Monday, June 25, 2012

On Christian Growth - Dr. Jack Benzenhafer


On Sunday, June 24, 2012, Dr. Jack preached a good message here at IBC on the issue of spiritual growth for believers, emphasizing our dependence on the Word of God for growth. Give it a listen. 

Does Jesus Have Faith in Your Faith? John 2:23-3:3

In a 2008 survey conducted by the Pew Forum, a broad group of 35,000 American adults were asked questions about their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views to get a broad understanding of the religious landscape of the United States. The conclusion of their research was that only 16.1% of Americans are “religiously unafilliated” (with fewer than 2% claiming to be Atheist). Only 4.7% of Americans described themselves as Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or other. Surprisingly, 78.4% of American adults described themselves as “Christian.” Now, when we look at the moral and spiritual landscape of our nation, and even among our own friends and family, I imagine that these conclusions shock us. Can we honestly say that our nation has the “look and feel” of a place where nearly 8 out of 10 people are Christian, and where fewer than 2 in 100 are atheists?

However, when we look at the more specific questions on the Pew survey, we begin to see where confusion arises. For instance, 66% of Protestants and 57% of Evangelicals believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Only 58% of those who claim to be Evangelical Christians attend a religious service at least once a week. Among Protestants, 16% were not absolutely certain of the existence of God. Oddly, 14% of Evangelicals said that they do not believe in heaven, and 18% do not believe in hell. Seventy-four percent of all Americans defined heaven as a place where people who live good lives go when they die (which, I would like to remind you, is NOT the message of the Christian gospel). Turning to “hot button” social issues, 51% of Protestants do not believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 49% of Protestants do not believe that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle that should be discouraged.[1]

What are we to make of these statistics? First, on the surface, it may be encouraging to know that we live amidst a people who are so open about their personal faith, and so many who profess to believe in Jesus. But as we examine the personal beliefs and social positions of these, we should be alarmed that so few Christians have their views shaped by the Word of God. While many profess to “have faith,” we have to wonder, is their faith genuine? This is not a new issue. In our text today, we meet a group of people who have professed to have some kind of faith in Jesus. That’s a good thing isn’t it? No, not when we consider Jesus’ evaluation of the faith of these people. Though verse 23 tells us that there were many who believed in Him, verse 24 says that He did not entrust Himself to them. The same Greek word is used in both instances, and as G. Campbell Morgan says, “something will be gained if we rendered it so.”[2] So we could render these statements like this: “Many believed in Jesus, but He did not believe in them,” or “Many trusted in Jesus, but He did not trust them,” or “Many committed themselves to Jesus, but He did not commit Himself to them.” And it seems, by looking at the religious landscape of the United States today, that the same thing could be said of people who profess faith in Christ in our day. Though they claim to believe in Him, He does not believe in them. He does not authenticate their faith. He does not recognize it as genuine, saving faith in Him. In other words, He has no faith in their faith.

This is a startling reality – that we may have a faith that Jesus does not accept as genuine. And we can examine it here in the historical setting of this passage, or apply the concept to our society, but we really haven’t done business with the Word of God until we have brought the question to bear on our own souls. Bottom line issue: you say you have faith in Jesus, that you believe in Him; but does Jesus have faith in your faith? Is your faith genuine? Is it acceptable to Him? To answer that question, we need to delve into the text, and examine the realities about faith that are evident here.

The first of them is a reality that is unsettling and which has perhaps never crossed our minds before.

I. It is possible to have the wrong kind of faith.

On Thursday afternoon, a very popular television preacher (and I use that term “preacher” very loosely) posted on Twitter the following statement: “You don’t have to figure it all out. All you have to do is believe.”[3] Don’t say amen to that. What does it even mean? I mean, there are some things that you really DO need to figure out, and what is he even asking us to believe? Just believe! Believe what? About whom? Who or what is the object or content of that belief? You better figure that out! That kind of statement might be popular and pleasing to the ear, but it is hollow and completely without meaning. And because it is empty and meaningless, it is also dangerous. It encourages us to have faith, but faith in what? Faith in our own ability to have faith? Faith in the power of positive thinking? Faith in some unnamed, undefined spiritual reality? Frankly, this kind of faith is one example of the wrong kind of faith.

The people described in verse 23 of this text don’t have a nebulous and vague kind of faith like this, but it is still the wrong kind of faith. You ask, “How many wrong kinds of faith are there?” Well, lets put it this way, there’s only one right kind, so anything that is NOT that is wrong. But what’s wrong with this faith that we see in verse 23? After all, it plainly says that they “believed in His name,” that is, in the name of Jesus. And according to John 1:12, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” These “many” believed in His name, but according to the estimation of Jesus Himself, they had not become children of God. He had no faith in their faith. Where did this faith go wrong? 

First, notice the basis of this faith. Verse 23 says that they “believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” They believed in Him because of the miracles He was doing. Well, what’s wrong with that? After all, didn’t we just read in a previous passage that Jesus was demonstrating His glory through these signs, and that the signs were the basis of His disciples’ faith? Notice verse 11: “This beginning of His signs (the changing of water into wine) Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” While seeing the signs of Jesus is a good beginning point, a point that arrests our attention and directs us toward Him, faith in miraculous signs alone is not sufficient. For these, it seems that they were interested in the signs, but not interested enough to press beyond the signs to the realities to which they pointed. One biblical scholar suggests that we should translate this as, “they believed in His name, so long as they were beholding the signs which He was doing.”[4]

Jesus encountered people like this throughout His earthly ministry. In Chapter 6, John records the occasion when Jesus miraculously fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish. We call this the “feeding of the 5,000,” but the Bible says that there were 5,000 men there, not counting the women and children (Matthew 14:21). Maybe there were upwards of 20,000 people who participated in this amazing meal. And, not surprisingly, many of them believed in Him and were ready to crown Him as their King (John 6:14-15). But Jesus did not receive this kind of faith. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (6:26). In other words, “You do not believe in Me because you understand the significance of what I have done, but because you were hungry, and I gave you food.” And then Jesus began to teach them that He was the Bread of Life, and that people must trust in Him in a way that was compared to “eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood,” in other words, believing in Him in such a way as if their very lives depended upon it, and as if He alone could satisfy the greatest need of their existence – the salvation of their souls, the redemption from sin, and eternal life beyond death. And when He said this, the Bible says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (6:66). They acknowledged by their turning away that they were only interested in the spectacular demonstrations of His power; they were not interested in Him for any reason other than their own personal gains and comforts.

As John 3 begins, we meet a man who was among those who had this kind of spurious faith in Jesus because of His signs. His name is Nicodemus. He readily admits that it is because of the signs that Jesus has done that he is interested in Him (3:2). That was the basis of his faith. But notice the beliefs that this kind of faith engenders. He says to Jesus, that because of His signs, he is convinced that Jesus is a “Rabbi,” that He has “come from God as a teacher,” and that “God is with Him.” Now, that’s good, isn’t it? Well, it is a good place to start, but we must proceed past these elementary understandings of who He is. You see, there isn’t a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Jew in the world today who would deny that Jesus was a good teacher, that He did some remarkably powerful things, that He came from God, and that God was with Him. You can find these very things said about Jesus in the Quran. But these things are not enough. James tells us that even demons have this kind of faith, and it causes them to tremble (James 2:19). But by this kind of faith, the demons are not redeemed; they are not made acceptable to Jesus by this kind of belief. Faith that sees Jesus only as a real historical figure, a good moral example, a wise teacher of spiritual truths, or a messenger from God, is the wrong kind of faith. Jesus tells Nicodemus in 3:3 that if this is all the content of his faith, that he will not even see the Kingdom of God. He believes, but he has the wrong kind of faith.
We might compare this kind of wrong faith to the experience of many people who mystically profess faith in Christ today. They are hungry for the feeling of a “spiritual high,” and an emotional kick in the pants. These kinds of folks never seem content to stay in one church for a long time; they are constantly bouncing from place to place seeking who has the better music, the more powerful programs, or the more exciting presentations. But in between these spiritual highs, when their goosebumps die down, they begin to feel discouraged and dissatisfied, as if God has abandoned them. While we would want to affirm that your Christian faith should encompass the entire realm of human emotions, it does not consist entirely of emotional experiences. In fact, most of the time, we will find that the Spirit is at work transforming us through the “little things,” the ordinary and normal times of the Christian life. People caught in the trap of emotional mysticism are like those in this text. They are not pursuing Christ Himself, but rather they are pursuing an experience, a feeling, a sensation. And this is the wrong kind of faith. Jesus has no faith in that kind of faith.

II. There is only one kind of faith that Jesus accepts.

Occasionally, I will pull my keys out and twirl them around my finger when I am bored. If other people are around, they will sometimes comment on how many keys I carry. I have 15 keys in my pocket! And when I go home in the dark at night, I sometimes have to fumble around to find the right one to unlock the front door. Because no matter how many keys I have, only one unlocks that door, and unless I find that one, I will be locked out all night! Friends, the same can be said of faith. There are many kinds of faith. Only one unlocks the gate of heaven. Only one kind of faith will be accepted by Jesus. He only has faith in one expression of our faith.

Notice His outright rejection of the spurious kind of faith that is based solely on His ability to perform miraculous signs. Verse 24 says emphatically that Jesus was not entrusting Himself to these who had professed faith in Him. He had no faith in their faith. They were attracted to Him by the spectacular, and they could be easily led astray to follow others if they were to come along and do similar deeds. And in fact, Jesus said that there would come others who could and would do this. In Matthew 24:24, He says that false Christs and false prophets would arise and show great signs and wonders that would be so convincing that even the elect would be deceived (if that were possible, but the context seems to indicate that it is not). In 2 Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the coming of a lawless one at the end of the age, the one whom we refer to as “the Antichrist,” whose coming “is in accord with the activity of Satan,” and he will have the power to perform “signs and false wonders” (2 Thes 2:9). You remember that even the Egyptian magicians in the days prior to the Exodus were able to replicate some of the signs and wonders that Moses performed. The Bible tells us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), and these texts indicate that he is able to deceive multitudes with counterfeit miracles. It has happened repeatedly in the past. It is happening in the present day, and it will happen in the future. Faith like these people have is affixed only to the spectacular nature of His signs, rather than the glorious nature of Jesus Himself. And so Jesus emphatically refuses to commit Himself to that kind of faith.

But how does He know that their faith is not genuine? On what basis does He reject their faith? Verses 24-25 tell us. It is because “He knew all men.” He is not impressed with the flattering words of Nicodemus as he comes showering Jesus with compliments and commendations. He can see into Nicodemus’ heart and the hearts of all these who believed based on the signs. Like those who were fed at the feeding of the multitude, He knows that they are only interested in Him because of the personal benefits and the spectacular demonstration. John says, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man.” Jesus never has to ask anyone for inside information about any human being. “He Himself knew what was in man.” He doesn’t need anyone to plead to Him about the genuineness of our faith. He sees through to the very core of our being and He knows what kind of faith we have. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

Sometimes people are frustrated and discouraged because they feel like no one understands them or really knows them. I tell you something more disturbing than that. We don’t even know ourselves that well. In Jeremiah 17:9, the Lord says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” If you cannot know yourself, then who can know you? In the very next verse, Jeremiah 17:10, the Lord says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind.” First Kings 8:39 tells us that God alone knows the hearts of all men. First Samuel 16:7 says that God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance. We look at the appearance of these people in Jerusalem during the Passover and we say, “See they are true believers.” We say the same of so many we know. But God says He does not see people the way we see them. We look at the outward appearance, “but the Lord looks at the heart.” We are told in 1 Chronicles 28:9 that the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. So, it is the Lord God and Him alone who truly knows what is going on inside of every man, including you and me. Now John says that Jesus has that kind of knowledge. What then are we to conclude? Faith in Jesus is not a faith that is impressed by His signs and wonders and therefore believes Him to be a great teacher, a godly example, an enlightened Rabbi. The faith that Jesus commits Himself to is the faith that recognizes Him for who He is: God in the flesh, the Messiah who has come to deliver humanity from sin. The reason He rejects the faith of these and so many others is that it has not arrived at that point, and He knows it because He is the all-knowing God who can see every thought in the heart and mind of man.

So, how can we develop the kind of faith that Jesus entrusts Himself to? How can we attain to a faith that Jesus has faith in and acknowledges as genuine. There is good news and bad news about that. First, the bad news is that we cannot. We are spiritually dead, blind and deaf to spiritual truth because of the sin that has so radically corrupted each of us. Spiritually deaf, spiritually blind, and even worse, spiritually dead. We cannot bring ourselves to this kind of acceptable faith. So what hope do we have? Ah, now comes the good news. Our hope is in the reality of the Gospel that promises us that God will impart to us this kind of faith. In that great salvation passage, Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul says that it is by grace we are saved (that is, we don’t deserve it and cannot earn it). It is by grace that we are saved through faith (that is, through faith that commits ourselves to Him for who He is in His glorious nature – the incarnate God who has come to save us through His life, death and resurrection). It is by grace that we are saved through faith, and Paul says that this faith is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God. God has to impart this kind of faith to us if we would be saved. We cannot learn it in a classroom or develop it in our own power. In that great text when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is saying that Peter’s faith in the Lord Jesus has been imparted to him by God Himself.

This is the requirement of genuine saving faith. And that is why, as Nicodemus comes to Jesus to let Him know how impressed he is by the signs that Jesus has done, Jesus says to him in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” In verse 7, He says, “Do not be surprised that I said to you, Nicodemus, you, the one who has imperfect and incomplete faith in Me, that you must be born again.” Nicodemus was a religious man, a righteous man in the eyes of all Israel, a spiritual leader of the people, and as Jesus Himself says, “the teacher of Israel” (3:9). He believes some truths about Jesus, but He is not born again, and has no access to the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has no faith in his faith. Just as every human being received physical life through birth, so every human being must receive spiritual life through the new birth. And this is accomplished as the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul, makes us alive unto God, and imparts to us faith to believe in Christ for who He is.

If you do not have that kind of faith, the kind that has been imparted to you supernaturally through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, then Jesus has no faith in your faith. And He knows whether you have that kind of faith or not. He knows you inside and out, every thought and every intention, and what measure and manner of faith you possess. But here is the wonder of it all: the One who knows you better than you know yourself has dared to love you more than anyone in the universe. This Christ, who knows your sin and your unbelief, has demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us, to bear our sins. He has sent His Spirit to regenerate us in the new birth and awaken us to life abundant and eternal in Him. And awakening from the slumber and stupor of spiritual death in sin, we behold the glory of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, living His life for us in perfect righteousness, dying our death for us to bear the penalty of our sins, and rising for our justification that we might participate in His righteousness and in the abundant and eternal life that He offers us, by grace, through faith that is not of ourselves but is the gift of God. This is what it means to be born again. And if we would have part in His Kingdom, we must move beyond the shallow and superficial fa├žade of faith that is merely impressed by His power, and experience this regenerating power of the Spirit that imparts to us a faith in the glorious person and saving work of Jesus through His life, death and resurrection.

Does Jesus have faith in your faith? That depends on what kind of faith you have. If you are like Nicodemus, and the others in this text, who are merely impressed with Jesus and willing to recognize Him as a great man who does amazing things, then the answer is no; Jesus has no faith in that kind of faith. He sees what is in every man, and He knows better than you do what kind of faith you have. But if you have faith that sees Him as the Lord God, who has come to live, die, and rise for your sins and your salvation, and you have trusted in Him personally to save you and reconcile you to God through His cross, this kind of faith He entrusts Himself to. A great biblical scholar wrote, “[Jesus] regarded all belief in Him as superficial which does not have as its most essential elements the consciousness of the need for forgiveness and the conviction that He alone is the mediator of that forgiveness.” But where that kind of faith is found, that sees Him as the mediator of the forgiveness that we all so desperately need, Jesus entrusts Himself to the believer. Because this kind of faith does not arise naturally out of the human experience. It is imparted to us through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. It does not despise signs and wonders, but it neither depends upon them. It sees the miracle of redemption as the greatest miracle of all, and leads one to surrender completely to Jesus as Lord and Savior. You wouldn’t have that kind of faith unless the Spirit granted it to you. And if He has, you can rest in the assurance that “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19), and He entrusts Himself to you as you commit yourself to Him in genuine, saving faith. He has faith in that kind of faith. 

[1] Accessed June 14, 2012.
[2] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1992), 55.
[3] Accessed June 14, 2012.
[4] R. H. Strachan, quoted in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 206. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

This is Where the Healing Begins

I've been saying all week that the real elephant in the room of the SBC is Generationalism, not Calvinism. Now, that may not be obvious, because there are older guys who fall in line with the "new Calvinists," and younger guys who are holding the "anti-Calvinist" line. But we are looking at the wrong issues. Today I had the opportunity to see the real problem up close and personal, and hopefully take a step toward building a bridge that will help us move beyond this. And this opportunity didn't arise at the Convention Center or at Cafe Du Monde, but on the airport shuttle van.

Along the way, I was pressed into a sardine-like seating arrangement with two older pastors. Mindset, and not age, is the real issue, but these guys were in their 60s and 70s, and have been pastoring for a long time. They struck up conversation with me. We began small talking, and one of them said, "Young man, is this your first convention?" I said, "No sir, this was my fifteenth convention." They had a look of astonishment on their faces, as they both acknowledged that this was in fact, their first convention. One of them said, "Wow! Fifteen years! So, you were there when the Conservative Resurgence started?" Suddenly I realized that I had a lot of 'splainin' to do. I explained to them that I came in on the tail end of the battle, when Patterson was elected president, and the motion to revise the Baptist Faith and Message was passed. I told them I was there in 2000 in Orlando when we adopted the new BFM, and that was the last convention where there was any real significant "Resurgence" issue on the floor of the Convention.

Now it was my turn to be astonished. One of the men asked me if Paige Patterson was a conservative and when the Resurgence began. I explained to them that Patterson was one of the architects, and Adrian Rogers was the first Resurgence president. They said, "In the 1990's right?" I said, "No, in 1979." So I continued to share with them about the history of the Resurgence. They were enthralled and excited as I recapped the events that brought us to the place we are today. I was amazed that they didn't know these things. So, I asked them, "Did you come to the convention because of Fred Luter's election?" They both acknowledged, "Well, that was part of it, but also because we are concerned that the Calvinists are going to divide the Convention." One of them said, "Don't get me wrong, I believe that God elects those who are saved, but I don't know who they are, so I share the Gospel with everyone!" I said, "Oh, so you ARE a Calvinist?" He said, "No, not me!" I said, "But sir, that is what every Calvinist I know believes. My Calvinist friends all believe that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that occurs through the preaching of the Gospel that brings the elect to salvation." He said, "I never knew that! I thought Calvinists believed that since God is going to save those who are predestined, we don't need to preach the Gospel." I talked through that issue with them both.

Then I proposed my thesis to them. I said, "Brothers, I believe the real issue is generationalism, and I believe that both sides are at fault. I am kind of stuck in the middle. I am 38 years old, but I've been in the ministry for 17 years. So I am too young to be old and too old to be young. But here is what I see. I see guys who are younger than me who have no respect for guys your age and with your experience. And that is sin. But I also see guys your age, with your experience, who do not trust anyone under fifty (tongue-in-cheek). This is THEIR Convention. They suffered through the liberal years, and they fought hard during the resurgence, and now they are afraid they are going to lose it to the young guys, many of whom just happen to be Calvinists. But Calvinism is just the scapegoat. If these young guys weren't Calvinists, they'd still be uneasy about the future of the Convention they fought so hard to save. And that is sin as well. So brothers, what we need are conversations like this. Men my age and younger need to show a deep level of respect and honor for you guys. But men older than me in the Convention need to begin to talk to young guys in a caring 'older brother' way (as opposed to a cantankerous grandfather way), and hear their hearts -- their passion for the Bible and the Gospel -- and begin to show a little more trust of the rising generation." The men seemed to both be in agreement with what I was saying.

It was a joyous conversation, and these men would probably agree. We were all smiling and nodding our heads in agreement with each other as we talked. Sadly, we arrived at the airport with a lot of ground left to cover in our conversation, but I am so grateful to God for the opportunity to have that conversation today. And I would say to all my older and younger brothers that conversations like these are what we need more of. I need to have more of them. You need to have more of them. Let's begin to show more respect, honor, and trust for each other, and move this thing forward in the right direction. We can build the bridge better if each side begins building toward one another. It's conversations like these that will be the beginning of healing for us. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SBC 2012 Final Day

Well, as they say, "It's all over but the shoutin'." Actually, looks like the shoutin's over too. All in all, this was a great convention. It has had it share of controversy, but that is probably one of the marks of a good convention. It is really amazing that 8,000 Southern Baptists from all over the USA can come together for a few days and do business in a way that is not much different than most of experience at our regular church business meetings.

My update from yesterday was growing too long for me to include one observation from yesterday. Southern Baptists are a missions people. Always have been, Lord willing, always will be. That is why we adopted the moniker "Great Commission Baptists" this year. The IMB report is THE highlight of the annual meeting, as we hear the report of missionaries appointed, people-groups engaged, churches planted, souls saved, and lives and communities transformed. And this year was no exception. Therefore, I simply cannot understand how we can call ourselves "Great Commission Baptists" when 75% of the messengers evacuate the room before this all-important report. Seems hypocritical to me. My friends at the IMB were discouraged by this. It makes one wonder if our "missions emphasis" is just lip service. Thankfully, I know that it is not, but messengers, we could do better than we are doing to encourage our brothers and sisters on the front lines.

Now, about today ...
Once again, my day began early with the streetcar ride from the hotel to the Convention Center. One important aspect of the Convention is fellowship with brothers who serve the Lord across the country (and the world), and it was a joy to be together today with Dennis Conner (AZ), Heath Lloyd (NC), Jake Porter (TX), Chas Rowland (MS) and my missionary friend from "parts unknown." Before I break down the convention action, I have to share our lunch experience. I am not a big fan of the seminary luncheons. Not that I don't love Southeastern Seminary and the men of God who lead it, but by Wednesday afternoon, my ears are tired from listening and I am usually looking for some downtime and some local culture. So, Chas, Missionary X, and myself hopped aboard the streetcar for an adventure to a New Orleans gem of a restaurant -- Dooky Chase. Now, you know the food has to be good if they can put the word Dooky in the name and still draw a crowd (Dooky Chase is actually the owner's name, and I am sure he's never been teased about that!). And it was phenomenal. Buffet lunch featuring famous fried chicken, pork loin, duck, green beans, mustard greens, red beans and rice, and a very spicy Cajun sausage. I enjoyed multiple servings of it all! Thankfully, there's lots of walking to do during Convention week! We met Leah Chase, the owner, who also happens to be the inspiration for the Disney Princess Tiana in "The Princess and the Frog." This was probably the culinary highlight of the week for me, though it is a hard call.

Now, on to business. Wednesday is the day when we get down to business. We finish up the officer elections, vote on motions submitted, and affirm resolutions. The "nickname" motion passed by a very close margin (probably closest vote I have witnessed in 15 years of Conventions). I've addressed this at length in yesterday's post so I won't say anymore about it. I think it is a win-win, and I am happy it went this way. The election of Second Vice President proved to be a contested race, with three seemingly well-qualified nominees. I think that each one represented a "stake" in the traditionalist/non-traditionalist, Calvinist/Anti-Calvinist imbroglio. One candidate is a known and outspoken anti-Calvinist, one is a died in the wool traditionalist, and one is a mediating voice of reason amid the fray, albeit a guy with Calvinistic sympathies and leanings (though not an extremist by any stretch of the imagination). Thankfully, in a runoff, Dave Miller, the mediating voice, was elected overwhelmingly. I think that was a statement by the messengers that said, "We do not want polarizing personalities in Convention leadership." That is what drove my vote for Miller, anyway.

We have a new "crazy uncle" who made a name for himself this year by hogging the microphone over and over again yesterday and today, and though some of his points were valid, his antagonistic demeanor was less than endearing to most messengers. But crazy uncles are part of the fun of family reunions, so we just smile and nod our heads as if to say, "Bless your heart brother!" When I first began attending Conventions, I really despised the resolution debates. Seemed pointless to me. But, over the years I have come to understand that these are more important to the watching world than they are to some of us. The resolutions are what the press reports on (though, thankfully Fred Luter's election has dominated the secular press reports). The resolutions are the officially published opinions of the Convention on matters ranging from social, to political, to theological. Full texts of the resolutions should be available online soon (if not already). The subjects addressed in this year's resolutions were:

  • Defending religious freedom. 
  • Opposing the "civil rights" rhetoric on the same-sex marriage debate (this resolution was submitted by African-American Southern Baptists and has some real teeth to it). 
  • Affirming the inerrancy of the Bible and the historicity of Adam and Eve (this is actually a developing firestorm in other evangelical denominations, so the SBC drew a needed line in the sand on it).
  • Affirming community and human needs ministries in the local church as a means of evangelism. 
  • Appreciation and acknowledgement of the role of African Americans in the history of Baptists in the United States. 
  • Appreciation for the host city. 
Two resolutions had the potential to be contentious, but only one amounted to an actual debate. Both addressed issues stemming from the infamous "Elephant in the Room," which is what the Calvinism / anti-Calvinism divide is being called this week. First, there was a resolution affirming cooperation within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) on the doctrine of salvation. It is a well-worded and carefully balanced statement that all Southern Baptists should be readily able to affirm. But, we got wind of some rumors floating around during the lunch break that some in the anti-Calvinist movement were planning a motion to amend that would insert language undermining the reformed doctrine of "limited atonement" (if there's ever been an unfortunate label hung on a doctrine, that surely has to be the prime example). I've blogged on this subject before here. That amendment, if it had been made would have done great harm to the conciliatory spirit of the resolution. Thankfully, the amendment was not made, and the resolution was passed unchanged. 

The resolution that did stimulate debate concerned "the sinner's prayer." Most of us were probably led through a prayer like this when we became followers of Jesus: "Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner, and I believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. I accept Him as my Lord and Savior and I thank you for loving me and saving me, in Jesus' name, amen." What's wrong with that? Well, in reality, there are at least two things wrong with it. First, it is not found in the Bible, so we cannot say that it is a necessity to say these or similar words in order to be saved. Second, not only have those of us who have been saved prayed this prayer or one like it, but MULTITUDES of UNSAVED people have prayed this prayer (often repeatedly) without truly experiencing the new birth. It becomes something of a mantra or an incantation, magic words like "hocus pocus" that has no power in and of the words themselves to save. David Platt recently made a much publicized statement criticizing the reliance on the "sinner's prayer" by well-meaning Christians. This, of course, added fuel to the anti-Calvinist fire, as people misunderstood Platt's sentiments to express that old worn-out caricature that Calvinists hate missions and evangelism. Fact is, David Platt and Brook Hills church is probably doing more for missions and evangelism than many anti-Calvinist churches combined. But, Platt's words led to the submitting of this resolution, which affirms in a carefully crafted way the use of the sinner's prayer. There were impassioned pleas on both sides, some failed attempts to amend, and finally the resolution passed unchanged. There were some snarky tweets posted by Calvinists who were upset that it passed (some referred to it as an extra-biblical statement, and others spoke of it as a move against the sufficiency of Scripture). Frankly, I think these are probably overreactions. I believe that most of us, if we read the resolution carefully and calm down a little bit, will see that it's really not so bad. I confess, I voted against it and I wish it had not passed, because it only fattens the elephant.

We heard several seminary reports today, and these are always an exciting time. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries have over 16,000 students enrolled. That is very exciting and encouraging. Of course, I am partial, and I believe that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is the finest seminary in the world, simply because of the high caliber of graduates it produces ;-). No, actually, I love Southeastern most of all right now because of President Danny Akin. Danny is one of a small number of cool-headed, voices of reason in our convention. Danny is sympathetic to the traditionalists and the young guns, the old and the young, the Calvinists and anti-Calvinists, and has a mediating effect on the Convention. May his tribe increase. There are few Southern Baptists that I respect more than Al Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also probably the most famous Southern Baptist Calvinist. I am sure that it was no coincidence (because there really is no such thing) that the Southern report focused on missions and cross-cultural evangelism (featuring the testimony of one of my favorite preachers, John Folmar). I don't know for sure, but I suspect this was a calculated statement to silence those who claim that Calvinists are anti-missions and evangelism. 

Two great disappointments in the seminary report occurred today with the reports of Midwestern and New Orleans seminaries. Midwestern has been riddled with internal conflict for years, overarching the tenures of two consecutive presidents, Mark Coppenger and Phil Roberts. Roberts was pressured to resign in February after accusations of financial mismanagement and verbal abuse. No mention was made of the situation during the report, so not surprisingly, several messengers raised questions about the issue. One very important point was that the Convention needs to be informed of the findings of the audit, and if the charges against Roberts were baseless, then reconciliation needs to be made with a brother in the Lord. The interim president and the chairman of trustees both insisted that the matter was addressed in the printed seminary report. Folks, I have read that report five times now, and the information just isn't there. That is highly disappointing. 

The New Orleans report began with a surprise. Dr. Chuck Kelley announced that he would take questions before the report rather than after. That is highly unusual. Interestingly, there were already three messengers at the microphones ready to ask the questions. How did they know that the question time would come at the beginning? Their questions were "softballs" and each one met with a very well scripted response. Not only this, but two of the men who asked the questions had been sitting on my row scribbling some notes, and then each made a bee-line to the mics before the Q&A time was even announced. Now, brethren, there are "fishy smells" all over N'Awlins, but this one is the fishiest. What is Dr. Kelley hiding from? What is going on at New Orleans that he doesn't want to take questions on? Who knows? One brother suggested that it might have been an attempt to dodge questions related to the "Traditional Statement" (alluded to in my blog from yesterday) that Kelley has endorsed. Whatever the case, this kind of maneuvering does not engender trust. 

Final point I will mention from the day ... the NAMB report. Thank God for the leadership of Kevin Ezell! NAMB has been down a rocky road for a decade or so, and Ezell seems to be finally leading in the right direction. There are exciting new church planting initiatives and some much needed conversation about church revitalization -- the most overlooked aspect of SBC life in the last 30 years, in my opinion. I am excited to see how these new initiatives take shape in the future. My confidence in NAMB is at an all-time high. 

Well, that about sums it up from a busy week in Big Easy. I appreciate the opportunity to have been here as a messenger of Immanuel, and I look forward to sharing these reports with the body when I return. This has been a historic week, and in spite of frustrations and controversies, we must not lose sight of the significance of Fred Luter's election as President of the SBC. These are good days to be Southern Baptist (or Great Commission Baptist if you prefer), and I am as proud as ever to be one. 

SBC 2012 Day 2 Wrap Up

Today's session of the Southern Baptist Convention was perhaps the most historically significant one of our denomination's history. To fully understand that, some historical perspective is necessary.

As many know, our denomination's history on racial relations is less than heroic. In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention came into being with the primary issue being the "rights" of slave-holders to be appointed as Baptist missionaries. Just like the Civil War, slavery was not the only issue, but it was certainly a major issue. As Al Mohler said tonight, "It was about more than slavery, but never less than slavery." Throughout the long history of the SBC, frankly we have been wrong on civil rights issues numerous times. It has only been in recent years that the SBC has gotten serious about correcting the image, the perception, and the realities of racism. Needless to say (or is it?), the SBC has come a long way, and today that point was made crystal clear.

I have attended fifteen consecutive Southern Baptist Conventions. My first one was in 1998 in Salt Lake City. That was a historic meeting in which we elected Paige Patterson as President. Patterson's election signaled that the Conservative Resurgence had succeeded, and the denomination was finally and fully resting on the foundation of biblical authority. Patterson had been the architect of the Resurgence, and (to use his words) he was the "target man" for most of the antagonism toward the movement. I remember feeling so blessed and excited to be present when the Resurgence was "complete" by the election of Patterson as our President. But, the events of this day far overshadow that one. There were tears in my eyes today as the entire convention stood in support of the election of Pastor Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans as our Convention President, the first African-American President of a denomination that grew out of the soil of slavery. The battle for ethnic diversity in the Convention is not over. We still have a long way to go. We need to follow through on this to demonstrate to the world that Fred Luter is not a token, and not a symbol. We need to rally behind him as our leader for the coming year (and hopefully two), and every church needs to take action to demonstrate that the SBC is a denomination for all people! I couldn't stop the tears, thinking of how much I wish Dr. Paul Early, my past-predecessor at Immanuel and the bold visionary who risked everything to lead IBC to be a church for all people, could have been here to witness this historic moment. Fred's election has forced the issue of diversity, multi-ethnic ministry, and racial reconciliation under the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on every Southern Baptist church.

Frankly, some of us were disappointed a few years ago when Luter was passed up for nomination after being almost assured in 2001 (the last time we were in New Orleans) that his nomination would be imminent.   Little did we know that God's providence over Fred's being passed over was perfect. In 2005, his congregation was devastated (along with the rest of the region) as Hurricane Katrina hit. We have watched with amazement how Fred Luter and Franklin Avenue have reassembled, rebuilt, and reestablished a Gospel presence here in Sin City. I recall hearing him stand in my pulpit in 2006 at the African American Pastors Conference and tell of the hardships that the storm brought to his congregation. This only enhanced my joy as we affirmed him as our President today. The phrase "It's been a long time coming" has never been more fittingly applied than to this election.

With that most important matter stated, let me back up and "retrace my steps" of this day. I began my day shortly after 7 AM as I stepped out into a muggy and hot morning here in the Big Easy. I took the famous New Orleans streetcar down Canal Street, and then walked along the Mississippi River to the Convention. I was fully drenched in sweat by the time I walked in and took my seat.

The introduction of motions from the floor is always a highlight of the Convention. Al Mohler said it best this morning when he tweeted, "The glory of the Southern Baptist Convention is that any messenger from any church can submit a motion ... or four." It is customary for the motions to range from the sublime to the ridiculous and today was no exception. I've been to enough of these to know that the Committee on Order of Business is going to refer as many of these motions as possible to the trustees of the respective Baptist entities, rule a number of them out of order for a variety of reasons, and schedule some for further debate. But, the cherished principle is that the microphones are open for anyone to speak their minds about anything, even if only for three minutes. Sometimes, messengers are frustrated with the "dispensation of motions," feeling that they've been brushed aside. At the subsequent year's meeting, the Book of Reports often indicates that the Trustees decided to take "no action" on the item, only further frustrating messengers. Though I have never presented a motion, I have authored several of them for other presenters, and I can tell you from the "long view" of experience that even when no action is taken by the Convention or the Trustees, those "ignored" motions can sometimes spark important conversations among entity leaders that only later begin to bear fruit.

Today, there was much open and frank dialogue about the "elephant in the room." I sarcastically quipped to some of my colleagues that most of the time, when we are talking about the elephant in the room, it is during the Guidestone report as O.S. Hawkins reminds us that we are an obese and unhealthy group of pastors. But that was not the elephant we were discussing today. Today's elephant was the issue of Calvinism in the SBC.  Full disclosure -- I have never classified myself as a Calvinist. Frankly I don't think I am one. But I am unashamedly a "reformed evangelical" who has many sympathies and affinities with my Calvinist brothers. I am likely far more Calvinistic than I am "non-Calvinistic" (there aren't many Southern Baptists who want to be called Arminians). Most of my friends in the Convention are Calvinists, and whether it is guilt by association, or broad-brushing, I am usually cast as a Calvinist, and honestly, I don't consider that a negative comment. There is much that I respect and resemble about the movement. But I am first and foremost a follower of Jesus, secondly, reformed and evangelical, and thirdly a Baptist, fourthly a Southern Baptist. If the SBC went out of business tomorrow, I'd still be a Baptist by conviction. Those convictions that I hold have been held by Baptists for centuries, though there have also been plenty of Baptists who do not share certain convictions that are labeled as "Calvinistic." But I am a Southern Baptist because I believe in confessional cooperation, and I know that throughout SBC history, Calvinists and non-Calvinists have cooperated in healthy ways for the spread of the Gospel, and it is my earnest prayer that we will continue to do so for many years to come.

But the elephant in the room is the growing awareness that there are some on both sides of the issue who seem less than willing to cooperate with Bible-believing Baptists of "other stripes" on this issue. Prior to the convention, the rhetoric was toxic as a group of prominent non-Calvinists posted a very hurtful caricature of "New Calvinists" in a statement on "Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation," and other developments. Those who are invested on each side of the issue came in with chips on their shoulders this year, and that was evident from the first fall of the gavel. But, I have to say, today we witnessed bold and courageous confrontation of the issue from two of our most prominent leaders: Dr. Frank Page and Outgoing-President Bryant Wright. In both of their addresses to the convention, each of these godly leaders confronted the divisiveness, and called us to cooperation. There was a call to humility for the Calvinists, and a call to abandon judgmentalism on the part of the non-Calvinists. Frankly, both calls are right on target. These statements were repeated in the Baptist 21 luncheon and the 9 Marks session. We can do more together than we can apart. We are a convention of Bible-believing, Gospel-proclaiming brothers, and we need each other too much to split over this issue. I wish we weren't debating it, but I am glad that we are debating this, and not the inerrancy of Scripture, the ordination of homosexuals, or any other discussion that is going on in other Christian denominations today.

There was much anticipation today for the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) report. The ERLC is our "Washington Watchdog" entity. Younger Southern Baptists often just shake their heads about the existence of such an entity, while older Southern Baptists perhaps see the political actions of the ERLC as one of the more important aspects of Baptist life. But all of that has been overshadowed in recent days by the unwise, racially insensitive, and ironically timed comments of ERLC President Richard Land concerning the Trayvon Martin case. There were also accusations that Dr. Land had plagiarized some of his comments on this case. Land has publicly repented of both issues prior to the convention, and has been reprimanded by ERLC trustees, who also suspended his daily radio broadcast. While I applaud the trustees, I have wondered if they went far enough. I have wondered if it may not be time for a changing of the guard at ERLC. But today, as Dr. Land confessed and repented before the Convention messengers, and shared the record of the ERLC's activities over the last year, I am content that God has definitely blessed us with the leadership of Dr. Land in this position, and I hope that we can all move beyond it.

The other "big issue" of the day was the discussion of the new "descriptor" (think, "nickname") of the SBC, "Great Commission Baptists." The driving factor behind this is the perception among many that the name "Southern Baptist" presents a hindrance to the Gospel in some areas outside of the South, and among some minority peoples. There was much heated debate on the subject as it came to the floor today. Those opposed to it seem to misunderstand the nature and need for the new term. Those in favor of it have been uncharitable and unsympathetic to others, and have used a fallacious form of argument to advance their position. Repeatedly, the motion's defenders "appealed to a silent majority," as they said, "We've heard a lot of people say they need this." Friends, there isn't a pastor in the room who doesn't absolutely abhor that kind of rhetoric in deacon's meetings and congregational meetings. It isn't any more appealing here. At this point, we still do not know the result of the vote, but we will find out Wednesday morning if this new "nickname" will be official or not. Here again is where a good historical perspective would be helpful. I have witnessed in my years of Convention attendance several failed attempts to change the name of the Convention. I am not fond of the notion of changing the name. I am in agreement with the proposal to add "Great Commission Baptists" as a descriptor for the sake of those who find the label "Southern Baptist" problematic in their cultural context (so long as they do not use it in a deceptive way). Here's the bottom line: this is the best possible "win-win" situation for all sides. In my opinion, if we do not pass this, it will continue to come up year after year, and eventually we will get saddled with some ridiculous "new name" that sounds more like a WNBA team than a Christian denomination. Let's deal with facts and truth, stop reading too much into this, and move forward for the sake of the Gospel.

Well, as you can see from this lengthy post, it was a busy day. I capped it off with dinner with a dear friend who serves with the International Mission Board. I can't share his name because he is a "Level 3" missionary, meaning that his identity has to remain confidential for security reasons. I have known him for 10 years and have prayed with him and his family through several personal crises. He's become a friend to IBC as he's visited a number of times to challenge us from God's Word. We strolled to the French Quarter and had a splendid dinner at Napoleon House (muffaletta and jambalaya!) followed by beignets and cafe au lait at the famous Cafe Du Monde across from Jackson Square. During this time, we exemplified "iron sharpening iron," as he helped me think through some missiological issues, and God granted me the opportunity to be his pastor through yet another deeply personal struggle. As we strolled the Riverwalk (dodging the nasty rats!) I couldn't help thinking that perhaps God has me in New Orleans for "such a time as this," to have that conversation with my dear brother.

A final note ... Cafe Du Monde is a well-known tourist attraction in New Orleans. But to Southern Baptists who are "in the know", it is significant for more than just the coffee and beignets. It was here that Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler sat down decades ago to begin to sketch how the Convention could be returned to its conservative, Bible-based roots. Looking around the place tonight, I saw young Baptists and old Baptists, guys at their first convention, and guys who've been to dozens of them, seminary professors, mega-church pastors, ordinary pastors and missionaries, along with tourists, locals, and others. As I was sitting there thinking, "This is where it all began!", Ken Whitten came by our table, put his arms around both of us and said, "Boys, this is where it all began!" We've talked a lot about the Conservative Resurgence this week, as we do every year. Folks may wonder why we keep rehashing this "old news." The fact is simple: were it not for the courageous actions of men like Patterson, Pressler, Adrian Rogers, and many others who began and saw the Resurgence through from beginning to end, there is absolutely no telling where we would be as a denomination today. And where are we today? We are a denomination that has come full circle theologically, and full circle racially. That is a good place to be.

We still have our problems. Will we divide over Calvinism? Will the Cooperative Program be around when my kids and grandkids gather for the Convention? Will there still be an SBC, will we be called by another name, or will we cease to exist? I tell you what I think the bigger issue is for us. I think I am uniquely positioned to make this observation. I am 38 years old, and I've been to 15 consecutive conventions. It is an uncomfortable place to be. I am too young to be old, and too old to be young. Hershael York and I had a brief chat this morning as we walked into the Convention Center, and we both agreed that "generationalism" is the real elephant in the room. As a young guy, I can say to my younger brothers, "Love your elders, and respect them." These guys ate bologna sandwiches and slept in their cars at Conventions year after year so that you could be a part of what the SBC is today. Sometimes they get cranky, like the old man that fusses at kids playing in their yard, but they've watered this garden for a long time, and we could do better at being humble kids who honor those who've gone before us. But as an old guy, I can say to my older brothers, "Don't despise what God is doing through a new generation of Southern Baptists." They might be more "Calvinistic" than you like. They might dress different and look different, but they are the future of the SBC. In a very real sense they are the present, but one day, they will be where you are ... that is, unless you push them away here and now. We are making great strides in the race-conversation. I think we will survive the Calvinism issue. But if we can't turn the hearts of the "fathers" and the "sons" back toward each other, we will certainly destroy one another and implode. And that will be a great tragedy.

Rodney King died this week, but his infamous statement should ring in our ears, "Can't we all just get along?" We can, if we keep Jesus and His Word at the center of it all!

Recaps of reports, motions, and other business of the convention can be found on the Baptist Press Blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SBC 2012 Day 1

I find myself tonight in the Big Easy, New Orleans, with thousands of Southern Baptists gathered for our annual convention. I first came to this city in 2001 for the SBC. A lot has happened in NOLA since then, namely the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In my first trip back since 2001, I can honestly say that NOLA has rebounded well. Downtown looks much the same as it did back then, for better and for worse. I miss having my family with me this week. In 15 consecutive years of attending the SBC, I can count on one hand the times they have not joined me, but with things that have happened in our family in the last few weeks, Donia felt it best to stay close to home this week.

I took off today from GSO, went through CLT, and finally arrived in NOLA. After a very long airport shuttle ride, I arrived at my hotel, where my dear brother Dennis Conner was waiting for me in the lobby. Coming to the counter to check in, the gentleman at the desk (a Greensboro native) began to tell me that there was a mixup with Expedia reservations, and that they were overbooked so I would have to go to another hotel outside of town. When I began to politely but pointedly explain that this was unacceptable, the guy started cracking up and said to Dennis, "I'm sorry, I just can't do this." Dennis had put him up to the gag, and we all had a good laugh, and I checked into a very comfortable room.

Dennis and his wife Cindy and I headed over to Mother's Restaurant for dinner, where I enjoyed a "Ralph" sandwich (a po'boy with ham, roast beef, and a delightful substance that Mother's calls "debris," with a cup of File Gumbo on the side. It was de-lish!

After dinner, I made the rounds at the Exhibit Hall, where I stopped in at the booth of my alma mater, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the IMB (where I reconnected with dear friend Greg Queen), and Seminary Extension, where Dr. Randy Williams and I shared some thoughts about the state of the program in our Association and nationwide.

I joined Clint Pressley (pastor of Hickory Grove in CLT) and his wife for the final session of the Pastor's Conference, where Fred Luter brought a very exciting message on the power of the Gospel from Romans 1:16. Fred asked, "What is it going to take to change the world we live in? What did it take to change you? Somewhere along the way, you heard the Gospel, and the Gospel is what's going to change our world." Fred is a preaching machine, and I am very excited to cast my vote for him to become the first African-American president of the SBC. Our denomination has come a long way since its founding in 1845, and the election of Fred Luter is a great demonstration of that.

Following the Pastors' Conference tonight, I attended the 9 Marks at 9 session, where Mark Dever facilitated a panel with David Platt, Zane Pratt, and Tom Elliff about reaching the unreached, unengaged peoples of the world. It was very exciting to hear all the panelists talk about the value of long-term commitments to unreached people group adoptions. Dr. Elliff was crystal clear as he insisted that the best thing pastors can do to engage their churches in the global mission of God is expository preaching that clarifies the gospel in the hearts and minds of our members. I walked out feeling very encouraged about the progress that IBC is making in this direction.

After a very long walk back to my hotel (made longer by a few wrong turns), I am settled in for the night, anxious to arise early in the morning for the first business session of the Convention. I will be posting my usual sarcastic commentary on Twitter at @russreaves, but you will be better informed to follow the hashtags #sbc12 and #sbc2012 on Twitter.

Looking forward to a great week here in NOLA. Very proud and excited to be a Southern Baptist, and to take part in this annual convention. Thankful for the saints at IBC for sending me as their messenger, and looking forward to coming back with lots of good things to share!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Zeal for the Father's House (John 2:12-22)


Let’s play pretend for a moment. Let’s pretend that as you pulled up to church this morning, you couldn’t find a parking place because the whole parking lot had been transformed into a livestock stable, where sheep and oxen are being kept and tended. Some of us would undoubtedly just turn the car around and head back home. Others, perhaps, determined to enter for worship might park on the back street and wade through the animal pens to the front door. Coming to the front door, there are men with sticks asking for your animal and a monetary contribution before you can enter. Some would be deterred at that point and go away. Some may say, “Well, I’ve got an animal at home, let me go get it and come back.” And when you get back with your animal, you find that it is not acceptable. You brought your dog, but only lambs and bulls are accepted. Or you brought a lamb, but it has a gimp leg, and only flawless animals are accepted. Others perhaps have no animals at home to bring, so what are we to do? Well, for your convenience, you can go purchase one from the lot outside, but please understand, there is a convenience charge and some premium fees attached, so it will be costly. But, each animal sold in the lot will come with a certificate of acceptance, ensuring that it has already been preapproved as an offering, so you need not fear being turned away at the door.

Now what about your monetary contribution? Maybe you have your offering envelope with a check or cash in side of it. But the men at the door say, “I’m sorry, you know the U.S. Dollar has taken a beating in the global economy, and we don’t accept that anymore. You must make your contribution in Euros.” Should you still be determined to enter for worship, you may wonder, “Where am I going to get Euros on a Sunday morning?” Well, the men at the door point you to the front lawn, where there’s an ATM machine that dispenses Euros, and several tables operated by Wells Fargo, American Express, and other companies who will, for a commission fee, exchange your Dollars into Euros. So, now, with your pre-certified animal and your acceptable Euros, you are able to come in and worship. Well, sort of anyway. You are frazzled and frustrated by the whole experience, and when you try to quiet yourself to pray and focus on the Lord, you keep hearing oxen grunting and sheep bleeting, and coins jangling, and everytime someone opens the door, the stench of animal dung floods the sanctuary. Mostly, all we can think of is, “I can’t wait to get out of here, and I’m never coming back!”

Now, aren’t you glad it didn’t happen that way when you arrived this morning? And it never will for a number of reasons, some of which will be clarified as we move through this text today. But for many first-century people coming to the Jerusalem temple on the days of holy festivals, their experience was not altogether different than what I have just described. In fact, I would say that their experience was worse than whatever we could pretend to imagine or describe. Jesus came to the temple finding this very sort of thing happening, and put a quick end to it with a firm and radical action.

Now, what was it that drove Jesus to take such an action on this Passover visit to the temple? Many have trouble seeing Jesus conducting Himself in such a way as we find here in the text. We don’t like the image of an angry Jesus. We prefer the Jesus Charles Wesley wrote about in his hymn, “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild.” But, as G. Campbell Morgan says, “I make my protest against that weak idea of Jesus that imagines there was no lightning flashing from His eyes, no wrath manifested upon His face, and no anger in His heart. That is an anaemic Christ Who does nothing for the world.”[1] But, still, we are not dealing with merely anger, wrath, or righteous indignation here. The text indicates that Jesus was moved by His zeal.

Verse 17 tells us that as the disciples saw His actions in the temple, a passage of Scripture came to mind. The verse that is quoted is the first portion of Psalm 69:9 – “Zeal for Your House will consume Me.” In that Psalm, David cries out to God because his enemies are opposing him, not understanding his profound desire to see a temple for God constructed. As the disciples witness the zeal of the Lord Jesus in the temple, they remember what David had written, and they come to understand that what was true of David is more fully embodied in David’s Royal and Divine Descendant, the Messiah Jesus.[2] So it is zeal that moves the Lord to conduct Himself in the way that He does in the temple. We see how the zeal of the Lord compels Him to reform His Father’s House, and how that zeal consumes Him as He redefines His Father’s House.

I. Zeal compels Jesus as He reforms His Father’s House (vv13-16)

The Law says in Deuteronomy 16:16 that three times a year, every male must appear before the Lord: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which begins with the observance of Passover), the Feast of Weeks (which is Pentecost), and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. Jesus was obedient to every point of the Law, and never missed one of these occasions. This is the first of three Passovers that John records Jesus attending during the years of His public ministry (or possibly four, since we do not know what the unnamed feast in John 5:1 was). As Jesus comes into the temple complex on this particular Passover, He finds people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and moneychangers. For some time, it had been customary for people to purchase their sacrificial animals in Jerusalem so that they were not burdened with traveling with the animal, perhaps only to find that the animal was unfit for sacrifice. They could purchase the animal in Jerusalem, close to the place of sacrifice, and the animal would have been “pre-approved” by the priests, so that there would be no question of the fitness of the animal for sacrifice.

Additionally, the temple tax was required to be paid with Tyrian coins because of their high silver content. So, travelers could trade their currency from wherever they happened to live into the appropriate coinage for the payment of the half-shekel annual tax for the upkeep of the temple. These things were arranged as a matter of convenience and were actually a valuable service to worshipers coming from afar. At one time, business like this had been conducted on the slopes of the Mount of Olives in the Kidron Valley, just outside the temple grounds. Notice that Jesus does not object to the fact that people are buying and selling animals and trading money to prepare for the Passover. The issue is that this is taking place “in the temple” (v14). At some point, the priests and temple officials determined that it would be best to bring the commercial traffic of animals and currency closer in, where they could regulate it, and perhaps where they could profit directly from it by levying fees, commissions, and “booth rent.” But nothing is said here about their motives or profit-making schemes. That will be reserved for later when Jesus cleanses the temple the second time during the final week before His death. Here, the issue is that they have taken a space that was set apart for the worship of God and they have made it into a commodities trading floor.

The word that is translated “temple” in verse 14 is not the usual word for the sanctuary itself – the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. It refers to the entire temple complex. So where were the animal-vendors and money changers setting up shop? Most likely, they had taken over the outermost court of the complex, the area known as the “Court of the Gentiles.” This was the only portion of the temple where Gentiles were allowed to enter and worship. Things had radically devolved since the consecration of the first temple in the days of Solomon. On the day that Solomon’s temple was dedicated, Solomon prayed not only for the Lord to bless the temple as a place where Israelites would gather for worship and prayer, but also for those of all nations. He prayed:

Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name's sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name. (1 Kings 8:41-43)

Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians nearly 600 years before Christ, but it was rebuilt under the leadership of men like Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Then in the decades before Christ’s birth, Herod the great had begun a renovation project intended to restore the rebuilt temple to the glory of Solomon’s temple. Yet, there was no concern for the Gentiles in the reconstruction. They must stay out in the outer area and not come any closer. A sign was posted along the wall separating the Gentile Court from the rest of the temple area stipulating that any Gentile who entered any other area could be put to death. This gets us to the heart of the matter as Jesus reforms the Temple. As Morgan writes, “The supreme iniquity to the heart of Jesus was that the Hebrew people were failing to function as God intended. His intention was always that they should bless all the nations; but they had now come to that position when they thought only of themselves, and the ease and comfort of their own worship. Gentiles! What did Gentiles matter? Certainly use their courts, and desecrate them.”[3] Thus, in the only place where Gentiles were welcome to worship in this renovated temple, they could not find the space, and if they could, they may be kneeling in animal dung, surrounded by the stench of a livestock market, and distracted from the holy acts of prayer and worship by the noise of animals and merchants and moneychangers.

The zeal of the Lord Jesus for the House of His Father compelled Him to take some of the cords that were laying about, and craft them into a scourge, or a whip, and start swinging it! He drove out the venders, their sheep and their oxen and their birds, and He overturned the tables of the money changers, dumping their coins all over the ground. As He did this, He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business!” The business of His Father’s house was prayer and worship, not livestock trading and currency exchange. With His whip Jesus is saying, “Clear this place for the purpose for which it was built! Make room for the people to enter and worship God sincerely! Make room for the Gentiles, do not drive them out! These are the very people God has intended you to reach out to with the good news of His glory and grace!”

In the later cleansing of the temple, Jesus will remind the people, “Is it not written, ‘My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations?” An International House of Prayer – yes, that is right, an IHOP, but its prayer, not pancakes. But sadly, Israel had lost the focus of that vision to be a missionary people to all nations. And Jesus reminds them of their commission as He zealously reforms the house of His Father with a whip.

Now, we have to be very careful with the application here. As we shall see in just a moment, we cannot draw parallels between the temple of Israel and the building where a Christian church gathers. They don’t serve the same function. The temple was indispensable for the Old Covenant. The religion of Israel required a place for sacrifice, and the temple was that place. But buildings are entirely optional for the church; a church is a body of believers in Jesus, living in fellowship together under His Lordship, submitted to His Word, and engaged in His mission of reaching all nations. The building has nothing to do with it. If it burns to the ground, all of the rest of those things are just as true. But sometimes we forget that, and we begin to get fixated on the building. We begin to think more about our convenience and comfort than our mission. And it is then that the Lord Jesus will again take up the scourge and start swinging! It is not that we would ever have a livestock auction in the front yard, or a currency exchange on the sidewalk. But sometimes our fundraising activities or other projects may actually interfere or hinder the spirit of worship and ministry that is to define this place. At times, the demands of upkeeping the facility may require us to minimize the resources we devote to the reaching of all peoples with the Gospel. And at times, our personal preferences and tastes may blind us to the needs of people around us who are not like us.

Nearly 50 years ago, this church took a bold stand to be defined as a church for all people. Dr. Paul Early put his own reputation and even his career on the line as he stood here and took the risk of saying that these doors would be open to anyone regardless of their skin color. I know for a fact that he was hated by some within the church as well as by other pastors in the area. I visited with him last Saturday and we talked about a lot of things. Three times in the conversation, he forgot who I was. But every time I reminded him, “I am the pastor of Immanuel, your old church in Greensboro,” he would get choked up and say, “Pastor, is Immanuel still a church for all people?” If he asked me that once, he asked a half-dozen times during that visit. He is not real sure who I am or what I am doing there, but he is completely clear about the mission of the church to be an international house of prayer, committed to this task of reaching all nations with the Gospel above all else. And friends, it isn’t easy. It isn’t convenient. It requires determination, effort, and sacrifice, and it is really easy to slide back out of that priority. We must resist every temptation to ever be anything less than a people who are committed to the priority and practice of reaching all nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – whether they be across the street or across an ocean.

In His zeal, Jesus was compelled to reform His Father’s House and restore it to its original function – an international house of prayer – an IHOP. Clear out every distraction, every distortion, and every deterrent that stands in the way of the nations finding hope in the good news of the glory and grace of God. And we must do the same as we seek to show others that glory and grace in the person of Jesus Christ. And Christ’s zeal for this mission will compel us to do so.

II. Zeal consumes Jesus as He redefines His Father’s House (vv18-22)

The response to Jesus’ action here in the text is surprising. “The Jews” mentioned in verse 18 almost certainly refers to the temple officials, not the common people. The absence of any comment about the common people’s reaction to Jesus’ clearing out the temple may indicate that they were relieved to see it happen. But the temple officials certainly felt differently about the matter. We notice that they were quick to speak up. Yet, they do not argue about the appropriateness of what they were doing. They don’t say, “Hey, don’t drive these vendors and moneychangers out! They belong here.” They never once complain that Jesus has done something wrong by driving them out. They knew fully well that they didn’t belong there and that Jesus was right to drive them out. But their complaint is directed at Jesus Himself. They say, “What sign do You show us as Your authority for doing these things?” In other words, “Never mind what You’ve done; who do You think You are to do it? Who said You had the right to drive them out?” And they demanded that He perform some kind of sign to prove His authority to do it. And this demand indicates that they were both deaf and blind.

First of all, Jesus already said who He thinks He is. He describes the temple in verse 16 as “My Father’s house.” If that is not a clear statement of His claim to be the Son of God, then I don’t know how much clearer He could make it! “Who am I to do this? I am the Son of Him whom this temple was constructed to honor!” And of course, the very title Son of God is a direct claim to be, in fact, God Himself in human flesh. But they are deaf to His claim. They want to see some demonstration of His authority – more than just words. That’s understandable to an extent – wouldn’t you want to know the credentials, and that they were valid if you witnessed this act? But they are demanding a sign when one has already been given. The very act of clearing out the temple was in itself a sign! The prophets had foretold that the Messiah would come and do this very thing. Zechariah 14 points to a day when the nations will come into the temple to worship the Lord (14:16), but then it says that “there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts in that day” (14:21). But if all the nations are coming to worship, why are the Canaanites expelled? The word translated Canaanite in that passage was also commonly used in Hebrew to refer to merchants. So perhaps the temple authorities had kicked the Gentiles out of the outer court on the belief that the Canaanites would be removed, but Jesus has come to clarify that they got it wrong. It is the merchants who must be kicked out, so that the Canaanites and those of all other nations can come in. His action in the temple was a sign – it was the fulfillment of that promise made by the Lord through the prophet Zechariah 500 years before. And some 400 years before, the prophet Malachi spoke of a coming day in which the Lord would come into His temple, and He would purify the sons of Levi (the priesthood) and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness, that the offerings of the people would be pleasing to the Lord as they were in the days of old (Malachi 3:1-3). These signs were plainly carried out in front of the temple authorities, but their blinded eyes did not see it and therefore they asked for something else.

And Jesus response to them is, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” There is an indignation in His remark, as if to say, “I’ve already told you who I am, and what I have done is the sign. But it is not acceptable to you, so tear this temple down and watch me raise it up again in three days!” To this, the leaders said, “It took forty six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” In fact, that was only partly true. The fact was that it had been being built for 46 years and it still wasn’t finished! It wouldn’t be finished for another 30-35 years. It was finished in 63 AD. And only seven years later, in 70 AD, the Romans came through and destroyed it, leaving no stone standing except for that portion that today is called the Wailing Wall. But three days later, after the Romans destroyed it, Jesus did not rebuild it. In fact, it has never been rebuilt at all. Today, a Muslim mosque stands on the site. So, what did Jesus mean when He said He would rebuild it? Well, in fact, He wasn’t talking about that temple after all. He was redefining the temple.

Verse 21 says that He was speaking of the temple of His body. Would you have understood that if the Bible didn’t tell you? Probably not. Therefore, it is only natural that they didn’t understand it either. In fact, the disciples did not even yet understand it. But after Jesus died and “was raised from the dead,” they “remembered that He said this.” They were aided in this by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said would come to teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He said to them (John 14:26). And as the Spirit brought this to their minds, they understood the full significance of what Jesus said and did on that day in the temple. What Jesus was saying was that the place where God dwells on earth is not a building made of bricks and stones. Though He had seen fit in the past to make that temple a place of habitation among His people, it no longer served that function. John told us in Chapter 1 that the eternal Word of God who was with God and who was God from the beginning had become flesh and dwelt, or tabernacled, among us. The place where man meets God is not in a building, but in the person of Jesus Christ. To have access to God, no longer would it be necessary to come to a temple, and bring a sacrifice, and hand it over to the priest for the offering. Christ had come to be the temple (the dwelling place of God), and the sacrifice (the offering for the sins of humanity), and the priest (offering Himself and not an animal as the substitutionary offering). So, if you want to meet God, you come to Jesus, not to a building in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the world. He redefined the temple. The temple is Himself. And His zeal consumed Him as He redefined it. His zeal to bring the presence of God to the sinful human race consumed Him, driving Him all the way to the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ became the altar on which the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin was slain. All of the sins of humanity fell upon Him there as He bore the just judgment of God for us. In His zeal to unite us to God, He bore that sin until the final drop of blood was shed. And in three days, He raised the temple of His body up.

When Jesus’ disciples remembered these things, verse 22 says that they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. What about you? Have you believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus spoke? Or are you like those temple officials who would say, “I need to see some kind of sign before I can believe!” The sign that Jesus offers you is the same sign He offered on that day. He was consumed in death as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and He arose from the dead. Who are you to say that this is not enough? Christ came as God in the flesh – the living embodiment of the temple of God. That temple was torn down and raised up in three days, and now Christ beckons all the world to come to Him to worship and serve Him. There is no other place to meet God than in the person of Jesus.

[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1992), 52.
[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 180.
[3] Morgan, 52-53. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Glory Revealed (John 2:1-11)

One of Jimmy Stewart’s most beloved characters was Mr. Elwood P. Dowd from the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey. In this story, Mr. Dowd has an unusual friend: a six-foot tall pooka, a rabbit-like creature, that only Dowd can see. Most people think that Dowd has lost his mind and that he’s resorted to playing with imaginary friends. In one scene, someone asks Mr. Dowd how he met Harvey. As he recounts the story, he says, “One night several years ago, I was walking early in the evening down along Fairfax Street in between 18th and 19th. … and I heard a voice saying: ‘Good evening, Mr. Dowd.’ Well, I turned around, and here was this big, six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamp-post. Well, I thought nothing of that, because when you’ve lived in a town as long as I’ve lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name.” It seems that Elwood Dowd is a good case study in the comic adventures of missing the point.  

If you would like to find other examples in missing the point, then you could study how the text before us today has been handled and mishandled over the centuries by Christians and non-Christians alike. Perhaps the most common comment made about this passage has something to do with the Christian’s attitude toward alcohol. If that is all we have understood this passage to teach, then there has never been a greater exercise in missing the point! I am not going to say that this passage teaches or supports the view that I hold, that Christians are wise to abstain from alcohol. It is obvious that this point cannot be made from the text. But what is not so obvious is that neither can the opposite case be supported or upheld on the basis of this case. One cannot point to this text and draw from it an endorsement of Christians drinking alcohol. Several factors need to be understood:

  1. The Greek word that is translated wine in this text is the most common one, oinos. This word can, and often does, refer to fermented, alcoholic wine. But the same word is also used often to refer to unfermented wine (grape juice). 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. You have to understand something about the custom of wine-drinking in ancient society. It is a well-documented 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] At plenty of other times, the wine was drunk unfermented, and we have to be content to remain ignorant of which usage of wine is in view unless the context of a passage makes it clear. Here, it does not.
  3. 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. I am not going to preach to you today about abstaining (you say, well, you just did! OK, fine, but I’m moving on now, and you need to as well). But you must not look at this passage and say that you find license for drinking alcohol here in this text, because 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. To camp out on the issue here is to miss the point.

So what is the point? The point is plainly stated in verse 11. This is the first of the many signs that Jesus did. And when Jesus did it, He manifested His glory. Jesus did not turn water into wine to make a statement about the use of alcohol. He did it to reveal, to display, to demonstrate, to manifest His glory. And the manifestation of His glory was sufficient for His disciples to believe in Him. In a sense, that is what the whole Gospel of John is about. In the beginning of it, John points to a miracle that demonstrated His glory: “The Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory!” (John 1:14). It ends with how the signs that Jesus performed manifested His glory, and His glory leads to belief: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The miracles of Jesus are not nifty party tricks, and they are not raw demonstrations of supernatural power. They are signs that point to a reality beyond themselves: namely to the glory of Jesus Christ. And as we behold that glory, we are drawn into belief and worship. So, the question for us is, “How does this sign, the turning of water into wine, demonstrate His glory in such an awesome and faith-inducing way?”

I. We see glory revealed in the complete devotion of Christ to the will of His Father (vv1-5)

It is pretty interesting that we know the names of the guests at the wedding, but not the names of the bride and groom. We know that Mary was there. We know that the disciples were there, and that would include at this point at least John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. But most importantly, we know that Jesus was there, and he was an invited guest. Verse 2 says that Jesus and His disciples were “invited to the wedding.” That’s always a good idea. Invite Jesus and His disciples to your wedding, and into your marriage, and into your daily lives.

These weddings were not like ours. I had a couple tell me once, “We just want a simple wedding – just exchange the vows, say ‘I do,’ and be done. No music or anything else.” We were done in just under 14 minutes. These weddings in Jesus’ day lasted a week! And unlike our weddings today, where the family of the bride customarily foots the bill, in that day it was the groom and his family who were responsible for it. One of the matters that needed to be taken care of was to make sure that there was enough food and drink for all the guests for the entire week. This was an expensive undertaking. And these were probably not wealthy people. They might have been relatives or close friends of Jesus and His family. The wedding took place in Cana of Galilee, not far from Nazareth. Mary doesn’t seem to be just an attender; it seems that she feels some sense of responsibility for the event. We notice that in her sense of alarm over the fact that the wine has run out. In an honor and shame culture such as this was, it would be a very big deal to protect the groom and his family from such dishonor. Not only would it be a grand social embarrassment for the groom and his family, there is some evidence that the family of the bride could actually sue the groom and his family over this.[4] So Mary feels the need to report the situation to Jesus. She tells Him, “They have no wine.”

Now it isn’t really clear here what she expected Him to do about this. Some will say that she was expecting Him to perform a miracle. That simply cannot be. There are stories in some apocryphal writings about Jesus performing miracles as a child, but the Bible is clear that this was the first of His miracles. So it isn’t like she’s thinking, “Can’t you make this water into wine?” She wants Him to do something, but we aren’t sure what. We are sure that she could have never expected a response like the one she received. Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us?” He called her, “Woman”! There’s been a lot of ink spilled over whether or not this is an appropriate way to address one’s mother, but suffice to say that it is not customary, nor is it particularly affectionate or endearing. There’s an abrupt sense of distance here between Him and her. And not only does He refer to her as, “Woman,” He says, “what does that have to do with us?” Now, this statement is a common one in the ancient world and even in the Bible. We find it written several times in the Gospels, usually translated, “What business do we have with each other?”[5] And every time it is used, do you know who is saying it? Demons! And they are saying it to Jesus. They are saying to Him, “Leave us alone! Go away!” Jesus just said that to His mother! But why did He say this so abruptly? He’s saying, “What business do we have with each other?”, as if to say, “Woman, the things that concern you most right now are not the things that concern Me most.” She’s trying to get Jesus to operate on her agenda, and He is completely devoted to the will of His Father in Heaven. No one co-opts Jesus into their own agenda; not even His mother! He is on a mission to rescue humanity from sin, not to rescue parties from poor planning or to save people from social awkwardness!

Look at the next thing He says to her: “My hour has not yet come.” You can track the use of this phrase through the entire Gospel of John. In fact, you could divide the book almost in half with this. Chapters 1-12 might be called, “The hour has not yet come.” And from Chapter 12 to the end, we could say, “The hour has come.” What is this hour He is talking about? Every time Jesus speaks of His hour, He is referring to something relevant to His suffering and death on the cross, and to His resurrection and exaltation.[6] Here He says that His hour has not yet come. In chapter 7, a mob tries to seize Him but they couldn’t, because His hour had not yet come. Neither could they seize Him in chapter 8, because His hour had not come. But in Chapter 12, we read of some Gentiles who came to Him by faith, and after that, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He says this concerning the glorification that will occur through His suffering and death and resurrection. And He says, in 12:27, “What shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” At the final Passover in John 13, John says that Jesus knew that His hour had come. And then in John 17:1, He prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your son, that the Son may glorify You.” So Jesus knew that He was born for a particular hour in which He would both glorify and be glorified by His Father, and that glory would be manifested through His unspeakable suffering, through His substitutionary sacrifices on the cross, and through His victorious resurrection. But that hour had not yet come. So He protests His mother’s prodding for Him to get involved in this situation. Nothing will distract, dissuade, or deter Him from His Father’s will and from that hour for which He was born: not even His own mother. He is completely devoted to His Father’s will, and that is in itself a demonstration of His glory.

Now notice what Mary says in verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” That’s good advice. It’s always a great idea to do whatever Jesus says to you. But Mary doesn’t know what He is going to say or do. And she doesn’t need to know. What she needs to know is what she seems to know. He told her when He was twelve years old that He was always about His Father’s business, and she knows that nothing has changed. And because she knows that He is completely devoted to the will of His Father, then whatever He chooses to say or do is going to be sufficient, and it is going to be glorious. Her faith in Him is exemplary here. Are we satisfied in knowing that Jesus is always about the business of the Father’s will? Are we content to know that whatever He says and whatever He does is good and glorious? Are we able to say, even when we do not know what He will do next, that whatever it may be, it is pleasing and acceptable to us? There is a peace and a joy and an all-satisfying contentment in that kind of trust – one that sees the glory revealed through a Christ who is always devoted to the perfect will of His Father in Heaven. Like the guests in this wedding, every single one of us is going to come to the point when we realize that the thing we have been looking for to satisfy us has expired, run out, and left us still thirsty. In those moments we will come to Jesus and complain to Him about that, but He will have nothing to do with it unless we are willing to say to Him, “Lord, whatever You say and what You do about this is enough for me. It is glorious, because You are glorious. And if You would have me be without it, I will exalt You and trust You; and if You would grant me a replenished supply, I will exalt You and trust You.” And whatever He does, and whatever He says, will reveal His glory because He is completely devoted to the perfect will of His Father.

Now, from this we move to the next block of text, verses 6-10, and …

II. We see glory revealed in the incomparable reality of His cleansing power (vv6-10).

Now, there are two things going on here as Jesus turns the water into wine. There is the act itself. But that act is referred to here as a sign, meaning that it points to a reality beyond itself. It signifies something. So we need to take note of both: the sign itself and the reality beyond it.

First, note the act itself, the sign. Jesus turned water into wine. He made wine without the use of grapes, tannins, leaven, or anything else. He made it from water. Just as in creation, God could call forth things to exist from nothing or make one thing to come from another, so God in Christ could take that which is not wine, namely water, and transform it’s very nature, so that it becomes wine. It is worth noting that the Gospel of John, which begins so similarly to Genesis, with its “In the beginning” in 1:1 and its emphasis on the creative work of Christ in 1:3, also marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry by chronicling the events of a week, corresponding to some degree the week of Creation in Genesis 1. Beginning in John 1:19, we read of one thing happening, and then a series of events that are described as occurring, “on the next day.” Now we come to this one, which occurs “on the third day,” that is, the third day after the encounter with Nathanael, making this the end of one week. As the Genesis account captures the glory of God in His creative power, so John here depicts Christ as co-equal, co-divine, and equal in glory through His limitless creative power to make water into wine. But there is so much more going on here than just a raw demonstration of power and glory. Jesus’ miracles have a didactic purpose – they serve to teach something about Himself. As signs, their greatest value is in what they signify, and to that we turn our attention now.

One of the remarkable elements of the New Testament Gospels is their clear eyewitness detail. Notice in verse six that John does not simply tell us that there were some pots of water nearby. He says there were six of them, they were stone waterpots, they were large (each one having a 20-30 gallon capacity), and they were set there for the purpose of the Jewish custom of purification. It is important to recognize that Jesus could have made wine from anything, it didn’t have to be water. And, He could have used any water: He could have transformed the whole well, a nearby stream, or the entire Sea of Galilee, had He so chosen. But He didn’t. He chose to make use of “six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification.”

The Jewish custom of purification was an important one. In Mark 7, we learn a little of the background of this as Mark tells us, “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots” (Mark 7:3-4). In a weeklong feast, such as this wedding would have been,” the guests would have been expected to wash their hands repeatedly every time they ate, and there would have been no end to the washing of the cups and pitchers and pots. It was for this reason that plenty of water was kept on hand, and that it was stored in stone pots, for stone was not susceptible to uncleanness like earthenware was.[7] The ritual of external washing was believed to make one clean, both inside and out. It would have been necessary to keep that water pure and on hand until the feast was over.

Now, Jesus tells the servants to fill those pots, and they filled them to the brim. And then He says something alarming. He tells them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter for him to drink. The servants must be thinking, “Jesus has lost his mind! Here we are, out of wine, and He wants us to serve bathwater!” But when they drew it out, it had become wine, and not just any wine. The headwaiter exclaims that this wine is the best they’ve had so far! But what about the waterpots? What about the water that is supposed to be used for cleansing? The bath jars are now full of wine, thanks to Jesus, and we have nothing left to cleanse ourselves with! Oh, no. That would be a mistaken conclusion.

What this miracle signifies is that the custom of external washing was never sufficient to cleanse the soul from sin and make one righteous before God. It might wash the hands and remove the cooties from the skin, but it never had any effect on the heart and soul which were stained by sin. For that, Jesus must provide something greater than they had ever experienced. In exchange for the wash-water, Jesus made wine. His hour had not yet come, but when it comes, Jesus will take a cup of wine and give it to His disciples and say, “"Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:27-28). The wine that Jesus made at the wedding, before His hour had come, foreshadowed the wine that would be shared when His hour came, which signified His blood. What the law could not do, with all of its regulations for cleanliness and washings, Jesus did in His blood! He is who John the Baptist said He is – “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And He does this by His blood, as John says in 1 John 1:7 – “the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from all sin.”

The wine was to be provided by the groom. That was the custom. And when the headwaiter tasted of this wine, he went running off to the groom to compliment him on saving the best wine for last. And that guy, who totally blew it by not providing enough wine, blew it again by allowing the credit to come to him. Truth of the matter is that the groom didn’t have a clue where that wine came from! But in reality, the wine was provided by the Groom. No, not by the guy in the tuxedo (or whatever they wore back then), but by the ultimate Bridegroom. The Bible tells us, as the end of it draws near, in the Book of Revelation, that there is coming a great wedding feast. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” But, we have no righteous acts to clothe ourselves in. No, that is why that bright and clean garment was given to us. It was given to us by the one who cleansed us. Revelation 7:14 says of those in heaven that they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” How do you remove the stain of sin from your life? It has to be washed His blood.

The water that people looked to for cleansing in that day was powerless to make them clean before God. If you want to be clean before God, there must be blood. And the wine that Jesus made from that water at that wedding points us forward to the blood that flowed from His body on the cross like wine poured out, which cleanses us from all sin. The hour for that had not yet come, but it would, and it has. But in this premature hour, the Lord Jesus gave a glimpse of what was to come by this sign. And by this sign, His glory was revealed. Not everyone who drank of the wine knew of the source. Not everyone who knew of the source beheld His glory or believed in Him. But those who beheld the glory of Christ put their faith in Him on that day. And so many of you have as well. Others of you perhaps have never considered that He alone can save and cleanse you of sin. Some perhaps have considered it and rejected the offer. My prayer today is that you would behold the glory of Him who was completely devoted to the will of His Father, and whose blood alone can cleanse of the stain of our sins. Beholding His glory, cast yourself upon His mercy and grace by faith. Believe in Him. And whatever He says to you, do it.

Would you be free from your burden of sin? There’s power in the blood, power in the blood!
Would you over evil a victory win? There’s wonderful power in the blood!
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb!
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb!

[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.
[4] Carson, 169.
[5] Matt 8:29; Mk 1:24; 5:7; Lk 4:34; 8:28.
[6] Carson, 171.
[7] Carson, 173.