The Doctrine of Illumination in John’s Gospel

sunray through trees

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)
— John 6:63–64 —

The doctrine of illumination explains how spiritual insight is given to God’s children by the Holy Spirit. The locus classicus for this doctrine is 1 Corinthians 2:10–16, where the Apostle Paul explains the difference between those with the Spirit and those without. Describing this difference, he identifies two kinds of people—the natural man (i.e., the man without the Spirit) and the spiritual man (i.e., the man with the gift of the Spirit). In Paul’s thinking, there is no third category. The only way a man can rightly understand the mind of God is to have God himself reveal himself to the man. This occurs first in conversion, but then progressively in sanctification as the Spirit continues to instruct the saints through God’s Word (cf. John 17:17).

Going further, doctrine of illumination is the personal and subjective complement to the doctrine of inspiration. Whereas the Spirit inspired the words of the biblical authors (2 Pet. 1:19–21), the same Spirit must give light to the Scripture, in order for the child of God to understand God, his world, and his salvation. Without this illumination, the sinner remains in the dark—totally lost and wholly unable to find God (cf. Acts 17:27). Continue reading

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

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Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

Hunger is a universal experience. So is thirst. And so is seeking to find food and drink in times of need.

Importantly, God made us creatures who need food and drink. And he did this not only because that is how organisms live, but that’s how God works. In other words, by giving us thirst, hunger, and the experience of seeking physical satisfaction, God is teaching us something about himself.

God is our spiritual food!

In John 6, this comes to the forefront as seekers cross the Sea of Galilee to find Jesus and fill their stomachs. Only in this case, Jesus exposes their errant seeking and he in turn leads them to seek food that will not perish.

Indeed, so many of our sins, follies, frustrations, and setbacks are caused by not knowing how to live on Christ, to feed on Christ, and to delight ourselves in Christ. But when we come to Christ and seek life in him, he teaches us that he is the bread of eternal life. And all who feed on him will be saved.

On Sunday, I considered what this means in John 6:22–40. You can find the sermon here. You can also find last weeks sermon too. Next week, Lord willing, I’ll pick up the sacramental language of Jesus calling us to eat his body and drink his blood. Stay tuned.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

“I Thirst”: A Good Friday Meditation on the Meticulous Detail of Christ’s Cross

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

Nothing was done by Christ which was not foretold;
nothing was ever foretold by the Prophets concerning Christ, which was not done.
— Alexander Watson —

Tomorrow I will preach a Good Friday message focusing on the single word: dipsō (“I thirst”). For the last four years, our church has considered on Good Friday one of the seven words spoken on the cross. This year, we come to the fifth word, “I thirst,” a word that highlights the humanity of Jesus and the hostility of his enemies (see the context of Psalm 69). But it also shows how meticulous our Lord was in fulfilling Scripture.

In John 19:28, the Apostle notes the sharpness of Jesus’s mind, even as he bears the pain of crucifixion. And what is on Jesus’s mind as hangs on the cross? The Word of God that he must fulfill. To that point, he says, “I thirst,” a statement that may refer to Psalm 22:15, but more probably cites Psalm 69:21, which speaks of drinking sour wine, which Jesus does in John 19:29.

Tomorrow, I will consider the meaning of this fifth word, but today, I want to focus on the way Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the Old Testament, including this final statement of thirst. To help with this, I turn to Alexander Watson, a nineteenth century Anglican curate, who in 1847 preached a series of sermons called “The Seven Saying on the Cross; Or, The Dying Christ Our Prophet, Priest, and King.”  For the last few years, I have read these sermons—one per year—and have profited greatly. (For those in the know, I have not preached Watson’s sermons).

Continue reading

What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

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What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

Who do you listen to? And how well do you listen? An honest answer to those questions will tell you a lot about who you are and who you will be in five, ten, or fifty (thousand) years.

Few things are more important than the voices that we will listen to. And few gifts are more precious than men and women who testify to the grace of God in the gospel. If you are listening to others who speak of Christ, point to Christ, and help you follow Christ, you can know these are not just good friends, they are gifts from God.

On Sunday, we considered a similar line of thought as we heard the testimony of four “witnesses” who all tell us something about Christ. At a time when Jesus’ identity was in question and his actions were inviting opposition and the threat of death, Jesus turns to John the Baptist, his works, his Father, and the Scriptures to declare that he is the true Son of God.

Just the same, we need to hear these voices today, as they tell us who Jesus. Moreover, with these witnesses, Jesus warns us of many deadly symptoms of unbelief. Therefore, if you are looking to see who Jesus is or if your faith is genuine, this sermon may help. You can listen to exposition of John 5:30–47 here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The True Sabbath-Giver: Finding Eternal Rest in Our Superstitious, Secular Age (John 5:1–18)

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The True Sabbath-Giver: Finding Eternal Rest in Our Superstitious, Secular Age

In his book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor takes a long time to make a simple argument: Five hundred years ago it was impossible not to believe in God. Whether it was Christianity or some other religion, the world was filled with the divine. Today, however, the influences of science, technology, modern life and postmodern thought, have made belief in God nearly impossible. Or at least, it has become impossible to submit to a view of God and the world that is transcendent over places and true for all people.

Recently, we have seen this denial of God and his world in national news.  When a highly educated supreme court appointee doesn’t know what a woman is she – a woman – is feigning ignorance of biology in order to not offend the masses. Clearly, our civilization is not the same as it was when the light of Christ was brighter. Yet, darkness of the world does not diminish the spiritual need that humans have. Indeed, our secular age is not less religious. Instead, people just worship things that don’t deserve worship.

To say it differently, where the worship of a true and living God is lost superstitions abound. This is true for individuals, families, nations, and churches. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human heart. And if this is true today, it was equally true in Jesus day.

In John 5, we find something odd. Sitting just outside the temple was a group of invalids waiting for the waters to be stirred up in the pool of Bethesda. According to verse 7, and later clarified by the addition of verse 4, we find that many in Jerusalem sought healing not through prayer but through practices associated with other pagan mysterious religions. Clearly, something is wrong!

Indeed, entering a new part of John’s Gospel, the reader is brought back to Jerusalem, but instead of finding people in God’s city awaiting Israel’s restoration, like we see in Luke’s Gospel. We find a multitude of invalids waiting for a miracle that will never come. As Edward Klink notes,

With the abundance of evidence [around the Mediterranean] that pagan religion regularly used healing shrines with water as a regular component, it is not unlikely that [the tradition reported by John] is rooted in folk legend, possibly even a popular Jewish tradition.  (John, 269–70)

Wherever these pagan ideas came from, superstition has gripped a large number in Jerusalem. Even worse, the Jews – i.e., Jewish leaders – have done nothing about it. Rather like the priests condemned in the Old Testament, these guardians of the temple have permitted false worship and errant superstition. Even more, as they patrol the city watching for Jews who might be violating Sabbath, they have no care or compassion for those who are truly suffering.

So that’s the situation we find in John 5, and it will continue until John 11. For seven chapters, Jesus will be confronted by Jewish leaders even as he exposes their hypocrisy. In John 5:1 we read “After this [i.e.. the second sign in Galilee] there was a feast in Jerusalem.” The feast is not named, presumably because John wants to focus on the Sabbath, which is named in verse 9.

So in John 5, Jesus enters the scene on an unmarked Sabbath day. And in all that follows he is going to expose the weakness of the Sabbath under the old covenant, and he is going to give Sabbath rest to the man in ways anticipating the new covenant. That is to say, he is going to heal this man and send him to the temple, so that he can truly come to know the God of Israel (see John 5:14). And for us reading John 5, we come to learn something about superstitions, our Savior, and the Sabbath.

On Sunday, I preached on John 5 and you can find that sermon here. And in that message you will find the good news of Jesus Christ who is our true and better Sabbath-giver. Check back tomorrow too, where I will try to show why John 5, among other passages, does not permit me to be a Sabbatarian. Until then you can read this and leave comments below.

For now, may we give praise to God that the Son invites us to find rest in him and that such rest is not contingent upon our works but his.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Joshua Hurricks on Pexels.com

The Wedding Planner: What John 2–4 Teaches Us About Jesus, Marriage, Resurrections, and the End of All Things

white and black houses with brown grass with overlooking mountain under white sky

For a few years in seminary, I was the graduation coordinator for our school. This meant that every spring we hosted 2000 people to watch 200 students graduate. On the big day, one of the most important parts of the ceremony was the pledge spoken by the president and the students. And that pledge required reading a covenant from the graduation bulletin.

Most years this went off without a hitch, but one year we forgot to put bulletins on the graduates seats, so that by the time that the president was looking for the graduates to respond, there was no response.

It was a semi-catastrophe, and one that required a few people to run around throwing bulletins to graduates. Clearly big events require a myriad of specific details to make them run smoothly.

The same is true in salvation. If God is going bring salvation to the world as John 4:42 says, there are an infinite number of details that go into giving eternal life to those who deserve everlasting death. To be specific the number of details is not actually infinite, because God alone is infinite. But the number of details is so large that the whole of humanity could not discover it,  even if everyone of us was named Solomon or Einstein or Elon.

The truth is, God delights to create a world so manifestly complex that he alone can run it. And marvelously in the middle of his vast creation he enjoys wedding planning too. In fact, the world as we know it began with a wedding in Eden and it will end with a wedding in Zion. In between, God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose—which is the eternal union between Christ and his bride. Continue reading

Seeing New Creation Light in John 2–4: Three Ways Jesus Replaces the Darkness of the Old Covenant

brown and green grass field during sunset

A few weeks ago I offered a literary analysis of John 2–4. Today, I’ll add a few more thoughts on this remarkable passage.

In John 2–4, Marriage and Resurrection Go Together in Sign and Substance

First, there is an undeniable inclusio that connects Jesus’s first sign (turning water into wine) in John 2:1–12 to his second sign (healing the royal official’s son) in John 4:47–54. Observing the connections between these two bookends, Jim Hamilton finds 6 connections, to show how John mirrors these two events. Here is how he frames it (John, 101).

  • A need is communicated to Jesus (4:47; cf. 2:3),
  • but he initially rebuffs the petitioner (4:48; cf. 2:4).
  • When the petitioner responds in faith (4:49; cf. 2:5),
  • Jesus gives a command that is obeyed (4:50; cf. 2:7-8),
  • at which point the need is met (4:51-52; cf. 2:9-10).
  • These are then identified as the first and second signs, in response to which people believe in Jesus (4:53-54; cf. 2:11).

To this we could add the observation that the wedding takes place on the third day (John 2:1), as does the healing of the official’s son—i.e., it occurs on the day after the second day (4:40, 43).

From these seven links in the text, it would be a failure to “hear” John if we did not read them together. And what happens when we let the wine interpret the healing and vice versa? My short answer is that the themes of the wedding and its wine, combined with the resurrection of the son, are make a theological claim that the resurrection of the Son is what brings the wine of God’s new creation marriage. Continue reading

Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Here: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 2) — A Sermon on John 4:16–26

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Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Here: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) —A Sermon on John 4:16–26

Where do you worship? And why? Does the location of your worship matter? Or is it a matter totally inconsequential? When you worship, are you intentionally addressing the Father, the Son, and the Spirit? Or can you simply focus on God? Moreover, are you satisfied to worship alone? Or do you need—are you required—to worship with others?

The more you think about worship, the more you realize how much goes into answering questions about true worship. And the more you let Scripture speak to you on these matters, the more you realize how clearly Scripture says about how, who, and where you worship. You may also realize how much the church has not spoken clearly about worship.

In Scripture, there is a  sense in which we worship everywhere we go. As Romans 12:1–2 says, we are living sacrifices who can and should worship God at all times and in all places. Yet, this everywhere-ness of worship is not something that ancient Israelites, living under the old covenant, would have understood. And maybe it is something that our place-less society needs to recover. For just because Christians do not need to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, does not mean place is unimportant.

Indeed, prior to Pentecost worship was always conducted on or at a mountain. Such worship may have been true or false, pure or defiled, but worship had a place. And more than a place, worship had a people. In all of the Old Testament (and the New), worship was never an individual affair; it was always shared with other members of the covenant community. Knowing these facts helps us appreciate what is happening in John 4. Continue reading

What Does Baptism Look Like? Seven Observations from John 3:22–36

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2“Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”
— John 3:26b —

In John 3 a dispute about baptism arose between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew. While unnamed, this Jew caused an existential crisis for the followers of John. So great is their concern about purification, baptism, and the rise of Jesus, they run to their teacher and point to his baptism. Verse 26 captures their concern: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

In this question about baptism, prompted by a dispute about purification, we find an analogue to modern debates about this biblical ordinance. Today, there are questions related to the mode, the subject, and the place. That is: Does sprinkling or pouring count as baptism? What about sprinkling a believer? Or immersing an infant? (See video below). Does a private baptism between friends qualify? And how should we understand the difference (or similarities) between the initiating rite of the old covenant (circumcision) and the initiating rite of the new covenant (water baptism)? All these questions and more need biblical answers.

[The Greek Orthodox remind us that baptizō means immersion, plunging, dipping].

Over the last few years, I have written multiple articles on baptism in the Bible and its pre-requisite for membership in the church. As an unashamed Baptist, who affirms the historical confessions of London, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and Nashville, I will continue to write on the subject. Why? Because baptism continues to come up in conversation with visitors and others who are thinking about membership at our church.

With that in mind, I offer another exegetical take on baptism—one that comes from John’s Gospel and the dispute about baptism found therein. Following the imperative to “Look!” we will look at what John says about John’s baptism, Jesus’s baptism, and the conversation in John 3 about the new birth, baptism in the Spirit, and the practice of baptizing repentant believers. So, with this visual approach to John 3, I offer seven things we see about baptism. Here’s the list; explanations will follow.

  1. Baptism is performed in public with a group of witnesses.
  2. Baptism requires biblical discernment.
  3. Baptism is handled by Jesus’s disciples, not Jesus.
  4. Baptism is always by immersion.
  5. Baptism requires people to seek water.
  6. Baptism leads to disputations.
  7. Baptism requires humility.

Continue reading

Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

close up shot of bible text

The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading