Back of the net!
Back of the net!
The audio is here. This is the transcript. Great sermon from Rich!
The story so far:
In the beginning was God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Father sent out his Word in the power of the Spirit to bring order out of chaos, light over darkness. The world was made in and through that person called the Word of God, the earth and all that is in it, climaxing in the making of Man in God’s image.
The man was placed in God’s garden and given a bride. Together, in beautiful loving harmony, they were to work and cultivate this wondrous garden and extend it into a global garden where man and God would dwell together.
But that man made a pact with the Deceiver and decided to overthrow God, to take hold of what God had given him and make it as his own, to rule over the earth but … not under God.
And so Adam is kicked out of the garden, separated from God in body, dead in spirit and subject to decay and despair.
But he is given a promise.
A seed of the woman will come and defeat the Deceiver and his evil ways at great cost to himself, his heal will be bruised as he crushes the Deceiver’s head, but those wounds, would make it possible to bring them back to the garden, back to life, back to fellowship with the Living God. The promised seed will come.
So after Eve gives birth to her first child, she says, behold, with the help of the Lord I have brought forth The Man. She thought her first son was the seed, but he was murdered by his brother, defeated by evil. He was not the seed. The seed is still to come.
They waited for the seed, they hoped in the seed. When will this One Man be born, our hope our salvation? When will he come, the one who will bring us back into the land of the Lord and restore to us the joy of fellowship with the Living God? When will he come?
As each child was born, hope it seems had faded. The work of the serpent grew, evil spread.
But again, from within the darkness and chaos of the fallen world, The Word of the Lord, the second person of God is again sent forth, appearing this time to Abram and He promises that from Abram will come a seed, not seeds Galatians 3:16 but the One Seed who is Christ.
The scattered nations will be rescued, gathered together and restored to the Father in and through the seed, Christ Jesus, the son of Abraham. From Abraham’s seed will come great blessing, he will become a great nation. The seed will come, and he will be from Abraham.
And so the Word of the Lord instructs Abraham to go to a new land, a place of hope, a place of abundance… a garden where God will live with his people.
The gospel promise is renewed.
Abraham rejoiced in this, and he placed his hope and trust in Him, God’s One Word. And so because of his faith in Christ, he is given the righteousness of God.
Abraham then travels to this promised land, the place which would be the venue for all God’s dealings with humanity for generations to come. And there he started to bear children.
Like Eve, Abraham had high hopes for his son. A promised child is brought forth, Isaac. His beloved son. From this one, the seed will come.
But the Word of the Lord is sent again to Abraham and says that this promised son must be offered to death. The one from whom the seed will come, his beloved son must be offered to the dark and ravenous jaws of death.
Abraham obeys, but at the last moment, the Divine Lord, the Word who is eternally sent by the Father, the Angel of the Lord, intervenes and provides a substitute, death for life.
And that place, the place where the temple would one day stand in Jerusalem, where lambs would be repeatedly scarified, and where the Lamb of God, the eternal Word of the Father, the Angel of the Lord himself, the One Seed Jesus Christ would eventually die – the very same place – so that we might live – this place was called “the Lord will provide”, because at that place it will be provided.
Isaac is restored to Abraham. From the jaws of death Isaac is now alive. He is resurrected, figuratively speaking, but he is not the seed. The gospel is once again renewed – from you and your descendants will come the seed, the hope of nations.
So this Isaac had the weight of the promise on his shoulders. From him the seed would come, the one who would be the sin substitute, whose heal would be bruised as he stamped on Satan’s ugly head as he dies at that place of the Lord’s provision.
So who does he marry? The beautiful Rebekah. But Rebekah was barren. She couldn’t have children. What did you go and do that for Isaac? The seed is supposed to come from you.
Isaac didn’t make the same mistake as his father Abraham did, who tried to get round that kind of biological issue by his own sinful methods. Isaac had learned that particular lesson from his dad and so he prays Genesis 25 and the Lord answers his prayer. Rebekah’s womb is opened and she became pregnant with twin boys.
And this is what sets things up for us tonight. You see, the seed can only come from one of the twins. The promised Messiah can’t come from both lines. God’s choice will be with one of the boys.
Genesis 25:22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Esau who came out first would have to serve Jacob. Now there is an interesting little detail at the birth of Esau and Jacob. Jacob reached out and grabbed Esau’s heal.
The two babies were born and it is amazing just how different they were. Esau was a mighty hunter, a man of the open country, red blooded, hairy, brutish type, but Jacob preferred a desk job, back at the tent and he liked to plot and scheme and use people.
Now Isaac, their dad, had a taste for wild game and so unsurprisingly he loved Esau the huntsman more than Jacob the schemer.
Well Esau did indeed end up having to serve Jacob. He returned home after a long time hunting and he was famished. Scheming Jacob decided to use this to his advantage and said, I’ll give you some stew if you give me your birthright.
And so Esau sold his birthright as firstborn to Jacob for a bowl of hot game stew.
And so we come now to Genesis chapter 27. Verse 1
When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he answered.
Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your weapons—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
So the fact that Esau had sold his birthright and the fact that the Lord prophesied that Esau would serve Jacob seems to have been long forgotten, or possibly just blatantly ignored, as Isaac dictates that the blessing would be conveyed to Esau.
But Rebekah overheard the plan verse 5 and went to Jacob to report on what was happening and to propose a scheme in order to win the blessing for him. Her plan verses 9 and 10 was to take advantage of the old man’s love of a good goat curry and have Jacob take it to him so that he would bless him instead.
Now at this point its not actually possible to see what Rebekah’s motives are. Is she wanting the Word of the Lord to be fulfilled, and so sets about trying to help God out on his way, through her own works?
Well it is a good motive, but her sincerity is sincerely wrong. God’s work is his own.
The other possibility is that she just preferred Jacob and wanted him to get the blessing. Either way, its not good. But Jacob the schemer runs with the plan and because verse 12 he is worried about getting caught, they set about creating this elaborate deception.
They took advantage of Isaac’s weak eyes that we read about in verse 1 and set about deceiving his other senses too. This is the pair of sunglasses and a false moustache moment to eclipse all others.
Jacob would wear some of Esau’s clothes so that he would smell like Esau, he would have some goatskins on his neck and hands so that he felt as hairy as his brother Esau and then he would take the carefully prepared food in, so that his sense of taste told him that it was Esau too.
Jacob was ready now and so he went in vs 19 and said – Hi its me Esau I’ve done as you told me.
That was quick. Isaac was obviously a little suspicious. Ah… yeh, errr… the Lord your God gave me success.
Still slightly suspicious verse 22, sounds more like Jacob than Esau, he beckoned him forward for the hairy hand test, which he passes. He then passes the taste test and, the clothing, the smell test worked too. Isaac was deceived and so he passed on the blessing to Jacob verse 28.
May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness, an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”
Its done the blessing is passed on to Jacob. What God had promised before they were born is now confirmed. Esau will bow to Jacob, the older will serve the younger, he will have to submit to the one God has chosen.
However Esau arrived with his freshly prepared meat. Jacob’s scheme has now been rumbled.
Jacob truly was the deceiver verse 36. Jacob means deceiver, the one who grasps the heal. So, right from the womb, he bore the mark of the prince of deceivers, the serpent himself, the one who strikes out at the heal of the promised seed.
But from this devil of a man, Jacob, the promised seed would come. Jesus would take on the fullness of humanity’s wickedness by being born from a wretched line.
Well when Isaac realised what was going on he trembled violently.
Imagine the moment Isaac realises what’s happened. He begins to pale, those weak old eyes widen and his stare is unbroken. His hands grip the ends of the arms of his chair, he is struck with fear. His teeth come together and that old frame begins to shake as he remembers the word of the lord – “the older will serve the younger”.
There is no going back now. Verse 33. I blessed him and indeed he will be blessed! The Lord’s choice cannot be changed or resisted. His election of Jacob as the one who will bear the seed cannot be overcome. What foolishness to think we could thwart the purposes of the Word of God.
Esau begged for a blessing too, but Isaac was committed – Jacob will be blessed. Verse 37 I have made him lord over you and I have blessed him with grain and wine, what can I possibly do for you? What blessing is left?
There really was nothing Isaac could give, he had given it all to Jacob, and so in verse 40 he reminds Esau of what the Lord could give him. He reminds him what the Lord had said about the two boys before even they were born. You will serve your younger brother.
Look back at Jacob’s blessing in verses 28 and 29. All this abundance is Jacob’s but look at the end of verse 29. Those who curse Jacob will be cursed…. those who bless him …will be blessed.
There is your answer Esau – if you want a blessing, serve your brother, bless him and you will get blessing from God.
The Lord’s election of Jacob did not rule Esau out. Esau could have received divine blessing. He could have had a share in the abundance. No he wouldn’t be the father of the promised seed, he wouldn’t be of that line, but he could still share in the blessing that would come from him if he listened to and submitted to the Lord’s election of Jacob.
But Esau wasn’t having any of it. He raged against Jacob verse 41 and sought to kill him. He hardened his heart to the warning about cursing Jacob. All he could think about was his own happiness, his material happiness.
So it was just as Isaac had said – he would live far away from the earths richness verse 39, away from the goodness of heaven above.
He forsook the blessing by refusing to bow to Jacob and so bore the curse. He would throw off Jacob’s yoke – he wasn’t serving his little brother.
What a fearful and cursed thing it is to reject the yoke of the one chosen by the father! It is to chose curse over blessing. It is to chose hell over heaven.
Rebekah got wind of Esau’s plan to kill Jacob and so urged him to flee to her brother Laban until Esau cooled off. And as every good mother does gives him a bit of advice about what kind of woman to avoid while he is away.
So it’s a cracking tale isn’t it. Deception, disguises, family squabbles, honour and goat stew.
But how does it apply to me and to you?
Is the lesson here about family unity? Do what you can to keep everyone together.
Is the lesson here about anger? Don’t make hasty decisions in your anger.
Is the lesson here about going after worldly pleasures – filling your belly and your life with the things you want at the expense of God’s people?
Is the lesson here about lying? Don’t lie and deceive.
Is the lesson here about breaking one law to fulfil another – taking shortcuts? You think your motive is good, serving the church perhaps… but are you methods right? Are you seeking the best for city evangelical church, but going about it in a disruptive and divisive way? Is that the lesson here?
Well there is instruction and wisdom there, and it kinda speaks for itself doesn’t it. But it isn’t the overall message of this story.
I believe that the message of this chapter within its context is God’s election. God’s election.
Now this is a topic I know people don’t really like. It’s like talking about death or politics at the dinner table. It’s a sure fire way to start a bun fight. So what I need here is a cake proof screen in front of the pulpit cause we are going to have a stab at it anyway cause it is a central truth in scripture and it is central to this passage.
The fact that God the Father has promised that his Son would be born of a woman, to bring salvation and blessing to a lost world, means that he has to chose a family line for him. That is the very simple reason why Jacob is chosen. He will bear the seed, the seed will be descended from Jacob and not Esau.
Did you get that? If you get nothing else from the next five minutes, get that at least.
The Lord elects Jacob simply because the seed, the messiah has already been chosen and promised – that is why he is elect – because Christ has first been elected. Remember that at least.
As the apostle Paul says in Romans 9 verse 11, God chose Jacob so that his purpose in election might stand. Christ Jesus is God’s choice in human flesh.
Now there are a load of issue that could come up and are related to this and I’d be a fool to think I could knock this issue on the head in five minutes. But I am convinced that to unravel this we need to start and finish in our thinking with Christ.
Ok Rich, that is what this is about – I’m with you on that, but what does it have to do with me, sitting here in this chair, in this church in 2010?
Well firstly, if you are Jewish, then rejoice, you have royal status. Jesus is literally your flesh and blood relative, but as the passage suggest in verse 29, you must bow to God’s election of Christ Jesus. Jacob who was later called Israel, is lord over all nations, but he is also lord over his flesh and blood relatives – you. You must bow too. Only then are you truly of Israel, only in Christ The offspring, can you be Abraham’s offspring.
For the majority of us here though, there are two responses.
Firstly, if you are not yet a believer, then can I urge you… look at the world outside. It’s descending into deeper chaos, more violence, more greed, and more evil.
Jesus Christ came to put right, what for thousands of years we’ve failed to do, and he did it. It is done – Christ did it, he put it right with God because he was chosen to do the work of reconciliation, not you or me.
And this evening he makes you an offer. Trust him, walk with him and he will include you into his kingdom where there is hope, where there this reconciliation, where there is change, where there is life.
Be joined to Christ Jesus – receive the truth here, that He is the One elected and sent, to save you from your sin and bring you into that wonderful relationship with the living God to restore paradise lost. Turn to Christ.
Well, if you have trusted in Christ, then what? What does it matter to me that God chose Jacob and not Esau?
Two things. Fear and assurance. Fear and assurance.
Most Christians I know fear God’s election. It sews doubt in people’s hearts, or resentment. Am I elect? Is my husband elect? Are my children elect?
Is that you tonight?
Now don’t worry if you don’t get that, if you don’t follow me – ignore the next few minutes.
But there will be some here asking that question – wondering if the Father has chosen them to be his.
I want to gently and respectfully suggest that our fear comes because we are coming at this from the wrong end.
We tend to think that election is all about us, am I elect? I don’t know. And that is where the fear comes from. But its not about us, it is about Christ. Scripture wants you to know that Christ has been chosen, Christ is has been elected to be the champion of salvation.
When we start answering the question “why aren’t more people saved”, by talking about the Father’s election, then of course we are going to end up in a place of fear.
If the reason for a person’s unbelief, is the election of the Father, then we are right to be scared. But I don’t think that is the right answer, or even the right question.
Being elect is not like having a winning lottery ticket. The Father has only made one choice, and that is in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is God’s choice in human flesh, not Rich Owen – thank God, and not you.
We are chosen because Christ is chosen, we are elected because Christ is the Elect One of the Father, chosen before the foundation of the world to be it’s Lord.
So run to Jesus, become one of his children, stand in his election – then you know you are elect. You don’t need to be scared by this.
So if you find yourself asking that question – am I elect – then ask yourself – why am I asking that question?
Assurance? Yeh? Is that why?
If I ask that question for assurance, then I’m looking for assurance outside of Christ – in my own flesh. Its not all about me! It’s the wrong question because assurance is not found within me, but in Christ. Christ Jesus is God’s choice in human flesh.
I should ask the question – is Christ elect? And I go to scripture and see that all the purposes and promises of the Father find their yes and Amen in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 1:20).
Christ Jesus is God’s choice in human flesh – trust him and see full assurance. Run to Jesus, become one of his children, stand in his election – then you know you are elect
The Father has desired that fallen humanity should be rescued. He loves this broken world, de desires to have that fellowship with us and to restore paradise on Earth.
He is moved in his heart so much that he sends forth his one and only Son, the eternal Word that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life, and be restored. Jesus is the promised seed.
I’ll end with a quote from Spurgeon.
So you ask if you are …elect, you ask what you do not know. Go to Jesus, just as you are in all your guilt. Go straight to Christ and hide in His wounds, and you shall know your election. The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.
Here are seven thoughts that occurred to me as I was studying Revelation 6 and the wrath of the Lamb. This is the sermon I preached. And here are my seven thoughts:
A little while ago I lamented a certain kind of evangelism that is all too common. It’s basically the call to younger brother types to come to their senses, to wrench themselves away from the far country and to return to the father with a pre-prepared sorry speech. The evangelist will even feed them a ready made, line-by-line repentance spiel – one with magic words guaranteed to effect a reconciliation. The whole encounter goes something like this:
“We all know who God is don’t we? He’s the Big Guy and you’ve been avoiding Him haven’t you? Allow me to latch onto some guilt feelings you’ve experienced. Let me call that ‘conviction of sin’. And now let me promise relief from those feelings if you’ll only return to the Big Guy and bring this speech with you. I guarantee it’ll work (becausetherewasthisthingcalledthecrosswhichyoudon’tneedtoknowaboutnow butIneedtocrowbaritinbecausethesewordsaremagic). Anyway, the ball is now in your court. It’s all down to you. If you’re up to the challenge, carefully repeat this prayer after me…”
The whole paradigm is one in which “God” is taken for granted, Jesus is a helpful mechanism to fix the guilt problem but the real Name above all names is Decision before Whom all must bow in self-willed surrender. Almighty Decision towers above you, are you equal to His call?
Let me suggest that the answer to all of this is (unsurprisingly) focussing on Christ. Evangelism is speaking of Jesus. It’s lifting Him up by the Spirit (which means Scripturally) so as to present Him to the world as good news. So we say ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ We basically hold out the Bread of life saying “Tasty isn’t He??”
Now if we approach evangelism with Christ at the centre, there are many advantages:
1) Jesus simply is the most interesting and attractive Subject. You might have some cracking gags, moving anecdotes, contemporary illustrations and memorable catch-phrases, but they’ve got nothing on the power and beauty of Christ.
2) Faith is immediately seen for what it is – receiving Christ as He’s offered in the gospel. Faith is not “banking the cheque” of forgiveness. What does that even mean? What do any of our illustrations of faith actually mean? Far better simply to hold out Christ and say “Look and live!”
3) Decision is dethroned. We don’t so much tell the world to believe in Jesus. Far more than this, we tell the world about Jesus such that they do believe (Steve Holmes). Because faith is a response to contemplating Christ. The spotlight does not fall on the listener and their willingness to summon up the necessary response. The spotlight falls on Christ Himself.
4) You don’t have to worry about offering cheap grace. You’re not offering ‘a blank cheque’ for free, you’re offering the Lord for free. To receive the it of grace/forgiveness/a ticket to heaven is entirely different from receiving Him – the LORD our Righteousness. In this way conversion and discipleship are held together. The one who simply receives Christ has unmistakably received a new Master.
5) You don’t sell Christianity on the back of some abstract fringe benefits. Instead the preacher says “The one thing you get for receiving Jesus, is Jesus. But if you’re seeing things clearly, the one thing you want is Jesus.”
6) Because of this, you don’t have to fence all your promises of forgiveness and freedom and new life with ‘…if you really, truly, ruly believe’. Since faith is receiving the Christ who is offered there’s no chance of the listener trusting an abstract promise in vain. Those who receive Jesus receive Jesus.
7) The decision time at the end of the talk is de-emphasized. It is not the business end of proceedings. The real business is holding out Christ by the Spirit (and therefore in the word). The listener receives Christ as they are won by the gospel preaching. They can trust and receive Christ in their seats during the preaching. It’s not about a form of words that they must parrot at the end. If you want to pray at the end that’s fine. But it’s only confirming a receiving of Christ that’s occurred during the preaching. Faith comes by hearing.
Anyway, those were some of the thoughts motivating my recent evangelistic talk here.
We’ve thought a little bit about how glory language is introduced in Exodus. Of course John’s Gospel makes for a fascinating study in ‘glory’. But it would be too easy to camp out in John and refuse to engage the other ‘glory’ Scriptures. So let’s think about three other key texts in the glory debates: Isaiah 42; Ezekiel 36 and (in the next post) Ephesians 1. If you’ve got others on your mind, raise them in comments:
“Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; 4 He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His law the islands will put their hope.” 5 This is what God the LORD says–He who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, Who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. 8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.
Usually it’s only verse 8 that’s quoted in the glory discussions. But the context is crucial. Here is the Beloved, Spirit-filled Servant of the LORD. And He Himself is a covenant for the people. The love of Father for Son spills over to the whole world and this is all a part of the integrity of the Creator. The Maker of the ends of the earth will bring reconciliation through His Servant. Therefore – verse 8 – He will not accomplish His creation-reconciliation project through anyone other than His Beloved, Anointed Son. And this very commitment is the commitment to be the over-flowing, self-giving God of redemption.
So, no self-centred glory here.
What about, Ezekiel 36:16-32
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. 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. 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.’ 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. 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. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 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. 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…. 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.
You will notice here that the issue is the ‘name of the LORD’s holiness’ which is not exactly the same as ‘glory’ – but they’re pretty connected I think everyone will agree.
The “name” of the LORD has always been the gracious, saving character of the Gospel God (Exodus 34:6-7; see also Num 6:23-27). It’s the name that is in His Divine Angel and, again, is expressed through His deliverance of the people (Exodus 23:20-23). This name dwells in the temple (Ex 20:24; Deut 12:5) and just as the priests are to put the name on the people (Num 6:23-27), the people are meant to reflect the name out to the nations.
In Ezekiel, the LORD’s Glory (Christ) has departed from the physical temple (ch8-10) because the Israelites have profaned it (5:11). Yet He Himself has been a sanctuary for the people (11:16) – in exile with His people! And He promises that He will return as the LORD’s Servant – the True King David – to make His sanctuary with His people forever (Ezek 37:21-28).
But here in chapter 36, the Israelites have not ‘sanctified’ but rather ‘profaned’ the name of the LORD’s holiness. God’s people – as the priests He has made them to be – ought to be reflecting out to the world that same out-going goodness of God which they themselves have received. Instead they do the very opposite. And the thing that really profanes the name is that the saved people of God have become the wicked and exiled people of God (v20). The LORD has tied His name so closely to His people that when they are profaned – He is profaned. He has chosen to be so at one with His people that His destiny and reputation is bound up in their destiny and reputation.
And so He makes them know that this salvation He is about to work is His gracious initiative and not something they’ve provoked either by their goodness or their badness. It’s certainly not that the Israelites have cleaned up their act enough for God to save. And it’s not even that they are now so pitiable that God goes soft on them. What moves Him to act is His fierce determination to be this kind of saving and forgiving God. His gospel name will be vindicated because that is simply who He is.
And in fact verse 23 says the LORD will vindicate His holiness by saving a wretched people! What kind of holiness is this that is expressed when renowned offenders are treated with extravagant grace? This holiness is not the holiness of ‘splendid isolation’ but of gospel grace.
So again, these verses are not proof that God is, after all, self-centered. The very opposite. All that He does is motivated by a gospel character that will not be thwarted even by the worst opposition of His own people. His name, His glory and His holiness are not considerations that would keep Him from engaging His wrath-deserving people. They move Him out into costly, shame-bearing, sacrificial redemption. Because His grace is His glory.
Next post: Part 5
What is faith? Perhaps this is one of the most misunderstood words, not only in the English language, not only in the world at large, but in the church too. People do not understand what ‘faith’ truly is.
And so, probably the most famous example of ‘faith’ in the popular imagination is this: Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade. He has to get across this seemingly bottomless chasm. His dying father, Sean Connery, is whispering “You must believe boy, you must believe.” And so Indiana Jones summons up this heroic amount of faith, and he courageously extends his foot out and falls into the chasm. But then, thud, his foot lands on solid ground. The camera pans around and you can see a rock bridge that had been invisible to him before. Indiana Jones had summoned up enough faith to get across the chasm.
And people think, that’s faith! It’s a leap in the dark. Is that how you have thought of faith? A leap in the dark?
Well if that’s what faith is, most people say – that’s not for me. And people either feel superior to that kind of faith or inferior to that kind of faith.
You’ve met the superior types I’m sure. “I’m so happy for you, that you’ve found faith. But for me… I guess I’ve grown up a bit and learnt to depend on myself. But it’s sweet that you have that crutch, I’m too mature for a blind leap in the dark.”
You’ve probably met the inferior types too: “I so envy your faith. I wish I had your faith. I just can’t seem to trust myself, but I think it’s so brave of you to leap in the dark like that.”
Have you met those kinds of people – those who feel superior to the leap in the dark, and those who feel inferior to the leap in the dark.
Well John’s gospel is here to tell us what real faith is. Do you see in our passage how often the idea of faith comes up?
48 “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. [Literally, the man believed Jesus’ word]
53 Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
It’s a passage all about faith. Because, v54, this whole incident is a miraculous SIGN.
As we’ve thought about with the kids this morning – Jesus performs signs so that we might believe in Him. He doesn’t want our faith to be a blind leap in the dark. In John’s Gospel faith is walking into the light with our eyes wide open. And we do it because we’ve seen the signs and followed them to the true Light of the world.
John tells us at the end of His Gospel why he wrote it:
30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Do you see – the whole book of John is a book of signs pointing to Jesus. And as we see the signs we are directed to the truth about Jesus. And the truth is – He is “The Christ”. That means He is the One especially anointed (or you might say) filled with the Holy Spirit. And He is the One who is especially the Son of God the Father. So Jesus is Christ – He has a unique relationship with the Holy Spirit, and He is Son of God – He has a unique relationship with God the Father. Jesus is one of the trinity. He is a divine Person. And John’s gospel begins by calling Him God and ‘the Word of God’ and it tells us He made the universe with His Father and the Holy Spirit.
Now – when you see that about Jesus, that is faith. It’s an awed, loving recognition of the truth of Jesus. You look at Jesus and you say “Here is the true Master and Owner of heaven and earth. Here is the Maker and Saviour of the world. I don’t know much, but I know that Jesus is Lord.” That’s faith and as soon as you realize “Jesus, you’re the One” He shares with you His life and blessings. When you trust Jesus, He adopts you into the divine family – and you have eternal life. Life in relationship with the trinity. Life that begins now and will go on for eternity. All of that comes when you have FAITH in Jesus.
So having true faith is very important I think you’ll agree. John’s Gospel is written that you may believe. That means if you don’t yet believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – this is written to convert you, that you may believe. And it means that if you do believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – this is written so that you might keep trusting, keep believing, keep looking to Jesus.
So that’s our hope as we study Jesus’ second miraculous sign in John chapter 4. That we would believe in Jesus this morning.
We’re just going to examine four things about true faith from this passage:
Faith is common – that means universal. Everyone has faith. The atheist has faith, the Buddhist has faith, the Christian – everyone. You have never met anyone who was not a person of faith. What we have faith in, well that’s the important difference.
Second, faith is converted. To have true faith in Jesus we have to switch our allegiances from old dependencies to Jesus.
Third, faith is contemplative. Faith is a response to seeing and knowing Jesus. When we contemplate Him we trust Him.
Finally, faith is continual. We move out in faith and find confirmation for our faith as we go, it’s a continual and never-ending process of trusting Jesus, stepping out on the basis of that faith, finding confirmation, gaining more faith and stepping out again. Faith is continual.
But first, faith is common. Everyone has faith.
Look down at verse 42, the verse immediately preceding our reading this morning. Here are some Samaritans that Jesus has been spending time with. And they conclude:
42 They said to the woman [of the well], “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”
Here are pagans, not Jews, but they see in Jesus that He has the answer to the whole world’s needs. He is the Saviour of the world. True faith says ‘Jesus is the Saviour’. But the world has many other Saviours.
This week I was thinking about all the things the world trusts in to save us. The bible warns us about loads of them. Here’s just a selection:
Politics (Ps 146:3f) – 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.
riches – 1 Tim 6:17 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
Wisdom – Prov 3:5-7 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.
man (Isaiah 2:22) “22 Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”
Family – Psalm 27 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.
religion – Jer 7:4 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”
false gods – Ps 115 – 4 But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. 5 They have mouths, but cannot speak…8 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. 9 O house of Israel, trust in the LORD.
Politics, riches, wisdom, human power, family, religion, false gods – people trust in these every day. There is not a human being on planet earth who does not count on something like these as a Saviour.
Faith is common to all.
Which means when we talk about true faith in Jesus, you’ll see that faith must be CONVERTED.
Having faith in Jesus is not about beginning to trust for the first time in your life. Having faith in Jesus is about switching your faith from something else that has been your Saviour.
Look with me at verses 46 and 47:
46 Once more Jesus visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum [Capernaum was over 20 miles from Cana – a day’s journey on foot]. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
Here is a powerful man. “Royal official.” Perhaps he’s royalty himself or he’s high up in King Herod’s court . This man is used to getting things done. Power is being able to turn aspirations into action and this man had it. He was used to getting things done. So here’s a powerful man and his son gets sick. What do you think his first response will be? To what saviour will he turn?
Well I’m guessing here, but I imagine the story went a bit like this. His son got sick and he thinks, Well I’ll pay for the best doctor and we’ll get this sorted. His doctor comes, his doctor fails. His son gets worse. So he pulls a few strings and gets the king’s own physician. Still no improvement. Instead his son gets worse. Where does he turn? Well, maybe he’s got a contact at the imperial court who can put him in touch with the best of Roman medicine. Surely the Romans can sort this out. But they can’t. And his son is now on his death bed. It’s hard to think of something as tragic as a father planning the funeral of his son. It should be the other way around. Can you put yourself in the shoes of this otherwise powerful man?
The royal official is brought to the end of his powers.
And when you come to the end of yourself, that’s where faith comes. Because faith must mean you shift your allegiance. You used to trust something else, now you trust Jesus.
Do you remember the famous story Jesus told? A foolish man builds his house on sand. And of course, for a while a house on sand looks fine. Until the storm hits. And then your house comes crashing down.
Well a storm has hit this man, and his own powers are shown to be shifting sands.
So where does he turn?
Well remember, this is a Jewish man. A man who knows the Old Testament Scriptures. He knows the expectation for a Messiah who, when He comes, will bring heaven to earth. The deaf will hear, the blind will see, the lame will leap for joy. He knows about the Messiah. And he’s heard about Jesus. He’s heard that everywhere this man goes, He’s like a little pool of paradise. Everyone who is sick who comes in contact with Him gets well. He’s doing everything they promised about the Messiah. Could he be the one?
Well that’s what he must have been thinking as he left his son’s death-bed and made the long journey to Cana. He had begun to make the journey from the shifting sands of his own resources and to put his trust in the solid Rock of Jesus.
But let’s face it – if his son was not ill, he probably wouldn’t be seeking Jesus. If he hadn’t been brought to the end of his powers, you wonder whether he’d be looking to Jesus.
What about you? What are your saviours? Where do you turn? What do you trust in? The truth of Jesus and the storms of life are all designed to turn you (convert you) towards true faith.
Well what does true faith look like? Here’s one word for it – contemplative.
Verse 50 is such a surprise. A day’s journey for this royal official, the worry about his son, the expectations about Jesus – what’s going to happen? Jesus simply dismisses him again in 7 words. “You may go. Your son will live.”
That’s not what the royal official expected. Verse 47, he wanted Jesus to come back with him to Capernaum and heal his son. And I wonder whether he expected Jesus to bring with him some magic ingredients, or at least some special words or prayers. In the Old Testament, there’s a story of Elijah the prophet raising a boy from the dead (1 Kings 17). And Elijah does all this elaborate stuff. He picks him up and lays him on his bed and he cries out to the LORD and then he stretches himself out on the dead boy three times and each time he uses a special prayer. Maybe the royal official was expecting that. Jesus does none of it. He just says “Go. Your son will live.”
And in that moment, the royal official saw the truth about Jesus. Jesus is not some shaman wrestling with the spiritual powers. He doesn’t work up a sweat trying to conjure up a healing. He doesn’t just engage with the mighty power of death – He towers far above it. “Go. Your son will live. I’ve said it, it will happen.”
And the royal official suddenly realizes – I’m not just dealing with an amazing man here. Jesus is the One who speaks and it comes to be.
Does that phrase sound familiar? It was in our Old Testament reading this morning. Psalm 33 talks about a Person called “the Word of the LORD” who created all things. It’s very like John’s Gospel. The Word of the LORD who creates all things is so powerful, v9:
9 For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.
This is what the Creator does. He speaks and it happens. “Let there be light. And there was light.” He speaks realities into existence. Genesis 1 doesn’t say, “Let there be light, and then He went off and made light.” The speaking and the making are not two different things. He speaks and it comes to be. That is the mark of the Creator Word of God.
And here is Jesus – even in the face of that great enemy death. He’s not phased, He doesn’t work up a sweat, He doesn’t even pray. He’s not calling on a higher power – He is the Higher Power. Here is the One the whole Old Testament has been proclaiming. The Messiah who makes the blind see and the lame walk – who restores heaven to earth and He does it by the power of His word.
That’s why v50, the royal official takes Jesus at His word. He recognizes in Jesus the Absolute Trustworthiness of the Creator God. And when He contemplates the truth of Jesus – faith is born.
Because faith is contemplative. By that I mean, when you contemplate your true Saviour, you SEE in Him things that are SO compelling, SO beautiful, SO trustworthy, that you simply must trust Him. True faith comes when you contemplate Jesus – when you see Him for who He is.
Which is why, if anyone says to me “I wish I had your faith”, I’ve got to reply – well just contemplate Jesus. Look at Him, read about Him in the bible, see Him for who He really is, and you too will have faith.
Someone who says “I wish I had your faith” is a bit like a man who comes late to a conversation, a cracking joke has just been told, everyone’s laughing and the man says “I wish I had your laughter.” What? “I wish I had your gift of being able to laugh. I don’t really feel able to laugh, but here you are – you obviously have a talent for laughter.” What do we say to that? We say ‘listen to the joke! Contemplate what we’ve been contemplating. Then you’ll laugh.’
Or a woman who comes late to a concert and the audience is giving a standing ovation. The woman says “I wish I had your talent for applause.” What? “I wish I had your gift of enthusiastic clapping. I don’t feel able to applaud, but here you are clapping – you obviously have a talent for applause.” What do we say? We say “Listen to the music! Contemplate what we’ve been contemplating. Then you’ll gladly applaud.”
Or the ten year old boy who says “Girls smell. I will never ever fall in love.” What do we say? We say, “You just wait. When you meet the right girl, it’ll happen.” Once you contemplate the right person, love will come.
Faith is like laughter, it’s like applause, it’s like falling in love. It’s not a talent I have or a power I exercise. It’s a response to something out there. I’ve encountered something fantastic and once I’ve contemplated it, it’s changed me – He’s changed me, swept me off my feet. Something – someone – overwhelmingly solid and trustworthy has captured my heart and I trust Him. That’s faith.
Well there’s one final thing about faith – it’s continual. Look down at v51:
51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he enquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.” 53 Then the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
In v50 the royal official believed Jesus. And in v53 he believed Jesus again. Faith is continual. We don’t trust Jesus once and then get on with our life. Our life is a life of trusting Jesus. And we do it like this royal official. You see he had an initial faith – he took Jesus at his word – and he acted on the basis of that faith. Then later this faith was confirmed – Jesus really was able to do what He said. And so with this added confirmation, the man believes again. And he believes more, because now he has contemplated more of Jesus’ power and grace. He’s seen it up close and personal.
This is how faith works. You trust Jesus. You move out in faith. You see how trusting Jesus makes sense of life and in that confirmation your faith increases and so you trust Him a bit more. And on it goes. Faith is continual.
Do you realize that your biggest need this week is to trust Jesus? Think now: what do you think of as your greatest need for this week? … Now think of all the possible saviours you might look to, to provide you needs. Money? Power? Intelligence? Beauty? Charm? Hard work? Family? What saviours might you look to? Well Jesus offers Himself to you again this week and says trust ME – I am the God who speaks and it happens. I am the God who raises the dead. I can handle this week, trust me. Continually. Our biggest need this week is to trust Jesus.
So let me close by trying to help us trust Jesus. How do you think I should get you to trust Jesus more? Indiana Jones style? Summon up the courage for a blind leap of faith? No – faith will come as we contemplate Jesus. So while you still have your concerns for this week in mind, let me tell you about Jesus.
Before the universe existed, He was there – full of the Holy Spirit, the beloved Son of God the Father. He made all things even the starry host by the Breath of His mouth. He said “Light shine” and light was. He spoke and it came to be. He rules and upholds the entire universe by the word of His power. And yet, He’s not too big for your problems and mine. He is concerned for our problems. He saw us perishing in our sins and He decided to do something about it. He came to planet earth. He was born as a weak and speechless baby – the Creator of heaven, laid in a manger. He grew up and lived a life of such utter love and self-giving it continues to astonish the world. And then for you and for me He laid down His life, was lifted up on a cross to suffer hell in our place. He shed His own infinitely precious blood – the blood of God – so much does the Creator of the cosmos love you. He was laid in the tomb but three days later He burst out again the conqueror of death and of sin, of wrath and of evil. He has ascended to the throne of God and He rules the universe as our Brother, as our Priest, as our Lamb, as our Lord, as our Jesus. And soon He will return to raise the whole creation to new, perfect, resurrection life. And so soon we will be feasting at His table and praising Him – the One who loves us more than His own life. This Jesus – He rules the universe. And He rules your week. Will you trust Him?
I love the story Cornelius Van Til tells about hearing an Arminian preach (sorry, can’t remember where). The Arminian likened salvation to a bus driver coming into town and preaching in the public square through a megaphone, “I’m off to Fort Knox where there’s gold enough for everyone. Whomsoever wishes may come aboard my bus and we’ll receive the gold together.”
I’m trying to remember the details – it’s a while since I heard the lecture. But as I remember it Van Til went up to the preacher afterwards and thanked him for a brilliant illustration. “I’d make only one change to it,” he said.
Evangelism is basically Ezekiel 37 – prophesying to dry bones. The people are dead. Whomsoever may come. But the star of the show is the Spirit, giving life through the word.