Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Peace of Christ (John 14:27-31)

Peace. It is a word that is often used and seldom understood. Even more rarely is it experienced. Usually when we hear this word in our culture, it is in the context of something that is absent. In some cultures it is used as a way of saying “hello,” and “goodbye,” as if to wish one another peace as we come and go. That was the way it was used in ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew word “Shalom” had connotations that extend far beyond merely “the absence of conflict,” though it includes that. It means a state of completeness or satisfaction that is found when all is well. It speaks of one’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It speaks of being in right relationship with God, for only in that blessed state can it truly be said that all is well. Therefore, true peace comes only from God. The ancient Hebrews spoke the word as a prayer for one another that all things might be well under God for the other person. Early Christians adopted this word as a greeting and spoke of it, not as the wish for something as yet unattained, but as a reminder that this peace was available and had been secured for us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. That is why, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus could say to His followers, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”

Only Jesus could speak of “His peace” in the midst of circumstances like He was in at the time. One of His companions had already gone out to betray Him, and He knew that He was moments away from being arrested, tortured, and killed. But He could speak of His peace in the midst of such a raging storm. And He could speak of giving this peace to His followers, who were undergoing a raging storm of their own. Their Teacher, Master, Lord, and Friend was about to be taken away from them, and their own safety and security was in peril. Emotionally anguished, mentally tormented, with no sense of certainty about their physical well-being, Jesus says that He will give them His peace so that they may have it, even as He does. And He offers His peace to all of us who follow Him by faith. He does not guarantee us that we will escape all turmoil and tribulation, but He promises us that, come what may, we can live safeguarded by His peace. In the words that Jesus speaks to His disciples here in our text today, He describes this peace and how it effects us. So, let us look at these “principles of His peace” and ask the Lord to deepen our understanding and experience of the peace of Christ in our lives.

I. Jesus does not give His peace as the world gives (v27a)

There’s a lot that goes into the giving of a gift. There’s the gift itself, and then the giver of the gift, the motivation behind the gift, the occasion of the gift, and the manner in which it is given. We think that receiving a gift is always a good thing, but if we stop and think about it, sometimes it is not. Sometimes the gift or the occasion it is given makes us uncomfortable or embarrassed. Think of the time you received underwear for Christmas. Sometimes gifts are given with strings attached. Once someone offered me a “gift” of a very costly item that required an annual fee to be paid for it to be used. The annual fee was going to be my responsibility, and frankly it was more than I could afford. Awkwardly, I had to decline the gift. But the best gifts are those which are what we need or want, given out of the purest motives on the best of occasions, in the context of a genuine love relationship with the giver. All of the best and most perfect gifts ultimately come from God Himself, and are given this way. James says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas 1:17). This is how Jesus has given us the gift of His peace.

He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The world gives gifts a far different way than God gives them. Sometimes the world gives gifts insincerely, scantily, under compulsion, with selfish motives, with strings attached. Moreover, often the world gives a gift only to take it away again. And sometimes when the world offers a gift, it offers far more than it can deliver. So it is when the world offers us peace. When two parties sit down to negotiate peace on the world’s terms, often one or more parties is not genuinely interested in real and lasting peace. Often one or the other party is only interested in doing what is minimally required to attain peace, and at as little expense as possible. Typically, this kind of negotiation is never entered into willingly, but because some other entity is requiring or compelling it. Seldom is it a win-win arrangement, and more often it is lose-lose. And the kind of peace that the world affords is never permanent.

During the reign of Augustus Caesar most of the known world was experiencing a time that Augustus had inaugurated and named the Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome). During this time, vast regions of the world were allegiant to the Roman Empire and there was no conflict to speak of in any of these lands. It was perhaps the longest and most thoroughgoing time of peace in the history of the world. However, it must be remembered that this peace was effected by the militant conquest of these lands and the swift action of Rome to quell all uprisings with severe force. One conquered ruler remarked that in view of the plunder, butchery, and robbery that the Romans performed in his land, “they make a wasteland and call it peace.”[1] This is how the world gives peace … with a sword to the neck. Jesus said that He was not giving peace like this. Though many expected the Messiah to come wielding the sword, Jesus came to effect peace by receiving the blows of violence, not striking them. On the eve of His crucifixion, He can say that He gives His followers His peace, because this peace was secured for us in His death and resurrection. He does not compel us by force to enter into His peace, with strings and conditions attached. He does not offer us His peace with self-centered motives, or with escape clauses that may entail Him revoking this peace from us in the future. He gives us His peace by His grace and for His glory, in an act of unconditional, eternal, covenant love. We do not deserve it, we cannot earn it, and because of our sins, we should not have it. But Jesus has accomplished this peace for us in His suffering and death for our sins as our substitute under the wrath of God. He took the judgment we deserve, so we could have the peace that is rightly His in eternal fellowship with God the Father.

Jesus alone can offer us real and lasting peace. It is His peace. He has it, He can give it. It is peace with God, and it is the peace of God. In Romans 5, Paul says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith speaks of that act of God by which He removes our sin and imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Prior to coming to Christ by faith, we were enemies at war with God in our sins. We could not make peace with God on our own terms. But through Jesus Christ, we have peace with God. The war is over, and we have been rescued, redeemed, and reconciled to Him in peace.

Since we have peace with God, we can also experience the peace of God. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are told to not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known to God, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God comes from knowing that He is sovereign and in control over all of our circumstances, and that ultimately our future is secure in His hands. But, this kind of peace cannot be manufactured by our self-effort. It is an element of the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul describes in Galatians 5. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power is manifested in our lives by these attributes, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This peace of God that Jesus has made available to us comes only as we yield ourselves to the Spirit’s control in our lives. The Holy Spirit has come to us because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and in Him, we can have this peace guarding our hearts and minds, even when the circumstances of our lives are far from peaceful.

This brings us to the second principle of Christ’s peace here in our text.

II. The peace of Christ replaces fear and trouble with love and joy (vv27b-28)

You will recall, perhaps, that the first words Jesus spoke in this extended discourse in the Upper Room were “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Here He says it again: “Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” Let’s face it: there was plenty for them to be troubled and afraid about. Jesus has told them what is coming, from the betrayal, to the arrest, to the falling away of the disciples themselves, to the horrors of the Cross and His impending death. They were troubled and afraid! If they weren’t, something would be wrong with them! And if they weren’t, Jesus wouldn’t have to tell them to not let their hearts be in that state. Like them, we often have plenty of reasons to be troubled and afraid. Over the next several chapters, Jesus will promise His followers that they will be hated by the world (15:18), that they will have tribulation in the world (16:33), and He prays that the Father would not take them out of this world (17:15). This world is not a safe place to live, and yet it is where we have to live! Senseless acts of violence, tragic accidents, and sudden crises erupt all around us every day, not to mention the fact that we live in bodies that are constantly falling apart. I recall hearing John Piper talking about a day several years ago in which he distinctly remembered someone asking him, “How are you doing?”, and he said, “I’m fine.” Then he went to the doctor that afternoon and found out he had cancer. He said he learned a valuable lesson that day. “Now, when people ask me, ‘How’s your health?’ I say, ‘I feel fine. And the doctors are pleased.’ Which, being translated, means: ‘I don’t know how I am; only God knows.’”[2] If we ponder long on any of these circumstances that could arise with no forewarning, we are greatly troubled and afraid! But Jesus says that His peace can drive that fear and trouble out and replace it with something greater.

What had the disciples troubled was the announcement that Jesus was going away. Clearly they understood that He was speaking of His death. So troubled and fearful were they, that they seem to have missed, or at least greatly misunderstood that He had also said that He would come to them again. But here Jesus is trying to redirect their hearts from fear and trouble to love and joy. He says, “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced.” Did they love Jesus? Surely in some sense they did, but Jesus seems to suggest here that in some other sense, their love for Him was lacking. “If you loved Me,” seems to imply that they don’t love Him, at least not in the sense that He is speaking of love. If they understood the peace that He was making possible for them through His impending suffering and death, then their love for Him would grow exponentially and qualitatively. But as it is, all they can think of is themselves and what they are losing – not of Christ, what He is gaining, and what He is accomplishing for them. If they could think of those things instead of themselves, in love for Christ, there would be joy in their hearts instead of fear and trouble.  

So, there is this subtle rebuke here. “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father.” Unless Jesus goes to the Father, His disciples (including us today) cannot have the peace that He promises. We cannot have peace with God or the peace of God that His indwelling Spirit produces unless He goes to the Father by way of His death and resurrection. Jesus is returning to His Father, and to the glory that He had with the Father before the world began, and before He came to dwell among us in the veiled glory of His flesh. This is a cause for rejoicing if we love Him. But not only do we rejoice for Him, we also rejoice for us. Because He is overcoming sin and death on our behalf, we know that we too have the promise of death not being the end. If we love the Lord Jesus and trust Him as our Lord and Savior, death is not a descent into the abyss of the unknown, a ceasing of existence, or a hopeless eternity apart from Him. We too have the promise that we will go to the Father. So, we do not have to fear or be troubled by the hardships and sufferings we face in this world. We can have joy in spite of our circumstances, through the love of Jesus Christ and the peace that He has given us. When we have His peace safeguarding our hearts and minds, every discomfort and disaster that we encounter in the world only causes our love for Him to deepen and our joy in Him to increase, because we know that He has overcome this world, and we share in His victory. Trouble and fear are replaced by love and joy as we rest in the peace of Christ.

Before we move on to the final principle of peace here in the text, we need to just give some explanation to the rather awkward phrase that Jesus says here: “For the Father is greater than I.” This verse has for centuries been latched onto by those who seek to teach that Jesus is somehow less than fully God. But, in many other passages, Jesus has unequivocally taught that He is one with the Father and of the same divine essence as the Father. One of the foundational rules of good biblical interpretation is that we use the clear passages to explain the difficult ones. If we do that here, we conclude that Jesus cannot mean that He is of an inferior nature to God the Father. So, what does it mean? There are at least two certain truths that relate to this statement. First has to do with the eternal role of Jesus as the Son of God, or God the Son. The mystery of the Trinity is complex, and we will never completely fathom all that it entails with our finite minds. What we know is that there is one God, who exists eternally in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And within the perfect unity of the Triune Godhead, there is an ordering of function, not nature. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all coeternal and coequal in glory and deity, but each has a unique functional role. The Father is ever and always the One who commands and sends. The Son is ever the One who is sent and who obeys the Father. And the Spirit is the One who is sent by both the Father and the Spirit, and who functions in obedience to the will of the Father and the Son. Ontologically, that is, in the nature of their being, One is not greater or more important than the other. But functionally, their roles differ. As the One who is sent, and the One who obeys, Jesus can say that the Father is greater in function than He is.

There is another reason Jesus can say that the Father is greater. The disciples have enjoyed the indescribable blessing of knowing Jesus in His flesh. But, the point was never for them to just have an earthly relationship with an earth-bound Jesus. Jesus is making it possible, by His return to the Father, for His followers to truly know God in all of His splendor and glory. It is greater for them that they have an eternal relationship with God through Him than for their experience to be limited to a temporal relationship with Jesus in His flesh on the earth. All that Jesus had done to this point, and all that He would do, had the aim and purpose of bringing them into a relationship with the Father. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” We may be tempted to think that it would have been better to live in the first century, and have the opportunity to meet Jesus as He walked and talked on the earth. But because of what Jesus has done in His life, death, and resurrection, we have something even better. We have a relationship with God through Him.

As we move back onto our primary theme of having Christ’s peace, we have seen that He alone can give us this peace – peace with God and the peace of God. It has not been given to us as the world gives. It has been secured for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent to indwell those who receive Him by faith as Lord and Savior. And this peace is able to replace the fear and troubles of our hearts in this fallen world with increased and greater love for Christ and joy in Him. But there is a final principle of His peace that we need to see here in the text.

III. The peace of Christ produces confidence in His word (vv29-31)

One of the ways Jesus continually produces peace in the hearts of His followers is through the promises of His word. And it works like a cycle. His promises produce peace, and His peace increases our confidence in His word. When we find ourselves in anxiety rather than resting in His peace, chances are we have forgotten or begun to doubt His promises. So the peace produces this confidence and this confidence reinforces the peace. It is kind of a chicken and egg kind of relationship – which comes first? Well, the two are so closely related that it is impossible to separate them. But as Jesus promises His peace to His disciples, He does so in the context of bolstering their confidence in His Word.

Thus far, Jesus has told them about the things which are going to transpire in both the immediate and distant future. He has told them what would happen over the next several days – He would die and rise again. He has told them what would happen over the next several weeks – the Holy Spirit would come to dwell within them. And He says here, “I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.” Of course, these men already believed, but Jesus is calling them to a deeper confidence in His word: a confidence that is produced by His peace. When these events begin to happen – His arrest, His trial, His torture, and His death, they can rest in the peace that He promised them, and grow in their confidence that His every word is truth.

Let’s face it … from a mere earthly perspective, the events that will transpire over the coming day will appear to be utter chaos and mayhem. If any circumstances could ever be described as “hell on earth,” then the crucifixion of Jesus and the events surrounding it certainly meet that description. Jesus says, “I will not speak much more with you.” But there would be no need for Him to. As the great hymn says, “What more can He say than to you He has said?” They will not suffer for lack of information. Their challenge will be to remain steadfast in confidence of what He has already said.

The reason He will speak no more with them is that “the ruler of the world is coming.” Who is the ruler of the world? Isn’t God the ruler of the world? Well, in the ultimate sense, yes, He is. But remember that when God created human beings in His image, He gave to mankind dominion over the whole earth. Man was to be God’s regent, ruling the world in His stead and on His behalf. But Adam squandered this trust that God had given him when he yielded his allegiance to Satan in the garden. In Adam’s sin, the dominion of the world passed into the hands of the devil. He continues to operate under God’s ultimate authority, but the operations of the world are under Satan’s domain. And in the events leading up to and including the cross, Satan was trying to accomplish his ultimate will and desire – to murder God and be freed from His sovereignty. He had been trying to accomplish this since the beginning, but now he pulls out all the stops and goes full force into the fray. The ruler of the world is coming, Jesus said, and with unprecedented evil to murder the Messiah.

But, Jesus says, “He has nothing in Me.” In other words, “He has no hold (or claim) on me.” This phrase was used in Jewish legal contexts when someone had a rightful charge to bring against another in a court of law. But Jesus says here that Satan has no rightful charge over Him. Jesus had not sinned, and had lived in complete and perfect obedience to His Father’s will. So, though the enemy believed that he would be the victor in this battle, Jesus says, “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” His death was not ultimately the result of a satanic plot; it was the result of a sovereign plan. The death of Jesus was the reason He came into the world in the first place. Satan believed his plan was advancing, but all that he was doing fell under the purpose and plan of God to reconcile the world to Himself through the suffering and death of this righteous substitute for sinners. What appeared to be a victory for Satan was ultimately his defeat, as Jesus, in love for His Father, obeyed His will all the way to the cross where sinners are saved from Satan’s dominion and power. Even in this, Jesus seeks that all the world would have increased confidence that His word is truth.

With the peace of Christ safeguarding their hearts, the disciples could rest in the confidence that Jesus was carrying out that which He had declared. He was saving the world in His death on the cross. But they could not ultimately rest in that peace until the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. But after that moment, as they reflected on what had transpired in the cross of Jesus Christ, His peace gave them the confidence that all that Jesus had said was true. In speaking of the cross at Pentecost, Peter said, “This Man (Jesus), delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Ac 2:23).  And notice how this affected the peace that they had and the increased confidence that they had in God’s Word as circumstances began to grow worse for themselves. In Acts 4, they prayed, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence” (Ac 4:27-29).

So, like them, we ourselves can rest in the peace that Christ has given to us, and in confidence in His word when our circumstances are threatening and unpleasant. Knowing that nothing ever happened to Jesus apart from the Father’s perfect purpose assures us that the same is true for us. His Spirit gives us peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations, and in His peace, we find confidence in the truth of His Word, which deepens the peace all the more.

Jesus has given you His peace. But you cannot experience the peace of God until you have peace with God. And Jesus offers you this also. Because He took your sins, your death, and your condemnation upon Himself in the cross, you can be reconciled to God and saved from the powers of sin and Satan. And having peace with God, you can enjoy the peace of God in Christ which is ours because of the Holy Spirit who indwells all who trust in Him. He has not given His peace to us as the world would give. He has given it unconditionally, graciously, and eternally. As you rest in His peace, the troubles and fears of your heart give way to renewed and increased love for Him and joy in the salvation that He has accomplished for you. And as you rest in this peace, your confidence in His word grows, further settling that peace in your heart that all is well, regardless of how things look or feel. If you are in Christ, there is peace – peace that passes all understanding; peace that only Christ can provide; peace that guards us from anxiety; and peace that rests in knowing that all is well. Isaiah the prophet said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa 26:3, KJV).

[1] Calgacus of Caledonia, from Tacitus, Agricola, 30; Cited in Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (4th ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 11.
[2] John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Cancer (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 3. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Spirit and the Word (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15)

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” After explaining the meaning he chooses for one word, Alice says, “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.” One word that Christians and non-Christians alike toss around a lot is the word inspiration. Often times, we are making that one word mean a great deal. You may hear someone say, “I was inspired as I did this or that,” or something like, “Handel’s Messiah is an inspired (or inspirational, or inspiring) piece of music.” I don’t think most of us would have trouble understanding what someone means when he or she says those things. But there is another sense, a more important one, in which we use the word inspiration of the Bible, and we mean something altogether different.

When we speak of the inspiration of the Scriptures, we are making a statement about the source, or origin, of the Bible. We are saying that it has come to us from God Himself. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, ““All Scripture is inspired by God (or God-breathed).” In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter explains how inspiration works as He says that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). This is the very same idea that Jesus Himself has about the Bible. An example of this is found in Mark 12:36, when Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 and prefaces it by saying, “David himself said in (or by) the Holy Spirit.” Again in Matthew 24:15, Jesus speaks of words which came, not from, but through Daniel the prophet. Jesus rightly understood and proclaimed that what was written in the Scriptures did not originate in the minds of the human authors, but it was the Word of God coming to mankind through these inspired writings. This is what we mean when we use the word inspiration in reference to the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired, or breathed out, the words that the human writers recorded as a means of God revealing Himself to the world.

Now, in our text today from John 14 and John 16, we have very specific promises that relate to the Holy Spirit’s work in the inspiration of Scripture. While many of the promises of Jesus apply equally to all Christians, these do not. There are indicators in the context of these passages that tell us that He is speaking directly to His apostles, and that these promises are for them in a special way. He says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you” (14:25); “He will … bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (14:26); “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12). Many Christians would protest this notion because these passages are often misapplied in various ways by Christians who believe that they were intended as general promises for all believers. I have known many Christians who espoused some unusual idea, and blamed it on these verses by saying that the Holy Spirit had guided them into the truth beyond what was recorded in the Word of God. This simply cannot be, because these promises refer explicitly to the Spirit’s inspiration of the revelation that is recorded for us in the Word of God. It would be contrary to God’s nature for Him to lead someone into some notion that opposed this inspired Word. You need to understand that a good many cults have been founded on a misunderstanding and misapplication of these promises. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and to some degree even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, just to name a few, tried to convince their followers that the Holy Spirit had given them new and improved information over what was recorded in Scripture on the basis of this promise. We must not follow in their example. Instead, we must understand these passages as the Lord Jesus intended when He spoke it, and as the Spirit of God intended as He inspired it. Because this is, after all, the whole point of the passages.

While there is application for all Christians to be found in these promises, we need to understand that they relate specifically to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the writings of the New Testament. Through these apostles and their close associates, God would complete His Written Word to man. And because He has done that, we have the confidence that these writings are infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for all matters of Christian faith and practice. In the inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments, we have what the Baptist Faith and Message calls “a perfect treasure of divine instruction,” having “God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” So, let us consider what these promises entail concerning the Spirit and the Word, and how those truths apply to us today.

I. The Spirit has inspired a trustworthy account of Jesus’ words and works (14:25-26)

If past trends are any indicator, I imagine that in soon coming weeks as we approach Easter, we will see magazine covers and television programs touting the recent discovery of some new, lost Gospels that uncover hidden mysteries about the person of Jesus Christ. The problem with these claims is evident in almost every word of their description. In most cases, the discoveries are not recent, but date back decades. The documents are not new, they were not lost, and they are not Gospels. In almost every case, what has been found was an old writing that circulated briefly and in somewhat limited circles. When Christians first laid their eyes on them, they recognized that the things written in them were not true, because they did not bear the marks of apostolic authenticity, and they contradicted or denied truths that were written in the apostolic writings. These books were not “lost,” but rather, they simply disappeared from use and circulation almost immediately as their errors was exposed. The Church already had trustworthy writings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and penned by the Apostles of Jesus Christ and their associates. They did not need man-made fabrications to fill in the gaps or supply further information.

In verse 25 of John 14, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” During the time that Jesus was with His apostles, He said and did many things. It would be their responsibility to record those things to be passed on to future generations of Christians. But, surely they would not have a perfect recollection of everything He said and did, nor does it seem that they even understood everything He said and did in the moment. So how can we trust that these ordinary, forgetful, and sometimes dense men could record an inerrant and infallible history of the things Jesus said and did? On their own, they likely could not. But they would not do this on their own. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would enable them to do this.

In verse 26, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” In teaching them all things, He was helping them understand the meaning and significance of the things that they witnessed. For example, in John 12, we read of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey, and heralded by the praises of the people. The apostles saw these things happen, but they did not realize how significant the moment was and how these things were actually fulfilling divinely inspired Old Testament prophecies. So, John says, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” The Spirit was teaching them all things and bringing to their remembrance what they had witnessed Jesus saying and doing, just as Jesus promises them here in our text.

So, we have this collection of four authentic and authoritative writings which the Spirit inspired through the apostles and their associates: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were apostles. They were present in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke this promise, and the Gospels which bear their names are the product of this promise. But what of Mark and Luke? These men were not apostles, so why do we give their writings equal credence with Matthew and John? Well, it is a well established fact that Mark was recording the accounts of Jesus Christ which he had heard and learned from the apostle Peter. It would be just as fitting to call the Gospel of Mark, “The Gospel of Peter.” Similarly, Luke was writing the account of the life of Christ in his Gospel which he had gathered as he accompanied the apostle Paul on his travels. Luke’s Gospel is essentially “The Gospel According to Paul.” Paul is unique in his standing as an apostle, for he was not an original apostle, but was chosen singularly by the Risen Lord Jesus to be an apostle. Therefore Paul was as much a party to these same promises as those in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke them. And this mark of apostolic authenticity extends to their close companions who were recording, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what they had seen and heard through the apostles.

So, when you read the Gospels, you are not reading the haphazard and unreliable journals of men; these writings are the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the promise we read here in John 14. Because they are inspired by God, that means that they are completely true and trustworthy, and contain no error or contradiction. Sometimes people say there are contradictions between accounts found in, say, John and Luke or Matthew or Mark. However, not a single one of these alleged contradictions is without explanation. Usually the accounts either refer to different incidents, or else they are complementary accounts, with one providing details that the other has omitted. The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness to the veracity of the accounts of the words and works of Jesus Christ found in the four Gospels in our New Testament. This promise assures us of that.

II. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy guidance for Christian doctrine and practice (16:12-13a)

Jesus says in John 16:12, “I have many more things to say to you.” He had said plenty to them, but there was more to be said. But Jesus says, “you cannot bear them now.” In part, they could not bear the further information because they were overcome with sorrow. When we are in “crisis mode,” we have a hard time processing an overload of information, and Jesus knows that about us. But also, there would be no way that the disciples could possibly comprehend at this moment all the implications that the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ have on the Christian life. But when the Spirit comes, because He is the Spirit of truth, He will guide them into all the truth. What He will reveal to the apostles is a continuation, as it were, of the very teachings of Jesus. He says, “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.” He will speak to them of the matters of Christian doctrine and practice that are set forth throughout the New Testament, especially the epistles, or letters. So, we have a true and trustworthy collection of information and instruction on what we believe and how we are to live as Christians, and how we are to function as a church. These are things that Jesus did not specifically teach during His earthly life, but which He has taught through the Holy Spirit as the New Testament writings were inspired.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul is giving instructions on marriage and divorce, and he says in verse 10, “To the married I give instructions, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.” Here, he is restating what Jesus Himself said in several instances in the Gospels about the permanence of marriage (Matt 5:32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 6:18). But then in verse 12, Paul says, “To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.” Again later in verse 25, he says, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.” Some would point to passages like these and say that we have opposing teachings between Jesus and Paul, and therefore they choose to reject Paul’s teachings. But Paul is not saying that his words here bear less weight than those of the Lord Jesus, he is merely saying that Jesus did not teach this in the Gospels, but is teaching it through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the inspired writings. “By the mercy of the Lord,” he says, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he is able to give authoritative direction for the Christian life in these inspired writings. So he concludes that chapter by saying, almost with a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”

We see how we are to view the New Testament writings when we consider how the apostles view one another’s writings. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes, “the Scripture says, … ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” This statement is not found anywhere in Scripture except in the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:10. So, Paul uses the word “Scripture,” which would be understood by his original audience to mean the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, to refer to the writings of Luke. Again, in 2 Peter 3:15, Peter says of “all” of Paul’s letters that in them, “some things are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So here, Peter considers the entire collection of Paul’s writings to be “Scripture,” the Word of God. Therefore, he warns us to not distort these things, even though there may be difficult sayings found in them, because these writings have their origin in God Himself. Now, if you take the writings of Paul and the writings of Luke as Scripture, you have around 60% of the New Testament. And, by extension, we could say the same of the rest of the New Testament because those writings also bear the same mark of apostolic, Spirit-inspired, authenticity.

So, friends, when we come to the Scriptures, including the New and Old Testament, we come to a collection of Spirit-inspired, infallible and inerrant writings which are authoritative and sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We draw our doctrines, our ethics, and our practices from the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

III. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy information about the things to come (16:13c)

CNN has at times used the slogan “Tomorrow’s Headlines Today.” But it is not as though they are telling you anything about the future. They are reporting past events, they are just reporting them sooner than the printed paper is able to. No one can report with accuracy about the future – no one, that is, except God. In Isaiah 46:9-10, He says, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done.” If we are to know anything trustworthy about the future, God would have to reveal it to us. He has done this by His Holy Spirit through the writings of Scripture. Jesus said to His apostles that the Holy Spirit would “disclose to you what is to come.” In saying this, Jesus was pointing them forward to the things that would take place in the distant future concerning His return and the consummation of His kingdom at the end of the age.

Throughout the New Testament, we find many promises and prophecies about the things to come. Some of them were stated by Jesus Himself in the Gospels. The Spirit gave the writers recall to record them accurately. Some are stated in the letters, as the Spirit was guiding the apostles into the truth. And then we find that great concentration of New Testament prophecy in the book of Revelation, which God made known to John (the writer of this Gospel and three New Testament epistles) while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Some people have told me over the years that they are afraid of studying the book of Revelation. But you don’t have to be afraid of it. If you are a believer in Christ, then this book promises you that Christ will triumph in the end, and you will be with Him! I suppose if you are not a believer then there is much there to fear, but not if you are saved! We are actually promised a blessing in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” It is not all easy to understand, for sure. If it was, there wouldn’t so many competing views on end times among Christian scholars. But the things which are most important for us to know are plainly revealed.

So if you want to know what the future holds, you need to turn to the Bible, for only God can tell the future with any degree of accuracy. And what God says about the future is recorded for us in Scripture, and because it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is true and trustworthy.

Now finally, notice the last part of this promise:

IV. All that the Spirit has inspired brings glory to Jesus Christ (v14).

When we read the Bible, we are all reading the same truths. The words may vary from one translation to another, and that is another subject for another day, but the basic data that we are analyzing is the same for us all. So, why do we not all agree with one another on what the Bible teaches? We have different interpretations of what we read there. Every word of the Bible is completely true and trustworthy, because every word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But our interpretations of the Bible are not inspired and therefore our interpretations are not always true and trustworthy.

There are some important keys to interpretation that we have to keep in mind as we study the Bible. And one of those keys is stated right here in verse 14. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will glorify Me” in the inspiration of the written Word of God. So, one of the keys to our right interpretation of the Bible is that we must see how each and every passage points us to the glory of God in Christ. It all does. Jesus said this Himself in Luke 24:44 among other places. There He said, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms are the three sections of the Hebrew Old Testament, and Jesus said that all of it pointed to Him. The same is true of the New Testament writings. It all points to Him. So if our interpretations do not center on the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, we need to ask if we have truly grasped the intended meaning of the text.

I heard someone say once that the closer we stand to the trunk of the tree, the less likely we will get out on a limb. There are some interpretations of Scripture that are truly out on a limb. That’s because they have not stayed close to the root of the tree, and the root of the tree is Jesus Christ. All Scripture points us to Jesus, and in it the Holy Spirit is bringing glory to Jesus. That should be our aim as we interpret the Bible as well. And of course, Christ will be most glorified in our reading and studying of Scripture if we do not merely come to the Bible as scholars on a fact-finding mission, but as worshipers and servants who are committed to trusting and obeying what the Spirit has inspired for our edification there. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as much how much Scripture you know as it does how much you obey of what you do know.

I want to make a few quick points of application here as we close:
  • First, friends, I want to assure you today, according to the promise that Jesus made concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit through His apostles, that you can trust your Bible. The Holy Spirit has inspired these writings so they are inerrant, infallible, true and trustworthy, and they have authority over every area of our lives. And not only is it true, it is sufficient. It is enough. The Bible tells us everything that God desired to reveal about who He is, how we can know Him, and how we can live for Him. Nothing is left out. We do not need more information. We do not need the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas, the Book of Mormon or the Quran. We have a Holy Spirit-inspired Bible! So as we build our lives and our church, we build on the Word of God, for His Word is the only solid rock we have. All other ground is sinking sand. Everything we believe, everything we do, as Christians and as a church must be rooted in this book, and this book is what we must return to time and time again to measure all that is done and all that we believe. 
  • Second, because the Bible is the inspired revelation of God, then we must insist that it be the basis of all that is said here in this pulpit – whether by me, Jack, any guest speaker, or any future pastor you may have. Not only this, but the Bible must be the basis of all that is taught in our Sunday School classes and every other kind of gathering that takes place. And the Bible must be the basis of our witness as we interact with nonbelievers. Because the Spirit has inspired these words, these are the words that God has promised to bless and use to accomplish His work in the lives of people and in the world.
  • Third, if you are a Christian, then the same Holy Spirit who inspired this revelation in the Word of God lives within you. The divine author is available to guide you as you read and study the Bible. I have a lot of friends who have written some good books. When I read those books and I have questions, I can call or email them and ask them and they tell me what they meant when they said those things. Friends, we can do the same with the Bible because the Holy Spirit who inspired these writings is able to illuminate our understanding as we read them.

God has gone to great lengths to give us His Word in written form. He has inspired it, so that it stands as a written revelation of who He is, what He does, and how we can know and live for Him. We neglect, ignore, or distort this Book only to our own peril. We affirm what our Confession of Faith sets forth:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Looking Ahead to Easter (John 14:19-24)

When you look in your bulletin and see that the title of today’s message is “Looking Ahead to Easter,” I know some of you may be thinking, “We knew his watch was broken, we didn’t know his calendar was too!” Well, I fully realize that Easter is 2 months away, but there is a sense in which every Sunday is Easter for the Christian. In fact the reason why Christians worship on Sunday is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Really every day is Easter for the Christian because every day we live in the sure and certain hope of a Christ who conquered death for us.

In our text today, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the promises of Easter before the first Easter Sunday takes place. As Jesus speaks, it is late Thursday night. On Friday, the next day, Jesus will die on the cross. And as Jesus seeks to comfort them in the face of His impending death, He points them here to Easter Sunday to reassure them that His death will not be the end. There are three Easter promises that He gives to them here to point them beyond the horror of the cross to the glory of His resurrection. In the same way, these promises speak to the hearts of all who follow Him today. As we live in broken down bodies in a fallen world that has been ravaged by sin, the promises of Easter assure us that, no matter what comes our way, there are blessings that only the follower of Christ can cling to when everything around us seems to be going terribly wrong.

I. The Promise of Unending Fellowship: You will see Me (v19a)

As C. S. Lewis chronicled his journey through the grief of losing his wife to cancer, he wrote, “I have no photograph of her that’s any good. I cannot even see her face distinctly in my imagination.”[1] This is one of the most troubling realities of grief, that we will no longer see the face of the one we love. Jesus knew that the hearts of His followers were troubled. They had left everything behind to follow Him. Every day for three years, they had seen Him. Now He was leaving them behind, and all they could think of is that they would never see Him again.

Jesus said, “After a little while the world will no longer see Me.” Undoubtedly, for some in the world, this would be exactly what they were hoping for. Jesus was a troublemaker in their minds. The Pharisees, the chief priests, Herod, Pilate, and a multitude of others were hoping they would never have to lay eyes on Jesus again. And to their own destruction, they would get their wish. They would never again see His face. “But,” Jesus said to His followers, “you will see Me.”

For a little while, they would not see Him. Most of them scattered when He was arrested. As far as we know, only one of them watched Him die. When He was buried, only the women were present, along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – none of whom were present when Jesus spoke these words. But after a little while, these men would see Him again. After He arose from the dead, Jesus appeared to them. It was not a vision or a hallucination – it was Jesus in His glorified body, really present and really visible to them. They saw Him again. But only they saw Him. The unbelieving world did not see Him. In all of His resurrection appearances, if we leave aside His appearance to Paul on the Damascus Road, He never appeared in the presence of unbelievers. The promise was for Jesus’ followers: “You will see Me.” This was the promise of unending fellowship. His departure from them was only momentary. They saw Him again.

But what of us who live two millennia beyond that first Easter? How does this promise secure us in a world filled with hurts and hardships? At Easter, we sing a song that asks, “Were you there when He rose up from the grave?” And the answer is, “No! We weren’t there!” But we see Jesus through the eye of faith. As we believe in the Savior who died for our sins and rose from the dead to save us, we see Him with a plainer view than our eyesight could afford us. We see Him as Lord and Savior of our lives. And we see Him as He works in and through us by His indwelling Spirit. Remember that there is a special blessing attached to those who see Him by faith in this way. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (Jn 20:29). He has promised us unending fellowship with Himself, and He has fulfilled that promise to all who have trusted in Him.

But there is a future aspect of His promise which remains for us. Just as He said to His disciples, so Jesus can assure us, “After a little while … you will see Me.” The day is coming when we will see Jesus face-to-face, with new vision and transformed eyes in heaven. The assurance that we will see our friends and loved ones again in heaven is a great comfort, but there is even greater comfort and hope found in the promise that we will see Jesus. We will look into the face of the One who is both our Maker and Redeemer, and we will see the unfathomable glory of God in His face.

This promise of unending fellowship has a profound effect on a true believer in Christ. In 1 John 3, the Apostle writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure.” The promise that we will see Jesus face-to-face one day fuels our fight against temptation and sin, because we remember what Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). When I surrender to temptation, I am choosing to see, or indulge in, something other than the surpassing greatness of God’s glory. That is why all sin is idolatry at its core. It is an elevation of my own desires to a level above God where I serve them and obey them instead of God. But if I want to see God – if that is the driving force behind my life – then I will fight temptation whenever it arises for the sake of the purity of my own heart. I want to keep my heart pure, because I want to see Him more than anything or anyone else.

This promise also provides us with endurance in trials. When we encounter various trials in life (not if, but when), Satan would love to persuade us that God is not present, that He does not love us, that He is not good, and so on. But the promise of unending fellowship here as Jesus says, “You will see Me,” reminds us that He is present, He does love us, and He is good. We have seen Him with the eye of faith. We have seen His goodness and grace at work in and through us on countless “good days” before the bad days ever struck, and we know that we will see Him face-to-face. So when those thoughts arise in the midst of a hardship, we have to keep resting in this promise. Jesus will never leave nor forsake those who have seen Him by faith, and when this world has done all it can do to us, we will see Him face-to-face. That is why Paul is able to say in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

Jesus is alive, and we see Him by faith, we see His work being done in and through us, and we will see Him face-to-face. That fuels our endurance to persevere through the trials and temptations of life. So we have this promise of uninterrupted fellowship. The world does not see Jesus, but we have, we do, and we will. We are never alone, never forsaken, never abandoned, not in life and not in death. And this brings us to the second promise.

II. The Promise of Undying Life: You will live (v19b) 

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in books that fall into a category that some have called “afterlife tourism.” These books claim that the writers have experienced a journey to heaven, or in some cases hell, and have come back to tell us all about what it was like. A couple of weeks ago, there was quite an uproar after the child whose story inspired one of the most popular of these books came clean that the entire tale was fabricated. Alex Malarkey, who was 6 years old when he was in the terrible car accident that sparked the book entitled The Boy Who Went To Heaven, is now 16 and remains a quadriplegic. But he bravely confessed in an open letter that he made the story up in order to get attention. Alex said, “People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough.” Amen. After all, Jesus Himself said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” When we want to know about heaven, we should look to what His word says and trust that it is enough! So many of these books present accounts of heaven which not only contradict each other, but also contradict the Bible!

Jesus offers us so much more than these stories can! He says, “Because I live, you will live also.” This is not a promise that we can visit heaven temporarily and come back to live on earth, only to suffer, grieve, hurt, and ultimately die again. He promises us an undying life just as He Himself has.

Having spoken often to His disciples about His impending death, Jesus now says, “Because I live ….” He is looking beyond the cross to His resurrection. He will die. He will be really dead – not just passed out or in a coma – DEAD! He knew He was going to be dead, and yet He says, “Because I live.” He knew that death would not be the end. His followers would see Him again – on earth even – as He overcame death by His resurrection. He would be alive just as surely as He was dead. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore.” Jesus is the only person who can speak of His own death in the past tense.

But notice that His resurrection is tied to a promise He is making to His disciples. “Because I live, you will live also.” In Jesus’ death, He took all of our sins upon Himself, and died to receive the full penalty that we deserve. When He uttered from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, He was receiving the full outpouring of wrath and condemnation that you and I have earned because of our sins. We deserve to be forsaken by God, condemned and cast out from His presence. But Jesus took this for us. By His resurrection, He demonstrated that our sin and its penalty of death and wrath had been fully defeated. Therefore, for the Christian, death does not have to be feared. Death is not the end, and it is not the entryway into judgment for the one who believes in Christ. It is the entryway into life everlasting.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. … But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death (1 Cor 15:17-18, 20-26).

And because death has been abolished by the resurrection of Christ for all who trust in Him, that great chapter concludes by saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:54-57). So death is defeated for the Christian because the Lord Jesus lives. And because He lives, we will live also. But it will not be life as we have known it. It will be a new life, an eternal life, an undying life, in the splendors of heaven and the presence of God. John recorded what he saw in his vision of heaven in Revelation 21: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4). This is life as God intended us to live! And it is ours if we have trusted in Christ. Because He lives, we will live also.

There is great help for a Christian in this promise. No matter what comes our way, the worst thing that can happen to us in this world is death. But Christ has defeated death so that it is powerless against us. In Him, we are more than conquerors! So as Christians we do not need to fear death. Death is an enemy, but it is an enemy that has been defeated on our behalf through the death and resurrection of Christ. He has given us the promise of undying life. Because He lives, we will live also.

Now we come to the third promise:

III. The Promise of Unshakable Assurance: You will know (vv20-24)

When I was in seminary, my favorite class was one that many students tried to avoid. But every Thursday morning at 7 am(!) I took my seat with great anticipation and eagerness in the lecture hall to hear Dr. Bruce Little teach on Epistemology. Epistemology is essentially the study of knowledge. What do we really know, and how do we know it, and how do we know that we know it? Epistemology is intensely relevant and practical because all day, every day, we are making countless decisions based on what we know, or what we think we know. When it comes to our Christian faith, epistemology has an important role as well. We say we believe certain things. We say we know certain things. But how do we know them? How do we know that we know them? Is there a difference between what we believe and what we know? These are eternally important questions. When the Apostle John wrote his first epistle, one of his stated purposes was this: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). He wants the believers to become knowers. And so does Jesus. He says to those who believe in Him here, “In that day, you will know.” And He explains what we know, how we know, and how we know that we know.

Let’s look at what He says about how we know. He says, “In that day.” What day? It is the day that His followers would see Him; the day in which, after His death, He would be found to be alive. So the basis of what we know is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the basis for all Christian belief and knowledge. We do not determine our beliefs on personal opinion or preference, or emotion or feeling. Our beliefs are based on what Jesus said and what Jesus did. But why should we believe what Jesus says – about the Bible, about Himself, about us, about life, death, heaven, hell, or anything else? Well, the only reason to believe Him is if He is able to demonstrate His own trustworthiness. He claimed to be God. That would be pretty easy to disprove. If you kill Him, and He stays dead, then He isn’t God. If He says, “I am going to be killed and then rise from the dead,” but He doesn’t rise from the dead, then He is a liar and He cannot be trusted. But, He did rise from the dead, just as He said He would. His resurrection demonstrates the veracity of all that He said, and therefore we can trust Him. We do not trust our feelings or our opinions; we trust Jesus Christ on the basis of what He has done for us. You might wake up tomorrow morning and say, “I don’t feel like I am a Christian. I don’t feel that God is near to me, and I don’t feel that He loves me.” Thankfully, it is not about how you feel. What are the facts? What do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross and rose from the dead? Have you personally trusted in Him on that basis? Then those historical facts become the basis for what you know to be true. That’s how we know.

Now what do we know? He said, “In that day, you will know that I am in My Father and you in Me, and I in you.” This is the content of our assurance. Because Jesus died and rose again, we know that He is in the Father. That is to say, He and the Father are one, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one divine Person. Jesus said that. It is a bold claim. But He backed it up when He demonstrated His power over death in His resurrection. We know that He is God in the flesh, and that He is mighty save because He is in the Father.

Because Jesus died and rose again, we also know that we are in Him. To be “in Christ” is to be united with Him in His life, His death, and His resurrection. The Bible has many promises for us because we are “in Christ.” For example, in Philippians 3 Paul says that He longs to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Php 3:7-9). So, when we are in Him, we are not viewed by God on the basis of our own merits, and that is a good thing, since all of our works are but filthy rags in His sight anyway (Isa 64:6). Instead we are viewed in Christ, so that God sees us clothed (or covered) in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He does not treat us, receive us, or respond to us as we deserve, but as Christ deserves, because we are in Him. We know that we are saved because we are in Him, and we know that we are in Him on the basis of His death and resurrection.

And then Jesus says we will also know in that day that He is in us. When Jesus died and rose again, He ascended to His Father and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all who trust in Him (cf. vv16-18). In a very real way, Jesus lives in His followers. He says in verse 23 that He and His Father will come and “make Our abode” with the one who loves Him. He has done this in the person of the Holy Spirit. He lives within us, empowering us to live the Christian life in obedience to God, transforming our desires to reflect the will of God, and shaping us into Christlikeness. We know this because Jesus has died and rose again.

We do not have to doubt these things, we know them. The content of our assurance is that Christ is in the Father, we are in Him, and He is in us. The basis of it is His death and resurrection. Jesus also speaks of the evidence of these things. This is how we know that we know. The first thing He speaks of as evidence of our assurance is the evidence of a personal relationship -- our love for Him, and His love for us. He said, “He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him.” Friends, before you were a Christian, you did not love God. You were a rebel to His will. But suddenly, and somewhat inexplicably, you came to grieve your sin and the gulf that separated you from God and you longed to please Him because you found yourself falling in love with Him. This is the evidence of regeneration, new birth, and genuine conversion. You were responding to God’s love by loving Him, and resting in His love for you. You may say, “But doesn’t God love everyone?” Indeed He does. But you know from your own life experiences that there are different kinds of love. You love your parents, your children, your spouse, your friends and neighbors. But you do not love them all in the same way. So God loves all people, but He has a unique and special love for those who love Him and come to Him by faith in the Lord Jesus. One of the assurances that we have of His love for us is that we ourselves are growing more and more in love with the Him.

That brings us to the second evidence of our assurance. How do we know that we love Jesus? He says that if we love Him, we will obey Him. This is the evidence of practical devotion. For many who say that they love God, it is merely lip service. True love for God manifests itself in obedience to Him. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (v21). Again in verse 23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;” and in verse 24, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” There was a time in our lives when we did not desire to obey God. But since coming to faith in Christ, our desires are changing. We want to do what is pleasing to Him. How can we explain that? The only explanation is that Christ is transforming us. We are not yet perfected, and we won’t be in this life in this world, but we are growing to love obedience! We do not find ourselves obeying because we have to, but because we want to. Practical devotion, an obedience that flows from love for Christ, is an evidence of our assurance.

That brings us then to the final evidence of assurance here – that of profound interaction. Jesus said that He will disclose Himself to the one who loves and obeys Him. This disclosure, or revelation, of Himself comes to us through the very word that He has given us to obey. And these words, Jesus said, are not His only, but the Father’s who sent Him (v24). But, here’s the thing. Once upon a time, you and I very likely looked at the Bible as merely a book. Perhaps a special book, or an important book, but it was still just a book. Maybe some have looked upon it as a collection of religious rules and regulations. But something happens to us when we are saved. We begin to view this book differently. Now it becomes a place where we turn to meet with God. When we read it, we are hearing God speak to us. He is pouring His truth into our hearts and we find ourselves, not interacting with words on paper, but with the living God through those words. So one of the evidences of our assurance is this profound interaction that we have as we meditate upon His word, because there we have found that Jesus discloses Himself to us.

So, we have this promise of unshakable assurance. Because Jesus has died and rose again, we know that He is in the Father, that we are in Him, and that He is in us. And the evidence that we truly know this is found in our personal love relationship with Him, in our practical devotion of obedience to His will, and in our profound interaction with Him in His word.

Because of Jesus’ victory over death in His resurrection, He makes three specific promises here: you will see Me; you will live; and you will know. The promise of unending fellowship enables us to endure the hardships of life and overcome temptation and sin. The promise of undying life liberates us from the fear of death. And the promise of unshakable assurance guards us against the doubts that arise from our feelings, experiences, and emotions by anchoring us to the bedrock foundation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But these promises are only for those who have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. If you have, then the promises are yours. Trust them. Rest in them, because you know the One who has promised them, and you know His promises are steadfast. If you have never turned to the Lord Jesus and trusted Him to save you, you can do that today. He has taken your sin and its penalty upon Himself in His death, and He has overcome sin and death for you in His resurrection. This is why we are told that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. You can have uninterrupted fellowship with Him; an undying life like His own; and the unshakable assurance that God-in-Christ has saved you and lives within you as you trust in Him.

[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam, 1963), 16.

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.