“He Went Out Bearing His Own Cross” (John 19:16–30)

“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.”

—John 19:16–17

Pilate delivers Jesus over to be crucified and the soldiers take Him, but John is also careful to tell us that Jesus “went out bearing his own cross.” The synoptics are all keen on informing us that at some point along the Via Dolorosa (sorrowful way) one Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry Jesus’ cross. The soldiers’ concern in this was that Jesus expire on the cross rather than on the way to the cross. The Romans used the cross for a purpose, and a premature death would subvert that purpose.

Unlike the synoptics, John simply tells us, “he went out bearing his own cross.” John’s account doesn’t conflict with the other gospels in this, rather, there is an emphasis, a theological point he wants to highlight, one he has frequently been drawing our attention to. The Savior is sovereign. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has intentionally been walking with purpose to the slaughter. Again and again as Jesus returns to Jerusalem, we have seen He does so walking obediently towards the cross. In His arrest and His trials, Jesus leads them to lead Him to the cross.

“For this reason the Father loves me,” Jesus explains, “because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18). The sovereign Savior went out bearing His own cross. The Shepherd has been struck; the sheep are scattered (Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31). Jesus walks alone to the cross. He is drinking the cup that the Father has given to Him—the cup of staggering, the cup of the wrath of the Almighty (John 18:11).

Despite the reservation of many modern scholars, I believe the early church fathers were right to see an allusion here to that most striking of episodes in the life of the patriarch of Israel and his beloved son. God commanded Abraham to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on a mountain in Moriah (the same area where 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us the Temple would later be built). Moses records, “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:6–8). 

Once more, Father and Son walk up the hill together. The Father has laid the wood on His Son’s back. The Father carries the knife and the fire. The Son obediently carries the burden. But this time, the Son goes up the hill with full knowledge that He is the sacrifice provided as a substitute. And this time, no angel will stay the hand of the Father.

He went out bearing His own cross!

Their Mockery Right Side Up Is Worship (John 19:1–16a)

John’s account of Jesus’ sentencing is written so that words of mockery become words of worship.

“Hail, King of the Jews!”

“Behold the man!” 

“…the Son of God.”

“Behold your King!”

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6–8). The saints have this wisdom, a wisdom that the rulers of this age did not. It is a Spiritual wisdom, a wisdom imparted but the Spirit of God. Paul speaks of this impartation in his second letter to the Corinthians as an illumining of our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

John has written this gospel so that you might see what they did not see. What the Jews, the soldiers, and Pilate laugh at as upside down, John wants you to see right side up. John has written this gospel so that by the Spirit you might receive the secret and hidden wisdom of the gospel of Christ. He has written this gospel so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He has written this gospel so that what others think is folly, you know as wisdom. What for others is a stumbling block, to you is the Cornerstone. Their words of mockery, become your words of worship.

“Hail, King of the Jews!”

“Behold the man!” 

“…the Son of God.”

“Behold your King!”

Words recorded as ridicule, you recycle with reverence.

Not Pity, But Awe (John 18:27–40)

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

—John 18:31–32

The Sanhedrin no doubt think themselves so shrewd, and Pilate so practical, but it is the soon to be crucified King who rules the day. As you read this account of Jesus’ trial, do you feel more pity or awe? John wrote this gospel, he tell us, “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:30). This too is written for that purpose. John has not mistakenly lapsed into an episode contrary to his aim. If you read John’s account of Jesus’ trial as John intends you too, it is not sorrowful pity, but faith-filled awe that overwhelms you.

The Jews say Jesus deserves death because He has blasphemed (19:7). But they know this won’t fly with Rome, so they present the Jewish hope of the Messiah as their accusation against Jesus. This is why Pilate asks “Are you the King of the Jews?” With this, they don’t eradicate His claims. They establish them. The Sanhedrin is not shrewd; the Savior is sovereign. No one takes His life. He lays it down of His own accord (John 10:18). This is all so that Jesus might die just as He has said (v. 32).

“‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32–33).

Do not pity Jesus as a helpless victim of wicked men. Yes, these men were wicked, but their wickedness didn’t carry the day. Do not pity Jesus, stand in awe of Him. Believe in Him.

Pilate says He find no guilt in Jesus. That should be the end of this trial. “Not guilty.” But Pilate is not principled. He is pragmatic. He is practical. Jesus just doesn’t work for Pilate and Pilate is concerned about what works. So too are the Jews. But Pilate will lose his position. The Jews will lose their nation. Jesus will rise and rule from the right hand of the Father. “What is truth?” Pilate asks. Truth is a Who and He is bearing witness to Himself before Pilate. Deny this witness, and however things may work out for you immediately, they will not work out for you in the end.

“Why do the nations rage 
	and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves, 
	and the rulers take counsel together, 
	against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 
	‘Let us burst their bonds apart 
	and cast away their cords from us.’ 
He who sits in the heavens laughs; 
	the Lord holds them in derision. 
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 
	and terrify them in his fury, saying, 
‘As for me, I have set my King 
	on Zion, my holy hill.’ 
I will tell of the decree: 
The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; 
	today I have begotten you. 
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, 
	and the ends of the earth your possession. 
You shall break them with a rod of iron 
	and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ 
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 
	be warned, O rulers of the earth. 
Serve the LORD with fear, 
	and rejoice with trembling. 
Kiss the Son, 
	lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, 
	for his wrath is quickly kindled. 
Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2).

Yes, Jesus suffered—He suffered the worst injustice. Yes, He was innocent and sinned against violently. Yes, He was a man of sorrows. But do not pity Him. Marvel at the King who came to die not only at the hand of sinners, but also in the stead of sinners. The problem with pity is that you do not trust someone you simply pity. You do not look to them for help; you try to help them. Sinner, do not pity Jesus as a mere man who suffered wrongly, a victim of gross injustice. No, marvel at Him as God the Son incarnate, the King, come to die in the stead of sinners so that they might be counted righteous. Marvel at Him and believe and have life in His name.

The Weakness of Disciples, the Wickedness of Man, and the Strength and Righteousness of Christ (John 18:15–27)

John 18:18–19 (ESV)

18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

—John 18:18–19

Here we see the weakness of disciples, the wickedness of man, and the strength and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Peter’s weakness is the weakness of every disciple. Annas’ wickedness is the wickedness of every man. Peter’s weakness is set in contrast to Jesus’ strength. Annas’ wickedness is set in contrast to Jesus’ righteousness.

Peter fled, but he then followed. At a distance (Matthew 26:58; Mark 14:54, Luke 22:54). He followed but he then denied. Often, doing a little good for Jesus is just a set up to do a worse evil. Beware a little loyalty, a little obedience, a little following of Jesus.

After Peter first denies the Lord, we find him with the officers and servants of the high priest, standing by the fire, warming himself (v. 18). This hearkens back to the description given of Judas in v. 5, “Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.” While Jesus is being tried and stricken, Peter is denying and warming himself.

All four gospels record Peter’s denial. Mark and Luke also mention this fire. But only John adds the detail that it was a “charcoal fire.” Why is this? Just a superfluous detail? It is also only John that records Jesus appearing to seven of the disciples at Galilee and eating fish with them. In 21:9 we read, “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.” These are the only two places in the New Testament where this word for “charcoal fire” is used. It is after they have eaten breakfast around this charcoal fire, that Jesus thrice asks Peter, “Do you love me?” This is not the end for Peter. Peter’s denial is ugly, but it is not ultimate. Peter’s denial is not like Judas’ betrayal. And the reason it is not is because of the very High Priest Peter has denied.

“‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.’” — Luke 22:31–34

Peter denies, but Jesus keeps. See the weakness of this disciple. See the strength of Jesus. See your weakness. See Jesus’ strength. He does not lose His own. See Luther trembling after the first day of the Diet of Worms. But then, see him the next day in Christ exclaiming, “Here I stand.” Do not presume on your own strength. Trust in the Lord’s.

Annas questions Jesus. We read over that too quickly. Annas questions Jesus. The false questions the true. The shadow questions the substance. The apostate questions the faithful. The wicked questions the righteous. He questions Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. Annas is aiming to get Jesus to incriminate Himself theologically and politically—to sentence Himself to death under both Jewish and Roman law. Jesus will say nothing concerning His disciples, of whom He will not lose one, though all have fled and one lies out in the courtyard denying Him. Jesus will say that He need say nothing concerning His teaching, vv. 20–21. Jesus is exposing the injustice of these proceedings. His teaching has been public, but His arrest and trial are now private. A charge is to be established on the basis of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). They have already condemned Jesus (John 11:45–53). Now they are trying to reverse engineer the evidence.

They will gather false testimony, but even that will not serve their purposes (Matthew 26:59). Ultimately it will be upon the basis of the true claims of the true High Priest that they condemn Him for blasphemy. But their sin doesn’t carry the day. Annas will send Jesus to Caiaphas; Caiaphas who unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would die to gather into one the children of God (John 11:49–53). Man had predetermined to condemn. But long before that, God had predetermined to justify. Listen to God’s dissenting minority but overriding opinion on this trial as presented in the book of Acts.

“[T]his Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” —— Acts 2:23–24, 4:27–28

Here we do see the wickedness of man in full relief, but we also see supreme over it the grace of God. The grace of God is greater that the sin of man. Man’s sin serves to establish God’s grace. God’s grace serves to erase man’s sin. The faithful High Priest is superior to this false one and He came to die, the just for the unjust. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit ” (1 Peter 3:18).

Disciples are weak. Men are wicked. But Jesus is strong and righteous. He is righteous for wicked sinners and He is strong for weak disciples. Look to Him for salvation from your sin. Look to Him for sanctification in righteousness.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, 
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? 
By foes derided, by thine own rejected, 
O most afflicted! 

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? 
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! 
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; 
I crucified thee. 

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; 
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. 
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, 
God interceded. 

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, 
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; 
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, 
for my salvation. 

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, 
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, 
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, 
not my deserving.

—Johann Heermann, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended?”

Walking Willingly (John 18:1–14)

Jesus was taken to the cross, but more than this, He willingly walked there. He could not have been taken otherwise. Jesus was falsely tried, but more than this, He willingly bore judgment in the stead of sinners. He could not have been tried otherwise. Jesus was wickedly murdered, but more than this, He willingly laid His life down. He could not have been crucified otherwise. In the arrest of Jesus, we do see the sinfulness of man, but we also see a sovereign Savior. Do not do the Scriptures the injustice of reading them and being more struck with man’s rebellious sin than the Savor’s obedient suffering.

Jesus went out to the garden. Jesus went out intentionally. He He went out willingly. He went out obediently. He went out knowing. He went out according to plan. He went out with work to do. He went out with purpose. He went out on a mission. Matthew Henry comments, “Our Lord Jesus, like a bold champion, takes the field first.” The German preacher F.W. Krummacher wrote, “The voice which resounded through the Garden of Eden cried, ‘Adam, where are you?’ But Adam hid himself trembling, behind the trees of the garden. The same voice, and with a similar intention, is heard in the Garden of Gethsemane. The second Adam, however, does not withdraw from it, but proceeds to meet the High and Lofty One, who summons him before him, resolutely exclaiming, ‘Here am I!’”

In the garden, not only did the Second Adam say “Here am I” to God the Father, He said “Here is the I AM” to these sons of Adam. At this, they draw back and fall down. Jesus says two words, He says His name, the name of the Triune God, and they are laid flat. They are on holy ground. Who is in control? Who is in authority?

When Jesus then tells them to take Him and let the disciples go free, I doubt it had the air of a suggestion. It came with the force of a command. There is not a hint of debate, dissension, or disagreement. Even once Peter draws his sword and draws blood, these armed men do not pounce. Why? Because Jesus is in control and Jesus will not lose one of those given to Him by His Father. He willingly offers Himself so that the disciples may go free, fulfilling His own word as the word of God. All this recalls the answer the officers gave to the chief priests when they last failed to arrest Jesus. “No one ever spoke like this man!”

And so it is that they bind Him. This is not tragic. It is comedic. He has spoken and laid them flat and they bind His hands! Even on a superstitious level, it would have made more sense to gag Him. But there was no need to bind or gag. It is only because of Jesus’ restraint that they are allowed to restrain Him. Jesus was not taken by force. He offered Himself up in obedience to His Father and He did so to drink the cup of wrath mixed for sinners who would attempt deicide if given the opportunity. Listen to Matthew Henry again, “When the people would have forced him to a crown, and offered to make him a king in Galilee… he withdrew, and hid himself (ch. 6:15); but, when they came to force him to a cross, he offered himself; for he came to this world to suffer and went to the other world to reign.”

Perhaps few uninspired teachers have explained what is communicated here as wondrously at the 19th century Scotch minister ‘Rabbi’ John Duncan. His biographer, Alexander Moody Stuart, records the following testimony of one of his students.

“In the winter of 1864, Dr. Duncan was reading part of Isaiah with his senior class. The particular passage I cannot remember, nor does it matter, for it only served as a suggestion of the cry in ver. 1 of the 22d Psalm, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ By the time Dr. Duncan had reached that point he had left his desk and, bent nearly double, was pacing up and down in front of the students’ benches, his snuff-box and pocket-handkerchief in one hand, a huge pinch of snuff occupying the fingers of the other, but utterly forgotten in the absorbing interest of his subject, our Lord’s sufferings for sinners, which he was turning over and looking at, now on this side, now on that, but all with a loving reverence, and as one who spoke in a hall sleeping vision, when suddenly a flash went through him as if heaven had opened. He straightened himself up, his face kindled into a rapture, his hand went up and the snuff scattered itself from the unconscious fingers as he turned to the class, more as it seemed for sympathy than to teach—‘Ay, ay, d’ye know what it was dying on the cross, forsaken by His Father—d’ye know what it was? What? What?’ (as if somebody had given him a half answer which stimulated him, but which he had to clear out of his way, a very usual exclamation of his when wrapped in thought.) ‘What? What? It was damnation—and damnation taken lovingly.’ And he subsided into his chair, leaning a little to one side, his head very straight and stiff, his arms hanging down on either side beyond the arms of his chair, with the light beaming from his face and the tears trickling down his cheeks he repeated in a low intense voice that broke into a half sob, half laugh in the middle, ‘It was damnation—and he took it lovingly.’ No saying of the many I have heard from him, nothing in all his manner and expression, ever struck me  like this.”

Getting the Beatific Vision out of the Cupboard (John 17:24–27)

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

—John 17:24

The desire of the Son, lifted up to the Father, is that those who the Father has given to the Son, be with the Son, to see His glory. This beholding is referred to as the beatific vision.  The beatific vision is perhaps the most absurd doctrine for the church to have put up in the cupboard and allow to collect dust. Thankfully it never expires. Though it is sad, from one perspective, I can understand why difficult truths like perichoresis aren’t well known. I easily grasp why most saints don’t know of or know the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. But why would we ever put the doctrine of the beatific vision in long term storage?

“Beatific” shares the same root as the word “beatitude” meaning blessed or happy. The beatific vision is the blessed vision, the happy sight of our God. This vision is the blessed hope and holy longing of the saints. Titus 2:13 speaks of our “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The blessed hope is not waiting for the appearing of our Lord as the means to some other end. His appearing is itself our blessed hope. I’m afraid that the beatific vision isn’t as well known, because it isn’t the ultimate hope of much of the “professing” church.

But known or unknown by this name, the beatific vision remains the greatest longing of the saints. This is the prayer of Moses answered, a prayer we find resonating in our own souls: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). This longing is our song. “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

There is an intimacy to this beholding. It is for those given to Him, His bride. The desire of Christ is that His people be with Him to see Him. It is blessed, we see throughout the Upper Room Discourse (chapters 13–16), to receive the Spirit and to receive the Word and to receive the eyes of faith to behold Christ now, but there is greater blessedness yet. It is a blessing to receive a letter from your beloved. It is an altogether higher one to be with them and to see them. Such is the desire of Christ.

The Christ who has again and again told the disciples that He is leaving them and going to His Father, now tells His Father of His desire for their people to be with Him to see Him. In John 16:16 Jesus told them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” But here, in v. 24, Jesus is promising something greater than even the disciples beheld when they looked on the resurrected Christ. This is a beholding of Christ with Christ where He is. Earlier Jesus spoke of the future as though it already were, saying, “I am no longer in the world” (v. 11). In John 14:3 Jesus told the disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

And this is not just a sight of Christ’s glory in a glorious place with glorified eyes. It is a greater sight of Christ’s glory. What is this glory of the Son that we are to behold? It is a given glory. I don’t believe this is simply to be understood as the eternal glory that the Son has forever had from the Father by His eternal generation. This given glory is the glory that comes in answer to the petition Jesus opened this prayer with. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (v. 1). This is a glory bestowed on the incarnate Son, and yet, I believe we can say that the glory that is bestowed on the incarnate Son is something of a manifestation of the Son’s eternal, divine, and invisible glory. It is the Son’s glory (“my glory”); a glory He possesses that is seen. And it is glory given to the Son because the Father has loved Him before the foundation of the world.

In His humiliation, Jesus was the revelation of the glory of the Triune God. When John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), John was not just referring to the sight of Christ after His resurrection. As you read this gospel, you see the incarnate Son in His humiliation reveal the glory of God. So if Jesus, in His humiliation, revealed the glory of the Triune God, how much more in His exaltation? And this glory is given to the Son because of His humiliation. Philippians 2:9–10 draws this conclusion from the humiliation of Christ. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That this sight of the glorified Christ goes beyond that which even the disciples were privy to after the resurrection can be seen in a text like 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” This is a seeing, that when you see it, you are changed. It is a beholing of being that changes our being. We shall see Him as He is. Seeing Him as He is, we will not longer be the same. 2 Corinthians 3:18 speaks our now beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord and thereby transformed into the same image from degree of glory to another. The beholding we are considering here, is a sight without veil such that when we see it, we are perfectly glorified. It is a sight only the perfectly glorified are fit to see. It is a sight of the very glory of God in Christ.

The glory that is bestowed on the risen and ascended Christ to be seen by all on His appearing is His eternal glory manifest. It is the glory of the triune God mediated to us through the incarnate Son. In 1 John 3:2, the antecedent for the “he” who appears is God the Father. But throughout the New Testament, it is the Son whose appearing we await as the blessed hope. How do we solve this riddle? Jesus already has in the upper room. On that day, Jesus will most profoundly say to the redeemed, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

The Church Is One (John 17:20–23)

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

—John 17:20–23

What does it mean to be one? Rome answers that this oneness is organizational. The Catholic Catechism says, 

“The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it. …This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.”

To not be part of of Rome then is to be guilty of then schism, heresy, and/or apostasy. Ecumenical movements of the past have largely sought some kind of organizational and formal unity.

Today I believe the predominate ecumenical spirit is one that is largely anti-organizational an informal. It esteems tolerance as highly as it disdains doctrine. It seeks unity for the sake of unity, championing love as the highest value and motivation. It doesn’t want to see our distinctions unified under one umbrella, so much as it wants everyone to confess that all their distinctions are ultimately insignificant and meaningless. Except of course for the supreme values of tolerance, unity, and love. Those remain paramount.

The strength of the former effort is the appeal to a visible unity and oneness. The strength of the latter is realizing how this oneness is truly rooted in Jesus’ calls in the upper room for the disciples to love one another as He has loved them. The problem with both approaches is that neither gives full and due respect to the context of Jesus’ petition. Lloyd-Jones’ words remain relevant seventy years after they were spoken. 

“I suppose that if there is thing that characterizes the life of the church and of Christian people more than anything else in this generation, it is the interest in what is called ‘ecumenicity’. …What we are generally told can be summarized like this: the greatest scandal in the world is a disunited church, and this scandal must also be removed because it is the greatest hinderance to evangelism. …The people concerned are very fond of quoting John 17, it seems to be the chapter on which they base everything, but what interests me is that they invariably seem to speak of this chapter as if there were nothing in it at all except this plea for unity. …How little we hear about the work which the Father had given the Son to do, about the people whom he had given to him, and so on. Instead, the impression is given that John 17 has only one message in it, and that is this great question of unity. In other words, we see the terrible danger of isolating a text, extracting it from its context.”

What does it mean for the church to be one? I submit we may find the answer by beginning with the humble assertion that our Lord’s prayer was answered! Our problem with defining “one” begins because we assume something is not, when it is. Jesus began this prayer with this overarching petition, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Everything else is subservient to this petition. Jesus prays for His own under this prayer. In v. 10 He says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” The Father, Son, and Spirit aim to glorify their name in the church. For the glory of Christ, the church is one.

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).

“He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51–52).

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14–16).

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1–6).

Instead of trying to manufacture a unity that is not, the church should strive to maintain a unity that is. She may begin to do so by confessing with the saints of old that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Sanctified by the Word (John 17:13–19)

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. …16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

John 17:14, 16–17

By the Word we are not of the world (born from above) and by the Word we are not of the world (conformed to the image of the Son).

By the Word we are holy (set apart from the world) and by the Word we are holy (conformed to heaven).

By the Word we are saved and by the Word we are sanctified.

By the Word we are a new creation in Christ and by the Word we become more of what we are.

By the Word we are regenerated and by the Word we are renewed.

It is by the Word that the disciples are not of this world (born from above). Jesus has said he has received authority to give eternal life to all who are given to Him (v. 2). This eternal life is to know the Father and the Son (v. 3). Jesus manifests (makes known) the name of the Father to the people given to Him, the name the Son Himself bears (vv. 6, 11–12). The means by which the Father and Son are known and manifest to them is the Word of God received with faith.

“Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” 

—John 17:7–8

In other words, the way by which you come to not be of this world is through the Word that is given to you as the elect of the Father. “[Y]ou have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God… And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). It is because of this that Peter can go on to say, “…They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2 Peter 2:8–9). By the Word they are not of this world.

Further, it is by the Word that the disciples are not of this world (sanctified). The saints, set apart in Christ, are made saintly, by the Word. Yes, you may read, study, and memorize Scripture and not be sanctified (i.e the Pharisees), but do not doubt this, you cannot be sanctified unless you read, study, and memorize the Scriptures. 

Jesus gives the Word to His people and His people keep His Word (17:6). They keep the Word because they are kept (vv. 11–12, 15). Many who profess to have received the Word for salvation, give little indication that they truly have by their lack of sanctification. The Word is not treasured as it should be. The world is treasured as it should not be. Oh how many are glutted on this world and fast from the Word. The Word is not to be treated like a single use inoculation. It is food.

The Word is the means by which you are kept. If you are not keeping the word, you are in grave danger of falling away. Do not take it for granted that you stand, that you believe, that you will remain faithful. Saints, read, study, meditate, memorize and pray the word. Be earnest to immerse yourself in a church that sings, prays, reads, hears, and preaches the word and sees the word in the sacraments. Saints, this world bombards you with lies. You must gorge on truth.

Saints, if your Lord prays for you to be sanctified by the Word, will you neglect the Word that sanctifies? It is like neglecting breathing for twenty-three hours a day and boasting that you are living because you breathe for one. Too many have thrown one punch and boast as if they are fighting the fight. Too many have taken one step and boast as if they are running the race. Too many have made one profession and boast as though they keep the faith.

The Spirit of Psalm 119 is alien to them and for this reason they are not aliens in this world. They are at home in it. Oh that this Word may sanctify our souls by creating in us this very hunger for the Word that sanctifies.

How can a young man keep his way pure? 
      By guarding it according to your word. 
With my whole heart I seek you; 
      let me not wander from your commandments! 
I have stored up your word in my heart, 
      that I might not sin against you. 
Blessed are you, O LORD; 
      teach me your statutes! 
With my lips I declare 
      all the rules of your mouth. 
In the way of your testimonies I delight 
      as much as in all riches. 
I will meditate on your precepts 
      and fix my eyes on your ways. 
I will delight in your statutes; 
      I will not forget your word.

—Psalm 119:9–16

Learning the Father (John 16:25–33)

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

—John 16:25–27

The Mediatorship of Christ is a blessed truth. But have you ever considered the blessedness of what it does not mean? Jesus means for you too. He wants us to know what He is not saying. It is not that a loving Jesus brings us near to a wrathful Father. A loving Father gave the Son. The Father gave a people to the Son so that those people might draw near to Him through the Son.

The Father is not antagonistic. The Father is not even indifferent. The Father loves. You do not lay your concerns at the feet of Jesus for Jesus to then carry them to the Father on your behalf. That is not how Christ works as our Mediator. You come in Christ, through Christ, to the Father Himself. Yes Christ intercedes for you, but this means you come in Jesus’ name before the Father Himself. Jesus does not simply take your prayers to the Father. He takes you, praying, to the Father. Don’t forget that the Son taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

—Hebrews 10:19–22

Oh dear souls, are you not in this being taught Christ by the Spirit through the Word such that you learn the Father (John 16:25)? Are you not in marvel at the good news of Christ crucified, risen, and ascended, having sent the Spirit so that we draw near to the Father through Him?

But, what Jesus says next may sound like a contradiction to some of what we have just outlined, such that verses 26 and 27 are in tension. Here they are again.

26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

The Father loves us because we have loved Jesus and believed in Jesus (v. 27). There are two reasons I don’t believe a tension exists here. First, I believe this couplet, loving Jesus and believing in Jesus, explains what it means to come “in Jesus’ name.” To come in Jesus’ name to the Father means to come embracing Jesus with the arms of faith and love. Second, I take this to be harmonious with what we saw in John 15:9–10. 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Jesus has loved us, we abide in that already love by keeping His commandments. Our obedience doesn’t cause Jesus to love us, it abides in His love. Prayer, in the name of Jesus, is an abiding in the love of the Father who gave the Son. When you come before the Father in prayer loving Jesus, you abide in the Father’s love.

As an illustration of all that is involved here, listen afresh to Luke 11:5–13.

“And he said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything”? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”

Oh what it is to come to the Father in the name of the Son! What confidence we can have. And how striking that there Jesus speaks of the Father giving the Spirit to those who ask Him. There Jesus speaks of the Father giving the Holy Spirit. I believe this is in answer to our coming to Him as Father. This then is not a reference to receiving the Spirit as the seal of our salvation. It is not a reference to the Spirit’s indwelling. I believe our text in John explains what it means: “Father, send the Spirit to teach me Christ and Christ to teach me you.”

Oh what blessed communion. By the Spirit we learn Christ. By Christ we learn the Father. In learning the Father, we draw near by the Spirit through the Son to the Father. We ask. And the best gift we could ask for is the Spirit. And then the circle begins again!

In on the Divine Joke of the Gospel (John 16:16–24)

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?”

—John 16:16–17

As the Upper Room Discourse draws to a close, Jesus presents to the disciples something of a riddle. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Later, this riddle, along with Jesus’ elaborations thereon, are referred to as “figures of speech.” The disciples later say that they understand once Jesus speaks plainly (16:29), but it is clear that even then they don’t yet fully get it.

The gospel is a divine joke that Jesus lets His friends in on. When the joke sets in for the disciples, their sorrow will be turned to joy. They will then see how Jesus’ trouble speaks to their comfort. They will laugh and their joy will be indestructible. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (16:20).

When does the joke set in? They will see when they see. In a little while, they will see. The resurrection is the punch line that brings joy out of the cross. The gospel is not a joke for those with a dark, twisted, macabre sense of humor.

John Piper has said that the gospels are meant to be read backwards. There is a sense in which you have to read them twice in order just to read them once. In particular, he was referring to the cross as illuminating everything that comes before it, but of course he meant the cross in light of the resurrection. You must not only read the life of Jesus in light of His death. You must read His death in light of His life—His resurrection life.

Sinclair Ferguson tells of a clever British economist who when asked one December of the expected economic forecast answered, “the significance of Christmas will not become clear until Easter.” Easter is the explanation to the riddle of Christmas. God wrapped His Son in Human flesh in the incarnation. The meaning of that gift was unwrapped when His flesh was rent on the cross. But it is the Resurrection that then makes sense of why Good Friday is good. If there is no resurrection, there is no gospel. Without the resurrection, the cross is void of good news. But the tomb is empty, and thus, our hearts are full of joy.