VIDEO I Am the Good Shepherd

John MacArthur Aug 3, 2014

Turn in our Bibles again to the tenth chapter of John.  And this really wonderful, and rich, and precious portion of Scripture in which our Lord identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep.

That particular metaphor, that simile, that word picture as it’s called in verse 6 maybe needs a bit of an explanation for us as to context so that you know why it happened here.  There’s nothing sort of isolated in the ministry of Jesus.  Everything of course had a context, a historical context.  I think many people read the Bible as some kind of a spiritual book, as if it were detached from history, and events, and people, and consequences, and sequences.  But this is all history.  And all that we read in the gospels in terms of doctrine, and theology, and our Lord’s great discourses were, in a moment and an event, a strategic point where this is what spoke to that moment, and what spoke to that crucial hour.  That’s essentially true of this. 

Our Lord had been, in chapter 8, in a confrontation with the leaders of Israel.  And they had rejected Him, and they had declared their hatred of Him, and they were on a course to kill Him.  In fact, by the time you get to chapter 10, they’ve tried at least three times to bring about His death.  There’s no question what their view of Christ is. 

In chapter 8, there was this conflict, this confrontation.  And admittedly, He escalated it by telling them the truth.  He said to them: “You’re of your father, the devil.”  He’s a liar and a murderer, and so you are liars and murders as well.  We could say that, for them, the incident in chapter 8 ended on a very severe note.  As a result, chapter 8 ends with these words: “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him.  Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” 

So He escapes a stoning; and on the spot, kind of vigilante mob violence execution.  On His way out of the temple, He sees a blind man.  And by now, He’s absorbed in the crowd.  And as He goes out of the gate, He sees a blind man, ’cause that’s what blind men did.  They sat at the gate to beg.  And that’s where He found this man.  The man had been blind from birth and Jesus stops and heals him. 

By then, His enemies, the Pharisees, had caught up with Him.  They had slowed down the effort to kill Him at the moment, He being absorbed in the crowd and having drawn the crowd’s attention by the miracle.  They are, again, deeply distressed by the fact that He is having such popularity and that He has healed this man and drawn such attention to Himself.  They had made a law.  That law is indicated in chapter 9, verse 22 that if anyone confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue.  Well, Jesus healed the blind man, and then the blind man came to faith in Christ. 

As the story ends, we know down in verse 38 he said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him.  So, the man was healed physically, and he was healed spiritually.  And as a result of that, he violated their law.  He has confessed Him as Messiah, Lord, and Savior.  They throw him out of the synagogue, and they are still completely intent on killing Jesus. 

Chapter 9, then, features an extension of chapter 8 in the hostility of the religious leaders of Judaism toward Jesus.  The healing of the blind man, in a sense, in the big drama of things, is somewhat incidental.  Not incidental to the blind man, but the big picture here is that when Jesus does a monumental miracle that has no other explanation, because this is a man congenitally blind, and everybody knows it because he’s a familiar figure there who has been begging a long time, it has no effect on how they feel about Jesus.  They make no move in the direction of affirming something other than that He’s satanic.  Their hostility has passed the point of any return.  They are, in fact, demonstrating themselves to be false leaders who, instead of acknowledging their Messiah, reject their Messiah, and want to execute their Messiah.  They are, in a word, the false shepherds of Israel. 

Shepherding was obviously a metaphor in the ancient world that people understood in an agrarian society.  It was very common in the Old Testament as we read in Psalm 80.  God was called the shepherd of Israel.  Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and other places.  They all understood that because the land of Israel was full of sheep and shepherds.  Shepherds spoke of care and feeding and protection.  These were men who appointed themselves shepherds of Israel, but they were false shepherds.  Truth is: they were wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

So, in chapter 9, after the healing of this man, they surface again with the same hatred and the same hostility.  The chapter closes, chapter 9 does, with Jesus pronouncing a judgment on them because of their blindness, because they are willfully blind to the truth. The conversation, specifically with them, ends with these words: “Your sin remains.”  You are anything but righteous.  You are in your sin. 

Now, He said that back earlier when He said to them, “You will die in your sin, and where I go, you will never come.”  Here He says, a couple of chapters later, “You remain in your sin.”  Your sin remains.  So, here are the blind leaders of Israel, the blind leaders of the blind; here are the false shepherds of Israel.

As we come into chapter 10, He is still talking to them, still talking to them.  They’re still there.  The blind man is still there.  The disciples are there.  The crowd of Jews is there by the location where the healing took place.  And the Pharisees, scribes, are still there.  Jesus then launches into a description of how a good shepherd conducts his life.  That description is what we looked at last week, verses 1 to 10.  It is, according to verse 6, a figure of speech, an analogy, a metaphor.  And we looked at some of the details about that last week that help us to understand shepherding.  A shepherd has his own sheep.  He has his own sheep.  He knows his own sheep.  He not only has the right to lead and feed his own sheep, but he has the responsibility to lead and feed his own sheep.

At night, you’ll remember, the sheep would come into the village fold and every shepherd would bring his sheep, and they would all be in the same fold.  And then in the morning, the shepherd would come and call out his own sheep and call them by name.  He knows his sheep.  He calls them by name.  The sheep know their master’s voice, and they follow him.  The sheep will not follow a stranger.  We also learned that while they’re in the fold at night, thieves and robbers may try to climb over the wall and fleece the sheep or even slaughter the sheep.  And so, there has to be a guard set at the door to protect the sheep, ’cause there are always thieves and robbers.  The shepherd is committed to protecting them at night in the fold, and then in the morning coming and leading them out and, by name, one by one, to green pastures and still waters.  The shepherd is even the door, because they have to pass by him to be identified as his own. 

Beautiful picture of animal husbandry, but that’s not its intent.  That’s the figure.  The reality comes clear when you look at the language in verse 9.  “I am the door; if anyone comes through Me, he will be saved.”  Oh, I see what we’re talking about.  This is a picture of the salvation provided by the true shepherd.  The salvation.  These are all pictures of salvation doctrine.  The divine Shepherd has His own sheep.  They’ve been given to Him by the Father.  They’ve been chosen before the foundation of the world.  He knows them all by name.  He has the right to call them.  He calls them by name.  They know His voice.  They follow Him.  They will not follow a stranger.  That’s salvation.  The elect are in the fold of the world.  But the time comes to call them out, and the voice of the Shepherd calls, and they hear that voice, and they follow that voice.  This is irresistible grace; this is the effectual call, the divine call to salvation.

They will not follow a stranger.  They will not follow a voice that’s unfamiliar.  Yes, there are thieves and robbers, false teachers who try to climb into the fold and fleece and destroy the sheep – can come to destroy and kill – but the Shepherd provides protection for them from the false teachers.  The Shepherd leads them, goes before them, and they follow Him.  He takes them in a safe way to green pastures, meaning spiritual blessing; still waters, meaning spiritual blessings throughout time and all into eternity.  It’s a lesson on salvation.  That’s the figure. 

Contrary to the false shepherds who are the strangers, who are the thieves, who are the robbers, and who we will see in verses 11 to 21 are the hired hands.  The true Shepherd cares for His sheep.  So, this picture, everybody would affirm.  They would all say that’s exactly what a shepherd does.  He has his own sheep, he has the responsibility to care for those sheep, he puts them in a safe place, he calls them out of the fold, he calls them by name, he names them, they know his voice, they follow him, they don’t follow a stranger, they have to be protected from the danger of thieves and robbers, they are led out by the shepherd to places where they can eat and drink.  That’s a good shepherd.  That’s a picture of salvation. 

Who is the shepherd?  Jesus is starting to give us a pretty good idea when in verse 9, as we saw last week, He says, “I am the door.”  Shepherds were the door.  At night, the sheep would go in, and the shepherd would drop his rod and stop every sheep, every sheep, every sheep.  Check them over for any kind of wound or any kind of problem, and then lift the staff and let them go in.  In the morning, he’d call them all by name, and they had to pass by him into his care.  The shepherd was the door.  Jesus is saying this shepherd, this faithful shepherd, this is how shepherding should be done.  This is how I do it.  I am the door.  That gives a pretty good hint.

We know He’s speaking metaphorically because it is a figure of speech, and because in the same verse, He says He’s talking about salvation.  But then in verse 11, He says specifically, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  That Good Shepherd that I just described?  That Good Shepherd that I just identified by the way He behaves Himself and conducts His life with the sheep?  “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand” – or a hireling – “and is not concerned about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This commandment I received from My Father.”

“A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words.  Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is insane.  Why do you listen to Him?’ Others were saying, ‘These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed.  A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”

So here, in verses 11 to 21, our Lord explains how He fulfills the identity of the Good Shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the One prophesied, as we saw last week in Ezekiel 34, the Good Shepherd that God Himself would send.  And as I told you last time and I reiterate again, He launches into this particular figure of speech because the religious leaders of Israel were known as the shepherds of Israel, but they were false shepherds.  And so, He distinguishes the false leaders from Himself.  He is the True Shepherd of the sheep.  They were blind.  That’s how the conversation with them ended in chapter 9, verses 39 to 41.  They were spiritually blind to the truth of God.  They couldn’t lead anybody anywhere because they couldn’t see where they were going themselves.  They are false leaders.  They are, in fact, strangers, not shepherds.  They are hirelings, hired hands who do what they do for money and have no concern for the sheep.  They are thieves, they are robbers who want to fleece and kill.

Jesus was talking about them, in contrast to Himself.  Did they understand it?  No.  Verse 6.  They didn’t understand what those things were which He had been saying to them, which is proof of what He said in verses 39 to 41 in chapter 9.  “You are blind.  You do not understand.”  He said that earlier.  “Whatever I say, you don’t understand.”  He actually went so far as to say, “Because I tell you the truth, you don’t understand, because you are of your father the devil, who is a liar.”  If I lied, you would get it, but when I tell the truth, you don’t.

So this very paroimia, or simile, metaphor, is designed as an illustration not only of the Good Shepherd, but an illustration of the blindness of the false shepherds, because they didn’t even understand it at all.  The false leaders, thieves, robbers, strangers, hired hands have nothing in mind but protecting themselves.  They are not about to risk their lives for the sheep, as we read.  They want the money, and if need be, they will become thieves and robbers to get it.  They are strangers, not shepherds.  The true shepherd, however, is described here as one who loves and cares for and nourishes, and lives for and dies for the sheep.  And that, of course, is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. 

So let’s look then at these verses 11 through 21, and we’ll just kind of work our way through.  This is the, by the way, the fourth “I am” in the gospel of John.  There are a whole series of “I am’s” that our Lord gives, and “I am” is the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew, the ego eimi in Greek, the “I am,” meaning the name of God; so they are claims to deity as well in the context of each one.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  I am the resurrection and the life.  I am the door.  I am the Good Shepherd.  All affirmations of His deity bound up in the “I am” statement of it.

But here, He is the Good Shepherd.  Let’s look at that a little bit.  “I am the good shepherd.”  Then He repeats it immediately, “the good shepherd,” again.  Now, this is an important construction for us to understand.  The emphasis here is this: “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  Very important order there.  “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  As if to say, “in contrast to all the bad ones.”  I am the shepherd, the good one.  But there’s two words in Greek for “good.”  One is agathos, from which you get the word, “agatha,” or the name “Agatha.”  Agathos, old name.  Agathos means sort of morally good.  Good, and sort of confined to moral goodness.  It’s a wonderful word, a magnificent word, familiar in the New Testament.

But the other word is kalos, the opposite of kakos, which is “to be bad.”  Kalos is to be good not only in the sense of moral quality, but it’s a more encompassing word.  It means to be beautiful, to be magnificent, to be winsome, to be attractive, to be lovely, to be excellent on all levels, not just in that which is unseen in terms of character, but in all aspects.  I am the shepherd, the excellent one.  I am the shepherd, be it the lovely one, the beautiful one, as contrasted to the ugly ones, the dangerous ones. 

He is not just another shepherd.  He is the shepherd, the good one, the one who is preeminently excellent.  He’s above all shepherds.  The good one. 

Now, the Jews had an idea about who was the best shepherd.  For them, historically, it was David.  It was David.  David the shepherd boy who cared for his father’s flocks and defeated Goliath, and became the king of Israel.  David was their great shepherd, historically.

But you do remember in chapter 5, Jesus claimed to be greater than Moses, and in chapter 8, He claimed to be greater than Abraham – “before Abraham was I am.”  And here, He is shepherd far greater than any other shepherd including David, including David. 

He is the shepherd who is the good one, the premier one.  That is quite a claim to make, to say You are better than Moses, better than Abraham, better than David, and to say You are God?  No wonder He had to back it up with miracles, right?

He was telling those Jews that He was God, because they knew Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd.”  They knew Psalm 80, the “Shepherd of Israel.”  They knew what Isaiah the prophet said about God shepherding His people.  He is saying: “I am the shepherd, the good one.”  Again, another claim to deity. 

Now, His true goodness as a shepherd is seen in three ways here in this passage.  I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t know, but I am going to tell you what’s here.  You can be grateful you do know this, because looking at this again is so rich and wonderful for us.  This shepherd, this shepherd, the good one is marked by three particular ministries to His sheep.  One, He dies for them; two, He loves them; three, He unites them.  He dies for them, He loves them, He unites them. 

Back to verse 11.  The shepherd, the good one, “lays down His life for the sheep.”  Shepherds were absolutely responsible for sheep.  It was serious business.  It was a man’s man’s job, and it was really kind of a lowly and humble job as well, because it was unskilled and it was high risk, and it was messy and dirty.  But a shepherd was absolutely responsible for the sheep.  If anything happened to the shepherd, he had to produce proof that it was not his fault due to dereliction of duty or rustling the sheep away for his own keeping, or letting a friend take one, or whatever.

Amos the prophet speaks about the shepherd rescuing two legs, or a piece of an ear out of the lion’s mouth (Amos 3:12).  They were in battle with beasts.  There were wolves, there were mountain lions, there were even bears.  David tells Saul how when he was keeping his father’s sheep, back in 1 Samuel 17, David fought off a lion, and he fought off a bear.  By the way, that’s what made David such a heroic shepherd.

In Isaiah 31, Isaiah speaks of the crowd of shepherds being called out.  When a lion attacked, they called the shepherds to go fight the lion.  The law laid it down, Exodus 22:13, “If the sheep be torn in pieces, then let him bring a piece for a witness.”  If you don’t have a sheep, if you lost a sheep, you have to account for that sheep to the ultimate owner.  You have to bring a piece to prove that it was an animal. 

To the shepherd, it was the most natural thing then to risk his life.  It’s what shepherds did.  It’s what they did.  You could just take them to the grass and leave them there, I suppose, but why did the shepherd stay?  Why those long, long, long hours of staying there?  Because he had to be a protector. 

There’s an old book called the The Land of the Book, and the author of that historical look at Israel said, “I have listened with intense interest to their graphic descriptions of downright and desperate fights with savage beasts.  And when the thief and the robber come, the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend his flock.  I have known more than one case where he had literally to lay it down in the contest.”  Well, I mean, if you’re fighting a wild beast, you could lose.  So, there was risk and you couldn’t just all of a sudden stop the risk.  It could come to death.

He goes on to say: “A poor fellow last spring, between Tiberius and Tabor, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces with their khanjars, and died among the sheep he was defending.”  It happened.  But that’s what a shepherd did.  Talk about a man’s man, talk about a tough job – low paying, low skill. 

A shepherd who was doing what he should never hesitated to risk, perhaps even lay down his life.  And it was voluntary, ’cause he didn’t have to engage in that.  That’s why Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, the shepherd who’s the good one lays down his life.”  He lays down his life.  Go down to verse 18.  “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and to take it again.” 

Freely, voluntarily, Jesus gave up His life for the sheep.  Some would say, “Well, that’s no big thing.  He’s God, so He had a body, and He gave up the body and, you know, big deal.”  It’s more than that.  It’s strange that the commentators would even say something like that.  There was a lot more than that, and it’s bound up in the word “life.”  He lays down His life.  It’s not the word bios or zoe.  Those are the two words for “life” in Greek.  Bios, biological life; zoe, that gets transliterated “zoology,” the study of life. 

It was neither of those sort of scientific words.  It’s the word psuche, which is the word for “soul,” which speaks of the whole person.  Not the outside, but the inside.  The psuche is the inside.  He gave up His soul, His whole person.  He didn’t just feel the pain of the nails in His body, and the pain of the thorns in His body, and the pain of the scourging in His body.  His whole soul was tortured with sin-bearing anguish, suffering.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “The Son of man gives His soul a ransom for many.”  It translates “life,” but it’s psuche again.  He gives His soul, His whole person, and He felt it in every part of His being. 

Why did He do that?  Why did He voluntarily lay down His soul?  He says, “for the sheep,” huper, “on behalf of, for the benefit of.”  That’s exactly what it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Paul explains: “He who knew no sin became sin for us” – “for us,” “for us,” “for us.”  Huper appears in a lot of passages that speak about the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that He took our place, that He died for us.  An actual atonement, folks.  He laid down His soul for the sheep.  That’s pretty narrow.  For the sheep.  It was an actual atonement, a complete atonement for the sheep whom He knew, and who, when called, would know Him.

He did it for the benefit of the sheep.  From a natural standpoint, if this happened to the shepherd, that’s the end of the sheep.  If something’s coming after the sheep and kills the shepherd, the sheep are going to be vulnerable.  They’re liable to be killed, they’re liable to be scattered. Whether it’s an animal or a robber or a thief, the death of the shepherd could really spell the end of the sheep. 

But this shepherd?  No.  Because He laid down His life, verse 18 says He had the power to do what?  “Take it up again.”  And on the third day, He came out of the grave and re-gathered His scattered sheep.  Were they scattered?  Yeah, they were.  Smite the shepherd and what?  The sheep are scattered.  Zechariah promised, and they were.  But He came back from the grave and re-gathered them, and He said this: “All that the Father gives to me will come to Me, and I have lost none of them.” 

So the death of the shepherd usually meant the death of the shepherd in some cases, but not in this case.  Why did He die?  Isaiah 53:8, “For the transgression of My people.”  Matthew 1:21, “You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins,” His sheep.  It’s an actual atonement.  It’s not a potential one that you can sort of turn into a real one by believing.  He actually paid in full the penalty for His sheep, whom He knew, and throughout human history is calling to Himself.  Very unlike a hired hand, verse 12.  “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.”

The true shepherd, or the owner – and sometimes they were the same – he cares about the sheep.  It’s not a job for him.  It’s his very life.  He has developed relationships with those sheep.  They’re known to him.  They’re loved by him.  That’s not true of hired hands.  I like the old translation, “hirelings,” “hirelings.” A characteristic of a hireling, according to Zechariah 11:6, is that he makes no attempt to gather the scattered sheep.  The world has always been full of hirelings; this is another word for the leaders of Israel: strangers, thieves, robbers, now hired hands, hirelings.  I suppose it’s better to be a hireling who runs than a thief or a robber. 

But the end is the same.  The end is the same.  The sheep become victims of any of these.  The world has always been full of this, and the flock of God is always attacked, and the world is always attacked by these false leaders who fleece and destroy the sheep, and who flee when real trouble comes. 

And who is the wolf?  The wolf is anything that attacks the sheep, anything.  Anything satanic, anything satanically orchestrated through the world, anything, anything that comes against the sheep.  There are many false pastors, false teachers, as there have been throughout history.  They may say, “Lord, Lord, we did this, we did that,” and He’s going to say, “You depart from me.  I never knew you.”  There are perverse men, Acts 20, who rise up within the church and lead people astray, as well as wolves from the outside.

But Jesus is the one who will risk His life and give it up for His sheep.  A hireling is a mercenary.  No impulse other than personal gain, and a coward in a crisis.  And when the crisis comes, whether it’s an attack on the outside or an attack on the inside, the hireling is going to protect himself.  He’s out. 

There is outside danger.  Outside danger, attack from the wolves.  There is also the wolves dressed like sheep.  Jesus said in Matthew 7, “There is inside danger, the false teachers, who instead of protecting the flock, flee when the danger comes.”  But the True Shepherd, He gives His life for the sheep, and then He takes it back again and gathers them as they have been scattered.

So, the church’s first essential really in leadership is Christ-like shepherding, where you even put your life on the line, even risk your life for the sheep.  You risk your life to be the one through whom God in Christ can call them out, protect them.  When the danger comes, you don’t run.  When the danger comes, you stand up. 

I was talking to one of the missionaries at the conference yesterday, and he was saying, “Where are the people who will stand up and speak the truth to protect the people of God?  Where are they?”  So hard to find any.  We’re all under-shepherds, 1 Peter 5, under the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  We all have to be willing to risk our lives for the sheep. 

So, the first characteristic, then, of the shepherd’s relationship to the sheep is: he gives his life.  Secondly, he loves his sheep.  This is, of course, what’s behind the giving of his life.  Verse 14: “I am the shepherd, the good one, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”  This explains why He lays down His life voluntarily for the sheep, because He knows them. 

You say, well, where do you get love?  There’s no love there.  It’s all know, four times, the verb ginosko, “to know.”  Well, let me show you something, just a little bit of a hint.  “My Father knows Me,” verse 15.  “My Father knows Me.” Verse 17, “the Father loves Me.”  That’s the interpretive key.  The word “know” here has the idea of a loving relationship.  This goes all the way back to Genesis 4:1 where Adam knew his wife and she had a child.  Cain knew his wife, and she had a child.  Adam knows Eve again and another child, Seth.  God actually says in Amos, “Israel only have I known.”  It doesn’t mean the Jews are the only people He’s acquainted with.  What is it talking about?  It says about Joseph that he was so disturbed because Mary was pregnant and he had never known her.  What is that talking about?  That’s a euphemism for intimacy. 

It’s not about information.  It’s not about information.  It’s about love, and four times, that word “know” here, it implies this intimate relationship, this intimate, sweet, loving fellowship.  This sort of consummated relationship. 

In the 14th chapter of John, and verse 21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and disclose Myself to him.”  So there, the language is love, rather than knowing.  Verse 23: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.  My Father will love him.  We will come to Him and make our abode with Him.”  So when you see the word “know” in this context, it’s the idea of loving, intimate relationship.

He loves His sheep.  He knows them more than knowing their name, more than knowing who they are.  He has an intimate relationship with them.  He knows them intimately.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Depart from Me, I never” – What? – “I never knew you, but I know who you are.”  It’s not about information.  I know who you are.  I don’t have any intimate relationship with you, any love relationship.  He wanted to give His life for His sheep because He knew them, He loved them. 

John 3:16.  “God so loved the world that He” – What? – “gave His only begotten Son.”  That’s why the Father gave the Son; that’s why the Son gave His life.  He loves His sheep.  He loves His sheep.  This too is in stark contrast to the false shepherds who have no love for the sheep, no affection for the sheep that they claim to shepherd.  He loves His own. 

That love leads to a third aspect of the relationship.  He unites the sheep.  First with Himself, and then with each other.  Verse 16.  “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

Now, what did I tell you about the fold in verse 1 last week?  I told you the fold in verse 1 is Israel, right?  The shepherd comes to the fold, calls out his sheep.  The Lord is the shepherd; He comes to Israel, to the Jew first, and then He calls out His sheep by name, and they follow Him.  But, He also has sheep which are not of the fold of Israel.  I have to bring them also. 

Who are they?  Non-Jews.  Anybody outside Israel.  The Gentiles, the nations.  This is stunning.  This is unacceptable to the Jews.  This is more fuel for their animosity because they resent Gentiles.  They believe Gentiles are permanently outside salvation, the covenant, and the promises of God.  And yet, in Isaiah 42, a messianic chapter, a messianic prophecy, we read verse 6: “I am the Lord.  I have called You in righteousness.”  This is God speaking to the Messiah.  “I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You.  I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations to open blind eyes and bring prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”  There’s a messianic promise that the Messiah would take salvation to the nations.  Another one of those is in 49 of Isaiah, verse 6.  “Is it too small a thing that You should be My Servant” – the Messiah – “to raise up the tribes of Jacob to restore the preserved ones of Israel?  I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  What about that?

He’s shocking them by saying, “Look, I have sheep not in your fold.”  It’s why there’s a Great Commission.  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  Go make disciples of all nations.

And He will bring them all together as one flock with one shepherd, and that’s why Paul in Galatians 3 says, “In Christ, there’s neither Jew nor Greek,” Jew or Gentile.  That’s why in Ephesians 2, Paul says, “The middle wall of partition is torn down, and we’re all one in Christ.”  Jew, Gentile.

In chapter 11, verse 49, Caiaphas in making his inadvertent prophecy; he was high priest.  He said to the people who were conspiring to kill Jesus, he said, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, that the whole nation not perish. Now, he did not say this on his own initiative.  But being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one, the children of God who are scattered abroad.”  That was always His intent.  He unites His sheep.  He brings them together.  To Himself, to each other. 

So that is the relation of the Good Shepherd to the sheep.  He gives His life because He loves them, and He brings them into intimate unity with Himself, and with one another.  He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, one with Him, and one with all others in the one body of Christ.

Secondly, and just briefly, the relationship of the Good Shepherd to the Father is in verses 17 and 18.  “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This commandment I received from My Father.”  Let me give you a simple understanding of that.  The Father gave a command.  The command to Jesus was: “Lay Your life down and take it up.  You have the authority to do that.  I am commanding You to do it.” 

It was a command, but “no one has taken it from Me.  I lay it down on My own initiative.”  That’s why the Father loves Me, because of My obedience.  This is pretty profound.  Yes, the Father chose Jesus to be the Lamb, the acceptable sacrifice.  Yes, the Father is the One who killed the Son by the predetermined counsel and foreknowledge of God.  He was the sacrifice. 

But this is not fatalism.  This is not something about which Jesus had no choice.  I laid My life down.  No one takes it from Me, including God.  Jesus is telling us this was a perfect act of willing obedience.  These are mysteries.  He couldn’t sin.  He had no capacity to sin.  And yet, there’s a real struggle.  Because in the garden, He says, “Father, if it’s possible” – Do what?  Stop this. – “take this cup from me; nevertheless not My will, let Yours be done.”  He voluntarily did what the Father commanded Him to do, and that’s how He demonstrated His love to the Father, and that’s why the Father loves Him.  “The Father loves Me because I laid my life down that I may take it again.”  That’s what the Father wanted Him to do; that was critical to the plan of salvation, to gather the redeemed into eternal glory. 

He did it voluntarily.  This was not fatalistic.  This wasn’t something He had no choice about.  He couldn’t make a wrong choice, but He voluntarily made the right choice.  “I had a command given to Me.  I voluntarily, willfully obeyed that command and thus secured the Father’s love.”  “If you love Me,” Jesus said – Do what? – “keep My commandments.”  That’s how you affirm your love. 

There’s so much of this in the section we’re coming to in John 14 and 15, I won’t go into it now.  But, His relationship to the Father was one of love and obedience, love and obedience.  Two sides of the same thing.  So that’s a model for us.  “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  The Father eternally loves the Son, of course.  The Son eternally loves the Father.  But in some unique way in the incarnation, the Son voluntarily, willfully, obeyed the command of the Father to give up His life out of love for the Father, and in so doing, sustained the Father’s love forever.  Love and obedience.

There’s a final relationship here, the relationship of the Good Shepherd to the world, the relationship of the Good Shepherd to the world.  What is it?  Well, it’s in verses 19 to 21.  “A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words.”  And by the way, if you go back to chapter 7, verse 43, back to chapter 9, I think it’s verse 16, there are divisions.  Jesus divided the crowd.  The divisions, though, are not between necessarily believers and non-believers.  There are divisions among non-believers and that’s what you have here.  A division occurred among the Jews because of what Jesus had said.  Many of them, many of them, maybe the majority of them, were saying, “He has a demon and is insane.  Why do you listen to Him?”  That would’ve been the mantra, of course, of the leaders.  And the people would’ve bought into it.  You know, He does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, Satan, as we read in Matthew 12. 

So, at one pole in the division were the people who said Jesus is a maniac, He’s a madman, He’s a demon-possessed lunatic.  We have people like that, people who don’t mind cursing Jesus, saying blasphemous things about Him.  But then there were the others, verse 21, saying, “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed.”  I mean, that’s pretty rational, isn’t it?  That’s pretty rational.  A demon can’t open the eyes of the blind, can he?  Demon-possessed people don’t talk like that.  They’re not coherent, and they don’t do that.  They don’t do those miracles.  So whatever counterfeit things demons do, they don’t look like this. 

So these are the more rational people.  I guess you could say the first are the irrational blasphemers, the second are the more rational people.  They both end up in the same hell forever, ’cause it really doesn’t matter whether you curse Jesus, or whether you think you need to treat Him more reasonably.  That kind of hesitation gets you nothing.  You either confess Jesus as Lord or die in your sins and occupy the same hell with the extreme blasphemers.

So we meet the Good Shepherd.  In relation to His sheep, He gives His life for His sheep, He loves His sheep, He unites His sheep.  His relation to the Father, He loves and obeys the Father.  His relation to the world, He’s rejected either by those who blaspheme Him in a kind of irrational way, or by those who rationally tolerate Him.  But for us, we’ll place ourselves among the disciples there that day, and we’ll say with Him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, won’t we? 

And we’ll say this for our benediction, Hebrews 13:20, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.” We declare Him to be the Great Shepherd of the sheep who came out of the grave.  He is our Shepherd. Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You again for loving us, giving Your life for us, uniting us, loving and obeying the Father, and so willfully being the sacrifice for our sins.  Rising to raise us in justification and glory.  We would be literally overwhelmed if we could even grasp what You have prepared for us in the future.  But we acknowledge the thrill of even what You bestow upon us now.  Fill us with gratitude and with blessing as we continue to serve You.  We pray in the name of Christ.  Amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-53/i-am-the-good-shepherd

VIDEO I Am the Resurrection and the Life, Part 3

John MacArthur Sep 28, 2014

For now, we open our Bibles to John 11.  The whole chapter is about one event, and that is the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Lazarus was a member of a little family.  We only know three members of the family; Lazarus and his two sisters.  We don’t know anything else.  We don’t know a lot about them except that they were a host family to Jesus and that He had come to know them very well to the degree that He not only loved them with a spiritual and divine love, but He loved them with a personal affection because the Greek verb, phile is used to describe His affections for that family, and in particular, for Lazarus.

So He had gotten to know them.  They were a group of believers who believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.  They believed He was the one who had come down from heaven.  Martha gives testimony to that in the chapter verses 25 and following.  So this is a family that He had come to know and for whom He not only had divine love, the love that He has for His children, but for whom He had personal affection.  That drew out of Him, a very painful experience when He came to the tomb and stepped into the situation of all these people who had come around to mourn and weep and wail over the loss of this family.  Mary and Martha were weeping and sorrowful over the loss of their dear brother. 

Jesus stepped into that situation, and it wasn’t just them weeping; it was a huge crowd, chapter 11 tells us, of mourners there.  There would always be professional wailers, people who did that very well and sort of ignited the wailing.  Then there would be the legitimate weepers and wailers and mourners who were sorrowful.  They apparently came from many, many places.  In verse 19 it says, “Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.” 

This particular initial sadness lasted seven days in the Jewish tradition, and then they would kind of go back to their own homes, but sort of commit themselves to being available for comfort and consolation for a period of at least 30 days.  This is a community event that is going on, and Jesus steps into it.  Lazarus has been in the ground four days, and by 72 hours complete decomposition has set in, as I laid out for you in our last discussion about it. 

Jesus arrives, and He comes to the tomb.  He is sorrowful.  He is sad.  There are verbs here that describe a kind of sorrow that’s really almost abnormal.  It isn’t just that He’s weeping because He lost a friend.  It isn’t just that He’s weeping because He sees the pain of these two ladies over the loss of their brother.  He’s not weeping because the community feels bad about it.  It is a kind of agony.  It is a kind of wrenching experience for Jesus that comes because He collects all the data that is visible in this event. 

He not only loses a friend in this; He not only sees that sorrow, but He’s able to process immediately the sorrow of every death in every human relationship in every human family.  He can project His omniscience to grasp all of human sorrow and suffering in the face of death.  Not only that, He’s surrounded by unbelief, a whole nation of unbelievers and even by the tomb and in the home there, a group of unbelievers.  So He’s literally engulfed in unbelief.  He also grasps the reality of death and eternal punishment and eternal judgment.

So this is an agonizing moment for Jesus, matched only by His agony in the garden where He comes into a face to face confrontation with sin, which He Himself will bear.  This takes His horror to another level, but here I think is the greatest agony in the life of Jesus up to this point as He faces the deadly reality and the eternal consequence of death and how far-reaching it is.  In the agony, He comes to the tomb and in verse 43 He says, “‘Lazarus, come forth.’  The man who died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him and let him go.’”  And the curtain falls.  We don’t know anything more about that scene.  We have no further information.

Tradition says he lived another 30 years.  Maybe that’s true.  Certainly, he lived for a while.  This was not a temporary resurrection in that sense, in a human sense.  We don’t know anything about the reunion of Mary and Martha.  We don’t know anything about the shock and awe that must have just literally roared through the mourners.  We don’t know anything about that.  We don’t know anything about the conversations that Lazarus had after this.  You can imagine the questions. “Lazarus, where were you?  Can you tell us where you were and what was it like?”  Maybe, maybe he had the same response that the apostle Paul had when he had his trip to heaven in 2 Corinthians 12.  He was caught up into the third heaven, you remember, but he said, “I saw things too wonderful to speak of, and it’s not profitable to speak of them anyway.”

Paul had been to heaven, and nobody could get out of him what that was like.  We have no information.  Why not?  Because this isn’t about the psychology of reunion.  This isn’t about the rest of Lazarus’s life.  This isn’t about our curiosity of heaven.  What is this about?  Verse 4 says, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

All we’re interested in is the glory of the Son, and when He said, “Lazarus, come out,” and in a moment Lazarus was standing there, that’s the point of the story.  The rest is irrelevant.  In fact, in verse 40, Jesus says to Martha, “Didn’t I say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” and they did.  The purpose of this was to bring glory to God, and glory to God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

So when the curtain fell last Sunday for us at the end of verse 44 and the scene ends.  So we pick it up in verse 45.  This is an important final section, final scene in this incredible drama.  But before we look at it, I’m going to tell you, this is the aftermath.  This is the effect.  Here come the responses, and they are predictable.  They are predictable because we’ve seen them all through the gospel of John and we see them all through the other gospels. 

But before we look at that, I want to remind you about a statement made by Peter.  Peter was preaching in Jerusalem in the temple, in the temple courtyard with the masses of Jewish people there.  It was his second sermon after the ascension of Christ, after the Day of Pentecost, after the birth of the church, the second great apostolic sermon.  He indicts the Jews with an astonishing accusation, paradoxical, ironic.  He says to them, “You killed the Author of life.  You killed the Author of life,” Acts 3:15.  Some translations say the Prince of life.  That’s the old traditional one, but it’s the word archgon and that means, “the author.”  That means, “The founder.”  That means, “The source.”

How ironic.  You killed the life giver.  We learned that from John 1, “In Him was life.”  John 1, “Nothing was made without Him because He made everything that was made.”  He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  He doesn’t give life.  He is life.  You killed the Author of life.  More ironically, Peter said, “And you desired a killer to be released to you.  You killed the Author of life, and you gave life to a killer.”  How bizarre.  That’s the nature of unbelief, and the crime has no parallel really.  It is without equal in its heinousness.

It had been the desire of the religious leaders in Israel and all who followed their lead to kill Jesus for a long time.  They’d been wanting to do that for years, a couple of years.  It now reaches a point where they cannot let Him live any longer.  This miracle is the final boiling point.  They can’t let it go any further, and so this raising of Lazarus, perhaps the week before the Passover, that close, triggers their desire to kill Him now and not wait, which is in perfect accord with God’s plan; because God wants Him to be the sacrificial Lamb the next week on Friday at the Passover.  They don’t know that, of course, but they’re not operating on their schedule.  They’re operating on God’s.  They had tried to kill Him many times before that unsuccessfully, but now after this miracle, which is the seventh great miracle that John chronicles in his gospel, after this, they can’t wait any longer.

In fact, it’s all sort of summed up as you note down into verse 47 when they call a counsel and they say, “What are we doing?  We’ve got to act.  We cannot let this man – ” verse 48, “ – go on like this.”  Completely oblivious to the fact that He raised a dead man on top of everything else.  Now remember, it is a radical claim for someone to say He is God and is to be summarily rejected no matter who says it with one exception – that’s Jesus. 

He said He was God, and then He demonstrated the truth of that claim.  Now, you have two choices.  You can believe or not believe.  When He said He was God, He was either telling the truth or lying.  You can look at the evidence and there’s plenty of it in the four gospels and the testimony of the rest of the New Testament and the testimony of the Old Testament leading up to it, and the testimony of the living church ever since.  There’s plenty of evidence that what He claimed is true, and there is no indication that what He said is false.  You can look at the evidence, but you only have two options.  You believe or you don’t believe.  There’s no third possibility.  There’s no safe middle ground. 

Luke 11:23 Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is – ” what? “ – against Me.”  And all the evidence demands belief, belief; all the evidence of Scripture.  Still, no matter what He did, no matter what He said, no matter how the evidence made the case clear, unmistakable, undeniable, they hated Him, the leaders did.  It was an aggressive kind of unbelief.  It was a hostile kind of unbelief.  It was a violent kind of unbelief.  They tried to stone Him to death in Nazareth after one sermon in His own hometown. 

They accused Him over and again of being demon-possessed, of being under the power of Satan.  They said He was a violator of the Law of God and a violator of their religious law and tradition.  They said He was a blasphemer.  They said He was a drunkard.  They said He was a friend of sinners, the low-life crowd who were outcasts.  They said His teaching was unacceptable, His authority was self-invented.  Everything that they viewed Him as being led them to the need to kill Him.  That’s the hostile unbelief.

There’s another kind of unbelief.  There were a lot of people who followed Him because of His miracles and they were curious and they were fascinated, and they were interested, and they even were healed and fed, but it was superficial.  They’re like the ones in John 6, who when He started speaking very clearly and very demandingly, it says that, “Many of His disciples walked no more with Him.”  There was that kind of unbelief that isn’t hostile.  It isn’t violent.  It isn’t angry.  It isn’t murderous.  It’s just indifferent.  It was that kind of attitude to which our Lord spoke in Matthew 11:20-24 when He said, “You’re in some serious trouble, you folks around Galilee because if what had been done in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and the cities around Galilee had been done in Sodom and Gomorrah, they would have repented.  You’ve seen enough to have a very high level of accountability to God.  You are in serious trouble.”

It’s not a safe place to be curious.  It’s not a safe place to be a nominal believer in Jesus, to feel sentimental about Him.  That’s a very dangerous place.  You might as well be hostile.  But there are those who were hostile, and those who were just curious or indifferent. 

Thirdly, there were those always who believed, who believed.  They were the few who found the narrow way.  They were the ones Jesus called, “the little flock.”  They were the 12 minus Judas, who left everything to follow Him.  They were those like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus who confessed that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the one who came down from heaven. 

There were those who repented like Zacchaeus, like the Samaritans in the village of Sychar, like the royal official and his household in John chapter 4.  They were like the blind man in John 9 who believed, and then many in chapter 10, across the Jordan where Jesus went with His disciples and proclaimed His messiahship and many believed.  There were others. 

There definitely was a little flock of believers.  So these were the responses that we’ve seen in the gospel of John and they’re in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as well.  There is belief and unbelief, and two kinds of unbelief.  I guess maybe unbelief on a spectrum all the way from being extremely hostile to being only marginally curious, but it’s still unbelief.  As we come to verse 45 then, we leave the scene behind us.  The curtain falls, as I said, and we now meet these three groups.  We meet the believers.  We meet the violent haters, and then we meet the indifferent people. 

So we have here at the end of this chapter, a microcosm of what you see through the whole ministry of Jesus and actually what you see even today.  There are people, of course, now and you’re among them who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are people who are violently hostile to Him, violently aggressively hateful toward Him.  Then there is that massive people who have some sort of marginal, sentimental attitude; equally damning.

Let’s meet group one, verse 45.  “Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He had done, believed in Him.”  Here is the “many.”  Let’s just call them the “many.”  They believed in Him.  Who are these “many”?  Back to verse 19, which I read earlier.  “Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.”  Now, I told you this is a fairly substantial family.  They live in a town called Bethany two miles east near the Mount of Olives, around the side of the Mount of Olives.  Folks from Jerusalem can easily come.  They are sort of on a highway from Jericho to the city, which is traversed a lot, so they’re easy access.  People knew them.  They knew who they were. 

You’ve got not only villagers in Bethany, but you’ve got people coming out of Jerusalem to visit with them.  The indication is they were a relatively substantial family.  They show up later and show that they have some means.  I don’t know what the number is.  Maybe it’s dozens.  Maybe it’s multiple of 20.  Maybe it’s 100 or more.  I don’t know what the “many” is, but many mourners came, and they have been there now four days already, filling up the first seven days when everybody would be there.  Now the resurrection has happened, and the mourners are still there.  They have known the family.  They have known Lazarus.  They know he was dead.  They know he’s been in the grave four days.  They know what that means because Jews don’t embalm.  They get it. 

He comes out of the grave.  The miracle is so clear, unmistakable, undeniable.  Their hearts open to the reality that this is truly who Martha said it is.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who came down from heaven, God incarnate.  They also believe the way she believed.  We have to assume that theirs is a genuine belief because that’s what’s indicated in verse 26.  “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  Martha says, “Yes, I believe,” and here we find in verse 45, “Many of the Jews believed.” 

We assume that the verb in the same context has the same significance and the same meaning.  They believed.  They believed, and rightly they should believe.  What would you believe if you saw that?  Clearly, they believed.  They had seen the glory of God.  They had seen the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, if you will, to borrow Paul’s language.  They’re convinced.  Now, not all believing is legitimate, but genuine belief is mentioned in chapter 1, verse 12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even those who believed in His name.” 

They believed and they were given the right to become children of God.  Their sins were forgiven.  They were redeemed.  They became the children of God.  They ceased being the children of the devil.  They are the believing many, many in a relative sense.  Many of the number that were there; not many of the nation.  Many of the number that were there.  They believed. 

There is a kind of believing that doesn’t save.  If you go back to chapter 2 of John, you will remember this.  In John 2:23, He was in Jerusalem at the Passover.  This is the beginning of His ministry, and many believed in His name.  Many believed in His name, “Observing His signs, His miracles He was doing.  But Jesus on His part was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men and because He didn’t need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” 

He knew that the kind of believing that was in them was not sufficient to save them.  It wasn’t sufficient to make a genuine connection, and it’s illustrated in the next two verses.  “One of those who believed was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night,” and he tells Him what they believed.  “Rabbi, we know you’ve come from God as a Teacher, for no one could do the signs unless God is with Him.”  They believed He was a Teacher.  That’s true.  That’s not sufficient.  That’s true.  That’s not enough.  He didn’t say, “You’re the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who came down from heaven,” like Martha did.

So there’s a kind of faith that is superficial.  It’s not enough.  It’s not sufficient.  We see it again in chapter 6.  Disciples following Him, listening to Him, who turn and go the other way and walk no more with Him, a superficial, temporary kind of belief, like the seed sown in the rocky soil and the weedy soil.  It never produces fruit and it dies.  In chapter 8, you see this same kind of thing again.  This may be more characteristic of the superficial indifferent group that we’ll see in a minute than anything. 

John 8:30, “Many came to believe in Him.”  Many.  Well, what kind of faith is it?  What does it mean to believe?  Jesus said to them, the Jews who believed Him, “If you continue in My Word, then you’re truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  You’re not free from sin.  You’re not free from judgment.  You’re not free from everlasting punishment yet, but if you continue down this path, you will come to the knowledge of the truth that saves.  So there is a kind of faith that can be only initial, only a kind of beginning faith that isn’t sufficient to save. 

But in the case we have here, I think we have to interpret the believing here in the context of the believing that our Lord spoke of and saw illustrated in Martha early in the chapter.  There is here a wonderful thing going on.  Now, mark this.  We’re maybe the week before the death of Christ, and there’s a flurry of things happening to the souls of people.  Before Jesus came, a week before that, He had been beyond the Jordan and many were believing in Him there.  That’s what we saw at the end of chapter 10. 

So in the last weeks of His life, as He preaches the gospel and puts on display His sovereign power, many are believing.  Here, there’s actually a great encouragement of conversion and regeneration at the funeral of Lazarus.  That’s group one.  Throughout all of the history of the gospel and the proclamation of Scripture and the reading of Scripture, there will be those who believe.  The Lord has His people everywhere in the world.  He’ll draw them out of every tongue and tribe and people and nation.

Group two is the murderers.  Group one is the “many.”  Group two is the murderers.  They take up the bulk of the rest of this section, verse 46.  The Pharisees were very powerful.  They basically were the architects of Judaistic synagogue religion.  They had the power over the populous.  They had the control over the people.  They dominated the people with their laws and rules and Sabbath restrictions and restraints.  The people pretty much knuckled under the Pharisees.  If you didn’t do that, you got thrown out of the synagogue, and if you got thrown out of the synagogue you were a pariah.  You were cut off from all social contact.  You might as well be a leper. 

So everybody sort of took whatever abuse the Pharisees laid out in order to stay in the system.  Some of those people, some of those Pharisaical sycophants are there mourning at this event.  When they see what’s going on, they decide to report to the Pharisees.  So, verse 46, “Some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.”  What did they tell them?  He raised the dead.  It’s what He did.  He went to the tomb.  Gave them the story, He raised this guy who had been dead.  He was really dead.  We know he was dead.  He raised him from the dead.  They gave the report.

They are concerned more about the Pharisees than they are about their own souls.  This is what false religion does.  False religion allows you to give up your own soul to please somebody who is the destroyer of your soul.  That’s what false religion does.  So they report.  They saw the miracle.  They described the miracle.  With a sinister intention, they tell the Pharisees.  Knowing how much the Pharisees hate Jesus already, and knowing that this is going to enrage them even further, but they’re complicit with the Pharisees because they’ve sold their souls to the devil. 

This is the hardness of the human heart in the face of literally overwhelming evidence.  Evidence means nothing.  Evidence means nothing.  Why do they hate Jesus so much?  Jesus said that in John 7, “The world hates Me because I testify to it that its deeds are evil.”  They hated Him because He told them they were evil, not evil in their sin, but evil in their religion.  Sure, evil in their sin.  Sinners can usually take that.  If you tell them they’re evil in their sin, they can handle it, but you tell them they’re evil in their righteousness, and they’ll hate you for it.

You see the depths of unbelief, the profound fortress of anti-God ideology and ideas in religion.  God had put His glory on display through His Son.  They didn’t see it.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, verse 47.  They called together either a sort of a quorum of the Sanhedrin or the Sanhedrin itself, which was the religious tribunal, the ultimate supreme court of Israel.  They called together a meeting of the chief priests.  They would be the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  This is made up of the religious elite, people with money and power and influence convening a council, and this is where they say, “What are we doing?  We have to stop talking.  Why – ” as they say in verse 48 “ – are we letting this man go on like this?  We’ve got to stop Him.” 

Do they fear the political implications?  Not in reality.  They just hate what He says.  They just hate what He says.  “What are we doing?  We have to stop talking.  We have to act.”  So, as John Calvin puts it, they come up with a plausible disguise.  They create a theoretical, imaginary disaster because they want Jesus dead.  They don’t believe this, but they invent it.  This is it: “For this man is performing many signs.”  Now, there you have it folks.  The testimony of the people who hated Jesus, that what He was doing was miraculous. 

Why are there liberals living now who deny the miracles when the enemies of Jesus who were there don’t even deny them?  Nobody denied them.  He’s performing many miraculous feats.  “If we let Him go on like this – ” here’s their thing “ – all men will believe in Him.”  That is political hyperbole.  That sounds like a politician to me.  Everybody will believe, and the Romans will come and take away both our place, and our nation will lose our position, will lose our power, will lose our nation.  Talk about a doomsday scenario.  This is the end of everything.  We can’t allow this to go on.  We’ve got to stop.  We’ve got to act or we’re going to lose it all.  This is an idea concocted as a pretense to kill Jesus for His teaching, which tore at the fabric of their system. 

By the way, this is the same exact thing they say to Pilot later.  “Well, if you don’t crucify Jesus, you’re no friend of –” who?  “ – Caesar,” because Jesus is going to lead a revolution, and it’s not going to make Caesar happy.  The apostles went to Thessalonica in Acts 17, and Paul and Silas are preaching in the synagogues, and Jews are believing and believing.  But some of the Jews didn’t believe, and they’re furious about what’s going on.  This happened in the synagogue with the Jews in Thessalonica.  They’re furious, so they start to go after the Christians.  They go to the house of Jason, and they drag him out of the house, and they’re starting this persecution, and how do they defend this bizarre behavior?  They defend it with these words: “They all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there’s another king.”  They stirred up the crowd.

The Jews doing the same thing long after this in the book of Acts saying the Christians are going to start a revolution and the Romans are going to come, and there’s going to be a huge conflict, and we’re going to lose our freedom.  They knew Jesus wasn’t a revolutionary.  What did Jesus say?  “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  Give to God what is God’s.”  Jesus never picked up a sword.  Jesus never started a revolution.  Jesus wasn’t anti-Roman.  Jesus didn’t try to free the slaves.  Jesus didn’t try to balance economics.  Jesus didn’t get caught up in social justice.  Jesus didn’t start an army.  He didn’t call people to defend Him.  He was meek.  He was gentle.  He was compassionate.  He didn’t go around killing people.  He went around making dead people live. 

They knew.  They knew, but this was a ploy.  We’ve got to create a massive potential scenario here so that we can justify killing Jesus, or else everybody is going to believe in Him, which again is another testimony to the validity of His miracles.  His worse enemies, the very people who really crucified Him using the hands of the Romans, believed in His miracles.  They had no other choice. 

So, Caiaphas steps up.  Caiaphas, despicable guy, who was the son-in-law of Annas.  Annas had previously been the high priest.  Caiaphas is in that office because Rome allowed him to be there.  He knows that.  Rome has the power to depose any high priest.  Now, if you go to the Old Testament, you can go back into instruction in the Old Testament Mosaic Law about the high priest.  It was an office for life essentially.  There are comments made in the Old Testament about what happens, certain things happened when a high priest died.  It signaled a significant event.  So the office of high priest in its primal sense was to be for life.  It didn’t always work out that way, but that was the ideal. 

Contrast that with the fact that Josephus tell us from the time of Herod the Great, just around the time we move from B.C. to A.D., Herod the Great comes in.  Between Herod the Great and 70 A.D. when Jerusalem is destroyed, less than 100 years, there are 28 high priests, 28 high priests.  This is a revolving door.  This is a power position.  This is a political position.  People are vying and buying and selling this position.  You even have references in the New Testament to Annas and Caiaphas both being high priest at the same time. 

It was supposed to be much more strict than that.  Caiaphas, as I said, was Annas’s son-in-law.  It sort of stayed in the family at this particular point.  But Caiaphas, this guy who was there because he’s not a threat to Rome, knows his position is only his as long as he pleases Rome, uses that as a ploy.  By the way, I think it’s interesting that it mentions a little later – I’ll comment more on that – but in verse 51, being high priest “that year.”  It’s just something about that “that year” that grabbed because “that year” was the final year of any legitimate high priest or any illegitimate high priest.  Why?  Because it was a week later or so that the veil was shredded and the priestly system was null and void.  He is the last of, I guess you could say, somewhat official high priest.

Now, this shows up as we follow the history that the office sort of declined and continued to drift and be bought and sold.  By the time you get to the 23rd chapter of Acts, the apostle Paul is called before the Sanhedrin.  It was many years later and he is confronted in this council.  It’s worth reading this.  “Paul looked at the council – ” Acts 23, “ – and said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God to this day.’  The high priest Ananias commanded those standing by to smack him on the mouth.”  Wow, whack him on the mouth.  For what?  For saying, “I’ve lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God until this day.”

So this guy whacks Paul in the mouth.  Paul responds.  “God’s going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!”  You know, honestly, there’s something about that I like.  I just have to confess that.  “‘God smite you, you whitewashed wall!  Do you sit to try me according to the law and in violation of the law order me to be struck?’  But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’  Paul says, ‘I wasn’t even aware he was the high priest.’”  Now that will tell you what the high priesthood had descended to.  He didn’t even know who it was.  He didn’t even know who the high priest was.  There shouldn’t even have been a high priest.  So whatever this thing was, it was high priest with lower case “h” and a lower case “p” and high only in the mind of whoever bought the office. 

So that kind of corruption starts with Herod, who appoints three or four of the early ones, and then the Romans appoint the rest.  One of them Caiaphas says, “You know nothing at all.”  That’s autocratic speech at its best.  You’re all ignorant.  Aren’t you glad I’m here?  “You know nothing at all.”  I’ve got the answer to everything.  “Nor do you take into account that it is expedient.”  He’s talking to the Sanhedrin, the elite.  “It is expedient – ” not just, not righteous, not correct, not right, but expedient, beneficial “ – for you that one man die for the people and that the whole nation not perish.”

“Don’t you get it?” he says.  It’s beneficial.  Under the guise of being a noble politician, under the guise of Jewish nationalism and patriotism, this unscrupulous man is trying to get rid of the biggest obstacle to his own power, popularity, and theology, and that is this Jesus Christ.  He wants him dead, and he says, “Don’t you get it?  If we don’t kill Him, we all die.”  Again, more political nonsense and hyperbole.  Either one man, Jesus, perishes or the whole nation perishes. 

So, the conclusion of the council is follow the wishes of the high priest.  Follow the wishes of the high priest.  That’s going to be the plan.  We’ve got to kill Jesus to save the nation or we’re going to have a revolution, and the Romans are going to come.  We’re going to lose our power.  We’re going to lose our nation.  They’re going to massacre us. 

So, look at the words again.  Verse 50, “It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”  Jesus must die to save the nation.  Jesus must die to save the nation.  If we kill Jesus, we save the nation.  How strangely true is that statement?  But not in the way that he thought.  The words of Caiaphas have a deep resonating reality of truth that he never even understood.  But notice the next verse, verse 51, “Now, he didn’t say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Do you know what this man did, this autocratic, self-exalting, dictatorial, brutal, sly, corrupt man?  He gave a clear statement on the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He talks about substitutionary atonement.  He has no idea what he’s saying.  Not surprising.  God used the mouth of Cyrus to give a prophecy.  God used the mouth of a false prophet Balaam.  God used the mouth of Balaam’s jackass to speak for Him.  There are no limits to what God can do.  He had no idea what he was talking about.  He meant one thing, but God meant something different.

“There are many devices,” says Proverbs, “in a man’s heart, nevertheless, the council of the Lord shall stand.”  Or Joseph’s word in Genesis 50, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”  This is a divine irony.  By the way, nothing in Scripture says that the high priest had any prophetic gift.  Nowhere, no.  This isn’t an actual prophecy that he gave.  This is not that at all.  This is not a power that belongs to the high priest.  He said what he said.  It just so happened that God ordered every word and gave it a completely different meaning, but every word was correct.  This is a backdoor into understanding verbal inspiration, verbal inspiration.

An illustration, by the way, of how Scripture is given.  When the Bible writers write, they write their own words, but God controls their own words just as in this bizarre sort of almost anti-illustration.  He says his own words, but God orders every word.  So Caiaphas’s ignorant words, God declares the true impact of the death of Christ.  He will die to save the nation, but not physically, not physically.  Why?  In 70 A.D., they’re all going to perish in the Roman holocaust.  But spiritually, He will die for the salvation of that nation, and not that nation only, “But that He might father together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad in every nation.”  He died for the sins of His children all over the globe. 

Caiaphas’s ignorant, hateful, vengeful, trumped up words are absolutely true.  This gives us a foretaste of what it’s going to be like when we go through the rest of the Passion Week, how every single detail no matter who is doing what for what reason fits into God’s purpose.  He’s just a link in the chain begun by divine decrees until God fulfills His purpose. 

So, verse 53. “From that day forward, that day on, they planned to kill Him.”  Apparently, unanimous vote.  We have to kill Him, save the nation.  Caiaphas’s speech worked.  They decided to kill Him from then on.  Didn’t take them long.  Really didn’t.  They were amped up to put it mildly, and at the end of the next week, they were able to accomplish it in the purpose of God.

There’s a final group to add to these murderers.  The end of the meeting, what’s the final minutes?  What do they write?  Death to the life-giver.  Death to the life-giver.  What a climax.  “Therefore Jesus no longer continued to walk publicly among the Jews.”  He becomes an outlaw, has to escape at least for a few days until He comes back in the next week.  Went away from there to the country near the wilderness into a city called Ephraim.  It’s probably Ephron, which is a town mentioned in 2 Chronicles 13, about 12 miles north of Jerusalem.  So He got about 12 miles walk away, and He went there with His disciples for the days between that day, the raising of Lazarus and the day He came back to the house of Simon and met back with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and came into the city.

That brings us to 55, which is the final group, the multitudes.  They were stirred by Him, but indifferent.  Verse 55, “Now the Passover of the Jews was near.  Many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves.”  The Levitical law laid out in the book of Leviticus, laid out in 2 Chronicles 30 requires all kinds of ceremonial cleanings before you can do Passover.  So they all come pouring in to do this prior to the actual Passover itself.  So they’re pouring into the city.   

They’re gathering in 56 as they were seeking for Jesus.  Why?  Because He was the focal point of the previous two Passovers.  He as the focal point of the previous Passovers?  Where is He?  He was the topic of conversation through the whole nation.  They were saying to each other as they stood in the temple, “What do you think?  That He will not come to the feast at all?”  They know how the leaders feel.  They are very clear about that.  They know He’s hated.  Of course, verse 57, “The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it so that they might seize Him,” arrest Him.

What can I say about the crowd?  Curious?  Sure.  They knew about Jesus?  Yeah.  Fascinated with Jesus?  Right.  Where is He?  They want to see Him.  They want to see His miracles.  Do you think He’ll show?  He did show.  What happened when He came?  What happened?  Chapter 12 tells us what happened.  They shouted at Him in verse 13, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.  Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”  Wow, triumphal entry Monday.  By Friday, what were they crying?  “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  We’re going to live through all of that.

Those are the only options really when it comes to Christ.  You believe and all the evidence supports that you believe or you reject.  You reject with hostility and animosity and anger; or you reject with superficiality and indifference.  But there’s only heaven and there’s only hell.  Whether you reject Jesus with hatred or reject Him with sentimental good feelings, you end up in the same hell.  “You will die in your sins,” Jesus said, “And where I go, you will never come because you believe not on Me.”  Either you believing savingly on Christ or you will perish.  The question is the same question that Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?”  That’s the question. 

Father, we thank you for the time that we’ve been able to look at this really amazing chapter, and again end up where we always end up in the gospel accounts, facing the decision of all decisions, the choice of all choices; to believe or not believe.  I pray, Lord, that you will produce faith.  We know that faith is a gift of God.  It comes from heaven.  Lord, would you be gracious and grant life and belief to those who are dead in trespasses and sin?  May the realities of the claims of Christ and the evidence come to life so vividly and with such compulsion, and may the reality of heaven and all its joys and hells and all its horrors become real as well. 

May you open minds and hearts to go from either animosity toward Christ or indifference toward Christ to full faith in Him as the only Savior, the only hope of heaven. 

Thank you for the power of your Word.  We are told in the Scripture that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit convinces us of the truth of Scripture, that the Holy Spirit testifies that we are yours.  And He testifies not above the Scripture, beside the Scripture, but through the Scripture.  We thank you again that the Holy Spirit testifies to the veracity of Scripture through the Scripture itself, through its self-evident truthfulness.  Again, we have seen that today.  Take your truth and pour it into us, and then out from us and use us for your glory.  We pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-60/i-am-the-resurrection-and-the-life-part-3

The Value of Scripture

FROM R.C. Sproul  Nov 13, 2020

The value of Scripture in the life of the believer lies in its source and its function. In his exhortation to Timothy, Paul commended Scripture to Timothy by saying, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

When I was a little boy, there was a fellow in our community who was a couple of years older than me, and he was something of a bully. He made fun of me and called me names, which hurt my feelings. Sometimes I came home crying to my mother and told her what the other boy had said to upset me. My mother had a favorite response to this. As she wiped away my tears, she said, “When people talk like that about you, son, consider the source.”

That little bit of sage advice from my mother was a principle that I learned to a much more intense degree in the academic world. One of the rules of scholarship is to track down in your research the sources for the information you have to make sure that those sources are reliable. Scholars have to be careful not to take anything at face value, because credibility is directly tied to source. They must analyze, examine, and use the critical apparatus at their disposal to track down the real sources.

Paul assured Timothy here that the source of Scripture is God. That Scripture is “given by inspiration” refers not to the way God oversaw the writing of the Bible but to the source of the content of the Bible. The word that is translated “given by inspiration” is the Greek term theopneust—literally, “God-breathed.” When Paul wrote that Scripture is God-breathed, the idea was not one of inspiration but of expiration; that is, the Bible was breathed out by God. The whole point here is that the Bible comes from God. It is His Word and carries with it His authority. Paul wanted Timothy to understand the source of the Bible, not the way it was inspired.

After stating that the Bible is God-breathed, Paul spelled out its purpose and value. Scripture, he said, is profitable for several things, including doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

The value of the Bible lies, first of all, in the fact that it teaches sound doctrine. Though we live in a time when sound teaching is denigrated, the Bible places a high value on it. Much of the New Testament is concerned with doctrine. The teaching ministry is given to the church for building up its people. Paul said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12).

The Bible is also profitable for reproof and correction, which we as Christians continually need. It is fashionable in some academic circles to exercise scholarly criticism of the Bible. In so doing, scholars place themselves above the Bible and seek to correct it. If indeed the Bible is the Word of God, nothing could be more arrogant. It is God who corrects us; we don’t correct Him. We do not stand over God but under Him.

This yields a practical help for Bible study: read the Bible with a red pen in hand. I suggest that you put a question mark in the margin beside every passage that you find unclear or hard to understand. Likewise, put an X beside every passage that offends you or makes you uncomfortable. Afterward, you can focus on the areas you struggle with, especially the texts marked with an X. This can be a guide to holiness, as the Xs show us quickly where our thinking is out of line with the mind of Christ. If I don’t like something I read in Scripture, perhaps I simply don’t understand it. If so, studying it again may help. If, in fact, I do understand the passage and still don’t like it, this is not an indication there is something wrong with the Bible. It’s an indication that something is wrong with me, something that needs to change. Often, before we can get something right, we need to first discover what we’re doing wrong.

When we experience the “changing of the mind” that is repentance, we are not suddenly cleansed of all wrong thinking. The renewing of our minds is a lifelong process. We can accelerate this process by focusing on those passages of Scripture that we don’t like. This is part of the “instruction in righteousness” of which Paul speaks.

Finally, Paul explained the overriding purpose for Scripture study. It comes in the final clause, where the apostle wrote, “… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It was as if Paul was warning Timothy that if he neglected the study of God’s Word, his life would be incomplete. He would be missing out on this vast resource, this treasury of truth that is the Word of God. And the same is true for us.

This excerpt is taken from 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by R.C. Sproul. To learn about this topic download R.C. Sproul’s free Crucial Questions booklet Can I Turst the Bible?

https://www.ligonier.org/blog/value-scripture/

VIDEO The Saving Power of Scripture

By John MacArthur

Let’s go to the Word of God in the 8th chapter of the book of Acts, the Acts of the apostles under the power of the Holy Spirit; Acts, chapter 8.  We’re doing a little series in the 8th chapter of the book of Acts on the faith that does not save and the faith that does save.  Last week, we looked at the faith that does not save, as illustrated by Simon the magician.  This week, we look at the faith that does save, as illustrated by the Ethiopian eunuch.  In both cases, Philip is the key instrument of God in the narratives in this chapter.

Philip – not Philip the apostle – but Philip the deacon from the 6th chapter, a non-Israeli Jew, a Jew who was a non-Palestinian Jew from the Hellenistic world who was part of the church, he was brought to Christ along with many, many thousands of others in the early church.  And he was one of those noble men who were chosen to provide service and leadership to the church.  He was a very powerful man, a godly man, a Spirit-filled man, power preacher, and the Lord even did miracles through him – an amazing man.

We’re going to see his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch starting in chapter 8, verse 25.  But before we jump into that, just kind of a little bit of a running start, if we can do this.  And I’m going to stick with my notes because there’s a lot to sort of cram in in the next little while.

There was a really wonderful article on the seminary website by Brian Biedebach, our missionary in Malawi, on, “How long should a sermon be?  How long should a sermon be?”  And in that, he said that the average sermon across the country, and maybe across the world, is about 20 minutes or 25 minutes.  That’s actually sinful to do that.  So you’ve got to be longer than that or you’re going to mess with the average, and that’s going to make me look bad.  No.

But there was a great quote in the article by John Stott who said, “A sermon can be any length as long as feels like 20 minutes.”  So the key is what it feels like, not the reality of how long it actually is.  But there’s a lot here, I’m not going to drag it out, but I’m going to cram it full of a lot of things.

All right, we’re in the book of Acts and we’re in the flow of the early church from its inception to its early developing years.  The tempo of the march of the Holy Spirit is speeding up.  It’s speeding up.  It’s accelerating now and it’s starting to push over barriers.  Significant, if not massive, barriers are being knocked down.  As we began the story of the developing church, there were only Jerusalem Jews in the church.

The church began in Jerusalem with those Jews that were gathered there.  The barrier, initial barrier, would be against the Greek-speaking Jews, the non-Israeli Jews, the non-Palestinian Jews.  But it didn’t take long to push that barrier over because many of them were actually there on the Day of Pentecost; and at the end of the Day of Pentecost, there were 3,000 who believed.

And we can assume that they were not just the 120 who were the, essentially, Jerusalem Jews, but the many thousands included non-Israeli Jews who were part of the diaspora, part of the scattering of Jews.  They were looked down on a little bit by some of the Jews because they had left the homeland.  That barrier went down very rapidly.  But it was a difficult adjustment apparently for the Israeli Jews because they weren’t taking care of the non-Israeli Jewish widows.

Chapter 6 opens up by saying the Hellenistic widows were not getting their fair share of the care – the food, the supplies, the resources – and so they decided to choose these men, among whom Philip was one, so that they could make sure ministry was going on to these non-Palestinian Jews, non-Israeli Jews.  And the church grew through all of this.  It grew; it flourished.  Those men who were chosen as deacons began to have an influence in the sort of Hellenistic synagogues of Jews that were scattered around the city of Jerusalem, and the church then began to penetrate the Hellenistic Jewish community, and the church grew.

And then there was the next big barrier, which was Samaria.  Suddenly, that barrier meant absolutely nothing as Philip and the Christians scattered out of Jerusalem by the persecution of Paul, began to spill over into the hinterlands of Judea, and even across the border to the north into Samaria; and everywhere they went, everywhere they went, they were doing essentially one thing.

If you look at chapter 8, verse 1, the persecution begins as Saul is in hearty agreement with the stoning of Stephen.  On that day, a great persecution, a bloodbath began against the church in Jerusalem.  They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.  They all went – scattered into Judea and Samaria, and verse 4 says everywhere they went when they were scattered, they went preaching the Word.

So the barrier is down in Samaria; and it’s not because it was so popular the Samaritans invited them to come and preach the gospel, they went there under terrible persecution.  And as a result of the persecution, the barriers to preaching the gospel in Samaria collapsed.  That was really the second major step in the promise development of the church under the power of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 1:8, “After that, the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and then in Judea and Samaria, and then the uttermost part of the earth.”

So the next thing to fall is going to be the uttermost part of the earth.  We’ve got to get beyond the Jews in Jerusalem – like the 120 – the Jews that are Hellenistic Jews from other parts of the ancient world.  We’ve got to get beyond them into Samaria.  By now we’ve seen that begin to happen.  And the next stop is the uttermost part of the earth.  So starting in verse 25, we have the first Gentile conversion.  This is an individual from Ethiopia, Ethiopia – the foreigner, the alien.

The Samaritans were not tolerable to the Jews, they were not tolerable.  The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, that was a very difficult barrier.  In fact, the Jewish people as such, and the Jewish religion, had such distain for the Samaritans that they didn’t evangelize them.  They didn’t even connect to them.  They didn’t speak with them.

But at least Samaritans had some kind of distant traditional, even racial link, because they were half-breed people of Jews who intermarried with pagans.  But Ethiopians, representing the Gentiles, the nations of the world, had no connection at all historically.  But here we find Philip being the instrument of God for the salvation of an Ethiopian.

The infant church, then born in the upper room with 120 people, begins to develop and expand until it knocks down the barriers of Hellenism and knocks down the barriers of the Samaria a distance and disaffection.  It knocks down now the barrier that was set up between the Jews and the Gentiles.  We could say this is the Jonah wall that comes down, which had long been nurtured.

In this chapter, we see Philip as the instrument of God confronting, first of all, Simon in Samaria, and demonstrating what a false faith looks like.  And now we find Philip confronting an Ethiopian eunuch and showing us what a true faith looks like.

Pick it up in verse 25:  “So, when they had solemnly testified – ” after the account about Simon “ – when they had solemnly testified and spoken the Word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”

Peter and John, who had come – you remember, the Holy Spirit had not come, even though people had believed, under the preaching of Philip – the Holy Spirit didn’t come until Peter and John arrived so the Jews would know that the same Holy Spirit fell upon the Samaritans that had fallen upon them on the Day of Pentecost.  And there was repeating of the same phenomena and the presence of the same apostles who’d been there at Pentecost to make sure everybody knew the Jews and Samaritans were in the one church.  Peter and John have come having heard about this amazing response by the Samaritans to the gospel.  They come up to authenticate it, to lay an authoritative hand on it and validate it, and then go back and say it’s really happened as it has been told.

They leave; Philip stays.  He stays in Samaria to continue the gospel work that he began there, which was now affirmed, validated, and approved by Peter and John, and with new energy.  Why?  Because now, and the purposes of God, the Holy Spirit has come on all those believers.

Now, as I told you last time, if you believe anytime past the early part of the books of Acts, if you believe at any point in time in redemptive history past that transition, the Spirit comes at the moment you believe.  But in that early transitional period, it was important for the Holy Spirit’s coming to be attached to the presence of the apostles with the same kind of phenomenon that happened at Pentecost so all the barriers were broken down and everybody knew that all were one in Christ.

With the arrival now of the Holy Spirit, things really begin to happen.  Philip is about to encounter an Ethiopian eunuch.  This a great day for the church of Jesus Christ.  This is the first time the church expands into what we could call the uttermost part of the earth.

Israel, as a nation, had always been called to be God’s missionary people.  Israel had always been ordained to reach the nations, to tell the world about the true and living God, to tell the nations around it.  But they sort of vacillated between a Jonah attitude of isolation and bitterness and animosity toward the nations around them to what you could call a kind of a Baal worshiping attitude, which was nothing but idolatry and compromise.  It seemed like they were eager to shut out the nations or they were eager to suck up the nations and create some kind of synchronistic idolatry that God hated and brought judgment.  But the one thing they wouldn’t do was evangelize the nations, which was what they had been called to do.

So the goal of God to reach the world through Israel hit a terrible stalemate, and God, in the church, cuts out a fresh channel, a new people, and sets Israel aside; and they’re still set aside, even to this very hour.  And they’re not going to be back into the mainstream of taking the gospel to the world until you get to the future to the time of the tribulation when God saves 12,000 out of all the 12 tribes of Israel.  You have 144,000 Jewish missionaries pouring out the gospel to the world, finally fulfilling what they were originally called to do.  So the goal of God to reach the world was unfulfilled by God’s allowance through the nation Israel.

But it now begins to unfold on a desert road initially with one person.  And I remind you of what I often say: the kingdom of God advances one soul at a time.  Right?  Not in groups; not in nations.  The kingdom of God advances one soul at a time.

Now as we look at this, we could just read the narrative.  You could read the narrative yourself and it would be pretty straightforward.  You can read the story, it’s a wonderful story.  I hope you will read it, even after we’ve kind of look at it a little tonight.

But as we read the story, I want to go a little beyond what you can read and let you know that this story in and of itself presents to us a picture of the elements and the components and the features in a saving faith.  Everything you need to know is here by illustration, by implication.  So I want to break the story down, and it runs to the end of the chapter.  We’ll go through it fairly quickly.

There are three categories that help us sort it out.  There’s the preparation in this encounter, that which is already in place before the encounter even begins; and then there is the presentation, how it is that Philip addresses this individual; and then there is the personal response, and that’s just kind of a simple and somewhat universal perspective on any encounter, any gospel encounter.  There is the preparation which is necessary, there is the presentation which is necessary, and then there is the correct personal response.  As we look at those three headings, we’re going to see the components of a faith that saves.  Let’s look at preparation first of all, all right, verse 26 through 29.

“But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road).  So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot and was reading the prophet Isaiah.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join the chariot.’”  Now that’s enough to let us know that this is a very well-designed and prepared encounter, and the one who is preparing this than none other than the Holy Spirit.  So let’s start there.

The proper preparation for salvation, for true salvation, begins with the sovereign work of the Spirit.  It starts with diving preparation.  It starts with God’s Spirit preparing the soil, God’s providential working.

Salvation is God’s work, is it not?  It is not man’s work, it is God’s work.  It is initiated by God.  It is a reflection of His will; no man seeks after God.  The natural man is dead in trespasses and sin, ignorant, alienated from the life of God – hopeless, helpless, indifferent, disinterested.  But what happens is by the purpose of God and the power of God, the glorious light of the gospel begins to shine into the darkness and it shatters the blindness, that is natural blindness, sinful blindness; and it shatters that second blindness, which is satanic blindness, the blindness that the god of this world imposes on sinners.  This is, at the very outset, the most important fact regarding salvation, that it has to be initiated by God.

We saw that powerfully demonstrated in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, did we not? That, “You must be born of the Spirit.  You must be born from above,” Jesus said to Nicodemus.

And when we ask, “How does that happen?” Jesus gives the answer:  “The Spirit does what He wants, when He wants, to whom He wants, the way He wants, like the wind.  You don’t know where it’s coming from, you don’t know where it’s going, and you have no control over it.”

Salvation is, first of all, a sovereign work of God.  God is the one who chooses, God is the one who calls, God is the one who activates the human heart.  We don’t aid the Holy Spirit in this.  We don’t aid God in this.  We don’t help God make a decision about this.  Dead men have no recognition.

People who are blind in the darkness of sin and Satan can’t see the truth, that’s why in John 6:44, Jesus said, “No man comes unto Me unless the Father – ” what “ – draws him.”  The preaching of the cross is to those that perish – foolishness.  So there is an absolute and utter incapacity and indifference on the part of an unregenerate sinner whether he’s a Jew or a Gentile.  Total incapacity of the unsaved to see, understand, feel, receive, or believe, has to be overcome by the Holy Spirit.

And, essentially, we know this is happening here because an angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and tells him to go directly to this individual who’s a court official of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, for the sake of the gospel.  Here, in this case, we have an illustration.  And here it’s graphically laid out for us; whereas, in most cases in our lives, or in all cases, we have no idea that that is going on.  But in this case, it is recorded for us that this was all the preparation of the Holy Spirit.  Now on this occasion, the Holy Spirit used an angelic messenger and the orders are very specific to Philip:  “Get up, go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.  This is a desert road.”

Gaza, or what today is called Gaza Strip – a city of the Philistines, by the way – it was given by Joshua to Judah.  It was there at Gaza, you remember, that it was originally a fortified city on the road to Egypt.

In 96 BC it was totally destroyed; and although a new city was built a few miles away, the road to Egypt ran through, for centuries, an old fortress in ruins.  So it really was a desert road, even at that time.  It was much traveled, however, because there was a constant flow of people going from Jerusalem to Egypt and the other way around.  They would go out of Jerusalem, through Bethlehem, down to Hebron, and over to Egypt.

So the Spirit commands Philip to go on that somewhat familiar road; and as he goes, he is instructed that he is to be obedient.  And so he goes, verse 27:  “He got up and went.”  All he knows is he’s to go.  And there was, providentially, an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure, and he had come to Jerusalem to worship.

So he’s on his way toward Jerusalem, coming from Ethiopia, through Egypt, and up this very familiar road.  This is the divine encounter that is prepared by the Holy Spirit.  Philip didn’t know that.  He only knew to be obedient, he only knew to get on the road, and God would determine his purpose.  We act, but the Spirit initiates.  What a wonderfully, encouraging reality that is.

It is evident that God already had chosen this individual, this man.  God had ordained him.  God had written his name down in the Lamb’s Book of Life, if you will, from before the foundation of the world, that the conversion of this eunuch was in the purpose and plan of God from eternity past, as is true of everyone who is saved.  The salvation of this single sinner was the very clear purpose of God for Philip’s trip reminding us that the salvation of a single sinner is worthy of the attention of God, and the dispatching of angels, and the action of the Holy Spirit.

Whenever a sinner is converted, we conclude that God chose that sinner, God formed a plan and a purpose, and brought about that sinner’s salvation.  And salvation doesn’t happen to anyone unless they hear the truth about Christ, right?  Whoever calls on the Lord can be saved.  But how are they going to call on one they don’t know?  How are they going to know unless there’s a preacher?  How is there going to be a preacher unless somebody’s sent?  Somebody has to go and preach because faith comes by hearing the Word concerning Christ.  We are all born of the Spirit because the Spirit is the divine regenerator who fulfills the Father’s purpose, the Father’s will, and brings to reality the Son’s atoning work.  So the faith that does save begins with the right preparation, which begins in the sovereign purposes of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

The second is this:  The submissive will of a servant.  The submissive will of a servant.  How are they going to hear without a preacher?  How are they going to hear if somebody isn’t sent?  The Lord has chosen to do His work through human instruments, human instruments.  God uses human tools.  It was Peter on the Day of Pentecost, in chapter 2, who preached the gospel and 3,000 people were saved.  Again, the gospel is preached in chapter 4 and 5, 000 are saved.  And then the gospel continues to be preached by Stephen

And it’s always been that way.  The apostles are everywhere preaching the gospel.  The persecuted is scattered everywhere preaching the gospel.  It’s still that way today.  People can’t know the truth unless they hear the truth.  Faith comes by hearing the truth.  So the work of the Spirit has to be married to the submissive will of the servant.  Somebody has to be the tool, and that is why, of course, the apostle Paul writes words to Timothy that are instructive for all of us, and we need to take them to heart.  Listen to these words, 2 Timothy 2.

“Now in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, some to honor and some to dishonor.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these evil influences, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”  So you want to be a clean instrument.  You want to be a useful vessel.  That is a critical plan in God’s gospel advance.

It didn’t really appear, I guess in one sense, logical.  Responsibility was large in a flourishing ministry in Samaria.  People were believing the apostles had come; the Spirit was now there.  There was new church, you might say.  There was enthusiasm, excitement, and response to the truth.  To drop everything and head down a desert road with no knowledge of where you were going and for what purpose might have seemed a bit strange, if not absurd.  And with no particular destination in mind, it could be a very long and arduous journey.

But all God had to say was, “Go.”  All He had to say was, “Go,” and verse 27 says, “Philip got up and went.”  That’s enough.  He got up and went.  Even though it didn’t appear sensible or logical, he could have made an argument there were more important things where he was, he obeyed.  And, of course, he ran into an Ethiopian eunuch who was a court official of Candace, Queen to the Ethiopians, in charge of her treasure, coming to Jerusalem to worship.  He was returning and sitting in his chariot, and of all amazing things, was reading the prophet Isaiah.

And if you want to know how eager Philip was to do what he had been called to do, check out the command in verse 29:  “The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join the chariot.’”  Verse 30, Philip did what?  What did he do?  He ran.  There’s no hesitancy, there’s no reluctance.  This is boldness.

And, by the way, if there’s any characteristic of early church evangelism, it is boldness.  You see that all the way back in the book of Acts in chapter 2 where they’re boldly preaching the gospel to the hostile city of Jerusalem.  You see it in chapter 4 where they preach the gospel.  They preach Christ risen from the dead with boldness, even though they’ve been threatened with prison and already have been literally taken captive by the powers that be.  But there is a boldness in the early church.  There’s an explosive boldness in the early church.  God uses that boldness.  Philip is a demonstration of that boldness.

So salvation preparation, what are the necessary elements of preparation?  There’s the sovereign work of the Spirit and the submissive will of the servant.  Somebody has to go with the message.  And then there’s a third element and it’s an obvious one.  There’s the searching of the sinner.  There’s the searching of the sinner.

Now we come to the individual.  There’s not going to be any real salvation take place unless the sinner is searching for that.  And I say that to people all the time:  You can’t give the gospel to people who aren’t interested in it.  But I want you to notice down in verse 27 this Ethiopian eunuch is reading, verse 28, the prophet Isaiah.

Now Ethiopia – you think of Ethiopia as a country.  Ethiopia is a term in biblical times for all Africa south of Egypt, through all those massive deserts.  So we don’t know exactly where he was from.  It could have been anywhere south of Egypt.  That term covers all portions of Northern Africa, massive Northern Africa.  It would include Ethiopia, it would include Libya, it would probably stretch even beyond that.  We really don’t know where in particular it came from, but the kingdom of Ethiopia was massive in those days.  A little bit of background on that.

The king of Ethiopia was venerated.  He was so venerated that people thought that the king of Ethiopia was a child of the sun, that he was some kind of divine being; and it was determined that because he was a divine being, he was too sacred to work, he was too sacred to work.  They couldn’t see him demean himself by getting involved in the functions of secular royal leadership.  So according to history, the duties of royalty were passed to the queen mother.  While her son, the king, did nothing, she was responsible for everything.  The name Candace is not a proper name, it’s like Pharaoh.  It’s a feminine name for a queen mother.  So this is the queen mother who’s basically running things in the Ethiopian kingdom.

This man worked for her as she was doing the work of the king.  He is a eunuch.  He’d been castrated to serve in a harem.  People in ancient times were castrated and served the king in the harem.  Sometimes they served as priests in some pagan religious rites.  Very common.  Eunuchs were very common in ancient lands in pagan courts.

Now this man is not just another eunuch among many, he is the official chamberlain – that’s an old English word you might remember from history – the man who is responsible for the treasury.  This would be the CFO, the Chief Financial Officer of Ethiopia – trusted, respected, honored.

By the way, God has a dim view of this, castration.  In fact, you can read it yourself.  Deuteronomy 23:1 identifies God’s attitude toward castration.  And it was crystal clear that God forbid that, not only for its own sake because it is basically – it is abusing, it is maiming the image of God.  But also, it was associated with paganism.  This would be another way to prevent the Jews from engaging in pagan religion.

Now he’s come to Jerusalem to worship.  The best guess is that’s a thousand miles, that’s a thousand miles.  Just imagine walking a thousand miles, or being carried a thousand miles, all the way to Jerusalem.

What do you have here?  You have a searching heart.  Something’s going on in this individual because he’s coming, he’s coming to Jerusalem to worship.  Somewhere along the road, he has heard about the God of Israel.  Some Jews must have migrated into that area.  We know they were in Egypt.  We know there was a great rabbinical library in Alexandria, and it probably extended its influence and he had found out about the true God.

His answers, the answers to his heart questions weren’t being answered in paganism.  He wasn’t getting the answers his heart was crying for.  So he’s going to make a thousand, some even say a twelve-hundred-mile trip.  He’s weary with his own gods; he’s weary with the assorted elements of his own religion; he’s weary with the loose morals of paganism; he weary with the suggestions of other nations.  He’s maybe wandered through various religious options.  He’s come to Judaism.

Some people think he may have been a proselyte.  That would be a Gentile who actually was circumcised and joined Judaism.  Maybe he took the law upon himself.  Maybe he even found another group of Jews that he could be associated with and attended some kind of synagogue in Ethiopia; we don’t know that.

Whether he was what they called a God-fearer, a Gentile who had converted to Judaism or not, we don’t know.  But he was certainly drawn to the God of Israel.  He had it in his heart to know the God of Israel.  He had come all the way to Jerusalem to worship the true God.  He was empty, however.  He was unfulfilled in his search.  All he found, no doubt, in Judaism up to this point was ceremony, ritual, routine, cold formality; no answer to his searching heart.

So here’s another component in issues in true salvation: a genuine hunger for the truth, a genuine hunger for the truth.  That’s a prerequisite: a desire for the truth, a longing for the truth.  That’s the beatitude, isn’t it?  “Blessed is the man who hungers after righteousness, who thirsts after righteousness, for he will be filled.”  God meets the heart that has been prompted to hunger and thirst in seeking, which is not natural to the sinner.

Second Chronicles we read this:  “These are good things found in you in that you have taken away the idols out of the land and have prepared your heart to seek God.  That’s a good thing.  You’re weary with your idols, you’re done with false religion, and now you’re seeking God.”

Second Chronicles 30:  “The Lord God pardons everyone who prepares his heart to seek God.”  Or 2 Chronicles 30, a couple of verses later, of Hezekiah:  “To seek his God, he did with all his heart.”  Or Psalm 119:2, “Blessed are they that seek Him with the whole heart.”  Or Hosea 6:3, “You shall know if you follow on to know the Lord.”  Or Jeremiah 29:13, “And you shall seek Me and find Me when you shall search for Me with all your heart.”

Or those wonderful words of John 7, in verse – I think it’s verse 17:  “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching whether it’s of God or whether I speak from myself.”  So a willing heart, a seeking heart, a hungry heart, a longing heart.  Salvation comes to those who hunger for it.  This man sought for salvation.

So what is the preparation for a true salvation?  The sovereign work of the Spirit, the submissive will of the servant who will be God’s instrument, and the searching worship of the sinner; and then it all culminates in a fourth, the scriptural Word of God, the scriptural Word of God.  At this point, it’s time for the Word of God, it’s time for the Word of God.  That puts all the pieces together.  It all comes down to this, the truth; and he is reading the prophet Isaiah.  And he’s not just reading anywhere in the prophet Isaiah – and there are 66 chapters – he happens to be reading, according to verse 32, chapter 53.

We would probably agree that is the most important chapter in the whole book of Isaiah, and it is the presentation of the gospel.  In fact, when we went through Isaiah 53, I called it the first gospel; Matthew is the second.  All that is necessary with the preparation work of the Holy Spirit, with the ready willingness of the servant, and the searching heart of the sinner, all that is necessary is the Word of God, the Scripture.  Maybe he picked up the scroll somewhere along the line, scrolls were around; but you only had a scroll if you were very, very wealthy.  But this is a very wealthy individual and he’s reading out loud, which was the traditional way you read, and he’s reading Isaiah 53.

You can see the Holy Spirit working and preparing this servant, Philip; working and preparing the seeking heart of the sinner; and working and preparing that he got to the right scripture.  He’s reading the very best passage you could ever be reading.  So there you have the preparation.  What is necessary to prepare for someone to make a genuine response to Christ, sovereign work of the Spirit, submissive will of the servant, searching worship of the sinner, and the scriptural word?  That’s the preparation.

Now the presentation.  Look at verse 30, the presentation:  “Philip ran up, heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’  And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’  And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

“Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:  ‘He was led as a sheep to slaughter and as a lamb before its shearers is silent, so He doesn’t open His mouth.  In humiliation His judgment was taken away.  Who will relate His generation?  For His life is removed from the earth.’

“And the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this?  Of himself or of someone else?’  Then Philip opened his mouth,” listen, “and beginning from,” what?  Beginning from what?  “The Scripture.  He preached Jesus to him.”

Philip obeyed; Philip went.  Everything was prepared by the providence of God.  Philip ran eagerly up to this man, heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, verse 30, and asked him a simple question:  “Do you understand what you’re reading?”  And he said, “How could I, unless someone guides me?”  And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Simon wanted to power, right?  This man wanted the truth.  Simon was willing to pay money for the power.  This man desperately wanted the truth.  So here’s the first part of the presentation, the key to effective presentation: pointing people at the Scripture, pointing people at the Scripture; pointing their attention, their focus at the Scripture.

You say, “Well, hey, not everybody’s interested in that, and they don’t want to get bogged down in the Bible.”  Huh.  If they’re not interested in what the Scripture says, they’re not expressing a desperate hunger for salvation, because if the Holy Spirit is moving in their heart and is in the work of regeneration, the Spirit will drive them at the truth.

“I need to understand, but I don’t have anybody to guide me.”  By the way, that’s the same word used in John 16:13 for what the Holy Spirit does.  “The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth.”

“I need somebody to explain this.”  What do I see here?  I see humility here; I see meekness here; I see a teachable attitude here.  Psalm 25:9 says, “The meek, He will teach His way.  The meek, He will teach His way.”  In your presentation, look, you go right at the Scripture; and if there is no interest in the Scripture, if there’s no interest in the divine solution to the hungry heart, then you’d better wait for another day.

The passage he was reading, verses 32 and 33 was that great passage out of Isaiah 53, which describes the substitutionary atonement of Christ as He was led as the sacrificial Lamb of God to slaughter, silent, humiliated, not a fair trial, his life removed from the earth.  He’s reading this, trying to figure out what this is, who this is.  It’s a prophecy of the death of the Messiah.

The Holy Spirit had led him to that passage.  The Holy Spirit had prepared his heart for an explanation of that passage, and the eunuch couldn’t understand it.  “Tell me,” he says in verse 34, “who is he talking about?  Himself?  Is this about Isaiah?  Who is this about?  I don’t know who this about.”  He was reading about the Suffering Servant.  He was reading about the Messiah.

By the way, the Jews have referred Isaiah 53 to themselves as a nation, they are the suffering servant.  Some Jewish commentators have referred it to Isaiah, he’s the suffering servant.  Some of them have even said Isaiah is talking about Jerimiah, who was the suffering, weeping prophet.  But throughout Jewish history, most scholars, most Jewish rabbis said it is Messiah, it is Messiah.  While you only have verses 7 and 8 quoted here, but he’s reading the whole chapter and he’s saying, “Who is this?”  And in verse 35, “Philip opened his mouth beginning from this Scripture, he preached Jesus to him, he preached Jesus to him.”

I don’t want to generalize off of the particular, but I don’t think I’m doing that.  If someone is in the process of being brought to the knowledge of the gospel in a saving way, they will want to know about Jesus, they will want to know the Scripture, they will want to know about atonement.

Here’s the other side of it.  He couldn’t go to a better place than Isaiah 53.  Since none of the gospels had been written yet, that really was the only place to go for the biography of Jesus.  And Philip was ready.  He preached, starting at that scripture.  He preached Jesus to him.

This is the second part of the preparation.  The Holy Spirit has to drive the sinner to the Scripture, so you as the servant of the Lord, if you’re going to make the presentation, you drive the sinner to the Scripture.  But here’s the corollary:  Once you get there, you’ve got to be able to explain.  You’ve got to be able to explain it.  This puts the burden on you.

He is truly an evangelist, Philip.  He’s called Philip the evangelist.  He’s truly an evangelist because here in a kind of a serendipitous, though divinely orchestrated encounter with this man, he is confronted with the need to completely explain to him Jesus, starting at Isaiah 53.  And if I can just reach back to the beginning of the book of Acts, what marked the apostles after the resurrection and ascension of Christ was they understood the Old Testament.

So Philip is a believer in Jerusalem and he’s under the apostles.  It was the apostles who chose him for his position, who set him apart for his ministry.  No doubt, he had sat under the apostles who had also taught him about Jesus from the law, the prophets, and the Holy Writings, just as he did on the Emmaus road to the two disciples.  Took them back to the Old Testament and explained all the things concerning Himself.

Remember our series “Finding Christ in the Old Testament”?  He was truly an evangelist.  He could meet a man face-to-face who has his Scriptures open in front of him; and starting there, he could preach Jesus fully to him – complete evangelist.

In Samaria, he’s preaching to crowds.  He’s preaching to crowds; he doing miracles.  Large crowds are coming to him in the first half of the chapter.  He can go from that to a one-on-one encounter and an explanation of Isaiah 53.

I say this to you from time-to-time and I just repeat it because it’s absolutely true:  I trust and pray that we are teaching you the Word of God in a way that allows you to learn it well enough to pass it on.  You’re not the end.  This isn’t all about you being the bucket and we dump all this in.  But you’re the funnel, you’re the channel.  It’s got to go through you.

Peter put it this way:  “Always be ready to give to every man an answer for the reason of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear.”  Wherever the question begins, start where they are and get them to Jesus.  It just so happened that Isaiah 53 is a really good place to start.  So we could say the second thing in the presentation – first, get them to the Scripture; secondly, get the to the Savior, get them to the Savior.  He preached Jesus to him.  He preached Jesus.

You remember when our Lord in John 15 was talking to the disciples in the upper room.  He says, “When the Spirit comes, He will testify to you about Me.  He will show you Me.”  It’s about Jesus; it’s about Jesus.

All the sermons in Acts – listen – all the sermons in Acts are about Jesus, crucified, risen, atonement salvation.  All the sermons in Acts, that’s the apostolic preaching of the cross that dominates the church, all of them.  All are Spirit-energized testimony to the truth concerning Jesus Christ.  You do have a few personal autobiographies:  Paul, toward the end of the book.

Why is Paul giving his testimony?  Because he is before a tribunal in which he is asked to account for his life, and so he explains that, “I was a persecutor of the church,” whether he’s talking to Agrippa or Festus or Felix, whoever it is in these tribunals, he explains what happened in his life.  But, eventually, he gets to Jesus.

So I just might warn you a little bit: watch out for too much autobiography in your presentation of the gospel.  Don’t be too caught up in you because you’re not the issue.  It’s wonderful what the Lord has done in your life, and you can affirm that and declare that.  But a clear presentation of Christ is absolutely everything in gospel presentation.

That’s what Paul did.  Preach Christ; preach Christ; preach Christ.  Preach Christ crucified.  He says, “I went everywhere.  I don’t know anything among you except Christ and Him,” what, “crucified.  That’s all I have to say.”  And, of course, he was mocked and laughed at because he didn’t get in all the machinations of the orators of his day.

So point at the Scripture, point at the Savior.  Thirdly, in the presentation:  Point at salvation, point at salvation.  Explain why He was a sheep led to slaughter, why He was the Lamb of God, why He was literally killed, His life was removed from the earth.  Explain the doctrines of salvation.  Go to the Scripture, go to the Savior, go to salvation.

You say, “Well, people might be offended.”  Fine.  If they’re offended at that point, then this isn’t the time for their salvation.  You can’t sneak salvation in the side door, it’s got to be the main purpose that is in the heart of the sinner.

Sometimes it happens like this.  I was on a flight somewhere, coming across America, and a guy sat down next to me, and I had my New Testament, and he looked over at me and said, “You wouldn’t know how I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, would you?”  “Uh, yeah, as a matter of fact.”  Sometimes that happens; not very often.

Patricia will remember that story.  I was kind of like this.  They’re not always going to be like that.  But they have to be interested in the Scripture, and the Savior, and salvation from sin.  That’s what salvation is.

Philip even taught him baptism.  Philip taught him baptism.  How do you know that?  Verse 36:  “As they went along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look!  Water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”

Well, what does that tell you?  First of all, Philip probably had a jug of water, or he had a jug of water, so it wasn’t going to be a sprinkling.  There had to be a pool of water.  Why is that significant?  Because baptism signifies union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

So he understood that.  He understood baptism, which we’ve seen tonight.  This demonstrates that the issue was salvation.  True evangelism takes time to go to the Scripture, go to the Savior, go to the issues of salvation, teach the doctrines of salvation which encompass the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ and union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

Now all that’s left – final word – is a personal response at the end.  Personal response?  We saw some of it in verse 36.  “Okay, I’m ready.  Look!  Water!”  Joyous discovery.  Why?  They’re in the desert.  Do you think God misses anything?

How important is baptism?  God allowed for this providential encounter in a place where there’s no water except there.  How important is baptism?  That ought to give you a clue.  Even when God providentially orders the process of salvation, He makes sure there’s water.

So we could say three things demonstrate his immediate response: faith, faith.  He’s ready.  “Look!  Water!  I want to be baptized.  I want to be obedient.”  Or you could say faith and obedience.  Nothing is hindering him, nothing.  “What prevents me?  Is there anything that prevents me?”

I’ll skip that verse 37 and I’ll comment on it in a minute.  Go to verse 38:  “So he ordered the chariot to stop.”  There’s an interesting discussion of whether or not this chariot was being pulled by animals or this was one of those kind of carriage chairs that were on the backs of slaves.

But, anyway, it stopped, and they both went down into the water – again, immersion; Philip, as well as the eunuch – and he baptized him.  First official baptism of somebody from the uttermost part of the earth.  We’re only in the 8th chapter of Acts, and the gospel has gone, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.

Now I’ll comment about verse 37.  That verse does not appear in any of the ancient manuscripts, any of the earliest; so it was added later.  Maybe it was added because somebody felt it needed to be there, obviously; or it become a sort of baptism formula.  Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”  He answered, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Well, that’s the formula.  And you heard people confess that essentially, “Do you confess Jesus as Lord?”  That has been the traditional baptismal formula.  There’s nothing wrong there; there’s nothing untrue there.  But in the most ancient manuscripts, that did not appear.  But it can certainly be assumed he believed and he immediately demonstrated his faith by obedience.

So there is faith and there is obedience.  This is the proof of a genuine faith.  There’s one other thing:  “When they came up out of the water – ” I don’t know how you can get sprinkling out of that.  “When they come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.”

Wow; whoa.  What is that?  That’s a miracle, folks.  You can read about that with Elijah and you can read about it with Ezekiel.  But it’s pretty rare.  I can only think of Elijah and Ezekiel.  “And all of a sudden, the Lord snatched Philip away.”  He disappeared.  He’s gone.

You say, “Well, what about follow-up?”  He’s now in the hands of the Lord.  “And the eunuch no longer saw him.”  What does it say?  “But he went on his way – ” wondering?  He went on his way, what?  There’s the third element of a true salvation.  There is faith, there is obedience, and there is joy, joy.

So Philip gets snatched away – this is time travel.  This is the amazing leap from one place to another without traversing the space in-between.  Philip found himself at Azotus; and, certainly, the eunuch is scratching his head and saying, “This is a validation that I have just had an encounter with God.”

He found himself at Azotus and he passed through and kept preaching the message, the gospel, to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.  The Lord relocated him in a miraculous way; really an astonishing reality.  A miracle was a confirming sign, certainly to the eunuch, that God was truly in this; and God put him exactly where He wanted him to be.

Azotus was a New Testament title for the town of Ashdod.  Do you remember Ashdod?  Ashdod was a Philistine city where they took the ark.  Ashdod, about 20 miles north of Gaza where this happened, halfway to Joppa.  All of a sudden, he arrived there, and he preached in all the cities.

There were lots of cities.  They’re all listed back in 1 Samuel 5.  There’s Ekron, Jamnia – not all of them – but Ekron, Lydia, Joppa.  By this time, there were cities with Greek names: Antipatris, Caesarea.  Apparently, this was Philip’s new headquarters for the preaching of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit would take over the work with those that had come to salvation.

Irenaeus, the early Church Father says the eunuch became a missionary.  I’m sure.  I’m sure the eunuch became a missionary.  And there are some sections of Africa in which historically, groups of Christians claim this eunuch as the founder of their church.  That’s tradition maybe.  But, perhaps, the tradition grew because of a real influence from this man’s life.

So these are components of a faith that saves, and I hope it’s helpful to you, not only to see the story, but to see sort of in the story these elements; give you some direction and guidance in your own ministry.  Let’s pray.

Father, we are, again, in awe of Your Word and Your truth.  Its consistency, its power, its clarity always thrills our hearts.  Thank You.  Thank You for the blessing it is to hold in our hands divine revelation.  This is Your Word to us.  Every word is true.  Every word is pure, like silver refined seven times in a furnace.

Thank You for these models of early church encounters that are so instructive and helpful to us.  Lord, may we be faithful like Philip was.  May we be the instrument that You can use, the vessel unto honor, fit for Your use, ready for Your use.  May You call from among us many missionaries, many preachers of the gospel, many gospel witnesses; and would You empower all of us to do that when we’re given opportunity.

But, Lord, raise up people who will go to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Put it on the hearts of many to give up the comforts and the ease of life here to go somewhere in the world and bring the gospel to those who desperately need to hear.  Raise up many like Philip, many faithful missionaries to continue Your work, even in this day.

And bless our missionaries as they’re scattered all over the globe.  Bless the truth as it goes out through electronic means, through the Internet, books, CDs, radio, television.  May Your gospel be spread continually across the earth so that there will always be a messenger to accomplish Your purpose.

There will always be, in some form or another, a Philip – someone who will speak the Word, or write the Word, or proclaim the Word by which You can do Your work of salvation.  And, Lord, again, call many from this congregation to give their lives in that endeavor, we pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/44-30

Don’t Ignore God. There is a Hell!

By Dr. Mark Creech – June 23, 2019

There is a matter that somewhat afflicts my spirit every day. It is the observation that so many of the people with whom I associate hardly ever give God a thought. When it comes to the way they live, God is not a part of the equation. Not only do they never think of him, (unless thrown into some trouble from which their abilities can’t rescue them) but they don’t fear him.

There is a final destination for people like this: hell.

Samuel Gordon once wrote:

“Philosophically there must be a hell. That is the name for the place where God is not; for the place where they will gather together who insist on leaving God out. God out! There can be no worse hell than that!”

 

The beloved Christian writer, Max Lucado, summarized the greatest horror of hell. He wrote:

“God isn’t there.”

Certainly, hell is the just deserts of those who owe God for every good thing in life but want nothing to do with him or his ways.

Hell is real. It’s not simply a state of being, the Bible describes it as a place of consciousness (Lk. 16:23, 24), a place of eternal torment (Lk. 16:23, 28), a place of darkness, (Mt. 8:12), a place of eternal separation from loved ones who believed (Lk. 13:28), a place without the slightest hope of relief or release (Mt. 25:46, Heb. 6:2), and a place of regret and torturous memory (Lk. 16:27, 28).

A few months ago, I spoke with a woman who told me her husband had a realistic and terrifying dream about crossing a river in a valley. She said he wept for a half hour afterward. In the dream, there were demon spirits that blinded and transformed people into wicked beings themselves, who consequently blinded others, all of whom were enslaved forever.

I felt the dream had spiritual significance and explained that it matched much of what the Bible says about dreams with divine messages, the devil, demonic influences, spiritual blindness, sin, and judgment. I urged both of them to act on the dream’s biblical message and be sure of a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. However, I don’t think either of them has decided anything on the matter.

Their situation reminded me of a story from the Eighteenth Century about a resident from Glasgow, Scotland, whose name was Archibald Boyle.

Boyle was a leading member of an organization called “The Hell Club.” The club was well-known in its day for its immoral excesses.

One night after much debauchery at their annual meeting, Boyle dreamed that he was riding home on his black horse, when an unknown figure appeared from nowhere, seized the reins from him, shouting:

“You must go with me.”

In an attempt to wrest back the reins, the horse reared, and Boyle fell, down, down, with ever-increasing velocity. He looked and next to him was the fearful attendant who had commandeered his horse away from him. Boyle cried out:

“Where are you taking me?”

To which the unrelenting entity replied:

“To hell.”

When they reached hell’s floor, Boyle said he immediately heard echoes from the groans and yelling of frantic revelry. He entered through a grand archway, where he saw hell’s inhabitants chasing the same sinful pleasures they had pursued in life, but were now like phantoms.

Boyle soon perceived he was surrounded by people he had known on earth. There was a woman, an acquaintance, who was absorbed in a card game of gambling. When he saw this, he relaxed and said:

“If this is hell, what a devilish pleasant place it must be.”

When he proceeded to ask the woman if she might provide a tour of hell’s pleasures, she shrieked:

“THERE IS NO REST IN HELL!!!”

The woman then unclasped the vest of her expensive robe and displayed to Boyle’s shuddering gaze a coil of living snakes, writhing, darting, and stinging her bosom – the very seat of her emotions and affections.

Others whom he knew in hell also revealed similar pangs of the soul, but worse still, he witnessed a hopeless agony of regret in everyone. They laughed, sang and spoke irreverently, just as they had on earth, but they could never rest from it – not the slightest moment of reprieve was granted. They could never do right. They could never change and experience the sweetness and the blessedness of a godly life. They could never know the tenderness of God’s grace and mercy. They could never know forgiveness nor give it. They were forever bound to each sinful way to which they had tenaciously held onto in life. Except in hell, their libertinism had turned into bitter chains of constant anguish.

“These are the pleasures of hell,” an earthly voice mockingly boomed.

Terrified at what he was seeing, Boyle begged his companion:

“Please take me from this place. By the living God whose name I have so often outraged, I beg you, let me go!”

His guide replied:

“Go then; but, in a year and a day, we meet to part no more.”

Despite his resolution to never again attend the Hell Club, Boyle was drawn back. His friends intensely pressed him, and though his conscience weighed heavily on him, he feared their sneers more than he feared God.

At the next annual meeting of Hell Club, which Boyle attended, every nerve in his body seemed to thrash him at the first sentence of the president’s opening address:

“My friends, this is leap year; therefore it is a year and a day since our last meeting.”

After the meeting, Boyle mounted his horse to ride home. The following morning, however, his horse was found quietly grazing by the roadside. Just a few yards in the distance lay the stiffened corpse of Archibald Boyle.

The Scriptures solemnly warn:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:9-11).

The list above is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of people who will find themselves in hell one day. Revelation 21:8 includes something similar, adding:

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8).

I’ve included both of these texts because much of what’s listed is celebrated and lauded today, not repudiated as it should be. Don’t be fooled! Even though some churches have hailed these behaviors in recent years, the end for those who characteristically live this way is one of eternal damnation.

Still, let me make it abundantly clear. You don’t have to be grossly wicked to go to hell. All that’s necessary is to ignore God’s claim on your life. Don’t make him a part of the equation, rarely think of him, leave him out, don’t surrender control to him as the Lord, your God, don’t fear him, and to your surprise and dismay, although you thought of yourself as a pretty good person, at the end of life, you’ll find yourself in that terrible place.

There are two lives that you can live – life your way or life God’s way.

There are two leaders that you can follow – yourself or God. There are two decisions that you can make – to receive God’s salvation through Christ or to reject him.

Every person must make a choice. Even choosing not to make a choice is a choice made against God. There is no neutrality. Either we acknowledge God’s sovereignty over us, trust his means of redemption from the penalty and power of sin, which he provides in Jesus Christ and by his Holy Spirit, or we are eternally left to our own devices and land in hell.

Admittedly, as the Great Reformer, Martin Luther said, it’s very difficult to know and understand all of what hell is;

“Only this we know, there is such a sure and certain place.”

 

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No, God Doesn’t Love Abortion, And If You Say So You’re Not A Real Pastor

The Atlantic’s headline writers must have envisioned people concluding abortion might not be so bad if a pastor thinks it’s moral. There is no other reason for the story. It’s certainly not newsworthy.

No, God Doesn’t Love Abortion, And If You Say So You’re Not A Real Pastor

May 31, 2019 By Glenn T. Stanton

The left has been on a frantic jag the last few weeks to get us all to remember just how wonderful and important abortion is. One of the most despicably desperate efforts was a recent New York Times editorial by a particularly infamous late-term abortionist explaining (and this is not a typo) “Pregnancy kills. Abortion saves lives.”

Pregnancy: Very bad. Abortion: Very good. But of course, 100 percent of everyone who has ever existed does so because a pregnancy did what it naturally does and an abortion didn’t. The craziness of this editorial is a dramatic demonstration of just how paralyzed with fear these folks are about losing their cherished right to be free of children.

The Atlantic recently published a less dramatic, but equally desperate, article entitled “A Pastor’s Case for the Morality of Abortion.” Three trigger words here are supposed to create a confused dissonance: Pastor. Morality. Abortion. A case for the morality of abortion by a pastor. We imagine The Atlantic’s headline writers envisioned so many of us concluding abortion might not be so bad if a pastor thinks it’s moral. There is no other reason for the story. It’s certainly not newsworthy.

This pastor, Jes Kast, is not well-known. She is extremely fringe and not particularly influential. She didn’t recently change her position on the issue through dramatic soul-searching. And she’s a United Church of Christ pastor, a denomination that never saw an abortion it couldn’t celebrate. She also describes herself as a femme queer lesbianwho wants us to “queer this sh-t” we call our lives.

She serves on Planned Parenthood’s national Clergy Advocacy Board and talks endlessly about the need to protect “reproductive rights,” as if she’s pro-fertility. She’s not. She’s a woman who’s proudly political even in her choice of lipstick.

Every day I put my lipstick on, it is a form of protest. When Hitler took over and the war was going on women who were fighting back against the Nazi infiltration would wear red lipstick. Hitler apparently hated it when women wore red lipstick. So for me, it’s an act of protest to put red lipstick on.

This is the person The Atlantic chose to make the moral case for abortion. On top of all this, she doesn’t even make a decent case, as if there is one, much less from a Christian perspective. But let’s give her the respect of taking seriously what she says.

Abortion For Any Reason Is Totally Moral

First, she is very clear that she is all-in on abortion. When asked if she perceives any instance under which abortion is immoral, she says definitively, “I don’t. I really don’t.” These are the words of a fanatic. That’s not an accusation, but a fact. She believes that snuffing out the life of a pre-born child is such an inherent good in and of itself that nothing should override it.

Not the abortion of a girl because a boy was desired, which happens by the millions around the world. How does a feminist square that? Not because one has a cruise coming up in six months. Not because the mother just wants to. These and any other reason are more weighty than the life of the child. That is pure fanaticism.

If Kast thinks the above are extremist examples, then she shouldn’t justify abortion by bringing up the rationale of the 12-year-old rape victim, which she does. It’s the reddest of herrings. Tragic as this would be, the extremely abortion-friendly Guttmacher Institute tells us that only 1 percent of women who get abortions do so because of rape and less than 0.5 percent do so because of incest.

But these make up perhaps 98 percent or so of the reasons folks give for why abortion should be legal. According to Guttmacher, 74 percent say they had their abortion because having a baby would dramatically change their lives or because they think they can’t afford a baby right now.

The Jesus Who Allows Whatever I Want

So what is Kast’s theological case?

Most anyone would agree she’s quite creative with scripture. In her rationale, she quotes Jesus saying, “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” It’s a wonderful statement from the savior, but you should sit down for her commentary on how this makes abortion moral.

What Jesus means here, she explains, is that “God’s plan for our lives is to actually have a meaningful life with loving contentment and satisfaction.” She continues, “Because of that—because I value life, and I believe Jesus values life—I value the choices that give us the type of life we need.” Claiming that access to abortion is a part of why Jesus came and the abundant life he offers is abhorrent and blasphemous. Has she no shame?

But she’s not done; “When people talk about, ‘Our body is a temple of God, and holy,’ I see that as, I have the right to choices over my body, and the freedom to make the decisions that are right for me.” Apparently she thinks this is compelling. That is the fullness of her case for the morality of abortion. Basically, she is giving the precise rationale for abortion that prosperity preachers give for why God wants you rich.

The True Christian Story Starts in the Womb

What this pastor misses is that which is at the very center of Christianity—Christ Himself. She must know where His story starts.

The Christian story begins with God becoming fully human, not in the Christmas manger, but nine months earlier as a human zygote in the womb of a teenage girl who was not yet married. This is quite a dramatic introduction to Christianity, and it says everything about the morality of abortion for the Christian.

If God enters the world as the smallest of unborn human life, the smallest of unborn human life is very significant indeed. Christianity’s savior grew every day from that moment of his divine conception in Mary’s fallopian tubes, nestling and growing in her womb, never becoming anything more than what he was at that moment—fully God and fully man. Thus, Christianity has always taken an extremely high and unique view of the unborn, more so than any other religion or philosophy. This cannot be overstated.

Our pastor misses that this is precisely why the earliest official collection of Christian ethics and morality—found in the “Didache,” or “Teaching of the Apostles”—clearly states that no one “shall murder a child by abortion, nor kill them when born.” This is in the same list that prohibits adultery, fornication, stealing, murder, lying or speaking evil. (Chapter 2:2) Abortion is immoral.

The First Worshippers of Christ Understood This

Our pastor also fails to appreciate who the first recorded worshipers of Jesus were, and where this all took place. It happens in a very wonderful and intimate place—another woman’s womb. Early in her pregnancy, Mary, Jesus’s mother, goes to visit Elizabeth, her close family member who is also with child. The moment Mary walks through the door of Elizabeth’s home, something remarkable happens in utero.

The child growing inside of Elizabeth, none other than Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, leaps with joy at the arrival of his savior. Likewise, Elizabeth reveres the one who is in Mary’s womb. The first worshipers of Jesus are a pregnant woman and her unborn son. The womb and its natural bounty are very sacred and fundamental parts of the Christian tale.

Thus, no pastor can remain faithful to the belief system he has supposedly dedicated himself to serve, teach, and proclaim, yet dismiss the inestimable value of life in the womb from the moment of conception. A life exists there because God delighted in creating and sending that wholly unique life into the world as a gift and blessing. A life that bears God’s very image and likeness.

People who contend that ending life in the womb is moral have made themselves God, telling Him they reject His gift and know best. They have denied who Christ was and became. It is to dismiss the wonder of His own history and essence. Any pastor who teaches this has denied the center of his own faith.

This pastor says she follows “this guy named Jesus who said, above all … love your neighbor as yourself.” She believes protecting so-called “reproductive freedom” and “women’s health” does this. She refuses to appreciate that the unborn is the most vulnerable of neighbors that lives right under a mother’s heart.

There is no moral, Christian case for abortion. And there’s no space in Christianity for pastors, in direct violation of the Lord’s apostles , who teach that there is.

Glenn T. Stanton is a Federalist senior contributor who writes and speaks about family, gender, and art, is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and is the author of the brand new “The Myth of the Dying Church” (Worthy, 2019). He blogs at glenntstanton.com.

Photo keskieve / YouTube

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