The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

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The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

When Jesus died and rose again, rocks cracked open, tombs emptied, and creation shook. As Matthew reports it, there was an earthquake associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. And that earthquake not only shook creation, it also raised the dead. As Matthew 27:52 says,

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,  and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

While this resurrection of the holy ones is mysterious, it shows the power of God to change the world  and to change a life. Death is not the final word to God, because God has the power to put death to death. And in Christ’s resurrection, this what he did and is still doing to those who he raises to life today (see Eph. 2:5)

Not surprisingly, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it also sent shockwaves into the world. First, it touched the lives of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, as well as those who saw Lazarus raised. Then quickly, news of Lazarus resurrection went viral. Just as God intended, Lazarus’s illness did not result in death  but in the glory of God (John 11:1–6).

Indeed, as God’s glory spread like a light over Jerusalem, it began shake the city. Jesus’s light began to give illumine believers and expose unbelievers. Just like the rest of Jesus’s ministry in John, news of this resurrection served to separate light from darkness and faith from unbelief. More exactly, Jesus’s seventh sign served as the climactic event that would lead to his death. Indeed, Lazarus’s resurrection had such a powerful effect  that everyone in Jerusalem was forced to take a side—Will you trust Jesus? Or will you reject him?

In fact, that’s the whole point of John’s Gospel and the point of the passage before us (John 11:45–12:11)—namely, to give us an unshakably faith by way of Christ’s resurrection shockwaves. Or to put it the other way round, the shockwaves of the resurrection produce unshakable faith.

Consider how this works: when we come to John 11:45 we are immediately confronted with the effects of Lazarus new life. In John 11:1–16 we have the set up for the resurrection of Lazarus. In John 11:17–44  we have the resurrection itself. And now in in John 11:45–12:11, we have the shockwaves of the resurrection.

As verses 45–46 indicate, these shockwaves do one of two things—they either produce faith or hostility. Notice the contrast here: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”

Already in John, we have seen this kind of separation. Jesus does something—e.g., he heals the sick or he feeds the 5,000—and people must make a decision. Will you believe on him, or not? And now, Jesus is at it again. Only now he has raised someone from the dead and has performed his seventh sign within ear shot of Jerusalem.

On Sunday this is what I preached, as I showed from John 11:45–12:11 how Christ’s power to raise the dead gives us a firm foundation on which to build our faith. You can listen to the sermon here. And you can see a bit more on the passage here.

As we remember the resurrection power of Christ, may we have confidence in him to secure us and save us even from all the deadly threats that surround us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

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The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

John’s Gospel is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). And in John’s Gospel there are many ways eye-witnesses testify to Christ and many other ways John shows followers of Jesus coming to and growing in faith. In fact, John 11 is one of the key places where believers are pressed to believe and to believe more deeply.

For all Christians, there is a need to grow in faith. While God grants spiritual life and Christ-centered faith, living faith cannot stagnate. It must be exercised in order to grow. Even more, what faith God has given for today will not carry us into tomorrow or for the next ten years, unless it grows. Accordingly, we need daily grace for growing faith.

Wonderfully, God delights to uphold the faith of his saints. He who gives us faith in the new birth also gives us strength to keep believing. And Sunday’s sermon, I showed from John 11 how God grew the faith of Martha, Mary, and many others, as he raised Lazarus from the dead.

You can find the sermon here. You can also find last week’s sermon on John 11:1–16 here. I pray it may strengthen your faith as you continue to trust in the one who is the resurrection and the life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan to Displace Darkness With Light (A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

john03The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan
To Displace Darkness With Light
(A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

In the Bible, we find a series of ironic reversals that move the story of salvation from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden City of Zion.

For instance, when Haman was hung on his own gallows, on the very day that this enemy of God sought to destroy the Jews, God reversed the course of events and saved Israel and sentenced Haman to death (see the Book of Esther). This is but one biblical example of a last second, game-winning ironic reversal.

In Scripture, victories over giants (1 Samuel 17), plagues by night (2 Kings 19), deadly fish that become emissaries of salvation (Jonah) become common features of God’s salvation. Accordingly, God’s people begin to trust that God will bring light in moments of darkness. And more, God actually delights to make the dark darker, before bringing such moments of light-giving salvation.

So great is this pattern of salvation, that Mary could praise God for his promise to raise up the humble and knock down the proud, even as she faced a life of hardship of being the the mother of God (see Luke 1:46–56). Steeped in the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus prayed to God like Hannah (1 Samuel 2), and David (Psalm 18), and the prophets (see e.g., Isaiah 60). And not surprisingly, this pattern of ironic reversals culminates in the death and resurrection of her son, Jesus Christ. Killed at the hands of wicked men, it appeared that all  hope was lost. Holy Saturday was a dark day. But on the third day, just as God had long ago promised, Jesus rose from the grave, proving that the dark is not dark to God (Ps. 139:1–6).

Indeed, the promise of light shining in the dark is a theme that runs through the Bible and one that culminates in many ways in John 9. Following God’s pattern for ironic reversals, this chapter shows us how a man born in darkness (i.e., born blind) is brought to the light. Meanwhile, those who lit the torches in the temple and proclaimed to have the light, were, by their unbelief, consigned to darkness. And why the difference? Well, that is what John 9 reveals.

And on Sunday, John 9 is what we considered. Indeed, to those who think they have power and authority to rule by their own wisdom, Jesus teaches us that he will withdraw his light. But to those who walk in darkness crying out for light, God the Son delights to come and save. This is the great reversal that stands at the center of the world. And in this sermon, you can see what Christ’s light has to say to us, in a world seeking salvation by a Great Reset. In truth, we need a Great Reversal. And thankfully that is what Christ has given us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Seeing John 9 with New Eyes: A Few Notes on Literary Structure

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As I continue to study John’s Gospel, I grow increasingly amazed at the beloved disciple’s use of literary structure. Here’s a sampling of things to see in John 1–9.

For sake of time, I’m just going to leave this outline here. You can begin to make some biblical and theological connections as you read the chapter for yourself. Or check back in a week or so, and Lord willing, my sermon on John 9 will be up.

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Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Joshua Hurricks on Pexels.com

Truth on Trial: Seeing Who You Are By Hearing the ‘I AM’ (John 8:48–59)

john03Here is a life principle: Trials tell you who you are.

How many of us have thought we were strong, smart, and self-sufficient, until the trial came. Likewise, how many continue to believe they are calm, cool, and collected, until the trial.

Trials in life can have names like Alice or Anthony, COVID or cancer, divorce or depression. But whatever the trial is, it is the God-given means by which he reveals who we are.

Such trial are all the more more pronounced, if they take off their metaphorical garb and put on the legal robes of a judge. Maybe you have seen some of the fall out since Roe was overturned by the Dobbs decision.

Resident Biden announced by Twitter that abortion needs to be ratified as law. Senator Elizabeth Warren said that we need to crack down on anti-abortion pregnancy centers. And as I was typing this very sentence, an email came in with an update on David Dalaiden and his 9 felony counts that exposed Planned Parenthood for selling the body parts of babies.

Here’s the point: Currently and in the near future, more Christians will face real and legal trials. Just ask Barronelle Stutzman Stutzman and Jack Phillips, two faithful disciples of Christ, whose public faith required legal defense. So too with the Dobbs decision their will come Christians whose faith leads them to various trials and law courts.

So I say again, trials tell you who you are. And lest we think that Christians should avoid courts at all cost, we should get used to the fact, that faithfulness in twenty-first century America will include legal battles. And these battles—for those on the witness stand and those praying and watching and waiting—will reveal the character of all parties in involved. Continue reading

On Dobbs and the Growing Rift in America: Why Only a Spiritual Answer Explains the Division 

abortion[Photo Credit: Not The Bee]

June 24 is a date that all Christians should now mark on their calendar.

For nearly half a century, January 22 was the day that remembered the decision to make abortion available throughout America. And since the decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, January 22 has been a day of prayer, petition, and planning for the end of Roe. And now, that prayer has been answered. Glory be to God!

On Friday, when the Supreme Court decided that Roe was not constitutional, they gave us a new day on the calendar to remember the sanctity of life and to give thanks to God for his mercy. June, a month co-opted for gay pride, has returned the rainbow, if for a moment, to its rightful owner—the God of mercy who does not give us what we deserve (see Genesis 9). More on the rainbow another day.

For now, it is worth remembering how the removal of Roe has been a rallying point for Pro-Life Christians for decades. And now that Roe has been overturned, we should give thanks to God for answering our prayers, and we should honor all those who sacrificed in order to make it happen.

Simultaneously, we should acknowledge the ways that elections have tangible consequences. In the election of Donald Trump, evangelicals supported this polarizing figure not because of his skin color, personal faith, or Twitter personality (definitely not his Twitter), but because of promises like this:

Incredibly, he fulfilled those promises. And Roe is now history.

At the same time, Roe’s end should bring incrementalists and abolitionists closer together, as they work to implement laws which protect life. Abolitionists should give thanks for the work incrementalists have done to end Roe, and incrementalists should take up the challenge set out by abolitionists to legislate equal protection under the law. Far more could be accomplished if these two approaches to abortion would work together.

Still, this post and the sermon that follows are less about abortion qua abortion. Rather, they are a biblical reflection on the spiritual warfare that fuels the battle over abortion. Indeed, as already evidenced by 41 cases of vandalism against pro-life groups, Christians should be ready for the increasing hostility that will come with the Dobbs decision. This is the point I want to make here.

Continue reading

Three Literary Mountains: Seeing the Chiastic Structures of John 7

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When I preached through the Five Books of the Psalms a few years ago, I began to see chiasms as “literary mountains” (see below). Which is to say, just as mountains in the Bible serve as meeting places with God, so chiastic structures (literary mountains) do the same. Because chiasms put stress on the high point of the passage, we should seek to understand how the author builds his argument and his artistry around that centerpiece. And what results is a staircase that moves up the literary mountain and back down again.Book 1

In John’s Gospel, there are more than a few chiastic structures. John 1:1–18 is carefully constructed as a chiasm. So is John 2–4 and John 5–11. And because the Gospel shows multiple chiasms, it validates our search to see further literary structures as chiastic (A-B-A). In fact, John 7 has three of these literary mountains—one small (John 7:1–9), one large (John 7:10–36), and one medium in size (John 7:37–52).

Without getting into all the interpretive details of all that follows, I offer the following literary structure. Each begin with the “feast of booths” as the gateway to each “mountain.” Then each put in the center of the chiasm, i.e., the high point of the mountain, the divide that stands in the crowd because of Jesus.

By looking at these these three chiasms together, it helps us get a sense for how to read the whole chapter, and to understand what the main point is—namely, that Jesus has come to fulfill the Feast of Booths, which will cause a divide between those who are enslaved to the shadow (i.e., the Law) and those who will believe in the substance (Christ, to which the Law points).

Tell me what you think? Does this reading match the text, as you see it? Or would you make adjustments? Continue reading

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

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Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading