Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Witnesses to Jesus (John 5:31-47)

We’ve all watched enough courtroom television shows, or perhaps had some personal experiences, to know that when a person is put on trial for something, the defendant is allowed to give his defense to the charges, and then witnesses are summoned to provide supporting evidence for each side. In the end, the judge and jury have to determine which side has the most supporting evidence, and cast a final verdict on the matter. Well, the Lord Jesus is not in a courtroom in this passage, but He has been accused of a terrible crime. Going back to the beginning of Chapter 5, when He healed the lame and helpless man by the pool, He was accused of violating the Sabbath. His defense, in response to that charge, was that it is impossible for God to violate the Sabbath, therefore it is impossible for Him to violate the Sabbath since God is His Father, and He is the Son, and therefore also God. This entire section of John’s Gospel is rich in Trinitarian teaching about how the one true God of the universe exists in the person of Father, of Son, and (less explicit here), of Holy Spirit; not three gods, but one God, eternally existent in three persons of equal deity. Of course, this hardly got Jesus off the hook of the allegations of Sabbath breaking. It merely added another charge against Him, namely that of blasphemy, for the Jewish officials understood clearly that by claiming God as His Father, and claiming to be the Son of God, He was making Himself out to be equal with God. In response to this charge, Jesus spoke of how He did nothing on His own accord, but only and exclusively the will of His Father, who had given Him the power to have life in Himself and to bestow it as He so desired, and the authority to act as judge of entire human race. They say Jesus blasphemed, and it would be blasphemy indeed, if it wasn’t true. But is it true? That is the question. And you are the jury. You must decide, based on the evidence supplied by the witnesses, if Jesus truly is who He claims to be. And if He is, then we are compelled to make a personal response of faith, devotion, worship, obedience, and service to Him as Lord. If He isn’t, then we can just write Him off as a lunatic lawbreaker. So, which will it be?

The Law that God had given to Israel through Moses specified that a fact has to be established on the basis of multiple witnesses. Concerning capital offenses, of which both Sabbath breaking and blasphemy both were, Deuteronomy 17:6 said that the conviction must be based “on the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses” (cf. Numbers 35:30). But even on any other charge, Deuteronomy 19:15 said, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” Jesus does not violate God’s Law in any point at any time, and this is no exception. He admits in verse 31, “If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not true.” Well, Jesus is testifying about Himself, so does that mean He is lying? And if He is lying, then can we claim Him to be the sinless Son of God? Actually, what Jesus is saying here is that, if He alone testifies about Himself, the people have no reason to believe Him. His testimony about Himself is not valid unless it is corroborated by other evidence from other witnesses. He is saying that He would not expect anyone to regard His claims as true simply on the basis of His own testimony about Himself. So, He says matter-of-factly, “There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.” Who is this other witness? Well, Jesus goes on to describe the witnesses who testify to to His claims and His identity, and we will hear the testimony of each of them as we examine this text.

I. The witness of John the Baptist

When Jesus speaks of this “other witness,” undoubtedly the minds of His accusers went immediately to John the Baptist. Perhaps some of us thought that is who He had in mind as well. After all, we read in John 1:7 that John the Baptist “came as a witness, to testify about the Light (Jesus), so that all might believe through him.” And these religious officials have “sent to John.” Jesus is referring to the events described in John 1:19-28 when the Pharisees had sent a delegation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to inquire about his identity and his ministry. And when they sent this delegation to John, Jesus says that “he has testified to the truth.” John had told the delegation that he was not the Christ, but was the one that Isaiah had foretold of as the voice that cried out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. He told them of another One, whom they did not know, “the thong of whose sandal,” John said that he was “not worthy to untie.”

John’s ministry was unique. He was the first prophet to come announcing God’s Word to Israel in 400 years. John 1:8 says of him, “He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” Of course, that Light is Jesus. John 1:4-5 says of the Lord Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” No, John was not the Light, but Jesus says that he was “the lamp.” Lamps do not create light, but they bear light. They hold up light so that all can see it. And John did that in his ministry. The light that others saw in John’s ministry was not his own, it was the Light of Jesus, that John was lifting up for all to see. Jesus says that John was the lamp that was burning and shining.” The Greek wording here might be translated, “He was the lamp that was ignited and gave light.[1] He was a man on fire, and he had been set on fire by God Himself, to burn and shine as a witness for Christ. When God sets a man on fire, the world will come to watch him burn. They did that by the multitude as John burned and shined. But Jesus expresses the sad reality of their interest in John: they were “willing to rejoice” in his light, but it was only “for a while.” Sometimes when a preacher’s message starts stepping on too many toes, we say that he’s “gone from preachin’ to meddlin’.” And John had done that. He was calling the Jews to repent and be baptized, but Jews did not believe they needed baptism or that they needed to be made right with God. Jews only practiced baptism on Gentiles who converted to Judaism. But here was John saying that everyone, including the Jews, needed to get right with God. He denounced the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, and even called out King Herod for his immorality (which ultimately led to his execution). And when John went from preachin’ to meddlin’, the interest of the people began to wane and they turned away from the light that burned and shined in this lamp set ablaze by God. If they had heeded John’s testimony, then they might have been saved. And it was not too late! In verse 34 Jesus reminds them of John’s testimony, not because He needs the testimony of John to validate him, but because they need to hear and heed what they heard John saying in order to be saved!

But Jesus says here that John was not His only witness. He says here that there is a testimony that is greater than the witness of John.

II. The Witness of God the Father

If you’ve ever had to apply for a job and were required to supply a list of references, you know that most of the time they tell you not to include your family members. The assumption is that, of course, your family members are only going to say good things about you even if they aren’t true, because they want you to get the job. You have to supply impartial references, who will tell the truth about you, even if the truth means that you won’t get the job. Now, here Jesus says, “There is another who testifies about Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true” (v32). But this “another” is not John the Baptist. He is greater than John. So who could it be? After all Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). “Those born of women” seems to pretty accurately describe the entire human race, with the exception of Adam and Eve. So if John is the greatest human, but Jesus has a witness, a testifier, a reference (if you will) who is greater than John, then this witness must not be human. And He is not. In verse 37, Jesus says that “the Father who sent Me Has testified of Me.” Now, we might protest and say, “You can’t list your Dad as a reference!” But here’s the thing: what is the charge? The charge is blasphemy because Jesus has claimed God as His Father, thus equating Himself with God. Now, if that is not true, then God is most certainly not going to add His testimony to that. God has declared, “I will not give my glory to another” (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). We are told in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie;” and in Titus 1:2 we read that God “cannot lie;” and Hebrews 6:18 says that it is “impossible for God to lie.” So if God validates the testimony of Jesus, then that testimony is true. So, how is it that God the Father has testified to the claims of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ?

First and foremost, there was a direct testimony given at the baptism of Jesus. In one of the great Trinitarian texts of Scripture, in Matthew 3, as God the Son emerged from the baptismal waters, God the Holy Spirit descended visibly upon Him in the form of a dove, and God the Father spoke from heaven audibly declaring, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So, there, that one scene, the entire Triune Godhead is on display as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are manifested publicly. Again, later at the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father will speak from heaven and declare, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (Matt 17:15; Mk 9:7; cf. 2 Peter 1:17). But this particular group of Jewish leaders to whom Jesus is speaking now could plead, “We were not there! We never heard such an utterance from heaven!” And so Jesus speaks of other ways that the Father has testified of Him.

He speaks first of the works which He does (v36b). Jesus says that these works were given to Him by the Father to accomplish. So, in the doing of them, the Father is testifying through Him. The works proclaim that Jesus has been sent by His Father to do His will. This was obvious to those who could suspend their prejudice against Jesus. Even Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee and in party with these leaders who are opposing Jesus in the present context, could say as he came to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). In John 7:31, we read that a large crowd of people were saying, “When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs that those which this man has, will He?” Jesus spoke of the testimony of these works repeatedly, saying in John 10, “The works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. … If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (10:25, 37-38). Everything that Jesus did was evidence of the Father’s testimony of His as the divine Son of God. The Gospels record at least three dozen supernatural miracles performed by Jesus, and John tells us that there were “many other signs Jesus also performed … which are not written” (20:30). Of course, the ultimate work that the Father gave to Jesus to accomplish was the work of redemption which was finalized in His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, and His glorious resurrection. But until that event occurred, all of Jesus’ other miracles were signs pointing to this ultimate work that He would do on behalf of all humanity.[2] When John the Baptist wondered if Jesus was truly the Promised One who was to come, Jesus said to take word back to him that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt 11:3-5); and all of these were fulfillments of the prophecies that had been made about the Messiah, as well as signposts pointing to the glorious salvation that He would make available to all humanity through His death and resurrection. The Father was testifying of Jesus Christ through these works that He performed.

But notice that Jesus also says that the Father testified of Him through His word. Jesus says in verse 39 that the Scriptures testify of Him. Now, no one in history has ever more fastidious about the study of the Scriptures than the Pharisees and their peers in ancient Israel. They devoted vast portions of their waking hours every day to the study of the Scriptures, and Jesus acknowledges that they “search the Scriptures.” But their approach to the Scriptures was all wrong. They believed that by their effort in reading, studying, and memorizing the Scriptures, that they were earning favor with God and eternal life, merely by the physical exercise of it. The esteemed Rabbi Hillel claimed that the more one studied the Law, the more life one would have, and that if a man gains for himself the words of the Law, he will gain for himself life in the world to come.[3] But Jesus says here that they were missing the point. For all their study of the Scriptures, they completely missed the fact that they were pointing to Him all along in the words of prophecy, in the typological images, in the events of redemptive history, and in the provisions for salvation found within the Law. If they would only come to Him, as the Scriptures testified of Him, then they would find life in Him. But He says “you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”

Thus, there is a fourfold indictment against the unbelieving religious leaders in verse 37: (1) They have not heard the voice of God at any time. They did not hear His voice announcing His approval of the Lord Jesus at His baptism; nor have they heard His voice speaking through the Scriptures. (2) They have not seen His form. They might protest and say that no one could see the form of God. That had been true for the most part through all of history, but it all changed when Jesus came on the scene. John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” When Jesus spoke with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, He said, “If you had known Me, you have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him. … He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:7-9). But when these religious leaders looked at Jesus, they didn’t see God in Him. Therefore, they never saw the form of God at all, because the only place He can be seen is in Jesus. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6 that God has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (3) They do not have His word abiding in them. For all their time spent studying the Scriptures, the word has not taken root in their hearts. If it had, they would have seen the Scriptures pointing to Christ as the divine, promised Messiah who had come to save them. But they didn’t. (4) Jesus says in v42, “You do not have the love of God in yourselves.” They would claim to love God more devoutly than anyone in the world, but it is lip service, because Jesus has come, not in His own name, but in the name of His Father, and they have not received Him. Ironic, considering that multitudes turned in belief to any one of dozens of false Messiahs who came to Israel in their own name and making boastful claims of themselves, telling the people only what they wanted to hear. So the tables are turned. It began as an indictment against Jesus for Sabbath-breaking and blasphemy, but He has responded with testimony to vindicate Himself. Now, He has now turned the incident into an indictment against unbelieving Israel, which could be broadened to include the entire unbelieving world. The evidence of these indictments is simple: “You do not believe Him whom He sent.” If they would hear the voice of God testifying through the words and works of Jesus, and see God in Christ, and allow the Scriptures to take root in their hearts, they would turn to Him in faith and repentance and be saved.

Jesus has already announced that there is coming a day of judgment, when He will exercise the authority given to Him by His Father to judge the entire human race. And He warns here, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.” They had set their hope on Moses as the deliverer of the Law and the mediator of the covenant God established with Israel. But Jesus says that Moses will testify against them, and he will be their chief accuser on that day of judgment, because ultimately, though they claimed to regard the writings of Moses, they did not truly believe them. The entire Old Testament was pointing the way forward to Jesus, and He says, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

What then is the verdict on the matter? Is Jesus who He claims to be? Well, we have seen in this text that it is not He alone who testifies of Himself. John the Baptist has testified of Him, but even more significantly, God the Father has testified of Jesus through His word, through the works of Jesus, and in the words of Hebrews 1:1, “in many portions and in many ways.” So who is He? He is God-incarnate, the supreme and almighty God of the universe, who became a man and lived a life of perfect righteousness, died to redeem us from sin by bearing our sins in His body on the cross, and conquering sin, death, and hell through His resurrection from the dead, which provided additional testimony to His identity and His mission of redemption. The question for every human being therefore is: Do you believe in Him? Not just in a historical, intellectual sense, but have you received Him? Have you come to Him? These are the words that Jesus uses in His indictment of His critics in this passage: believe, receive, come to. To believe in Jesus, or receive Him, or come to Him, means to turn to Him in faith as your only hope of life eternal and abundant. It is to receive Him as the life-giving Savior who rescues you from your sin. It is to come to Him in total abandon of all your other beliefs and practices in which you trust to make you right before God. Hope is found in Him and in Him alone.

If you do not believe in Him in this way, then you are like these who opposed Him in our text today. The indictments fall on you as well. You have not heard the voice of God, nor beheld His form in the person of Christ, nor do His word or His love abide in you. And yet, you will stand before Him as your righteous judge when you step into eternity. What hope will you have? You have not only rejected Him, but you have rejected the testimony of Moses, of John the Baptist, and even that of God the Father Himself. And the outcome will be condemnation and eternal separation from God, when the offer of life, free, abundant, and eternal was extended to you by Jesus Christ. There is still hope while you have life and breath, but the hope is found only in Jesus, so come to Him; receive Him; believe in Him. Trust Him as Lord and Savior by faith, not blind faith mind you, but faith that rests confidently on His own word, that of His Father, and that of a multitude of witnesses, including those of us here whose lives have been transformed by His grace.

And remember, if you have turned to Jesus and received Him as Lord and Savior, that you too are called to be His witness. You are the living proof of His power to save sinners. May His love and His word abide in you as you walk through this fallen world, pointing the way to Christ that others may know the joy of His salvation.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 261.
[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospels and Epistles of John (1-volume edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 1:135.
[3] Carson, 263. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Giving Life to the Dead (John 5:25-30)

I suppose sooner or later in everyone’s life, they wrestle with the question, “Is there life beyond death?” It is an age-old question. Most biblical scholars seem to agree that the Book of Job is the oldest writing in our Bibles. Though the events of the first half of Genesis pre-date the events of Job, they were not recorded in writing until the time of Moses, whereas Job seems to have been written long before Moses’ day. And, in Job, we find the suffering patriarch wrestling with the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14). I remember the first time I wrestled with that question. Somehow, I had avoided it for the first 18 years of my life. But, in the summer following my high school graduation, my grandmother died, and my cousins and I were pallbearers at her funeral. It was the first funeral I had ever attended, and it was the closest that death had ever struck me. I distinctly remember the sound of the mausoleum vault closing, and as it echoed I was perplexed with mixture of despair, fear, and curiosity. The questions that kept bouncing around in my head were, “Now what? Is that the end, or is there something more?” God used those questions and emotions that I wrestled with to draw me to Himself. And it was there I found the answers in His Word. I found that not only is there life after death, but there is also a death before death. I was afraid of what would happen when I died, all the while not knowing that I was already dead and in need of being brought to life by Jesus. So, these are the kinds of things that Jesus is talking about here in this brief text today. He is talking about His power to give life to the dead.

I. Jesus has the power to give life to the spiritually dead. (vv25-26)

Many of you have undoubtedly noticed that there is a craze going around about zombies. What is a zombie? Well, in popular folklore, a zombie is a dead body that has been enlivened by a mystical or paranormal power. In short, zombies are the semi-living, walking dead, or the “undead” as they are commonly called. Walk into any bookstore, and you will find titles like The Zombie Survival Guide or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In the toy aisle of your local big box store, you will find a whole line of “Monster High” dolls. Movies, TV shows, and video games commonly feature human beings pitted against hordes of the undead, and on a somewhat regular basis, otherwise mainstream news outlets report stories dealing with the fears of a zombie apocalypse. In fact, in September of this year, the Centers for Disease Control launched a campaign to prepare citizens for a zombie apocalypse, and just a couple of weeks ago in San Diego, United States Navy and Marine personnel engaged in zombie apocalypse training exercises.[1] Now, admittedly, those training exercises and the CDC campaign were promoted with tongue-in-cheek, suggesting that if you are prepared for a zombie apocalypse, you will be well prepared for any sort of emergency that may arise.[2] But they are capitalizing on the popularity of the zombie meme in contemporary popular culture. It’s all kind of foolish, don’t you think? This idea that we can be invaded by multitudes of walking, undead corpses? Well, what if I told you that I believe you are already surrounded by walking corpses? You might want to call in some professionals to evaluate my mental well-being. But in a very real and spiritual sense, we are surrounded by the living dead: spiritual zombies.

Notice in verse 25 that Jesus says, “An hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” Now, notice the phrase “and now is.” Jesus is talking about something that is taking place, not in the future (though it will happen then as well, for He says “an hour is coming”), but it is happening in the present, at the time of His earthly ministry. The dead are able to hear His voice and those who hear will live. Now, we know that Jesus did in fact raise the dead to life on a few occasions: Lazarus (John 11:1-44), the son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-17); and Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9:18-26). Aside from these three, we do not know how many others experienced this unusual and temporary deliverance from death. That doesn’t seem to be what He is speaking of here. Notice that here, in the present tense, Jesus speaks of giving life to the dead, but it is not universal in effect. Though He says that the time now is when “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,” He seems to indicate that not all will hear, and thus not all will receive life. Contrast this with verse 28. There, we do not find any mention of a present work, only future; and those who are described as “dead” in verse 25 are contrasted with those who are described as “in the tombs” in verse 28. In the present state, in verse 25, not all receive life; whereas in verse 28, in the future, all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth. So it seems that Jesus is saying that not all who are dead are in the tombs. There are some others who are dead outside of the tomb, and if they will hear His voice, they will receive life. So, what is going on here?

The dead that Jesus is describing in verse 25 are what I would call “the living dead,” these spiritual zombies who are walking around in human bodies, but who are dead spiritually. Who are they? Well, in fact, every member of the human race is born in this condition, and a good plenty remain that way. Turn over to Ephesians 2:1, and let’s look at this for a moment. Here Paul says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” He does not say, “You were sick,” or “you were disabled,” or “you were a little unwell.” He says, “You were dead.” You remember that God told Adam that in the day that he ate of the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. Now physically, Adam did not die that day. Sin brought about a condition in him that would ultimately lead to an eventual physical death. But immediately, at the very moment of his sin, he died spiritually. And the terminal disease of sin has been spread to all of humanity; thus, we are all born dead in the spiritual sense, and we are all susceptible to physical death – we live in dying bodies with dead spirits – because of the effect of sin on the human race. So, Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” So, what is the natural condition of a human being? Dead and dying; spiritually dead and physically dying because of sin.

Now, you might say, “But I feel pretty good. I don’t feel dead.” A couple of weeks ago I was engaged in the first battle of annual war on leaves in my yard. And in the course of the battle, I was attacked by a multitude of yellowjackets. So, I went to the store to find something to deal with the yellowjacket problem, and I found this can of Raid that was supposed to do the trick. It said, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead.” That’s good. I wanted to kill them. And I wanted to kill them dead. So I sprayed the whole can into their nest. The next day I went out, and those yellowjackets were still swarming all over the place. It occurred to me that if that Raid had indeed killed the yellowjackets, it had not killed them dead. There must have been some kind of live kind of killing that the Raid had accomplished. When I think about that, I am reminded of how sin works in us. It kills us. But we are still buzzing around, aren’t we? Sin kills us, but it has not yet killed us dead. There’s some kind of live kind of killing that sin is accomplishing in us. But it will kill us dead eventually. Before that physical death occurs, however, we are spiritually dead in sin.

What does spiritual death look like? Notice how Paul describes it in Ephesians 2:2. He says that these spiritual zombies “walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (that’s Satan), of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” So, their lives are characterized by an enslavement to worldly values that are disobedient to will and Word of God, and which are dictated by Satan himself. Then in verse 3, he says that spiritual zombies live in the lusts of their flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and by nature they are children of wrath. They live under the condemnation of God because they serve their own warped desires as a god. To be spiritually dead is “to be insensible to the things of God and totally unable to respond to Him.”[3] That part of our being that communicates and interacts with God is dead within us from birth.

But notice the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul says in verse 1, “you were dead.” That’s past tense. In verse 3 he says that we formerly lived this way. So how did we go from being spiritual zombies to being spiritually alive? Paul says it this way in verses 4 and 5 of Ephesians 2: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” What is he saying? He’s saying exactly what Jesus is saying back in our text in John 5. The hour is coming, and Jesus says that hour is already here, when those who are dead – these spiritual zombies – will hear the voice of the Son of God. And when they hear His voice, He brings them to life. We are transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life by the effectual call of Christ through the Gospel. The voice of Christ comes breaking into the life of spiritually dead person like “a kind of summons from the King of the universe, and it has such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts. … This calling has the capacity to draw us out of the kingdom of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom.”[4] It raises us up from spiritual death and makes us finally spiritually alive. And that happened to you the moment you heard and believed the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You were made alive in Him. We call it being born again.

Now, how is it that the Son, the Lord Jesus can give life? He says in verse 26 that it is because He has life in Himself. You see, our lives are “derived.” Most immediately, our lives our derived from the lives of our parents, who “gave life” (for lack of a better word) to us through procreation. But more ultimately, all human life is derived from God, who created humanity, who gave life to man, and with it the ability to procreate, and who upholds and sustains human life through His providential care. Thus, when Job was presented with the news that his children had died, he responded, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And concerning that response, the Bible says, “Through all this, Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:21-22). Job understood that human life is a derived life. But when it comes to the life that is in Jesus, it is not derived in any way. He has life in Himself. His is self-existent, and the life that He has, He is able to impart to others.

But what are we to make of the idea here in verse 26 that the life that Jesus has in Himself was given to Him by the Father? Admittedly, this is a complicated and mysterious truth, bound up in the infinite mystery of the Trinity. But the idea here seems to have something to do with the condescension of the Son in the incarnation as He took upon Himself human flesh and a human nature. Philippians 2:6-8 describes it this way: “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself….” Theologians refer to this as the kenosis, a Greek word that means “emptying.” Christ emptied Himself of His divine glory and power to become a man. But it was pleasing to the Father that Christ should retain some of His divine attributes even as He condescended to human nature. And one of these attributes was the power to have life in Himself and the power to grant that life to others. Thus, we read in John 1:4 that in Him (in Christ, the Living Word of God) was life, and the life was the Light of men.” The Father was pleased to grant the Son to retain His self-existent nature – this life-in-Himself, which He has the power to give to the spiritually dead who hear and respond in faith to the call of His voice in the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus says in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, the voice of Christ came flooding in and brought life to those spiritually dead who heard His voice in the Gospel and turned in faith to receive Him as Lord and Savior. The hour is coming, Jesus says, and now is. If you are spiritually dead, having never turned in faith to the Lord Jesus, then He is calling out to you even today to announce that through His sinless life, His sacrificial death for your sins, and His glorious resurrection, your sins can be washed away and you can have life – eternal and abundant – beginning even in this very moment. The spiritual life that Jesus gives to the spiritually dead here and now foreshadows a coming day, yet future, which is described in the following verses.

II. Jesus has the authority to raise and judge the entire human race

Donia and I have been married for 15 years. For the first six years of our marriage, we lived beside of a cemetery; and for the last 7 years of our marriage we’ve lived beside of another cemetery. People often ask us, “What’s it like living beside of a graveyard?” Well, we don’t have to worry about noisy or nosey neighbors, so it really has some significant advantages. There’s not a lot of activity in most graveyards. But that won’t always be true. There is a day coming, the Lord Jesus says, in which there will be a great upheaval in every cemetery in the world. That day remains in the future. Unlike verse 25, there is no present tense component of this promise. How far in the future will this event occur? We don’t know. But we do know that every day that elapses brings us one day closer. In the previous section we were talking about the spiritual dead – those spiritual zombies who are walking around among us every day. But now we are talking about the physical dead – they are in the tombs. And one day, “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth.” The same voice that brings life to the spiritually dead here and now will call the dead to rise from their tombs and stand face to face before Him. Thus Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).

For at least 350 years, and probably much longer than that, as Christians gather to bury their dead, words similar to this are spoken: “we commit this body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This wording originates in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer from 1662, but certainly the ideas that these words express are rooted in the Word of God itself. No matter the circumstances or the degree of sorrow in my heart over the death of a loved one, when I officiate at the graveside of a believer, I find tremendous joy as I utter the words, “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.” Folks, I really believe that, and I hope you do too! For the believer in Jesus Christ, death is not the end. We are confident by faith that the day is coming when the soul of our departed loved one, who is already with the Lord, will be reunited with a risen and glorified body! Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a sure and certain hope of resurrection from the dead unto eternal life! There is no greater comfort a grieving Christian can know that this!

However, what we do not often express verbally at the graveside is that there is also a sure and certain promise of resurrection for those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no hope and comfort in that promise. Though the unbeliever has the promise of resurrection and conscious existence beyond death, it is not a joyous existence in the glorious presence of Christ in heaven. It is a perpetual, eternal existence of judgment and condemnation. It seems odd to even call it life. It is at best a mere existence in the most agonizing of conditions. But it is a real, conscious, and unending existence, and that is a sure and certain promise made by none other than the Lord Jesus Himself. Therefore, we can believe it, and as He says in verse 28, we must not marvel at the truthfulness of these words.

When all who are in the tombs come forth in response to the voice of Christ, there will be a great separating of humanity. Now, this text really says nothing about chronology or time. There are other texts in Scripture that seem to indicate that the resurrection of the righteous dead will occur long before the resurrection of the unrighteous dead. This text does not contradict that. It merely asserts that all humanity – saved and unsaved; righteous and unrighteous – will be raised will be separated into two populations. Jesus says here that those who “did the good deeds” will be raised “to a resurrection of life.” It would be easy to mistakenly infer that Jesus is saying here that people will earn eternal life on the basis of their works, but that is most definitely NOT what He is saying. The Bible makes abundantly clear from cover to cover that works do not and cannot save human beings, for as spiritually dead people we are unable to do anything in our own power to bring pleasure to God, and our so-called righteousness is nothing but filthy rags in His sight. So, how then will those who did the good deeds be raised to a resurrection of life? We must rely on the whole context of Scripture to understand this. In John 6:28, the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” He responded (6:29) by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” What is the “good deed” that leads to the resurrection of life? It is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ! It is not a doing of something, but the receiving of something that has been done for you! It is the receiving of Christ as Lord and Savior on the basis of His sinless life, the death He died in your place for your sins, and the power of His resurrection. And when a person has received Him, they are transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life here and now, and will eventually be raised to eternal life with Him in the glory of heaven. The validity of this person’s faith in Christ is demonstrated by perseverance in a God-glorifying of righteous living, not done in an effort to earn salvation; but done as an overflowing of His life within us. These deeds are not the working of our own power to appease God; they are the outworking of the indwelling Christ within us. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” So the good deeds that lead to a resurrection of life are not even our own. We merely receive and appropriate for ourselves what Christ has done for us, and He lives and works through us those deeds that demonstrate that our relationship with Him is real and viable. Works do not make a person a Christian, but they can and should reveal whether or not a person is a genuine Christian, and not merely one who calls himself or herself Christian.

Apart from life in Him, the best that we can do is sin. Sin so totally corrupts the spiritually dead person that our self-instigated acts of righteousness amount only to unrighteousness. Thus, Jesus says that those who committed the evil deeds – that is, they did not believe upon Christ; they did not receive spiritual life in their state of spiritual death; they do not have Christ in them as the hope of glory – these will be raised, but not to eternal life with Him. These will be raised to a resurrection of judgment. The word also means condemnation. It describes the eternal, conscious existence which is separated from Him in hell, where for all eternity the condemnation of our sins is experienced moment by moment.

For a multitude of people, this message is now and always has been a highly offensive message. Christians who proclaim this truth are called judgmental and narrow-minded. It is often said that Christians do not reflect the nature of Christ in making statements like this, but I remind you that these are the words of Jesus Himself. He has been granted the authority by His Father to execute judgment, and the judgment is based on human response to Him as Lord and as Savior of the world. Verse 27 says that the Father has given Him this prerogative “because He is the Son of Man.” We’ve discussed this title before many times, and noted that it is the favorite title that Jesus uses to refer to Himself. In fact, no one else ever calls Him this; He alone uses the title, and more often than any other title, to refer to Himself. It is rooted in the messianic announcement of Daniel 7:13-14, in which we read that the Son of Man will receive from the Ancient of Days an everlasting dominion and kingdom which will never pass away. This is a vivid picture of the authority that is granted to God the Son by God the Father. Because the Son is the eternal God, and has been invested by the Father with this authority, and because He has become man and lived in perfect obedience to His Father’s will, He has demonstrated His authority to judge all humanity. Though some will object that this judgment is unfair, that all humanity should be saved or perish on the basis of Christ, and Him alone, Jesus says in verse 30 that His judgment is just. It is based on the will of His Father, who sent Him for this mission and purpose. Peter announced in Acts 10:42-43 that Christ has “ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead,” for “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Thus, by the Lord Jesus’ very own words, we have the sure and certain promise that there is a life that exists beyond death. All who are in the tombs will come forth. Those who have received life in His name have been cleansed of sin and covered in His righteousness. Our sins have been dealt with fully and finally in Christ crucified. He died to bear the wrath of our sin, that we might be brought forth from death into life – a spiritual quickening of our dead spirit that we might know the abundant life Christ offers to us here and now, and the physical life of resurrected glory after death has done its best to destroy us. In Christ we overwhelmingly conquer sin and death and hell, and are raised to a life that shall never end. But for those who do not experience the gift of His salvation which transforms us from death to life, eternity shall hold for them no hope or comfort – only the conscious experience of eternal torment, separated from Him in the despair and agony of hell. That reality can lead you to live in fear and dread, wondering against all odds how you will fare on the day of resurrection and judgment. Or, this promise can beckon you to call out to Him and know the glory of being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life here and now. He calls out to you even in the state of spiritual death. And so it is for good reason that the warning is given to us in Hebrews 4:7, saying that God has fixed a certain day and called it “Today,” saying, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”  His voice comes to you through message of His death and resurrection for your sin and for your salvation, saying as it were, “Awake sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14).

If today you are a spiritual zombie – a dead spirit walking around in a living body – hear the voice of the Son of God calling and turn to Him and live. Then you will know the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from death unto life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. And if you have already experienced that transformation from death to life in your spirit, live in the hope and glory of it. Show those around you who are dead what it really means to live by resting in Him and allowing His life to break forth into the world through you. The world may not always like what they see of Him in you, but fear not. The worst that this world can do to you is kill you. But take courage, Christ has overcome the world, and He has overcome death, and He will call you forth from the tomb and you will rise to life eternal with Him. 

[1] Accessed November 8, 2012.
[2] Accessed November 8, 2012.
[3] John MacArthur, John 1-11 (MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Chicago: Moody, 2006), 196-7.
[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 692.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Epaphras: A Model of Christian Ministry (Colossians 1:1-7; 4:12-23)


This past Lord's Day, we were so blessed to have Wes & Beth with us, dear missionary friends serving the Lord abroad who have deep ties to our church family. Wes proclaimed a powerful and challenging message, enhanced by a testimony from Beth, about the man named Epaphras that we meet in the book of Colossians.

His outline for the message is as follows:

I. We have a responsibility to be teachers of God's Word (1:7)
"You learned it from Epaphras"

II. We have a responsibility to be team players (1:7)
"Our dear fellow servant"

III. We have a responsibility to be faithful (1:7)
"a faithful minister of Christ"

IV. We have a responsibility to reach out to the people around us (4:12)
"Epaphras, who is one of you"

V. We have a responsibility to be people of prayer (4:12)
"always wrestling in prayer for you"

VI. We have a responsibility to have a missions vision that begins at home and extends to the nations (4:13)
"working hard for you, and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis"