“May this be our divinity, your divinity, my divinity; your theo-logy, my theology! May repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ be Jachin and Boaz, the two great pillars before the temple of our religion, the corner stones in our system of Christianity! (2 Chron. 3:17). May the two never be disjoined! May we, while we repent, believe; and while we believe, repent! And may repentance and faith, faith and repentance, be ever uppermost, foremost, the chief and principal articles, in the creed of our souls!” —J.C. Ryle, The Upper Room
Believing for Betrayal (John 13:21–38)
“I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.”
“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'”—John 13:19, 21
John tells us once more that Jesus was troubled. Why was Jesus troubled? Throughout His earthly ministry, as John presents it, Jesus has seemed so calm, so in control, despite volatile and tangible hostility and misguided zeal. But beginning with Lazarus, we read of Jesus being troubled. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33).
I think there were other days of trouble in Jesus’ earthly life, but John is wanting to tell us something profound. As the cross nears, the soul of our Lord is increasingly said to be troubled. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). There, the anguish of soul Jesus speaks of relates to the cross in general and receiving the cup of wrath from the Father’s hands. But here, in John 13, the trouble of soul is much more focused. Jesus is troubled in soul “after saying these things.” He has just spoken of Judas’ betrayal. Also, He is troubled in His spirit and testifies. He testifies of Judas’ betrayal. What Jesus has said and what He will say speaks as to why He is troubled. He has washed the disciples’ feet, but not all of them are clean. Not all are blessed. Not all are chosen. One will lift his heal against Jesus. One will betray Him. And this troubles our Lord, (v. 21).
See and marvel at our Lord’s tender humanity. As God, He, with the Father, eternally willed this betrayal. And yet, as a man, this betrayal stings. It is no strain to see David’s pain as anticipating that of our Lord. “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). We don’t need to take liberal poetic license to see how that song is fulfilled here. Jesus’ sorrows included those of betrayal by a close friend.
In His divine nature, our Lord, is impassible. His joy is indestructible. He isn’t moody. He isn’t moved by outside forces. He moves all. He does all that He pleases. All that He pleases, He does. The incarnate Son reveals something of this to us when He tells the disciples that He was glad that Lazarus was dead and not merely sleeping, (John 11:14–15). Our God doesn’t wring His hands. He has never pulled His hair. He has never sought treatment for anxiety. Because He needs no comfort, He is the comforter, the God of all comfort.
But our Lord Jesus, remaining what He was (God), became what He was not (man)—one person with two natures. In His divine nature, Jesus remains impassible. In His human nature, He was “troubled in his spirit.” He was troubled in spirit, and without sin. He is troubled because one of these disciples, one of these men who He has spent years with, teaching, laughing, praying, rebuking, eating, sharing, and communing—one of these will betray him. One of the twelve. One of those whose feet He has washed. Judas is His close friend. And his betrayal troubles Him.
There are tares among the wheat. There will be apostasy. There will be betrayal. It will be unexpected. It will come from those we trust. It is not for us to figure out ahead of time. It will sting. It will trouble our souls. It will confuse and befuddle. Take comfort. Our Lord knew such pain. He knew the betrayal would come and still it stung. He divinely ordained it, and yet, in His humanity, it troubled Him. But don’t forget that your God works all things together for good. The betrayal of His close friend was for the redemption of His true friends for whom He laid down His life.
To Do Good Your Must Do More Than Do Good. You Must Tell of the Good Done.
“Does any reader of this paper want to do good in the world? I hope that many do. He is a poor style of Christian who does not wish to leave the world better, when he leaves it, than it was when he entered it. Take the advice I give you this day. Beware of being content with half-measures and inadequate remedies for the great spiritual disease of mankind. You will only labour in vain if you do not show men the blood of the Lamb. Like the fabled Sisyphus, however much you strive, you will find the stone ever rolling back upon you. Education, teetotalism, cleaner dwellings, popular concerts, blue ribbon leagues, white cross armies, penny readings, museums, —all, all are very well in their way; but they only touch the surface of man’s disease: they do not go to the root. They cast out the devil for a little season; but they do not fill his place, and prevent him coming back again. Nothing will do that but the story of the cross applied to the conscience by the Holy Ghost, and received and accepted by faith. Yes! it is the blood of Christ, not his example only, or his beautiful moral teaching, but his vicarious sacrifice that meets the wants of the soul. …If we want to do good, we must make much of the blood of Christ. There is only one fountain that can cleanse anyone’s sin. That fountain is the blood of the Lamb.” —J.C. Ryle, The Upper Room
Served We Serve (John 13:1–20)
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”—John 13:3–5
The opening scene of the Book of Glory is one of the most humble in the life of our Lord. John is divided into two parts. The first half is known as “The Book of Signs.” Seven signs drive the narrative forward and are central to the express purpose of the fourth 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).
Chapters 11 and 12 have prepared you for what lies ahead in the second half of John where the cross of Christ is chiefly in view. Why have theologians referred to this portion of John, where our Lord hangs cursed and shamed on the tree, as “The Book of Glory?” Because the one who journeys to the cross is the Resurrection and the Life (11:25). Because this is the hour of His glorification (12:23). Because by the cross the Christ will conquer (12:31–33).
And so it is fitting that the opening episode of the Book of Glory would be one of striking humility. The washing of the disciples’ feet is not simply an overflow of Jesus’ love (13:1). It is no mere demonstration that Jesus loves them. It is an illustration of the love of Christ that will love them to the end. This act is a kind of sign of the sign of signs—the death and resurrection of our Lord. Our Lord’s taking on the form of a servant at the feast doesn’t shock when you realized how low He has already stooped in the incarnation. When one has already knelt so low, what is it to then reach the hand just a little lower?
“[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:17–18).
Jesus’ action at the feast perfectly illustrates what it means for Jesus to empty Himself. He didn’t become less in His being when He took of the towel. He humbled Himself. Likewise, when Jesus took on human flesh, He didn’t empty Himself of His divinity, but His dignity. All of Jesus’ earthly days He wore the towel of a servant in the wearing of His flesh. And now, that towel of flesh is soon to be rent so that sinners might be made clean.
After cleansing them, Jesus resumed His place. Having resumed His place, He again acts as their Rabbi and Lord, instructing and commanding them. Jesus’ actions here anticipate His ascent into glory, from whence He will send the purchased Spirit to redeem the elect children of God and guide them into all truth (12:16; 13:7; 14:26; 16:13).
In all of this, the service of Jesus is something utterly unique; something that cannot be replicated. And yet, because it is unique, it may be emulated. If the death of Jesus is simply an example, it is a horrid one. It is not loving to say to someone, “I love you so much I could die for you!” and to then kill yourself without meaning or purpose to prove your love. The love of Christ is not like that. And it is because it is not like that, in a unique sense, that it is exemplary for us in another. Because Jesus served us, we may serve others. We cannot serve so that sins are washed away, but we may serve to tell them of such a service. We cannot give our lives to make an atonement, but we may give our lives to tell of the atonement that was made.
Without penal substitution, Christus exemplar is meaningless. Both are true. One is paramount. Because Christ has served, we may serve. The cross of Christ that informs our service, empowers our service, and shapes our service is the message of our service. We are not to serve simply for the sake of serving. We are to serve for the sake of Christ. We are to serve because we have been served by Christ. We are to serve telling others of His service.
The Bishop: No Repenting of Repentance
“And, out of all the millions who have turned to God and repented, who ever repented of repentance? I answer boldly, Not one. Thousands every year repent of folly and unbelief. Thousands mourn over time misspent. Thousands regret their drunkenness, and gambling, and fornication, and oaths, and idleness; and neglected opportunities. But no one has ever risen up and declared to the world that he repents of repenting and turning toward God. The steps in the narrow way of life are all in one direction. You will never see in the narrow way the step of one who turned back because the narrow way was not good.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
Blabbing and Believing; Entry and Exit (John 11:45–57)
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.—John 11:45–47
Bethany was a pit stop en route to Jerusalem. Jesus could stop at Lazarus’ grave because He was going to the cross. When Jesus purposes to return, He doesn’t say to the disciples, “Let us go to Lazarus,” or “Let us go to Bethany,” but “Let us go to Judea again” (v. 7). The disciples understand Jesus initially not to be going to a dead man, but to be going to His death. They question, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (v. 8). Even after Jesus explains that they are returning to Bethany because Lazarus is dead, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16). That expectation hangs in the air when we are told, “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off” (v. 17).
Jesus didn’t come simply to raise Lazarus, but to lay His life down. If Jesus were not journeying to the cross, He couldn’t have stopped off at Lazarus’ grave. The future is determining the past. The future light of the risen Son is casting light backwards over the cross onto the grave of Lazarus.
But now will we see that the past also made way for the future that was determining it. The raising of Lazarus prepares the road into Jerusalem and out of it. The raising of Lazarus explains both the triumphal entry and the shameful walk to Golgotha. It tells us why Jesus came into the city as He did and why He left it as He did. The raising of Lazarus made way for the laying down of Jesus’ life. As one looks at the remainder of chapter 11 and beyond into chapter 12, we see both why Jesus was welcomed as a Messiah, and crucified as an insurgent. It is the shouting of “Christ!” that leads to the shouting “Crucify!”
We see this in the two different responses to Jesus in the wake of Lazarus’ wake and wakening, (v. 45). Some believed and some blabbed. Some trusted and some tattled. Now which of these make way from the raising of Lazarus to the laying down of Jesus’ life? Both! And it is actually the believing that does more than the blabbing. It is not the people’s blabbing that terrifies the Jewish leaders, but they’re believing. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him” (v. 48). When large crowds start to go out to Bethany, not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus, we read, “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10–11). At Jesus’ triumphal entry, we hear the Pharisees despairingly telling one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (12:19).
This blabbing would ultimately then only lead to more believing. Their plotting to kill Jesus would lead to the world going after Him (v. 52). Our Lord is Sovereign over sinners, for the salvation of sinners. The sins of men against the Savior, are sovereignly used by Him for the salvation of sinners. The raising of Lazarus made way both for the triumphal entry, and thereby, for the shameful walk to Golgotha. The raising of Lazarus thus, made way for the cross, and thereby, it made way for our raising as well.
The Bishop: What Is “Coming to Christ?”
“Coming to Christ is coming to him with the heart by simple faith. Believing on Christ is coming to him, and coming to Christ is believing on him. It is that act of the soul which takes place when a man, feeling his own sins, and despairing of all other hope, commits himself to Christ for salvation, ventures on him, trusts him, and casts himself wholly on him. When a man turns to Christ empty that he may be filled, sick that he may be healed, hungry that he may be satisfied, thirsty that he may be refreshed, needy that he may be enriched, dying that he may have life, lost that he may be saved, guilty that he may be pardoned, sin-defiled that he may be cleansed, confessing that Christ alone can supply his need, —then he comes to Christ. When he uses Christ as the Jews used the city of refuge, as the starving Egyptians used Joseph, as the dying Israelites used the brazen serpent, -then he comes to Christ. It is the empty soul’s venture on a full Saviour. It is the drowning man’s grasp on the hand hand held out to help him. It is the sick man’s reception of a healing medicine. This, and nothing more than this, is coming to Christ.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Paths
Clamping Down on the Resurrection (John 11:17–44)
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”—John 11:23–27
Signs signify. John wrote this gospel, highlighting particular signs so that what was signified thereby would be believed. “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). What is signified by this specific sign is that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. By belief, the life that you have is the life that is in Jesus. Believing that Jesus is the Christ means believing that He is the Resurrection and the Life and receiving that life. This sign is for faith in Jesus as the Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life.
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus tells Martha. D.A. Carson says this is a “masterpiece of planned ambiguity.” This is not a conventional comforting condolence, though it is easily mistaken as such. In a time of grief 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 gives us not only some of the most comforting words for the bereaved, but commanded words to share with those who have lost one in Christ.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage [NASB “comfort”] one another with these words.”
Martha takes Jesus’ words just as such words of comfort. They are not. Jesus is telling her that the future hope is about to be demonstrated in the here and now. Martha again replies with an answer of faith (v. 24). She believes in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus hasn’t come to simply give her the comfort of truth. He has come to be the truth that comforts. This sign is pointing to the bigger reality of the resurrection on the last day. But, as a sign, that future reality is present. The resurrection that is to be on the last day, is a resurrection in Jesus. The Resurrection is present with Martha.
Here is how present resurrection is with not only Martha, but with anyone who believes in Jesus: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (vv. 25b–26a). If you believe in Jesus, you live even though you die. If you believe in Jesus, you live such that you never die. Jesus again and again has said that whoever believes in Him has eternal life (3:26; 5:24; 6:47). This is because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in Christ are in union with Christ. They have died in Christ and they have risen a new creation. When the spiritually dead believe, they have risen with resurrection life.
Saints, you already have this resurrection life. Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life is present with you. Though you die, you shall life. Those who live in Christ, shall never die. You already possess a life that death cannot touch, for death has already touched it and lost. You possess a life from the other side of death. A life that undid death.
Jesus here directs Martha’s faith away from focusing on an abstract doctrine to focusing on Himself as the embodiment of that doctrine. Doctrine is precious and true, but don’t treat doctrines as truths that float out there, independent of the being and work of Christ. It is as though the wire connections of Martha’s faith are weak. There are gaps. The sparks of faith are jumping, but Jesus is working to clamp Martha’s faith directly onto Him. Believe doctrine, but believe your doctrine in Christ. It is not faith in the doctrine of Christ that saves, but faith in the Christ of that true doctrine that saves.
The Logic of the Lord’s Love (John 11:1–16)
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.—John 11:5–6
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 Bishop: The Lever Which Turns the World Upside Down
“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