Thursday, June 27, 2013

God's Wake Up Call to the Church on Marriage

This is an article I wrote for our church newsletter: 

For every issue facing America and the world today, God's Word has an answer. His Church has been strategically placed in the midst of this fallen world to proclaim, demonstrate, and defend His truth on those issues. Sometimes, the Church finds itself rocked to sleep by the lullabies of this world, and loses its prophetic voice. When that happens, God has a way of sending wake up calls to rouse His Church from slumber. I believe that this week, such a call has come through the Supreme Court rulings on marriage. 

In Mark 10:6-9, Jesus gives a succinct synopsis on the Biblical definition of marriage. He says, "from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." In these brief words, Jesus makes it clear that God created marriage, that it was part of His plan from the beginning, and that He intends it to be for one man and one woman. Over the last several years, the Church has been very vocal in defending these aspects of Biblical marriage, and yet, the world has not given ear to this word. On the one hand, this should not surprise us, because a culture filled with unbelievers has no appetite for God's truth. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14, "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." Yet on the other hand, one reason why the world has ignored the voice of the Church on the marriage issue is that the Church long ago made compromises of its own on the issue of marriage. The ideals we champion so vocally today in the name of Biblical marriage are at best only a partial picture of Biblical marriage. The attempts that we are seeing today to radically redefine marriage should be received by the church as a wake up call to repent and return to the full understanding of biblical marriage. For, as Jesus' words make clear, marriage is not only a gift of God from creation for one man and one woman to enjoy, but God's ideal for marriage is that it be a permanent, life-long union. This aspect of the Biblical view of marriage has been ignored by the Church by and large for decades now. 

For a long time, the church has taken a soft stand on issues like divorce, adultery, cohabitation, premarital fornication, unbiblical remarriage, absentee fatherhood, and a host of other ills that have already struck at the root of Biblical marriage, long before any discussions of homosexual unions came to the forefront. The church turned a blind eye, or gave a wink and a smile while these things went on in our own ranks, instead of pursuing the course of corrective church discipline in such cases. Because we did not practice corrective discipline, we also abandoned the formative discipline of teaching the whole counsel of God on these issues, and thus, generations of church-going Americans are clueless to God's will for marriage, informed only by cultural trends. The result is that today, across the board in our nation, there is a divorce rate hovering around 50%, and no difference can be found among Christians or even Christian ministers than among unbelievers. The prophets of our day are right to sound the trumpets and call the church to action, defending a Biblical view of marriage. But as we do so, let us do so with integrity. Let us examine ourselves first, being willing to recognize our own sin in committing and ignoring violations of Biblical marriage in our midst, and repenting of that before the Lord, receiving pardon and cleansing through the blood of Jesus, even as we commit ourselves to uphold His will and Word on marriage by the power of His indwelling Spirit.  Maybe then, God will have favor on us, and will give us a hearing in a culture gone haywire. Until then, we cannot expect to be taken seriously by the world as we call out their sins and ignore our own.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Living Water that Christ Supplies (John 7:37-39)

They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and having recently spent a week there, I think we would agree. One evening, after a riverboat ride and a long stroll along San Antonio’s Riverwalk and the Alamo, we were all craving a little late night snack. We found an all night café famous for its cinnamon rolls. But we soon discovered that one of those cinnamon rolls was big enough to feed a small army – it weighed three pounds and was bigger than my head. We did all we could do to it, and it was delicious, but we only ate about two-thirds of it. It satisfied our hunger, and then some. We started offering it to people sitting around us, and finally we suggested that the server share it with her coworkers. We left there so full that we could barely walk, but as is so often the case, we awoke hungry again the next morning. I was thinking, “Man, we should have kept the leftovers of the cinnamon roll!” Similar to that cinnamon roll, in our text today, Jesus offers the world something that will satisfy us and then some. He offers to provide living water that will satisfy the thirsty soul, and then some. It will flow forth from within us to spill over into the lives of others. But unlike that cinnamon roll, which fills for a while and then leaves us hungry again, the living water that Christ provides satisfies the thirsty soul forever. Drink of it and never thirst again.

The setting of Jesus’ words here is important to understand. Verse 37 says that it was “on the last day, the great day of the feast.” We have to go all the way back to verse 2 to remember that the feast here is the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles as it is more commonly called. This was the most popular of the three festivals in which it was expected that all Hebrew males who were physically and financially able must make a pilgrimage to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem. During the weeklong feast, pilgrims would dwell in crudely built shelters around the city, reminding them of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites as they left Egypt and prepared to enter the Promised Land in the days of Moses. It was the most joyous of the Jewish festivals, as it celebrated the great acts of salvation and provision in the past and anticipated the coming of the Messiah, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the ingathering of the nations in the future. During the week of celebration, more animals were sacrificed than during any other time of the year.[1] The Mishnahs depict this season as a time when every road leading to Jerusalem would be thronged with festively clad worshipers, singing the songs of Zion, and bringing their gifts and offerings to the Lord.[2]

Over time, traditions and rituals developed apart from the Scriptural instructions surrounding this feast, and one of the most popular was the daily ceremony of drawing water from the pool of Siloam and the pouring out of that water on the Temple altar. For six days, one of the carefully chosen priests would take a golden pitcher to Siloam, accompanied by a great throng of worshipers playing instruments and singing the Psalms, and returned to the temple, where he would circle the altar one time as the multitude chanted the words of Psalm 118:25, “O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity.” The plea for salvation was voiced with the Hebrew word, Hosanna, “Save us now!” The final day of the festival, the “great day” as John calls it here, was known as the Hosanna Rabbah, “the great Hosanna,” because on this day, the priest circled the altar with the water of Siloam, not once, but seven times, accompanied by the repeated chants. It was a joyous demonstration of the prophecy in Isaiah 12:3, “You will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” With this outpouring of water, they remembered how God had provided water from a rock in the wilderness to satisfy the deadly thirst of the people. They also did this as a prayer for the Lord to pour out rain on a dry and thirsty ground, to prepare the soil for plowing and planting in the season to come. The Hebrew Mishnah said that “he who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.”[3]

But on this particular day of the festival, something unusual, something very out-of-the-ordinary happened. Hear the words of a Messianic Jewish scholar describing the unusual events of that day:

Picture this scene … It was Hoshana Rabba, on the last and greatest day of the Feast. See the crowds in the temple courts, watch the white-robed priests as they climb the steep ascent from Siloam to the Temple. They are carrying a golden vase of the water they just drew with joy from the well of Siloam. The water was poured into the basin near the altar. Then as the priest stood with his empty flask, a Man who had been watching cried with a loud voice: “If a man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). These were strange words to say, anywhere, at any time. But in the Temple on Hoshana Rabba, they were not just strange, they were audacious.[4]

That audacious Man who spoke these audacious words was none other than Jesus, the Christ. In just two sentences, Jesus takes a ritual that spoke of the slaking of physical thirst and the saturating of hardpan soil and radically reorients it to point to a greater need, and a greater means of satisfaction. More than any weary desert pilgrim needs water to drink, more than a farmer needs rain to soften the hard dirt of his fields, every human being needs the living water that Christ supplies to satisfy the longing of our desperately thirsty souls. While the priest’s golden flagon has gone dry here at festival’s end, and the pilgrims will have to wait another year to see the water poured on the altar,  the Lord Jesus speaks of an inexhaustible supply of living water that He can provide, which will satisfy the aching thirst of our souls and spill over onto others as His life works itself through us. Here in His brief words, we find a gracious invitation and a glorious promise. And this invitation and promise are the core of the Christian gospel.  

I. Christ’s Gracious Invitation to Thirsty Souls (v37)

When I was preparing for Seminary, I got a book from the student life office on campus about scholarship opportunities. As I looked through there, I noticed that some of the funds were very limited in scope. Some of them said things like, “you must be a United States veteran living in the Pacific Northwest pursuing a degree in Nouthetic Counseling.” I was scouring through the book with a red pen, crossing out ones that did not apply to me. It was a discouraging process. But when it comes to the living water that Jesus has to offer us, His invitation is universal.

Notice in v37 that Jesus stood and cried out. He put Himself in a position for all to see and spoke out so that all could hear, and He announced, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” There are no limitations on the offer. It is available to anyone who is thirsty. Now, there may have been some in the crowd who thought, “Well, He’s not talking to me, because I am well hydrated; I’ve had plenty of water to drink today.” But Jesus is not talking about physical thirst. He is talking about a spiritual thirst, and that, my friends, is something that every person has. Each one of us has a gaping hole in our lives that nothing but God Himself can satisfy. Some of you know from experience: you’ve tried to satisfy your soul’s deepest longings with money, material possessions, education, career, relationships, and a host of other pursuits; and none of it satisfied. And all around us every day are multitudes of people who are chasing after empty promises, and who, if they were honest, would say that the theme song of their life is the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” But to a world of spiritually thirsty people, the Lord Jesus graciously beckons saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” It doesn’t matter who you are: Jew, Gentile, young, old, rich, poor, man, woman, child, religious, unreligious, the invitation is given to anyone and everyone. Come to Jesus, and drink, and you will be satisfied. The only limitations on the offer are that you must be thirsty – and we all are; and you must be willing to admit you are thirsty – and that is something many people are unwilling to do. The late James Montgomery Boice wrote,

I never stand to preach the gospel but I am made aware of the fact that there are many who do not understand the gospel, and who, even if they do understand it, will not receive the Savior. To such we preach soul-satisfaction. We share Christ's invitation. But they, although they are in the midst of a spiritual desert of their own making, will not drink from this fountain. We warn them of their danger, and they dismiss it lightly. We speak of the Law's condemnation, and they laugh at such old-fashioned notions. The mass of men never thirsts after salvation. Do you thirst?[5]

You do. But will you admit that you do? Will you come to Him and drink? But what does it mean to come to Him and drink? First notice that the invitation is to come to Him, that is to a person. The invitation is not to come to a place – like a church building – or to come to a ritual that you must do. In America today there are multitudes who have come to church, they have come to be baptized, they have come to the Lord’s Table, and so on, but they have never come to Jesus! How can we come to Christ? Is He not in heaven, and are we not cut off from that place because of our sins? Indeed, but Christ has come all the way to you, being made flesh and coming as a man to live among us, to die as the sacrificial substitute for our sins, and to conquer sin and death through His resurrection. He has come all the way to you, so that the steps you have to take to come to Him are minimal. It is a decision of the heart to turn away from sin and turn toward Him.

And when we come to Him, we are invited to drink. What does He mean to come and drink? He tells us in the next verse: it is to believe in Him. It is to turn to Him in recognition of your spiritual thirst and in faith that He alone can satisfy that need in your life. To believe in Him is more than just to acknowledge the historical facts of His existence and the truthfulness of His claims. It is to personally trust in Him – to make a personal appropriation of the salvation that He has accomplished in His life, death and resurrection for you. It is to believe that He alone can save you from your sins and make you right with God, and to trust Him alone to do so.

 To come to Him and drink, to believe in Him, is not a means to seeking God; to believe in Him is to lay hold of God Himself. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” This is the same promise that God had declared centuries before through the prophet Isaiah: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live” (Isaiah 55:1-3). In making this announcement, particularly at the place and time at which He made it, Jesus is saying, “The God whom you seek is here in your midst in the flesh. Come to Me, drink, believe and live.” So, have you come to Him? Have you drank? Have you believed? The invitation is there to all who are thirsty. It is a gracious invitation, and it is coupled with a glorious promise.

II. Christ’s glorious promise to all who come believing (vv 38-39).
Sometimes, when we are presented with an offer of something that seems too good to be true, we wonder what the catch is. We think there has to be a hook hidden in that bait and we are skeptical to fall for it. Jesus says here that all who are thirsty can come to Him and drink. So, what’s the catch? Where’s the hook? No hook, and no catch. Only a glorious promise. And what is the promise? “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
This is a glorious promise of everlasting satisfaction. That spiritual thirst that every person has in their heart will be quenched with living water. The words that Jesus speaks here are reminiscent of those that He said to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. There, beside the historic well of Jacob, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Just like Jacob’s well, it could be said of every would-be fountain in life that promises us satisfaction apart from the Lord Jesus: “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again.” If any satisfaction can be found at all there, it is fleeting and temporary, and only leaves us thirstier than we were before. But the Lord Jesus promised that Samaritan woman, and all of us as well: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give Him will never thirst again.” The aching thirst of our souls is satisfied in Him, in Him alone, and in Him forever. This living water that He supplies becomes a “well of water springing up to eternal life.” Your greatest need in life is to be reconciled to the God who made you and before whom you will stand at life’s end to give an account. Jesus Christ, and Him alone, has met that need through His life, death, and resurrection. Come to Him and believe, and you will never have that need again. He will save, and save to the uttermost. Having redeemed you from the curse of sin, He has bound you to Himself in covenant love that can never be severed. Should life bring you rejection, you have acceptance before God in Him. Should life bring you sorrow, you have joy in Him. Should life bring you alienation and loneliness, you have in Him a faithful friend who will never leave you nor forsake you. Should life leave you an orphan or a widow, you have through the Lord Jesus Christ a Father and a Husband who will be with you forever. If you have come to Him to drink of His living water, believing and trusting in Him, you can say with the Apostle Paul, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” No, nothing “can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 39). He gives you the promise of everlasting satisfaction.

But the promise is not just that your thirst will be satisfied and your longings fulfilled. It is even greater. In addition to the promise of everlasting satisfaction, Jesus promises to those who believe in Him overflowing supply. He says that the living water will not just fill you, but will flow out from your innermost being.[6] So abundant is the supply of living water that Christ endows to those who believe on Him, that it sloshes out and gushes forth from within us and begins to impact others. What Christ has put in you, you will not be able to contain within yourself. It will spill over into the lives of those around you. My kids really enjoy swimming; I really do not. When I go to a swimming pool, I like to just sit on the edge, maybe get down in the water a little bit, and just relax. But there’s always some kid in the pool – sometimes its my own kids – who are not content to swim around in the water, they want to make sure that everyone else gets thoroughly saturated as well. They are cannonballing, splashing and flailing about, and ruining my attempt to remain predominantly dry. That’s kind of the idea here. The Christian in the world is like that kid splashing about in the pool getting everyone else wet. The blessings of God are overflowing and splashing onto the people you interact with and encounter. The living water is not just for our own enjoyment; it begins to flow into the lives of others as the life of Christ works within us and through us.

Now John gives a word of necessary explanation in verse 39. He says, “But this He spoke of the Holy Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” This living water of which the Lord Jesus speaks is the divine Holy Spirit, that third person of the Triune Godhead who would be poured out upon all who believe upon Christ.[7] But the time of this indwelling had not yet come on God’s timetable. Though the Spirit was active and present in the world, and particularly in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself, there was coming a day when all believers would be baptized of the Spirit and indwelt by Him. God had purposed that this should not occur until Jesus had “been glorified.” In speaking of Jesus being glorified, the Apostle is looking ahead to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, by which He returned to His Father having completed His mission to rescue humanity from sin, and whereby He received “the glory which” He had “before the world was” (17:5).  Some ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, Pentecost came, and on that day the Spirit came upon all who believed upon Jesus. Not only were they filled with His power, but the Spirit began to work mightily through them as they proclaimed the Gospel message on that day, and three thousand more were saved and received the Spirit. And from that day forward, the Spirit continued to work through believers far and wide, filling them with the living water, and flowing forth through them to impact multitudes wherever providence directed them. And He continues to do so through the lives of believers today.

The Spirit’s indwelling presence in your life is not a matter of mere personal satisfaction, though He certainly does this! He does more, not less, than this. He flows forth through us into the lives of others. He is one Spirit, yet He flows forth from us as “rivers (plural) of living water,” bringing blessing and refreshing to all we encounter. He does this through the gifts with which He endows every believer, and the fruit that we bear as a result of His presence within us. As you read the New Testament letters, you will note that the fruit and gifts of the Spirit are not inwardly focused on the self, but they are “other-focused.” In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What are these but divinely manifested qualities that affect how we interact with others? When we act with love, patience, kindness, and all of the other attributes that the Spirit produces in us, the rivers of living water are flowing through us and spilling over into the lives of others. And the gifts that we have because of the Spirit’s work within us are not a means of self-fulfillment. In 1 Corinthians 12:7 we read that “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” As we serve the Lord in the power and gifting of His Spirit, others are blessed and edified. The waters flow through our innermost being and pour onto others. So you see that Jesus saves us, yes, for our own good, but we are also redeemed for the well-being of others. Your life, no matter how you estimate it, or how others do, is valuable to God and He has a purpose to use you in the work of His Kingdom. He desires to work through you to bring the living water to other thirsty souls. He desires to use your gifts within His church to strengthen and bless others. Are you living a life of isolation, cut off from the fellowship of fellow believers? If so, you are blocking the flow of living water that He desires to pour forth through you into the lives of others. You are depriving your brothers and sisters in the faith of the blessing that God uniquely wants to use you to deliver to them through your specific giftedness. He will do this, both within the church and outside of it, as His Spirit works in you and through you. He has not given you this Living Water to keep to yourself. You will never exhaust the supply. So let the river of living water flow through your life into the lives of others. Do not let the water of the Holy Spirit stagnate in a heart of self-centeredness. Others are in need of the water of life that Christ has promised to channel through your life as you live for His glory, with a heart that is fully satisfied in Him and Him alone.

So, in closing, allow me to ask a few pointed questions:
1) Have you recognized and acknowledged your thirst for that which only Jesus Christ can satisfy?
2) Have you come to Him in faith and trust, to drink, as it were, from the fount of Living Water? He bids you come, all who are thirsty, and never thirst again. Find the satisfaction that your soul desires in Him if you never have before.
3) For those who have, to whom, and in what way, will you allow the Spirit of God to work through you to bring blessing to others today? This week? And in the days to come? To whom in your circle of acquaintances will you show the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of the Holy Spirit? Is there anyone in the church who will be blessed and refreshed as you exercise the gifts that the Holy Spirit has imparted to you for the common good? Will you let the Spirit of God flow through you into the lives of others? 

[1] Mitch and Zhava Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 173.
[2] Daniel Fuchs, Israel’s Holy Days in Type and Prophecy (Neptune, NJ; Loizeaux Bros., 1985), 76.
[3] Sukkah 5:1. Cited in Fuchs, 78.
[4] Fuchs, 78.
[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John (An Expositional Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 2.585.
[6] Jesus says here that this promise is “as the Scripture said.” Yet, there can be found no Old Testament passage that corresponds precisely with this promise. No one in recent times has surpassed the explanation offered during the Reformation era by John Calvin on this potential problem: “I think that Christ is not referring to any one scriptural passage but takes a testimony from the common teaching of the prophets. … Therefore all the predictions about living waters are fulfilled in Christ, who alone has opened and revealed God’s hidden treasures.” John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 197. Thus, it seems that rather than pointing to a particular Old Testament scripture, Jesus is alluding to an entire corpus of prophetic writings on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to those who believe upon Him.
[7] John knows this when he composes this Gospel, but like everyone else present when Jesus spoke these words, he was likely oblivious to the cryptic statement that Jesus declared. So, how did John come to know that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit? In the Upper Room Discourse, recorded in John 13-16, Jesus taught the Twelve much about the forthcoming ministry of the Holy Spirit, including the promise that the Spirit would empower the Twelve to compose and oversee the composing of the New Testament canon (14:26; 16:13). After Christ’s ascension, the Spirit came at Pentecost. By the time John wrote this Gospel, he had experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for over half a century. Therefore, he is able to insert commentary here in the text to inform the reader of information that was not yet known at the time Jesus spoke these words.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found (John 7:31-36)


Have you ever put off something, thinking, “Oh, I can always do that later,” only to find that the opportunity vanishes, never to come around again, or that you have waited too long? Procrastination is something that all of us are prone to do, and sometimes those missed opportunities are not a big deal, while other times, it matters significantly. So, maybe you decided to sleep in rather than taking advantage of the big door-buster sale on the day after Thanksgiving, big deal. On the other hand, maybe you decided to wait a little while to get that clanking sound in your car’s engine checked out, and then your engine blew up. Or maybe you put off seeing a doctor about that little pain that you were experiencing, only to find at long last that you had a serious medical condition that could have been easily remedied had you gotten it checked sooner. Maybe you never got around to telling a loved one how special they were to you before they died. Maybe you put off making something right with someone you had wronged. That happened to me once. When I was a teenager, before I knew the Lord, I did a lot of things that I am not proud of. Once, I was caught doing something I shouldn’t have been doing at work by an older man who worked with me, and he reported me to the boss. When the boss confronted me about it, I lied, and I said the old man was senile, and he really didn’t know what he was talking about, and besides that I didn’t think the guy liked me very much and he was trying to get me fired. A few years after I became a follower of Jesus, I was praying one day, and that whole incident just flooded my mind. I knew that God was telling me that I needed to make things right. So, I wrote a letter to my old boss, telling him what I did and apologizing for it and for the lies I told about it. Then I wrote a letter to that older man to apologize for dishonoring him. I shared with him that I had become a follower of Jesus, and that I had sought God’s forgiveness and wanted him to forgive me too. A few weeks later, I received a letter from his wife – his widow. She told me that he had died a few years after the incident happened, but she remembered him talking about it. She said that she and her husband were Christians, and that they had prayed for me during all of that, and that she was overjoyed that God had taken control of my life. I was heartbroken. I waited too late to make it right. But I wrote her back to tell her that I was overjoyed to know that I would see him again in heaven, and that I was so grateful to know that he had prayed for me. See, sometimes putting something off, on the assumption that you can always take care of it later, could be a really big deal! And it is never a bigger deal than when it comes to doing business with Jesus.

Chances are, you know someone, maybe you are someone, who thinks, “You know, I can go through life doing my own thing, and Jesus will always be there, so I can just deal with Him later. Sometime, you know, when I get to be an old man, or when I get sick, I can turn to Him then, when I really need Him.” But the thing is, we never know what a day may bring. You never know when it might be too late. When the nation of Israel was threatened with invasion from enemies on every side, they were strongly tempted to depend on treaties and tributes and foreign alliances to secure them. But God had raised up the prophet Isaiah to awaken the people to their need to seek security in the Lord and in Him alone. The Lord spoke through Isaiah, calling the nation to “seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isa 55:6). God had given them a great and gracious opportunity to experience salvation and deliverance under His strong hand, but this opportunity was limited – it was vanish at some point in the future, so they must not delay in turning to Him.

The Lord has spoken the same message to all human beings since Isaiah’s day. In our text today, it is this very urgent call that the Lord Jesus issues to those who heard Him. With animosity and conflict toward Him rising, the Lord Jesus speaks all the more clearly to the people of His own day calling them to turn to Him in faith and trust in Him to save them from their sins. While some, like those described in verse 31, “believed in Him,” understanding Him to be the promised Messiah that the world had been awaiting, others were angered by His words. His exclusive claims and radical denouncements of the religious façade that had evolved in Israel were a threat to the prominence and power of the religious leaders in Israel. The seat of power in Jerusalem belonged to a group of people known as the Sanhedrin. This group consisted of leaders from the prominent religious groups – the Pharisees, the Sadducees (who were the priestly party), and the elders of the nation. Under normal circumstances, these various groups were at odds with each other, having differing theological convictions and political interests. But the presence of Jesus Christ, and the works He did and the words He spoke, were a threat to them all. So, as is often the case, a common enemy has a way of uniting strange bedfellows, and these groups conspired together to eliminate Jesus and secure their own power and prestige. Knowing that Jesus is already turning the hearts of many toward Himself and away from them, they conclude that the time for action is now. They issue an official arrest warrant and commission the temple guard to seize Him. In the face of this escalating scenario, the Lord Jesus remains confident and secure in His own identity and mission. The word “therefore” in verse 33 indicates that it is precisely because of His own impending circumstances that He utters these urgent words in verses 33 and 34: “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” Before them stands an open door to eternal life – through which they can find forgiveness of sins and be reconciled to God. But this door will not remain open forever. It is closing soon, and when it closes, it will be closed forever.

The words of the Lord Jesus ring throughout the centuries and make their way to our ears today. If you do not know the salvation that Jesus Christ has come to secure for you through His life, His death, and His resurrection, you have this opportunity to know Him. It is a gracious opportunity, one that none of us deserve and none of us can earn. It is presented to us because God loves us, and in His grace does not desire that any of us should perish. But, this opportunity is limited. You have it now, you will not have it forever. So, the urgent need for anyone who does not know Him by faith is to commit themselves to Him even now! And the call to those of us who do know Him is to see to it that all those we know who don’t know Him understand the gracious opportunity that is set before them, before it is too late. It is a gracious, but limited opportunity. Let’s see this in the words that Jesus speaks here in the text:

I. The Lord Jesus presents a gracious opportunity to us (v33)

A few months ago, we were sitting along the sidewalk at in Frontierland at Disney World right in front of the shooting gallery waiting for the evening parade to begin. The kids had been wanting to try out the shooting gallery, but we’d been telling them, “No, its just a waste of money, and we’ve already spent so much to be here, we just don’t want to do that.” We are thankful to have such appreciative children; they had accepted our answer without complaining. Well, all of a sudden, a couple of Disney employees came up to us and said, “Which one of is the best shot with a rifle?” That’s kind of an odd question, so I really didn’t know how to answer. So, I did what any responsible father would do: I said, “My son is.” They said, “Well, how about we prove that? We’ve loaded up four rifles in our shooting gallery over here and you can all try it out for free and take as many shots as you want.” Now, you understand, this was not something we signed up for or paid extra for. We were just sitting there minding our own business, when these two people offered us something for free that we had not earned or deserved. There is a word in the Bible for something that is offered to you for free when you don’t deserve it or haven’t earned it. That word is grace.

You see, all of us, because we are sinners, are separated from God, and there is nothing we can do about that. We cannot do enough good works to make up for the wrongs we have done; there aren’t any rituals or payments we can make to reconcile ourselves to God. We are cut off. The Bible says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa 59:2). And that separation threatens to bar us from God’s presence forever – there is an eternal hell where all humanity would perish apart from God, if it were not for His grace. Because God loves us, He has graciously offered us salvation. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, we read that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” John 3:16 says it best: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is a free gift that God has given us. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus came to dwell among us – God in flesh as a man – to live the sinless and righteous life that we cannot live, to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s justice on our behalf, and to die in our place, receiving the full penalty of our sins in Himself, so that we can be forgiven, saved, reconciled to God, and have eternal life with Him. That was the mission for which Jesus came, and that was the message that He proclaimed.

On the Temple Mount during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord Jesus stood before the people offering them the gift of eternal life through faith in Him. He said, “I am with you.” Many of you are aware that the name of our church comes from a precious promise of God’s word. In Isaiah 7:14, it is promised that a virgin would bear a Son and He would be called Immanuel, and that name means “God is with us.” He is with us in the person of Jesus Christ. God has come to dwell among men in the person of Christ. We didn’t ask for it; we don’t deserve it; we cannot earn it. But God in His grace has come to us. He is with us. Notice Jesus says to those who are present with Him on that day that He is with them “for a little while longer.” The Feast of Tabernacles took place in the fall: it may have been September or October. Six months later (in the spring, maybe March or April), it would be Passover, and Jesus would be crucified. But death would not mark the end for Him. It would not be a tragic thing that took Him away from life too soon. It would not take Him by surprise. He knew it was coming, and He knew when it was coming. His death on the cross was part of His divine plan to save the world, as He died in the place of sinners so that we can be forgiven. It is not the sorry end to a sad and tragic tale; it is the completion of His mission. When Jesus died, He could say with confidence, “It is finished.” And so He says, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.” He would return to heaven, from whence He came, and to His Father who sent Him. When He prayed on the night before His death, He said to His Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Even in the face of murderous threats, the Lord Jesus can speak at the Temple on that day of the gracious opportunity that God had set before the people. He could speak of the grace in His coming to dwell among us: “I am with you.” He could speak of the suffering and death He would endure on our behalf: “For a little while longer I am with you.” He could speak of the glorious resurrection and ascension by which He would defeat death and return to His Father having accomplished the mission of redemption for which He came: “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.” Did they even realize what grace was being extended to them? Surely some did, while obviously others did not. But more importantly, do you realize it? Do you realize that it was for you that the Lord Jesus came, and for you that He died, and for you that He has risen from death and ascended back to His father? Do you realize that none of us deserve this? Because of our sins, we deserve to be separated from God. But because of God’s grace, the Lord Jesus stands before us, as it were, today saying “I have come for you. I have come to save you through My life, through My death, and through My resurrection. Come to Me and be saved!” Do the people in your life realize that it was for them that Christ came, and died, and rose again? My neighbor walked by the house the other day and said, “Hey Pastor, have you heard any good news lately?” Oh friends, this is the greatest news there is to hear, and the greatest news to tell! In the Lord Jesus Christ, God is with us, and He is with us to save us! What a gracious opportunity we have to cast ourselves on Him in faith and trust to be saved!

II. The Lord Jesus presents a limited opportunity to us (v34)

Several years ago, you might recall a really clever ad campaign for Doritos that showed people crunching into their chips, with the tagline, “Crunch all you want, we’ll make more.” No one has to fear that we’ll ever run out of Doritos. You can always just go to the store and buy more of them. They’re here to stay. Every year, McDonalds rolls out their McRib sandwich as a “limited time” item, and people go flocking to the golden arches, because we never know when the McRib might go away for good. Marketing geniuses know that the idea of missing out on something that is only available for a limited time can be a strong sales motivator. But, a lot of folks are getting wise to the plan, and they know that though the McRib may disappear for a little while, it will come back around. And even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have Doritos. But the Lord Jesus says here that His offer is a limited time offer, and once it is gone, it is gone for good. The opportunity is not rolling around again, and if you miss it, there is no consolation. Though they will keep rolling the McRib out from time to time, and they’ll keep making Doritos no matter how many you crunch, there will come a time for every person when it is too late to turn to Jesus.

Notice that in v34 He says, “You will seek Me, and will not find Me.” Now, this isn’t like Richard Nixon’s so called “goodbye speech” in 1962 after he lost the race for governor of California, when he bitterly said, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” No, Jesus wasn’t spewing out in bitter anger over the way He had been treated by the world. He was merely stating a fact. “You will seek Me, and will not find Me.” Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord had declared centuries before, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Here He stood in their midst saying, “I am with you,” but they didn’t want Him. Their hearts were hardened against Him. They were not seeking Him with all their hearts, and the only way they wanted to find Him was dead. So, rather than saying, as He had said through Jeremiah, “You will seek Me and find Me,” He says that days are coming in which they would seek Him and not find Him. The times would come for some of these folks when they would realize that they needed Jesus; and they would realize it too late. The reason was not because He was leaving the earth and returning to heaven. The reason, Jesus says, is that “where I am, you cannot come.” If they would seek Him with all their hearts, they could find Him still, even after He had died and risen and ascended back to heaven. But they would not find Him because they could not access Him. They would not turn from their sins and seek after Him by faith. So in John 8:21, Jesus says, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” They would not be able to find Him when they needed Him most because they will have died in their sin – unrepentant of the spiritual rebellion that had separated them from God since birth. And at that point, it would be too late. The door of opportunity will have closed at that point.

As was so often the case, here again, the crowd of people grossly misunderstood Jesus’ words. In v35, they say to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him?” Notice the error of their ways here. Jesus has spoken a plain truth to them, and they misunderstand. But rather than asking Him to clarify what He means, they are asking this of each other. Had their hearts been set on seeking truth, they would have asked Him what He meant. But instead, you have the pooled ignorance of all these confused people trying to sort out Jesus’ words among themselves. Try as they may, they could not discern His meaning. They said, “He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?” The Dispersion (or Diaspora) referred to the places where Jews lived scattered around the world since their return from the Babylonian captivity. They think He must be planning to run off to those far away places and surround Himself with Gentiles. That was the best they could come up with. If He stayed in Israel, He could run, but He couldn’t hide. But if He went to the Gentiles, no pious Jew would chase Him there, because they wanted to avoid all contact with the Gentiles. Yet, even this marks a gross misunderstanding of God’s intention for them. Though they prided themselves on being God’s “chosen people,” they seemed to never pause to consider why they were chosen by God. God had declared time and time again that He had chosen the nation of Israel to be His missionary people in the world to take the message of His truth to all nations. But they failed at this task, and instead of taking God’s truth to the world, they isolated themselves from the world and kept the knowledge of God to themselves. Ironically, in Jesus’ last words to His disciples – the Great Commission – He gave them the mandate to take the good news of the salvation that He had accomplished for the world to all peoples, beginning in Jerusalem, and extending to the ends of the earth, yes, even among the Gentiles. The church would be commissioned to be the people that God had called Israel to be. Like Israel, the early church was reluctant to go among Gentile peoples with the Gospel, until the very authorities that put Jesus to death also began to persecute and scatter the church to lands far and wide. And as they scattered, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and through the proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ, the church would see countless Gentiles come to know the Lord, while Israel remained separated, spiritually blind, hard hearted, and dead in sin. But, no, Jesus wasn’t going to the Gentiles – that’s not what He meant. He would go to the Gentiles later, after His death, through the witness of the church. But here His words mean something far more severe. He is returning to His Father in heaven, and they would not be able to join Him there, because they would die in unbelief and sin. Then it would be too late to find Him, too late to join Him in that place of glory. Their opportunity to call upon Him while He is near was limited, and Jesus is telling them that door would be closing very soon.

But compare what Jesus says to this crowd of unbelievers to what He says to His own followers. In John 13:33, Jesus says to His disciples, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Now, unlike those unbelievers, the disciples did the right thing. Rather than trying to sort it all out themselves, Peter spoke up and asked the Lord to clarify what He meant. Jesus said, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later” (13:36). Thank God for those words, “you will follow later.” This is a promise to all those who believe in Him. Though He is not with us in the flesh any longer, His promise is that we will be together with Him again. And as a guarantee of that promise, He has sent His Spirit to live within us. He remains “God with us”, living in us, reminding us, assuring us that heaven awaits us because of our faith in Him. He said in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” This time, it was Thomas who spoke up, asking the Lord rather than his fellow disciples what Jesus meant. He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” And Jesus said these wonderful words to Him: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (14:2-6). What a vast difference there is between the promise to those who believe on Him and the promise to those who do not. To the former He says, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow later.” To the latter He says very matter-of-factly, “You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” The gates of heaven stand open to those who have been cleansed of their sin through the blood of Jesus. But to those who die in unbelief and sin, those gates are barred shut forever. There will be no second chance once life has come to an end. As Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.”

So, what must we do? We must heed the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” A gracious opportunity has been set before you. Jesus says, “I am with you.” In God’s grace He has come to us to redeem us from our sins. He has done this through His death where He took upon Himself our penalty. This would occur, as He said, in “a little while” after He spoke these words. And having conquered sin and death and hell on our behalf, He has gone to Him who sent Him. What a gracious opportunity to be reconciled to God and saved from sin and death. We don’t deserve this. We cannot earn it. It is ours because God loves us and because He is good and gracious. But let us not be deceived: it is a limited time offer. The day will come when we leave this life and this world and set foot into eternity, where we will stand before the judgment bar of God. None of us knows when that day might be. And if it comes before we have made things well with our souls by turning unto Jesus for salvation, though you may seek Him on that day, you will not find Him. He will not be there to plead your case before the Father on the basis of His wounds and His blood. Where He is, you will not be able to come. You will have sinned away your opportunity for grace, and it will be too late. As Hebrews 2:3 says, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” So, to any who do not know Him, be they here in our midst today, or elsewhere in your journeys this week, or in your home and family, your neighborhood, your workplace, even if they be at the ends of the earth, the message is the same: Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.