Thursday, May 31, 2012

"... after all, Jesus turned water into wine!"

This week, I am dealing with John 2:1-12, the famous account of how Jesus turned water into wine. I would say, based on conversations with Christians over the last 20 years, that this must be the most beloved passage of Scripture to many people. I conclude that because I am regularly reminded of it as I discuss the issue of alcohol with fellow believers. This one is always the "trump card." No matter what I say to defend my position of abstinence, this one gets thrown on the table as if to say with grand finality, "So there! What do you make of that?" Well, I actually make quite a bit of it. And the most important thing I make of it is that to use this passage as a grounds for license to consume alcohol is perhaps the grandest exercise in missing the point that hermeneutics has ever suffered. Admittedly, it doesn't help my position. That is obvious. I can't point to this text and say, "See, you shouldn't drink alcohol!" But I am going to argue that neither can a Christian point to this text and say, "See, I can drink alcohol. After all, Jesus turned water into wine!"

Some key factors:

  1. The Greek word that is translated wine in this text is the most common one, oinas. This word can, and often is, used to refer to fermented, alcoholic wine. But the same word is also used often to refer to unfermented wine (grape juice). We see the term used to refer to both in one statement of Jesus that is recorded in Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5. There Jesus says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well” (Mark 2:22). All three instances of the word wine in that verse are the Greek word oinas, but in each, it refers to the beverage at different stages of fermentation. First, it is unfermented when it is put into the wineskin. Then, in the midst of fermentation, as it is expanding, it bursts the skins, and the fermented wine is lost. So, it is not obvious that this word always and only means “fermented wine.” Rather it is obvious that the word alone does not give us a conclusive answer.
  2. Notice what the steward says about the wine that Jesus made compared to the wine they had been drinking in verse 10. The “good wine” was served first, but then, once people have drunk freely from it, the “poorer wine” is brought out. But now, as he drinks the wine that Jesus has made, he says that it “the good wine,” implying that it is even better than what was served in the beginning. So, I am not going to draw any inferences from this about whether or not Jesus made fermented or unfermented wine, only to say that whatever He made was qualitatively different and superior to anything they had drunk during the entire weeklong ordeal.
  3. You have to understand something about the custom of wine-drinking in ancient society. First of all, there were not so many beverage options available, and wine was one of the most easily preserved beverages so it was very common and was consumed at various stages of fermentation, including in an unfermented state. Second, when used medicinally, it must be understood that it was the most effective medicine available at that time. In response to both of these, we could argue that we have many other options for drinking and for medicinal purposes today. But also, it is a noted fact that seldom was fermented wine consumed “unmixed” or “undiluted.” It was common to mix water with wine in order to dilute it to somewhere between one-third and one-tenth of its fermented strength.[1] Diluted in this way, it was common and acceptable even for children to partake of it. Additionally, some drank wine “in which, by boiling the unfermented grape juice, the process of fermentation had been stopped and the formation of alcohol prevented.”[2]
  4. Whatever kind of wine Jesus miraculously made, we have no basis for looking at this text and saying, “Since Jesus drank wine, then we can drink it too.” The reason is simple: nowhere in this text does it say that Jesus or his disciples drank it. Maybe they did. I am not going to say that they didn’t. But neither can we assume that they did when the text is silent. Furthermore, when someone says (mistakenly) that this text implies that Jesus drank wine and therefore we can follow His example in so doing, I am tempted to respond as Warren Wiersbe does in his excellent discussion on this text. Wiersbe says, “If you use Jesus as your example for drinking, why don’t you follow His example in everything else?”[3] And Wiersbe notes that in Luke 22:18, Jesus says that He will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom of God comes. So, if we are going to follow Jesus’ example on drinking, we have far more to go on choosing to abstain until we are reunited with Him in glory than we do on choosing to partake because He made the wine at this wedding.

Now, I say all of that about alcohol to say at some length that this text is NOT about alcohol. To camp out on alcohol in this text is to grossly miss the point. So, I won't use this text to defend abstinence. But neither will I suffer another person to look at this passage and say that there is license here for drinking alcohol, because as I have just painstakingly demonstrated, that license isn’t there. So we’ll have to look at other texts to decide the issue of alcohol, and I would recommend 1 Corinthians 8:9, 10:23, and 10:31. 

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 169.
[2] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Tesatment; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 93.
[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1989), 292. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Come and See - John 1:45-51

Audio (poor audio quality this week)

Today we are commonly told we live in the “visual age.” Television, movies, magazines, the internet, all appeal to the eye with a barrage of constantly changing images. Among church leaders, there is a growing debate on the validity of preaching, the oral delivery of a lengthy sermon. It is becoming increasingly common to use images and video while preaching in order to appeal more to the eye than the ear. In fact, in society as a whole, the idea of coming into a room and sitting to listen to someone talk for 30 to 60 minutes about anything is becoming something of an oddity. The world has changed, we are told, and therefore, we must now communicate through the door of the eye, and not the ear. But I think this claim may be overstated. It seems that seeing has long been the favorite way for humans to gather information. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was deceived by the serpent as he said to her that by eating the forbidden fruit, her “eyes would be opened.” And the Bible says that she considered the fruit “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:4-6). We have not graduated to a new state of dependency upon the sense of seeing in our day. If anything, we may say that we have succumbed to the desire for seeing. Just as a place of business may have five doors, with four of them marked “No Entrance,” so it seems that today, like never before, humans have labeled all the other senses with “No Entrance,” forcing all traffic to enter by way of the eye. All of this is alarmingly premature however. Though we long to see things as they are and to behold them with our eyes, it seems from God’s perspective that we have not yet entered the “visual age.” We are still in the age of the ear. Though the world tells us that “seeing is believing,” the Bible tells us that “faith comes by” what? Not seeing, but “hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And Paul says, “We walk by faith, and not by” what? “Not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And in that brilliant passage, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then (pointing us to a later time) face to face.” And that later time will be the visual age when our eyes are set on God Himself, on the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we shall “see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Notice how Philip, in our text today, set out to find Nathanael and tell him about Jesus. Now Nathanael, who is also called Bartholomew in the other Gospels, is interested in this discussion. He was a student of Scripture. When Philip said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote,” Nathanael knew who he was talking about. He’d read the Law and the Prophets. He knew that Philip was referring to the Messiah. But one thing Philip said caused him to lose all interest: “Jesus of Nazareth.” When Nathanael heard that, his curiosity waned. We wonder why, and some have speculated that Nazareth was a despised town in Galilee that even other Galileans sought to avoid. Little is known about the town before the time of Jesus. It was never mentioned in the Old Testament, nor by any ancient writer before the time of Jesus. But its bad reputation among local people is perhaps captured in Nathanael’s statement, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Whether or not anything good could come from Nazareth seems to have been a matter of personal prejudice. But Nathanael also knew his Hebrew Bible well enough to know that, whatever else may come from Nazareth, the Messiah most certainly could not. He knew what the prophet Micah had written, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Now of course, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and moved to Nazareth as a boy after the brief sojourn in Egypt. But Nathanael doesn’t know that, and maybe Philip didn’t either. It didn’t seem to catch Philip’s attention, but it caught Nathanael’s, and he is highly suspicious of anyone claiming to be the Messiah who is not from Bethlehem. But Philip’s response to him is a simple one: “Come and see.”

And thus, we find the first of six occurrences of the word “see” in these seven verses. But it is an interesting thing: nothing is said of what Nathanael saw. The emphasis is on what Jesus saw, and on what those who believe upon Jesus will see as they follow Him. So, it is these two thoughts – the Christ who sees, and the Christ we shall see – that I want us to consider this morning.

I. Come and see the Christ who sees us! (vv47-49)

One of my favorite places to eat is Stamey’s. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Stamey’s when something unusual didn’t happen. Last Thursday, I was eating lunch at the counter there with the kids, and the man beside of us struck up a conversation with me. After a while he left, and when we got ready to leave, I went up to pay for our lunch, and they told me that the man with whom I’d been talking had paid for my bill. But oddly enough, that is not the most unusual thing that ever happened to me there. I was there at the counter one day with Geoff a few years ago, and a man came and sat beside of me and said, “Are you a preacher?” Now, I’d never seen that man before in my life, and to this day I don’t have a clue how he knew I was a preacher. That’s eerie isn’t it, when you meet someone who knows things about you that they ought not know? Nathanael is about to have just that sort of encounter.

Immediately after Philip says to Nathanael, “Come and see,” the next words we read are, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him.” Before Nathanael ever saw Jesus, Jesus saw Nathanael. And then He said to him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” To get the full thrust of this statement, you have to recall something from Genesis, in the account of the life of Jacob. You perhaps recall that Jacob, whose name means something like “deceiver” or “cheater,” earned a reputation for having a nature that lived up to his name. He deceived his father to cheat his brother out of his birthright. In Genesis 27, when his old and blind father asked his name, he said that his name was Esau, and he received the blessing of the birthright from his father. But in Genesis 32, when Jacob wrestled with a mysterious man, the man asked him a strange question: “What is your name?” And at the point, Jacob could no longer speak deceptively. He said, “Jacob,” and the man gave him a new name: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel.” And after the encounter, Jacob recognized that this was no ordinary man; he had encountered the Lord on that day. Jacob, the deceiver, had become Israel.

Now, when Jesus speaks of Nathanael, He says, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” It is as if He is saying, “Here is a man who is all Israel, and none of Jacob.” He was a man of honesty and integrity, who had been genuinely seeking God in his life. And Nathanael does not protest the acknowledgement in false humility. He says rather, “How do You know me?” And Jesus said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” The ancient Jewish rabbis spoke of the fig tree as the place where one would sit to meditate upon the Scriptures and to pray.[1] Perhaps Philip had a habit of pondering the Word of God under the fig tree and talking to God there. Jesus says to Him, “I saw you there.” Perhaps he’s been studying the story of Jacob there, and Jesus’ statement about him being an Israelite in whom there is no deceit strikes Nathanael even more profoundly. It’s as if the Lord has said to him, “I know what you’ve been praying about, and I know what you’ve been meditating on in your heart as you sit under that fig tree. I saw you there.”

Friends, when you came to meet Jesus, you were meeting someone who did not look upon you as a stranger. He knows you inside and out. He knows your name, your nature, your desires, and the meditations of your heart. He knows your past, your present, and your future. He knows your hopes and fears. There has never been a moment of your existence lived apart from His sight. Hebrews 4:13 says, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” The Psalmist said, “The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works” (Psalm 33:13-15). David writes in the 139th Psalm, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.”

Nathanael realized on that day that nothing he had ever done had been hidden from the sight of Christ, and no word ever spoken was apart from His knowledge. He heard every prayer that Nathanael ever uttered under the fig tree, and yes, He even heard him say, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” He knew all of his good deeds and bad deeds. And He knows the same about you and me. That night that you cried yourself to sleep in despair, He saw you. That day that you trembled in fear in the doctor’s office, He saw you. The day that you rejoiced with your child, the day you exchanged vows with your spouse, the day you were most thrilled, most excited, most proud – He saw you. The time you found yourself wondering if He was really there or if He cared about you at all – He was, and He does. The time when you longed to know Him like never before and cried out to Him in desperation, He saw you. That time you did something that you hoped no one would ever see, or said something you hoped no one would ever hear, He saw, and He heard. There’s no getting around that. There’s no need to try to hide from Him, for no one can. And there’s no need to try to pretend you are someone you are not as you come to Him. He knows you better than you know yourself. You are what He knows you to be, and nothing more and nothing less.

Now, I don’t know how that strikes you, but notice how it strikes Nathanael. He exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel!” These are both titles which indicate his convinced belief that Jesus is the Messiah. The two titles come together in the beautiful Messianic picture presented in Psalm 2:6-7, where the Psalmist gives voice to the very words of God saying, “As for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” And the prophets spoke of the coming of this Messiah, the King and the Son of God. He would come with extreme justice and righteousness, but also with mercy and grace. Thus, for instance in Zechariah 9:9, we read, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation.” He is just, and therefore He will come to deal with the perpetual evil of human sinfulness; but He is endowed with salvation, and therefore will come to redeem those who turn to Him by faith and repentance. And Nathanael recognizes that Jesus is that One whose coming was promised. But he wasn’t convinced by what he saw. He was convinced by the Word of the One who saw him. Notice Jesus said in verse 50: “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?” For Nathanael, as for everyone else, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ – the Word of this one who sees and knows all. The importance here is upon what Christ saw in Nathanael and what Christ said to Nathanael, and what He sees in us and says to us all. As for what we see, the Lord Jesus speaks in the future tense, and we turn our attention to that now. Not only are we beckoned to come and see the Christ who sees, but also to …

II. Come and see the Christ who will show us even greater things! (vv50-51)

Last year, several of us were sharing an Indian meal with Harry, our friend from Nepal, and Nimai, an Indian student whom some of you know. I took a bite out of something and it was extremely spicy, causing me to get somewhat choked up. Nimai chuckled at me, and he said, “This is nothing like what you will eat in India and Nepal! This is just the trailer, you will see the movie in India and Nepal!” In other words, no matter what you’ve seen or heard so far, there is more see. No one ever said it better than Bachman Turner Overdrive: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” And that is very much like what Jesus said to Nathanael, but not to him only. He says it to us all. In the Greek text, there is a subtle shift in the pronoun usage through verses 50-51 that we cannot perceive using proper English. Only Southerners can get this. In verse 50, every time Jesus says the word “you,” it is singular, referring to Nathanael. In verse 51, every time Jesus says the word “you,” it is plural. Proper English translates both of them as “you.” Southerners would say “ya’all” for the plural. So read this like it is supposed to be read: “You (Nathanael) will see greater things than these. … Truly, truly I say to ya’all, ya’all will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Now, who is the Son of Man? This is the first time this title has shown up in John’s Gospel. It will occur 13 times in John, and over 80 times in the four Gospels combined. When the phrase occurs in the Gospels, it is spoken only by Jesus Christ Himself, and only in reference to Himself. No one else calls Him that, no one else is called that within the four Gospels. It is His most frequent way of referring to Himself. It seems that Jesus preferred this title for Himself, because it was free from so much misunderstanding that usually accompanied titles like “Son of God,” “King of Israel,” and “Messiah.” Yet, amazingly, for those who were informed of the Old Testament’s teachings (as Nathanael certainly was), the title “Son of Man” encapsulated all of these concepts, and even exceeded them. Thus in claiming to be the Son of Man, Jesus was not claiming to be less than “Son of God,” “King of Israel,” or “Messiah,” but astonishingly MORE than those titles alone implied. The phrase “Son of Man” is used in various contexts in the Old Testament, and often it merely means “human being.” But the most theologically significant passage of the Old Testament that employs this term, and the one that Jesus seems to reflect in His usage of the term, is Daniel 7. There, beginning at verse 13, we read about Daniel’s night vision in which he saw “One like a Son of Man” coming with the clouds of heaven. “And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

So when Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Son of Man,” He is making some radical claims about Himself. He is the one whose coming was promised, who is resplendent in divine attributes, who has come forth from His Father, the Ancient of Days, with authority and dominion, and glory, to establish a Kingdom that will consist of people from every tribe and nation and tongue who serve Him. And His Kingdom will be established forever.

But what about this enigmatic statement about angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man? Remember that when Nathanael first approached, Jesus made that oblique reference to Jacob, saying that Nathanael was an Israelite indeed in whom there is no deceit. He is all Israel without a trace of Jacob. And we suggested a few moments ago that when Jesus saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree, perhaps Nathanael had been contemplating Scripture and praying, as Israelites often did in the shade of a fig tree. And it is a possibility, from the context here, that the very passage of Scripture Nathanael had been contemplating dealt with the account of Jacob. There are many accounts of Jacob in the book of Genesis, but one of the most familiar ones concerns a dream he had in Genesis 28, in which Jacob saw “a ladder” which “was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” And the promise Jacob received from God there was a restatement of God’s covenant with his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. That covenant blessing concludes with the phrase, “in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This is a promise that the Savior of the world would come forth from the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Jacob awoke from that dream, he realized that he had experienced an awesome encounter with the Lord, and he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Jacob called that place “Beth-El,” which means “the house of God” (Genesis 28:12-19).

Now, Jesus uses the exact same language that is recorded there, but rather than a ladder that stretches from heaven to earth on which the angels ascend and descend, Jesus is saying that He Himself is that ladder. He is the place where heaven and earth meet; He is the gate of heaven; He is the house of God – the true Beth-El. This is the Jesus that all who come to Him will see. The Son of Man, God-incarnate, who came from Heaven to earth to open the way to eternal life. The way to heaven is not a ladder like Jacob saw; Jesus is Himself “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through” Him (John 14:6). If you desire to see heaven opened to you, you must see Jesus as the link between heaven and earth, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” Jacob’s ladder has been refashioned into Jesus’ cross, and “by the cross heaven is thrown wide open, God draws near to man, and man is reconciled to God.”[2] The familiar hymn, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, contains a stanza in its original version that is rarely sung today.
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given, so seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

Come and see. See the Christ who sees you. See the Christ who will show us even greater things. What are these greater things? We sang it earlier: “Ask ye what great things I know, that delights and stirs me so? What the high reward I win? Whose the Name I glory in? Jesus Christ the Crucified!”

[1] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 83.
[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 1.63.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Cold, Cynical Eye of the Historian

When Carl Trueman's book Minority Report came out a few years ago, someone posted this quote, and it resonated with me so much that I cut it out and taped it to the door of my office. I'm reading the book now, and the quote still rings true in my heart and mind:

"A world, and a church, which is hooked on novelty like some cultural equivalent of crack cocaine needs the cold, cynical eye of the historian to stand as a prophetic witness against it. And make no mistake, when it comes to my approach to trendy evangelical claims to epoch-making insights, beneath the cold, cynical exterior of this particular historian beats a heart of stone."

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Distinguishing Mark of a Follower of Jesus (John 1:43-46)


John 1:43-46
The Distinguishing Mark of a Follower of Jesus

In the days of Colonial America, several decades before the Revolutionary War, churches across the colonies began to experience unusual growth, spiritual fervor, and unprecedented spread of the gospel. But this “Great Awakening,” as it came to be called, was not without its counterfeits or its critics. Some people began mimicking the phenomena associated with the revival, and it became hard to tell what was a genuine work of God and what was a counterfeit. Others seemed so afraid of a spiritual wildfire that they were reluctant to permit even a spark. To them, the whole affair seemed to be an overly emotional display of excessive theatrics. Meanwhile, America’s most brilliant theologian was right in the middle of it all. As a pastor, Jonathan Edwards was seeing and experiencing the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As a biblical theologian, he was aware that not everything that was happening was of God. So, Edwards began to write several documents that sought to provide a historical chronicle and a theological analysis of the movement. Now, in those days, people really knew how to title a book, so the whole title of one of Edwards’ works is: The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Applied to That Uncommon Operation That Has Lately Appeared On the Minds Of the People of New England: With a Particular Consideration of the Extraordinary Circumstances With Which This Work is Attended. Today, our penchant for brevity compels us to refer to it simply as The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. In this book, Edwards contrasts those phenomena which are never sure signs that the Holy Spirit is at work, with those indications, or “distinguishing marks” that accompany the work of the Spirit. For example, Edwards says that “a work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength.” Though we may be impressed by such a display, Edwards says those things can be produced apart from a genuine movement of God. But once he describes a number of things which are “no sure sign” of the Holy Spirit at work, he turns his attention to those things which are “distinguishing marks” of the Spirit’s activity. The first is that people’s esteem of Jesus is elevated. A growing opposition to sin and an increasing regard for Scripture are distinguishing marks. If people are moved more to love God and men, the Holy Spirit may certainly be said to be at work.

Now, I say all of that by way of introduction to our study of this brief text today. Just as, in Edwards’ day, it was sometimes difficult to tell which were the true movements of the Holy Spirit when there was so much display of religion all around, so too there has always been a challenge to identify the true follower of Christ from all others when so many claim to be Christian. And so we may wonder, “Is there some distinguishing mark of being a follower of Christ?” It would seem that if we were following Christ, we would be doing what He is doing, going where He is going, and saying what He is saying. His mission will be our mission. And as we look at the Lord Jesus, we find Him defining His mission, among other places, in Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” I would venture to say that there are any number of things that would distinguish someone as a Christian, but none more so than being a Gospel witness. So many other things can be manufactured artificially, selfishly motivated, and seen as commendable by the world. But being a Gospel witness to a lost and dying world requires transparent authenticity – you can’t fake it and be effective. It requires an emptying of self, because there is absolutely nothing in it for you. And rather than being applauded by the world, you will be hated, criticized, and condemned by the world as you seek out the lost and seek to bring them to Jesus. So, why in the world would anyone do it? (1) to obey Jesus’ command; (2) to follow Jesus’ example; (3) to join in Jesus’ mission. Thus, it may well be that the single most distinguishing mark of a follower of Jesus is sharing Jesus as a gospel witness. I believe the truth of that statement is borne out in this passage.

I. Notice first, the catalyst of our witness (vv43-45a)

In John 1, we’ve been reading about Jesus’ initial encounters with the men who would become His disciples – Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, Nathanael (who is also called Bartholomew in the other Gospels). We learn from the other gospels that there were more, and that a number of these men were fishermen. The brothers, James and John, worked for their father in his fishing business; Andrew and Simon Peter, another set of brothers, were also fishermen. Philip may have been a fishermen, as that was a common trade in his hometown of Bethsaida. Bethsaida means “house of fishermen,” or as F. F. Bruce calls is, “Fishertown.”[1] Perhaps Nathanael was also a fisherman, as we find him out fishing with some of the other disciples later in John 21. But when Jesus called these men to become His disciples, Matthew 4:19 records that He said to them, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” In other words, “No longer will catching fish for the family business be your primary occupation, but rather, you will be catching men for My Father.” Those words, spoken by Jesus, were not a wish but a promise. If they will follow Him, He will transform them into fishers of men: passionate Gospel witnesses. Thus, the catalyst for our witness is our call to follow Jesus.

In verse 43, we read, “The next day He purposed to go into Galilee and He found Philip.” The New American Standard capitalizes the third person pronouns, which leads us to understand that the “He” refers to Jesus. Some other English versions insert the name of Jesus here, though His name is not found in the Greek text. Now, it is not altogether certain that John is talking about Jesus here in verse 43. Who else might he be talking about? A strong case can be made that he is referring to Andrew. You may recall a few weeks ago when I said that every time we see Andrew in John’s Gospel, he is bringing someone to Jesus. Verse 41 says that once Andrew began to follow Jesus, “he found first his own brother Simon (Peter),” and “he brought him to Jesus” (v42). It could well be that the word first is used there to indicate that Simon was the first of many that Andrew went out to find, and on the very next day, he went to Galilee to find his friend Philip and bring him to Jesus. But, of course, the text is vague enough to leave room for the interpretation that it was Jesus, not Andrew, who purposed to go into Galilee, and that it was Jesus, not Andrew, who found Philip. If so, then Philip is unique among all the disciples described in John’s Gospel, for every other one of them was brought to Jesus by someone else. In the end, it doesn’t really matter all that much who found Philip and brought him to Jesus. What matters is that he came to Jesus! But John’s Gospel is clear that for most human beings, the normal course of things is that a person is brought to Jesus by someone who is already following Jesus. Though Philip could possibly be a rare exception to that rule, I would doubt that anyone present here today is an exception. Some of you were brought to Jesus by a parent or grandparent, a sibling or a friend, a pastor or a Sunday School teacher, a traveling preacher or someone making evangelistic visits, or a perfect stranger whom God used to speak a word about Jesus into your life. In many cases, it may have been a combination of several of these, but almost invariably, I would suppose that you first met Jesus because you were introduced to Him by one of His followers.

When Philip met him, Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” That’s a single word in Greek, and John Calvin says that “Philip’s mind was set on fire to follow Christ by this one word.”[2] No sooner does Christ call Philip to follow that Philip goes off to find Nathanael. Just as Jesus came to seek and save the lost, now Philip has joined the ranks of His followers who are also engaged in that mission.  And this is how the Gospel has infiltrated the world since the beginning of Christian history. Jesus calls followers to Himself, and transforms those followers into fishers. Following Him is the catalyst. There can be no fishing for Him unless we are following Him, and if we are following Him, we will be fishing for Him. The key to being His witness is not trying harder or gaining more information to share, though there is nothing wrong with those things. The key is following Him more faithfully and more closely. As we follow, our witness will flow from the overflow of the abundance of joy and love that He produces within us.

II. Notice also, the content of our witness. (v43b)

If you were to ask the average “man on the street” what they know about Christians, what do you think they would say? Ask them to describe a Christian, and perhaps you will hear that Christians are people who have a certain view of marriage, or a certain view on abortion, or who do certain things and don’t do other things. Make no mistake, a consistent Christian will have a biblically informed worldview on social issues like marriage, abortion, gambling, and other things, and a biblically shaped perspective on morality. But these matters are not the content of our witness. Ironically, many people, if asked to define what it means to be Christian, would make no mention of the Lord Jesus Himself. It bothers us to hear that kind of caricature portrayed of Christians, but we have to admit that the world has gained this impression of us in large part because we have sent so many mixed signals.

We can often make the mistake of confusing the Gospel message itself with certain implications and applications of the Gospel. We may think that we are being a witness as we try to persuade others to agree with our Christian convictions on a social issue. But, the other person has no basis on which to agree with us, because they do not know Christ, therefore they have no regard for His will or His word, and we are only beating the wind to try to persuade them to take our side on a social issue. Rather, the core of our conversation with them must be the message of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us through His life, death, and resurrection. It is only as they come to know Him that the Holy Spirit will open their minds and hearts to His will and His word, and we can trust Him to change their opinions about social issues. We could say the same about specific behaviors. Often, we want to discuss the way someone acts, and we want to tell them that they must not act that way. We consider that we have witnessed to them because we admonished them to give up a particular vice, or to begin doing some noble deed – perhaps even attending church. But, people act like they act because they are what they are. Therefore, I might as well expect a pig to fly as to expect a lost person to desire a moral change in his or her life. I am not witnessing to them by asking them to do the impossible – to change their nature apart from Christ. My witness to them must be centered on Jesus Christ Himself, and as they come to know Him, they will experience the life-changing power that He brings into their lives. Apart from Him, even if a person could or did change their opinion about social issues and moral behaviors, they would still be lost eternally apart from His saving grace.

Notice in the passage before us that when Philip finds Nathanael, he presents a witness to Him that is thoroughly and exclusively about the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not say, “We have found the answers!” Neither does He say, “We have found a better lifestyle!” He says, “We have found Him!” Who is Him? He is the One that Moses wrote about in the Law, and the One of whom the Prophets spoke and wrote. He is the One whom Moses said was coming into the world as the greater Prophet, the One the Prophets spoke of as the virgin-born, eternal King, who would suffer and die to ransom humanity from captivity to sin. And He is the one who is called Jesus, who is associated with the humble little town of Nazareth, and who people know from his association with his earthly foster-father, Joseph. Many had come, and would continue to come, claiming that they were the One of whom Moses and the Prophets had spoken. Jesus Himself said these false-Christs would continue to appear. But Philip made it clear in his witness to Nathanael that the One, the True Messiah, was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. In the ancient world, these two statements (one’s hometown and family origin) would be sufficient to identify anyone. Philip’s witness was specific and precise, and pointed Nathanael to the same Christ whom we worship today.

Now, Philip’s description of Jesus was as precise as he know to be, but as we look at it, we can’t help noticing that it was incomplete to say the least, if not inaccurate at points. Jesus came to be known as “Jesus of Nazareth,” but we all know that He did not hail from Nazareth. He was born in Bethlehem, the town which had been prophesied as the birthplace of the Savior. And He was most certainly NOT the son of Joseph. He was and is the Son of God, born of Mary while she remained a virgin. But, God was pleased to use even an incomplete and inaccurate witness of Jesus to bring Nathanael into the family of God. I recall one night several years ago when I pastored another church, and some of us went out to visit a home in the community. I said to one of the ladies with us, “I want you to do the talking.” She began to witness to the man at his kitchen table, and it was so bad, I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow us all. When she finished talking, and not a moment too soon, she asked the man, “Do you understand what I have said?” I thought to myself, “What a stupid question! Who in the world could understand that?” But to my glorious surprise, the man said, “Yes I do.” I was flabbergasted. I said, “Are you sure?” And the man began to recap the Gospel message, and he got it more correct than she did! And that night, he gave his life to Jesus as his Lord and Savior. God was pleased to use her flawed presentation of the Gospel to bring this man into new life! How can I explain that? Only this – the content of her message was Jesus, and though she got many things wrong, she got Him right, and thankfully He is all that matters.

So many of you wonder, “How can I witness to my friends and family members?” You try sometimes to “sneak in the back door” of the conversation by talking about issues, about church, about a book you have read, or something like that. And it seems you are getting nowhere. Can I suggest that you try the front door instead? Talk to them about Jesus! Look at the conversations Jesus has with people in the Gospels. Look at the conversations the Apostles have with unbelievers in Acts. What do they have in common? They are all singularly focused on who He is and what He came to do. Why do we think we need to improve on that? Let the Lord Jesus be the content of your witness. I find that people are very comfortable talking about what is most important to them in life. If the Lord Jesus is the most important person to you, you will have no problem bringing Him into every conversation you have. And you will be amazed with what God can do in those conversations.

III. Notice finally, the characteristics of our witness (vv45-46)

I can remember the cool, beautiful day that we visited a temple devoted to the worship of many different deities. I encountered an old man there, and he initiated conversation with me. “I would like to tell you a story about something that the god I worship did 2,000 years ago.” And he proceeded to tell me the wildest sort of fairy tale that I have ever heard, and how this deity had made such a profound impact upon him. I patiently endured the tale, and when he had finished, I said to him, “Now, sir, I would like to tell you something that the God I worship did 2,000 years ago.” And I told him that this God, the one and only God of the universe, became a man and came to dwell among us. He went about doing good and teaching truth, performing signs and wonders that authenticated Him and His mission. And then this perfect, sinless, righteous, God-man did the unthinkable: He took all of our sins upon Himself and died on the cross. In His death, all of our sins were punished, and He defeated sin and death by His resurrection. As a result of this, we can be forgiven of our sins and made righteous in God’s sight, and have abundant and eternal life that cannot be earned or deserved, but which is given freely to us as a gift from God that we receive by faith. I told him how I had once been an atheist, but that this God had changed my life, and I would like for him to know the God I served. He said, “Oh, you mean Jesus. Yes, I know about Jesus, and I like Him too.” And quickly, he turned and began to rehearse the same fairy tale he had just told me to another person passing by.

Herein lies one of the challenges of being a Gospel witness. One of the most effective and important things we can share with other people is how Jesus has changed our lives. This is our “testimony.” It is a first-hand account of our experience with Jesus. Philip does that here as he tells Nathanael, “We have found Him!” I once heard someone say, “No one can ever refute your personal testimony.” That may be true. But do not be surprised when you share your testimony if the person with whom you are sharing responds with a testimony all their own. And then you get this sort of conversation where the other person is saying, “Thanks for sharing your story. I am very happy for you, but this is not for me. As you can see from my story, I’ve got my own thing going on.” I’ve experienced this in South Asia, in Africa, in Eastern Europe, and in Greensboro. But I keep sharing my testimony anyway. It is important, and many times, it is effective in opening the door to beginning a conversation. But, as my example illustrates, it is not enough. Our testimony is not the Gospel. It is a personal account of the Gospel’s effect upon us. Notice how Philip had to move beyond the testimony of his subjective experience to the objective facts of God’s truth revealed in Scripture. And so must we.

So Philip began to speak of Christ as He had been made known through Moses and the Prophets. We call this the “Old Testament,” and we forget sometimes that the God who is incarnate in Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament. In fact, what we call “the Old Testament” was the first Bible of the Christian Church. After His resurrection, Jesus gathered His disciples to Himself, and in Luke 24, we read that He told them, “All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” These things included the fact that Jesus would suffer and rise again from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sin would be proclaimed in His name to all nations. But in addition to the things that were prophesied about Jesus in the Old Testament, we have what the Apostle Peter calls “the prophetic word made more sure.” We have the writings of the Apostles and their companions, inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writings of the Old Testament, and the promises of God are amazing about what He will do with His word. He says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). He says, “My Word … will not return to Me empty without accomplishing what I desire” (Isa 55:11). And those are promises we can count on.

So our witness is characterized by testimony, by Scripture, and also notice, by apologetics. Now, apologetics sounds like the word apologize, but it is different. When we make an apologetic for the Christian faith, we are not apologizing for it. We are giving a defense of it. Apologetics is giving a response to the questions and criticisms people have about the Christian faith. It comes from the Greek word apologia, found in 1 Peter 3:15, which says that we must always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Philip does that here. Notice how Nathanael says here, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It is not an overstatement to say that Jesus put Nazareth on the map. It was such an insignificant town in Galilee that it was never once mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud, the Jewish Midrash, the writings of Josephus, or any ancient Gentile writing. Just as the entire region of Galilee was despised by Jews living in Southern parts of the land, so it seems that Nazareth was despised even by other Galileans. We might speak of it as being “on the wrong side of the tracks.” So Nathanael says what many others have thought: “Jesus cannot be who you think He is, because nothing good ever came out of Nazareth!” And though Bethlehem, not Nazareth, was the place of His birth, Nazareth became His hometown when He was just a boy. But Nathanael’s objection to Jesus was without merit, as so many objections to Him are. As F. F. Bruce says, “Nazareth might be all that Nathanael thought, but there is an exception to prove every rule, and what an exception these young men had found!”[3] So Philip was not deterred by Nathanael’s critical response. He only pressed in further to provide Nathanael a reason to move beyond the objection and encounter the living Lord Jesus. Sometimes we can do that with argumentation and sound reasoning. At other times, words are not enough. Words alone, though, are never sufficient. We must beware of what one of my professors called “sledgehammer apologetics.” There are no magic words to make someone believe on the Lord Jesus. All of us who believe are led to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But words can go a long way toward demolishing arguments and strongholds and overcoming objections. This is what Paul meant when he said in 2 Corinthians 10, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” In other words, we engage in the task of apologetics in order to show that following Jesus is not a blind leap of faith, but a reasonable and intelligent decision. If one continues in unbelief, it is in spite of the evidence and not for lack of it.

With or without reasoning, it is still necessary for a person to have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus. And that is exactly what Philip offers to Nathanael. In response to Nathanael’s critical objection to Jesus, Philip says, “Come and see.” And those words indicate that whatever your objection may be to Jesus, if you would have a personal experience and encounter with Him, it would all fade from view. I have shared with you before that I had many questions and many objections to Christianity before I became a believer. And frankly, I never found anyone who could answer some of them. But what I realized was that when Christ overwhelmed me in a personal encounter, when the Holy Spirit invaded my life, I could no longer use those questions as an excuse to not believe. His presence and power became for me the ultimate apologetic. I came to Him and saw, and it was enough. And in any of our witness and apologetics, what we are ultimately doing is saying to the unbelieving world, “Come and see.” Come and see this Jesus and meet Him for yourself. And if you do, you will never be the same.

What is the distinguishing mark of the Christian? It is most assuredly a life of consistent Gospel witness. This Gospel witness is the overflow of a life that follows Him; it is thoroughly and exclusively centered upon Him; it is personal testimony, biblical truth, apologetic reasoning, and an invitation to the lost to come to Him and meet Him, and be transformed by Him. I pray that my life and yours will bear this distinguishing mark as we go into our neighborhoods and into the nations for Jesus’ sake. And if you have been brought here today by the providence of God, not knowing Christ in a personal way, then we would say to you what Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see!”

[1] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 1.59.
[2] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 43.
[3] Bruce, 1.60. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Remembering a Brother and a Friend

Below is the message I delivered at the memorial service of my brother-in-law and dearest friend, Geoff Kugel. 

A Man Who Walked With God

I have heard the fifth chapter of the book of Genesis described as the graveyard of the Bible. There is a statement repeated throughout that chapter that rings in our ears like the tolling of a funeral bell: “AND HE DIED.” It is said of several men, one right after another, verse after verse through the fifth chapter. Of course, that is not all that is said about them. We also read that they lived, they had families, they lived for so many years after that, and then, of each one, we read that he died. We could say the same thing about so many people we have known. They were born, they grew up, they went to school, they got a job, they had a family, and they died. But in Genesis Chapter Five, one person stands out from all the rest. One man among all of them was unique. This man’s name was Enoch. Enoch was like no one else that anyone of his generation ever knew. And I would say the same thing about Geoff Kugel. Geoff is like no one else I have ever known – like no husband, like no father, like no son or brother, like no uncle or friend, that I have ever known! I am sure that many of you would say the same about him.

When we come to Enoch in Genesis 5, the pattern is broken. Of Enoch, and no one else in this chapter, we read that he “walked with God,” and we do not read that “he died,” but rather that “he was not, for God took him.” But the text is clear that Enoch had not always walked with God. Indeed, those words cannot be said about any mere human. The Bible teaches, and human experience confirms, that we are all born with a nature that is bent toward sin. It began with Adam and Eve, and it passes one like a genetic disease from one person to the next. The Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; it says that there is none righteous, not even one. The great Christian leader of the fourth century, St. Augustine, tells a story about how, as a child, he and his friends used to steal pears off of a tree in a neighbor’s yard. He remarks that pears are not attractive to look at, and he did not even enjoy the taste of them. They did not steal the pears to eat them, but rather to throw them to some pigs nearby. He says, “Our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden.” There is not a person in the room today who does not understand what he is talking about when he says that, though there may be few who would openly admit it. By nature, we are driven toward rebellion and disobedience. But for some, there comes a turning point in life. For Enoch, the Bible says that the turning point was when his son was born. “Then,” the Bible says, “he walked with God.” There was a conversion from the former way of living to a new way of living. No longer was he walking against the way of the Lord. He was walking with him. It was a deliberate, conscious, volitional change of mind, change of heart, change of belief, that led to a changed life.

Now, let me tell you something about my relationship with Geoff. I met Geoff in the Spring of 1995 at a friend’s wedding. I was told very unexpectedly and abruptly that I would be sharing a hotel room with Nicole’s boyfriend whom I had never met. I didn’t really care for that idea too much. And Geoff came into the room there that afternoon, you know Geoff, smiling, bouncing with every step, and he was saying, “Hey man! I’m Geoff! We're sharing a room!” And he was just being so chatty. And I thought, “Oh great! I’ve got to share a room with this guy!” But you know, we just started building this bond of friendship that I would have never imagined. Now, there came a point when Geoff was going through a really hard time with some stuff, and I wrote him a letter. I told him about my own bouts with discouragement and depression, and how my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world at those times. And rather than helping Geoff, my letter really upset him. He thought I was judging him and condemning him, and it hurt me so bad to think that he had misunderstood me. But we had a chance to clear that up and I told him that I just wanted to be there for him and help him in any way I could, because I knew what he was going through that the God I knew and worshiped could help him. It was not long after that, I was part of a leadership team in Philadelphia that brought Pastor Greg Laurie to town for the Harvest Crusade in 1999. We learned that there was going to be another one in Hickory, and Donia and I came home to visit family and invited Geoff and Nicole to go with us that night. It was October 2, 1999.

The place was packed. We couldn’t even get into the baseball stadium. That stadium seats 5,000 people and 15,000 showed up that night. It was the largest crowd ever assembled in Catawba County. We were sitting on a hillside outside of the stadium, listening to Greg preach. I have a copy of the sermon he preached that night. He spoke about death, and heaven and hell, and fear. Greg said, “Death is no respecter of persons. Everyone will stand before God one day. Death is the great equalizer. Everyone is headed there.” He said, “Listen! Every wrong in the universe will ultimately be paid for! Either it will turn out to have been paid for by Jesus Christ when He died on the cross if the offender repents of their sins and puts their faith in Him, or it will be paid for at the final judgment by those who do not trust in Jesus for salvation.” And when Greg concluded, He said the words, “Prepare to meet your God!” And he asked anyone who wanted to receive Jesus to come forward to the field and meet with a counselor. And I don’t know if any of you ever saw Geoff in a sense of urgency, but he would get this real serious look on his face and his upper lip would kind of tighten, and he would just speak really short, staccato, words, and he said to me and Nicole and Donia, “Hey, I’ll be right back, I need to go down there.” He took off running, and I took off running after him, and Donia and Nicole took off running after me. And there were 1,300 people standing on that field, and there were counselors trying to get to everyone, and I just said, “Geoff, let’s do this, me and you.” And the greatest blessing of my life was leading him to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior that night. Geoff would speak of that night to me and say that before that night, he really didn't know if he had ever truly put his faith in Christ or not, but after that night there was never any doubt. And I want to tell you that there was a decisive turning point in his life. “THEN Geoff walked with God.”

You might say, “What are you talking about?” I knew Geoff before 1999, and he was a good guy then.” I would agree. But that is not the point. The point is not that Jesus makes bad people into good people, or good people into better people. The point is that it does not matter if you are a good or bad person. The Bible says that we are all sinners, and we know that it’s true when we are alone with our own thoughts. And the Bible says that spiritually, all of us are dead in our sins. So, it isn’t that Jesus came to make bad people good, or good people better. It is that He came to make dead people alive, to make sinners righteous, and to make rebels into His worshipers and servants! And that is what happened to Geoff on that night in 1999. You saw the effects of that every time you were around him.  

Now the Bible tells us more about Enoch than just this little bit about how he began to walk with God. It tells us something about what Enoch did with his life from then on. In the little book of Jude in the New Testament, we read that Enoch began to speak to others about the God he came to know and serve. Enoch began to tell others that they needed to know this God, and to turn to him in repentance and faith before it was too late. You see, when you are a beggar, and you find bread, you want to help other beggars find bread too. Geoff had found Jesus Christ as the bread of life, and he eagerly desired that others would have that bread too! We used to talk a lot about it. He would tell me about someone he was concerned for, and ask me, “How do you think I should talk to them?” And we’d talk a little bit about it. And one day Geoff called me, and he was so excited. He said, “I did it! I did it!” And he started telling me how God had given him this opportunity to talk to a friend about Jesus and to help his friend think through some spiritual issues. He said, “I’ve told him, now it is up to him to believe and turn to Christ!” And we just rejoiced together. And Geoff kept on telling people. And you know, Wednesday night, at the Emergency Room, Dan Flood told me, “You know, just earlier today, our last real conversation, Geoff and I were talking about what it really means to be a Christian!” And there are many people in this room who had conversations like that with Geoff. And if you never had that conversation with him, it isn’t because he didn’t want to.

I’m really struggling here to keep referring to Geoff in the present tense, not the past tense, because he lives on. He lives on in heaven with Jesus, because Jesus saved Him. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies. And the one who lives and believes in Me will never die.” And I am saying what I am saying today because I know Geoff wants me to. He cannot speak to us anymore here, but I am telling you what I know he wants me to say to you. I know that because he told me. He wanted nothing more than to share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone he knew. He didn’t get the chance to tell you all that, but you saw it in his life. You saw it in his smile. You felt it in his love. You knew it from his joy. And there are many of you who know that Geoff has something that you do not have. And it’s not a thing, it is a Person, and the Person is Jesus. And so, it’s up to me to tell you what I know he wants you to hear. He wants you to have what he has. And what He has is Jesus.

It is one thing to say that you believe in Jesus, or to call yourself a Christian. It is something altogether different to experience His saving grace in a truly personal way. It is one thing to say that you believe Heaven is real, and that Geoff is there with God. It is another thing altogether for you to know that is an absolute truth based on the promise of God’s Word. It is one thing for you to say that you are praying through these circumstances, and it is another altogether to know that Christ is present with you and within you carrying you through this. And if you don't know what it means to really know Him and experience Him in a personal way, let me explain.

God, in His infinite love for you, has made a way for you to know Him – for you to be forgiven of all of your sins, to be covered freely and undeservingly in the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life. Jesus Christ is God, and He became a man, and He lived among us. He lived the only sinless life that has ever been lived – a life of perfect righteousness. But He was put to death by the hands of the sinful people He came to save. And in His death, all of my sins, all of your sins, all of Geoff’s sins, were placed upon Jesus at the Cross, as He became the sacrificial substitute for us. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, and it is Christ’s blood that was shed to redeem us. He died so that you might live, abundantly in Him in this life, and eternally with Him in the next. And on the third day following the death of Jesus, He arose from the dead, having defeated our sin and its penalty forever. So, now, all who turn from sin and trust in Him by faith as Lord, will be saved! The Bible says that “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Your life will be made brand new in God’s sight, and you will be adopted into His family. God will be a Father to you, and you will be His sons and daughters. And His Spirit will take up residence with you and empower you to live for Him so that the light of Christ will shine through you. That is what you see in Geoff, and it can be true of you! This has been our prayer all week long. “God, if you can be glorified through all of this, through Geoff’s death as You were in Geoff’s life, do it Lord!” And we are praying that some of you, dare I say, MANY of you, will know Jesus because you saw Him in Geoff, and you want Him for yourself.

There was a book that I gave Geoff a number of years ago that helped him grow as a Christian. It was a book called Mere Christianity by a brilliant guy named C. S. Lewis. I KNOW that Geoff has given some of you copies of that book. And in that book, C. S. Lewis, who was once an atheist and became the most intelligent defender of the Christian faith in the 20th century, says this about Jesus:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Jesus is Lord, or else He is a lunatic, a demoniac, or a compulsive liar. Those are the only options. And in Geoff Kugel you see a man who knew Him as Lord, and worshiped Him as Lord, and served Him as Lord. I heard a story once about a man named Joe who served the Lord faithfully with his life. One day, someone came upon a man praying and heard him saying, “Lord, make me like Joe. Make me like Joe!” And the passer-by stopped and said, “My friend, don’t you mean, ‘Make me like Jesus’?” And the man said, “I don’t know Jesus. Is He anything like Joe?” And I know from talking to so many of you over the last few days that there are people here in this room who are praying right now, “Lord, make me like Geoff.” But Geoff would be the first one to tell you that Geoff is Geoff because of Jesus. You want to be like him, because He was being transformed into the image of Jesus. So you might say, “I don’t know Jesus; is He anything like Geoff?” And I am going to tell you that everything you saw partially in Geoff can be found fully and abundantly in Jesus and only in Him.

Enoch was the kind of person that people liked to be around. He walked with God. And though it could be said of every person of his generation, “and he died,” of Enoch it was said, “God took him.” He took him to be with Himself, and when He did, it wasn’t a meeting of two strangers. God knew Enoch because Enoch had walked with Him by faith ever since that turning point in his life. The Bible says that Enoch’s life was pleasing to God. And when God took him, the Bible says in Hebrews 11 that Enoch “was not found because God took him.” He was not found. That means that people were looking for him. They missed him. They noticed his absence. And you and I are going to really notice Geoff’s absence from us. We miss him. We’ll be looking for him, for anything that reminds us of him. But we won’t find him here, because he walked with God, through Christ, Geoff’s life was pleasing to God, and God took him. But don’t you dare ever say that we’ve lost Geoff. You have only lost something if you do not know where it is. And I know exactly where Geoff is.

Because of his faith in Jesus Christ, I know that Geoff is seated forever before the awesome throne of God in heavenly glory. Everything he believed by faith has become visible, tangible, touchable to him now. When King David’s son died, the Bible says that David said, “He cannot come again to me, but I can go to him.” And the way, the one and only way, for you go to Geoff is for you to come to Jesus. As Greg Barnes read moments ago, the Lord Jesus Himself said this: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by Me.” Geoff would want you to know Jesus. He would tell you, “Don’t do it so you can be with me. Do it so you can you can be with Jesus, forever! Because He is infinitely and eternally glorious and gracious!”

In a few moments this service will end. People have used the word “closure.” I hate that word. In a sense, I sincerely hope you never have “closure.” I do pray that we can all get beyond the shock, and the sorrow and grief, and the confusion, but I pray that we will never forget. Never forget that life is short and it is hard, and we must make the most of every moment of every day, because we are not promised another one. Never forget that God is good, and that He will carry you through things that you cannot even imagine. Never forget Geoff Kugel. Never forget about Nicole, George and Annie. Remember what a gift we were given to know him for such a short time. And you remember what makes Geoff so special. It is Jesus. 

We may never know why God took Geoff the way He did, and when He did. But if God can be glorified in Geoff’s death, as He is through Geoff’s life, then know that this family will rejoice together in God’s presence because of that. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How Then Shall We Live?

Our Assistant Pastor, Dr. Jack Benzenhafer, delivered this message on Sunday May 13, 2012.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Following Jesus (John 1:35-42)

We’ve been away from our study of John for a while, so let me remind you of what came before this text: The first 18 verses of John 1 form that majestic prologue that gives us such a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ as the divine, eternal, incarnate Word of God. We met John the Baptist in those verses and saw how God had called Him to be a unique witness for Christ. Beginning with verse 19, we saw John the Baptist testifying to Jewish leaders and to his own disciples about the coming of the Messiah. He pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, giving us that great prophetic imagery of Jesus as the sacrificial substitute who would shed His own blood on the cross to redeem us from sin. John the Baptist said, “This is the Son of God.” And so now, we find John the Baptist standing with two of his disciples. One of them, we are told, is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The other is not named, but in keeping with how this writer customarily veils his own identity, it is easy to conclude that the unnamed fellow is John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, the soon-to-be apostle of the Lord Jesus who wrote this book and four others of our New Testament.

In verse 37, after hearing the testimony of John, we are told that these two men “followed Jesus.” Eighty-one times in the New American Standard translation of the New Testament, we read of the idea of “following Jesus.” It is perhaps the most common way of referring to the Christian life. It is a life in motion, it is going somewhere, being led along by Jesus. So, the metaphor arises within the New Testament of the Christian life as a “walk,” and Christians become known as “people of the Way,” for they are following after Christ in the way that He is going, and indeed He speaks of Himself as “the Way” (John 14:6). Now in some of these 81 occurrences, nothing more is implied than a casual, curious kind of following – people want to see where He is going and what He is going to do, but they are not personally determined to go there with Him and experience those things for themselves. The same is true of many in the world today. But others have committed themselves to following Jesus by faith, to be with Him, to know Him, and to serve Him.

Now, when John records that he and Andrew began to follow Jesus in verse 37, which of these two senses of the word does he intend? Certainly the idea of a curious onlooker is present. They are following in a somewhat detached way to see what John the Baptist sees in him, to see why their teacher has pointed to this other teacher as superior to himself. But of course, John is writing these words some sixty years after that day—sixty years in which he has become and remained a faithfully committed follower of Jesus in the other sense. So, perhaps this is a double-entendre here. “We were following Him; we would soon become His followers.” I imagine that here in our midst today are people who are at various stages in that process. Some are here out of custom or compulsion and have no interest at all in following Jesus. Others are here out of curiosity, and are interested in just seeing where it is that Jesus is going, but haven’t decided yet if they will pursue Him. But others are here out of commitment. You have become His follower, and maybe you have followed him for a week or a month, or a year or two, or ten, twenty, maybe fifty or sixty years. Our experience in following Jesus is not altogether unlike that of John and Andrew in this passage. We learn some things about following Him from them, and we begin to see those things played out in our own lives. I want to mention four of the aspects of following Jesus that are present here in these verses.

I. We follow Jesus because He draws us to Himself. (vv35-37)

If you are a follower of Jesus today, think back to when you first began to seek Him. Can you honestly say that, out of the blue, you just decided that you wanted to go from being a rebel to being a worshiper? Or would you say that you began to seek God in response to something that you believed He was doing to get your attention? I believe that many of us knew immediately that we were responding to God’s initiative, His stirring in our hearts, when we began to seek Him. Others may not have recognized it immediately, but over time, hopefully came to the conclusion that when it comes to our relationship with God, He always makes the first move. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” And we won’t be able to prove Jesus wrong on that. Apart from an awakening of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we remain, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, “dead in our trespasses and sins.”  

Look at our examples here in the text, Andrew and John. These are just ordinary guys, not too different from you and me. They are fishermen working in their families’ businesses based out of Galilee, and somewhere along the line they crossed paths with John the Baptist. Maybe they heard a buzz about town concerning this guy so they went out to the wilderness to have a look. Here’s a wild-eyed, strangely dressed, prophet out in the desert telling people that they need to repent and get right with God because the Messiah is coming! That message only appeals to people who know that they are sinners and that they need what he is talking about. But that awareness is not something that we reason ourselves into. That is born of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. When John the Baptist preaches that message, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to the hearts of Andrew and John and says, “Yes, this message is for you.” And so, they begin to learn from John the Baptist. They become his disciples, undoubtedly an unofficial kind of role, as they both continued in their fishing business as well. But one day, they are with John and they hear Him refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the Son of God who John has been preaching about, the Coming One who will rescue humanity from sin. And on the next day, He passes by again, and John says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Now the Holy Spirit has confirmed in their hearts that what John the Baptist is saying is true, and so they begin to follow Jesus.

I can recall several times in my life when people spoke to me about Jesus, and I disregarded them. People tried to confront me about my sin, and I ignored them. But their words never left me. It took me being all alone on a dark and quiet night, at the end of my rope, for their words to come back to mind. God in His providence had so arranged the circumstances of my life that I realized that I could no longer get through this all on my own. And I started to remember what I had heard others say about God, about Jesus, and about my sin. Over the course of coming days, and weeks, and months, God drew me closer and closer to Himself, making me all the more aware of my hideous sinfulness and His unfathomable grace, until finally, alone with my Bible, I confessed, “God I know you are there and you have been chasing after me to grab hold of my life. You have my attention and I am listening.” And twelve hours later, after hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I became one of His followers. But it was all in response to the work of God to draw me by His grace to Himself.

Your external circumstances were undoubtedly different in some detail and degree, but the internal spiritual realities are the same for all of us. God is drawing us by the convicting work of His Spirit to realize our sinfulness and our spiritual helplessness. And by His providence, He is placing people into our lives to speak truth about Himself and about the salvation that we can find in Jesus. And the next thing we know, we are believing things we never believed before, and thinking in a way we have never thought before, and desiring things that we never wanted before. We are responding to His initiative to work in us by His Spirit, His word, and His witnesses. And the same will be true of others as God works through us to be witnesses to them. Following Jesus begins when we respond to the work of God to draw us to Himself. And then, no sooner than we have begun, we will be faced with a challenge. We see that next in the text.

II. When we begin to follow Jesus, He will challenge our motives (v38).

We live in a world that caters to convenience. Today, you can do your banking, pick up your medicines, and grab a bite to eat without getting out of your car. Most of our banks, pharmacies, and fast food restaurants have drive-through windows. But you must not forget where you are. If you pull up to the drive-through window at Wells Fargo and order a Big Mac, a large sweet tea, and some cough syrup, they will tell you that you are in the wrong place. They don’t offer what you want, but if you need to do some banking, they will be glad to help you. They can’t give you whatever you want, because they are a bank, not a pharmacy or a restaurant. You have to want what they have to offer, or else they can’t help you.

Well, people begin to follow Jesus for all sorts of reasons. But, it isn’t long into the journey before Jesus will challenge the motives of us all. He did that for Andrew and John here. Notice in verse 38, he asks, “What do you seek?” Now don’t think for a moment that He really doesn’t know. He knows everything. He knows what they are seeking, but He asks so that they can examine their motives for themselves and acknowledge the truth of the matter. Think about that question for a moment. What do you seek? Why are you here? Why do you have an interest in Jesus, in the Christian faith, or in the Church? What would your answer be? Jesus already knows the answer, but He wants you to wrestle with that question for yourself. Think of the number of possible answers that people might give to that question. Some business professionals are told that a good place to make important contacts is at the local church. I once heard a professional golfer whose career had unexpectedly improved say that he credited it all to his newfound faith in Jesus. There have been many lonely people who have been counseled at one time or another to go to the church, and there they can find new friends. Singles are sometimes told that church is a good place to find a mate. And of course, today, we have this putrid doctrine being pushed through books and television by famous so-called preachers saying that if we will follow Jesus and have enough faith, evidenced by your generous financial contributions to their ministry, then you will be healthy, happy, and rich. And people believe these things and they begin to show an interest in Jesus.

So, Andrew and John, what do you seek? Notice how they answer: “Rabbi, where are You staying?” I think there is more to this answer than we see in print. I think that the answer they give to Jesus is significant, for it indicates that they are not seeking a “what,” but a “who.” They aren’t seeking something from Him; they are seeking Him. They want to be with Him, wherever He is staying. And it is a good thing that they do, because Himself is all that Jesus promises to give to anyone, and it is graciously and gloriously enough! He is who we need, He is all we need, and He is infinitely greater than anything we could ever desire!

You and I may have been seeking any number of things when we first gained an interest in Jesus. I suppose many of us were initially attracted to Him to escape the horrors of hell or to enjoy the splendor of heaven. But if He never has before then I believe that this very day, Jesus would want to check your motivation at its core. What do you seek? Missing hell is not the point. Gaining heaven is not the point. He is the point. You see, if you don’t want to be with Him, then hell would present you with a great opportunity to avoid Him. And if you don’t want to be with Him, then heaven is going to be a miserable place for you. But if you long to be with Him above all else, if your motive is to have Him, for Himself, then you shall find that He will open Himself to you, and in Him you will find a treasure greater than anything you have imagined. He is the treasure! So, what are you seeking? If the answer is something other than Jesus Himself, well you may have come to the wrong place seeking the wrong things. So, what are you seeking? How you answer that question will have an affect on this third aspect, for when we are truly seeking Him for who He is we find …

III. Jesus invites His true followers into closer intimacy with Himself (v39-41)

If you have been following Jesus for long, I am sure you have noticed, and probably with some pain and frustration, that He does not always grant everything you ask for. I don’t know of a single prayer that is guaranteed to get the answer that you want, except for this one: “Lord, I want to know you more.” In fact, I have come to suspect that at the root of all of His answers, including the times when His answer is no, the prayer that He is ultimately answering is this one. When He grants my petitions, it is so that I will know Him more; and when He denies them, suspends or postpones them, it is so that I will know Him more. “Andrew, John, what do you seek? Rabbi, where are You staying?” And Jesus says to them, “Come, and you will see.” He is inviting them closer to Himself, that they might know Him more.

Now our text tells us that it was about the tenth hour. According to the old standard of measuring the hours of the day from sunrise, we gather that it was about 4:00 in the afternoon. Soon, the sun will set, and they will need shelter for the night. Jesus is inviting them to come and spend the rest of the day and the night with Him. According to the customs of hospitality in that day, this would almost certainly include the evening meal. Who could turn down such a glorious invitation? So they went with Him, and they stayed with Him, probably all through the night, and shared the evening meal together. Now, we do not know what transpired in that time together, but what we see in verse 40 tells us that the time these men spent with Jesus had a profound effect upon them.

As a result of this time spent with Jesus, they grew in their understanding of Him. Notice that in verse 38, they address Him as “Rabbi.” The word literally means “my great one,” or “my exalted one,” but as John tells us here, the common usage of the term is “teacher.” It was a term of respect given to anyone who was viewed as a teacher. A good example of this is seen in John 3, when Nicodemus will address Jesus as “Rabbi,” even though he was not as of yet committed to Him or to His teachings. But something happens to these men as they spend time with Jesus. When they go out the next day, Andrew runs straight to his brother Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah!” Now this is a far different way of referring to Jesus. “Messiah,” the Hebrew term, and its Greek equivalent “Christ,” both literally mean “Anointed One.” Throughout the Old Testament, anointing had been an important part of the process of setting apart kings, and priests, and prophets. But promises had been made to Israel all along that a day was coming when there would be a greater Prophet, a greater Priest, a greater King who would come. This ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King, is the Messiah—not an anointed one, but the Anointed One! And because of the intimate time spent with Jesus, Andrew has come to the realization that Jesus is that Messiah.

As we spend time with Jesus, we too will grow in our understanding of who He is. Some of you may be like the men we see in verse 38. You are intrigued by Jesus, curious about Him, but not sure that He is much more than merely an exalted teacher. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’s famous statement in Mere Christianity. Lewis says:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[1]

So we must all grow in our understanding of who He is, and that happens as we spend time with Him in intimate fellowship. We grow from seeing Him as a good man and a teacher, to seeing Him as the Messiah, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Lord God, the Savior, and our ultimate treasure in this life and the next.

But we also see that John and Andrew were affected by this time spent with Jesus in that they begin to have a greater impact for Him. Immediately, Andrew goes out to find his brother and bring him to Jesus as well. It’s a funny thing about Andrew: he shows up three times in John’s Gospel, and every time, he’s bringing someone to Jesus. I want to be that guy! And it seems that all this is standing in the way of you or me being that kind of Christian is our need for spending more time with Jesus. As we draw closer to Him in intimate fellowship, taking as it were our meals with Him and spending our days and nights with Him, we are emboldened to proclaim Him to others and to bring them in to meet Him. Jesus says this in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Mark 3:14 says that Jesus appointed His disciples that “they would be with Him, and that He could send them out to preach.” But He would not send them out until He had brought them near to be with Him. Andrew exemplifies this.

As we follow Christ, He continually invites us into intimate fellowship with Himself, with the result being that we gain a greater knowledge of Him and we begin to make a greater impact for Him. Now, as Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, we see the final aspect of following Christ here in this text:

IV. As we follow Jesus, He promises to transform us (v42)

As Simon is brought to Jesus by his brother, Jesus looks at him and says, “You are Simon the son of John.” That is correct. How did Jesus know that? Well, maybe Andrew had told him, but he didn’t need to. Jesus knows everything there is to know about you, including a great deal that you do not even know about yourself. And part of what Jesus knows about you is not merely who you are, but what you will become as you follow Him. So He identifies who Simon is, but then He says, “You shall be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).” Cephas, a Hellenized form of the Aramaic name, and Peter, the Greek equivalent, both mean “Rock.” The statement is a promise, not a wish or a hope. Jesus is not saying, “I really hope you will become a rock-solid guy,” or “If you really apply yourself, one day you can be a sure and steadfast fellow.” Jesus says, “You shall be called ‘a Rock,’ because I will make you into that kind of person.”

Simon was a man whose emotional instability would become notorious through the events recorded in the four Gospels. John MacArthur says of Simon that he was "brash, vacillating, and undependable. ... he fit James's description of a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).”[2] And it is interesting that from this point on, sometimes Jesus will call him Peter, and sometimes He will call him Simon. But there is a reason behind whichever name He uses. He will call him Peter when speaking of him as a faithful follower. He is being what Christ has promised to make him. But when Peter acts impetuously, foolishly, and carnally, Jesus will call him Simon. He is acting like who he was before he met Christ. But Jesus has made a promise to Peter. Just as surely as He has changed his name, He will transform his nature over the course of a lifetime until he becomes a man of rock-solid faith. I imagine when Peter stood to deliver that marvelous sermon in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, Andrew looked on and remembered the day that he brought him to Jesus. No one could have known what God would make of that cranky fisherman on that day – no one, that is, but Jesus. He saw Simon for who he was, and called him Peter because that is who He would make him.

When you and I began to follow Christ, there is a sense in which we all received a new name: we were called the sons and daughters of God; we were called saints; we were called “Christians,” which means “like Christ.” And these new names were given to us with the promise that Christ would transform us as we follow Him throughout the days of our lives. He will make us what He has called us. At times, our behavior and our attitudes do not reflect our new names and demonstrate how far we have left to go in the process of transformation. But Christ never revokes the new name. Still, we are called saints, sons, daughters, Christians, because still He is at work making us into the fullness of those names.

Recently, the NBA’s most notorious bad-boy, Ron Artest, changed his name to Metta World Peace. Metta is a Buddhist term that means loving-kindness and friendliness, and World Peace, of course is self-explanatory. He said that he hoped this new name would “inspire and bring youth together all around the world.”[3] But last Sunday, Metta World Peace delivered a malicious elbow to the head of James Harden, resulting in a concussion for Harden, and a 7-game suspension for Metta World Peace. The headlines on one news site read, “Artest Suspended Seven Games.”[4] Catch that: Artest, not World Peace. It seems that the writer of that article understood that even though he has changed his name, he is still acting like the same old Ron Artest, the bad-boy of the NBA. It is relatively easy to change one’s name. Changing one’s nature requires the transforming power of Christ. We can change our names, but not our natures. But when Christ changes our name, He promises that He will transform our nature to reflect who He is making us to be.

Meanwhile, we continue following. Andrew and John followed Jesus along ‘til about sundown. And finally, Jesus invited them to just come over to His place for the night til the break of the next day. And you and I have been drawn and invited to follow Christ, knowing Him better, serving Him more, undergoing the transformation as He changes our nature to match our name. And the sun will set on this world, and Jesus will invite us into His eternal home, where there is no night, and thus we will be with Him there forever, treasuring the glory of His presence for eternity. John will write much later, looking back on a lifetime of following Christ, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. … 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” (1 John 3:1-2).

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 52.
[2] John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 1-11 (Chicago: Moody, 2006), 67.
[3] Ben Bolch, “We Have World Peace: Ron Artest Gets Name Change.” Online,
2011/sep/16/sports/la-sp-ron-artest-name-20110917. Accessed April 26, 2012.
[4] “Artest Suspended Seven Games.” Online,
204250329/Artest-suspended-seven-games. Accessed April 26, 2012.