Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD (Ps. 33:12)

POST OVERVIEW. This is a longer than usual post containing meditations on the sovereignty of God in the raising up and the casting down of nations according to His will for His divine purposes. Specific thoughts about the decline of the USA and how that decline is yet another example of God’s absolute rule over His universe.

Adoniram Judson was an amazing man whom God used mightily to bring the gospel to remote places, especially to the nation of Burma. I have begun a biography about Judson, and as I am reading through the book, I have mused about the various ways that the Lord has used the USA as an instrument for advancing His kingdom. I have already become convinced that our country has fulfilled its role and has been forsaken by the Lord. That is, our usefulness has passed and the Lord has now given us over to the corruption and wickedness and rebellion that is common in our rapidly decaying world.

But we are not unique in that progression, by any means. When the nation of Israel had fulfilled its purposes as the Lord’s instrument to prepare the world for Messiah, the Lord removed His hand of grace and blessing from them and abandoned them to their natural sin and wickedness, and they were destroyed in temporal judgment not once, but twice (586 BC and AD 70). In the waning days of the kingdom, during the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, the Lord raised up Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar to be His instrument of judgment for Judah and the surrounding kingdoms. Babylon flourished during these years when the Lord was using them as His instrument. Later, however, when Babylon had played its part and then had gone deep into pagan worship under Belshazzar (Daniel 5), the Lord raised up the Medes to destroy the Chaldeans. And so it goes. The history of the rise and fall of kingdoms is the history of God’s sovereignty at work on a macro level, raising kingdoms up so that they can accomplish His bidding and then retreating back into obscurity when their part has been played and their usefulness has been exhausted. Although Macbeth spoke about people, his words could just as easily apply to nations and kingdoms: “Out, out brief candle! Life is just a walking shadow, a poor player (nation) that struts and frets its hour upon the stage (of world history) and then is heard no more.” Kings and nations do not rise and fall because they have particular merit or ability, but because the Lord has chosen, by His own free, uninfluenced will, to raise up that king or that nation for His purposes. And when that king or nation has played their part and done what the Lord needed done, the way to dusty death will be lighted and they will be heard from no more. This is simply what we mean when we say that the Lord is sovereign over the nations. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

The prophets in the Old Testament warned Israel and Judah over and over again that they needed to turn from their wickedness and get rid of their idols and give all their worship to the Lord, but Israel and Judah just scoffed. The word of the LORD declared the LORD’s anger with His people’s disobedience and rebellion, but they presumed on His grace and assumed they would exist forever. But consider this, that when we read the warnings of the prophets in the Old Testament, we are reading of warnings to the USA. The prophets’ calls for Israel’s repentance should ring like loud alarms in the ears of Americans. The only difference between ancient Israel and the USA is that we are able to sin to a much greater degree than Israel could have ever imagined. Any presumption that the USA is a nation that is too grand to fall is pure folly. We have played our part in the Lord’s drama, and now our fall is inevitable.

If you read Revelation 18 about the destruction in one day of spiritual Babylon, it takes very little imagination to read that chapter as speaking of the USA. There is no nation in history that better fits this description than the USA. We are the indulgent, sensual, immoral nation that is poised for disaster. Our destruction is imminent. It seems to me that the USA has played our part, and now we are being judged by the Lord.

In my view, the USA has lost our way. We have no purpose as a country, no vision, no direction other than down. Our government at every level, from federal to state to local, is filled with godless people bent on the destruction of our virtue as we race headlong into every kind of impurity with greediness (Eph. 4:19).

We must remember, however, that this is not the starting point. The Lord raised up the USA because He had need of an instrument like us to carry out His purposes. Despite our overt weaknesses and excesses, the USA prospered because the Lord had need of us. As long as the USA was needed, we enjoyed prosperity.

But now in the Lord’s unfolding drama of human history, our country’s role has been played, at least our role for usefulness. The Lord has removed His hand of blessing from the USA and has given us over to our lusts and our lawlessness, to our impurity and to our degrading passions (Romans 1:21-32). He has let go of us as a nation and we, therefore, are in full freefall. The only question remaining is when we will hit the bottom.

What I am saying is that there is a pattern in the Lord’s dealing with nations. The Lord raises up a nation from obscurity to prominence because He is going to use that nation as a player in his grand drama. And so the Lord raises up that nation and appoints the leaders He desires and allows that nations to prosper. In time, that chosen nation increases in prominence according to the Lord’s sovereign plan so that history and the nation’s emergence collide at just the right time. Then, in a single event or in a series of events over time, the Lord ordains that chosen nation to perform its appointed role with God’s predetermined results. Once the nation has played its part, the Lord removes His hand of blessing and takes away His special grace from that nation and allows that nation’s natural wickedness and sin to emerge unhindered. The prosperity that existed during the time of the Lord’s favor vanishes like smoke. Eventually the nation returns to its place of obscurity or ceases to exist altogether, and never rises again.

Before making some concluding comments about the Lord’s purposes and the demise of the USA, I wanted to discuss two necessary asides.

NATIONS THAT REMAINED LOST IN OBSCURITY

First, we have been talking about those nations that God has chosen to raise from obscurity to prominence for His purposes, but as we look at world history, it becomes immediately obvious that the vast majority of nations that have ever existed never emerged from their obscurity. Most nations, whether existing for a long time or only existing for a few decades, never appeared on history’s radar screen. They came and went without making so much as a ripple on the surface, from a human perspective a raindrop in the ocean of history.

There is, however, another way to see this reality. As we remember that the Lord raises up nations from obscurity for His purposes and sheds His grace on those nations for a time, we realize that most nations have never experienced a season of the Lord’s favor. The USA has experienced more than two hundred years of the Lord’s blessings as the Lord has used us for His purposes, but most nations have never known a moment of the Lord’s favor. The psalmist says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12), but for the nation whose god is a pagan idol or a grinning Buddha, there is no possibility of blessing. Instead, the history of that nation will be marked by a featureless passing of years in abject poverty. In the Lord’s sovereignty, He chooses to pass over the vast majority of nations and leave them in their obscurity. Those nations never know the Lord’s prosperity and grace as a chosen nation. Instead, they remain crushed underneath natural sin and human wickedness and the misery this produces. Recognizing the favor that the Lord has shed on this country because He chose us to be His instrument, we who live in the USA should praise Him all the more loudly for His goodness, even though our prosperity is ebbing away.

SOVEREIGN SALVATION OF INDIVIDUALS

The second aside has to do with another aspect of God’s sovereignty. While God usually moves history along by using nations and empires, His primary work is the salvation of His people. Therefore, in the midst of this sweeping drama involving the rise and fall of nations, we need to realize that the Lord’s providence is also at work in the lives of every person on the planet, bringing some to the place where they encounter the Lord and begin an eternal relationship with Him or leaving the rest in their darkness and misery and sin so that their life on earth is a featureless passing of years. As the Lord is sovereign in the rise and fall and the passing over of nations, so He is sovereign over the salvation or the reprobation of every person who ever lives on His earth. In every stage of macro history, in the rise and fall or in the passing over of kingdoms and nations and tribes and tongues, the Lord is bringing every one of His elect to salvation and He is passing over the reprobate. This sovereign work of God has been going on since the fall and will continue until then Lord returns at the last trumpet.

CONCLUSION

Like many of you, I love my country and I am deeply saddened as I witness her demise. The USA, for probably a century or more, was a useful instrument for kingdom good in the Lord’s hand, and so enjoyed the Lord’s favor and prosperity. But our role has been played, our sun has set, and now we must watch as the Lord gives us over to our sin and wickedness. Now the nation is under the Lord’s judgment and we will continue to tumble into greater chaos and lawlessness as time progresses.

But this first-hand view of the fall of this nation reminds us that earthly citizenship is temporary and imperfect. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). We are looking for a city whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).

And we know that this demise of nations is necessary to prepare the world for the return of her true King. “Because lawlessness is increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). “When you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33). All the kings of the earth will continue to defy their true Lord and will continue to rebel. “Why are the nations in an uproar, and the people devising a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1). So, we should not be surprised when the very thing that our Lord told us must come to pass occurs. Rather, we should lament man’s refusal to repent (Rev. 9:20-21) and continue to obediently proclaim the gospel until our glorious King arrives on His white horse (Rev. 19:11ff).

SDG                 rmb                 9/19/2022                   #573

Moses: Out of the obscurity of the Midian wilderness

INTRODUCTION. A post about the Lord’s ability to snatch those who have made more than one too many mistakes and nevertheless to rescue them and use them for His glory.

Moses had ruined his life. It’s that simple.

By God’s providence, even though he was a Hebrew, he had grown up in Pharaoh’s household and had all the advantages that a man could have. Then, Moses made a foolish decision; he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew and, as a consequence, his life of privilege vanished like smoke. As a fugitive, he ran into the safety of obscurity, and in a few days, he had fallen from Pharaoh’s palace into the wilderness of Midian. There, for forty years he pastured his father-in-law’s flock and lived the mundane life of a Midianite shepherd.

There in Midian, Moses was decades beyond simply being a has-been. He was separated from his relatives, separated from his people, hiding from his past with no future and a dreary present. It seemed that the best Moses could hope for was to quietly live out his days in obscurity along with the other Midianite shepherds as he regretted the loss of all that he had squandered. He had no hope of a great name. No hope of a great work. No hope of a legacy. Now all hope was long gone. Or was it?

No, all hope was not gone because the LORD had plans for Moses. For after forty years of obscurity and regret because of his own sinful choices, Moses encountered the LORD in the burning bush (Exodus 3). The LORD then called him into His service and Moses was catapulted from the dusty desert into the presence of Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler on earth (Exodus 5), to be the instrument the LORD would use to give His Law to the world and to lead a million Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land. It’s an amazing story.

But Moses’ story is not unique. Actually, variations of Moses’ story occur over and over again in the Bible when the Lord chooses to call a no one out of nowhere and then takes them in His hand as an instrument for His use. The Lord is always the decisive factor. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). The Lord is the one who determines the outcome of every situation. What the Lord has planned must certainly come to pass. And so, in the Bible, no episode is ever hopeless or complete until the Lord has finished His activity and given His verdict.

Even more remarkable is that this is not just something that the Lord did with people who lived thousands of years ago in the Middle East. The Lord does this same kind of thing thousands of times every single day, calling those who are dwelling in obscurity and desperation and inviting them into a grand adventure with the King of kings. In my own life, I can well recall being in my own “wilderness of Midian.” As Paul Simon says, “I had squandered my existence for a pocketful of mumbles” (“The Boxer”). It seemed that the best I could hope for was to live out my days regretting the opportunities I had missed.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4). God had plans for this has-been, to use me for His kingdom and to allow me the privilege of being one of the disciples of Jesus Christ “to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). The Lord received this prodigal into His family and instead of punishment gave me a robe and a ring (Luke 15:22-24). He wrapped me with a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and has allowed me to sit at His table as one of His sons (2 Samuel 9:11, 13).

The point is this: The Lord is the one who determines the outcome of anyone’s life. As the Lord called Moses from nameless obscurity to be the leader of the entire nation of Israel, and as the Lord called Paul to be His chosen instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16), so He calls all His elect from whatever forgotten corner of the globe they may inhabit into His service for His glory. The Lord is the one who does these things.

SDG                 rmb                 8/15/2022                   #557

All the advantages which do not save (Israel in Romans)

INTRODUCTION. A TECHNICAL, TEACHING POST. An article based on the book of Romans considering why all the advantages given to Israel did not result in their salvation. The Scripture passages are from Romans 2, 3, and 9-11. My musings on these passages will someday result in a completed work, perhaps a short book that carefully works through Romans 9-11 and shows the beauty of Paul’s argument in that section of Scripture.

One of the underlying themes of the book of Romans, especially in Romans 9-11, is the question of why Israel, with so many apparent advantages given to her, remained a religious but faithless nation with only a remnant coming to faith. So, let’s think about this together.

ROMANS 3 GIVES A BRIEF FORETASTE OF ROMANS 9-11

Paul states that the Jews did have a tremendous advantage over the other nations (Gentiles) in being “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2). That is, the Jews were the only people who had access to the Scriptures, to the word of the living God. Having the word of God not only was a demonstration of God’s special grace to the nation of Israel, but it also allowed the Jews to be aware of their sin. “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20; see also 7:7). To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 4:7, the Jews had this treasure in dusty scrolls.

But while Paul admits that the Jews had an advantage in being entrusted with the Scriptures (3:1-2), he also makes clear that merely having and hearing the Scriptures accomplishes nothing with regard to salvation.

For example, in Romans 2:12, we read that the Gentile who does not have the Law and the Jew who does have the Law will both be condemned because of their sin. Thus, merely having the Law is of no consequence regarding salvation.

In Romans 2:13, we read, “It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13). That means that a Jew who hears the Law and does not do the Law is no better off than the Gentile who does not hear the Law and does not do the Law, since doing the Law is what is required to be justified.

To summarize this brief discussion of Romans 2-3, we would say that, while it was a huge privilege to be entrusted with the oracles of God (3:2), this gave the Jews no advantage with regard to salvation. So, this “advantage” is really not an advantage.

ADVANTAGES FOR THE JEWS IN ROMANS 9-11?

Now I want to jump over to Romans 9-11 and consider what is going on in some of the verses here. In 9:4-5, Paul lists eight apparent advantages that the Jews had under the old covenant. To the Jews “belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh.” An examination of this list will reveal that these gifts from the Lord were fuel for religious pride, but they were unrelated to salvation. In other words, when we look at this list with a new covenant lens, it becomes plain that they provide no advantage to the Jew. Under the new covenant, faith is necessary for the sinner to be declared righteous. Ceremonial laws and fulfilled covenants and patriarchs were things of the past. Christ has come and the old covenant is obsolete. Therefore, clinging to the religious past is actually a disadvantage.

So, as we begin Romans 9-11, we are aware that despite all these apparent advantages, most Jews did not believe. They had heard the Word, as stated in Romans 10:18. Paul rhetorically asks, “Surely, Israel did not know, did they?” (10:19), and then twice answers it in the affirmative (“O yes, they did know”) by a quote from Moses in the Law and by a quote from Isaiah. Israel heard but did not believe. Israel knew the truth but did not believe the truth.

FROM HEARING TO CALLING ON THE LORD

We need to take a brief aside here to explore Romans 10:14-15. Here Paul declares that calling on the Lord, which results in being saved (10:13), requires believing in the Lord, and believing requires hearing the gospel, and hearing the gospel requires a preacher, and a preacher must be sent. This means that, for the ultimate end of calling on the Lord and being saved, it is necessary that a person hear a herald proclaim the good news. Paul makes clear that, if you do not hear the good news, there is no way to believe the good news, and if you do not believe the good news, you will never call on the Lord and be saved. So, to be saved, it is necessary that you hear the good news about Christ and His salvation. Paul states this truth in Romans 10:17, where he says, “So, [saving] faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” So far, so good.

NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT

But now things get much more interesting, for while it is necessary to hear the good news to be saved, it is apparently not sufficient. To be saved, a person must not only hear the gospel, but they must heed the gospel. Notice that in Romans 10:16, Paul says, “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?’” (Isaiah 53:1). Paul says it is possible to hear and not to heed.

And this leads us back to the difficulty about Israel (the Jews). Under the old covenant, Israel had the Law but did not obey the Law. Under the new covenant, Israel heard the gospel but did not heed the gospel. Notice again that faith (salvation) comes from hearing (10:17), but the Jews had heard (10:18) and yet did not believe. Israel knew the truth (10:19) but did not believe the truth. Instead, with full access to the saving word of God, Israel remained “a disobedient and obstinate people” (10:21).

Meanwhile, after Pentecost, the Gentiles, who previously had been denied access to the Word, and who had been “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12), began coming to faith in large numbers. These, “who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith, but Israel (the Jews) did not” (Romans 9:30-31).

WHY DO THE GENTILES BELIEVE AND ISRAEL DOES NOT?

But if Israel, with full access to God and to the oracles of God, did not believe, and the Gentiles, who for centuries were denied access to the Word and who were excluded from the worship of the Lord, began coming to Christ in large numbers, we must ask the question, “Why? Why is it that Israel, with all the advantages, who knew and who possessed and who heard the Word, did not believe, but the Gentiles simply heard the good news and believed?”

We could take another approach with this difficulty. We have seen that both Israel and the Gentiles had met the necessary requirement of hearing the good news, but that only the Gentiles had what was sufficient for them to believe. With this approach, then, the question would be, “What did the Gentiles have that allowed them to heed the good news that Israel lacked?” What is the mysterious ingredient that moves a person from merely hearing the good news to believing the good news? What supplies the sufficiency?

Paul write Romans 9-11 to answer precisely these questions, and the simple statement of Paul’s answer is, “The reason some are saved and others are not saved is entirely dependent on God’s sovereign election.” God is the One who decides who will and who will not believe the gospel. Whether you are steeped in all the teaching of rabbinical Judaism, like Paul and the Pharisees, or you come from a pagan culture, like those in Lystra (Acts 14), God is the One who decides who will and who won’t believe. The overarching message of Romans 9-11 is that God is sovereign in salvation.

SDG                 rmb                 7/22/2022                   #554

John 6:31-68 – Part 3: Eating the living bread (6:45-58)

INTRODUCTION. This third part of an in-depth study of John 6:31-68 is a continuation of post #523 and post #529 and focuses on the crucial teaching in John 6:45-58.

[NOTE: This part of the study is longer than the other parts because the concepts presented here are complex and are not easily explained in a few words. I feel that the additional reading will be rewarded by greater understanding of this beautiful passage. RMB]

OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE. This passage (6:45-58) is the heart of this section of Scripture (6:31-68) and contains important teaching about how Jesus, the bread from heaven, provides life to His people. The passage is also crucial in giving us a vivid analogy of what it means to believe in Jesus, teaching us figuratively to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

KEY CONCEPTS covered in this passage include:

  • believing in Jesus
  • eternal life/live forever/not die
  • the bread of life/the living bread that came down out of heaven
  • eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man (Jesus)
  • being raised up on the last day.

The main DIFFICULTY of this passage consists in correctly understanding what Jesus means when He instructs His disciples to “eat My flesh and drink My blood” (6:53-56).

REVIEW. The first part of John 6 tells of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five small loaves and two fish. The amazed crowd follows Jesus to Capernaum where they seek more bread and another miraculous sign. Jesus declares that the manna from Moses is not the true bread out of heaven, but that He is the bread of life.

In strong teaching from John 6:37-6:44 (see post #523 and #529), Jesus makes clear God’s sovereignty in salvation as He teaches the people that:

  • The Father has already given a people to the Son (election; see Eph. 1:4, etc.)
  • All those given to the Son will certainly come to the Son for eternal life. (predestination; see Romans 8:29-30)
  • Jesus will raise up all His people in glorious resurrection on the last day
  • By His providence and effectual calling, the Father draws people to Jesus

THE TEACHING OF JOHN 6:45-58

The passage is best understood by understanding WHO JESUS IS, then by seeing WHAT JESUS OFFERS, and finally by discovering HOW TO OBTAIN WHAT JESUS OFFERS.

WHO JESUS IS. Jesus uses direct statements and the metaphor of bread to make His identity unambiguously clear. First, He says, “I am the bread of life” (6:48). This is a repetition of 6:35, when He also said that those who come to Him will never hunger or thirst. What Jesus means by His metaphor may not be clear, but this much is clear: Jesus is the bread of life.

Next, He says twice that He is “the (living) bread that came down out of heaven” (6:50, 51). Here, Jesus is contrasting Himself with the manna that the children of Israel ate in the Exodus. They ate that manna (“bread from heaven”) and they died (6:49), but Jesus is the “true bread out of heaven” (6:32). Jesus is the bread of life and, “if anyone eats of this (living) bread, he will live forever” (6:51). Jesus is the living bread that gives eternal life.

Finally, notice that Jesus is the bread that came down out of heaven sent by the Father. “The living Father sent Me” (6:57), and Jesus has come from heaven to give life to the world. Since He came down out of heaven and was sent by God the Father, Jesus is divine.

SUMMARY. From this passage, we see that Jesus is God in the flesh, the living bread sent by the Father from heaven to give eternal life to the world.

WHAT JESUS OFFERS. As the bread of life and the living bread that came out of heaven, what does Jesus offer the people? From the passage we see, first, “one may eat of it (the bread) and not die” (6:50). As strong as this verse is, Jesus states the truth even more clearly in the next verse: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (6:51). Eat of Jesus and you will not die but will live forever. Of course, we need to determine what it means to metaphorically eat of Jesus as the living bread, but at this point we see that Jesus is offering people the opportunity to live forever. (NOTE: “Live forever” is the same as “have eternal life.”)

A few verses later, Jesus again declares His offer of eternal life and connects this eternal life with participation in the resurrection on the last day. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:54). Once again, we are confronted with the need to understand Jesus’ metaphor about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but what He offers us is in plain view. He offers eternal life and a resurrection.

SUMMARY. Jesus offers His hearers the opportunity to not die, but to live forever, to have eternal life, and to be raised up on the last day (in glorious resurrection).

HOW TO OBTAIN WHAT JESUS OFFERS. We see the incarnate Son of God offering the people eternal life and declaring to them that He Himself will raise them up on the last day. This spectacular offer is available to all who hear His voice, but obtaining it is not automatic. We have already seen that Jesus imposes conditions on His offer and it is only those who satisfy Jesus’ conditions who will obtain the eternal life that He offers.

This, then, becomes the critical issue. Every person must first identify and then satisfy Jesus’ conditions before they obtain the eternal life He offers.

TO OBTAIN WHAT JESUS OFFERS, YOU MUST SATISFY HIS CONDITIONS. Our first task, then, is to identify Jesus’ conditions. In this passage, when we were discovering what Jesus was offering, we also heard Him state His conditions.

ONE SET OF CONDITIONS.

“If anyone eats of this bread (Jesus)                                                  he will live forever.”

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood                                      has eternal life.”

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood                          I will raise him up on the last day.”

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood                                      abides in Me, and I in him.”

Here, then, is one set of conditions that must be met to obtain eternal life.

ANOTHER SET OF CONDITIONS? We also need to notice, however, that Jesus has talked about another condition for obtaining eternal life. In fact, in the gospel of John, the major message of the book is that anyone can receive eternal life by believing in Jesus. John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, declares that whoever believes in the Son (Jesus) will have eternal life. According to John 20:31, the whole reason for the gospel of John is “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” In this very passage that we are studying, Jesus repeatedly tells men and women how to obtain all the blessings that He offers. “He who comes to Me will not hunger and he who believes in Me will not thirst” (6:35). “Everyone who believes in the Son will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (6:40). “He who believes has eternal life” (6:47). Throughout the gospel of John, the one who believes in Jesus has eternal life.

So, is Jesus now imposing another condition for obtaining salvation?

ONLY ONE CONDITION. When we compare side-by-side two verses from this passage, we will see that there is, in fact, only one condition that separates the sinner from salvation.

Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40

He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:54

As we compare these two verses, we notice, first, that the results of the sinner’s action in 6:40 (“believes in the Son”) are exactly the same as the results of the sinner’s action in 6:54 (“eats My flesh and drinks My blood”). In both cases, the sinner’s action yields eternal life and a resurrection on the last day.

Next, we observe that John 6:40 falls within a section of teaching where Jesus is speaking in literal terms. That is, when Jesus speaks of “beholding the Son” and “believing in the Son,” we observe that Jesus is speaking literally.

By contrast, in John 6:54, Jesus is speaking metaphorically about Himself as the bread of life. The Lord has established His identity as “the bread of life” (6:48), as “the bread that comes down out of heaven” (6:50), and as “the living bread that came down out of heaven” (6:51). Jesus has thus made clear that He is now speaking figuratively about Himself as bread. Therefore, in this context, the Lord speaks about how to obtain eternal life in figurative terms.

Jesus intentionally parallels these two verses to teach that “believing in the Son” should be understood metaphorically as “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus has been proclaiming that anyone who believes in Him will obtain eternal life. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him (Jesus) whom He (the Father) has sent” (John 6:29). Here, then, the Lord is giving a vivid picture, an illustration of what believing in Him means.

What we see is that “eating My flesh and drinking My blood” is actually an explanation and an intensification of “believing in the Son.” Imagine a person who is there in Capernaum listening to Jesus teach or imagine someone who is reading John 6 in our own day. This person is convinced that believing in Jesus is the only way to eternal life and the only way to be saved, but then they ask the question, “What does it actually mean to ‘believe in Jesus’? Can you give me an illustration of what that looks like?” The Lord Jesus answers that question by saying, in effect, “Believing in Me is like eating My flesh and drinking My blood (6:53-56).”

EATING HIS FLESH AND DRINKING HIS BLOOD. For the disciple of Jesus, believing in Him is a matter of life and death. If the disciple cannot eat of Jesus and cannot drink of Jesus, then he will die of hunger and thirst. Communion with Jesus is the disciple’s means of survival. When Job considered his relationship with the LORD, he said, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). This gives a taste of what it means for the disciple of Christ to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

The Lord Jesus Himself, when tested by the devil after forty days without food, declared, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). For the follower of Jesus, Jesus is more to be desired than food that will sustain our physical life.

David had the attitude of “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” when he wrote,

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water. – Psalm 63:1

David’s soul thirsts for the LORD and his flesh hungers for Him, not literally but figuratively, as a thirsty man would yearn for water in the middle of the desert.

To believe in Jesus means to receive Him and embrace Him without reservation as a starving man would consume a loaf of bread. The believer eats and drinks all of Jesus in all His incarnate deity to satisfy his sinful soul. And the one who eats Jesus’ flesh and drinks Jesus’ blood is the one whom Jesus will certainly not cast out.

CONCLUSION

From this study of John 6:45-58 we have seen that Jesus, as the metaphorical bread of life, has been sent by the Father to earth to offer eternal life to the world, and that everyone who believes in Jesus will receive eternal life and will be raised up by Jesus at the resurrection on the last day. Jesus uses the metaphor of “eating My flesh and drinking My blood” to help His disciples understand the depth and the intensity of true saving faith.

SDG                 rmb                 7/5/2022                     #551

Drive your roots deep and let your voice be heard

INTRODUCTION. Some comments about the need for disciples of Jesus to be firmly rooted in Christ and to boldly proclaim Him in these end times. Firm roots and a bold voice will prevent the follower of Christ from being overwhelmed by the rising evil of our age.

There is no place for the disciple of Jesus to hide anymore.

If your spiritual desires are to maintain a low profile and to be anonymous and to whisper some religious platitudes under your breath, then the last thing you want to do in this day and age is to be a disciple of Jesus. (John 15:18-20; etc.)

In the past, the American church-goer could be rewarded with respectable friends and people for their children to marry and connections for their business interests. “Being a Christian” was just part of the majority American culture, part of the American dream. In that halcyon bygone time, Christians did not proclaim the gospel to non-Christians. Christians typically went from birth to death without ever telling a single non-Christian anything about Jesus or sin or heaven or hell or how Christ had transformed their life and their eternity. Their faith was closely held, a private thing, a secret known by their friends at their church. And for a long time this sort of harmless, secret, nice, voiceless “Christianity” worked just fine and these Christians got all the benefits of the blessed life.

Meanwhile, the Great Commission languished and Christ had few witnesses and the evil of the world continued to fill the void. And yet even in this, Christ was building His church and the gates of Hades were not prevailing against it (Matt. 16:18).

But the days when “being a Christian” was part of the majority American culture are now far behind us, a small speck in the cultural rear view mirror. Whether the American dream still exists is debatable, but it is clear that America has become hostile to the person who openly follows Jesus. As a result, only a robust, vigorous, active, persevering, bold, joyful, vibrant faith will be of any help in these last days.

If your faith is only nominal; that is, if yours is a “faith” that goes through the outward motions but has no real substance, your masquerade will be shattered by the persistent and pervasive evil of our age. A nominal faith will be revealed as a sham and will be useless for you and for the kingdom of God.

But what if your faith is a genuine saving faith, but is weak or joyless or tepid or hesitant or wavering? In this time when evil and lawlessness are rising unabated and the righteous are vastly outnumbered by the ungodly, a weak, wavering, shrinking-back faith, even if genuine, will prove to be a useless faith. If your light for Jesus is to shine before men (Matt. 5:16) and if you would be Jesus’ witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8), then your devotion to Jesus must be placed on the lampstand (Matt. 5:15) and the truth of the gospel must be proclaimed from the housetops (Matt 10:27). A faith that remains in the closet to be retrieved for a few hours on Sunday will avail you nothing. Jesus will have disciples who are fully and unconditionally devoted to Him until death (Luke 14:26-27), or He will not have you at all (Matt. 10:32-33; 12:30). Therefore, if you examine yourself (2 Cor. 13:5) and see that your faith is hesitant or wavering, you should begin immediately to drive your roots deeper into Christ.

WHERE WE ARE IN HISTORY

On the timeline of world history, in the unfolding of great world events, the “thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-6) of relative peace for the ingathering of the church have drawn to a close, and now the testing and the cleansing of the church ingathered has begun. The devil has been released from his prison (Rev. 20:7), “having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12). His time is short and he is not playing games. We are now in Satan’s hour and he is bent on proliferating evil and destruction, and on fanning sin into a blazing inferno. Therefore, those who do not take a bold, firm stand against him (Eph. 6:10-18) and who do not persevere in a robust, overt righteousness will simply be swept away by the flood of wickedness.

The Lord has released the devil (Rev. 20:3) and is allowing him to test His people (Revelation 11:7; 13:7) to see who will shrink back (Hebrews 10:38, 39) and who will stand firm (Rev. 2:10). We are in an evil time, but it is evil that most plainly reveals righteousness, and the darker the darkness, the more brilliant the light.

CONCLUSION

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned about the circumstances of the last days:

1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5

It is my opinion that we are in these “last days” and that Christ will come soon to rescue His oppressed church. But even if I am wrong, the “difficult times” Paul described are certainly upon us and those who love righteousness must persevere in the face of growing opposition. This means the disciple of Jesus must earnestly seek the Lord and must drive their spiritual roots deep into the saving soil of Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 6/20/2022                   #545

Scattering seed and inviting to the feast

INTRODUCTION. A study of two parables of Jesus and how they teach us to be obedient in our proclamation of the gospel.

I have been spending time in Jesus’ parables lately and have seen in them many new applications that I had not seen before. In this post, I want to review two parables, the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9 and the parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:2-14 and see how Jesus teaches us about our task of being His witnesses (Acts 1:8).

THE SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW

We will begin with the parable of the sower in Matt. 13:3-9. This is one of the best known of the parables and is also one of only a few parables that Jesus interprets for us. In Jesus’ interpretation in Matt. 13:18-23, we find that the seed that is scattered is “the word of the kingdom,” which we would understand to be the gospel. We also discover what each of the soils represents and why the seed is unfruitful. Finally, we see that the seed is certainly potent and that, in the good soil, it produces a hundredfold, or sixty fold, or thirty fold.

It seems obvious that this parable is about proclamation, about evangelism. The sower is the disciple of Jesus Christ. We had already stated that the seed is the gospel. The places where the seed is scattered is any place and every place that the sower (disciple) goes. But let me make some other observations about this parable and about the sower himself.

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SOWER

Matt. 13:3 says, “The sower went out to sow.” Having acquired a big bag of seed, the sower intentionally goes out into the world to sow that seed. The sower’s purpose and aim is sowing his seed.

Also notice that the sower’s task is very simple. Sow the seed. That’s it. Sowing is an unskilled task that can be done by anyone who has seed. There is nothing sophisticated or nuanced about sowing seed. Any obedient worker can fulfill the task.

Observe that even though most of the sower’s seed is wasted and proves unfruitful, Jesus makes no comment about the sower’s wastefulness. The sower recklessly and indiscriminately scatters seed wherever it might go and yet there is no rebuke or criticism given. This is because the sower’s task is to sow seed. He is not responsible for the results. Just so, the disciple of Jesus is to scatter the seed of the gospel extravagantly and generously wherever he goes, believing that the Lord is sovereign over the harvest and that He will direct the seed to the good soil.

Thus, for the sower, the measure of success is faithfulness to their appointed task of sowing seed, and not the quantity of the harvest. The Lord is sovereign over the harvest, but He has entrusted the scattering of the gospel seed to His disciples.

THE MESSAGE TO US. Putting this together, then, the disciple of Jesus (the sower) is called to intentionally go out into the world and indiscriminately and extravagantly scatter the seed of the gospel anywhere and everywhere, recklessly sowing the seed, trusting that the Lord in His sovereignty will bring the harvest. (See also 2 Corinthians 9:6.)

INVITE THEM TO THE WEDDING FEAST!

Now we turn our attention to the parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:2-14. In this story, there is a king who wants to give a wedding feast for his beloved son. The king desires to have as many guests as possible at the feast, so he sends out his slaves to call those guests who had already been invited long ago, but those who had been invited refused to come. The king is enraged by the rudeness of his subjects and has them destroyed. Then he commands his slaves to go out into the main highways and invite anybody and everybody to his son’s wedding feast.

Although there are some important details to this story that teach us about the unbelief of the Jews and about the events of the end of the age, the main message of this parable is also about evangelism. Before we focused on the sower, but here we will concentrate on the slaves. The slaves represent disciples in the church. The king is God the Father and, of course, the son is the Lord Jesus. Thus the church has been sent out into the world to invite “as many as they find” to the wedding feast. The “wedding feast” represents the church with Jesus in heaven at the end of the age.

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE SLAVES

The first thing I want to point out about this parable is that the slaves have been commanded by the king to invite people to the wedding feast. No other instructions have been given, no guidelines about who to choose or who to avoid. Therefore, the “slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found” (22:10). They were indiscriminate about who they invited. If they found them, then they invited them. It did not matter whether they were evil or good. Whoever they found, they invited. That was their assignment from the king.

Notice also that this assignment was not complicated or difficult. There were no special skills or talents required to fulfill the assignment. No amazing spiritual gifts. Inviting people to the king’s feast was simple, an unskilled task that could be accomplished by anyone who would faithfully obey the king.

Finally, we see that, even though there are some false guests among those that are invited, the king does not rebuke or correct the slaves for inviting the wrong people. The king takes responsibility for the quality of those who are at the feast, while the slaves are responsible for the quantity. In other words, the measure of success for the king’s slaves was faithfulness to their appointed task of inviting guests, not the quality of the people invited.

THE MESSAGE TO US. Putting this together, then, the disciple of Jesus (“the slave of the king”) is called to intentionally go out into the world and indiscriminately invite as many as he can to “come to the wedding feast” (that is, call people to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior), trusting that the Lord in His sovereignty will inspect all the guests.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

What I have attempted to do in the interpretation of these two parables is to show that the Bible consistently calls the disciple of Jesus to the task of proclaiming Christ to the world indiscriminately and extravagantly so that many will hear the message and respond. These parables demonstrate that the disciple has been given the task of scattering the gospel recklessly and inviting to the feast extravagantly so that many will  come to faith in Jesus and to enjoy the final wedding feast.

We have been called to faith in Jesus so that, as His disciples, we can declare His glory among the nations (Psalm 96:3) and proclaim His excellencies who has called us into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

SDG                 rmb                 6/17/2022                   #543

Can Paul’s compassion for the Jews save? (Romans 9:1-5)

INTRODUCTION. Considering Paul’s compassion for his fellow Israelites, does this influence God’s sovereign choice? Is Paul suggesting that Israel gets special treatment because they had been “God’s chosen people?” Evaluate compassion and duty in evangelism. How can we use these ideas to equip a congregation to proclaim Christ more effectively?

These are my notes and thoughts copied from the Study Guide for “Romans” by John MacArthur. These notes are from page 75 in the chapter on Romans 9-11.  

When talking about Paul’s earnest desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites, MacArthur writes, “Paul’s love and concern for his countrymen was such that he wished he could trade places with them, literally that he could go to hell so that they might be saved.” Then MacArthur asks a question about how we might increase our compassion for the lost.

My response to that question was, “I do not see evangelism as a matter of compassion but as a matter of duty and obligation.” (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 9:16-23; 1 Thess. 2:4)

Below that answer, I observed that “Here in Rom. 9:1-5, Paul expresses his compassion for his fellow Jews.” We can see Paul’s compassion for his fellows as admirable, and it certainly is admirable, but I do not think Paul wrote these emotional words in the inspired Scripture to highlight his own compassion. Rather, I think it is more likely that Paul told of his fervent desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites to show that not even apostolic compassion or deep longing for another person’s salvation can influence God’s sovereign choice in election. Despite Paul’s most impassioned pleas and his deepest longings for the salvation of his fellow Israelites (see also Romans 10:1), God is always fully sovereign over the salvation of every human being.

THOUGHTS ON COMPASSION AND DUTY

[NOTE: In this section, “proclaim the gospel” (or something similar) refers to the believer’s intentional attempt to encounter the unsaved and to bring up topics or ideas related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We might also call this “intentional evangelism.” The believer may be “scattering seeds” or he may be “reeling in a hooked fish,” but the gospel is in the believer’s mind and winning a lost soul to Christ is the ultimate aim of the effort. This is what I mean by “proclaiming the gospel.”]

So, let’s consider compassion. Compassion is good, but compassion is unreliable. My level of compassion ebbs and flows depending on my emotional level or my physical energy, and compassion varies widely from one individual to the next. In some, compassion may motivate to action, but in others, compassion, whether great or small, does not motivate. Notice, however, that in either case, compassion cannot save. Emotional feeling for the lost cannot save them. To be meaningful, compassion must compel us to proclaim the gospel to the lost, for it is the gospel that has the power to save (Romans 1:16). Compassion that remains divorced from action is simply a feeling.

Now consider duty. As a believer, it is my duty to be Christ’s witness (Acts 1:8), regardless of my level of compassion. It is simply a matter of responsibility, part of my “job description” as a worshiper of Jesus, whether I feel emotions about it or not. (Consider these verses: Matt. 4:19; 13:3; 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 9:15-23; 2 Cor. 5:20.)

Notice also that all Paul’s compassion and emotion for his fellow Israelites did not save a single soul and did not influence God’s sovereign choice in the slightest way. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.” Thus, the Scripture explicitly says that salvation depends on God’s mercy, not on man’s compassion.

“Compassion is subjective, but command is objective.” This statement is not meant to dismiss human compassion, but rather is intended to put the emphasis where it will produce results. So, I witness to the lost because of the commands of Jesus Christ and because of the clear teaching of the New Testament (objective), rather than waiting until I feel compassion about the perilous position of the unsaved. To paraphrase, “To obey is better than compassion, and to fulfill your duty than to have fervent emotion” (modification of 1 Sam. 15:22). Compassion has no power to rescue the lost, but preaching the gospel, regardless of how I feel, “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).

PRACTICAL APPLICATION IN A LOCAL CONGREGATION

With these thoughts fresh in our mind, how can we work with our congregation to make them more active in their evangelism, in “proclaiming the gospel?” My suggestion would be to make the congregation more aware of their biblical duty of witnessing for the Lord Jesus. That is, review those verses in the New Testament which make it clear that it is every believer’s duty to be a witness for the Lord Jesus and to be an ambassador for Christ. This means that the believer does not seek to win the lost primarily because they feel compassion for them, although the believer certainly should have compassion for those who are perishing. The disciple of Jesus does not sow the seed of the gospel primarily because of the emotion they feel for those outside Christ, although we should feel emotion for those outside of Christ. The believer is an ambassador for Christ and a fisher of men and a sower of the gospel seed and a witness for Jesus and a proclaimer of the excellencies of our gracious Redeemer primarily because of the believer’s love for Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the more we understand about our responsibility and our duty to be witnesses and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, the more we will be compelled to reach the lost. So the leadership of the church (pastors and elders) focuses their teaching energies on making the congregation aware of our duty to our Lord to proclaim the gospel.

But awareness of a duty without equipping to fulfill that duty only produces guilt and resentment. So, the pastors and elders must go beyond awareness and must also train the congregation how to fulfill their duty. The leadership should provide means and methods for “proclaiming the gospel” so that the congregation can discharge their duty. This means that the leadership of the church (or other members of the church) should make available regular and tangible proclamation vehicles.

“Regular” means that proclamation vehicles are regularly scheduled on the church calendar. “Regular” also means that these opportunities for proclamation are preceded by training to equip the participants so that their experience is edifying and successful.

“Tangible” means that the proclaiming activity gives the participant the sense that they meaningfully participated in a bona fide evangelism event. The goal is for participants to have the sense that they genuinely proclaimed the gospel and discharged their duty to their King.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2022                     #538

Providence, circumstances, and the gospel (Phil. 1:12-18)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study from Philippians 1:12-18 showing how God’s providence works through all our circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul from prison. Despite his circumstances, Paul writes to his beloved Philippians with joy, thanksgiving, confidence, and hope as he instructs them how to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).

As I was reading the section from Phil. 1:12-18, several ideas occurred to me related to God’s providence and the spread of the gospel, so I want to take a few minutes to consider these thoughts.

UNFAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES

Phil. 1:12. This verse begins the body of the letter. Paul announces that, in this one instance, his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” This by itself is fairly remarkable when we consider his circumstances. Paul has been taken out of his role of proclaiming the gospel “from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum” (Romans 15:19-20) and has been imprisoned with the praetorian guard, who would seem to be pretty “hard ground” for the gospel. Also, now that he is out of the spotlight as proclaimer of the gospel, lesser preachers have taken his place, and some of them are selfishly ambitious. So, these circumstances seem anything but favorable for the gospel.

NOT DEPENDENT ON PAUL

But we need to remember is that the progress of the gospel is not dependent on the apostle Paul. Yes, Paul is a chosen instrument of the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 9:15) and he is a man who is fully committed to the service of Christ (consider Phil. 1:21), but the greater progress of the gospel is guaranteed by God and so cannot be prevented by the adverse circumstances of anyone. The progress of the gospel is guaranteed by Jesus Himself (see Matthew 16:18 – “I will build My church”). Not only that, but the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), so the gospel’s greater progress does not depend on the gifts of the proclaimer. The power is in the message proclaimed, not in the one who proclaims. So, the progress of the gospel is not dependent on any human instrument, but is irresistible because God has determined that the gospel will progress until all the elect have been gathered in.

THIS ONE INSTANCE IMPLIES ALL

There is, however, another point to notice here. Paul announces that, in this one instance, his “circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” Next Paul describes to the Philippians how, in this one instance, God’s providence has brought about the spread of the gospel despite Paul’s “bad” circumstances. But from this one instance with Paul we can confidently extrapolate to all instances and all circumstances. That is, we can confidently assert that God, through His providence, is always causing the greater progress of the gospel. In our “good” circumstances and “bad,” when we can see His hand at work and when we cannot, God sovereignly causes all things to turn out for the greater progress of the gospel so that Christ will be glorified.

As we go into the rest of the passage, we see the details of how God used circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

Phil. 1:13. Because of his imprisonment, Paul has been taken out of the spotlight of boldly proclaiming the gospel to crowds and he no longer is “reasoning in the market place every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). Now he does not get to choose those to whom he will proclaim Christ, but he is limited to those to whom he is (probably) chained. Now Paul can only witness to the praetorian guard (1:13).

But let’s consider this for a moment. These men, who otherwise would never have known anything about Christ or the gospel, are now assigned to watch their prisoner, the chosen instrument of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul. And so these men, who would otherwise have perished, now hear an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ proclaim the gospel all day long. This is God’s providence as He arranges circumstances for the greater progress of the gospel.

Consider also that Paul needed to be faithful in this assignment. Paul was a bondservant of Christ and, as such, he did not get to choose his duties, but was required to do what the Master commanded. God’s providence had placed Paul in this prison at this time with these men and therefore Paul was to discharge his duties as an evangelist. Paul was faithful in this humble assignment because it was his Master’s assignment. The slave does the Master’s bidding without grumbling or complaining. APPLICATION: The believer is to be faithful to the Master whether He entrusts the believer with little or much.

Even though there is nothing in the text about this, it is interesting to speculate about the strategic significance of Paul’s evangelism among the praetorian guard. To me, it is not clear from this epistle where Paul is imprisoned. Most commentators opt for Rome, but I tend to think it was somewhere else, maybe in the governor’s palace in Caesarea. This could be supported by Acts 23-26 (see 23:35). Regardless of where Paul was imprisoned, he was closely acquainted with the elite soldiers of the praetorian guard and thus may have had access to officials. Could this have even allowed him to testify before kings or even before the emperor himself? If so, this would have been another instance of God’s providence.

Phil. 1:14. While Paul is fulfilling his assignment with the soldiers, “most of the brethren” are out “speaking the word of God without fear.” When Paul was on the scene, these brothers were content to let Paul preach. They sat back while Paul caught the heat. But now, with Paul at least temporarily taken off the field, these men have stepped into the void and begun to proclaim Christ.

Consider the effects of God’s providence here. New preachers are raised up to proclaim the gospel. These new preachers gain skills in proclaiming and they proclaim to new people. Once they have been raised up, perhaps they will continue to proclaim for years, maybe going far afield to new lands as they live for Christ. All this because Paul is providentially sidelined.

ENVY, STRIFE, AND SELFISH AMBITION

Phil. 1:15, 17. Here we encounter those preachers who “preach Christ out of envy and strife” (1:15) and who “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, thinking to cause [Paul] distress” (1:17). I am not sure exactly what was going on here, but it seems that there were some preachers who were jealous of Paul or who did not like him for some reason (maybe these were Jewish evangelists who did not like the fact that Paul did not make the Gentiles keep the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-22)), so when Paul was providentially taken out of the picture, they began to gain attention by preaching Christ, thinking that Paul would be “distressed” that they were stealing his preaching ministry.

But what actually occurs? Paul is delighted that they have stepped up into the breach. Paul was probably saying, “Finally! Let Christ be proclaimed by whoever will proclaim His name!” “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed. In this I rejoice” (1:18). More preachers means Christ will more loudly be proclaimed. Amen!

PURE GOSPEL, BUT WRONG MOTIVES

It is important to observe about these other preachers that they were not preaching error or heresy. Each time they are mentioned, their message appears to be true. They “speak the word of God” (1:14). They “are preaching Christ” (1:15). They “proclaim Christ.” Paul does not mention or even hint that their message is false, but rather that their motive for preaching is amiss. As I read this, I observe that their message is true, but their motive is impure. If their gospel had been false, Paul would not have stood for it for a moment (see Galatians 2:11-14) but would have exposed their error (see Galatians 1:7-10). But Paul ignores their personal attacks on him and, instead, celebrates the fact that there are more voices proclaiming Christ. “In this I rejoice” (1:18).

SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE

It is fascinating to see how the simple act of putting Paul in prison (God’s providence) produces so much progress for the gospel. Many would see the imprisonment of the apostle Paul right at the peak of his ministry as being a severe blow, but God, whose “sovereignty rules over all” (Psalm 103:19) and “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), has ordained that this “bad” circumstance would advance the gospel (consider Gen. 50:20). Paul evangelizes the praetorian guard while other preachers are raised up who speak the word of God, who are preaching Christ, and who proclaim Christ so that Christ is proclaimed.

SDG                 rmb                 5/18/2022                   #532

John 6:31-65 – Part 2: The Father draws him (6:41-44)

INTRODUCTION. An in-depth Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts. This section of the gospel of John is important for several reasons. In these verses, Jesus gives some of His clearest teaching about the sovereignty of God in salvation, from initial choosing to final glorification. Also, Jesus here instructs us about the timing of the resurrection, that it will occur on the last day. Thirdly, in this passage, Jesus teaches using different metaphors and analogies to explain what it means to believe in Him and so helps the reader have multiple readings of the same concepts. This second part of the study is a continuation of Post #523 on 4/29/2022 and will cover John 6:41-44.

In this short passage (John 6:41-44), Jesus continues His teaching about who He is. He is the bread of life that came down out of heaven sent by God the Father so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life and will be raised up on the last day. This is a bit much for these unbelieving Jews to grasp, so they grumble.

John 6:41-42. Since the Jews continued to believe that Jesus was a mere man, simply the human son of Joseph and Mary, they grumbled at the arrogance of His saying, “I have come down out of heaven.”

6:43-44. Jesus continues His previous teaching about God’s sovereignty in salvation and about the last day (6:44). Before going on to explain 6:44, however, I wanted to review what we  covered in John 6:35-40.

REVIEW

  • In the previous section (6:35-40), we were introduced to two key phrases: those who “come to Me” (6:35, 37 (2)) and those whom the Father has given to the Son (6:37, 39), and we saw that these two phrases describe exactly the same group of people.
  • From John 6:35, we also saw that those who “come to Jesus” are the same group of people who “believe in Jesus.”
  • We also recall that John 6:39 taught us that “all the Father has given to [the Son] (i.e., all those chosen in Christ before the world began; Ephesians 1:4), these the Son will “raise up on the last day.” That is, all those given by the Father to the Son before the foundation of the world will surely be resurrected (glorified) on the last day (see Romans 8:29-30; 1 John 3:1-2). In other words, we see that God ordained the beginning and the end of salvation, and everything in between. God the Father began salvation by giving the elect to the Son in eternity past, and the Son will end salvation by raising up all the elect on the last day.
  • Finally in 6:40, Jesus again states the connection between believing in Him and having eternal life (previously stated in John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24), and we see that everyone who believes in Jesus has eternal life. So there is a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and having eternal life. And from this verse there is also a 1:1 correspondence between believing in Jesus and being raised up on the last day. So, everyone who believes in Jesus will be resurrected (glorified) on the last day. [NOTE: It is obvious from this passage that the resurrection occurs on The Last Day. Literally, on The Last Day.]
  • In John 6:40, Jesus also teaches us that eternal life is not the same thing as having a glorified body or even the same thing as being in heaven. Eternal life begins when a person believes in Jesus. This is clearly stated in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” But we know that Jesus will not raise up believers until The Last Day. Therefore, all believers will spend some time having eternal life in our fallen bodies, and all believers will spend eternity having eternal life in our glorified bodies, and most believers will spend some time having eternal life as disembodied souls in heaven awaiting the resurrection.

Having reviewed Jesus’ previous teaching on God’s sovereignty in salvation and the certainty of the last day, we return to John 6:44 to discover what Jesus adds to His lesson.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44

6:44. Jesus introduces us to another necessary part of our salvation. We have learned that it is necessary for us to come to Jesus to be saved, but here we read that not all have the ability to come to Jesus. “No one can come to Me (unless).” In the original Greek, the verb translated “can” speaks of ability. A possible paraphrase of this verse might be, “Everyone is unable to come to Me (unless).” A man may want to fly through the air like a bird, but he is physically unable to do that. He cannot fly. Just so, Jesus is saying that you cannot come to Him unless the Father does something first. Also, as the verse reads in the text, it appears that the “rule” is that a person is unable to come to Jesus, and that the “unless” speaks of the exception to the rule. That is, most cannot, but a few can. But regardless of whether those that come are the exception or the rule, Jesus is definitely teaching that, unless the Father draws the unsaved person, that person cannot come to Jesus for salvation. In other words, that person’s eternal salvation depends entirely on the Father’s action.

The question that must follow is, “Whom does the Father draw?” Is His choice arbitrary, just a random selection? Or is it based on the goodness of the people who are drawn, that they are the ones who are more righteous and holier than the rest? But of course Jesus’ teaching already makes clear those whom the Father will draw. The Father will draw those whom He has given to the Son so that these can (are able to) come to Jesus, and these will believe in Him for eternal life. Those who are drawn to Him and who come to Him and who believe in Him, He will certainly not cast out (6:37c), but “I will raise Him up on the last day” (6:44).

SUMMARY SO FAR

This is a good point to stop and try to summarize what Jesus has taught so far in this passage. In eternity past, the Father has given some people to Son. In time, the Father draws those whom He has given to the Son, and those whom the Father draws will come to Jesus and will believe in Jesus. Those who believe in Jesus have eternal life and they will be raised up (resurrected, glorified) by Jesus on the last day.

SDG                 rmb                 5/12/2022                   #529

John 6:31-65 – Part 1: Come to Me, believe in Me (v. 31-40)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts giving insight into the metaphors and analogies Jesus uses with the crowd to explain what it means to believe in Him. This is the first part of the study, John 6:31-40.

OVERVIEW. As our passage opens, Jesus has just fed the five thousand from “five barley loaves and two fish (6:9). The Lord created food from heaven to feed the five thousand in order to make clear to the crowd that He was the bread that came down out of heaven, but the people are spiritually blind. They understand Christ’s metaphors literally and thus become confused and even disgusted. We want to be sure, as we go through this story, that we are not likewise confused by Jesus’ analogies and metaphors, but instead are encouraged to draw closer to Him and to enjoy Him more.

JESUS IS THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN. One of the main messages that we should receive from this passage is that Jesus is the bread that the Father has sent from heaven. Jesus says this many times and in many ways to make unambiguously clear that He is the bread of life (6:35, 48) and that, by believing in Him, you will be satisfied. Eat Him, and you will have life. The Father has sent Him from heaven to be the bread of life for the world. Jesus did not just show up one day and start making outrageous claims. Rather, Jesus was sent by the Father to the world to accomplish a specific mission (17:4; 19:30). So, Jesus = bread from heaven. This is the message. Let’s see how Jesus communicates this.

6:32. “My Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” Jesus is the true bread from heaven and has been given by the Father.

6:33. “The bread of God (from heaven) gives life to the world.” Jesus gives life.

6:35a. “I am the bread of life.” Can’t get much clearer than that!

HE WHO COMES TO ME, HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME. Jesus now shifts slightly from proclaiming to teaching. In 6:35b – 6:47, Jesus teaches about the significance of His being the bread of life. For the value of bread is not merely beholding the bread or acknowledging that bread exists, but the value of bread comes from eating the bread. Bread cannot sustain life unless it is eaten. Just so, Jesus will not give you life unless you come to Him and believe in Him.

6:35b. “He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus now introduces these two critical phrases, “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” The two phrases mean essentially the same thing. The one who comes to Jesus comes to Him because they believe in Him, and the one who believes in Him has first come to Him. Thus, they are equivalent expressions and mean “to trust in Christ savingly.”

6:37a. Here Jesus speaks of God’s election of those He will save. “All that the Father gives Me” makes clear that the Father is the One who initiates salvation. The people who come to Jesus for salvation come, not because they personally have made a decision, but because the Father has given them to the Son. And whom does the Father give to the Son? The Father gives to the Son those “the Father chose in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

6:37b. “will come to Me.” Jesus now moves from God’s election, those whom the Father chose for salvation, to God’s certain calling. The math in this verse is clear: If the Father has “given you to the Son” (chosen you for salvation), you will (definitely, irresistibly) come to Jesus for salvation. Or again, if you have been given to Jesus, you will certainly (eventually, before you physically die) believe in Jesus. That is simply what these words mean. Jesus is not here speaking about possibilities but about divine certainties. Those who are chosen will be saved.

6:37c. “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Having declared God’s sovereignty in salvation in His election and in His calling (see above), Jesus now tells us that, once a person has come to Christ (that is, once they have believed in or trusted in Christ), they will never be “cast out.” That is, those whom the Father has given to the Son are given forever. These are saved, and they will never be lost. (See John 10:27-30 for another strong statement of this doctrinal truth.)

6:38a. Jesus now returns to His essential message in the gospel of John, but here He leaves out the bread. “I have come down from heaven.” Jesus again makes a clear declarative statement about His origin. There is no ambiguity. You either believe what He said or you don’t, but there is nothing to be misunderstood. Simply put, Jesus came from heaven.

THE WILL OF THE FATHER

6:38b. Now another central theme in the gospel is voiced, namely that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Notice again that Jesus was sent from heaven, and the One who sent Him was the Father. Jesus, as God the Son, has submitted His will to the will of God the Father. Jesus has been sent to accomplish the will (or possibly “mission”) of the Father who sent Him.

6:39. And what is the will of Him who sent Jesus? It is explicitly stated in this verse. “Of all that He (the Father) has given Me (see 6:37a) I lose nothing (see 6:37c) but raise it (or “them”) up on the last day.” Much theology is packed into this verse. First, the Lord affirms that He will certainly not let anyone who has come to Him be lost. This is not only a statement that gives the believer security in their salvation, but it is also a statement of Jesus’ deity, for He is claiming the power to guarantee that no one who comes to Him for salvation will ever be lost. How can He make such an outrageous claim? He can do so without arrogance and with complete confidence because He is God.

TEACHING ABOUT THE END OF THE AGE

But second, there is much here about the end of the age. Notice that Jesus says He will be there on the last day. This is another testament to His deity. The Man who is here making statements to this crowd about being the bread of life will also be the One who will raise up in glorious resurrection all those who believed in Him throughout the ages. Jesus is God, and He will be there on the last day of human history to speak to those who are in the tombs, and “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth” (John 5:29). So, the message is that, on the last day, Jesus will personally raise up all those who have come to Him. He will lose nothing.

Notice also that there is certainly coming a last day. Many people live as if things will just keep going along like this forever and there will not be a day of reckoning when God will judge the living and the dead, but that is foolish. There is coming a last day when the resurrection will occur and the final judgment will take place. God will surely render recompense to the unrighteous for their sins and will finally redeem the righteous. It will be an awesome day. I know where I will be on that last day. How ‘bout you?

6:40. This verse parallels 6:39 and says essentially the same thing in different words. This is a common occurrence in John’s gospel. Jesus will say the same thing several different ways in order to make the message unmistakably clear. This teaching method also allows us to see that there is more than one way to state a theological truth.

Phrase in John 6:39Phrase in John 6:40
the will of Him who sent Methe will of My Father
all that He has given Meeveryone who beholds the Son and believes in Him
I lose nothing **will have eternal life **
I raise it (them) up on the last dayI Myself will raise him up on the last day
** not exactly parallel, but similar

Now we can see how this teaching method helps us understand phrases in this passage and in other passages in John. Below I lay these ideas out explicitly.

  • “Him who sent Me (Jesus)” = “My Father”
  • “all that” = “everyone who”
  • The person given by the Father to the Son (Jesus) = The person “who believes in Him” Every person given by the Father to the Son will believe in the Son.
  • This is not an exact parallel, but “I lose nothing” tells of the believer’s eternal security and “will have eternal life” also gives assurance, because an eternal life that can be lost is obviously not eternal
  • “I raise it (them) up on the last day” = “I Myself will raise him up on the last day”

This study is taking more time than I thought, but it is an edifying experience, so I will cut off this part here at the end of John 6:40 and pick it up with John 6:41 with the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 4/29/2022                   #523