Sunday, October 23, 2016

Obedience, the link to fulfillment, John 14:14-17

In many of my past sermons, I have established the principle that the Christian’s relationship with Christ is like that of a husband and wife in marriage.  In our Wednesday evening Bible study, we are looking at that principle right now.  Paul says in  Ephesians 5:31, “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  So then marriage, as defined by God, is an illustration of our relationship with Christ.

In any marriage relationship, the foundation is love. But everyone here surely realizes that for a marriage to work, both members must love one another.  It doesn’t work to have just one person loving their mate, but the mate not to respond in love.  So it is with our relationship with Christ.  There must be love from both parties if it is to be a healthy marriage.

There are two problems in the church today though that threaten the sanctity of this marriage with Christ.  The first problem is that for the most part, the emphasis on the responsibility to love is one sided. The church is continually talking about and singing about Christ’s love for us, but hardly anything is said about our love for the Lord.  In the church’s relationship with Christ, love is disproportionate. He does all the loving, and we do all the taking.  And that kind of one sided love produces a lopsided marriage relationship.  In that kind of relationship, the one being loved too often ends up abusing that love, and taking advantage of that person, becoming something of a narcissist, selfishly using the other for their own ends. They end up with a distorted view of their own importance.  They end up seeking their own selfish priorities, often at the expense of the one doing the loving.  

That isn’t the Biblical view of love, however.  1 Cor.13:5, which is part of the famous text on love, says that love “does not seek it’s own.”  In other words, true love seeks to benefit the other partner, not itself. It doesn’t seek it’s own benefit at the expense of others.  But unfortunately, this is far too often the church’s perspective on love. It’s one sided.  It’s focused on God’s love for us, but hardly ever focused on our love for God.  

And yet Jesus said in  Mark 12:30 that the foremost commandment was “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”  I would suggest to you that for the most part, most of us fail in that commandment.  We love ourselves first and then we probably love a whole list of earthly things, and maybe somewhere down on the bottom of the totem pole we love God.  That hierarchy is made evident by our day planners.  It’s evident by our checkbook register.  It’s evident by our to do lists.  Our lips may say we love God, perhaps even our Facebook page says we love God, but our daily priorities and activities say otherwise.

There is a second problem that hinders the church’s marriage with Christ.  And that is that we have misunderstood the definition of love.  We’ve misunderstood both Christ’s love for us, and our love for Christ.  We have misinterpreted what constitutes love.  The modern church in particular has adapted the world’s definition of love to the word, and as a result we have essentially “dumbed down” the Bible’s definition of love.  

I have talked about this misinterpretation of love so often that I feel redundant speaking of it again.  But it is germane to this passage, and it is essential to our relationship with Christ.  Let me reiterate briefly; love is not simply a feeling, love is not just an emotion, love is not an experience.  Love, in the best sense, is a commitment. It’s an act of the will.  There were four words in the Greek that were used for love.  Christ and the apostles consistently used the highest form of it; agape love.  So in the Bible love is presented as a sacrificial commitment, even to the point of laying down your life for another.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  That’s agape love.  Being willing to lay down, or better yet, lay aside your life, for the sake of another.  

That is true love, by the way. It’s being willing to lay down your life for the sake of the one you love. Love is not what you say, but what you do. That love was modeled by Christ when He laid down His life on the cross for us.  That sacrificial love is modeled by Christian marriage in Ephesians 5.  That is the love of a Christian, who puts the other’s needs above his own.  That is the mark of a sanctified believer, one who truly loves God, who has perfected love, because they were willing to lay down their prerogatives for the sake of honoring Christ.

Now it’s interesting to note that Jesus speaks quite often of love in this Upper Room discourse.  But notice that the emphasis is on our love for Him.  He certainly speaks of His love for the church, but He is emphasizing our responsibility to love the Lord.  Four times in this chapter alone Christ talks about our responsibility to love Him. In chapter 14, our Lord reminds us that it is those who love Him who obey His commandments; once in verse 15, a second time in verse 21, and again in verse 23, and then reverses it in verse 24.  Really four times makes reference to this idea of our love for God being that we obey His commands or word.

And I would also point out the placement of these statements about our love for God bracket certain promises of God.  For instance, look at how these three verses are laid out. Vs.14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”  Vs. 15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Vs. 16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”  

Now at first glance, you might think that these are unrelated bullet points.  Almost as if John is just giving us highlights of the conversation here rather than a word for word rendition.  And that may be true to a certain degree.  But I would suggest that there is a purpose in the way that he has arranged it.  Because I believe that love for God is the condition upon which these various promises are made.

For instance, look again at vs.14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” We talked about last time what it meant to ask in Jesus’s name.  That His will being a condition for Christ doing what we ask of Him.  We ask according to His will.  His purpose.  His ministry.  But I believe after studying this passage that there is another condition, and that is that you love Him, and to love Him He said is to keep His commandments.  

If someone is not living according to Christ’s commands, then I don’t believe that God is under any compulsion whatsoever to grant our requests.  In fact disobedience is a hindrance to your prayers.  Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  You are either living in disobedience as a child of God and as such will receive the discipline of God the Father, or your disobedience is evidence that you are not a child of God at all. But either way, your disobedience nullifies the promise of God to answer your prayers.  Because that disobedience illustrates that you do not love God.  And if you do not love God, then that is evidence that you are not God’s marriage partner or you are in rebellion to Him.

I’ve said before that I have studied the latter part of James 5 for years, trying to find the secret to answered prayer as illustrated by James’s example of Elijah. The key verse being vs.16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  I looked at it from the perspective of perseverance, from the perspective of faith, and just about every which way possible.  And then finally one day it hit me.  The key to effective prayer, the key to answered prayer, is the word righteous. 

In fact, when you look at the complete verse, that becomes clearer.  “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  The emphasis is on confession of sins so that your prayers are not hindered.

So back in our text, I believe that Jesus deliberately juxtaposes vs.15 about love and obedience between the promise of answered prayer, and that of the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Because I believe that love of God demonstrated by obedience is the key to the fulfillment of both of those promises.  

Jesus makes the connection between obedience and love over and over again. He obviously is not teaching that Christianity is composed of an easy believism, of lip service without obedience.  He is not teaching that God’s love for us is some sort of sentimentalism that winks at sin.  He is speaking of love as a commitment, even as a sacrifice of our priorities for the Lord’s.  There is a sense in which our God loves everyone in his benevolence and in the fact that He does them good. But His special love for His children is reserved,  our Lord says, for those who believe in Him, love Him, and manifest their love in the keeping of His commandments. Vs.23, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My words and My Father will love him and We will come unto him and make our abode with him.”  There is a special intimacy that God gives to those who love Him.

Our love for God is the key to the Christian life.  And obedience and love are inseparably intertwined in this chapter. You cannot have one without the other.  Let’s look at these statements. Vs.15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  Vs.21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”  Vs.23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”  And then in vs.24 He says it negatively, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” Again and again, love and obedience are correlated by Christ, resulting in communion with God.

I often have people tell me that they are having problems in their Christian walk. And the problem they say they feel like God is far away.  They pray and they don’t feel like God hears them.  They don’t feel like God cares about their problems.  Notice how many times the word “feel” was used there.  But God’s presence or God’s response to our prayers is not dependent upon feelings.  It’s dependent upon obedience.  So when someone tells me that he doesn’t feel like God is close to them, I tell them that feelings follow obedience.  They rarely precede it.  James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  As we get into conformity with God, then He will be near to us, and reveal Himself to us.  Feelings follow obedience.

Obedience is kind of like trying to get in shape.  We hear all the time of the great benefits of exercise.  We hear that you will feel so much better if you get into shape.  So we join a gym.  And we start to work out on an exercise program.  But let me ask you, does feeling good precede getting in shape or follow after you have gotten into shape?  I would suggest that getting into shape is often painful.  It’s arduous.  That’s why they call it working out.  And that’s why Paul said in Philippians that we are to work out our salvation through obeying.   Phil. 2:12
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  

When you are obedient, then you will begin to experience the joy and peace of intimate fellowship with God.  John Calvin, the great Reformer said, “True knowledge of God is born out of obedience.”  As we obey Him, we come to know Him.   And out of that obedience comes a closer walk with God, out of obedience comes our sanctification, out of obedience comes our comfort, our fellowship, our assurance of His love for us.  As we love Him and keep His commandments, He comes to us and abides with us and makes His home with us as promised in vs.21 and 23.

So the key to Christ granting our requests is our love manifested by our obedience. And that obedience is tied to the next promise as well, that of the Holy Spirit. He is our Helper so that we might do those things which God has commanded us to do.  Vs.16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”

This highlights the major difference between the old covenant and the new covenant.  A lot of people think that the difference is that in the old covenant they were under the law, but in the new covenant we are under grace.  That’s not completely true.  It is true that we that are saved by faith are not under the penalty of the law, but under grace, that is the gift of righteousness procured by Jesus’s death on the cross.  But the commandments of God still stand.  Jesus said I did not come to annul the law but to fulfill it.  The difference is that in the old covenant we did not have the power to keep the law, but in the new covenant we have the power of the Spirit dwelling within us to help us keep His commandments.  That is why I think Jesus juxtaposes these three otherwise unrelated statements together.  He is showing the link which is obedience.

This new covenant promise is prophesied in Ezekiel 11:19, “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.”  He repeats that promise word for word again in Ez.36.  

The same promise is made again in Jeremiah 31:33, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

That’s the purpose of sending the Holy Spirit folks.  He is not some sort of experience.  He is not a feeling.  He is not an emotion.  He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth.  And He is given to us that we might know the truth, and that we might be obedient to the truth.  He is given to lead us in the truth.  He is given to write the law of God upon our hearts, so that our desire is to be obedient, because we love the Lord with all our hearts and want to please Him. He gives us a new heart that is able to love Him, and is able to obey Him because our desires are changed.

Vs. 26, “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.”  So He is our teacher, our helper, that we might know the truth of Christ.  He will bring it to our remembrance so that we might keep His word.  That is why in vs.17 Jesus calls Him the Spirit of truth.

In chapter 15, you are going to see in the next couple of weeks that Jesus goes to great lengths to reiterate His commandments.  It’s important to realize that in the New Testament, every one of the 10 commandments is reiterated except one.  And that one that isn’t is the law of the Sabbath, because it is a ceremonial law.  And when the ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ, they were no longer necessary.  They were a picture of something to come, but once He had come, the ceremonial laws were no longer in effect.  But the point that Jesus makes is that the law of God is fulfilled in two positive commandments, as opposed to negative ones.  The negative commands say don’t do this, don’t do that.  But the positive commandments of Christ are to do something, first,  love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  And He said all the commandments are fulfilled in those two.  

It’s also interesting to draw a correlation to the passage on love I referenced earlier, that of 1 Corinthians 13. In that chapter and the one preceding it, we see that love is a gift of the Spirit. Of all the gifts of the Spirit, love is the one that remains when the others cease.  Love is the greatest gift.   1Cor. 13:8, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.”  But the gift of love is going to endure, it will not cease, it will not fade away.  As it says in vs.13, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Well, Jesus is showing that the way to accomplish His command to love Him and obey Him is through the Holy Spirit. The Helper is given that we might do the works of God.  And He does that by leading us us in the truth.  John 16:13, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”  

So then the Holy Spirit helps us love God, because we come to know Him through the word of God, of which the Holy Spirit is the author.  And He brings the word to our minds, that He might lead us in the truth.  So that we might know what to do, what His will is, what His commands are.  And then when we don’t do what we should, He convicts us so that we might repent and be conformed to Christ’s will.   John 16:8, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

When we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit.  And we limit the Holy Spirit.  That is why it is necessary to have a daily filling of the Spirit.  To confess your sins, and commit to love the Lord and be obedient to His will, so that the Holy Spirit may fill us with His power to do God’s will.

Next time we are going to continue in this chapter and really focus more on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  But for now let me just say that the Helper (or Comforter in some versions) comes from the Greek word Paraclete.  That’s the transliteration in English.  Greek it’s Paraklētos.  Klētos is a verb form of a verb kaleō which means to call, pará  means alongside like parallel – so to call somebody alongside.  That’s what the word means, somebody called alongside. 

And then there is another word, Állos which is used here.  It means another of the exact same kind; and Jesus uses that:  “I will give you állos Paraklētos.  “I will give you another exactly like I am, which is to say that I’m going to send you a Helper exactly like the Helper that I have been,” and that defines for you the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  We have the power of Christ in us, the words of Christ written down for us, and the mind of Christ ministering to us through the Spirit of Truth.  That we might be able to be obedient to the truth.  That we might know the truth, and the truth make us free.  Free from the penalty of sin, and free from the power of sin.  

Listen, we know that the devil is a deciever.  He loves to confuse.  He loves to twist doctrines.  And so there is an effort on his part to confuse two vital doctrines of scripture,  that of love and the Holy Spirit.  We see both of those doctrines perverted and confused in the church today to the church’s detriment. We need to know that love is evidenced by obedience to God’s will.  And we need to know that God has sent His Spirit that we might know His will and have the indwelling power of God to help us to do His will.  And in both of those doctrines, the flow is outward, not inward.  It’s not just about God’s love for me, but my love for God, manifested by my obedience.  And it’s not about how the Spirit of God makes me feel, or what manifestation of God I experience, but He helps me to manifest Christ to the world.  That is what discipleship is all about.  Loving God and loving one another.  We love because He first loved us.  And then we love one another because that is His command to us, and how we show that we love God.  And in both of them, the Spirit is the originator, and the supplier of our needs in all that we do.  As we yield to Him on a daily basis, then we will love God by obedience to God’s commands.  And then we will experience the blessings of God upon our lives.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Three Comforts of Christ, John 14:7-14

Jesus said God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I quote that verse here almost every week.  But I can’t help but believe that we need to elaborate on this doctrine that God is Spirit.  The Greek word for spirit is pneuma. Pneuma is the root word from which we get our word pneumatic. It means air, or a breath of air.  So a spirit is like the air.  A spirit is unseen.  It isn’t composed of matter that you can touch or see or feel.  The best way we can describe it is a spirit is like the air or the  wind.  We can see the effects of the wind, but we can’t see the wind.  Jesus said, no man has seen the Father at any time. He is invisible to human eyes because He is Spirit.  But like when we see the effects of the wind, Romans 1 says in creation we see the invisible attributes of God and His eternal nature.  We do not see God in nature. But we see the effect of God in nature and it testifies to us that God is.

John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is God who took on human form. John 1:14, “And the Word (that is Jesus) became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” For 33 years, God appeared on the earth in a physical body of a man.  Luke tells us that He was born of the Spirit of God through a young woman named Mary.  But the John 1 tells us that Jesus existed from the beginning.  He was with God in the beginning.  So in some incredible way that is impossible for us to comprehend, God was in three persons in eternity past, and the second person of the trinity, who John calls the Word, in His Spirit subjects Himself to be born as a baby even while in Mary’s womb, and is born in flesh as the Son of God.  He lives fully as a baby, then a toddler, then a teenager, then a young man, before declaring Himself to be the Son of God at 30 years old.  At this point He begins His public ministry to the world as  Jew, living in Israel, subjecting Himself to all that mankind was subjected to.  He did so sinlessly, and after preaching His gospel to all of Israel, He offered Himself as not only a human sacrifice, but a divine sacrifice for the sins of the world, to provide salvation for those that will believe in Him.

After His crucifixion, God raised Jesus bodily from the grave, and 40 days later He ascended into heaven in the sight of 500 witnesses.  Then on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to  the disciples and indwelled the church.  Today we worship God in Spirit.  The body of Christ is no longer with us, we don't have a physical God that we can see or touch.  But we worship Him in Spirit and in the truth of God’s word.  His Word is the physical effect or evidence of the Spirit of God given to the world.

Now this passage before us today happens about 12 hours before He is offered as a sacrifice for sin on the cross.  Jesus knows full well what is to come, and why He is doing what He is doing.  But He also knows that the disciples do not understand.  And so in these last hours before His death, He is speaking to them in the Upper Room, giving them His last will and testament, so to speak, revealing certain truths to them and making promises to them which are designed to sustain them when He is no longer with them.

Though His upcoming ordeal on the cross should have been uppermost in His mind, He wants to comfort His disciples, because He knows that they don’t really understand what must happen.  They are going to be disillusioned and discouraged when Jesus is crucified.  And so in spite of the ordeal ahead of Him,  He is concerned about His disciples.  He offers them principles and truths that are designed to sustain them and strengthen their faith for the days ahead, especially those days when He will be taken back up into heaven.

To comfort them then, He said in the first few verses of the chapter that He was going away, but He was going to prepare a place for them, and He would return one day to take them to be with Him.  But Thomas speaking perhaps for all of them, said, “Lord we don’t know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  

Jesus’s answer is one of the greatest theological statements in the Bible.  Jesus says in vs. 6, “I am the Way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me.”  Now I spent some time expounding that text last time so we don’t need to go review all that again.  But suffice it to say that Jesus is declaring that He is the only way to the Father.  He is the entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Now we come today to vs.7, which is a continuation of that thought.  Jesus said, ““If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”  The greatest comfort in life we can possibly have is that we know God and are known by God.  There is nothing on earth that can compare with that knowledge.  Because I can assure you that in this life you are eventually going to come to a point when you realize that no one can help you through your particular trial.  

I’ve been through many desperate times when I wanted so badly to pick up the phone and call someone.  And yet there was really no one to call that could help me.  Our friends might commiserate with us, or sympathize with us in our trials, but there are many trials where there is no one that can help us.  The doctor says that there is nothing that they can do.  Or the good will of family and friends has been tapped once too many times.  Or the problem is just to big, too complex for anyone to be able to help.  I’ve been there a few times, and I suspect that you have too.  And if you haven’t yet, then it’s going to happen eventually.  And in those darkest hours, there is no hope except to hope in God.  And there is no comfort, but to know God, and to know that God knows you and loves you.  

So Jesus focuses their attention on that principle.  Because they think that they know Jesus.  But what Jesus says, is that if you know Me, you would know God.  But the disciples knew that Jesus was the Son of God.  They knew Jesus was the Messiah.  They knew He was the Son of David.  But their knowledge was incomplete.  They though had some of the right doctrine, they did not have full comprehension, and therefore they were missing the full comfort that comes from knowing who He is.  They did not know that Jesus was the manifestation of the Godhead in bodily form.  

Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus “is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”  And that is what Jesus is saying in vs.7, you now know the Father, and you have seen Him.  They had seen the invisible, unseen Father through the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ. 

But Philip still didn’t understand.  And most likely, neither did the other apostles.  He said in vs.8, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  We can look with 20/20 hindsight and kind of look down on those poor ignorant disciples, can’t we?  It’s so evident to us, and they were so blind to what was right in front of them.  But I would suggest that Philips comment is not so far off from our own thoughts about God today.  Philip’s request is the same request the world makes today.  Show us the Father and it will be enough.  Hey, why doesn’t God show Himself to the world?  Prove your existence to us.  Manifest yourself to us.

In the words of modern day skeptics, we don’t accept you as you as invisible, as unseen.  We don’t accept you as a Spirit.  We don’t accept you as you have manifested yourself in the flesh as the historical Jesus 2000 years ago.  We want you to do something that we think is fitting, according to how we think God should be. We want you to prove yourself to us today.   Jesus had come with all kinds of signs, proving that He was deity, and yet they still asked for greater signs.  Raising the dead did not satisfy them.  And I suppose that what people  really want to see today is something on the scale of the movie Independence Day.  They want to see some sort of immense presence in the sky in flaming fire, or blinding light, overwhelming the senses.  They want to see some sort of incredible power in a physical, tangible way.  But that is putting our demands upon God to meet our standards.  God has chosen to reveal Himself in a more humble way, so that we might know Him in a more personal, intimate way.  

So Jesus said, “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’?  

The fact of the historicity of Jesus is widely accepted even by most non Christian scholars of antiquity. Extra biblical evidence can be found in 1st century writings like that from the Jewish historian Josephus, or Pliny the Younger, who was a Roman governor, or Tacitus, a Roman historian, or from the Talmud, which was a Jewish Rabbinical text, or from a Greek satirist by the name of Lucian.  Archeology backs up the claims of the gospels as well, such as the important find a few years ago,  an ossuary, which was a type of wooden coffin, engraved with the name of James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.  So there is ample contemporary evidence outside of Biblical sources which show conclusively that Jesus was a real historical figure.

But the greatest evidence is simply the word of God.  The internal evidence of the reliability of the word of God is overwhelming. It is truth.  It is true historically and it’s truth experientially and it’s truth practically.  And Jesus uses that evidence to support His own claims of divinity.  His claim to divinity is that He speaks the words of God, and His words are validated by His works, which are the works of God.

Verse 10:  “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?  The words that I say to you, I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”

And the truth of God’s word is it’s own witness to those who believe it and obey.  It is self validating. In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”

So because HIs word is true, and does not glorify Himself but glorifies the Father, we know that Jesus is one with God.  We believe in Him.  We don’t have Jesus in person here on earth that we might know Him and examine Him.  But we do have Him in scripture.  And the word of Christ, the truth of Christ validates our belief.  

Romans 1:17 says that the just shall live by faith. Not by sight.   We receive life by faith in Christ, righteousness by faith in Christ, forgiveness by faith in Christ.  We live by faith in God as given to us in the scriptures.  We don’t have faith in just anything, but in what the scriptures tell us. We believe in the promises of the Bible, God’s word.  That is what it means to believe in God, to have faith in Christ.  

Our faith does not rest on personal experiences.  Our faith doesn’t rest on supernatural occurrences, or on personal revelation through special messages we think we have received from God.  Our faith rests in His written word.  Our faith increases proportionately to our understanding of Scripture.  Scripture reveals God; and the more you see God revealed in Scripture, the greater your faith becomes, the stronger it becomes.  As we saw in a moment ago in  John 7:17, when we act in faith to what the scriptures teach, then the truth becomes clear and we learn that we can depend upon His word.  And so our faith grows in response to our obedience.

Listen, we dare not believe in God because we feel something.  We cannot trust our feelings as a basis for our faith.  Our feelings fluctuate.  And oftentimes, our feelings lie.  Our feelings may tell us that God doesn’t care, that God must not even exist.  So we cannot trust our feelings.  We trust in the word of God, in spite of our feelings. We believe His word no matter what is going on around us.  

Feelings follow obedience.  You choose faith and obedience irregardless of feelings, and eventually feelings will follow.  That’s why in vs.15 which we will look at next week, Jesus says “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  Obedience brings intimacy with God, which brings assurance of our relationship with Him, which in turn produces feelings of joy and peace and comfort.

The second comfort that Christ gives is the promise of His power.  Now that the disciples know who He is, that He is the eternal God who is going back into heaven to prepare a place for us, then the promise is that they will continue to have His power.  Vs. 12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

A lot of people love to go off the tracks with this verse.  They read it and it’s off to the races.  Everyone wants to walk on water, or raise the dead, or heal people.  And to some extent the apostles were granted that power at the beginning of the church, in what we call the apostolic age.  They had similar power to what Christ had to authenticate their message.  But I would suggest to you that this was limited to the apostles and a few of their proteges.  And that was only for a short time, until the New Testament scriptures were written.  By the end of the apostolic age, the miraculous works of the apostles had begun to die out with them. By the end of Paul’s ministry, his miracles had ceased.  He told Timothy for instance to drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake.  He talked about leaving one of his entourage sick.  The miracles had a limited purpose, to corroborate the words of God which the apostles were preaching.  

In Acts 2, you read how it flows through the Apostolic Age.  This is the power given to the apostles.  It’s defined for us clearly in 2 Corinthians 12:12, the signs and wonders, and miracles of an apostle.  And it’s in Hebrews 2:4 where it says that the message the apostles preached was confirmed by signs and wonders and mighty deeds done by the apostles.  It was to confirm the word of God, that the words they spoke were the words of Christ.  The same principle that was true in Him (he spoke the words, he did the works) was true in His apostles.  

How then does Jesus say that you will do greater works than these? It’s because He would send the Holy Spirit to indwell each believer.  When Jesus was on earth He was limited to being in one place at one time.  But the Holy Spirit is not limited by place or time.  He is able to be in individuals everywhere at once, doing the works of God through many sons of God at once.

So when the Apostolic Era ended there’s still a sense in which greater works are being done. Jesus works were limited to Israel.  And though Jesus did more miracles than anyone had ever done or will do, there were not that many people that believed in Him and were saved.  Five hundred people witnessed His ascension into heaven.  But the disciples ministry was much more far reaching.  It spread throughout the Roman Empire.  It took over the civilized world. The greatest miracle of all is that a sinner is saved and transformed to be a saint.  And in one message on the day of Pentecost, 3000 souls were saved.  And in our day, greater works than these have been done, in that the gospel has encircled the entire globe, and it’s doing so more and more all the time.  The gospel is being sent all over the world right now in the air, on the Internet, and through radio and media constantly.

The third way the Lord gives the disciples comfort is that He reveals to them His provision.
There’s a third point  Our Lord reveals to them His provision.  Vs. 13 and 14: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

Two times Jesus gives the condition, “ask in My name.”  That phrase is the key.  What does in My name mean?  How are we to correctly understand that? To ask in His name, means to ask according to His identity, consistent with who He is, and what His purpose is.  If someone came to you in the name of the King of a particular country, then you would expect that person to represent the purpose or mission of the King.  They would be acting on behalf of the King’s will.  

Notice that Jesus Himself is subjecting Himself to glorifying the Father in this verse.  “So that the Father may be gloried in the Son.”  The Son is working to bring about the provision that you need, in order to glorify the Father.  So the Son is not working in that prayer to glorify Himself.  But so that the Father may be glorified.  He is not seeking HIs own glory.  

So in like manner, when we pray in Jesus’s name, we are not seeking our own glory, but seeking to glorify Christ, and then Christ will answer it, so that the Father may be glorified through Him.  But the request must be consistent with the Father’s will, with the Son’s purpose, so that they are glorified.

So to simplify it, ‘If you ask anything in My name, means asking consistent with Christ’s will.” And that is borne out by 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

This is the comfort that Jesus offered the apostles.  He gave them the assurance and knowledge that they needed concerning the person of His deity, that He was God, and was returning back to the Father, to make intercession for them, to prepare a place for them, to send them His Spirit to be His presence in each of them.  So that they might know Him, and know that He is God, and that He knows those who are His.  

Secondly, that they might be comforted by His power.  Though He was going away, He would give them power to continue His ministry, and even to a greater extent than He had done.  They would know the power of God to transform men’s and women’s lives all over the known world.  And we see the power of the gospel continuing to work today in even greater ways, as the word of God has reached every corner of the globe.  

And the third comfort is that He will provide all the resources that we need to be able to fulfill His ministry.  Everything we ask for according to His will He will do it.  Some of us may think that limits us in our prayers.  But I think that it gives us great confidence in our prayers, and great hope in our ministry.  We can pray confidently about things that we know God cares about, because God has stated it in His word.  That is a great comfort to me, and I hope it is to you as well.  If God said it, and God promised it, then He will do it.  And if we are doing His will, then there is nothing that will be impossible for us.  God will provide all of our needs according to His riches in glory.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Comfort and the Caution of Christ’s promise, John 14:1-6

When I was a boy, I remember my Dad, who was the pastor of our church, saying that his favorite song was “Mansion over the Hilltop.”  He wasn’t a very good singer, but when the church would sing that song, he really seemed to enjoy it. The lyrics were not the most doctrinally correct perhaps, but the sentiment was sound.  It went something like this:
“I'm satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that's silver lined”
“I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we'll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold”

Today we are looking at a passage in which that promise of a mansion in heaven found it’s origin.  And there is a great controversy among theologians and commentators as to how the word translated mansions in the KJV should actually be rendered.  Most of them say it should be rooms or dwelling places.  And that may be more accurate.  But I would suggest that a room in heaven is more than equal to a mansion on earth.

However, rather than quibbling over semantics, today I want expound this text in light of the greater context of this passage, which is difficult because we don’t have time to teach the entire Upper Room Discourse in one sitting.  But one of the problems with studying passages like the one in front of us today is that we tend to look at it in isolation and as a result we can end up with a distorted doctrine.

So as an attempt to bring the proper context to these verses, I want to remind you that Jesus says these words in response to his earlier declaration in ch.13 that He was going away, and the dismay on the part of the disciples upon hearing that.  Peter in particular said he wanted to go with the Lord, and Jesus said ““Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”

Now the question is, where was Jesus going?  Many people seeing the earlier statement He made that the time had come for Him to be glorified assume that it meant that He was going to heaven.  And indeed Jesus does go to heaven eventually in His ascension.  But the path He would take to heaven would be circuitous.  First He would go to the cross.  He would suffer and die there and be buried.  And then while His body was in the tomb, Peter says in 1 Peter 3:18,19  that “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,” speaking of Hades.  Then on the third day He rose from the dead, appeared to the apostles for 40 days, and then in the presence of 500 witnesses, ascended into heaven.  So as Jesus says in vs.12, “I go to the Father.”  But it was not immediately.

Nevertheless, the disciples hear Him say that He is going away and they cannot come with Him.  They heard Him speak about His betrayal and death.  And so they are troubled by those statements.  If they understood Him properly, Jesus, who they believed was the Son of God, the Messiah, who had walked on water, who had fed multitudes, who had healed the sick and raised the dead, was Himself going to die.  And so they were confused.  They were troubled.  They didn’t understand.  They began to realize that they were going to be bereft of their Master and Lord and they did not know how to handle that.

So Jesus statement in 14:1 is meant to assuage their fears, to offer them comfort.  Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” I have heard sanctimonious Christians say that it is sinful to worry or to fret about the future.  And there may be a sense in which it can indeed lead to sin.  But I would suggest that to worry about the future is human nature.  It is a weakness of the finite human condition, but it is not necessarily sinful.  

Furthermore, I would point out to you that three times in the preceding three chapters, John says that Jesus Himself was troubled.  In John 11:33, when Jesus saw the grief of the mourners for Lazarus, it says He “was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.”  In chapter 12, vs.27, Jesus Himself said that “Now My soul has become troubled,” when He considered His impending death.  And in chapter 13 vs 21, knowing that the time had come when Judas would betray Him, it says, “He became troubled in spirit.”  So because we know that Jesus was sinless, then I can say confidently that to become troubled, or upset, or even to worry about an impending event, is not sinful.  And that Jesus has compassion, not condemnation, for those who are troubled.

So He says, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.”  So first off, our hearts may not be troubled because Jesus has gone before us. We can face the uncertainty of our future because according to 1John 2:1 we have an advocate with the Father which is Jesus Christ the righteous. We may not be troubled about the future because we have an Advocate with the Father, eternal in the heavens, who has gone before us and taken the sting of death upon Himself, taken our punishment upon Himself, who was the first fruits of the resurrection and who lives evermore to make intercession for us.  Because He overcame sin, we can overcome sin.  Because He overcame the grave, we will overcome the grave.  Because He lives, we will not die, but live forever with Him.  So to believe in Him is to be comforted, because though He says in this world we will have trouble, He has overcome the world.

Secondly, we can be untroubled about our trials because Jesus is God. “You believe in God, believe also in Me.”  This statement teaches us the doctrine of Christ’s divinity.  We can be untroubled about our trials because as John 1:1 says He was with God, and He is God. We can be untroubled about our trials because Jesus and God are united in person and in power, as Jesus said in John 10:28, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”  We are doubly secure in the love of God.

Thirdly, we can be untroubled by our trials or future because Jesus is preparing a place for us. Vs.2, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”  Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  But God had prepared a place for him and for his descendants.  It was about 500 years before Abraham’s seed inherited the promised land.  But when they entered into it, each family was given property, an inheritance as the Lord had promised.  Vineyards they had not planted, cities they had not built.  A land flowing with milk and honey.  

In like manner, Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us, a dwelling place for His church, and inheritance, said Peter in 1Peter 1:4, “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”  So we are not troubled by the trials of this world because as Hebrews says of Abraham in chapter 11, we are “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”  We “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

Hebrews 11 goes on to say that those Old Testament saints persevered in this life, recognizing that they were strangers and aliens in this world.  That is I think the secret to not being troubled by the trials and pressures of this world.  It is not to simply think that God will somehow work all of it out so that we can get on with our prosperity and success and enjoy life.  But it is not having  your hope set on earthly things but your focus on heavenly things. 

Paul said he was torn between staying here on earth or going to be with the Lord.  He said to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord, and that was very much better.  But if he was to stay on in this world, then it would mean fruitful labor for him.  And that is a good illustration of what it means to be heavenly minded.  It means kingdom minded.  Keeping your focus on what you can do to build the kingdom of God, and to manifest the kingdom of God to the world until Christ takes you home.

Last week was the anniversary of William Tyndale’s martyrdom.  Tyndall was an Anglican priest in the Church of England in the 1500’s.  And he became convinced that the Bible should be translated into English from Greek and Hebrew.  He wanted to do that himself, but he knew that it wasn’t possible in England due to the feelings of the church about keeping the Bible in Latin.  So he traveled to Germany where he translated the Bible, and eventually the first five books of the Old Testament.  But to do that, he had to move constantly for fear of retaliation and arrest by the church.  Eventually however, they arrested him, having been betrayed by a friend for the reward offered. and he spent about a year in prison awaiting trial.   Finally, in 1536 he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. His dying prayer was that the King of England's eyes would be opened and this prayer seemed to be answered just two years later with King Henry's authorization of the Great Bible for the Church of England, which was largely from Tyndale's own work. Hence, the Tyndale Bible, as it was known, played a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world and, eventually, to the British Empire.  In 1611, the KJV Bible was produced and printed, which borrowed significantly from Tyndale’s work.  Tyndale was a man who lived his life in expectation of the reward, he was looking for a city and a country which has foundations, whose architect and builder was God.  And I think we can be confident the such a man received a great inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. 

Fourthly, our hearts are not troubled by this world because we know that Jesus is coming back to take us to be with Him.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t really talk about heaven.  He simply says that He will take us to be with Him.  Heaven is where God is.  And though I believe that heaven is a real place, I don’t think it aligns with our common understanding of it.  I believe a lot of people misapply the visions of John regarding streets of gold and gates of pearls to a literal place that matches that description.  But if you read that account in Revelation 21, you will discover that it is describing the bride of Christ, called the New Jerusalem, which will come down out of heaven to replace the earth after it is burned up.  

Peter had this to say about this end of the age, in  2Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

I don’t want to use this time today to give you a discourse on heaven.  The Bible actually has very little specifics on the subject.  But suffice it to say that where Christ is, that is where heaven is.  Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  And Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”  It doesn’t matter where it is, as long as Christ is there it is heaven.

But I do believe that the Bible teaches that there will be a second coming of Christ and a resurrection.  1Thess. 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”   

That is our comfort.  That belief that Christ is coming back for us is how we can keep our hearts from being troubled in a world of chaos and confusion.  Paul said in 1 Thess. 1: 9, that we that are saved are to turn from idols and serve God and “wait for God’s Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”

Then in vs.4, Jesus says, “And you know the way where I am going.”  As I was studying this verse I could not help but think that the sentence construction was odd.  It just didn’t seem to sound like the best way of expressing what I thought Jesus meant.  At first glance, you would suppose He is saying the disciples know where He is going, and they know how to get there.  That is obviously how Thomas interpreted it.  He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”

But Jesus isn’t talking about a destination.  Jesus was referring to the way of salvation.  He is saying, you know the way of salvation.  You know the way into the kingdom of God.  And an illustration of that is that in Acts we have six times I believe when Christianity was called The Way.  Paul said he persecuted unto death those of The Way.  That meant Christians.  It wasn’t until Acts 11 in Antioch that they were first called Christians.  Prior to that, it was called the Way.  And perhaps that name finds it’s origin in Jesus’s statement right here.  “You know the Way where I am going.” The Way then is not just a destination but a means to get there.  A path.  Jesus had been preaching for three and a half years concerning how to enter the Kingdom of God.  And so the disciples knew the way into the kingdom.  It was by Jesus and through Jesus only.

And Jesus confirms that in vs.6, saying, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”    Jesus is the Way, with a capital W.  He is not necessarily making three parallel statements in this declaration.  But I think He is making a declarative statement in I am The Way.  He is saying, I am the means of salvation, the way to God, the entrance into the Kingdom of God.  The Way to God is only through Me.  

But then Jesus adds two explanatory clauses to clarify The Way; 1)the truth, and 2)the life.  The Way is the truth, and the Way is the life.  I think that is how He means it.  He is saying this; that the Way is the truth in a world full of deception.  Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end  is the way of death.”  This is the lie of Satan since the beginning of time.  He told Eve that if she disobeyed God, then it would mean she would be wise like God.  He told her that she would not die.  But Satan lied, as he is the father of lies and the truth is not in him.  And what promised life for Eve resulted in death.  

Satan has propagated his lies throughout the earth.  He promises life, happiness, wisdom, but it produces only death, despair and foolishness. Jesus, on the other hand, it says in John 1:14, was full of grace and truth.  He spoke the truth of God.  Jesus is The Way and the Way  is the  truth of God. 

And so logically, The Way produces life.  Because God is life.  John says in chapter 1 that Jesus is the source of life. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”  And there cannot be life without truth.  That is why we put such an emphasis here on preaching the full truth of God’s word.  Without the truth, there can be no life.  A partial truth is just a concealed lie, and that cannot bring about life. 

So the Way results in life, not just earthly life, but eternal life, abundant life.  When you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you receive life.  Eternal life.  Abundant life.  Real life.  What this world offers is only temporal life. It’s like life in black and white, like a dumb animal kind of life, without reason, without wisdom,  being subject to the passions and lusts of the flesh and being held  captive under the bondage of sin.  There may be a sense in which one doesn’t realize that his life is futile and finite. I don’t think my dog realizes that he is a dog.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he is an animal. He is not of higher intelligence.  And I think the unsaved are like animals in a sense.  They are ignorant of the life of God. They live in darkness.  But there will be a day when the light of Christ  will make their ignorance apparent.  And at that point, the Bible says that the world will mourn Him who they pierced. 

That certainty of Christ’s coming is a comfort for those of us who have trusted in Jesus as our Savior.  But the certainty of Christ’s coming should be a cause for concern as well, because it means judgment for those who have rejected Jesus as Lord and Savior. I think while many Christians agree in doctrine with the exclusivity of the statement that Jesus made,  yet in practice they seem to imagine that there will be an escape clause somehow for their loved ones who are not saved.

But Jesus makes it clear, no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Those who are not found dressed in His righteousness alone by faith, will be cast out into outer darkness.  They will have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.  They have no part in the family of God.  They will not dwell there, but will dwell in eternal darkness, separated from God for eternity.

So while we are to be comforted by Christ’s words, we should also be warned.  Jesus told us to expect Him to come at an hour we did not suspect.  He is coming soon.  Let us be about the Kingdom of God.  Let us keep our focus on the city without foundations, whose architect and builder is God, and let us bring as many as we can to faith in Jesus Christ while it is still day, for the night comes when no man can work.