Monday, February 09, 2015

The Spirit and the Word (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15)

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” After explaining the meaning he chooses for one word, Alice says, “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.” One word that Christians and non-Christians alike toss around a lot is the word inspiration. Often times, we are making that one word mean a great deal. You may hear someone say, “I was inspired as I did this or that,” or something like, “Handel’s Messiah is an inspired (or inspirational, or inspiring) piece of music.” I don’t think most of us would have trouble understanding what someone means when he or she says those things. But there is another sense, a more important one, in which we use the word inspiration of the Bible, and we mean something altogether different.

When we speak of the inspiration of the Scriptures, we are making a statement about the source, or origin, of the Bible. We are saying that it has come to us from God Himself. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, ““All Scripture is inspired by God (or God-breathed).” In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter explains how inspiration works as He says that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). This is the very same idea that Jesus Himself has about the Bible. An example of this is found in Mark 12:36, when Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 and prefaces it by saying, “David himself said in (or by) the Holy Spirit.” Again in Matthew 24:15, Jesus speaks of words which came, not from, but through Daniel the prophet. Jesus rightly understood and proclaimed that what was written in the Scriptures did not originate in the minds of the human authors, but it was the Word of God coming to mankind through these inspired writings. This is what we mean when we use the word inspiration in reference to the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired, or breathed out, the words that the human writers recorded as a means of God revealing Himself to the world.

Now, in our text today from John 14 and John 16, we have very specific promises that relate to the Holy Spirit’s work in the inspiration of Scripture. While many of the promises of Jesus apply equally to all Christians, these do not. There are indicators in the context of these passages that tell us that He is speaking directly to His apostles, and that these promises are for them in a special way. He says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you” (14:25); “He will … bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (14:26); “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12). Many Christians would protest this notion because these passages are often misapplied in various ways by Christians who believe that they were intended as general promises for all believers. I have known many Christians who espoused some unusual idea, and blamed it on these verses by saying that the Holy Spirit had guided them into the truth beyond what was recorded in the Word of God. This simply cannot be, because these promises refer explicitly to the Spirit’s inspiration of the revelation that is recorded for us in the Word of God. It would be contrary to God’s nature for Him to lead someone into some notion that opposed this inspired Word. You need to understand that a good many cults have been founded on a misunderstanding and misapplication of these promises. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and to some degree even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, just to name a few, tried to convince their followers that the Holy Spirit had given them new and improved information over what was recorded in Scripture on the basis of this promise. We must not follow in their example. Instead, we must understand these passages as the Lord Jesus intended when He spoke it, and as the Spirit of God intended as He inspired it. Because this is, after all, the whole point of the passages.

While there is application for all Christians to be found in these promises, we need to understand that they relate specifically to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the writings of the New Testament. Through these apostles and their close associates, God would complete His Written Word to man. And because He has done that, we have the confidence that these writings are infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for all matters of Christian faith and practice. In the inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments, we have what the Baptist Faith and Message calls “a perfect treasure of divine instruction,” having “God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” So, let us consider what these promises entail concerning the Spirit and the Word, and how those truths apply to us today.

I. The Spirit has inspired a trustworthy account of Jesus’ words and works (14:25-26)

If past trends are any indicator, I imagine that in soon coming weeks as we approach Easter, we will see magazine covers and television programs touting the recent discovery of some new, lost Gospels that uncover hidden mysteries about the person of Jesus Christ. The problem with these claims is evident in almost every word of their description. In most cases, the discoveries are not recent, but date back decades. The documents are not new, they were not lost, and they are not Gospels. In almost every case, what has been found was an old writing that circulated briefly and in somewhat limited circles. When Christians first laid their eyes on them, they recognized that the things written in them were not true, because they did not bear the marks of apostolic authenticity, and they contradicted or denied truths that were written in the apostolic writings. These books were not “lost,” but rather, they simply disappeared from use and circulation almost immediately as their errors was exposed. The Church already had trustworthy writings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and penned by the Apostles of Jesus Christ and their associates. They did not need man-made fabrications to fill in the gaps or supply further information.

In verse 25 of John 14, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” During the time that Jesus was with His apostles, He said and did many things. It would be their responsibility to record those things to be passed on to future generations of Christians. But, surely they would not have a perfect recollection of everything He said and did, nor does it seem that they even understood everything He said and did in the moment. So how can we trust that these ordinary, forgetful, and sometimes dense men could record an inerrant and infallible history of the things Jesus said and did? On their own, they likely could not. But they would not do this on their own. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would enable them to do this.

In verse 26, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” In teaching them all things, He was helping them understand the meaning and significance of the things that they witnessed. For example, in John 12, we read of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey, and heralded by the praises of the people. The apostles saw these things happen, but they did not realize how significant the moment was and how these things were actually fulfilling divinely inspired Old Testament prophecies. So, John says, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” The Spirit was teaching them all things and bringing to their remembrance what they had witnessed Jesus saying and doing, just as Jesus promises them here in our text.

So, we have this collection of four authentic and authoritative writings which the Spirit inspired through the apostles and their associates: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were apostles. They were present in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke this promise, and the Gospels which bear their names are the product of this promise. But what of Mark and Luke? These men were not apostles, so why do we give their writings equal credence with Matthew and John? Well, it is a well established fact that Mark was recording the accounts of Jesus Christ which he had heard and learned from the apostle Peter. It would be just as fitting to call the Gospel of Mark, “The Gospel of Peter.” Similarly, Luke was writing the account of the life of Christ in his Gospel which he had gathered as he accompanied the apostle Paul on his travels. Luke’s Gospel is essentially “The Gospel According to Paul.” Paul is unique in his standing as an apostle, for he was not an original apostle, but was chosen singularly by the Risen Lord Jesus to be an apostle. Therefore Paul was as much a party to these same promises as those in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke them. And this mark of apostolic authenticity extends to their close companions who were recording, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what they had seen and heard through the apostles.

So, when you read the Gospels, you are not reading the haphazard and unreliable journals of men; these writings are the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the promise we read here in John 14. Because they are inspired by God, that means that they are completely true and trustworthy, and contain no error or contradiction. Sometimes people say there are contradictions between accounts found in, say, John and Luke or Matthew or Mark. However, not a single one of these alleged contradictions is without explanation. Usually the accounts either refer to different incidents, or else they are complementary accounts, with one providing details that the other has omitted. The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness to the veracity of the accounts of the words and works of Jesus Christ found in the four Gospels in our New Testament. This promise assures us of that.

II. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy guidance for Christian doctrine and practice (16:12-13a)

Jesus says in John 16:12, “I have many more things to say to you.” He had said plenty to them, but there was more to be said. But Jesus says, “you cannot bear them now.” In part, they could not bear the further information because they were overcome with sorrow. When we are in “crisis mode,” we have a hard time processing an overload of information, and Jesus knows that about us. But also, there would be no way that the disciples could possibly comprehend at this moment all the implications that the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ have on the Christian life. But when the Spirit comes, because He is the Spirit of truth, He will guide them into all the truth. What He will reveal to the apostles is a continuation, as it were, of the very teachings of Jesus. He says, “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.” He will speak to them of the matters of Christian doctrine and practice that are set forth throughout the New Testament, especially the epistles, or letters. So, we have a true and trustworthy collection of information and instruction on what we believe and how we are to live as Christians, and how we are to function as a church. These are things that Jesus did not specifically teach during His earthly life, but which He has taught through the Holy Spirit as the New Testament writings were inspired.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul is giving instructions on marriage and divorce, and he says in verse 10, “To the married I give instructions, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.” Here, he is restating what Jesus Himself said in several instances in the Gospels about the permanence of marriage (Matt 5:32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 6:18). But then in verse 12, Paul says, “To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.” Again later in verse 25, he says, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.” Some would point to passages like these and say that we have opposing teachings between Jesus and Paul, and therefore they choose to reject Paul’s teachings. But Paul is not saying that his words here bear less weight than those of the Lord Jesus, he is merely saying that Jesus did not teach this in the Gospels, but is teaching it through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the inspired writings. “By the mercy of the Lord,” he says, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he is able to give authoritative direction for the Christian life in these inspired writings. So he concludes that chapter by saying, almost with a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”

We see how we are to view the New Testament writings when we consider how the apostles view one another’s writings. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes, “the Scripture says, … ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” This statement is not found anywhere in Scripture except in the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:10. So, Paul uses the word “Scripture,” which would be understood by his original audience to mean the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, to refer to the writings of Luke. Again, in 2 Peter 3:15, Peter says of “all” of Paul’s letters that in them, “some things are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So here, Peter considers the entire collection of Paul’s writings to be “Scripture,” the Word of God. Therefore, he warns us to not distort these things, even though there may be difficult sayings found in them, because these writings have their origin in God Himself. Now, if you take the writings of Paul and the writings of Luke as Scripture, you have around 60% of the New Testament. And, by extension, we could say the same of the rest of the New Testament because those writings also bear the same mark of apostolic, Spirit-inspired, authenticity.

So, friends, when we come to the Scriptures, including the New and Old Testament, we come to a collection of Spirit-inspired, infallible and inerrant writings which are authoritative and sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We draw our doctrines, our ethics, and our practices from the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

III. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy information about the things to come (16:13c)

CNN has at times used the slogan “Tomorrow’s Headlines Today.” But it is not as though they are telling you anything about the future. They are reporting past events, they are just reporting them sooner than the printed paper is able to. No one can report with accuracy about the future – no one, that is, except God. In Isaiah 46:9-10, He says, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done.” If we are to know anything trustworthy about the future, God would have to reveal it to us. He has done this by His Holy Spirit through the writings of Scripture. Jesus said to His apostles that the Holy Spirit would “disclose to you what is to come.” In saying this, Jesus was pointing them forward to the things that would take place in the distant future concerning His return and the consummation of His kingdom at the end of the age.

Throughout the New Testament, we find many promises and prophecies about the things to come. Some of them were stated by Jesus Himself in the Gospels. The Spirit gave the writers recall to record them accurately. Some are stated in the letters, as the Spirit was guiding the apostles into the truth. And then we find that great concentration of New Testament prophecy in the book of Revelation, which God made known to John (the writer of this Gospel and three New Testament epistles) while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Some people have told me over the years that they are afraid of studying the book of Revelation. But you don’t have to be afraid of it. If you are a believer in Christ, then this book promises you that Christ will triumph in the end, and you will be with Him! I suppose if you are not a believer then there is much there to fear, but not if you are saved! We are actually promised a blessing in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” It is not all easy to understand, for sure. If it was, there wouldn’t so many competing views on end times among Christian scholars. But the things which are most important for us to know are plainly revealed.

So if you want to know what the future holds, you need to turn to the Bible, for only God can tell the future with any degree of accuracy. And what God says about the future is recorded for us in Scripture, and because it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is true and trustworthy.

Now finally, notice the last part of this promise:

IV. All that the Spirit has inspired brings glory to Jesus Christ (v14).

When we read the Bible, we are all reading the same truths. The words may vary from one translation to another, and that is another subject for another day, but the basic data that we are analyzing is the same for us all. So, why do we not all agree with one another on what the Bible teaches? We have different interpretations of what we read there. Every word of the Bible is completely true and trustworthy, because every word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But our interpretations of the Bible are not inspired and therefore our interpretations are not always true and trustworthy.

There are some important keys to interpretation that we have to keep in mind as we study the Bible. And one of those keys is stated right here in verse 14. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will glorify Me” in the inspiration of the written Word of God. So, one of the keys to our right interpretation of the Bible is that we must see how each and every passage points us to the glory of God in Christ. It all does. Jesus said this Himself in Luke 24:44 among other places. There He said, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms are the three sections of the Hebrew Old Testament, and Jesus said that all of it pointed to Him. The same is true of the New Testament writings. It all points to Him. So if our interpretations do not center on the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, we need to ask if we have truly grasped the intended meaning of the text.

I heard someone say once that the closer we stand to the trunk of the tree, the less likely we will get out on a limb. There are some interpretations of Scripture that are truly out on a limb. That’s because they have not stayed close to the root of the tree, and the root of the tree is Jesus Christ. All Scripture points us to Jesus, and in it the Holy Spirit is bringing glory to Jesus. That should be our aim as we interpret the Bible as well. And of course, Christ will be most glorified in our reading and studying of Scripture if we do not merely come to the Bible as scholars on a fact-finding mission, but as worshipers and servants who are committed to trusting and obeying what the Spirit has inspired for our edification there. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as much how much Scripture you know as it does how much you obey of what you do know.

I want to make a few quick points of application here as we close:
  • First, friends, I want to assure you today, according to the promise that Jesus made concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit through His apostles, that you can trust your Bible. The Holy Spirit has inspired these writings so they are inerrant, infallible, true and trustworthy, and they have authority over every area of our lives. And not only is it true, it is sufficient. It is enough. The Bible tells us everything that God desired to reveal about who He is, how we can know Him, and how we can live for Him. Nothing is left out. We do not need more information. We do not need the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas, the Book of Mormon or the Quran. We have a Holy Spirit-inspired Bible! So as we build our lives and our church, we build on the Word of God, for His Word is the only solid rock we have. All other ground is sinking sand. Everything we believe, everything we do, as Christians and as a church must be rooted in this book, and this book is what we must return to time and time again to measure all that is done and all that we believe. 
  • Second, because the Bible is the inspired revelation of God, then we must insist that it be the basis of all that is said here in this pulpit – whether by me, Jack, any guest speaker, or any future pastor you may have. Not only this, but the Bible must be the basis of all that is taught in our Sunday School classes and every other kind of gathering that takes place. And the Bible must be the basis of our witness as we interact with nonbelievers. Because the Spirit has inspired these words, these are the words that God has promised to bless and use to accomplish His work in the lives of people and in the world.
  • Third, if you are a Christian, then the same Holy Spirit who inspired this revelation in the Word of God lives within you. The divine author is available to guide you as you read and study the Bible. I have a lot of friends who have written some good books. When I read those books and I have questions, I can call or email them and ask them and they tell me what they meant when they said those things. Friends, we can do the same with the Bible because the Holy Spirit who inspired these writings is able to illuminate our understanding as we read them.

God has gone to great lengths to give us His Word in written form. He has inspired it, so that it stands as a written revelation of who He is, what He does, and how we can know and live for Him. We neglect, ignore, or distort this Book only to our own peril. We affirm what our Confession of Faith sets forth:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Looking Ahead to Easter (John 14:19-24)

When you look in your bulletin and see that the title of today’s message is “Looking Ahead to Easter,” I know some of you may be thinking, “We knew his watch was broken, we didn’t know his calendar was too!” Well, I fully realize that Easter is 2 months away, but there is a sense in which every Sunday is Easter for the Christian. In fact the reason why Christians worship on Sunday is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Really every day is Easter for the Christian because every day we live in the sure and certain hope of a Christ who conquered death for us.

In our text today, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the promises of Easter before the first Easter Sunday takes place. As Jesus speaks, it is late Thursday night. On Friday, the next day, Jesus will die on the cross. And as Jesus seeks to comfort them in the face of His impending death, He points them here to Easter Sunday to reassure them that His death will not be the end. There are three Easter promises that He gives to them here to point them beyond the horror of the cross to the glory of His resurrection. In the same way, these promises speak to the hearts of all who follow Him today. As we live in broken down bodies in a fallen world that has been ravaged by sin, the promises of Easter assure us that, no matter what comes our way, there are blessings that only the follower of Christ can cling to when everything around us seems to be going terribly wrong.

I. The Promise of Unending Fellowship: You will see Me (v19a)

As C. S. Lewis chronicled his journey through the grief of losing his wife to cancer, he wrote, “I have no photograph of her that’s any good. I cannot even see her face distinctly in my imagination.”[1] This is one of the most troubling realities of grief, that we will no longer see the face of the one we love. Jesus knew that the hearts of His followers were troubled. They had left everything behind to follow Him. Every day for three years, they had seen Him. Now He was leaving them behind, and all they could think of is that they would never see Him again.

Jesus said, “After a little while the world will no longer see Me.” Undoubtedly, for some in the world, this would be exactly what they were hoping for. Jesus was a troublemaker in their minds. The Pharisees, the chief priests, Herod, Pilate, and a multitude of others were hoping they would never have to lay eyes on Jesus again. And to their own destruction, they would get their wish. They would never again see His face. “But,” Jesus said to His followers, “you will see Me.”

For a little while, they would not see Him. Most of them scattered when He was arrested. As far as we know, only one of them watched Him die. When He was buried, only the women were present, along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – none of whom were present when Jesus spoke these words. But after a little while, these men would see Him again. After He arose from the dead, Jesus appeared to them. It was not a vision or a hallucination – it was Jesus in His glorified body, really present and really visible to them. They saw Him again. But only they saw Him. The unbelieving world did not see Him. In all of His resurrection appearances, if we leave aside His appearance to Paul on the Damascus Road, He never appeared in the presence of unbelievers. The promise was for Jesus’ followers: “You will see Me.” This was the promise of unending fellowship. His departure from them was only momentary. They saw Him again.

But what of us who live two millennia beyond that first Easter? How does this promise secure us in a world filled with hurts and hardships? At Easter, we sing a song that asks, “Were you there when He rose up from the grave?” And the answer is, “No! We weren’t there!” But we see Jesus through the eye of faith. As we believe in the Savior who died for our sins and rose from the dead to save us, we see Him with a plainer view than our eyesight could afford us. We see Him as Lord and Savior of our lives. And we see Him as He works in and through us by His indwelling Spirit. Remember that there is a special blessing attached to those who see Him by faith in this way. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (Jn 20:29). He has promised us unending fellowship with Himself, and He has fulfilled that promise to all who have trusted in Him.

But there is a future aspect of His promise which remains for us. Just as He said to His disciples, so Jesus can assure us, “After a little while … you will see Me.” The day is coming when we will see Jesus face-to-face, with new vision and transformed eyes in heaven. The assurance that we will see our friends and loved ones again in heaven is a great comfort, but there is even greater comfort and hope found in the promise that we will see Jesus. We will look into the face of the One who is both our Maker and Redeemer, and we will see the unfathomable glory of God in His face.

This promise of unending fellowship has a profound effect on a true believer in Christ. In 1 John 3, the Apostle writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure.” The promise that we will see Jesus face-to-face one day fuels our fight against temptation and sin, because we remember what Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). When I surrender to temptation, I am choosing to see, or indulge in, something other than the surpassing greatness of God’s glory. That is why all sin is idolatry at its core. It is an elevation of my own desires to a level above God where I serve them and obey them instead of God. But if I want to see God – if that is the driving force behind my life – then I will fight temptation whenever it arises for the sake of the purity of my own heart. I want to keep my heart pure, because I want to see Him more than anything or anyone else.

This promise also provides us with endurance in trials. When we encounter various trials in life (not if, but when), Satan would love to persuade us that God is not present, that He does not love us, that He is not good, and so on. But the promise of unending fellowship here as Jesus says, “You will see Me,” reminds us that He is present, He does love us, and He is good. We have seen Him with the eye of faith. We have seen His goodness and grace at work in and through us on countless “good days” before the bad days ever struck, and we know that we will see Him face-to-face. So when those thoughts arise in the midst of a hardship, we have to keep resting in this promise. Jesus will never leave nor forsake those who have seen Him by faith, and when this world has done all it can do to us, we will see Him face-to-face. That is why Paul is able to say in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

Jesus is alive, and we see Him by faith, we see His work being done in and through us, and we will see Him face-to-face. That fuels our endurance to persevere through the trials and temptations of life. So we have this promise of uninterrupted fellowship. The world does not see Jesus, but we have, we do, and we will. We are never alone, never forsaken, never abandoned, not in life and not in death. And this brings us to the second promise.

II. The Promise of Undying Life: You will live (v19b) 

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in books that fall into a category that some have called “afterlife tourism.” These books claim that the writers have experienced a journey to heaven, or in some cases hell, and have come back to tell us all about what it was like. A couple of weeks ago, there was quite an uproar after the child whose story inspired one of the most popular of these books came clean that the entire tale was fabricated. Alex Malarkey, who was 6 years old when he was in the terrible car accident that sparked the book entitled The Boy Who Went To Heaven, is now 16 and remains a quadriplegic. But he bravely confessed in an open letter that he made the story up in order to get attention. Alex said, “People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough.” Amen. After all, Jesus Himself said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” When we want to know about heaven, we should look to what His word says and trust that it is enough! So many of these books present accounts of heaven which not only contradict each other, but also contradict the Bible!

Jesus offers us so much more than these stories can! He says, “Because I live, you will live also.” This is not a promise that we can visit heaven temporarily and come back to live on earth, only to suffer, grieve, hurt, and ultimately die again. He promises us an undying life just as He Himself has.

Having spoken often to His disciples about His impending death, Jesus now says, “Because I live ….” He is looking beyond the cross to His resurrection. He will die. He will be really dead – not just passed out or in a coma – DEAD! He knew He was going to be dead, and yet He says, “Because I live.” He knew that death would not be the end. His followers would see Him again – on earth even – as He overcame death by His resurrection. He would be alive just as surely as He was dead. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore.” Jesus is the only person who can speak of His own death in the past tense.

But notice that His resurrection is tied to a promise He is making to His disciples. “Because I live, you will live also.” In Jesus’ death, He took all of our sins upon Himself, and died to receive the full penalty that we deserve. When He uttered from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, He was receiving the full outpouring of wrath and condemnation that you and I have earned because of our sins. We deserve to be forsaken by God, condemned and cast out from His presence. But Jesus took this for us. By His resurrection, He demonstrated that our sin and its penalty of death and wrath had been fully defeated. Therefore, for the Christian, death does not have to be feared. Death is not the end, and it is not the entryway into judgment for the one who believes in Christ. It is the entryway into life everlasting.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. … But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death (1 Cor 15:17-18, 20-26).

And because death has been abolished by the resurrection of Christ for all who trust in Him, that great chapter concludes by saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:54-57). So death is defeated for the Christian because the Lord Jesus lives. And because He lives, we will live also. But it will not be life as we have known it. It will be a new life, an eternal life, an undying life, in the splendors of heaven and the presence of God. John recorded what he saw in his vision of heaven in Revelation 21: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4). This is life as God intended us to live! And it is ours if we have trusted in Christ. Because He lives, we will live also.

There is great help for a Christian in this promise. No matter what comes our way, the worst thing that can happen to us in this world is death. But Christ has defeated death so that it is powerless against us. In Him, we are more than conquerors! So as Christians we do not need to fear death. Death is an enemy, but it is an enemy that has been defeated on our behalf through the death and resurrection of Christ. He has given us the promise of undying life. Because He lives, we will live also.

Now we come to the third promise:

III. The Promise of Unshakable Assurance: You will know (vv20-24)

When I was in seminary, my favorite class was one that many students tried to avoid. But every Thursday morning at 7 am(!) I took my seat with great anticipation and eagerness in the lecture hall to hear Dr. Bruce Little teach on Epistemology. Epistemology is essentially the study of knowledge. What do we really know, and how do we know it, and how do we know that we know it? Epistemology is intensely relevant and practical because all day, every day, we are making countless decisions based on what we know, or what we think we know. When it comes to our Christian faith, epistemology has an important role as well. We say we believe certain things. We say we know certain things. But how do we know them? How do we know that we know them? Is there a difference between what we believe and what we know? These are eternally important questions. When the Apostle John wrote his first epistle, one of his stated purposes was this: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). He wants the believers to become knowers. And so does Jesus. He says to those who believe in Him here, “In that day, you will know.” And He explains what we know, how we know, and how we know that we know.

Let’s look at what He says about how we know. He says, “In that day.” What day? It is the day that His followers would see Him; the day in which, after His death, He would be found to be alive. So the basis of what we know is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the basis for all Christian belief and knowledge. We do not determine our beliefs on personal opinion or preference, or emotion or feeling. Our beliefs are based on what Jesus said and what Jesus did. But why should we believe what Jesus says – about the Bible, about Himself, about us, about life, death, heaven, hell, or anything else? Well, the only reason to believe Him is if He is able to demonstrate His own trustworthiness. He claimed to be God. That would be pretty easy to disprove. If you kill Him, and He stays dead, then He isn’t God. If He says, “I am going to be killed and then rise from the dead,” but He doesn’t rise from the dead, then He is a liar and He cannot be trusted. But, He did rise from the dead, just as He said He would. His resurrection demonstrates the veracity of all that He said, and therefore we can trust Him. We do not trust our feelings or our opinions; we trust Jesus Christ on the basis of what He has done for us. You might wake up tomorrow morning and say, “I don’t feel like I am a Christian. I don’t feel that God is near to me, and I don’t feel that He loves me.” Thankfully, it is not about how you feel. What are the facts? What do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross and rose from the dead? Have you personally trusted in Him on that basis? Then those historical facts become the basis for what you know to be true. That’s how we know.

Now what do we know? He said, “In that day, you will know that I am in My Father and you in Me, and I in you.” This is the content of our assurance. Because Jesus died and rose again, we know that He is in the Father. That is to say, He and the Father are one, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one divine Person. Jesus said that. It is a bold claim. But He backed it up when He demonstrated His power over death in His resurrection. We know that He is God in the flesh, and that He is mighty save because He is in the Father.

Because Jesus died and rose again, we also know that we are in Him. To be “in Christ” is to be united with Him in His life, His death, and His resurrection. The Bible has many promises for us because we are “in Christ.” For example, in Philippians 3 Paul says that He longs to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Php 3:7-9). So, when we are in Him, we are not viewed by God on the basis of our own merits, and that is a good thing, since all of our works are but filthy rags in His sight anyway (Isa 64:6). Instead we are viewed in Christ, so that God sees us clothed (or covered) in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He does not treat us, receive us, or respond to us as we deserve, but as Christ deserves, because we are in Him. We know that we are saved because we are in Him, and we know that we are in Him on the basis of His death and resurrection.

And then Jesus says we will also know in that day that He is in us. When Jesus died and rose again, He ascended to His Father and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all who trust in Him (cf. vv16-18). In a very real way, Jesus lives in His followers. He says in verse 23 that He and His Father will come and “make Our abode” with the one who loves Him. He has done this in the person of the Holy Spirit. He lives within us, empowering us to live the Christian life in obedience to God, transforming our desires to reflect the will of God, and shaping us into Christlikeness. We know this because Jesus has died and rose again.

We do not have to doubt these things, we know them. The content of our assurance is that Christ is in the Father, we are in Him, and He is in us. The basis of it is His death and resurrection. Jesus also speaks of the evidence of these things. This is how we know that we know. The first thing He speaks of as evidence of our assurance is the evidence of a personal relationship -- our love for Him, and His love for us. He said, “He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love Him.” Friends, before you were a Christian, you did not love God. You were a rebel to His will. But suddenly, and somewhat inexplicably, you came to grieve your sin and the gulf that separated you from God and you longed to please Him because you found yourself falling in love with Him. This is the evidence of regeneration, new birth, and genuine conversion. You were responding to God’s love by loving Him, and resting in His love for you. You may say, “But doesn’t God love everyone?” Indeed He does. But you know from your own life experiences that there are different kinds of love. You love your parents, your children, your spouse, your friends and neighbors. But you do not love them all in the same way. So God loves all people, but He has a unique and special love for those who love Him and come to Him by faith in the Lord Jesus. One of the assurances that we have of His love for us is that we ourselves are growing more and more in love with the Him.

That brings us to the second evidence of our assurance. How do we know that we love Jesus? He says that if we love Him, we will obey Him. This is the evidence of practical devotion. For many who say that they love God, it is merely lip service. True love for God manifests itself in obedience to Him. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (v21). Again in verse 23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;” and in verse 24, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” There was a time in our lives when we did not desire to obey God. But since coming to faith in Christ, our desires are changing. We want to do what is pleasing to Him. How can we explain that? The only explanation is that Christ is transforming us. We are not yet perfected, and we won’t be in this life in this world, but we are growing to love obedience! We do not find ourselves obeying because we have to, but because we want to. Practical devotion, an obedience that flows from love for Christ, is an evidence of our assurance.

That brings us then to the final evidence of assurance here – that of profound interaction. Jesus said that He will disclose Himself to the one who loves and obeys Him. This disclosure, or revelation, of Himself comes to us through the very word that He has given us to obey. And these words, Jesus said, are not His only, but the Father’s who sent Him (v24). But, here’s the thing. Once upon a time, you and I very likely looked at the Bible as merely a book. Perhaps a special book, or an important book, but it was still just a book. Maybe some have looked upon it as a collection of religious rules and regulations. But something happens to us when we are saved. We begin to view this book differently. Now it becomes a place where we turn to meet with God. When we read it, we are hearing God speak to us. He is pouring His truth into our hearts and we find ourselves, not interacting with words on paper, but with the living God through those words. So one of the evidences of our assurance is this profound interaction that we have as we meditate upon His word, because there we have found that Jesus discloses Himself to us.

So, we have this promise of unshakable assurance. Because Jesus has died and rose again, we know that He is in the Father, that we are in Him, and that He is in us. And the evidence that we truly know this is found in our personal love relationship with Him, in our practical devotion of obedience to His will, and in our profound interaction with Him in His word.

Because of Jesus’ victory over death in His resurrection, He makes three specific promises here: you will see Me; you will live; and you will know. The promise of unending fellowship enables us to endure the hardships of life and overcome temptation and sin. The promise of undying life liberates us from the fear of death. And the promise of unshakable assurance guards us against the doubts that arise from our feelings, experiences, and emotions by anchoring us to the bedrock foundation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But these promises are only for those who have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. If you have, then the promises are yours. Trust them. Rest in them, because you know the One who has promised them, and you know His promises are steadfast. If you have never turned to the Lord Jesus and trusted Him to save you, you can do that today. He has taken your sin and its penalty upon Himself in His death, and He has overcome sin and death for you in His resurrection. This is why we are told that if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. You can have uninterrupted fellowship with Him; an undying life like His own; and the unshakable assurance that God-in-Christ has saved you and lives within you as you trust in Him.

[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam, 1963), 16.