A sermon from June 8, 2014
(From The Way Everlasting).
This sermon is based upon 1 John 5:6:
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (ESV)
This sermon concerns the reality of Christ’s coming:
The reality of God’s redeeming love. It is easy to puzzle the mind with questions about reality, especially where God is concerned. Every one has heard of the astronomer who swept the heavens with his telescope and found no trace of God. That is not very disconcerting. We do not ascribe to God the same kind of reality as we do to the stars, and are not disappointed if the astronomer does not detect him as he might a hitherto unnoticed planet. M. Renan somewhere speaks of God as “the category of the ideal”; that is, he ascribes to God that kind of reality which belongs to the high thoughts, aspirations, and hopes of the mind. Certainly we should not disparage the ideal or its power, and still less should we speak lightly of those who devote themselves to ideals and cherish faith in them. But to redeem and elevate such creatures as we are, more is needed; and what the Apostle is so emphatic about is that God has come to save us not with the reality of ideals, but with the reality of all that is most real in the life we live on earth, in the battle we fight in the flesh, in the death that we die He has come with the reality of blood. The Christian religion is robbed of what is most vital in it if the historical Christ and the historical passion cease to be the very heart of it.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 143–144.
He then considers some ways that the reality of Christ’s coming are made bloodless, distance, mere abstractions. First consider the ethical, philosophical arguments which try to reduce Christ and his work to an ethics and example. But,
I had rather preach with a crucifix in my hand and the feeblest power of moral reflection, than have the finest insight into ethical principles and no Son of God who came by blood. It is the pierced side, the thorn-crowned brow, the rent hands and feet, that make us Christians—these, and not our profoundest thoughts about the ethical constitution of the universe.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 145. He also considers those who try to dehistoricize Christ’s coming; but that likewise will not do.
But here comes the bite of the sermon: if Christ came in such a real way, in the way of blood and water, then this lays upon the Christian the call to a life answering that reality:
It follows from this that no deliberate seeking of a sheltered life is truly Christian. The Son of God came in blood. He faced the world as it was, the hour and the power of darkness; He laid down life itself in pursuance of His calling; and there must be something answering to this in a life which is genuinely Christian. Yet we cannot help seeing that in different ways this conclusion is practically evaded. It is evaded by those who aim at cultivating the Christian life solely in coteries, cliques, and conventions of like-minded people; by those whose spiritual concern is all directed inward, and whose ideal is rather the sanctification of the soul than the consecration of life to Christ. There are so few people who make holiness in any sense whatever the chief end of life that one shrinks from saying anything which might reflect on those who do pursue it, even in a mistaken sense; but who has not known promising characters fade away and become characterless, through making this mistake? Who does not know how easy it is to miss the Gospel type, the type of Jesus, and actually to present to the world, as though with his stamp upon it, a character insipid, ineffective, bloodless? Nothing has a right to bear His name that is not proved amid the actualities of life to have a passion in it like His own.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 148–149.
This then leads to a final question: I am willing to concede and even believe this fact of Christ coming so, but it still seems distant and abstract. Christ did come in blood and water, but my life and my experience does not seem truly touched by this fact. What of that? To which Denney answers:
The answer to such questions, I believe, is suggested by the next words of the Apostle: “It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth”. There is a point of mystery in all religion—not the point at which we know nothing, but the point at which we know everything and yet nothing happens—the point at which we are cast absolutely on God. But the mention of the Spirit reminds us that though the Christian experience depends absolutely upon God, it is not for that reason blankly mysterious. The Spirit is a witness; he takes the things of Christ and shows them to us, and under his showing they become present, real, and powerful. This is his work—to make the past present, the historical eternal, the inert vital.
When the Spirit comes, Christ is with us in all the reality of His life and Passion, and our hearts answer to His testimony. We read the Gospel, and we do not say, He spoke these words of grace and truth, but He speaks them. We do not say, He received sinners and ate with them; but, He receives sinners and spreads a table for them. We do not say, He prayed for His own; but, He ever liveth to make intercession for us. We do not even say, He came in blood; but, He is here, clothed in His crimson robe, in the power of His Passion, mighty to save. Have we not had this witness of the Spirit on days we can recall? Have we not had it in listening to the word of God this very day? We know what it is to grieve the Spirit; we know also what it is to open our hearts to Him.
Let us be ready always to open our hearts to His testimony to the Son of God—to Jesus Christ who came with the water and with the blood; and as the awful reality of the love of God in Christ is sealed upon them, let us make answer to it in a love which has all the reality of our own nature in it.
James Denney, The Way Everlasting: Sermons (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 150–151.
ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO
As Goodwin explains, John 13 gives us a view into the heart of Christ as prepares to leave his disciples. Next Goodwin considers this aspect of Christ’s “long sermon” on leaving, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth it is to your advantage that I go away”. John 16:7 Christ will (1) send the comforter (John 16:7), and (2) prepare a place for them. John 14:3. He goes on ahead to prepare a place for them, to make certain it is done. And like the High Priest, he carries their names over his heart when enters into the holiest place.
Goodwin then draws out the implications of this going and coming, sinking deep into the concept of marriage which runs throughout the Scripture:
“I will come to you again and receive you to myself.” He condescends to the very laws of bridegrooms, for notwithstanding all his greatness, no lover shall put him down in any expression of true love. It is the maker of bridegrooms, hen they have made all ready in their father’s house, then to come themselves and fetch their brides, and not to send for them by others, because it is the time of love.
Love descends better than ascends, and so doth the love Christ, who indeed is love itself, and therefore comes down to us himself.
….”Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set up you; and if I have any glory, you shall have a part of it.”
….He will not stay a minute longer than needs must, he tarries only till he hath throughout all ages by his intercession prepared every room for each saint, that he may entertain them all at once together, and have the all about him.
4 Goodwin, “The Heart of Christ in Heaven”, 100.
Goodwin begins his analysis with John 13:1:
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
Goodwin argues that in what follows, John writes to “set open a window into Christ’s heart and give a light into, and put a gloss and interpretation upon all that follows. The scope where is to show what his affections would be to them in heaven”.
Jesus knows that the cross is coming; that “the Father had given all things into his hands” (John 14:3). What then does Christ think of; what does he do? He washes his disciples feet: Rather than thinking of what he would gain for himself, “he takes more for his own, who were to remain here in this world, a world wherein there is much evil”. The knowledge that he is coming to the end, draws out his compassion towards “his own”: “The elect are Christ’s own, a piece of him .. not as goods…his own children, his own members, his own wife, his own flesh.” (p. 97)
Goodwin explains the purpose of washing their feet as follows:
And what was Christ’s meaning in this, but that, whereas he should be in heaven, he could not make such outward visible demonstrations of his heart, by doing such mean services for them; therefore by doing this in the midst of such thoughts of his glory, he would show what he could be content (as it were) to do for them, when he should be in full possession of it….So you see what his heart was before he went to heaven, even admit the thought of all his glory; and you see what it is after he hath been in heaven, and greatened with all his glory, even content to wash poor sinners’ feet, and to serve them that come to him and wait for him. (p. 98)
And, this washing signifies his willingness to wash away their sin.
This is a fascination essay (a long essay, a very short book), divided in three parts. The essay asks the question, what is Jesus Christ like now that he is ascended? What is he like in heaven? How does he now relate to me? And, rather than give a careless answer, Goodwin very carefully considers some important aspects of the Scriptural evidence.
This essay demonstrates a level of exegesis which cannot easily be taught. There is a mechanical sort of analysis which looks at text and explicates the grammar and syntax. That is necessary, but when it comes to Scripture, that sort of analysis goes only part way. The necessary questions are why is this being said? What does this do? How does this part relate to the whole (context is king, but the ultimate context of Scripture is the entirety, not merely the surrounding paragraph)? I remember a line a poem (perhaps it was Stratford, it has been years since I read it, “Everything is telling one big story”.)
There is a goal to this essay:
The scope and use whereof will be this, to hearten and encourage believers to come ore boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Savior and High Priest, when the shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart, though he is now in his glory, is inclined toward them [Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 95].
It ends likes this:
In all the miseries and distresses you may be sure to know where to have a have a friend to help and pity you, even in heaven, Christ;
One who nature, office, interest, relation, all, do engage him to your succor; you will find men, even friends to be oftentimes unto you unreasonable, and their bowels [their compassion] in many cases shut up towards you.
Well, say to them all, If you will not pity me, choose, I know that one that will, one in heaven, whose heart is touched with the feeling of all my infirmities, and I will go and bemoan myself to him.
Come boldly says the text, even with open mouth, to lay open your complaints, and you shall find grace and mercy to help in time of need. Men love to see themselves pitied by friends, though they cannot help them; Christ can and will do both.
Vol. 4, p. 150. In between the aim and the strike, Goodwin provides a tremendous, careful theology of Christ’s Ascension.
Part I will be next.
The language of Psalm 39, “O LORD make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Has struck me (“I am mute; I do not open my mouth”). I know the meaning and can see the psychological and emotional relationship between fleeting days and anger — but this time through I have realized there is something much more profound there which I must sound. So while I work through that, here is another matter.
Bible teachers in my world seem to find Paul easiest to teach: his letters have structures which track in the way we are taught in school: here is a point, some rationale, implication. The elements are laid out as an argument. Diagram the sentence, make the main verb the principle point and you have a sermon outline.
But narrative suffers. I have actually heard men with significant seminary training make silly statements about hierarchies of genre, with narrative existing solely for illustration of the “clearer” letters. I posit, that such thinking is primarily a reflection of an inadequate education, not a defect of the text.
The Bible is primarily poem and narrative. These texts are just as clear and necessary as Paul’s letters (if you don’t believe me, read Paul’s letters: he seems to find the letters and poems quite useful resources!). However, due to the inadequate education in literature, most pastors (and other teachers) simply don’t know how to handle such things.
My education is first in literature and the law (which is nothing but stories, reading stories, writing stories, telling stories: judges and juries do not believe facts, they believe stories; if I were to ask about you, you would tell me a story).
Here are some tips which I hope may help others in handling a story. I am going to take Acts 4, because I will be teaching through the text. So here are some steps.
The first step in understanding and working with a narrative section is merely to work through the plot points
THERE ARE TWO MAIN SECTIONS: PETER & JOHN BEFORE THE COUNCIL AND THEIR RETURN TO THE CHURCH
I. Peter and John Before the Council
A. The Arrest
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
- The Arrest
3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
- What happened from preaching
4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
B. Before the Council
- The setting
5 On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
- The question/charge
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
- Peter’s Response
a. The Spirit’s Help
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them,
Initial X-ref: You will receive power. Acts 1:8 and be my witnesses (thus, how this section fits into the master narrative of Acts); and this
Luke 21:12–15 (ESV)
12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. )
b. The Power of Jesus
i. Jesus Healed
“Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
c. You rejected Jesus, but God has glorified him (as God promised he would)
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you,
the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Come back to this latter: Think about what an astounding thing Peter has just said: this man who you saw die a few days ago is not only alive but he actually has power over disease and if I ask him, he will heal people. As Christians, we easily move from Jesus to God (which is a legitimate move, but too easily passes over the fact to all of these people Jesus is a man. To the rulers, he is only a man. This story makes no sense if you miss that point.)
i. You rejected Jesus, but God has glorified him.
Peter quotes Psalm 118.22. This is a Psalm about persecution and deliverance by God. Peter himself will use this same verse in his first letter:
1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Jesus is the living corner stone of the church which is being built.
d. The Council’s Deliberation
i. How do they know these things?/They cannot answer them (as Jesus promised)
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.
Just like Jesus, the rulers cannot understand where this wisdom and power from. However, they are right to understand that it was because they had been with Jesus
Spurgeon in Morning and Evening quotes this verse as a model for Christians (this would make a good application):
Morning, February 11 Go To Evening Reading
“And they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ. You have read lives of Christ, beautifully and eloquently written, but the best life of Christ is his living biography, written out in the words and actions of his people. If we were what we profess to be, and what we should be, we should be pictures of Christ; yea, such striking likenesses of him, that the world would not have to hold us up by the hour together, and say, “Well, it seems somewhat of a likeness;” but they would, when they once beheld us, exclaim, “He has been with Jesus; he has been taught of him; he is like him; he has caught the very idea of the holy Man of Nazareth, and he works it out in his life and every-day actions.” A Christian should be like Christ in his boldness. Never blush to own your religion; your profession will never disgrace you: take care you never disgrace that.
H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
ii. Peter and John are sent out: What should we do?
15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”
iii. Peter’s response: we must obey God rather than men
18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
This is a key verse in considering what must be done when there is a conflict between living as a faithful Christian and some authority which forbids it. See Daniel 1. We must obey God even if it results in punishment
iv. Released with a threat
21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
We have an high-priest which can be (and is) touched with the feeling of our infirmities. How a sinless man as Christ ever was, can be touched with the feeling of the infirmities of sinners, and many of these infirmities sinful ones; how a glorified man, as Christ now is, exalted to, and possessed of the highest glory and bliss, can be, and is touched with the feeling of all the infirmities of all his people, is what the word plainly reveals to be believed; but it is not to be fully known till we come to heaven. But he is the head, and all his people are his body, his members, of his flesh, and of his bones, Eph. 5:30. A marvellous word! Can the flesh be torn, and the bones be broken, and the head not feel it? Though he be glorified above what we can conceive, he is a living, sensible, and compassionate head; and as nearly and closely united to all his members now, as when they saw with their eyes, and heard with their ears, and with their hands handled the word of life, 1 John 1:1. There is nothing ails a poor believer in Christ, there is no groan riseth from his distressed heart, but it is immediately felt at the tender heart of the Lord Jesus, at the Father’s right-hand. We would groan and sing with the same breath, if we believed this firmly.
Robert Traill, The Works of Robert Traill, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1810), 12–13.
Job 7 and Psalm 8 present a paradoxical contrast in the meaning of man before God: Why does God care for man. Job asks why God cares so deeply as to even be concerned with men’s sin:
17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him,
18 visit him every morning and test him every moment?
19 How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.
This sort of question, in the minds of some, has led to a religious impulse which creates a god who simply forgives because this god is merciful — God may be concerned about extremely wicked men (typically this requires genocide or at least extreme viciousness), but God does not care about my “small” sins.
And while this sort of religion appears to be very comforting it comes it at a very high cost. First, it comes at the cost of God: God must give up justice to simply overlook sin without redress: Imagine a judge hearing the case of someone who without question committed a gross injustice against you. The criminal is guilty, you sense your need for justice and the judge simply shows “mercy” and less the bad-guy go. Your anger would rightly rise against this situation, because “mercy” comes at the cost of justice.
What sort of a god could sacrifice justice and still be a just God?
Second, as Job notes, to simply overlook sin without more, comes at the expense of humanity. Job asks, why concern yourself with my sin? I’m not that important.
And so you see, that a merely “merciful” god regards a degradation of God and of humanity. God must be unjust and we must be without value to pull off such a “forgiveness”. It is not surprising then that our civic religion of an avuncular god who simply forgives comes at the cost of human dignity.
Scripture however presents a perfectly holy God. It also places human beings as alone bearing the image of God. For humans to be of such worth requires that God have concern for our sin: because human beings are representing God (whether good or ill).
A high view of God and leads to a high view of the value of human beings — at the very same moment, producing the humility of wonder and love:
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalm 8:4-5 This resolution of the conflict takes place in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews specifically brings these strands together, God, man, sin as follows;
6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Hebrews 2:6-9. There in the place of Jesus, God greatness and justice gather up the sinfulness of humanity and restore human beings to a place of honor.
This is how Paul makes the same argument, from a slightly different vantage:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.