Tuesday, March 28, 2017
March 26, 2017, Second Reformed Church
After Judas leaves to betray Him, Jesus gives the Eleven one last marathon teaching session in the Upper Room. Now, as Judas and the Pharisees and the Roman soldiers head for the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus concludes His teaching of the Eleven, and we cry out with Paul in the ancient creed:
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: [God the Son] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by [God] the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (I Timothy 3:16, ESV).
The indwelling of God the Holy Spirit had not yet come, so the Eleven are still unclear as to Who Jesus is. Understand, they believe in Him, but they do not understand as they will when the Holy Spirit indwells them and reveals Jesus to them. And so, Jesus summarizes the Upper Room discourse and prepares them for what happens.
First, God the Father loves believers.
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
Jesus explains – admits – that He has taught the Eleven using figures of speech – specifically, He has used cryptic language – often in parables. Jesus specifically spoke in a way that was difficult to understand.
Why? What would be the point of speaking in a way that is difficult to understand and easily misunderstood?
Jesus was asked:
“Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’” (Matthew 13:10-15, ESV).
Jesus spoke in parables to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy – so only those people God gave to Jesus to be His people would hear and savingly believe. Salvation is not given to all people, and those who do receive salvation are given it by God – we are not saved by our intellect or understanding – much less our goodness – we are saved because God chose a people for Himself. He is the Holy Spirit Who convicts us and makes us believers so we can understand and believe; we understand and believe Who Jesus is after we have been saved by the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
And that is why the Eleven didn’t get it yet – God the Holy Spirit did not indwell them yet – so they could only understand so far. But Jesus promises that after He leaves, He will not speak to them in cryptic parables anymore, but plainly. How is that?
We thought about this last week: Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same One God, so when Jesus returns to the Father and the Holy Spirit indwells believers, the Holy Spirit speaks to us plainly – He helps us to understand the Word of God and guides us in all that He would have us do and be.
Then Jesus reminds them that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they will pray to the Father in Jesus’ Name, and the Holy Spirit will advocate on our behalf as we pray – especially so we pray those things that the Father wills for us.
And the Father love believers – the Father loves the Eleven – the Father loves all those who believe in the Savior, God the Son Incarnate. God the Father loves us and gives us to His Son and we love the Son because the Father loves us, and the Father loves us for loving the Son.
As Paul writes: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV).
Do we hear what Paul says?
When we were dead in our sins, when we hated God, when we wanted nothing to do with God, when we had no interest in our salvation, when we couldn’t believe in the Savior, when we didn’t want to believe in the Savior, when we couldn’t understand the simplest thing about God, God the Father loved us – God the Father chose us to be His – before the very foundations of the world, God the Father – for His own reasons – nothing to do with how wonderful Christians are – God the Father chose to love and save a people.
So what did God the Father do in His Love? He sent His Son to become a human being – to live a perfect life under God’s Law – to die a horrific death – the Father sacrificed His Son – paying the debt for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe and crediting those same people with Jesus’ righteousness – and then God raised Him – overcoming death, Hell, and the devil – Jesus physically rose and ascended back to the Father – and then the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all we who believe – because the Father loves believers. The Father loves you. The Father loves me.
Sometimes I hear people talk about the God of hate and wrath in the Old Testament and the God of love in the New Testament, but that’s a misunderstanding of the text. The picture is often portrayed of God the Father sitting in a judge’s chair, saying, “guilty, guilty, guilty! They must pay, pay, pay!” And the Son going to the Father and pleading with Him, “O Father, please don’t damn them, I love them so much I will go to earth and take their place to appease You.”
But that’s not what we’re told at all: “For God [the Father] so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son…”
Why is that important to know?
Well, for the Eleven, they were being accused of giving up the religion of Moses – the worship of the One True God. They would be hunted by the non-believing Jews and condemned as blasphemers. So, Jesus tells them to take comfort and rejoice in this: God the Father loves believers – and He always has!
Likewise, in whatever we endure for the sake of the Gospel, we are to remember that God the Father loves us – so much that He sacrificed His Son for us. So, if we lose our job, or family, or friends, or health, or even our life for professing the Gospel, God the Father loves us – and that will never change.
And, Jesus says, those the Father loves – those who love Jesus – believe that Jesus came from the Father – that He is One with the Father and came to earth in the person of Jesus and now is returning back to that Father.
What is Jesus saying?
Those that the Father and the Son love know and believe that Jesus is God Incarnate. Jesus is God the Son – He is deity. Christians believe Jesus is God.
Second, Jesus has overcome the world.
“His disciples said, ‘Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’”
The Eleven get it! They understand that God the Father loves them and chose them and Jesus loves them and He is God.
In fact, they say that they don’t need to question Jesus – they don’t need to make sure He’s knows what He’s doing, because He knows everything – He is omniscient – He knows everything that is and was and will ever be because He is God Himself.
But – in another sense – they don’t get it. They are so excited about what Jesus tells them about the Father that they forget what He has been telling them about His leaving and the persecution – the tribulation – that is upon them.
And Jesus says, “Do you now believe?”
In other words, “It is easy to believe when everything is going well – when I am here with you, telling you that the Father loves you, but when all Hell breaks loose and I am crucified, you will all run and hide in your own homes and leave Me to face the wrath of the world alone.”
What the Eleven see happening to Jesus – and as they think about their own future – and if they may have been wrong about everything – they run and hide – frightened, confused, not knowing what to do next.
This was to fulfill prophecy:
“’Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”’” (Zechariah 13:7-9, ESV).
All the men – except for John – went into hiding when Jesus was crucified. But Jesus was not alone – the Father was with Him.
The Father was with Jesus as He hung on the cross – and all of Creation reacted to the crime being perpetrated against God. Yet, the most horrifying moment was when the Father forsook Jesus – pouring out His Full Wrath against all the sins of those He loves on His Innocent and Holy Son.
But Jesus’ thoughts were with the Eleven: “I have said these things – the entire Upper Room discourse – so that you may have peace in Me even though this is going to happen. I want you to have peace in Me as you sacrificially love one another. I want you to have peace in Me in knowing that the Father and I are the same One God. I want you to have peace in Me knowing that when I return to the Father, We will send God the Holy Spirit to indwell you. I want you to have peace in knowing that your life and growth is in Me – as branches in the Vine. I want you to have peace in Me knowing that just as the world hates Me, it will hate you, because you are Mine. I want you to have peace in Me knowing that when God the Holy Spirit comes, He will convict the world, guide you, and glorify Me. And I want you to have peace in Me because in a little while, I will return to the Father and in a little while God the Holy Spirit will indwell you. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. If you ask anything in My Name that is according to My Will, it will be done, because the Father loves you and I love you. Be at peace in Me, because I am the Sovereign God, and you are forever Mine.”
And Jesus makes them a final promise:
“In the world you will have tribulation – you will be persecuted for believing My Gospel – the world will hate you – even to death. You will suffer. But take heart; I have overcome the world – and because I love you and you are Mine, you also will overcome the world in the end.”
What is the worst that the world can do? Kill us? Jesus said not to fear the one who can only kill the body. Why? Because Jesus is Sovereign over life and death and will physically raise all of His people to eternal life on the last day. If they kill us, we get to be with Jesus sooner! If they torture us and steal from us and injure our loves ones, we pray for them, but we are at peace and rejoice because we are known as believers of Jesus as God the Son and Savior, the Incarnate Jesus.
The world will make us suffer. The world can make us unhappy. The world can make our lives difficult. The world can kill us. And they do. But Jesus has overcome the world – and through Him and in Him – we have overcome the world – so be at peace, be comforted, have hope – all is well – be of good cheer.
That’s what Jesus is telling the Eleven as they ready to go to the Garden of Gethsemane – “Be of good cheer, beloved! They are going to abuse Me and reject Me and kill Me, but I have overcome the world, and I will physically rise and return to the Father – and you will overcome the world as well – all is well!”
And some people will say that’s living in denial – that’s not reality. But the fact of the matter is that the world does not see – the world does not hear – our Beloved Father loves us and we have overcome the world through Jesus.
The earth is ours!
The kingdom is ours!
And all the glory and all the praise belongs to our Triune God!
Let us go forth to the Garden!
And let us pray:
Almighty God, we rejoice in the truth and sure hope that Jesus gave to the Eleven: we are stunned and humbled to know that You love us and that we have already overcome the world through Jesus. Grant us Your peace and hope as we grow into the Image of Your Son and suffer for His sake. Continue to forgive us for our sins, and may we daily love Jesus more and more and turn away from temptation to sin. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
“A Little While”
March 19, 2017 Second Reformed Church
Jesus seeks to comfort the Eleven as He explains to them the benefits of Jesus leaving and the Holy Spirit coming: the Holy Spirit will convict the world, He will guide them in all truth, and He will glorify Jesus. Jesus is leaving them as their Advocate on earth to become their Advocate in Heaven, and the Holy Spirit is coming to become their Advocate on earth.
Next, Jesus explains to them what will happen in a little while.
First, Jesus’ leaving will cause them great sorrow.
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. “
We can imagine this conversation – and the confusion – can’t we?
“In a little while, I am going to go back to the Father and you won’t see Me, and then in a little while, you will see Me.”
And the Eleven huddle together: “Does anybody have a clue what He’s talking about? He told us He’s going to be killed and return to the Father. So, how are we going to not see Him and then see Him?”
And. Jesus, being God, knows what they are talking about, and Jesus asks them, “Are you confused because I said – in a little while – you would not see Me because I go to the Father and then you will see Me?”
This sounds like a Three Stooges routine, doesn’t it?
And Jesus tells them, the first thing I want you to understand is that you will experience great sorrow when I leave, but the world – the unbelievers – are going to rejoice.
Well, what happened a little while later?
Jesus was arrested and brought before the high priests and the Sanhedrin – and they tried Him and condemned Him as a blasphemer for claiming to be God, and they punched Him in the face and spit on Him.
And Jesus was delivered over to Governor Pilate under the charge of claiming to be king – against Caesar – and though Pilate could find no reason to punish Jesus – much less kill Him – he folded under the calls of the crowd and the threats of naming him a traitor against Rome, and he had Jesus flogged and then crucified.
The soldiers stripped Jesus and put a purple robe on Him and nailed a crown of thorns to His head and feigned worship of Him, and hit Him, and spit on Him, and mocked Him. And then they led Him off to be crucified.
And while He hung on the cross, it is recorded:
“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.”’ And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27:39-44, ESV).
The world would rejoice! “We’ve got Him! We’ve taken down another heretic and put things back in order. We’ll never, ever have to deal with Jesus of Nazareth and His crazy claims again. What a relief to get back to normalcy.”
The Eleven would be saddened beyond sadness. The men would go into hiding. Only John would be at the cross – along with many of the women. The Man they believe to be the Messiah had been rejected and killed – and now they would be hunted down if they did not deny Him.
As so it was, as the author of Hebrews briefly records it: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35b-38, ESV).
The rejoicing of the world over Jesus would become the rejoicing of the world over believers – over the Church. And the sorrow of the Eleven over Jesus would become the sorrow of the Church – believers – over believers – as the world persecutes us and attempts to stamp out all knowledge and belief that Jesus is God the Son and Savior from the world – as the devil and his followers seek to do as much damage as they can in this war he knows they have already lost.
People have called for the end of religion and the death of faith groups and especially the end of Christianity and the death of Christians for over two thousand years – and believers in the Savior for over six thousand years. Most sites document about 100,000 Christians martyred each year since 2000, and the estimate is that seven out of every ten Christians in the world today will be martyred. These numbers are significantly higher than any other religious group.
The torture, crucifixion, death, and return to the Father caused the Eleven and other disciples great sorrow. And we live with the sorrow of our brothers and sisters in Christ continually being killed around the world. This is reality.
But that is not the whole answer to the Eleven’s question; they understood that sorrow would follow Jesus returning to the Father, though they didn’t understand it all then. They understood that He wouldn’t be with them anymore. They wouldn’t see Him anymore. They bigger question in that moment is, how, in a little while, would they see Him?
Second, Jesus’ leaving will cause them great joy.
“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.’
The Eleven understood – intellectually – that part of the curse visited upon Eve – and all women after her – due to our first parents’ sin in the Garden is that women bear children in great pain – with much sorrow.
And Jesus does not discount the reality of the pain and the sorrow of childbirth, yet, He explains that after the baby is born, the pain of childbirth is replaced with the joy of the baby in her mother’s arms. The joy of the new life is greater than the pain of delivering the baby.
So, Jesus explains that in a little while, He will be put to death and return to the Father, but that pain and sorrow will be overshadowed by the joy of their seeing Him – in a little while.
So, the question is, when is the second “in a little while”?
Some will like to say it is at the Resurrection of Jesus, but that can’t be, because He hadn’t returned to the Father at that point.
Others will point to the Second Coming, but that can’t be, because Jesus promises these Eleven human beings that they will experience this joy in their lifetimes – not after the universal resurrection on the last day.
The answer is found in considering that the first “in a little while,” refers to a few days, so, it is likely that the second, “in a little while,” refers to days. Second, Jesus is God, One Person of the Holy Trinity – and all Three Persons are the same One God. And third, Jesus was just talking to them about the advantages of the coming of God the Holy Spirit.
So, when Jesus says they will see Him in a little while – He is telling them that they will see Him – that is, God – in the Person of God the Holy Spirit – in mere days after He – Jesus – returns to the Father – that is, in fifty days – on the day of Pentecost, when the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is given to believers.
This is what God told the prophet Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, ESV).
The day would come – and it came in a little while – on Pentecost – when God the Holy Spirit indwelled believers – and He now guides believers in all truth. The Holy Spirit fills us with the joy of God, so that no matter what we may endure through this tribulation – as going through the pains of childbirth – the end result is joy – great joy.
As Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
If we know that and believe it – if God the Holy Spirit is applying that promise to us as we go through this life, then, good or bad, suffering or slaughter – we understand that somehow, God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
For the Eleven and for all of us who believe – Jesus has returned to the Father, God the Holy Spirit indwells us – so God is with us, as He was with the Eleven in the beginning – just in the Person of the Spirit instead of the Person of the Son – yet, still the same One God – and as much as we despise the suffering and sorrow – it will most certainly and without fail lead to joy beyond comprehension, because God has promised it will be so.
The whole Creation believes this is true, as well, as Paul tells us:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:18-25, ESV).
The whole Creation is going through the pains of childbirth and will be received into the joy of restoration when all the corruption that we and our sin have put upon the Creation will be removed. And we also, will be resurrected and restored, delivered from this body of death and given a physical body of life, like Jesus’ – and joy – such joy.
Finally, Jesus tells the Eleven to ask the of Father in His Name and receive joy.
“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Once Jesus has returned to the Father, and – in a little while – the day of Pentecost comes and with it the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells the Eleven at that time they ought to pray to the Father, in Jesus’ Name – according to the merit of Jesus, in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit – that what they ask would be the Will of God – and the Father will give it to them – in fact, they will receive joy in whatever they ask.
We have seen this theme before in the Upper Room discourse: if we ask for what God wants us to have, God will give it to us because it is what He wants us to want.
Here, Jesus clarifies this promise a little by telling us that once God the Son advocates on our behalf before the Father, if we ask anything that Jesus would want us to have or be – and because He has merited salvation for us – and because we are indwelled by God the Holy Spirit Who gives us the understanding and the power to obey God’s commands and to desire what He desires – we will all the more come to ask for the right things and receive them – and be filled with joy in receiving them.
As Paul explains: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).
Here is our joy: with Jesus meriting salvation for those the Father gave Him – all believers – with the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – Who is given since the day of Pentecost by the Father and the Son, Jesus intercedes for us before the Father, the Father searches the mind of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit asks God for what God wants so we will receive it – even when we don’t know what the right thing is for us to ask. So, as we seek the things of God – as we are led by God in all truth, God in Holy Trinity works together to give us joy in the Will of God fulfilled in our lives, as well as hope in the promises to come.
And so, there is sorrow and suffering for the Church and individual Christians until Jesus returns, but, since God the Holy Spirit now indwells us, we are being led in truth and hope, and we know that this is not our best life now – the best is yet to come when Jesus returns to judge the world and restore the Creation. Our joy is in the day when Jesus brings us into full conformity with Himself in our glorified physical bodies.
Until then, we have the joy and the hope of being led by God in all the things God would have for us so we will be filled with His joy.
These are horrible days of suffering, and these are wondrous days of joy. The joy of the world will be turned to sorrow, and our suffering will be nothing compared with our joy. And we only have to wait a little while – Jesus is returning.
So let us follow Him in faith and obedience, calling on the Father and relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And let us pray:
Almighty God, we would be fools rejoicing without hope were it not for Your love of the world and the sending of Your Son to save a people for Himself. We thank You for the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and the joy You are bringing us into. Help us to trust and believe even as the sword separates our head from our body that we shall live and rejoice forever in the Kingdom without end. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.