A Bible Lesson on Ezekiel 36:16-37:14

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This post is a slight variant of a Bible lesson taught at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, IA, January 1, 2017.

Can These Bones Live?

The background here is that Ezekiel is in Babylon with the second wave of exiles from Judah.  It’s 586 BC or a bit later.  Israel is off the scene, destroyed some 134 years before by Assyria after a long run of evil rulers and apostasy.  Now Babylon has conquered Judah and in chapter 33 of Ezekiel, word has come of the final destruction of Jerusalem.  The mood among God’s people has to be one of terrible despair.  The exiles with Ezekiel in Babylon had perhaps held out hope that soon things would get better and they’d be able to go home again.  Now there was literally no home to go home to.  The city and the temple have been destroyed.  As we break into the text at verse 16 of Chapter 36, God reviews with Ezekiel how His people have gotten to where they are.

Ezekiel 36:16 The word of the Lord came to me:

17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity.

18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it.

Evil actions and idolatry go together.  There was improper conduct toward others and toward God.  Idolatry reveals a low view of the one true God, and that will have implications in barbaric behavior towards other people.  Israel and Judah were guilty on these accounts and that had to bring God’s judgment against them.

19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.

In both verses 17 and 19 it is “ways and deeds.”  God judges what His people have done.  He judges what is overt, observable, evident.  As punishment, the nation has been driven from the land, has been cast out of the land that God promised Abraham, has seemingly lost its inheritance.

20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’

The standard interpretation of the day was that if a nation lost in battle (and certainly if it was driven from its land) the national god was weaker than the national god of its foes.  That’s what the pagan nations were thinking about Judah.  Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.  Instead, the only real God in the universe was judging His people and ultimately revealing His Gospel plan of redemption.

Pay attention to the word “profaned” in verse 20.  The meaning is to make or count as ordinary, the opposite of to count as set apart, separate, holy.  Any people whose god didn’t look out for them couldn’t have much of a god, surely not One like Yahweh really is.  Observe that the fault when God is profaned is not with those ignorant of who He is, but with His own people, whose actions aren’t consistent with the truth about Him.

21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.

This jars the sensibility of a man-centered sub-Christian religiosity.  God is going to intervene and His intervention WILL most graciously benefit His people.  What He’s going to do will simultaneously vindicate His righteous judgment on sin and provide redemption for His people.  But ultimately it is HIS honor that is at stake, and it is He not we, who is at the center of the universe.  All is well in existence only when its Maker and Sustainer is revered and loved and hallowed.

23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

This has never changed.  God, from the beginning of time purposed to have a people who will be His and show forth His glory.  That was His purpose in Israel, that’s His purpose in the Christian church.  As regards Judah, God promises Ezekiel that He will act in two steps …

24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.

In the first place, God promises to bring the people back to the land.  Do we understand, by the way, that this is by all reasonable standards impossible?  Babylon was the world power, and had no reason whatsoever let Judah go.  The Medes weren’t much of anything and Cyrus, who sent the Jews home was almost surely only a kid when this prophecy came.  How could a return happen?

Second, He promises to purify the people, and even more … genuinely change them.  That is, He promises to not only make them ritually clean but right in essence.

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

It is God who is acting here.  I (God) will sprinkle, I will cleanse, I will give, I will remove, I will put.  It is God who is sovereign and working for any and all good.  It is not humans who decide to do good and succeed in producing a righteousness of works.

At this point in history, hundreds of years of Jewish history built on the gracious promises and revelation of God have utterly failed to produce the kind of heart God promises here, one that loves Him and His ways.  Both the blessings and the curses of God’s law are true and eternal.  Humans desperately need and desire the blessings and always deserve the curses.

In retrospect, these wonderful verses tell us that the complete fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy awaits the New Testament and the salvation work of Jesus.  Who will save us?  It must be Christ.  Someone of infinite worth must perfectly please the Father, bear the just wrath of the Father for the sins of the world, and somehow transfer His perfect righteousness to God’s people.  God Himself must save if there is to be redemption.

The Bible is consistent that man’s condition has cosmic implications.  In the beginning, when man was in right relationship to God, the physical universe was right.  With man in rebellion, the universe is physically out of kilter.  Ezekiel is promised a time when God’s people will again be in right relationship with Him and all will be right.

28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you.

30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.

31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.

32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

Here is more strong language.  Loathe yourselves and be ashamed.  This is not meant to send God’s people into an emotional black funk, but rather to cause us to think constantly of the astonishing kindness God shows us in Christ.  Every sin of every believing person past, present, and future is under the blood of the Lamb, not remembered by God.  God has sprinkled His own with clean water … and that work ought never be treated as ordinary.  If we never recall or mourn over our sin, we will soon treat Christ’s work as practically inconsequential and grace as cheap.  We must remember and loathe our sin.

33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.

34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by.

35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’

36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.

38 Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Again, there is blessing for God’s people, and the fundamental end here is God’s own glory, that all people and all creatures in the universe will recognize His greatness and live in harmony with His perfect character.  In the short run, God is promising that He’s not done with His people Judah.  Despite how utterly dark and hopeless things seem, release is coming.  The same God who redeemed Israel from Egypt, will bring Judah back from the Babylonian captivity.  In the long run, history is linear.  It began with God’s creation of a perfect world, was broken and made miserable through the fall, and at the time Ezekiel speaks, creation has been groaning and aching for a Deliverer for thousands of years.  Ezekiel is promised that the story isn’t over, that redemption is coming, that figuratively there will be a return to Eden.

Now God gives Ezekiel a striking vision of what He will do, of what He plans for the nation of Israel and what ultimately He plans for all believers of all time.

Ezekiel 37:1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.

Ezekiel is in a valley.  The word here is the same as the one translated “plain” in 3:22.  It’s possible/probable that Ezekiel is in the same place he was when God’s word of judgment on Judah first came to him.  This scene is ghastly.  It looks as if there had been some ancient battle here and the dead bodies of the fallen have decomposed and been ripped apart by scavengers.  Ezekiel is surrounded by piles of body parts.

2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.

There were very many.  There are lots of dead folks represented here.  And they’re real dead, not just mostly dead, all dead.  The bones were very dry.  There is complete desolation here.  The whole of Judah/Israel here is without hope.  All humanity is without hope, slain by sin and torn apart … except for God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Can these bones live?  The obvious answer would be “no.”  Humanly speaking, the situation of Israel/Judah, the situation of all men and women ever born, the situation of these bones is hopeless.  These bones cannot live.  Ezekiel is both humble and honest here.  He doesn’t have all the answers.  He knows that God is sovereign over life and death and it is only God who knows most things.  He doesn’t presume to say they will live, but implicitly testifies that they could live.

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

Ezekiel is to speak to the bones, to speak to them the word of the LORD.  From a natural point of view he’s been told to do something pretty silly.  But God asks obedience and Ezekiel does his part as a servant of God.

5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

The word translated “breath” here by ESV is the Hebrew word “ruah” which can mean breath/Spirit/wind.  It is the same word that is used twice in Genesis 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. This same word appears repeatedly in the next few verses, and gets translated by the ESV in different ways at those appearances.  But underneath breath/Spirit/wind are all the same Hebrew, “ruah.”

6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

And you shall know that I am the LORD (I am the I AM).  The object/end of all human existence is that we know that the LORD is God and that we know Him, that we are loved by and love Him.  Again, the chief end of the restoration that God is sending is that He be honored.

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.

This is a wild scene, something that today we’d expect to be cooked up through computer-generated special effects … dry bones flying together, sinews and flesh appearing out of nowhere … called into existence by the Creator of the universe.  But there was no breath in them.  Much as at creation, where God formed Adam from the dust, when there was no life/breath/spirit in him until God breathed it into him.  We’re seeing pictured here the creation of new humans … humans with hearts for God!  And the starting point is not completely new material, but dry dead bones.  He could begin afresh, but He does not.  He begins with the wreckage of ruined humanity.  There are two stages.  In this first, God has made bodies from dead bones.  But there is no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

Prophesy to the breath/wind/spirit, son of man, and say to it, “Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath …”  There’s a lot of air needed here and God sends it rushing in from all directions.  There is an abundance … and where God’s breath is sent, there is life.  The lifeless human forms live.  We ought to be reminded here of the rushing wind on the day of Pentecost.  This is a prefiguring of that great act that inaugurated and empowered the Christian church.

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

They came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.  A few moments ago, this was a bunch of dead dry bones.  Then there were bodies without any real life.  Now there is a something worthy to be called an army, a vast army at that, through the work of the breath/spirit/wind of God.

English theologian John B. Taylor said about this scene, “What is the significance of the two stages?  The difference between them is surely to be found in the direction of Ezekiel’s prophesying; first to the bones, telling them to hear, and secondly to the Spirit, invoking its inspiration. The first must have seemed to Ezekiel very much like his professional occupation, exhorting lifeless people to listen to God’s word.  The effect was limited: true, something remarkable hap­pened, but the hearers were still dead men.  The second action was praying, as Ezekiel besought the Spirit of God to effect the miracle of re-creation, to breathe into man’s nostrils the breath of life (cf. Genesis. 2:7).  This time the effect was devastating.  What preaching by itself failed to achieve, prayer made a reality.”[1]

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’

Ezekiel isn’t left guessing here about the short term meaning of what he’s been shown.  The northern kingdom is gone and Jerusalem has fallen.  What’s left of the nation is in captivity and as good as dead.  As far as the captives can see there’s no hope left.  But that’s not what God says.  Instead, says the I AM, there waits for them a future restoration where the nation will be a vast army dedicated to God.

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.

The figure changes somewhat from dried bones to a graveyard, but the promise remains that God is not done with His people Israel.

13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Paul tells us plainly in Romans that God is not yet finished with physical Israel, that in the end the Jewish people will turn to Christ, their Messiah.  They will come to eternal life and the end of such restoration will be the glory of God.  All the world will know and honor His greatness.

As we begin 2017, some 2600 years or so since these wonderful prophecies came through Ezekiel, what applications can we draw from the passage?  Here are a few that occur to me.  I am sure the same Spirit that gave life to the bodies in the valley will bring others to your minds as well, as you dwell on this Word.

First, let us constantly remind ourselves of what really matters.  It is the honor of God that is at the center of this passage.  It is the honor of God that is at the center of existence.  Let us mediate on the truth that there is real horror and misery when our actions profane His name, make Him out to be ordinary, portray Him as anything less than of supreme worth.

Second, let us always live profoundly grateful for the Gospel.  Let us see ourselves as formerly dead and dry bones on the valley floor slain by sin and without hope.  As we abhor our remaining sin, let us wonder at Christ who bore the wrath of God in our place and by His Spirit gives us pardon and real life.  Let us fill our minds and hearts with Christ and His matchless grace.

Third, let us always take heart and remind ourselves that no matter how bleak any circumstance in this life, the God of the Bible makes dry bones live.  Let us live cheerful lives, full of the promise of a blessed eternity in the presence of the Giver of life.  He orders existence.  He works only for real good.  Let us rest in Him.

Finally, in our evangelism, in our declaration of the Gospel of Christ, let us keep the vision of Ezekiel before us.  Let us be realistic about the real situation as we interact with neighbors and coworkers and family.  We walk about among dead bones.  There is no real life at all in those with hearts hard towards Christ.  And no amount of strategy or formula or cleverness or organization on our part can replace a single heart of stone with one of flesh, none of these can make the bones live.  That transformation depends rather upon two: the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  In all humility and gentleness, let us therefore tell people the truth about Christ and let us plead for their souls in prayer.  Like Ezekiel, may we speak to the bones and plead with the Spirit/breath/wind.

Thanks be to God for His gracious Word and the work of His Spirit.

[1] John B. Taylor, (1969).  Ezekiel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Inter-Varsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, p. 235.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Deuteronomy 6

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson is a small variant of one taught at Grand Avenue Baptist in Ames, Iowa, in May 2016.  The text is Deuteronomy 6.  This is one of the grandest chapters in all of Scripture.  It is our great privilege to open it and savor the great grace of God that it presents.  The immediate context of the text is Moses’s review of the 10 Commandments, as the people Israel are gathered on the plains of Jordan, ready enter the promised land.  The broader context is that of all Christian people as we ready ourselves for today, tomorrow, and a promised glorious eternity in the presence of the King of Kings.

Deuteronomy is “the second law,” and the 10 Commandments are reviewed in the chapter just before this one.  In Matthew 22 and Luke 10 and Mark 12, the lawyer of the Sadducees asks Jesus “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” or “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” or “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus doesn’t answer with one of the 10 Commandments of Chapter 5, but rather with (slight variants of) verse 5 of this chapter:

Deuteronomy 6:5  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

This is the central matter of the whole chapter, and indeed the whole Biblical revelation.  There are things to know, things to do, things to avoid, attitudes to have, attitudes to not have, virtues to exhibit, and vices to flee.  But fundamental is this: to love Yahweh/the I AM, the only true God, the God of the Bible, with absolutely every fiber of one’s being.  The rest is important, but to some degree is detail that follows from the central matter.  The Westminster Catechism begins with Q1: What is the chief end of man?  A1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  The first concern of all genuinely Biblical teaching is that above all, you and I love and honor our Creator.

With this in view, let us make our way through the chapter a few verses at a time.  Moses is speaking/preaching.

Deuteronomy 6:1  “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,

Now this is the commandment/”charge”—the “statutes” or things which God has defined, marked, and traced out so that we know what is pure conduct—and the “rules” or judgments, formal decrees by the great Judge of all—that  Yahweh your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them.  It is the will of God that Moses teach these things and that God’s people do them.  There aren’t so many specifics in this this chapter, but rather general principles.  They are general principles, but far more than suggestions or advice or techniques for skillful living.  These are the serious “charge”/commandment of the One who called Moses and has delivered Israel.

This charge—the statutes and rules—of this chapter are given in the context of verses 21b-23 and the gracious history of God’s deliverance of His people.

Deuteronomy 6:21  then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.

23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.

This is the Bible order.  Obedience does not produce deliverance.  It never did and it never can.  Rather, deliverance motivates obedience.  The gracious covenants preceded the giving of the law.  Abraham was called and justified by faith before Sinai.  Grace precedes works of righteousness, that can only be done in gratitude and humility.  Pharaoh’s slaves were delivered by the I AM before they were taught how to live.—But if a people is to live with the holy One, it needs to know His nature and what He desires.  This, Moses was to deliver to God’s chosen people on the plains of the Jordan, before they entered the promised land.

So, “Now this the charge— …”

Deuteronomy 6:2  that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.

There remains a right and correct reverence and holy fear of Yahweh.  He was the God of the Israelites.  He is our God in Christ.  He is favorably disposed and gracious to us.  But He is also completely out of our class.  And He is the very definition of “what is what.”  It would be absurd to flaunt rebellion against Him and yet expect to live well and prosper.  One might as well say “I don’t believe I’ll cooperate with the law of gravity.  I intend to go my own way and step wherever I choose, including off this cliff.”

So, Hear O Israel, how things really are at the very core of existence:

3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

The gracious will of God, the destiny of His people, is eternal good.  The Israelites were headed for a temporal promised land.  Christian believers are headed for something far more grand, not temporal but rather eternal.

What is the core of this revelation of life lived in line with God?   The center of the text is verses 4 through 6.

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Various translations give verse 4 various shades of meaning.  Literally, it reads something like “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh one.”  There is a purposeful ambiguity in the original language of the 4-word statement about God.  It says a number of things, depending upon where (and how many times) the verb “is” is inserted.  It could be “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” (as the ESV renders it) or it could be “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.” or it could be “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.”  The phrase “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh one.” teaches that it is Yahweh/the I AM who is Israel’s God and the Christian’s God.  It teaches the essential unity of God—to the exclusion of even the possibility of any other real “gods.”  And it teaches the exclusive nature of Israel’s relationship with God (and the Christian’s relationship with God).  There is simply no room for anyone or anything else in God’s place.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  This One God is to be loved with every ounce of one’s being.  This is how what seem to the non-regenerate mind to be impossible moral “oughts” of God’s revealed Law become the “wants” of a person’s heart.  It’s how a self-righteous score-keeping earthbound person becomes one who is grieved by remaining sin that dishonors the great Person who has given forgiveness.  This is not sinless perfection.  It is the repenting heart of King David.  This is real faith and repentance.

These words, says verse 7, are to be on your hearts.  Far from being means of self-justification or intellectual abstractions, these words are a gracious constant guide to who God is and what He desires in His people.  If I love Him and He is truthful, I want to be truthful.  If I love Him and He is merciful and generous, I want to be similarly merciful and generous.  If there are things that He hates, I want no part of them.  These words become part of a believing person’s basic control system.  DA Carson put it this way: “True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.”

In some ways, Deuteronomy 6 gives form to the first two of the 10 Commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:6  “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

7 “‘You shall have no other gods before me.

8 “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

These commands: “No other ‘gods.'” and “No idols.”  How?  How?  Calvin correctly said that our hearts are idol factories.  Ruined by the fall, we cannot suppress idolatrous impulses by dint of negative effort.  Only a positive active passion for Yahweh alone, given by and empowered by His Spirit can shut down the idol factory.  That is His wonderful work in those who come in faith.  Thanks be to God!

We often use the modern idiom “What does it look like?”  In the present context … what does loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength, “look like”?  The balance of the chapter gives some guidance.

Deuteronomy 6:7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

For one thing, Israelite family life was to be saturated with the love of the I AM.  Christian family life is to be saturated with the love of the I AM.  Children are to know that the one great passion of their parents’ lives is Christ.  The first impulse in good times and bad times is to be to turn to God in prayer.  Every situation is to be seen through the lens of the Scripture.  Every word spoken and action taken is to be understood as Corem Deo, before the face of God.  Days are to begin and end with God.

These things are to be true in the home.  These things are to go with believing people as they go out of the home.  The God who really is, who is loved with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength cannot become invisible as one goes out the front door.  Secular society pressures God’s people to act in public as if He is not there, as if He’s some silly private fiction.  But to the contrary, the Israelites were to see themselves as publicly marked people.  Christians are to see themselves as marked people, not in some easy way of wearing symbolic jewelry or a religious tee shirt, but in word and deed genuinely consistent with His presence.  Their dwellings are to be marked out, not with Jesus junk, but with real evidence of the presence and grace of God—with hospitality, with kindness, with compassion, with the fruit of the Spirit of God, with evident goodness and reverence for the Holy One, with clear testimony to His Kingship.

10 “And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build,

11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full,

12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

God’s people Israel are about to enjoy great benefits for which they had not worked, benefits that they didn’t in any sense merit.  With those benefits comes the danger of ingratitude.  Moses has been around the block.  He’s 120 years old as he speaks here.  He knows the human condition, and as a good shepherd of God’s flock, he warns the people of the danger of forgetting, of taking the grace of God for granted.  He calls the people to be careful to dwell on the saving acts of the I AM.  They are never to lose track of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

Christian people are recipients of benefits and blessing immeasurably beyond anything experienced by Israel.  In view of this great grace, we are obliged to continually remind ourselves of God’s great deliverance of our souls in the work of Christ.  We never get beyond that fundamental.  It is our duty and joy to remember, to rehearse, to meditate on, to live constantly in the light of God’s redemption from bondage to sin, hell, and the grave.  A Christian life lived loving the I AM with all heart, soul, and might, is one that meditates and wonders constantly and joyously on its deliverance in Christ Jesus.

13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

You were “slaves” in Egypt, now you shall “serve” Him.  The words “slaves” in verse 12 and “serve” in verse 13 have the same Hebrew root.  It’s no accident that they are here back-to-back.  The Israelites have been taken from dark and miserable service to a cruel and oppressive human tyrant to bright privileged service of the great beneficent divine King of all.  In Christ, the I AM gives a far greater and lasting deliverance from bondage to His service.  The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Colossians 1:13  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

The Scriptures and human experience are clear.  We either serve God or we serve sin.  There is no other option.  The wonder is that God doesn’t leave us in the misery that human rebellion chooses and warrants, but instead gives redeemed people life in His good and blessed Kingdom in the service of Christ.

By His name you shall swear says 13b.  The veracity of the word of God’s people is guaranteed by their all-consuming love for the person of the God of truth.  Of course, Jesus takes verse 13b a step further in Matthew 5.  A life lived with passion for Yahweh is one where no oaths are needed and “yes is yes and no is no.”  God’s word is sure.  The word of a devoted Christian disciple is similarly sure without resort to offering a guarantee.

In a way, verses 14 and 15 restate things that have been said before in this chapter.

Deuteronomy 6:14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—

15 for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

It is only consistent with verse 5 and a whole-hearted love of the real God that there is no room for dabbling with other supposed deities, or really, any rivals for a person’s basic affections.  This is, again consistent with the first and second of the 10 commandments.  What is jarring to post-modern sensibilities in these two verses are the words “jealous,” “anger,” and “destroy.”  But that is the fault of impoverished post-modern Biblical understanding and pop theology.  Human jealousy is always small and hateful and ugly.  God’s jealousy is none of these.  It is instead His white-hot passion for all that He is, for all that is right and good and true.  Brothers and sisters, this would be an awful universe if God was not properly jealous and protective of those things.  But thanks be to Him, He is not indifferent to honor being given to made-up and corrupt objects of worship.  It is a wonderful thing that He is jealous for His own glory.  He could not be genuinely good and fail to hate and finally destroy evil and crush misrepresentations of good.  It is both wonderful and most serious and dangerous to be called to know, love, and represent such a God.

Here is another aspect/outworking of undivided love for the God of the Bible:

16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.

The nature of putting God “to the test” is this: In human difficulty, there is the possibility of essentially saying to God “I don’t like this.  Get me out of it now.  I want XYZ.  If you don’t give it, I’ll presume that You aren’t for me or reliable or powerful enough to help me.”  That was what happened at Massah.  The people were thirsty and demanded that Moses produce water as a test of whether God was really with them.  God is pleased with cries for mercy and help from His children.  But this is something else entirely.  It forgets the past saving acts of God and substitutes in their place demands for signs of human choosing right now.  This is impertinence.  This is the “forgetting” of verse 12.  This is human arrogance presuming to order about the Creator and Sustainer of all.  This is antithetical to the pure love of God of verse 5.

17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.

Natural human rebellion against God’s Law, against the commandments, implicitly assumes that God’s Law is arbitrary, that it could be something else, that it is whim.  But it is not.  It is gracious revelation of His nature.

The word “testimonies” used here has interesting implications.  What is given in Deuteronomy points to or bears witness to something “beyond.”  The charge, the commandments, the statutes, are not ends in themselves, but testify/witness to who God is.  They reveal what is true and what is true about Him.  Real love of God gladly embraces them, and when embraced they give guidance to right living in the here and now.  You shall do what is right and good.

18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers

19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has promised.

Of course.  Doing right and good is consistent with walking with the One who is right and good.  It doesn’t justify one, but a person who doesn’t care about it doesn’t know Him.  And doing what is right and good, living in accord with Biblical revelation is prerequisite to sane blessed living in the here and now.

And now we come back to the context of the great commandment to love God with a whole heart.  In the ordinary rhythm of a God-honoring God-saturated family life, there will come times when the children will ask “Why do we live like this?  We’re not like others.  We spend our time and resources differently than they do.  We interact with people differently than they do.  We are people of the Book and they hold it in derision.  We honor the I AM and they ignore Him.  We love the Son, and they hate him.  So

20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’

21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.

23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.

The father is to answer: “We were slaves!”  Christian parents are to answer to their children: “We were slaves!”  Why do we live this way? We were slaves and have been delivered!  The nation of Israel is a picture for us of universal human slavery to corruption and death.  There was no possible way for the enslaved nation to get itself out of bondage.  Humanly speaking, it was doomed to horrible misery for the balance of its existence.  But “the LORD/Yahweh/the I AM brought us (Israel) out (of Egypt) with a mighty hand.”  Glory to God!

The Israelite father would go on “He did the impossible and led us over Jordan under His protection by His great presence.  He pledged Himself to us forever.  How, son, could we not love Him with a whole heart?”

Christian brothers and sisters, we were dead in sin, with no ability to escape eternal darkness, and He brought us out by the miracles of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and the work of His Spirit in our dead hearts.  How then could we not love Him with whole hearts?  How could we not choose to obey Him?

24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.

When God then graciously describes what life with Him must be like, how could our hearts not sing?  How could we not embrace His statutes?

25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’

Don’t hear what this doesn’t intend to say.  Moses is not promising forensic/judicial justification on the basis of obedience.  That would make absolutely no sense in context.  In the words of theologian Christopher Wright, the righteousness of verse 25 is “a righteousness that presumes the experience of redemption, not a righteousness that presumes to achieve redemption.”  The statement is that single-hearted love of God in response to His merciful sovereign deliverance motivates glad acceptance of His ways and produces the great joy and blessing of all of existence being fundamentally right, in line with who He is and how things really are.

Deuteronomy 6 is the Gospel of Moses.  The natural human condition is one of miserable slavery to sin and death.  God acts to deliver, doing for humans what they could never do for themselves.  The only sensible response to that redemption is a heart of unalloyed love for the I AM.  That love is lived out in humble gratitude and lives marked as belonging to the Redeemer.  The end is life that is fundamentally whole and good and blessed, now and forever.  Amen, Amen, and Amen!

Our Father, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done!  We love You.  Lead us in Your ways for Your own glory and our good in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 21

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Chapter 21 of John amounts to a kind of epilogue to the book.  It is the account of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to some of the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee.

John 21:1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 

2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 

3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

“The” boat is perhaps Peter’s boat.  It seems as if that’s what’s being said.  They’re going to go out and use Peter’s gear.  It’s an interesting point that the disciples, in the whole of the Gospels never manage to catch one fish without the express work of Jesus.  Here again, the efforts of the disciples on their own are completely futile.  So are ours.

Night fishing on the Sea of Galilee is widely believed to be better than daytime fishing.  Besides, if they were thinking commercially, fish caught at night could be sold fresh during the day.

4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 

5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”

6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 

Why does it come to John that this is Jesus at this point?  See Luke 5:1-11.  The circumstances were similar when Jesus called James, John, Peter and Andrew.

Peter is always Peter.  He can’t wait for the boat to get to shore.  He gets properly dressed to greet Jesus and jumps overboard.

8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 

11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 

This, of course, has its literal meaning.  Most commentators also see it having a figurative meaning parallel to the meaning of fishing given at the calling of the disciples.  There seems to be a picture here of a great catch of human souls, so large that the disciples could barely handle it.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 

Once again, by saying “They knew it was the Lord” John is implying that there was some reason that they might have not been sure.  Jesus’s appearance may have been somewhat different from before His death and resurrection.

13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is recognized in the breaking of bread.  He is seen most clearly in the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper.  But before that, He’s revealed as the Son of God as He breaks bread and feeds the multitudes.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize Him in the breaking of bread.

14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

John is evidently counting those appearances to the majority of the apostles at once.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus asks “more than these?”  It seems there are 3 possible meanings  1) “more than these other guys do?” 2) “more than you love the rest of these guys?” and 3) “more than you love this fishing gear?”  It seems pretty that the intention is the first, although some people have argued otherwise.

The question is ironic in that Peter has, at the last supper blustered that even if everyone else fails Jesus, he will not.  See Mark 14:29.  In fact, although they all failed Jesus, Peter did so most spectacularly.

But note now that Peter is not blustering, or promising more than he can deliver.  He’s simply appealing to Jesus on the basis of what Jesus knows to be true about him.  Here, instead of working from his ability or resolve, he’s pointing to Jesus’ supernatural knowledge and more or less throwing himself on the care of Jesus.

People have made a lot of the fact that in the Greek there are two different words for love being used in this conversation.  Jesus asks the first two times about agape love.  All three times Peter replies in terms of phileo love and Jesus’ last question is phrased in term of phileo.  Considering that the distinction between these is not present in either Aramaic or Hebrew, I don’t see much sense in trying to read meanings into the different uses.  The conversation was not carried out in Greek, and there is no hint on the part of Peter that the distinction is part of his meaning or what he’s picking up from Jesus.  It seems more likely that John is simply making use of literary variation, trying to avoid being repetitious in word choice.  Both terms are used of God’s love towards us, so it’s not really correct to think of one as inferior to the other anyway.

Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”  See to it that the tender ones in the church are nourished and brought along in the Faith.  The measure of Peter’s devotion to Jesus is to be how he cares for the young church.

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

Jesus goes through this quizzing 3 times.  Do you love me?  This is painful, but it’s grace.  Peter had denied Jesus 3 times.  Here he’s getting a chance to symbolically wipe the slate clean, to wipe out the memory of his most miserable failure of the Lord.

3 times he’s told to care for the Master’s sheep.   Ryle said this “was meant to teach Peter and the whole Church the mighty lesson, that usefulness to others is the grand test of love, and working for Christ is the great proof of really loving Christ.  It is not loud talk and high profession; it is not even impetuous, spasmodic zeal and readiness to draw the sword and fight, — it is steady, patient, laborious effort to do good to Christ’s sheep scattered throughout this sinful world, which is the best evidence of being a true-hearted disciple. … Let us aim at a loving, doing, useful, hard-working, unselfish, kind, unpretentious religion.  Let it be our daily desire to think of others, care for others, do good to others, and to lessen the sorrow, and increase the joy of this sinful world.”

Again notice Peter’s attitude here in comparison to his attitude before the denial.  There he was full of himself.  Here all he can do is rely upon the perfect knowledge of Jesus, that as sincerely as he knows how, he does indeed love Jesus.

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 

19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Some people see here an explicit prophecy that Peter will be crucified as was Jesus.  Whether the meaning was intended to be that explicit or not isn’t clear.  And it is not really important.  In any case Jesus is clearly telling Peter that he’s to feed the flock and follow his Master.  And that in the end, it is not going to be easy.  Nevertheless, he (Peter) has been so called.  Peter wasn’t up to the task the night of the arrest when he acted in his pride and self-sufficiency.  His outlook is different now and in dependence upon Christ, he will face persecution much differently.

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”

21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”

Peter, like the rest of us is so human.  He’s just been told that in following Christ and carrying out His will, hard things will be endured.  Immediately Peter wants to know what about John.  Clearly, that’s not Peter’s business.  That’s between John and his Master.  Jesus tells him so.

22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Mind your own business Peter.

23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

John is correcting a rumor that was apparently rampant in his time.  According to tradition, he was the last of the Apostles to die.  Some thought that Jesus was going to return before his death.  John says that that was not what Jesus said.

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

John is saying that it was he who wrote this down and appealing to the fact that the truth of his testimony was well known.  His testimony is true in two ways.  Factually, what he has said is accurate.  And what he has said concerns the very origin of all truth, Jesus Himself.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

John ends his letter with a disclaimer that not all possible things were recorded.  But while His account is not exhaustive, it is sufficient to show an honest heart the way to Christ.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 20

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This chapter is John’s account of Resurrection Sunday.  Recall what John says in the first epistle of John.

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

John was there, he saw these things and he recognizes that it is vital that you and I know that we’re hearing the account of such a witness.

John 20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

This is “early,” probably before dawn and it may be that here Mary Magdalene is alone.  Matthew and Mark place 2 Marys and Salome at the tomb later (at dawn).  But it is also possible that there are others here and John is simply concentrating on Mary Magdalene.

Ryle wrote of this scene, “… her conduct this memorable morning was so remarkable and prominent that St. John speaks of her alone.  All the women showed faith and courage and love, he seems to intimate; but none so pre-eminently as Mary Magdalene.  She was the first to come near the tomb, first to discover that the stone was rolled away, first to conjecture that something remarkable had happened, and the first to act at once on what she saw.”  He further said, “… we are distinctly told that she was one out of whom the Lord had cast ‘seven devils’ (Mark xvi. 9; Luke viii. 2), –one who had been subjected in a peculiar way to Satan’s possession, –and one whose gratitude to our Lord for deliverance was a gratitude that knew no bounds.  In short, of all our Lord’s followers on earth, none seem to have loved Him so much as Mary Magdalene. None felt that they owed so much to Christ.  None felt so strongly that there was nothing too great to do for Christ. Hence, as Bishop Andrews beautifully puts it, — ‘She was last at His cross, and first at His grave. She staid longest there, and was soonest here.  She could not rest till she was up to seek Him.  She sought Him while it was yet dark, even before she had light to seek Him by.’  In a word, having received much, she loved much; and loving much, she did much, in order to prove the reality of her love.”  He went on to infer that relative lack of passion for Christ and His Gospel follows from “a low sense of debt and obligation to Christ,” an inadequate grasp of the enormity and eternal implications of our sin.

John also doesn’t tell us the details of the stone.  By the time he is writing here, the synoptic Gospels are in wide circulation.  He expects his reader to know those accounts and doesn’t feel the need to repeat all the details from them … rather, he concentrates on those that are most relevant to his stated purpose in John 20:31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  

2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

The synoptics put Mary of Magdalene at the tomb with Mary the mother of James and Salome.  Ryle believed that immediately upon seeing the stone, Mary Magdalene ran off to get Peter and John, and in the meantime the angels appear to the other women, who are gone by the time she returned.  In any case, mark Mary’s reaction.  The furthest thing from her mind here is the possibility that Jesus has risen.

3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.

4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

We have here, not a single witness, but two, in keeping with Old Testament teaching on the importance of corroboration.  Modesty forbids John to say directly that it is he who outran Peter!

5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.

6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,

Peter is always Peter.  He charges right into the tomb, not hesitating the least in the possibility that the evidence that he’s observing concerns the most important occurrence of human history.  Ryle wrote, “Grace does not alter natural temperaments, when it changes hearts.”

7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.

In telling us the details about the grave clothes, John wants us to know that this is a real, physical, space-and-time resurrection, not some make-believe fairy tale kind of thing.  Nor is it the work of grave robbers.  Grave robbers wouldn’t leave behind the grave clothes and try to handle a naked, cold, slippery, stiff corpse.  Nor would they take time to fold up the cloth that had been around his head.

8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

We have the picture of Peter standing and gawking, not knowing what to make of the scene.  John enters and believes.  This is a detail that only an eyewitness could or would supply.  He believes that Jesus has been resurrected.

9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

John is saying that while he has believed that Jesus has been resurrected, he doesn’t see how it fits into the big picture.

Note that the disciples were caught completely by surprise.  The secularist attempt to explain this away as some kind of hoax that the clever disciples carried off just doesn’t square with their state of mind or with their fairly bumbling unsophisticated backgrounds and ways.

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

“to their homes” is literally “to themselves”  They went back to where they were staying while in Jerusalem.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.

John has apparently not filled Mary in on what he thought he knew about what has happened.  Mary is crying, upset about the location of the body.  From one perspective it is her incredible loyalty and love for Christ that puts her here to begin with, and especially after the men have left.  The “But Mary stood” is in contrast to the men who had gone.  But she’s also as thoroughly human and as blind as any of us.  Thank God the tomb was empty!  Thank God she doesn’t get what she thinks she wants!  Mary’s concern at this point is simply for the dead body.

12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.

Despite the fact that there is no natural explanation for how these beings got there without Peter and John seeing them, Mary may not recognize them as angels.  And even if she dis, she wasn’t going to let the appearance of angels get her off track from her grief over the missing body.

13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The angels surely know why she is weeping.  They are not asking to gain information.  They are asking to prod her to think this through and figure out “Hey! This is wonderful! The tomb is empty!  He’s not here!”  Mary, in her authentic humanity, clings to her grief over the death.

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Apparently the phrasing in the Greek describing Mary’s turning is a bit odd, and has led commentators to speculate on why Mary turned.  Ryle saw the angels stirring at the entrance of Christ, and Mary being alerted to His presence behind her.  But she doesn’t know that it’s Him.  This is not the only time that His followers fail to recognize the resurrected Jesus.  His appearance must have been somewhat different than before.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Why are you weeping?  Who is it that you are looking for?  Like the angels before, Jesus hints to Mary that she wasn’t on the right track.  She was looking for a corpse, when she should have been looking for a person.  She was blind to her Help and Master, though He was right there beside her.  Indeed, why was she weeping?  And who was it that she thought she was looking for?  Was it a dead prophet, or the living Son of God?  She was indeed faithful and loving, but she was so absorbed in the situation that it didn’t even occur to her to use Jesus’s name describing the situation.  When she speaks it’s simply “him” who has been carried away, the one who is in the center of her thinking and her world.  But she also was a frail human being who wasn’t keeping clear in her head the divinity of her Master and His teaching on His resurrection.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

When the Good Shepherd calls His sheep, they know His voice.  Now Mary “gets it.”  Rabboni, (my) teacher.  This is a bit of an odd word.  It was usually used in calling out to God in prayer.  It was a somewhat more respectful form of “Rabbi.”

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “


John 14:1  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 

It seems likely that Mary thinks that Jesus is back for the disciples.  Jesus says, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  He can’t mean that He’s been hiding in Jerusalem and isn’t yet ready to go see the Father.  It is, rather, likely that He’s saying that He hasn’t yet gone away in the John 14 sense.   He has not yet completed His ascent to the Father in the sense of leaving until the second coming.  Jesus’s command that she not cling to Him simply means that Mary’s desire for a physically-present Jesus won’t be realized at this time.  John 16:16 isn’t going to be realized in the way she expects.

John 16:16   “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”

Mary, the real human being she is, is making too much of the immediate physical presence of Jesus.

I am ascending”  is “I am in the process of ascending”  Things are not simply going back to the way they were before the crucifixion and resurrection.  Things are fundamentally different.

to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”  That language is parallel to Ruth 1:16.  Coming from the lips of Jesus, it emphasizes the great honor that God does us by inviting us into His family.  What mercy and grace there is in this language.  Jesus says, “go tell my brothers.”  Go tell the same ones who had a couple of days earlier deserted Him.  Jesus knows our weakness and frailty and in mercy calls such as you and me His brothers.

John 20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

It’s worth noting that the first to carry the news of resurrection was Mary. Brentius said, “Jesus made Mary Magdalene an Apostle to the Apostles.”

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you.”  Shalom.  May God give you every good thing and set all things right.  This is perhaps an ordinary Jewish greeting, but likely much more.  Remember that on just Thursday night Jesus spoke to them the words of John 14:27-28.  Here He’s confirming that indeed all is well, but that He is going to the Father.

Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

In view of their behavior on Friday morning , the disciples might have expected worse.

John 20:20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Jesus’s resurrection body is both similar and dissimilar to our present earthly bodies.  He entered the locked room, and yet they can see the wounds in His hands and side.  Luke 24:36-43 gives us more details.

Luke 24:36  As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”

37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.

38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

43 and he took it and ate before them.

John 20:21  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Here’s a tall order.  Think of some of the implications of this.  Jesus’s mission is now our mission.  The Son must be present with us just as the Father was with Him.  Whoever saw Jesus saw the Father, so whoever sees us should see Jesus.  Jesus was submitted to the Father’s will and we should be to His.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

This should remind us of Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:3-5.

Genesis 2:7  then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Ezekiel 37:3  And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord

GOD, you know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

breath/spirit are the same word in both Greek and Hebrew.  Here the Holy Spirit is giving real, eternal life.

John 20:23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

This famous verse has been the subject of much exegesis over the years.  Various interpretations have been offered.  Possibilities are 1) a statement of the church’s power of excommunication, 2) the bringing of guilt when the church declares the truth and it is ignored (more of John’s theme of implicit judgement). and 3) that the church’s forgiveness or lack thereof is really only of a declarative nature  (that is, that it is simply saying only what God has already determined).

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.

Thomas is a hard-headed, skeptical, but intensely loyal guy.

John 11:16  So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

John 14:4  And you know the way to where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

John tell us about Thomas because there is value in watching an extremely cautious man come to faith.  This is not just some kind of mass hysteria going on here.  And in the end, Thomas’s confession of Jesus is the fullest and most magnificent in John’s book.  Barclay said “he was not airing his doubts just for the sake of mental acrobatics; he doubted in order to become sure; and when he did, his certainty was complete.”

John 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

The sense of the verb is that the other disciples “kept on telling him.”  He doesn’t believe the other disciples in spite of their repeated testimony.  In fact, he wants more evidence that they’re even claiming to have had.  He’s not interested in either participating in some kind of religious make-believe or in some kind of non-physical “spiritual” ghost-type resurrection.  The “I will not believe it” is closer to “I will certainly not believe it.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Jesus could have been touched in exactly the physical way that Thomas talked about.  This was a real, physical event.  Nevertheless, there is probably a note of rebuke in Jesus’s statement.  Thomas crossed the line into impudence.  Jesus invites him to “stop doubting, but on the contrary believe.”

28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas recognizes 1) Jesus’s miraculous presence, 2) Jesus’s supernatural knowledge, and 3) his own impudence, and makes the most complete Gospel confession of Jesus.

John 8:28  So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM.

John 20:29  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

It was vital that there be witnesses, but the ordinary person is promised no glimpse of the risen Christ in this life.  We are encouraged to rely upon the written accounts of reliable witnesses.

Romans 10:17  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

“Blessed” Not any more blessed than Thomas, but blessed indeed.

John 20:30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

This is John’s wrap-up of the main part of his account.  This is the plain statement of why he has written.  He’s hit the high point and the rest is epilogue.  Nothing greater could be said about Jesus.  One of the commentators said about these verses that if you are writing biography of a great dead person, you strive to be complete, but John’s not doing that.  He’s introducing us to One who is living.

He couldn’t tell everything, but he’s given us enough that we can believe and thereby have life.  The perfect tense that he uses to say “these are written” carries an air of permanence.  John has written to bear witness to the grand fact that God has acted on our behalf in Christ, and that there is thus life and wholeness if we will take it.  John says this reliance upon God has content.  It is not some vague thing.  It is reliance upon the facts that Jesus is Messiah, God’s anointed One, and that He is the Son of God, one with the Father.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 18:28-19:37

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a re-post of a lesson first posted in March 2015.

The fundamental problem of the Bible is this: God is absolutely holy and perfect. Human beings are fallen, rebellious, and broken. By nature and choice we are sinful, unfit for His presence. How then, does a holy God maintain His perfection and holiness, and yet have mercy on such as you and me? If He ignores our sin, if He just looks the other way, He’s not just. But if He is just, it seems like we’re hopelessly undone. In this text we’re given the astonishing, awful, wonderful Gospel answer to this completely impossible problem. God, Himself, in the person of Christ Jesus bears the crushing weight of just punishment for sedition and blasphemy against Himself, and in that He gives us life.

In these verses and events we are at the very center of the Bible message. They are profound and deep, and are to be approached carefully, reverently, in holy awe. We have here a telling of the circumstances of the Death of the King of Glory.

John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

John 18:29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”

John 18:30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”

John 18:31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”

John 18:32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus is brought to Pilate and the stated charge is “doing evil.” In the illegal show trial before the high priest and the Jewish council recorded by both Matthew and Luke, the charge was blasphemy. The accusation brought against Jesus there concerned His claim to be God’s Son. That is a true piece of evidence. And if the facts don’t match the claim, then blasphemy is a right description of His claim. But His accusers know that correct or not, such a charge won’t get Him killed by the Roman authorities. They’ve got to make one that will work in a Roman civil court. In verse 30, it sounds like they are a bit vague, maybe fishing for what will work. But listen to what Pilate hears.

John 18:33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Are you the King? Indeed He is THE KING. Handel got this right in his composing of “Messiah.” He’s the King of Glory. He’s the One of whom Psalm 24 speaks when it says

Psalm 24:7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!

Psalm 24:9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

He, Jesus, is the promised Son of king David. He IS the promised eternal King. Of course, that is not what the accusers are insinuating. They are recasting their charge of blasphemy as a false charge of civil sedition. As far as Pilate is concerned, the Jews can have their silly religious disputes, as long as there is civil order. But the accusers make Jesus out to be a political figure, a threat to Roman rule.

John 18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”

John 18:35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”

Pilate is no Jew. And he has no evidence that Jesus is a political subversive. There was that strange parade into the city a few days ago, on Palm Sunday, but Pilate has no basis to know that Jesus was consciously fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And even if Pilate had understood what Jesus was doing, it was no political threat to Roman authority.

Jesus makes a complete answer to Pilate. Yes, He is THE KING. No, He is not guilty of sedition. He says:

John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

John 18:37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

John 18:38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

Pilate renders an honest verdict on the sedition charge, and in the process speaks prophetically about Jesus. Indeed, there is absolutely NO guilt in Him. Here is the great righteous eternal King judged honestly and found innocent FOR HIMSELF. This is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

John 18:39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”

John 18:40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

The truth regarding Jesus is “not guilty on all charges” (both the blasphemy charge because He really IS God’s Son, and the trumped up civil sedition charge). But fallen humanity doesn’t want a righteous King. In our reprobate state, we don’t want to be ruled by a holy God. We’d rather pretend that we are gods and kings. That’s been the case since Genesis 3. So the cry is not for justice, but for injustice. Spare the unrepentant guilty rebel in the place of the Righteous One.

John 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.

John 19:2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe.

John 19:3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

John 19:4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”

Maybe Pilate can appease the accusers by abusing and humiliating One he knows to be completely innocent. He doesn’t understand Jesus to be God, but he does know Him to be “not guilty.” So Pilate looks for a miserable human compromise that will abuse the truth but perhaps save him from the personal guilt of killing the Innocent.

John 19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

Behold THE MAN. Hear Pilate. He doesn’t really understand what he’s said, but we should. This is the perfect man, the second Adam. Here standing in “the dock” (in the defendant’s box) is the Son of God who is the Son of Man. The apparent defendant here is in Himself innocent of both blasphemy and sedition. But He’s not here for Himself, He’s here for humanity. He’s here for you and for me. He is personally NOT guilty of blasphemy against God nor rebellion against Caesar. BUT … you and I, in whose place He stands, certainly ARE guilty of both blasphemy and sedition against our Creator, the great I AM, the Alpha and Omega. “Behold THE MAN,” says Pilate.

John 19:6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

John 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Christ’s accusers pronounce their own verdict. They aren’t going to be satisfied with a little abuse and humiliation. They want this One, who has plainly claimed to be the Son of God, gone.

John 19:8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.

John 19:9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

Earlier, so that Pilate would know the truth in the case against Him personally, Jesus answered. He personally was innocent. But we are not, and as our representative He is not, and He doesn’t contest the proceedings. He doesn’t seek release. Isaiah prophesied

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Jesus doesn’t demand justice for Himself, because He’s not here on His own behalf! He’s here in your place and mine, and He is receiving the just verdict regarding our sedition and rebellion against the I AM. Believers, there’s no defense that could or should be made on our account, and He’s silent. Of course.

John 19:10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”

John 19:11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

Pilate presumes he’s in control. But neither he nor the accusers are in charge. They are there in the providence of God. Isaiah was told hundreds of years before

Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring;

It was the will of the LORD to crush Him. This is in not in the hands of humanity.

John 19:12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

The accusers apply the pressure of position and self-interest, implicitly threatening to report Pilate to Rome.

John 19:13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.

Pilate’s earlier judgment was spoken more or less in private. Now he takes the official judgment seat. This is an elevated stone platform, out in the open, where verdict and sentence will be pronounced.

John 19:14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

“Behold your King.” In verse 5 Pilate correctly said, “Behold the MAN.” Now he correctly says, “Behold your King.” Before him is our representative who is also THE KING of glory. We must understand that in truth, it’s not Jesus who is on trial here. Pilate has already pronounced Jesus personally innocent. It is us in the person of His accusers on trial. It is fallen humanity whose guilt is about to be definitively established.

John 19:15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Our blood should run cold here. Listen to the self-condemnation of fallen humanity, the confession in open court! “We have no King but Caesar.” Except God grant faith and repentance, we will not be ruled by the real King. We’ll instead have one we make up. We’ll captain our own ship. Listen carefully. This is real sedition. This is real blasphemy. Human beings will reject the real King, who is also the real Man. Instead we’ll take Caesar to rule over us. We’ll put ourselves in the place of the King of Glory. Pilate, acting in official capacity, lets them have their chosen self-judgment. He doesn’t have to utter the verdict. Christ is going to be killed and bear the punishment, but the real guilt and real judgment is on rebellious seditious blasphemous humanity. And while Pilate allows it, the confession and implied judgment is spoken by the chief priests. Pilate doesn’t need to say who is “guilty.” It comes from the lips of the priests. Humanity is, by its own declaration, guilty.

But now, the awesome and wondrous central surprise that is going to unfold here is that the just punishment that rightly accompanies the judgment is not to be suffered by the guilty, but by the Innocent, by our righteous King.

John 19:16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,

John 19:17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.

“He went out,” outside the city. It was against Jewish law to conduct an execution inside the city. And the Old Testament sin offering on the Day of Atonement was carried out “outside the camp.” (See Leviticus 16:27.) Jesus, the real and permanent sin offering for all repentant humanity, is taken outside the city. He is likely bearing the cross piece, and in this act fulfilling the Old Testament type/shadow of Isaac carrying the wood upon which Abraham had been commanded to sacrifice him.

John 19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Fulfilling the words of Isaiah:

Isaiah 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

John 19:19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

John 19:20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.

It was standard to put a sign above a criminal’s head or around his neck giving the charge against him, and the official charge against Jesus was political sedition. Ironically, the false charge provides a true declaration of His identity. It’s written in 3 different languages, for all to read. This Jesus is King of the Jews. He is the King of Glory.

John 19:21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ”

John 19:22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

John 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,

When they had crucified Jesus … Notice what John does and doesn’t emphasize. Crucifixion was a horrible, shameful, cruel death reserved for the worst of offenders. But the Gospels are purposely short on gory details. Their intent is not to evoke our sympathy for Jesus, but rather to show us who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf.

It is fair to see here that Jesus is no stranger to our pain and misery. But the deep horror of this scene isn’t the brutality of the death. Many humans suffer awful deaths, including two others crucified this day. The central point here, the horror, is the wrath of the Father and separation from Him poured out on the Son, rather than on you and me, as He willingly bears the guilt of our sin.

John 19:24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,

John 19:25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

John 19:26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”

John 19:27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

John 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”

“All” was now finished. Everything that the Father had given Him to do is finished. And in fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus, the only source of living water is thirsty.

Psalm 22:15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

John 19:29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

Psalm 69:21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.

Hyssop had a prominent place in the Old Testament, where it was closely connected to atonement for sin.

Psalm 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

In Exodus 12:22 hyssop was prescribed for spreading the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts. In Numbers 19 it was prescribed for sprinkling the blood of the red heifer sacrificed outside the Israelite camp for the purification from sin. Here it figures in the substitutionary death of the King of Glory.

John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

IT is finished. All that the Father had given Him to do is complete. The great work of redemption/your salvation and mine, the perfect keeping of the Law, all of the Old Testament prophecies, all of the types of the Old Testament ceremonies, all of His sufferings, all of IT is finished.

Jesus “gave up his spirit.” Make no mistake, this is a very unusual description of death. You and I don’t “yield up our spirits.” But this is the Son of God and HE is in control of all this.

John 19:31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.

The legs are broken to hasten death. In accord with Deuteronomy 21:22-23, the bodies were to be taken down before nightfall.

John 19:32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.

John 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

What the soldier intends here isn’t completely obvious. Perhaps he’s prodding Jesus to verify that He’s dead, and in this we know that Jesus really died dead. This was no swoon. But what is most important is the sign that comes through this action. This sign points back to the promise that Jesus would give the Spirit.

John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”

John 7:39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

There is living water flowing from Jesus. This is the fulfillment of the Exodus 17:6 picture of Moses striking the rock and water pouring forth. The event fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah:

Zechariah 13:1 On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

Jesus Himself has opened the fountain of water that cleanses from sin and uncleanness.

John 19:35 He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.

This is important. In 1st John, John writes:

1John 5:6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

1John 5:7 For there are three that testify:

1John 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

There’s water and blood. Water is associated in Scripture with the Holy Spirit, with cleansing, and with life. Blood is associated with atonement and forgiveness, and the sacrificial death of a substitute to secure them. In the crucifixion these come together. There is water and blood. In death for our sedition and blasphemy, our great King brought cleansing, life, the Spirit, and full atonement. Those are not separate matters. Indeed, you cannot separate them. There is no real life without provision for sin. And both are aspects of His cross.

John emphasizes that this Jesus is the real sacrificial Passover Lamb and the righteous Man.

John 19:36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”

Speaking of the Passover Lamb, Exodus 12 says:

Exodus 12:46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.

And speaking of the Righteous Man that the LORD watches over, David prophesies:

Psalm 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Psalm 34:20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

John 19:37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

This is a loose quotation from Zechariah 12:10.

Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

Zechariah sees God pierced by the apostasy of Israel, and the people mourning over what they have done, pleading for mercy, and somehow being moved by a spirit of grace. Jesus, God’s Son, has been pierced by the sin of all humanity. We ought to see the cross, mourn the enormity of our sin, plead for mercy, and rejoice in the grace of our relief.

In the death of the Innocent King of Glory, the real guilt of human rebellion/blasphemy/treason against God was judged. As our substitute, Jesus, bore its horrible just punishment. In that act, He provided life, cleansing/justification, atonement, and the Holy Spirit for all who will repent and believe. This is the center of our faith, Christian believers.

Thanks be to our great, glorious, and merciful King. Amen!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 18:28-40

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a short lesson on John’s account of the trial of Jesus before Pilate.

John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

There is awful irony here.  The officials have illegally and unjustly decided on Jesus’s condemnation.  Yet here they are scrupulously keeping the finest details of the Sabbath/Passover law.  They’re in the midst of the most awful thing they could possibly be doing and they’re worrying about ritual defilement.  This is completely absurd.  Ryle quoting Poole here said, “Nothing is more common than for persons overzealous about rituals to be remiss about morals.”  In any case, they come to Pilate.

29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 

There is a reasonable amount known about Pilate from secular historians.  He ruled Judea from AD 26 through AD 36.  The historian Philo tells about his robbery, murder and inhumanity.  Josephus tells of his blunders of government and atrocities.  In Luke 13:1 we can read of a slaughter of Galileans that was his doing.

Pilate says, “What accusation”/charges?”  This seems like a formal/legal proceeding though it is illegal.

30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 

This has an arrogant tone about it.  They didn’t like this man and were on the edge of insulting him and his authority.

31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 

Roman occupation forces upheld local law, but reserved the right of capital punishment.  Implicit here is the idea that the Jews are going to ask for death on grounds that Pilate will recognize as a capital offense.  They’re going to charge political insurrection.  Pilate, for his part, is afraid to cross the mob and would like to avoid the case.  He’s smart enough to know that there was no chance that they’d be clamoring for the death of one whose plan was to throw off Roman rule.

32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

If the Jews had executed Jesus, it would have been by stoning.  Jesus has said it would be otherwise.

John 12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 

33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

John is speaking in sync with Jesus’s own words.

John 18:33  So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 

Are you a political rebel?  The title that Pilate uses, “King of the Jews,” is a title used by the last truly independent rulers (the Hasmonean priest/kings) before the arrival of the Romans in Palestine.

34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 

There is a double meaning here.  As Pilate is thinking, the title “king” means political rebel.  Prophetically it means “messianic king.”  Jesus is  not asking this question to gain information.  He’s asking to force Pilate to consider the shameful injustice of this whole situation.  It’s the same kind of question as “Adam, where are you?” in the garden.

35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 

Pilate disavows any firsthand knowledge of what’s gone on.  Instead he asks “What have you done?” claiming that this will answer the question whether Jesus is a threat to Roman rule.

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 

Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate directly.  Rather, he begins to explain to Pilate the nature of His kingship.  He says plainly that His kingdom is not a temporal one supported by armies and taxes and the trappings of earthly power.  It is a real kingship, in fact the most real kingship, for sure … but not the kind of kingship that Pilate should worry about as a political threat.  Pilate doesn’t pay attention.

37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 

Pilate says “So you are a king and therefore a political threat” … Jesus says “No, listen.  I’m not a politician.  I’m here to testify about Truth .  I AM the Truth.”  There is an implicit challenge to Pilate in what Jesus says to respond to that Truth.  Pilate wants to reduce all to politics and power here and now.  Jesus won’t let him do that.

38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 

Pilate is impatient and is turning from the Truth.  The big questions of life are not really of interest to him.  He dismisses them as of no account.  He breaks off the conversation, uninterested in any answer to his question.  Compare what Proverbs has to say about Wisdom.

Proverbs 2:4  if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,

5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

Pilate is instead a “practical” man.  He tries to remain neutral between Jesus/the Truth and the world/the Jewish accusers.  He looks for an easy way out.  He’d like there to be some middle ground.

39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 

In Pilate’s mind, the plan here is that everyone gets what he wants.  He declares Jesus guilty and worthy of death.  That makes the Jews happy.  Then they turn around and choose to have Him released and Pilate doesn’t have His blood on his hands.  Everyone goes home happy … crooked, but happy.  But the knot-headed Jews won’t play ball.

40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

This is terribly ironic.  The Jews have presented Jesus (who is morally innocent) as a political rebel (which they know He is not).  They end up asking for the release of a real political rebel who is morally guilty of murder and under no interpretation of their won Jewish law should be released.  Pilate, by his trying to remain neutral, ends up doing something contrary to his own interests, releasing a real threat to Roman rule.  When we set out to suppress the Truth, the consequences are always insane.  And this is turning crazy.

It is also a picture of the substitution of Christ for all of us.  We all stand in the place of Barabbas, genuinely guilty and worthy of death.  And Christ died the death we ought to have died.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson John 17

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a re-post of a lesson first posted in February 2015.

This chapter is the high priestly prayer of Jesus. It’s essentially the last thing the disciples hear from Jesus before the crucifixion. From a human perspective, we have here a most undistinguished rag-tag bunch of no-accounts huddled for a last time with their Master (who has failed to gain any huge acceptance or understanding of His real purpose or identity) on the eve of His embarrassing execution at the hands of the Romans. In truth and in the eyes of God, this is the Son of God about to accomplish a glorious salvation for you and me, praying for Himself and disciples chosen of God, who will by the strength of God, turn the world upside down with the message of the cross.

Jesus prays. This is formally addressed to the Father, but is in fact meant as much to instruct the disciples and us about the relationship of Jesus to the Father and us to them as it is to be a set of requests made to the Father.

Jesus begins by praying for Himself.

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

“Father” is “Abba,” an intimate form of address. The time has come. The time has come for the crucifixion and resurrection. The time has come for the plan of redemption to be completed.

Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you. The Father’s glory and the glory that Jesus will have in being perfectly obedient and bringing men to God are inseparable, all part of the same whole. There is no place for Jesus to have glory apart from the Father. (If we have any sense we will realize that there is no place for us to have any glory outside God’s work in and through us. If we do anything well, it is only His doing and ought to be only for His praise.)

2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

you have given (already in the past)/that he might give/to all whom you have given. Here again is the intertwining/inseparability of the actions of the Father and Son. Jesus gives eternal life, but it is in the context of the Father giving to Jesus.

The tense in “all whom you have given” is the perfect tense. It is completed and is still in effect. The disciples have been given to Jesus and He is still in possession of them.

Jesus gives eternal life. It is eternal in the sense of being everlasting and eternal in the sense of belonging to the eternal God. It is God’s life.

3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

What is this eternal life? It is to be in right relationship with, to have intimate knowledge of, the one true and living God. To know God is not only to know what He is like, but to be on the most intimate terms of friendship with Him. And this is only possible through the Son. Knowing the Father is inseparable from knowing Jesus. The tense of “that they may know you” implies that the knowledge is a continuing action.

4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

Jesus is so committed to the will of God that He can speak of the work as already completed. There is no question that He will endure it for you and for me. The die is cast. Jesus is going through to the end.

In the case of Jesus, it is His obedience to the Father and willingness to do things His way that brought glory to the Father. It’s no different for us. Actions speak louder than words.

5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus anticipates His return to the position that He had with the Father before the beginning of time. His obedience has honored the Father and the Father will honor Him for the obedience. Truly, providing the way for countless multitudes of us to come to salvation will bring Jesus glory and honor. It’s always the hard thing, not the easy route that brings glory. You honor a good student by giving him or her the hard task. A general sends his best units to do the most difficult assignment.

Jesus says what He has done.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

This is in some sense an amplification on verse 4, another way of saying the same thing. In completing the work given Him by the Father, He has brought the Father glory and revealed God to the disciples. The Father’s name is His character. The obedience of Jesus has produced obedience in the lives of the disciples.

7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Only as people see the Father at work in the Son, do they have a right concept of both the Father and the Son. The disciples had gotten to that point.

8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

The disciples may not have it all together, but their hearts are right and they recognize Jesus and what He’s told them for what they are, God’s word to man and God’s provision to man. They believed. They put their faith in, relied upon, trusted in, cleaved to Christ.

Jesus now prays for His little group of disciples.

9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

At this point Jesus is praying specifically for the disciples. It is obviously not the case that Jesus has no concern for the rest of humanity. But it is those the Father has given Him, the ones that have chosen to follow Him, those who are going to be His instruments to address the rest of humanity for whom He prays here.

When Jesus does (somewhat indirectly) pray for the world in verses 21 and 23, it is essentially that the world would cease to be worldly.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Again, the Father and Son are in perfect harmony. Regarding “yours are mine” Luther said, “This no creature can say with reference to God.”

I am glorified in them. Again, chronologically this has not yet come to pass. Indeed, in human terms, it is totally unlikely! This rag-tag bunch of fellows is going to bring glory to Him and the Father? But Jesus looks at this as an accomplished fact.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Holy Father, protect them. Antagonism between the work of God and the world system (human society organizing itself without God) is real and simply to be expected. Persecution of God’s people will come. Jesus doesn’t ask that the disciples be taken out of the world. His mission was in the world and so is theirs. What He does pray for is their protection (see verse 15).

The name of God not only stands for His character, but for His power.

Psalm 20:1 May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!

Psalm 54:1 O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might.

Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

Jesus prays “that they may be one as we are one.” The basis for Christian unity is the unity that already exists in the trinity. We ought to think about the nature of that unity and by implication our unity as believers. It is unity of purpose and heart and will. It involves submitting oneself to the Father. It brings God glory. It is not organizational ecumenisms, or somehow looking like peas in a pod.

The sense of the disciples being one is not that they become one, but that they continually be one. Christian unity is already a fact. It is God’s doing, not something that we must achieve or for that matter could achieve by any of our own means. We sometimes talk as if it is something for us to manufacture in order to please God. It is instead something that already exists. We’ve got the power to destroy it by falling into the ways of the world and letting the old man have his way in our lives. Instead of praying for unity, we ought to pray to be delivered from evil ways and selfishness.

12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Christ had protected them by virtue of who He is, God incarnate. The “son of destruction” points to character rather than destiny. The expression means Judas was characterized by “lostness,” not predestined to be lost. Calvin said, “It would be wrong for anyone to infer from this that Judas’ fall should be imputed to God rather than himself, in that necessity was laid on him by the prophecy.”

13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Looking at the reality here truly ought to bring us joy. Our salvation is about to be finished on Calvary. God is our protection in the present world.

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

Again, it should come to us as no surprise that believers suffer the persecution and antagonism of the world. Its system is at war with God. We are not of the world because we don’t have its mind set independent of God. We’re not hostile to God and are thus are going to suffer the world’s disdain.

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

“Sanctify” them. The word has two related meanings. There is “to set apart” for a special task. There is also “to develop in a person the qualities of mind, heart, and character necessary to complete that task.” It is set apart and equip them “in the truth.” Jesus Himself is the truth.

18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Salvation is not just for the purpose of being saved. The disciples are consecrated, sanctified, set apart, equipped for God’s service and to do what He asked. So too us.

Jesus prays for you and me.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

This is good news for us. We today are a part of this prayer.

21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Unity (opened in verse 11) has to be seen. The world is supposed to see Christian unity and take note. There has to be here community, forbearance, patience, kindness generosity, real love, or it won’t be visible. Real unity is God’s. If we don’t destroy it, it is a beautiful, attractive thing, something that draws people to Christ. There is in this verse the important cycle that faith produces unity produces others coming to faith.

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

The “as” here has two dimensions. Our unity is as/like the unity between the Father and Son. It is also caused by the unity of the Father and the Son. Again, if our unity is to be like the unity between the Father and Son, it will be a singleness of purpose and heart, and a submitting of ourselves to God.

23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Again, ultimately this has its basis in verse 3 above. And here is our heavenly destiny:

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.

26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.