5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Jesus loves Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, so, He stays. Jesus stays. Why? Because He loves them. Jesus staying is given a fourfold emphasis. Note all the time references: “He stayed, two days longer… then, after this,” vv. 6–7. Marvel at the peculiar logic of the Lord’s love. Why does Jesus stay? Because He loves.
“How is this love?” you might object. If so, ask yourself, “What does my objection or puzzlement say I love?” We love our health and wellbeing and ease and comfort and peace. If Jesus loved us, He would work for these things, so we think. It is telling to place Jesus’ motivations for staying alongside those of the disciples (v. 8). Jesus’ motivation puzzles us. The disciples’ make sense. “Oh yeah, they’re seeking to kill Jesus. Perhaps they should stay.” When the first puzzles us, and the second doesn’t, it reveals that our real objection to Jesus’ actions is our selfishness, not Jesus’.
How is this love? Jesus said this illness was not for death, but for the glory of God (v. v. 4). The most loving thing God can do for us is to make much of Himself. The most loving thing God can do to us is to lead us not to a shallow puddle of joy, but to the infinite ocean of delight. The most loving thing God can do for us is shatter our mirrors and move us to look out the window. The most loving thing God can do for us is not to make much of us, but much of Himself. It is more loving for God to display His glory to and through us than to spare us from all suffering. This is for the glory of God, and so, because He loves them, He waits. John Piper writes,
“Oh, how many people today—even Christians—would murmur at Jesus for callously letting Lazarus die and putting him and Mary and Martha and others through the pain and misery of those days. And if people today saw that this was motivated by Jesus’ desire to magnify the glory of God, how many would call this harsh or unloving! What this shows is how far above the glory of God most people value pain-free lives. For most people, love is whatever puts human value and human well-being at the center. So Jesus’ behavior is unintelligible to them.
But let us not tell Jesus what love is. Let us not instruct Him how He should love us and make us central. Let us learn from Jesus what love is and what our true well-being is. Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever and ever. Love keeps God central. Because the soul was made for God.”
Oh the peculiar and glorious logic of the Lord’s love. Oh how He loved Job and Jacob and Joseph. Oh how He loved David and Daniel. Oh how He loved Martha and Mary. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).
Understanding this kind of love puts this kind of steel in one’s spine, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).
When the peculiar providence of God works suffering into your life, remember the logic of the Lord’s love. This is for glory.
“The cross is the strength of a minister. I for one would not be without it for all the world. I should feel like a soldier without arms, like an artist without his pencil, like a pilot without his compass, like a labourer without his tools. Let others, if they will, preach the law and morality; let others hold forth the terrors of hell, and the joys of heaven; let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church; give me the cross of Christ! This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto, and made men forsake their sins. And if this will not, nothing will. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross. Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified. Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M’Cheyne, were all most eminently preachers of the cross. This is the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless. He loves to honour those who honour the cross.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.
“Who is Jesus?” is a unique question. When asked, you may think it is Jesus who is on trial and that you are acting as judge. In reality, we all sit in the dock already condemned. The question is not an opportunity for judgment, but an offer of pardon. If we answer sinfully, we bring even greater condemnation on ourselves. Sinner, you sit in the dock today. The Holy Judge of heaven, by His living word asks you, “Who is Jesus?” Pardon unto life eternal or condemnation to an eternal hell are certain based on your answer to this singular question.
This episode begins to close the end of the first half of John, known as “the book of signs” which runs from chapters 1–11. In this “book” we find seven signs. These signs, John expressly tells us, are central to the purpose of this gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
Beginning with chapter 5 we came to a distinct subsection of the book of signs called “the festival cycle.” With this text that cycle comes to a close. Throughout this cycle “witness-testimony-judgment” language have been so constant that they have created a legal atmosphere, a courtroom ambiance over all of Jesus’ interactions with the Jews. In John’s narrative, this is the last interaction Jesus will have with “the Jews” —meaning, the leaders. These are the closing arguments.
The next chapter serves as a transition between the two halves, with the seventh sign, the resurrection of Lazarus. This is the final sign in John, save for the sign of signs—the death and resurrection of our Lord, which is the sole focus of the second half of John. In Chapter 12, Jesus will interact with the crowds some, ultimately pronouncing the same judgment on them as he does on the leaders in chapter 9, leaving them to their blindness. In chapters 13–17 Jesus interacts intimately with the disciples before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. So again, this is the last interaction of Jesus with “the Jews.”
John records no trial before the Sanhedrin like the synoptics do. We will see Jesus brought before the high priest, but quickly the baton is passed to Pilate. John, instead of highlighting that later private trial, has this earlier and extensive “public trial,” and He brings it to bear on us. In John’s narrative, these are the closing arguments. And the testimony is brought to bear on you. Who is Jesus?
They think they are putting Jesus on trial. But it is Jesus who is the judge. It is they who sit in the dock as condemned. Pardon is set before them. But they are blind. And believe their places are switched. Sinner, “Who is Jesus?” I ask you this not because I’m interested in who you say that Jesus is as though you were some authority. I ask you out of concern for your soul.
Pardon is set before you with this question. Scripture is telling you the answer. Who is Jesus? He is the Bread of life. Eat and Live. He is the Light of the world. Turn to Him, be delivered from darkness and walk in the light of life. He is the Door. Enter by Him and find salvation and life. He is the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for the sheep. He is one with the Father. The life He gives to His sheep is absolutely secure. He is one with the Father and the Father is one with Him.
These men demand that Jesus plainly tell them if He is the Christ (v. 24) . He has been telling them so much more. He has been telling them that the Christ is God. He is not a man making himself God (v. 33). He is God who has made Himself man.
Sinner, this might be your last interaction with Jesus. Do not harden your hearts, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and receive secure and certain eternal life in the Son of God.
“This is the old way by which alone the children of Adam, who have been justified from the beginning of the world, have found I their peace. From Abel downwards, no man or woman has ever had one drop of mercy excepting through Christ. To him every altar that was raised before the time of Moses was intended to point. To him every sacrifice and ordinance of the Jewish law was meant to direct the children of Israel. Of him all the prophets testified. In a word, if you lose sight of justification by Christ, a large part of the Old Testament Scripture will become an unmeaning tangled maze.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
—John 10:7, 11
Jesus as the door gives life to the sheep. Jesus as the good shepherd lays down for the sheep. Jesus not only gives life; He lays down His life. Jesus can give life to the sheep, because He laid down His life and took it up again.
Those who enter by Jesus are “saved,” (v. 9). This is a rare use of “salvation” language in John. John predominately uses the language of “life” and “eternal life” instead. The parallel between the two can be seen in John 3:16–17.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Having entered, the sheep then go out to find pasture (v. 9). Through Jesus, the door, the sheep find both protection (entering the sheepfold) and provision (going out to pasture). Jesus as the door gives life to the sheep. Through the Door there is provision and protection. Through the Door there is life.
Jesus can be the Door because He is the Shepherd. The Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Carefully read the verses following His declaration “I am the good shepherd.” Five times Jesus speaks of laying down His life. He both lays it down and He takes it up again. The Shepherd is able to give life to His sheep, because He laid down His life as a lamb. But a merely dead lamb cannot by itself give life. Jesus took His life back up, that He might give life to those whose death He bore. The Lamb who was slain is the Shepherd who lives. He dies their death. He rises with resurrection life to give.
Jesus is the Door of the sheep because He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the Sheep. He can give life to because He laid down His life for.
“Let every reader of this paper mark what I say. You may know a good deal about the Bible. You may know the outlines of the histories it contains, and the dates of the events described, just as a man knows the history of England. You may know the names of the men and women mentioned in it, just as a man knows Casar, Alexander the Great, or Napoleon. You may know the several precepts of the Bible, and admire them, just as a man admires Plato, Aristotle, or Seneca. But if you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a key-stone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, a lamp without oil. It will not comfort you. It will not deliver your soul from hell.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
Jesus’ interactions with the blind man frame this narrative. In between those interactions Jesus is absent, and yet, central to all that unfolds. In the gospel of John, attention has been so intensely focused on Jesus, that this absence is dramatic. The camera has been locked onto one character for so long, and His person and work are so amazing, that the change of focus, once noticed, startles.
This absence heightens those two interactions of the blind man with Jesus. In each instance, the blind man receives sight. How gloriously different are this man’s interactions with Jesus in contrast to those with the Pharisees. Two times Jesus gives this man sight. And the climactic work of Christ comes at the end. When the camera pans back around to Jesus, we are not disappointed.
This is the sixth sign we encounter in the gospel of John. John falls neatly into two halves. In the first half, chapters 1–12, there are seven signs, thus it is known as the “book of signs.” This is the penultimate sign in the “book of signs.” John has selected his signs carefully. John ends this gospel telling us, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Think of how the signs have grown in glory. First there was the quiet act of turning the water into wine. Second, Jesus healed the official’s son from a great distance. Third, there was the healing of the invalid man at the pool of Bethesda. Fourth, we have the feeding of the five thousand plus. Fifth, there is a cluster of wonders as Jesus walks on the water to His disciples and then upon getting into the boat the storm ceases and immediately they arrive at their destination. And now, with this healing of the blind man, do not think that we have something more commonplace and lesser than the feeding or the walking on the water. John has selected these signs carefully. They grow in glory. This one is exceeded only by the raising of Lazarus in the book of signs which then anticipates the sign of signs central to the second half of John—the death and resurrection of our Lord. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (v. 32).
But this is not the greatest marvel. John has chosen these signs, he tells us, “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name,” (John 20:21). Believing is spiritual sight. John has written these signs so that you might see. John has written of this sign in particular, so that you might see! This man was born blind not for sin, but for glory. This man was born blind so that blind men might see. Better to receive the second sight the blind man received than to see the wonder of the blind man receiving his first sight. It is the second sight that sees the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This is also the last sign of what is often called “the festival cycle.” This cycle began with an unnamed feast in chapter 5 and the third sign of healing the invalid man. In chapters 5–10 we have four feasts and four signs wherein hostility towards Jesus grows. Since chapter 5, all of Jesus’ interactions with the Jews in Jerusalem have a particularly legal connotation about them. There is a lot of talk of witness and testimony and judgment. This courtroom setting is sustained throughout this chapter as well. But whereas all the legal proceedings have been directly with Jesus, now, an additional witness is called in. Nonetheless Jesus still who they believe they are trying. And it is nonetheless Jesus still who is the true judge. And what Jesus extends in judgment is sight and blindness.
“Christ, in one word, has lived for the true Christian. Christ has died for him. Christ has gone to the grave for him. Christ has risen again for him. Christ has ascended up on high for him, and gone into heaven to intercede for his soul. Christ has done all. paid all, suffered all that was needful for his redemption. Hence arises the true Christian’s justification,—hence his peace. In himself there is nothing, but in Christ he has all things that his soul can require (Col. 2:3; 3:11).” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
Since the serpent hissed his lie in the Garden, man has vainly tried to pull the ultimate switcheroo.
“…the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,’” (Genesis 3:15).
“You will be like God.” This was the promise of sin. The serpent was seeking to reverse creation order in speaking this promise to the woman, placing her over her husband. And under them all—God. And over them all—the serpent.
John 8:12–59 is all about the question “Who?” It looks at the question of who in a judicial sense. Supremely it is about who Jesus is. This is the paramount question in vv. 12–30. Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the world.” The leaders object that He is bearing witness about Himself, therefore His testimony is not valid. Jesus masterfully steers the conversation so that they unwittingly ask Jesus to do just that—bear witness to Himself. In v. 25 they ask, “Who are you?”
In vv. 31–47 Jesus exposes who they are. While He is the Son of the Father, they are children of the devil. Now, in this third section of chapter 8, they try to switch places. They have claimed God as their Father, (v. 41). Now they say that Jesus has a demon.
In the wake of the first switcheroo, the promise of salvation was given as God cursed the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). As man tried to switch places with God; so he tries to switch seeds.
The seed of the serpent tries to trade places with the seed of the woman, and he does so, as do these Jews, in the name of religion and truth. Sometimes the spawn of Satan call the darkness light and the light darkness, not in the name of knowing evil, but in the name of knowing good. Such is the nature of this switcheroo, that evil is cloaked as good.
Evil man tries to put Himself in the place of the good God. In mercy, the good God puts Himself in the place of sinful man. God the Son answers man’s wicked switcheroo with gracious substitution.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Who are you?
Who is Jesus?
The opening arguments of John 8 concerned the latter question. At verse 31 there is a turn to the former. John Calvin opened his Institutes with a chicken or the egg conundrum, pondering which of these came first: knowledge of self or knowledge of God. He begins by saying, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.” First he answers,
“Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”
So first there is this knowledge of our own depravity then that makes way for a true knowledge of God. But Calvin goes on to say,
“Again it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.”
Calvin then leaves the question hanging without resolution except to say, for the matter of teaching, we must begin with the knowledge of God. But in doing so I do believe he has answered the question. There is a sense in which these are simultaneous, and yet, there is a priority given to the knowledge of God. It is by His light that we see the answer to both of these questions.
We know the darkness within by means of the Light without. But then, once illuminated, we must admit the darkness that is exposed in order to proceed in any knowledge of the Light. Jesus unfolds something of who He is in 8:12–31. He is the Light of the world. Many seem to receive this truth and believe in Him, but once the Light begins to expose their own darkness, they refuse the Light for refusing to own the darkness of their own hearts and parentage.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world (v. 12). You are full of darkness. You love the darkness. You are under the dominion of darkness (v. 44). You belong to the kingdom of darkness. Own this. Come humbly to Christ confessing this and pleading His mercy, and light will not only expose, it will transform. Believe that you are a sinner and come to Christ as the Light and you will know the truth of Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the eternally begotten son of the Father. You are a rebellious creature of God most high, subjected to sin through Adam. Jesus is the Son; you are a slave (vv. 34–35). You are in bondage both to the practice sin and to its condemnation. You cannot not sin. Jesus cannot be convicted of sin (v. 46). Look to Jesus and you will see your sin. You will see all your righteousness to be as filthy and full of hypocrisy as the sham righteousness of the Jews and religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus. But as you look, know that He took on flesh to live as a sinless man that you might be clothed in His righteousness. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Son will set you free and you will be free indeed.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son doing what He has seen with His Father—God (vv. 28–29, 38). You do what you have heard from your father—the devil (v. 38. 41, 44). Murder and lies brood within your heart. Anger and deception abound. Hatred and willful ignorance proliferate. You lie and murder. Jesus not only speaks the truth, He came to lay His life down, pleading even as He was dying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” You need not fear the deep darkness, the unspeakable that lies within your own chest, for Christ not only made atonement that you might be forgiven, but so that you might be cleansed. In Him there is not only justification but sanctification. There is not only propitiation, but purification. You can own who you are in repentance when you own who Jesus is in faith. The darkness within isn’t greater than the Light without. No matter how much evil you’ve done, no matter how much darkness lies within, no matter how many murderous and hateful thoughts you entertain, it is as nothing compared to the righteousness that Christ accomplished and the righteousness that abounds in Him.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will no longer be who you are. You will be a new creation in Him. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be justified, you will begin being sanctified, and you will one day be glorified. You will not longer be a child of darkness, but a child of light. You will not longer be a slave, but a son. You will no longer be a child of the devil but a child of God. All because who you are will no longer be found in who you are but in who Christ is so that you may boast as Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20). This will be true of you: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Dear soul, if you have believed, you are now in union with Christ and Romans 6 speaks of who you now are:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:5–11).