And Jesus says He IS the Way.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” People with troubled hearts need to remember that. When our hearts are troubled, we feel lost, confused, and afraid. People who are lost need to know the way. People who are confused need to know the truth. People who are afraid need to know what life really is. And the Way, the Truth, and the Life is a singular Person: Jesus Christ. Truth is, ultimately, not a collection of facts. Truth is the Word of God, and Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Way is not a set of directions, it is a Person who does not merely show us the way, but who in fact is the Way. Life is not a series of days strung together, but the Lord who created life and who has life in Himself to give to all who receive Him. The definite articles are important. Jesus is not a way among many, a truth on par with others, and a life that might be compared to other means of existence. No, He is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. That means, apart from Him there is only an unnavigable labyrinth, a web of falsehoods, and ultimately the hopelessness of death. But because He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life, there is something more for those who know Him.

Because He is the Truth, we can believe Him when He says He is the Way. Because He is the Life, we know that the Way ends beyond the grave, with Him in life everlasting. Notice that He says here, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Here we ought to just fall down in worship because of the perfect convergence of all of God’s glorious attributes. If God were only a God of perfect justice, then Jesus could have rightly said, “No one comes to the Father {PERIOD}.” Because we are all sinners, none of us could stand before the holy justice of God. But because God is a God of perfect love and grace, He saw fit to place the perfect justice of His wrath on a substitute, a sin-bearer who took our place under that infinite outpouring of judgment on the cross. Therefore we have this blessed word “but.” No one comes to the Father BUT through Me. This is the provision of Christ: not merely that He has made a way, but that He has become for us The Way into the presence of God. Friends, in light of love so amazing and so divine, how can we who have been redeemed by the blood of the cross ever conclude, when our hearts are troubled, that we have been abandoned, left alone and unloved, in this world full of grief and hardship? If your heart is troubled, there is comfort to be found in this provision. You are loved with an everlasting love – a love that was not content to leave you perishing in your sin, but instead came to rescue you and become for you the Way, to impart unto you the Truth, and to provide for you the Life that saves you forevermore from death.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Oh, it will happen. Life in this fallen world will see to it that your hearts have plenty of reason to be troubled. But thanks be to the God of all comfort, Jesus has imparted to us the secrets of the untroubled heart. This is no hollow Pollyanna philosophy that is offered to hurting souls as a pat answer to their problems. No, the untroubled heart takes quiet confidence in the Person of Christ, on the basis of the promises of Christ, and in view of the provision of Christ. The meditation of the medieval preacher Thomas a Kempis puts it this way:

Follow thou me. I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Without the Way there is no going; without the Truth there is no knowing;
Without the Life there is no living.
I am the Way which thou must follow; the Truth which thou must believe;
The Life for which thou must hope.
I am the Inviolable Way; the Infallible Truth; the Never-Ending Life.
I am the Straightest Way; the Sovereign Truth;
Life true, Life blessed, Life uncreated.[6]



[1] Melia Robinson and Melissa Stanger, “The Most Famous Book Set in Every State,” Business Insider, October 11, 2013. Accessed online at http://www.businessinsider.com/most-famous-book-set-in-every-state-2013-10, January 8, 2015.
[2] L. Scott Kellum, Preaching the Farewell Discourse (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2014), 97.
[3] Robert H. Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed., Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 560.
[4] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 426.
[5] John Piper, God is the Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005), 15.
[6] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (ed. Paul M. Bechtel; Chicago: Moody, 1984), 260. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Behold He Comes! (Revelation 22:12-21)


Throughout our Advent season, we have been focused on the first chapter of the New Testament, Matthew Chapter 1, and looking at how Christ came into the world. Today is the Sunday between the end of Advent and the beginning of a brand new year which is filled with many great unknowns for us. Over these final weeks of 2014, we’ve seen television programs and articles in print and online that have attempted to summarize the year just past and to prognosticate about what the year ahead will hold. Of course, we have no way of knowing what will happen in the year ahead. The future to us is entirely unknowable, with one notable exception. We know that one day in the future, Jesus will come again. In a way, this Sunday is a microcosm our entire lives. We live between the first coming of Christ at the first Christmas and the unknown day of His return. Therefore on this significant day it seems fitting to look at the last chapter of the New Testament, Revelation Chapter 22, and consider afresh the return of our Lord Jesus.

We are first presented in these verses with …

I. The promise of Christ’s coming (vv12a, 18-19)

Most us learned at a very young age that promises are often broken. It is a consequence of life in a world broken by sin. Because our word is often not taken at face value, we make promises. Because our hearts are able to deceive even our own selves, we break promises. There isn’t a one of us who has not broken a promise made to others, or been broken by the broken promises of others. But there is One who has kept every promise He ever made. The Bible tells us that God is not a man that He should lie (Num 23:19). We are told that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and that it is impossible for Him to lie (Heb 6:18). When God makes a promise, we have every reason to trust that promise completely. Jesus Christ is God incarnate – fully God and fully man – and His promises are completely true and trustworthy.

Notice in verse 12 that His promise is stated: “Behold, I am coming.” Of course, this is not the only place He promises this. Throughout the Gospels, there are literally dozens of promises in which Jesus says that He is going to return. Besides these statements, there are numerous other passages in the New Testament in which Christians are directed to set their hopes upon His return. This is a promise that we can count on!

Notice that Jesus also speaks of the timing of His coming in this promise. “Behold,” He says, “I am coming quickly.” There are two ways to understand this word quickly. One is to understand it to mean that His coming will be swift. That is, once the events surrounding His return begin to occur, they will transpire rapidly. The Bible promises that His return will occur in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. But quickly can also mean that His coming will be soon. We know that His coming will be swift, but will He come soon?

There are several considerations that we must reckon with as we answer that question. First of all, it must be noted that every generation of Christians since the first century has understood Jesus’ promise to mean that He could come within their lifetimes. But, since some 2,000 years have elapsed since He made this promise, there are many who have concluded that we’ve exceeded all human understanding of the word “soon.” Well, perhaps we have exceeded the human understanding of “soon,” but not the divine understanding of it. You see, God exists beyond the realm of space and time, where past, present, and future meld together in one eternal “now.” From the persepective of an eternity with no beginning or end, 2,000 years or more could still be understood as “soon.”

Remember that Peter points out this very thing in 2 Peter 3. There, he says, “In the last days, mockers will come with their mocking … saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” But Peter says, “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” It is good news for the world that 2,000 years still counts as “soon” on God’s timetable, for in His patience, God is granting all mankind the window of opportunity to turn from their sins and trust in the Jesus Christ to save them. And that brings us to another of these considerations about the timing of this promise.

The Bible makes several specific predictions about things that must occur before the Lord Jesus returns. Now, all of these things are the subject of a wide array of interpretations and we will not dwell on them or on this variety of interpretations today. We will simply say that there are legitimate views on these things which would see all of them as having come to pass already. In other words, there are no events left to be fulfilled which would prevent the coming of the Lord, with one possible exception. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says that the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come. The word translated as “nations” there is the word “ethne,” which refers not to geo-political entities (lines on a map), but to ethnic entities. We call them “people groups,” people who are bound together by language and customs. According to the latest research of the International Mission Board (as of December 1, 2014), there are 11,168 people groups in the world, and 2,982 of them have no known access to the Gospel. So, there are some who would say that Christ cannot return until those peoples have access to the Gospel. Now, I affirm the sense of urgency that this perspective intends to press upon us, and this is one of the reasons that I passionately promote engaging unreached people groups in the task of world missions. We simply must get the gospel to these unreached peoples! Give that Lottie Moon offering, and give it generously and sacrificially. If you are able to, go with us on a mission trip where we seek to get the gospel into the ears of these people groups!

However, there are other perspectives that we need to consider. For example, some of these people groups who presently have no access to the Gospel are located in places where Christianity thrived in centuries past, such as North Africa and the Middle East. But in these places, the violent sweep of Islam has all but eradicated the church. So, while some of these peoples do not have the gospel today, it is quite possible that their ancestors had a vibrant Christian witness in their midst.

We also must consider that Jesus did not promise that every individual person in those people groups had to hear the Gospel, only that some from that people must hear the Gospel. There are representatives of these unreached groups coming to America as refugees, as students, and to work. Here, and in other places, some from these unreached peoples are encountering the Gospel, and we must be diligent to share Christ with them while they are here. Also, there are places where no missionary has been granted access in the modern era, but where the internet is readily available! There’s a lot of garbage on YouTube, but there is a lot of Gospel on there too. We have ways to track traffic to our website and our sermons online, and we get hits from places where missionaries cannot go! We never know when someone from an unreached people in an impenetrable country might click a link and be presented with this Gospel witness. So, for all the statistics we can calculate, there are even more that we cannot calculate about the global spread of the Gospel. We may not know when the last of the world’s peoples have heard the Gospel as a witness. 

So, could Jesus return in 2015? He certainly could. In fact, there are three days left in 2014, so we may not even see 2015! But I am not making any predictions, nor should you. We could be decades, centuries, or millennia away from His return for all we know. Jesus was very clear when He said, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Get that – no one knows except God the Father. Jesus said that even He, the Son, does not know. Well, if He is God, how can He not know? It is not that He lacks the capacity to know. Being fully divine, He is omniscient. Rather, it is something of a self-limitation. In His role as the Son, Jesus has chosen to yield some things to His Father. And one of those things is the timing of His return. Because He is also omnipotent (meaning that He has all power), He has the ability to limit the exercise of His omniscience so that this matter remains solely in the prerogative of God the Father. So, if someone claims to know when Jesus is going to return, you can just write them off.

We need to be mindful of the warning in verses 18 and 19. Just as John is about to close the book of Revelation, he says, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” If I can attempt to paraphrase that warning, it seems to me that John is acknowledging that there are some things in end time prophecies that are certain and specific, and some that are difficult to understand and interpret. But if we call into question what is certain, or make something that is not a certainty to appear as though it were, then our salvation is called into question. Stick to the book! What does the book say? It says He is coming again! Believe that! What does it not say? It does not say when. It does not answer all of our curiosities or satisfy all of our fancies. So don’t attempt to say that it does or to twist it to fit your system or opinion. Don’t add to what is there, and don’t take away from what is there. He is coming. Be ready. But don’t try to set a date or listen to anyone else who does. Stick to the book and don’t tinker with it. He has promised that He is coming, and He is coming soon. That’s simple enough to understand. So believe it, and live as though you believe it.

Now, moving on from the promise of His coming, we see …

II. The purpose of Christ’s coming (vv12b-15)

Do you remember what it was like when you were in school and you got called to the principal’s office? When I was in school, they had an intercom in the classroom, and every now and then I would hear this announcement: “Could you please send Russ Reaves to the office.” Terror would come over me. “Oh man, what did I do this time?” Well, in reality, I could make a long list of offenses, so I guess I was thinking, “Oh man, what did I get caught doing this time?” But there were a few occasions when I was called in for a good reason. But, on the long walk down the hall, all I could think of was how bad I was going to get it. I wasn’t worried too much about what the principal could do to me; I was worried about what would happen when news reached home! I always kind of wished they would say in the announcement why I was being summoned – is this a good thing or a bad thing? What is the purpose of this trip to the office?

When we hear that Jesus is coming again, we may have a recurrence of that sense of uneasiness. He’s coming again? Hmmm. I wonder what that will mean for me? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? But unlike the long walk to the principal’s office, we can know for sure the purpose of Jesus’ return because He has told us. And He has even told us whether it will be good news or bad news for us. He says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” Everyone is going to get what is coming to them when Jesus returns. In school, I got away with a lot of bad stuff because I was smart. I could pull it off without getting caught. But Jesus says that He is the Alpha and the Omega – that’s the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – the first and the last, the beginning and the end. This means, at least in part, that no one pulls the wool over His eyes. We don’t have any secrets hidden from Him. He was before all things and will be after all things, and everything that takes place between the beginning and the end is well within His scope of knowledge and insight. Is that good news or bad news? Well, it is both.

Deep within each and every one of us, there is a yearning for justice. We might rejoice when we get away with a wrongdoing, but we don’t rejoice when someone gets away with doing us wrong! We don’t rejoice when a guilty person walks free. We don’t rejoice when a crime goes unsolved, when a fugitive remains on the loose, or when no one is penalized for an atrocity. We want to see wrongs made right. We want to see justice, and not seeing us feels like a kick in the gut. We have to admit, even when our justice system works well, it can only render a proximate justice, never a perfect justice. But Jesus is coming to exercise perfect judgment and render perfect justice. Everyone will get what he or she deserves, a justice meted out by the just judge who knows every aspect of the ordeal inside and out. When we think of the wrongs committed against us, against our loved ones, against innocent people, and generally in the world at large, this gives us reason to rejoice. All wrongs will be made right when Christ the King returns.

But, if we are honest, there is an uneasy reality in this as well. If perfect justice will be meted to all people, then surely we are not exempt ourselves. In our heart of hearts, each one of us knows the depths of our own sin. We may not admit it, and we may not talk about it, but in the dark of night when our head is on the pillow and it is just us alone with our thoughts and with a God in whom we may or may not even believe, we know that we are a guilty people. Millions of dollars are spent every year by people trying to remedy an insatiable sense of guilt. You know why so many people feel guilty? Because we are guilty! The Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). There are none righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10). And that includes you and me. We are sinners. That is bad news. But the Gospel is good news, because sinners are who Jesus came to save when He came into the world the first time.

Notice the word of blessing in verse 14: “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” The image is of a people who, en masse, are covered with filthy garments. The garments are stained by the vileness of our sins. But there has been a remedy provided. These robes, and the sinners wearing them, can be washed and made clean! Earlier in Revelation, John saw a vision of a great multitude in heaven who were described as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). The Lamb is none other than Jesus. So, here is the image: the entire human race is covered in the filth of sin. Jesus comes in, perfectly holy and righteous. His garments are bright and white. But He has come to enact a great transaction of grace. Not because we have earned it or deserved it, but because He is good and He loves us, He has taken our filthy garments and put them on Himself, and He has gone to the cross to bear the penalty of our sins. In His death, He shed His blood to wash away our sins. Having done that, He gives back to us, not the old sin-stained garments, but the garments of His own righteousness. He has washed our robes clean in His blood and taken away every stain. Those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior do not get the judgment they deserve, but instead, they are welcomed into the eternally glorious city of heaven, and given access to the tree of life of which they might eat and live forever with Him. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” He took the wrath we deserve, and gives us the blessing of life everlasting with Him in return. Perfect justice was given for our sins, but it fell on Christ, our substitute, as He died on the cross.

For those who have not washed their robes in His cleansing blood, there is no such blessing. The promise for them is that they will be “outside.” They are barred from entrance into heaven. Eternity for them will mean an endless outpouring of justice for their immoralities, their murder, their idolatry, and their lies. Apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, every single one of us could fall into one of those categories in verse 15. But because of that saving grace, those who have trusted in Him find themselves under the blessings in verse 14.

He is coming to exact a perfect judgment with perfect justice. That is the purpose of His return. No one will be able to say on that day of judgment that they did not get what they deserved; no one, that is, except those who have been saved. Jesus took what we deserved, so we could enjoy what He deserves: a blessed eternal union with God in Heaven.

We come now to …

III. The invitation of His coming (vv17)

There’s a popular song that asks, “What are you doing New Years Eve?” Let’s suppose there was a big party that everyone you knew was going to attend, but you haven’t been invited. Your friends say, “Oh, come on, you can tag along with me. I’m sure they won’t mind.” Most of us would feel uneasy about that. But it would be different if the host of the party were to call you and say, “Listen, it would really mean a lot to me if you would come. I would love for you to come.” Then, as your friends prod you to go, you would know that they are just echoing the wishes of the host of the party.

As we think of Jesus’ second coming, and the offer of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ, a great invitation has gone out to all the world. It comes from the host Himself. Verse 17 says that the Spirit says “Come!” The Spirit is God the Holy Spirit. He is calling you and inviting you to come to Jesus. But the call echoes forth through others who have already come. The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” The bride is defined for us elsewhere in Revelation as the Church of Jesus Christ. We who have already come to find salvation in Jesus Christ have become His messengers, taking His gloriously gracious invitation into all the world. And all who hear this invitation, and understand the wonder of it, add their voice: “Let the one who hears say, “Come!” This call is going out into all the world. Every time anyone hears the good news of Jesus Christ, the Spirit and the Bride, and all who have heard this news, are beckoning “Come!” Maybe you are hearing that call today. You say, “That is just the preacher talking!” Well, the preacher is one who has heard that call for himself, and he is part of the Bride, the Church, all of whom are echoing the voice of the Spirit of God inviting you to come to Jesus and be saved.

Who should come? The Bible says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Are you thirsty? You say, “Thirsty for what? I have a sink at home, so I have plenty of water.” But the call is not to physical water. It is to living water. When Jesus was speaking to a woman by a well in John 4, He told her that everyone who drinks that water would thirst again. We know that to be true from experience. If you are thirsty you drink, but in time you are thirsty again. And the same is true for every desire and longing in our lives. Our lives tell the tale of one dissatisfaction after another. We found something that we thought could satisfy us, and maybe it did for a while, but soon we were empty again. Again, we thirsted. But Jesus told that woman that if anyone would drink the living water that He alone is able to supply, they would never thirst again, but that water would spring up within them into a well of eternal life! He is offering you an endless of supply of that which will satisfy your deepest longings forever – in a word, He is offering you Himself! It is a gift you cannot buy. It doesn’t matter if you have great riches or are completely destitute. It is not for sale. It is only available for free. That is why it is called “grace.” You don’t deserve it, you can’t earn it, and it is not for sale. But for no cost whatsoever, other than the cost of turning from sin and trusting in Him come what may, you may have this living water and be eternally satisfied in Jesus Christ. He is the provision for thirsty souls, and all thirsty souls are beckoned to come and drink freely from this water of life!

If you have never come to Him to partake of this living water – living water that satisfies, and living water that saves by washing us clean from our sins – I can think of no better way to ring out the old year and ring in the new than by turning to Him today. This is Jesus, who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has past away and all things are made new in Him. You can leave 2014 and enter 2015 a new creature, having been born again by faith in Christ. Do not delay that decision, because He has promised, He is coming quickly.

And when we hear that promise, those of us who have turned to Him by faith and been saved respond as John did. In verse 20, Jesus says once more, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” John says, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” This is the prayer of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Lord says He is coming, and we say, “Amen! We believe that! And we ask you Lord to come quickly!” This world is broken! We ourselves are broken! But we have this great hope: that Jesus Christ is coming, and how we long for that day when all wrongs will be made right, and all faith become at last sight! When this broken world presses in on you, when your broken down body reminds you of your frailty, and when your own heart betrays you and you find yourself being lured back into the snares of the sin from which you have been delivered, Christian, incline your ear to heaven and hear the promise: “Behold, I am coming quickly!” And raise your voice in the cry of anticipation, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”