Monday, September 22, 2014

The Disciple with the Satanic Heart (John 13:2-5, etc.)

(The passages in view here are John 13:2-5; 10-11; 18-19; 21-33; as well as material drawn from other passages.) 

Parents often name their children after famous people. Over the years, I’ve met a number of men named Mickey, because their father was a fan of the New York Yankees and wanted to name their sons after Mickey Mantle. There was a member in my first church whose name was Spurgeon. His father had named him after the great British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. But of all the people I’ve met, I’ve never met anyone named Judas. I’m sure there are some out there still today, but I think the name has fallen out of favor by and large, and I’m quite sure I know why. While many parents choose a name that has a connection to someone famous, very few would choose a name that is associated with someone infamous.

There is a difference between being famous and being infamous. My favorite discussion about the distinction between these two words comes from the movie The Three Amigos. As the Amigos are talking about the infamous El Guapo, one says, “What’s that mean, in-famous?” And another says, “In-famous is when you are more than famous. This man El Guapo is not just famous, he’s in-famous.” But infamous doesn’t mean “more than famous.” To be infamous is to be widely known for all the wrong reasons. It is to be notorious for evil. Hence, President Roosevelt said that December 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, would be “a date which will live in infamy.” Indeed, there are infamous dates and infamous people, who will never be forgotten. And Judas Iscariot is a man whose name lives in infamy.

Prior to the notorious legacy of Judas Iscariot, the name “Judas” was quite common, especially among Jewish people. It was a form of the Hebrew name Judah – one of the 12 sons of Israel who was a patriarch of the people. It was also the name of one of the great heroes of Jewish military history – Judas Maccabbaeus, who led the successful revolt against the Seleucid Empire between the times of the Old and New Testaments. Small wonder then that it was one of the most popular names for boys in the First Century. There are seven of them found in the New Testament. One was an ancestor of Jesus, one was a brother of Jesus.[1] Three different men named Judas are found in the Book of Acts.[2] In fact, amid Jesus band of twelve disciples, there were two different ones named Judas. One was rather obscure, not much is known about him other than that he had a kinsman named James.[3] John is careful to refer to him as Judas (not Iscariot), while Matthew and Mark prefer to call him by another name altogether, Thaddaeus, so as to not confuse him with the infamous Judas Iscariot.[4]

What do we know about Judas Iscariot? We know a few biographical details. We know that his father’s name was Simon, as indicated in the verses we have read in John 13. We know that, along with his father, he was known as Iscariot. We must not think of this as the “last name” of Judas or Simon. Rather, it is a locator. It means, “a man from Kerioth.” Almost certainly, this is a reference to Kerioth-hezron, mentioned in Joshua 15:25. This being so, Judas was the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee. He was from Judea. If he was like most of his fellow Judeans, we can surmise that he might have been a man of great patriotism and nationalistic zeal, longing anxiously for the day when the land would be free from Roman oppression. But none of these details are what makes Judas Iscariot infamous.

He is most well-known for his act of betrayal against the Lord Jesus. In the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we are introduced to Judas first in the listing of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. In all three of their lists, Judas comes last. Matthew and Mark say, after barely getting his name off the end of their pen for the first time, that he is the one who betrayed Jesus. Luke says similarly after first mention of his name that he is the one who became a traitor.[5] In fact, every single mention of his name in any of the four Gospels and Acts occurs either in the context of his betrayal of Jesus, or else there is mention of his betrayal immediately following the occurrence of his name. Judas is infamous. It is impossible to think of the death of Jesus without thinking of Judas, and it is impossible to think of Judas without thinking of his betrayal. John Piper says, “The most spectacular sin that has ever been committed in the history of the world is the brutal murder of Jesus Christ, the morally perfect, infinitely worthy, divine Son of God. And probably the most despicable act in the process of this murder was the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest friends, Judas Iscariot.”[6] And if you don’t take his word for it, you can take the word of Jesus, who said to Pilate just before he issued the order for Jesus to be crucified, “he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (Jn 19:11).

Well, how did this come to be? How did one who had been so close to Jesus come to commit this despicable act, this most spectacular sin? That’s what we want to examine today. And as we do, we want to study the Bible, but we also must study our own hearts. Judas is the disciple with the satanic heart. My reason for calling him that should be evident from the text we have read. Alarmingly, church history is replete with examples that prove that he was not the last disciple whose heart had been taken captive by Satan. Judas, therefore, stands as a warning to us all. As we dig into the soil of the Scriptures pertaining to Judas, we make several shocking discoveries about how he came to be in these circumstances that resulted in the betrayal of Jesus and beyond. As we do that, we will also want to examine the soil of our own hearts. None of us are immune to the circumstances that led to this tragic spiritual shipwreck, and all of us could benefit from being reminded of the course-correctives prescribed for us in God’s Word.

The first discovery we unearth regarding Judas that is profitable for our instruction is this:
I. Christian activity is no substitute for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I count no less than eighteen distinct names and titles conferred upon Judas in Scripture. Four of them relate to his name and background: Judas, Judas Iscariot, simply “Iscariot”, and the son of Simon. Half of them (nine) relate in some way or other to his betrayal of the Lord. But five of them are titles that relate to his standing among the followers of Jesus. He is called a disciple (Jn 12:4). He is called an Apostle (e.g., Mk 10:1-4). He is called “one of the Twelve” (e.g., Mt 26:47). He is called a minister (Ac 1:17, 25). And perhaps most amazingly, even in the very moment of betrayal, the Lord Jesus called him “friend” (Mt 26:50). From all of his titles, we could not expect that he would be one to turn away from Jesus in such a reprehensible way.

Moreover, as one to whom all those titles applied, Judas was very close to Jesus. He had spent the better part of three entire years with Him. He saw every miracle that Jesus did, and he heard every sermon and parable that Jesus spoke. In fact, he was even party to the private discussions that often took place afterward in which Jesus explained carefully the meaning of these things to His disciples. Decades ago, Southern Baptist churches would give out “perfect attendance pins” to people who had not missed Sunday School all year. Some of you may have one. Had they been given out in Jesus’ day, Judas would have had one.

Not only was Judas present when all these things took place, he had an active role in the ministry of Christ’s followers. When Jesus designated His apostles, the Bible says that He had set these twelve apart so that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons, and to perform healings in Jesus’ name (e.g. Mt 10:1; Mk 3:14-15). We have every reason to believe that Judas did all of those things. In fact, we have good reason to believe that he did them well and faithfully. He was trusted by his fellow apostles. As people began to make financial contributions to Jesus and His disciples, a treasurer was appointed. If I had been there, I would have nominated Matthew. He’d been a tax collector, so he obviously had a good head for numbers and financial matters. But they didn’t entrust the position to Matthew; they entrusted it to Judas. He was the first church treasurer in church history.

He received great spiritual blessings as a follower of Jesus. Here in our passage, Jesus is with His disciples in the Upper Room on the last night before His death. Judas was there. Jesus washed his feet, and Jesus served him the Passover meal, including the bread and the cup of the first-ever communion service.[7] In fact, we can even infer more about this than what is explicitly stated in the text. We have strong evidence to support that Judas Iscariot occupied the seat of honor at the table. In ancient times, folks did not dine in chairs seated at tables. I know that’s how DaVinci painted it, but he wasn’t there. I’ve actually partaken of more than one meal in the Middle East where meals are still eaten in the same way they were then. Around the table, there were arranged cushions in a U-pattern. Typically three people would recline with legs extended away from the table on these cushions. Because it is considered taboo to eat with one’s left hand, a person would prop himself up on his left elbow, leaving the right hand free to eat. The host of the meal would be in the center of the center cushion, and that would be Jesus at this meal. The position of highest honor would be immediately to the left of the host, and the position of second honor would be to his right. We know that John was seated to Jesus’ right, because the Bible speaks of him reclining against the Lord’s bosom (Jn 13:23). If he was upheld on his left elbow, he’d have to be seated on the right to lean into Jesus that way. But Judas was seated so closely that Jesus was able to hand him the bread. That would mean that he had to be seated on Jesus’ left, the position of honor. They were close enough to have a private conversation that no one else in the room could hear.

I say all of that to say that Judas was not one we would expect to the betrayer. In fact, no one did. When Jesus announced that He would be betrayed by one of the Twelve, not a one of them said, “I bet He’s talking about Judas.” In fact, Mark tells us that they were all saying, “Surely not I?” In their minds, each one considered himself as likely or unlikely a candidate as any other. And this is the first discovery that we make here. When it comes to Christian activity in the service of the Lord, and all the outward marks of genuine discipleship, Judas Iscariot would have likely put most of us to shame. He held significant titles, he had unprecedented spiritual opportunities and blessings, and held a position of great responsibility. But this was no substitute for a personal relationship of faith and trust in Jesus as Lord. In fact, the startling observation is this: not one time in all the Gospels do we ever find Judas Iscariot referring to Jesus as Lord. His body was close to Jesus, but his heart was far from him. And we must take note of this, lest we assume that we or anyone else are secure in our relationship with Jesus on the basis of our Christian activity. Christian activity is good, commendable, and necessary. We have been saved to serve. But our service does not save. In spite of all the good that we or any others may do, the ultimate question is have we come to Christ in faith to trust Him as our Lord? Judas never did. Have you? There is simply no amount of Christian activity that can substitute for this.

The second discovery we make here concerning Judas Iscariot which is relevant for our instruction is this:

II. The secret sins of the heart can become opportunities for great evil.

For quite some time, we have been receiving complaints about the air conditioning not working well on the second floor of the educational building. The thermostat seemed to be functioning correctly, and there was some air coming through the vents, but it never seemed to cool the rooms. We chalked it up to inefficiency and irreparable decay in the duct work. But recently we had our air conditioning guy take a look at it. The unit sits in a little room no one ever enter, and the workings are all concealed behind panels that are screwed tightly shut. Shortly after he began looking at it, he came to get me so I could see what he found. At some point in the past, it seems that a tiny little short in the wiring inside the unity had sparked into a flame, and everything that could be burned was completely consumed within the unit. No one ever smelled smoke, no one ever saw fire. But hidden away in an area that no one could see, a fire was raging that could have taken the whole building down. It is only by God’s gracious providence that we were spared from a catastrophe. But deep down in the secret areas of the human heart, unseen fires can rage and cause great destruction.

When we look at Judas’s sin of betrayal, we might like to give him a pass. We may try to say, “The devil made him do it.” There’s some truth to that. John 13:2 says that the devil put it into his heart, and verse 27 says that Satan actually entered into him. Judas was not just under demonic influence, or even demonic possession. He was possessed by Satan himself. So, does he get a pass on this? We would like to hope he does, so that we can take up the same mantra whenever we sin, and say of ourselves, “The devil made me do it!” But nowhere in Scripture does Jesus give Judas a pass on this. In spite of clear and obvious Satanic activity in Judas’s heart, Jesus holds him fully culpable for his despicable deed. We may protest and say this isn’t fair. Let’s be careful that we do not put ourselves in place as judge over Jesus. Whatever He does is good, and right, and fair. If we do not think so, the problem is with our standards, not with Him. So, how can Judas be both controlled by Satan and yet remain personally responsible for his deeds? The Bible makes it clear to us that Satan merely took advantage of an opportunity that Judas gave him in the secret places of his heart.

Satan is a great tempter. Because he hates God, he hates all who bear the image of God – the entire human race. And because he hates Jesus, he also hates those who call upon his name. Since Satan is unable to destroy or defeat God, he aims to destroy those who are devoted to him. He could care less what becomes of you. You are merely a pawn in his strategy to strike God by attacking and destroying what is most precious to Him – His own people. He knows that enticing Christians to stumble advances his cause in the world and gives a reason for others to blaspheme against the Lord. The Apostle Peter, who was no stranger to the strategies of Satan, writes in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And he does this by luring us along with many temptations to disobey and dishonor God in all manners of sin.

That said, when we sin, Satan is not the one to blame. The Bible says in James 1:14 that “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” It is that hidden desire deep down in our hearts that makes us susceptible to Satan’s temptations. Shall we blame our sin on him when he merely affords us the opportunity to gratify the sinful desire that is already raging within us? The devil has no power to make you do something. But he does have the power to arrange an occasion for you to do what it is that you secretly want to do. And we have the power to give him that opportunity to lead us into sin by leaving the secret desires of our hearts unchecked.

This is how it happened for Judas. Something in his heart was not right. It was a secret to all who knew him, with the exception of Jesus and Satan. Satan, seeing that spiritual malfunction in Judas’s heart, saw an open invitation to lead him into evil. So what was the problem in Judas’s heart? There are a number of things on which we can speculate, some with more sure footing than others. One of them that is a strong possibility concerns his background – this man Iscariot, the one from Kerioth. Being the only non-Galilean among the followers of Jesus, perhaps Judas felt like he was the odd-man-out. Sure, he occupied a position of great trust, but he was not part of that inner circle of three (Peter, James, and John) who regularly withdrew alone with Jesus. Perhaps he nursed a grudge in his heart against Jesus and these Galileans for leaving him out. Or perhaps Judas was like so many others from Judea, in that he was keenly intent on seeing the overthrow of Roman oppression in his homeland. Encountering in Jesus one who spoke and acted with unrivaled power and authority, it could be that he saw in Him one who could finally make it happen. However, when Jesus refused the crowd’s efforts to enthrone Him as king in John 6, Judas may have become embittered toward Jesus. It was not many verses thereafter that Jesus said to His followers, “One of you is a devil.” Were the seeds of evil and betrayal already sprouting in his heart at that point? Judas was a man with a great dream, and Jesus came along and killed it. As William Barclay put it so well, “Judas was the man whose tragedy was that he refused to accept Jesus Christ as he was, and sought to make Jesus into what he wanted him to be.”[8]

These are mere speculations – speculations on strong footing, but speculations nonetheless. There is one matter, however, about which there is no need to speculate. Whatever else might have been going on down in the dark recesses of this man’s heart, the Bible tells us with certainty that he was greedy. In John 12, we read that after Jesus was anointed with the costly perfume by Mary in Bethany, Judas protested that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. The Bible says that the perfume was valued at approximately one year’s salary for the average working man, and Judas considered it to have been wasted on Jesus. But note well that John 12:6 says clearly that Judas did not protest this because he cared about the poor. He protested it because he was a thief. As the keeper of the money box, “he used to pilfer what was put into it.” He was driven by a sinful love of money, which the Bible warns us is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith (1 Tim 6:10).

It was at this point that Luke tells us that Satan entered into him. Satan came in by way of the open door of greed in Judas’s heart and made a little deposit. Suddenly Judas had a plan. Knowing that the Jewish authorities had already put a bounty on Jesus’ head, Judas immediately went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” (Mt 26:15). If Jesus would not fatten his pockets any longer, he for those who wished him dead to do it. And they gave him thirty pieces of silver, an amount roughly equivalent to about a third of the value of Mary’s perfume. And then, piecing together the details of the four Gospels, it seems that Satan must have departed once the deal was done, but Judas began looking for the opportune moment to follow through.

John tells us that the devil is the one who put it – literally “thrust it” – into Judas’s heart to betray Jesus (13:2). But he could have never done it if the secret sins of Judas’s heart had not given him the opportunity to do so. Oh, we must guard our hearts against these secret sins. You may think, “Well, it is a small thing, and it isn’t really affecting anyone else, so what could be wrong with it?” Friends, when we think such things, we are swinging wide the door for Satan to lure us into destruction. He gave Judas the opportunity to betray Jesus, but not before Judas gave Satan the opportunity to invade. Are you nursing a secret grudge? Are you clinging to bitterness against the Lord or someone else? Are you harboring a relentless love of money, power, success, fame, or any other self-centered thing? We must plow up the soil of our hearts and seek these things out. If they be discovered they must be purged at once, lest we invite a great temptation upon ourselves. But let us remember what is written in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” The temptation is not a sin. It is an opportunity to sin. Satan brings it our way when we grant him room to do so by our secret desires. But when he brings it, God comes along too. He is able to help us resist, escape, and endure it.

This brings us to the third discovery:
III. There are many opportunities for a course-correction, but there will come a final one.

Judas was not the only disciple to undergo, and even fall, to temptation. Jesus called him a devil, but remember he also called Peter that on one occasion. When we are confronted with uncomfortable sternness by the Word of the Lord, it is actually a great display of His kindness beckoning us to repentance. Peter received it that way when he was rebuked by the Lord. Judas never did. Every time Jesus spoke about Judas and his impending betrayal, He was offering him the chance to turn back. When He said, “One of you is a devil,” Judas knowing the evil that was springing up in his heart could have well said, “I need to remedy this situation immediately.” But he didn’t. When Jesus repeatedly told His followers that He would be betrayed, Judas could have considered that it was not too late to turn the plan around. Even after he had taken the money, he could have returned it.

Time after time, Jesus gave him the opportunity for course-correction, but the window of opportunity was closing fast. Now, in the Upper Room, Jesus takes the basin and the towel and washes Judas’s feet, as if to say, “Judas, this is how much I love you. I want to serve you and make you clean.” But Judas’s heart was steadfast in rebellion. Jesus took the bread and the cup and handed it to Judas, as if to say, “I’m giving up My body and My blood to save you Judas,” but Judas would not have it. Even as Jesus said that the betrayer was “the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him” (v26), Judas did not have to take it. There could have been a change of heart. And so finally, Judas freely taking that morsel of indictment from the hand of the Lord Jesus, Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” It was the final offer. It was as if Jesus said to him, “This is the last chance. You have to make up your mind right now. Do it, or don’t do it, but whichever you decide, do it quickly and get it done.” But, John records that Satan had entered him, afresh and anew, and he allowed his heart to be taken captive to evil for the last time. Next, the Bible records these tragic words: “So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately.” Undeterred by the kindness of the Lord and the repeated offers of repentance and reconciliation, Judas had made his final decision. He is not seen again until he comes back into the garden with the mob to betray Jesus with a kiss, even as Jesus continued to call him His friend.

What is it that you are wrestling with in your heart of hearts? Is there some besetting sin, some sinful passion that is driving you to contemplate things that are entirely displeasing to the Lord? You don’t have to do it. Maybe you already have. Listen, you are no different from the rest of us. Church is not a gathering place where good people come to celebrate their perfections. We’ve all got baggage, we’ve all been down those roads. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul gives a veritable laundry list of sinners: fornicators, idolators, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, covetous ones, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. But then he says to the church there, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Listen, we’ve all been on that list, or some list just as bad. But, in God’s kindness, He offers us an opportunity for a course-correction. Christians aren’t people who’ve never blown it, they’re just people who have taken the opportunity granted by God’s grace to repent and turn to Jesus to be saved from our sins. And I know God has given every one of us one opportunity after another to do just that. Look how many times Jesus gave Judas that opportunity. He is calling you His friend, looking into your eyes, down into your heart where the seeds of sin take root, and He’s saying, “Right now, it is not too late. Will your turn back? Will you turn to Me?” It is time to make up your mind. What you do, do quickly. But know that one day, just as it was for Judas, so it will be for all of us who resist these opportunities. There will come a final offer.

Now you might say, “Well, what ever happened to Judas?” It is not a pretty story, my friends. The Bible says that he was filled with remorse – not repentance, but remorse. He was not sorry for his sin, just plagued with the guilt of it. He tried to return the money after Jesus had died, but the priests wouldn’t take it back. So, in despair he went out and killed himself. I suppose he thought it would bring an end to his guilt, but it didn’t. You see, Judas lives on. You might wonder, “Was he forgiven? Did he go to heaven? Does his story have a happy ending?” Sadly, it does not. Sin utterly destroyed him on earth, and it is destroying him forever in hell. You might object and say, “How can you say that?” Well, I hope you will not just take my word for it. This is what Jesus said about him: “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). He said of His disciples, “Not one of them perished, but the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12). There you have Jesus declaring that Judas would perish. The word “perdition” means “destruction.” He was destroyed spiritually forever. When the leaders of the early church spoke of him in retrospect in Acts 1, all they could say of him was this: he “turned aside … to go to his own place” (Ac 1:25). He went to the place of his own choosing – just as all will. You might wonder, “Did he somehow lose his salvation by his sin? If I am a Christian, can I fall away and lose the assurance of heaven and find myself in hell?” Oh no friends. But the thing with Judas is that he was no Christian. He looked like one. He acted like one. He surrounded himself with them. But he was never one of them. Are you? Judas never called Jesus Lord. Have you? Judas never guarded his heart against the destructiveness of secret sins. Have we? He never chose to turn back from the evil in his heart that he might be with Jesus, and be with Him forever. Instead, he chose to go to “his own place,” he perished, according to the words of the Lord Jesus, in that place of eternal destruction. What choice have you made? Friends, Judas is a warning to us! Christian activity is no substitute for a personal relationship with Jesus. The secret sins of the heart become opportunities for great evil. There are many opportunities for repentance, but there will be a final one. Don’t miss it.

[1] Lk 3:30; Mt  13:55; Mk 6:3
[2] Ac 5:37; 9:11; 15:22-23
[3] Lk 6:16; Ac 1:13. In both passages he is called, in the Greek text, “Judas of James.” Some have suggested it should be understood to mean “brother of James,” though this construction almost always means “son of.” In either case, it must not be assumed that the “James” in question is one of the three who are known to us in the New Testament.
[4] Jn 14:22; Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18. Some inferior manuscripts of Matthew and Mark also include the name “Lebbaeus” with or instead of “Thaddaeus,” however the primary reliable manuscripts have “Thaddaeus” only.
[5] Mt 10:1-4; Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16
[6] John Piper, Spectacular Sins (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 98.
[7] There is some debate amongst scholars about whether Judas left before or after the bread and cup were passed. Mt 26 and Mk 14 are inconclusive on this matter. Jn 13 speaks of Jesus giving Judas the morsel he had dipped in the sop but some believe that this would have occurred prior to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. However, Lk 22 seems to be conclusive, for Luke says that after the bread and cup were shared, Jesus said, “the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.”
[8] William Barclay, The Master’s Men (New York: Abingdon, 1959), 80. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Perfect Love of Jesus (John 13:1)

“Love” is one of the most commonly used and frequently misunderstood words in the English language. The complexities of this word are evidenced in that the Greek language actually had at least four distinct words to describe the various ways in which we use the word “Love.” We use this one word to describe our love for God, His love for us, the love we have for our spouse, our children, our parents, siblings, and friends. But we also use it to describe how we feel about our favorite foods, sports teams, pastimes, hobbies, and interests. If we were teaching English to someone who had no concept of our language, imagine how confusing it would be for them to find that we use the same word to describe, for example, our affection for our spouse, our parents, and pizza. Surely, we understand that the different uses of the word convey different meanings. When someone tells us that they love us, we certainly hope that they mean something more significant than how they feel about food or entertainment. Deep within each of us there is a longing to both love and to be loved in a way that transcends these earthly affections. In short, we want to experience a perfect love. Our frequent experiences and disappointments seem to suggest, in the words of the old country song, that we’ve been “looking for love in all the wrong places.” There is a perfect love that can be found, but it can only be found in one place ultimately. Our text today shows us the source of this love.

Before we dive into it, we need to orient ourselves a bit to where we are in the Gospel of John. We’ve just passed the half-way point here. The first chapter told us of the eternal origins of Jesus Christ, and how God came to dwell among us as a man in Him. From that point, over the next 11 chapters, we’ve covered the highlights of Jesus’ three year public ministry. As Chapter 12 began, we were entering into the final week of His earthly life. That means that the entire second half of John’s Gospel is devoted to a single week. But more noteworthy is this: Chapters 13-19, the lion’s share of the remainder of the book is devoted to a single 24-hour period that begins here in verse 1. It is Thursday night as the Chapter begins. And it is as if John has put his Gospel into super-slow-motion. They will not leave the upper room where they are observing the Passover meal together until the Chapter 18. By the end of Chapter 19, Jesus will be dead and in the tomb.

These events did not come upon Jesus by surprise. John says here in verse 1 that He knew “that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father.” This “hour” had been known to Jesus since He first left the glories of heaven to enter this world. The events of this hour, including His betrayal and crucifixion, were the very reason He had come. At the wedding of Cana in Galilee in John 2, Jesus stated that His hour had not yet come. On two other occasions (John 7:30 and 8:20), John states that no one was able to seize Jesus because His hour had not yet come. But beginning in John 12, Jesus began to say that His hour had come, and here it is stated that He knew it had come, this hour that He would depart out of this world and go to the Father. He knew that His death was at hand, less than 24 hours away in fact.

It would be understandable, in these moments, if Jesus turned His thoughts solely to Himself. If we were to read that He withdrew from everyone to spend the evening in prayer in preparation for His death, it would not surprise us. But this is not what He did. Instead, He gathered with His disciples for this meal and He determined to demonstrate His love for them. And in so doing, we see perfect love on display and are drawn to that love as the fulfillment of our heart’s greatest desire.

So, what do we learn – what are the facts – about this perfect love that we can discern from our text? Let’s consider them here.

I. Notice the special objects of His love.

1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. It is His nature to love, and He cannot not love. In fact, the Scriptures make it plain that God loves the entire human race. John 3:16 comes to mind – “God so loved the world.” That word “world” in Scripture can and sometimes does mean the universe and/or planet Earth. It also means at times a way of thinking or a system of belief that operates against God in the world. And it often is used to refer to the human race, God’s image-bearers in the world. That’s how it is used in John 3:16. Some would suggest that God does not love those who reject or do not believe in Him. Scripture actually proves this to be false in a number of ways. First of all, we have direct statements like John 3:16 that say without question that He does. We also have passages that imply God’s love for unbelievers, such as when Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem (Lk 19:41), or in Ezekiel 33:11 when God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

We also have His love for unbelievers expressed in His commandments in the Law. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responded, of course, that it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Then He continued by saying that the second is like the first, in that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-31). When Jesus was immediately asked, therefore, “Who is my neighbor?”, He responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans and the Jews bitterly despised one another. But the point of Jesus’ parable was that our love should be extended to all people, even those who are not like us. Jesus even commands us in the Sermon on the Mount to love our enemies (Mt 5:43-44). What does this prove? Well for one thing, because God’s law is an expression of His own nature, He does not command us to do something that He does not do, or to think or act in a way that is not consistent with His own character. Also, because Jesus fulfilled the entire Law in His life of perfect righteousness and absolute sinlessness, we know that He Himself lived in complete obedience even to these commands.

And then we have actual incidents in which we see His love for unbelievers on display. One that comes to mind is the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him, “You know the commandments, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” The man said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up,” which was obviously not true, because it is not true of anyone. And the Bible says that Jesus looked upon him, and “felt a love for him,” even as He said, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” That call to come and follow Him was the key. He was inviting this young man into a personal relationship with Himself. And the Bible says that “at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Here was a man who blatantly rejected Jesus’ offer of eternal life, and who walked away from the invitation. How did Jesus feel about that man? The Bible says He loved him.

In God’s love for the entire human race, He acts in lovingkindness toward all men in some ways. Jesus said that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt 5:45). In Acts 14:17, Paul addressed a crowd of unbelievers in Lystra and said that God had done good for them and given the rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying their hearts with food and gladness. There is no one on the earth whom God does not love! He proves His love over and over again in His many gifts to mankind. Everything from the next breath you draw to the next meal you will eat comes to you as a gift from His hand. We can say without hesitation on the authority of God’s Word that, whoever you are, God genuinely loves you.

But, now I want us to notice something here in our text. In His final hours on the earth before His crucifixion, Jesus’ heart was not occupied with this universal love that He has for the entire human race. He has withdrawn from the multitudes and drawn to Himself His twelve disciples, and John says that He “loved His own.” “His own” are those who belong to Him in a personal relationship by faith. These are the special objects of His perfect love. He did not stop loving the rest of the world, and He never has and never will. But, His love for His own is qualitatively different than His love for the rest of humanity. It has been well said by some, “God has given some things to all men, and all things to some men.” We can say the same of the love of Jesus. He has given some of it to all, and all of it to some. And those “some” are His own. In fact, it is this perfect love of Jesus that unites us to Him and makes us His own.

He loved His own, John says, “who were in the world.” That’s an important statement (actually all statements in Scripture are important!). This world that is fallen and thoroughly corrupted by sin; this world of humanity that is lost an in rebellion against God; this world that Jesus was soon to leave – this is where the special objects of His perfect love dwell. That means that they are still imperfect, still battling the presence and power of sin in their own lives, still affected daily by the outworking of sin’s effects in the world. But they are no less beloved of the Lord Jesus. In this very chapter, Jesus will tell Peter (one of His own) that he will deny the Lord three times before sunrise the next morning, but that did not negate His love for Peter. The Lord doesn’t love you because you are good. He loves in spite of the fact that you are not good. He loves you with this special kind of love because you are His. We will all fall and fail as long as we are in this world, but if we are His, we fall into His loving arms which are able to raise us back up when we do. Peter experienced that, and so will you if you are His own.

There is a strain of teaching that calls itself Christian that says if you love God and trust Him enough, then He will love you back and protect you so that bad things won’t happen to you. This weekend, one of the preachers of that message has been across the street at the Coliseum, and in a few weeks another will come in behind him. But don’t believe it for a moment; it is a lie from the devil. As long as you are in this world, you will wrestle with sin and its devastating effects, both in your own self and all around you. You will be hurt, you will be grieved, you will experience suffering and tragedy, because no one in this world is immune to it. Jesus Himself was not immune to it. And when those things happen to you (not if, but when), the devil will tempt you to think that you are not loved by the Lord Jesus. But friends, you must hear this statement very clearly: “He loved His own, who were in the world.” He has promised to take His own out of this world eventually to be with Him, but for now, you remain in the world. But it is not home. You are in the world, but Jesus says in John 17 that you are not “of the world.” You are just passing through on your way to your true, eternal home with Him. Don’t be like the world, and don’t love this world and the things in it too dearly, because you are a pilgrim here. Be in it, and be His special objects of love in it, and bring others into the experience of His perfect love as you bear witness to them of your true King and true Kingdom, but you are not of this world. Your citizenship has been transferred elsewhere. Jesus will say in John 16:33 that in this world, you will have tribulations, but take courage, because He has overcome the world. And the one who has overcome this world loves you, and if you are His own, you are the special object of His perfect love, regardless of what hardships you encounter in this world. As I have often said, “In this world, you may often be unwell, but you are never unloved if you are one of His own.”

Now, moving on from the special objects of His love, let’s notice the second fact of His perfect love …

II. Notice the fervent intensity of His love.

In football, there is a penalty for what they call “piling on,” when multiple players jump on the ball carrier after he’s already been tackled. That’s a bad thing in football. It will get you 15 yards. But in the Bible, we often find a literary phenomenon that we could call “piling on” that is often a good thing. It’s when a biblical writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit repeats a word for emphatic intensity. And we find that here in John 13:1. John says, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” Having loved them, He loved them. And He loves His own “to the end.” That’s how the NASB translates the Greek prepositional phrase here. But it is not the only way it can be translated accurately. It could also be rendered with reference to completion, like “He loved them to the uttermost.” In 2011, the NIV was revised, and by all accounts it is a far inferior translation than the 1984 edition of it. In the older edition, the NIV translated our verse here this way: “He now showed them the full extent of His love.” As one commentator handles the phrase, it is love “in its highest intensity.”[1] This is how Jesus loves His own. It is the demonstration and the proof of it. So how does He love His own? He shows us here.

You might have heard sayings like, “Actions speak louder than words,” or “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It is not that words have no value, but words can be empty or meaningless if they are not accompanied by deeds that validate the words. Jesus did not just tell His disciples that He loved them. He showed them. He showed them His love on more than one occasion, but what He was about to do for them was the greatest act of love they had ever seen, and it foreshadowed an even greater act of love.
In verse 4 we read that He got up from the supper, laid aside His garments, took up a towel and girded Himself. In so doing, He was putting aside the dress of the Teacher and Master, and taking up the simple and humble garb of the servant. Then, verse 5 says that He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. This was one of the most menial tasks one could perform, the washing of the dirty feet of another. Most people, even most servants, would consider this task beneath them. But the Lord Jesus did not. Even though He was the Lord of Glory, He was not ashamed to serve His disciples by washing their feet.

In Luke’s account of this last supper, we find that the disciples were actually disputing amongst themselves on that very evening about which of them was the greatest. But Jesus wanted to teach them that greatness in God’s Kingdom was seen from a different perspective. He said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:26-27). And He demonstrated it by washing their feet, what the lowliest of servants would ordinarily do, and what apparently none of them were willing to do for one another or even for Him. No greater act of love had ever been seen by them, or by any man. But it was merely a shadow of the ultimate act of loving service that He would render for them.

In Mark 10, upon hearing them bickering once again about who was the greatest among them, Jesus taught them with almost the exact same words, and then He said this: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” To ransom is to pay a price on behalf of another that they may be released from captivity. The entire human race is held captive in sin, and Jesus had come to be the ransom that they may be set free. And the price of that ransom was His very life. If what they had witnessed at the table blew their minds, what they would witness on the ensuing day would even moreso, as the Lord Jesus would lay down His life on the cross to take the sins of the world upon Himself that He might bear the wrath of God in our place. This is the full extent of His love. He loved us with His life and He loved us with His death. He was serving us by meeting our greatest need – the need to be rescued from sin and reconciled to God. In the words of Philippians 2, even though He existed in the form of God, He did not cling to His equality with God, but “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:6-8).

Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Would you lay down your life for your friends, for your loved ones? I dare say that many of us would say “Yes.” If it came down to it, I would gladly forsake my own life for my wife and children. I have told my best friend in the world on more than one occasion, and I truly mean it, I would take a bullet for him. After all, he led me to Jesus. But the love of Christ is greater still than even this. As Paul says in Romans 5:6-8, “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet siners, Christ died for us.” In verse 10, he says, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” He did more than lay down His life for His friends, He laid down His life for His enemies, that He might make them – no, that He might make US – to become His friends.

Do you wonder if you are loved by the Lord? My friends, He has shown us the fervent intensity of His love. Had we been in that upper room, He would have washed our feet in the humble service of love. We weren’t there, so that didn’t happen. But something greater did. He did more than take up a towel for you. He took up a cross for you. This is how He loved us and how we know He loves us. He loves us with His cross. This is the fervent intensity of His love.

Now let’s look at the final fact of His perfect love for His own.

III. Notice the unending duration of His love

We’re still looking at that little phrase, “He loved them to the end.” Remember we said that the phrase could also be translated either as “to the end” or as “to the uttermost.” Well, which is it? Well, it is both. This Greek phrase occurs five other times in the New Testament. Four of them speak of duration, one speaks of intensity. Here it means both. In several passages, John uses phrases that have more than one meaning, and he uses them in such a way that both meanings are implied, intended, and expected. As one scholar notes, “It is better … not to separate the two ideas, for because the love of Jesus was of the highest degree, it would consequently carry through to the very end.”[2] And that is the case here. He does intend to convey to us the fervent intensity of Jesus’ love: He loved His own to the uttermost. And he intends to convey the unending duration of His love: He loved us to the end. To the end of what? To the end of His life, to the end of their lives, or to the end of all things, to the end of all time and into eternity future? The answer is, “Yes! All of the above.” His perfect love for His own never ends.  

The text speaks of His love in the past: “Having loved His own.” He had been loving them up the very moment. And then it speaks of His love in the present: “He loved them,” or we might say, “He was loving them even at the moment.” And then it speaks of His love in the future: “He loved them to the end.”

Some time ago, I was visiting with one of our members, and she had been given a piece of jewelry by a family member with a Hebrew inscription. If I remember correctly, it was a silver circle hanging from the end of a necklace. She asked me to translate it for her on the spot, and I told her that my Hebrew was a little too rusty to do that, so I scribbled down the inscription and came back to the office to work on it. As I began to parse the words, the meaning leaped off the page: “Loved with an everlasting love.” It’s from Jeremiah 31:3, where the Lord says to His own, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” We who are His own, are loved with the everlasting love of the Lord Jesus that will never, ever end. It is as if the Lord Jesus has placed that very pendant around our necks to promise us forever, “I love you, and My love for you will never end.”

Think of it. He has given to His own a life that transcends death, even as the Lord Jesus overcame death. And why has He granted us everlasting life? Is it not that we might be with Him forever? Why in the world does He want us to be with Him forever? Is it not so that for all eternity He might lavish upon us the riches of His mercy and grace and that we might bask in the glory of His love forever?  If you are His own, if you have come to Christ by faith in Him and been adopted by His grace into the family of God, you need not fear that you will ever be unloved. His love for you will never cease. Having loved His own, He loves us to the very end.

Is it not the yearning of every human heart to be loved with a perfect love? Is not the cause of so much of our disillusionment and depression the fact that human and earthly loves have so often failed us, and that we have failed to live in that kind of love? This love is attainable. It can be yours. But it can only be found in Jesus. He alone can love to the uttermost with an everlasting love. He has shown you His love in the cross, and He will love you to the end. If you do not know Him by faith as your Lord and Savior, it is His love that has brought you to this place and given you the opportunity to receive Him. The Bible says that it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. Would you turn from sin and turn to Christ to trust Him as your Master and your Rescuer from enslavement to sin? His love has been poured out for you. Will you receive it? If you will, you will become His own, the special object of His perfect love that is of the utmost intensity and unending duration. And many of you have entered into that love. If you have, you need never feel unloved. If every other person fails you in life, the Lord will not. If all other loves fail you, the love of Jesus never will. The Lord says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isa 49:16). You have been inscribed there with the markings of the nails that were driven through His hands as He died for you on the cross. You are loved, and you are loved with an everlasting love. Will you rest in that love, and if all other loves fail you, will you be content in knowing that you are loved by Your Redeemer and Your King forever?

[1] Herman Ridderbos, cited in Andreas Kostenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 402.
[2] Robert H. Mounce, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Revised ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 10:545. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Last Sermon of Jesus Christ (John 12:44-50)

The great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter once famously said, “I preached, as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men!”[1] As a Puritan in an age where being such was subject to persecution, Baxter never knew when he might be preaching his final sermon. But of course, it is true for us all: we never really know when we might preach, or hear, our last sermon; even when we might draw our last breath. When I was a student at Fruitland, we had a great, visionary president leading the school. Randy Kilby was a young man – 42 at the time, with a wife and a seven-year old son. On February 6, 1997, he was preaching at Southeastern Seminary, and said as he began, “Pray that I will come into this pulpit as if it were my first time, pray for the me that I’ll preach as if it were my best time, and pray for me as it could be my last time.” It wasn’t his last time, but five days later, as he preached very passionately in another place, he finished his sermon, walked out of the sanctuary, and fell over dead.[2]

I will mention another incident, one that I have heard Pastor Jack speak of on numerous occasions. Dr. V. Raymond Edman, then Chancellor of Wheaton College, addressed the college chapel on September 22, 1967. It was the first time he had spoken in public in ten months, and he spoke on the subject of an invitation to visit a King. He began by speaking about his personal meeting with the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. He spoke of all the formality and protocol of that encounter, before transitioning to the subject of meeting with the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself in worship. He admonished the students that as they entered the chapel, all conversation was to cease, and they were to enter in silently and be seated, in order to meet with the King. They were to wait in silence before the Lord, to prepare their hearts to hear the Lord and to meet with the King. He exhorted them to pay close attention to the message and the messenger as if they were in private audience with King Jesus. And at some point, early in the message, Dr. Edman slumped over the pulpit and died of a fatal heart attack.

I share these stories to indicate the thrust of Baxter’s words – that we must preach as dying men to dying men, never knowing when the next sermon we preach, or even hear, might be our last. In the case of Randy Kilby or Raymond Edman, I don’t think either of them knew that it would be their last sermon. But here in our text, we find the last public sermon of Jesus Christ – one that He knew would be His last. These are not his last words, for He continued on for some days teaching with His disciples in privacy, and He spoke but a few words during His trial, and He spoke seven utterances on the cross. Of course, after His resurrection, He spoke to those to whom He appeared over a period of 40 days. And then of course it is true that Jesus speaks still today, through His Word, the Bible, every time we open its precious pages. But here in our text, Jesus was delivering what He knew would be His final public message. In so doing, it was His aim to provide a concise summary of the most important strands of teaching from His entire earthly ministry.

These are the words that He desires to resonate in the ears of those who heard Him on that day. That He intended to be heard, and heard well, is obvious from the opening words of the passage: “And Jesus cried out and said.” The Greek word translated “cried out” is sometimes translated as scream or shout in other passages. This passage follows close on the heels of verse 36, which concludes with Jesus going away and hiding Himself from the public eye. It seems that as He departed from the scene, He was saying these things. So, what are the truths that Christ would impress upon the hearts of the hearers of His final sermon? They distill to three: His divine identity, the certainty of judgment, and a command to eternal life.

I. He speaks of His divine identity (vv44-46).

There’s a little joke among preachers about the bad habit that some pastors fall into of preaching always and only on their favorite topics. We call them “hobby horses.” The joke is about a Baptist preacher who was always preaching on Baptism. The preacher took for his text one Sunday Genesis 3:9, which says, “The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” He announced that he had three points to consider: (1) Where Adam was; (2) How he got there; and finally (3) a few thoughts on the subject of baptism. Expository preaching through books of the Bible is effective at keeping us away from our hobby horses. In John’s Gospel, there are many texts that deal with similar subjects, so there will be a good many sermons in a thorough study of the book that deal with those few topics. One of them is the identity and nature of Jesus Christ. This is not because it is a hobby horse (although one would be hard pressed to find a better hobby horse to ride), but because it is the point of both John’s Gospel and so much of the preaching and teaching of Jesus Himself. One of the ways to know that we are staying close to the center line of John’s Gospel is to see that his overarching theme of presenting Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and the One who is able to impart eternal life to those who believe upon Him (John 20:31).

The Apostle Paul said, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). Jesus could uniquely say something almost completely opposite: “I preach myself, Christ Jesus, as Lord.” If anyone else were to stand up and promote and preach himself as the object of our attention and devotion, he would be an egomaniac. But this is not true of Jesus. He alone can preach Himself, because there is no higher Person to whom He could point than Himself. As the incarnate God, He could rightly make Himself the singular and ultimate subject and object of all of His preaching and teaching. His obvious aim in all of His preaching and teaching was to disclose unto His hearers the divine truth that He was the one and only true God, who had become a man for us for our salvation. Therefore, it is no surprise that in this, His final public sermon, He devotes much attention to this truth.

He says, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me.” That sounds almost nonsensical, doesn’t it? Just replace the word “Me” with the words “the Tooth Fairy,” and see how it sounds: “He who believes in the Tooth Fairy does not believe in the Tooth Fairy.” It seems self-contradictory. We need the remainder of the sentence to understand how Jesus could say this. He says, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me.” He is saying that belief in Jesus is really a belief in the One who sent Him, namely God the Father. This means that we are not merely to believe in Jesus in the historical sense of His existence, as if we might say we believe in George Washington or in Martin Luther King, Jr. When we truly believe in Jesus, we are believing far more than that He lived and died. We are believing in God Himself, through the person of Jesus. We believe, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” By these words, Jesus was saying that He and the Father were One, and that to believe in Him was to believe in God. The converse is also true: to reject Him is to reject God. This is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so offensive in our world today. With so many claiming to believe in God, to believe in this deity or that one, the words of Jesus Christ are alarming and shocking. He is saying, “If you do not believe in Me, you do not believe in God, because I am Him, I came from Him, and I was sent by Him.”

He goes on to say, “He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me.” If you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn 14:1). And He said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (14:7). I appreciate Philip here in this passage, because He had the audacity to say what everyone else was thinking. He said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (14:8). In other words, he is saying, “OK, OK, Lord, we want to believe that You are who You say You are, but it would help us greatly if You would just give us a little glimpse of God Himself so that we can truly see Him and then believe in You.” Jesus said to Him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” (14:9-10).

Do you want to know what God is like? Then look to Jesus, for He says that when you see Him, you see God Himself. Remember in Exodus 33, how Moses cried out that he might see the glory of God face to face. God answered him and said, “‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; …’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live! … [Y]ou shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen” (Exo 33:18-23). The holiest man in Israel was barred from seeing God face to face because he would have been incinerated by the very sight of Him. But God, in His mercy and grace, condescended to come among us in the person of Jesus Christ. As John 1:14 says, He “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory.” It is only in Jesus that we can truly see God.

Apart from Him, we are all lost in utter darkness. But Jesus says that He “came as Light into the world so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” As God, He alone reveals to us the truth about God. Were it not for Jesus, we would have no access to this truth. We can speculate and guess about what God is like, but would never be sure. We might like to think that God is love. People everywhere say that about God. But how do we know that God is love? We know this because in Jesus, He demonstrated His love to us. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son.” Romans 5:8 says that God demonstrated His love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. So we have this divine revelation of who God is, recorded for us in His written Word, and living among us in human flesh as the incarnate Word. In all of His preaching and all of His teaching, Jesus was crying out to a world lost in darkness saying, “Here is Light! I am the Light! If you want to know God, come to Me! When you see Me, you see Him! When you believe in Me, you believe in Him!” He was speaking of His divine identity.

II. He speaks of the certainty of judgment (vv47-48).

My first encounter with Jonathan Edwards, that famous preacher of the American Great Awakening in the 18th Century, came when I was a high school student, before I was a Christian. In an American Literature class, we were required to read Edwards’ notorious sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I can still remember the way my teacher and my textbook depicted him in a very negative light. My friend Steve Nichols is an Edwards scholar. He writes,

The overwhelming judgment of contemporary readers is that Edwards was dour and calloused and that when he preached, he breathed the smoke of hellfire and brimstone harangues. … This image of Edwards could not be more wrong, and this judgment of him could not be more ironic. It is ironic because his sermons overflow with the words sweetness, pleasure, joy, love, and beauty. Edwards never pulled back from proclaiming the wrath of God on sin, but he just as forcefully and readily proclaimed the abundant mercy and grace of a good and loving God.[3]

If we want to find a preacher whose sermons could be characterized by stern warnings of a coming judgment, perhaps Edwards is not our best example. In fact, I think we could actually find no better example than Jesus Christ. A quick survey of all the Bible’s teachings on hell and judgment would readily reveal, as John MacArthur points out, that “The most prolific teacher on hell in all of Scripture was the Lord Jesus Himself. He had more to say about the subject than all the apostles, prophets, and evangelists of Scripture put together.”[4] It is no wonder that He emphasizes the certainty of judgment in His final public sermon.

Now, at first, someone might say, “No, Jesus says here that He does not judge, and did not come to judge the world.” Well, that is at best a reading of only half of the text. So let’s look at verses 47-48 and see the whole of it. Jesus says, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Notice that Jesus did not say that unbelievers who reject His word will not face judgment. He says that He is not the one judges them. Notice also that He says He did not come to judge the world. That was not the intent of His coming. The intent of His coming was to save the world. Now, let me ask you, if the world was not already at risk of being judged, then what was He coming to save the world from? The fact is that Jesus did not have to come to judge the world, because, as He said in John 3:18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” You see, Jesus did not have to come to bring judgment. Judgment was already upon those who rejected God, and therefore rejected His incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus. But in His coming, Jesus was on a mission to save those who would believe upon Him from that judgment.

Now notice the next verse. He says, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him.” So, Jesus is by no means saying that there will be no judgment for those who do not believe in Him. He is assuring His hearers of the absolute certainty of a coming judgment. He says that “one” who judges the unbeliever is “the word I spoke.” That “is what will judge him at the last day.” The same message of Jesus that has the power to save all who believe in Him is also going to condemn all those who reject Him. The world around us thinks that we Christians are very arrogant to proclaim that only those who believe on Jesus will enter heaven, while all others will go to hell. Maybe someone here today thinks the same thing, and would even question, “Who are we to say who will go to heaven and who will go to hell?” Well, my friends, as Jesus makes abundantly clear here, it is not up to us to arbitrarily decide. The matter of judgment has been settled by His Word. We Christians are not the ones who say that unbelievers will go to hell; rather, our Christ is the one who Himself has declared this with absolute certainty. His words carry ultimate authority, because as He says in verses 49-50, He does not speak on His own initiative, but He speaks what the Father has commanded Him to say, just as the Father told Him to speak. His words are not the words of a mere man. They are the very words of God Himself. Therefore we must take His words with all severity and seriousness.

Take for example that simple verse that so many of us learned as children – John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” If we believe this is true, as stated, then we must believe its necessary corollary: God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and whoever does not believe in Him will not have eternal life, but will perish. Nowhere does Jesus make this clearer than in John 14:6, when He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” If this is true, then there is also a true necessary corollary: Because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, anyone who comes by any other way, believing any other message to be true, and hoping for life in any other person or thing, will most certainly not come to the Father. They will perish under the just and holy judgment of God – a judgment which Jesus declared to be certain and unavoidable. When we come before the bar of God’s judgment, it will be belief in the promise of Jesus’ words that saves us. If we have rejected Him, the very words He spoke will pronounce a certain and eternal condemnation.

III. He speaks of a command to eternal life (vv49-50).

I’m thankful that I’ve never had to spend much time in courtrooms. One time, a friend was making a case in court and invited me to come to support him, where I would have the opportunity to speak if I so desired. I took him up on the invitation, but I didn’t have to. I could have said, “No thank you,” and all would have been fine. But on another occasion, I got a piece of mail saying that I had been summoned to the courthouse for jury duty. In this, I did not have an option. I had to go, otherwise I would have to face the consequences. This was more than an invitation; it was a command.

If you understand the difference between an invitation and a command, you will find an unusual statement here in the final portion of Jesus’ last public sermon. He says that He doesn’t speak on His own initiative, but that the Father has given Him a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. He can’t NOT speak these things. And then He says this: “I know that His commandment is eternal life.” God is commanding us to eternal life. We don’t normally think of it that way, do we? Normally we think of it as an invitation or an offer that one can freely accept or reject. Well, it is an offer and an invitation, and one can accept or reject it; but it is also a commandment, and as such one rejects it only to his or her own peril.

In the English Standard Version, the Holman Christian, and nearly every other English version, Acts 17:30 says that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” He is commanding us to turn from our sins and come to Him by way of faith in the Lord Jesus! Why? Because He loves us! He wants us to know Him, to be cleansed of our sins, to have eternal life with Him! If you love your children, do you give them commands? Of course you do! You give them commands for their own good and their well-being. And if they disobey those commands, you love them enough to make them face the consequences of their disobedience. Friends, if we understand this truth in human relationships, how much more is it true of God? Out of His great love for us, He has done more than invite us, as if He could not care less whether we accepted the offer or not. No, He has commanded us to repent and return to Him by faith in Christ and be saved from His judgment. As we invite others to come to Jesus, and make a fair offer of the Gospel to them, we need to be clear that the God of the universe has issued this command, which can lead them to eternal life if they will turn from sin and believe on Christ, or to eternal destruction if they turn away from him in disbelief and disobedience.

This is why the Lord Jesus speaks with such urgency, crying out – shouting or screaming, as it were – these words of His final public sermon. He wants us to know who He is – God in the flesh, who has come to reveal God’s truth that we might turn to Him and believe. He wants us to know that there is a judgment coming in which we will be either saved or condemned on the basis of our response to the words He has spoken. And because He loves us, He issues us a commandment that is eternal life to all who turn to Him by faith. And that was the end of His public ministry, the conclusion of His last sermon. All that remains is to take His words to heart, to consider the weight of them, and to respond to them, either by faith or by unbelief. It was the last time they would hear Him preach. It might have been the last time some of them would hear anyone preach. We don’t know but that this could well be the last sermon I ever preach. It might well be the last one someone here could hear. I pray not, but we do not know what a day will bring. So, it remains for us as it did for those in our text, to hear the words of Jesus, to let them bear with all due weight upon our hearts and souls, and to make a reasonable response to His words. And the only reasonable response is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Many of you have, and have received this eternal life that God commands in Christ. If you have, then you surely desire that others will as well. We can do no better than to urge them with these important truths that Christ proclaimed here. Tell them who He is; tell them of the coming judgment, and of God’s command to turn to Jesus and be saved. If you never have before, I pray you will this day, perhaps even in this moment.


[1] Richard Baxter, The Poetical Fragments of Richard Baxter (London: Pickering, 1821), 35. Online: Accessed September 4, 2014.
[2] “Fruitland President Kilby dies at 42 of heart attack.” Baptist Press, February 17, 1997. Online: Accessed September 4, 2014.
[3] Stephen J. Nichols,  Heaven On Earth (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2006), 30.
[4] John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (third ed.; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 77.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

An Unconfessing Faith? (John 12:42-43)


In our culture, we have a simple way to identify that someone is married. Typically, it is shown by the wearing of a single, solid band on the ring finger of the left hand. However, it is not the ring but the relationship that makes them married. You can wear a ring and not be married, and a married person doesn’t become unmarried if he or she removes the ring. But, it is commonly understood that a married person wants to have some way of making it known to others that he or she is in a committed, covenant relationship with another person, whether it is by a ring or any other indication.

How do we know that a person has faith in Jesus Christ? Is it because they wear a cross on their necklace? Is it because they are a member of a church, or have been baptized? Certainly a Christian may wear Christian jewelry, but so can a non-Christian. A Christian may be, and should be, both baptized and a member of the church. But unfortunately, there are many non-Christians who have been baptized and become members of churches. Someone said to me recently, “Just because I go to McDonalds, that doesn’t make me a hamburger.” Similarly, just because a person goes to church, or even joins a church, doesn’t mean that he or she is a Christian, and it does not make a person a Christian; nor does baptism. If a person is not a follower of Jesus, being baptized doesn’t make him or her a Christian, it just makes them wet! But, we do understand that when a person is a follower of Christ, he or she seeks some demonstrable way to make his or her faith known to others. We call this confessing or professing the faith. Now, it is true, there are some who make professions of faith who do not genuinely follow Christ. But, all who are followers of Christ will make some public expression of their faith in Him.

In the text we have read today, we run up against a bit of an oddity. We find a group of people who are called rulers (meaning that they are part of the ruling council of the Jews), and we might be somewhat surprised by what we read about these rulers here in the text. After the previous context, which indicated that Jesus had been wholesale rejected by a vast majority of the people of His day, we find here that many of these rulers believed in Him. That sounds like a pleasant surprise, doesn’t it? The next word however indicates that there is a malfunction with their belief in Him. What’s the next word? “BUT.” That word indicates a contrast. They believed in Him, BUT. When you see something like that in the text, it is a red alert. It means that the thing has turned in a different direction. They believed in Him, BUT “they were not confessing Him.” They were not making any attempt to publicly and openly identify themselves as a follower of Jesus. They have an unconfessing faith, and this is a problem.

So, what we need to do here is examine why an unconfessing faith is a problem, look at what causes this problem, and how to fix it.

I. The problem of an unconfessing faith.

I am very proud of my wedding ring. It is the only piece of jewelry I have ever worn. Well, there was that brief bit in college when I wore an earring, but let’s not talk about that. My wedding ring announces to the world that I am happily married to a wonderful woman. But my wedding ring is also an irreplaceable family heirloom. It belonged to my grandfather. For that very sentimental reason, I have chosen to not wear my ring when I travel overseas. If it were to be lost or stolen (which is not uncommon), it would simply be irreplaceable. In fact, on one mission trip, Donia and I awkwardly learned that this ring doesn’t have the same sort of meaning in some other cultures anyway. Therefore, I no longer wear it when I go overseas, and Donia is perfectly fine with that. But, what if I told her on our wedding day, “I have absolutely no intention of ever wearing a wedding ring.” She might suspect that there was a disconnect in my commitment to her. That’s a problem, isn’t it? It is also a problem when someone claims to believe in Christ, but is unwilling to make an open confession of faith.

Let’s consider a few key passages of Scripture on this matter. Not surprisingly, we find perhaps the strongest words on this subject coming from the Lord Jesus Himself. In Luke 12, we find Jesus surrounded by so many thousands of people that the Bible says that they were literally “stepping on one another.” But in the midst of that great multitude, Jesus spoke privately to His disciples about the necessity of publicly identifying with Him. As long as one is immersed in a crowd with relative anonymity, it is easy to blend in with His true followers. But Jesus told His disciples, “I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (12:8-9). So, get that … if you confess Him before men, if you will openly say that you belong to Him on earth, He will openly say that you belong to Him in heaven. That’s a wonderful promise of our security in Christ. But He also said that if you deny Him before men, if you deny that you belong to Him on earth, He will deny in heaven that you ever belonged to Him. That is an alarming promise, just as true as the other one.

In the magnificent first chapter of Romans we find Paul making this bold declaration: “I am eager to preach gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:15-16). Like Paul, one who is not ashamed of the Gospel is eager to make it known. Don’t be dismayed or deterred by his word “preach” there. He’s not saying you all have to prepare a sermon and stand in a pulpit this week. What we translate as “preach the gospel” is one Greek word, euaggelisasthai (from which we get the word evangelism). It means “proclaim the good news.” Paul is not ashamed to be known as a Gospel-man, because this is the Gospel that has saved him, and this is the Gospel that alone is able to save anyone! The Gospel is nothing to ashamed of, but instead we should be eager to be openly identified with this good news of Jesus Christ.

Then coming to Romans 10:9-10, we have this declaration which aptly sums up all that we are trying to say here about believing and confessing. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Those two things cannot be separated. We have no righteousness apart from salvation, and we have no salvation apart from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon us. You can’t have one or the other; they go together always and inseparably. So, if you believe in your heart, you will confess with your mouth, otherwise, the Word of God says, you are not and cannot be saved!

That’s a big problem. Some of us will want to sympathize with these Jewish rulers who are described as believing but not confessing. It is always comforting to find someone in the Bible to whom we can relate, and maybe someone reads John 12:42 and says, “Yes! These are my people! They believe, they just like to keep quiet about it. They aren’t confessing.” That is nothing to boast of. That is a problem! Is it possible that someone could be saved by an unconfessing faith? Look, I’m not God, so I don’t get to decide, apart from what God has declared in His Word. And what God has declared in His Word that believing and confessing have to go together in order to have salvation and righteousness, and Jesus Himself said that He will confess in heaven the one who confesses Him on earth, and deny in heaven the one who denies Him on earth. Don’t point to these guys and say, “Well, what about them? They believed but they didn’t confess.” They are not put forth as a positive example! They are put forth as a warning to us! They are not examples of true, saving faith. They are, rather, examples of “inadequate, irresolute, even spurious faith.”[1] Can a person be saved by an unconfessing faith? This text does not answer that question for us. But based on other texts that are very clear, why on earth would you want to take that chance? If you believe, confess it! If you do not confess, then do you really believe? Do not be ashamed of the Gospel. Do not be ashamed or afraid to make it known that you believe in Jesus and belong to Him by faith.

Now, having identified this as a serious problem, we need to consider why the problem is so prevalent. Why are there so many, both here in our text, and all around us in the world, who have some measure of faith, but are unwilling to confess their faith in Jesus?

II. The cause of an unconfessing faith

As many of you know, I came to know the Lord during youth camp at Fort Caswell, and two years later, at the same place, I surrendered to the calling to ministry. I look forward to every opportunity to go back there, because to me, Fort Caswell is holy ground. I even have a t-shirt that says across the front in big letters, “CASWELL.” One day I was wearing it in Wal-Mart while doing some grocery shopping, and a person came up to me and said, “Are you from Caswell County?” I just kept walking and said, “No.” A few moments later, I was just overcome with guilt about how curtly I had dismissed the question, when I could have taken the opportunity to share my testimony about how Jesus had changed my life at that place. I really blew it! I’m sure we’ve all had those situations when a critical moment passes by and we are filled with regret as our minds are flooded with what we should have said or done. Why do we so often not say or do the right thing, or even think of it until the moment has passed? For me, on that day, I know why. I had my mind on getting out of Wal-Mart as quickly as I could. I was there to get my groceries and get back home as fast as possible. In that moment, like too many others unfortunately, I had misplaced affections. I loved myself, my own agenda, and my own comfort zones far more than I loved that person, their eternal destiny, the Gospel, and even the Lord Jesus. I think that’s true for most of us more often than we would like to admit. We have misplaced affections. Whether it is for a moment, when we fail to take the opportunity to confess our faith in Jesus, or if it is a besetting problem that silences us perpetually, misplaced affections is the cause of all occurrences unconfessing faith, including that which we find in our text.

There are many imperatives in Scripture that define our appropriate and fitting response to the Lord. Two of them that occur over and over again are fear and love. We know what these things are. They are natural affections. We all came into the world knowing how to fear and how to love. But God calls us to fear Him above all other fears, and to love Him beyond all earthly loves. Our affections are misplaced when we love anything more than we love God and when we fear anything more than we fear Him. And that is what we find going on here in the hearts of those in our text.

Notice that verse 42 says that they were not confessing Jesus “because of the Pharisees.” These were their peers, their fellow “rulers.” What was it about the Pharisees that caused these men to not confess Jesus? Well, they knew the hatred that the majority of the rulers had for Jesus, and they’d seen that expressed toward others who confessed faith in Jesus. In John 9, when a man whom Jesus had healed of congenital blindness confessed that Jesus had made him well, the Pharisees put that man out of the synagogue – they excommunicated him – and they threatened to do the same to his whole family. Seeing how they had treated that man, these rulers who had come to some measure of belief in Christ had to know that they were not exempt from the same treatment. And this slammed their mouths shut and kept them from testifying to their faith in Jesus.

They had misplaced affections. Verse 43 says that they were silenced by fear. “They were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.” To be barred from the synagogue was a BIG DEAL for any Jew, and still would be today. But for these guys, it meant a loss of their position, their stature, their security, and their reputation. And these things were very important to them. Jesus had said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets” (Lk 20:46). They liked all of that stuff. They were afraid to lose it. Their fear of losing these things was greater than their fear of the Lord. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” Because of the fear of their fellow religious leaders, these men were ensnared – they were trapped in an unconfessing faith. The great irony is that they thought they were exalted. But as the Proverb says, the Lord will exalt the one who trusts in Him. They could not experience that truer and greater exaltation because they were ensnared by the fear of losing their false position of pseudo-exaltation in their society. It was a misplaced fear.

They also had a misplaced love. Notice that they “were not confessing Him … for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” Now, this is not a great choice of words in the translation. The thing they loved was not the approval of men. The Greek word is doxa. How should we translate this? Think of how it used in other passages. Here’s a good example: when the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Christ’s birth, the doxa of the Lord shone around them, and they said “doxa to God in the highest.” What’s the word? It’s not “approval!” We don’t sing any Christmas songs that say, “Approval to God in the highest,” do we? No. The word is glory! They loved the glory that they received from their peers more than the glory that belongs to God. Now, that same Greek word for “glory” was just used a few verses before in verse 41. It says that Isaiah saw His glory (that is, He saw the glory of the Lord Jesus), and what did He do with it? He spoke of Him. This illustrates the folly of these men. The greatest prophet of Israel’s was unashamed to speak of His glory, and he did so thoroughly and beautifully! Who do these guys think they are that they would shrink from proclaiming the glory of Jesus, if they had really, truly believed in Him? They did not love His glory. They loved their own glory, the glory that they would lose in the eyes of others if they were to love His glory instead.

There is a single word that summarizes all of our misplaced affections when it comes to the Lord: idolatry. When we love anything more than we love the Lord Jesus, be it our possessions, our positions, our reputations or even our religious traditions, whatever it is, it is an idol in our lives. When we fear anything more than we fear God we have fallen into the snare of idolatry, for we have elevated the power of that thing to a higher place than we allow for the power of God in our lives. Cherishing any glory other than the glory of God is nothing but idolatry! And that is what lies at the root of all unconfessing belief: the idolatry that masks itself as a desire for personal security, prosperity, approval, and so many other cleverly-disguised things. Idols are only good for one thing – toppling. And that brings us to the cure for unconfessing belief.

III. The cure for an unconfessing belief.

There was a commercial many years ago for a laundry detergent that showed a guy getting grass stains all over his clothes. The ad called these “protein stains,” and it said that “protein gets out protein.” This detergent claimed to have “the protein power to cut clean through” those protein stains. So, if you need to deal with a protein stain, you need a stronger protein to deal with it. The same is true of our misplaced affections. They can only be treated by proper affections. If you have fears, you can cast them out with a greater fear. If you have inappropriate loves in your life, you can remove them with a greater love.

These men feared their fellow man more than they feared the Lord. What they need is a greater fear of the Lord. Jesus said in Luke 12, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body.” That sounds like odd advice, doesn’t it?  Don’t fear those who can kill you. But Jesus said you don’t have to be afraid of them, because, as He said, “after that,” after they kill your body, they “have no more that they can do.” The worst they can do is kill you. You might say, “Well, what else is there?” Jesus has an answer. He says, “I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Lk 12:4-5). Are you afraid to confess Him as your Lord because you fear that it will mean a loss of your reputation, your relationships, your possessions, your security, perhaps even your lives? You need to replace that fear with a greater fear – a fear of the One, the only One, who can confess you before His Father in heaven as His own, or deny You on the day of judgment and, in the words of Jesus, “cast you into hell.” Even if confessing Him leads to a lifetime of hardship and suffering, cut short even by a brutal death, what is that compared to an eternity of perishing in hell? Are our fears in proper order?  

They loved the glory that they had in the eyes of men more than they loved the glory of God. What did they need? A greater love! What is the greatest commandment? Jesus said it is this: “You shall love the Lord your God.” You say, “Oh but I do, in addition to my love for many other things.” But Jesus said that the great commandment is to love the Lord your God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Lk 10:27). All of your entire being – heart, soul, strength, and mind – is to be singularly devoted to loving Him! You might say, “Well if I only love Him, I can’t love anyone else.” Not true. The fact is that you cannot love anyone or anything else rightly until and unless you are singularly devoted to Him as the first and foremost love of your life. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26). Did He really just say that? Yes He did. But you say, “No, He didn’t mean that, because we aren’t supposed to hate anyone, and we are supposed to love others.” What Jesus is saying is that our love for Him must be so unrivaled, so unequaled in our affections, that our love for other people or other things must appear as hatred in comparison to the priority of loving Him. It means, if given a choice between Him and any other love – God forbid, the love of parents, the love of wife and children, and yes, even the love of our own lives – there must be a clear and distinct preference for Him above all else. There will be hard decisions to make at times in our lives: decisions that force us to choose between our own well-being, our friendships and family members, our achievements and successes, and our devotion to Him. Is your love for Him such that the choice, difficult though it may be, is an obvious one? A greater love for Him sets all other lesser loves in right perspective.

And, friends, when our fear of God casts out the fear of man, and when our love for Christ surpasses our love for all others, including our own selves, our unconfessing faith becomes a confessing one. It moves from the level of inadequate, irresolute, and spurious faith, to genuine, saving faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a faithful German pastor who was killed in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote to address the problem of unconfessing belief that was plaguing the German church in his day. He called the idea of an unconfessing faith that was unwilling to embrace the cost of discipleship, “Cheap Grace.” Listen to his words, which are so relevant to our own day and time:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. … Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son. … Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life.”[2]

Friends, the only way to experience such a costly grace is to receive it with a bold, confessing faith that is not ashamed to be identified openly with the One who identified with us in His incarnation and crucifixion, and who will identify with us when He confesses us before His Father on the day of judgment, and pleads the blood of His own wounds. He will confess us, but only if we have confessed Him. May God grant us all a confessing faith in the Lord Jesus, lest we be denied by Him when all is said and done.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Pillar, 1991), 450.
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), 43-45.