“Come and See!” (John 1:35–51)

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

—John 1:46

Nathanael seemingly found one word blatantly incongruent with everything else Philip confessed. Nazareth? Some are quick to write off Nathanael’s statement as prejudice, as though Nazareth was some backwater town. Galilee itself was looked down on by her southern brethren dwelling in and around Jerusalem. If Galilee was looked down on by them, was Nazareth was like the Galilee of Galilee? No. I don’t think Nathanael’s statement is one berating Nazareth as unmentionable, but accessing it as unmentioned. Micah 5:2 spoke of the Messiah coming out of Bethlehem, just like David. In John 7 we listen in as the people wrestle with this issue. “When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’” (John 7:40–42). The problem wasn’t that Nazareth was of ill repute, but that Bethlehem was marked.

When your witness meets such a reply, a quite reasonable one on the surface of things, you cannot improve on the answer of Philip, “Come and see.” As John’s testimony was simple, “I am not. He is.”, so too is Phillip’s apologetic: “Come and see.”

Philip doesn’t engage in any complex theological debate. He doesn’t reply with some sophisticated apologetic.  If you are crippled in your witness for thinking you need all the answers, you’re wrong. You only need this one.

Yes, we should, as Peter admonishes us, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15). But, if you have no other answers, you always have this one. “Come and see. Deal with Jesus yourself.” Spurgeon once preached,

“A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best ‘apology’ for the gospel is to let the gospel out. Never mind about defending Deuteronomy or the whole of the Pentateuch; preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Come and see. Step into the cage. It is easy to poke questions at the Lion while you believe He is on the other side of the bars. It is all together another thing to stare into His face. 

I’ve had my hundreds of questions, and I’ve graciously received dozens of answers., but the answers I have received have come not as I stood as some authoritative investigator. They’ve come as I’ve brought them before this same Rabbi. They’ve come not as I stood over the word, but as I bowed under it. And my Lord’s not answering me has assured me of His authority as much as His answering me. I am, we all are, on a need to know basis. I don’t need to know all the answers. I need to know the one with all Authority. And knowing Him, I can call out to others without shame, “Come and see.”

The Bishop: Beware of Lot’s Choice

“Remember this in choosing a dwelling place or residence. It is not enough that the house is comfortable, the situation good, the air fine, the neighborhood pleasant, the rent or price small, the living cheap. There are other things yet to be considered. You must think of your immortal soul. Will the house you think of help you toward heaven or hell? Is the gospel preached within an easy distance? Is Christ crucified within reach of your door? Is there a real man of God near, who will watch over your soul? I charge you, if you love life, not to overlook this. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a calling, a place, or profession in life. It is not enough that the salary is high, the wages good, the work light, the advantages numerous, the prospects of getting on most favorable. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be fed or starved? Will it be prospered or drawn back? Will you have your Sundays free and be able to have one day in the week for your spiritual business? I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to take heed what you do. Make no rash decision. Look at the place in every light, the light of God as well as the light of the world. Gold may be bought too dear. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a husband or wife, if you are unmarried. It is not enough that your eye is pleased, that your tastes are met, that your mind finds congeniality, that there is amiability and affection, that there is a comfortable home for life. There needs something more than this. There is a life yet to come. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be helped upwards or dragged downwards by the union you are planning? Will it be made more heavenly or more earthly, drawn nearer to Christ or to the world? Will its religion grow in vigor, or will it decay? I pray you, by all your hopes of glory, allow this to enter into your calculations. “Think,” as old Baxter said, and “think, and think again,” before you commit yourself. “Be not unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14). Matrimony is nowhere named among the means of conversion. Remember Lot’s choice.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness

See and Say (John 1:19–34)

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23)

John’s witness is easily imitable. It basically consists of two parts, conveniently divided up for us by two days in 1:19–34. The first day of John’s witness (vv. 19–28) is largely negative as John speaks to the official delegation and tells them, “I am not.” The second day of John’s witness (vv. 29–34) is largely positive as John speaks to the crowds and tells them, “He is!” 

“I am not. He is.” That’s it.

John is not the Light. He came to bear witness to the Light. John is not the Christ. He came to bear witness to the Christ. On this first day, John’s answers are short because this delegation is asking John about John when it is Christ he came to expound on. “You keep asking who I am, demonstrating that you’re missing the point of who I am.” Oh saints, that we would learn this lesson. Not the lesson of a holy rudeness when appropriate (that is one we will need to utilize far less often), but the more foundational lesson of being short on self and long on Jesus. We love the question “Who are you?” “Well, let me tell you about me.” No. “Who am I? I am not Jesus. Let me tell you about Him.”

Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word (v. 29). He is the one who was before all, ranks above all, and yet came (v. 30). He is both the Anointed and the Anointer (v. 32–33). He is the Son of God (v. 34).

From one angle, our biggest problem isn’t the lack of knowledge to tell people, “He is!” It is the lack of humility to tell them “We’re not.” It’s not that we think we’re the Christ, but we do like to think we’re something and we’re scared others won’t think we’re something if we tell them we’re not, but Jesus is. Saints, you don’t have to be a great something to testify of Christ. You just need to realize you’re not a great something and that Jesus is.

But, from another angle, because we are big on self, we’re small on Jesus. We know but we don’t know. We need to behold afresh the Lamb of God. We need to see ourselves into saying. If your saying has grown stale, your seeing has grown soft. Look to the Light. Be a light. See Christ as He is, and you will see yourself as you are. You are a sinner. He is the Savior. See this, and you will say.

The Bishop: Root and Flower

“All God’s children have faith; not all have assurance. I think this ought never to be forgotten.

…’A letter’, says an old writer, ‘may be written, which is not sealed; so grace may be written in the heart, yet the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it.’ A child may be born heir to a great fortune, and yet never be aware of his riches; may live childish, die childish, and never know the greatness of his possessions. And so also a man may be a babe in Christ’s family, think as a babe, speak as a babe, and though saved, never enjoy a lively hope, or know the real privileges of his inheritance.

…Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ a man must have, beyond all question, if he is to be saved. I know no other way of access to the Father. I see no intimation of mercy, excepting through Christ. A man must feel his sins and lost estate–must come to Jesus for pardon and salvation—must rest his hope on him, and on him But if he only has faith to do this, however weak and feeble he may be, I will engage, from Scripture warrants, he shall not miss heaven.

…Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower.” —J.C. Ryle

Wonder of Wonders, Marvel of Marvels (John 1:6–18)

 “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.

…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

—John 1:14, 16

The incarnation of our Lord is the wonder of all wonders. It is, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “the central miracle” or “the grand miracle” of our faith. “The incarnation is God’s greatest wonder,” writes Mark Jones, “one that no creature could ever have imagined. God himself could not perform a more difficult and glorious work. It has justly been called the miracle of all miracles.” The crucifixion of our Lord is the marvel of grace, but the incarnation of our Lord is the wonder of nature. It is no wonder that our Lord, who has life in Himself, having been crucified and buried, would rise from the grave. The wonder is that He could ever have taken on flesh so that He could be crucified.

If you are not stunned by the enfleshment of the Son, perhaps you have forgotten that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Herman Bavinck doesn’t miss the glorious juxtaposition of verse one with verse fourteen.

“It is completely incomprehensible to us how God can reveal himself and to some extent make himself known in created beings: eternity in time, immensity in space, infinity in the finite, immutability in change, being in becoming, the all, as it were, in that which is nothing. This mystery cannot be comprehended; it can only be gratefully acknowledged. But mystery and self-contradiction are not synonymous.”

Neither does John Murray.

“He came by becoming man, by taking human nature into union with his divine person. The result was that he was both God and man, God in uncurtailed Godhood, in the fulness of divine being and attributes, and man in the integrity of human nature with all its sinless infirmities and limitations, uniting in one person infinitude and finitude, the uncreated and the created. This is the great mystery of history. And since Christianity is the central and commanding fact of history, it is the mystery of Christianity.”

Remaining what He was, He became what He was not. The incarnation is a wonder of addition; not subtraction. His divinity was not humanized. Neither is His humanity divinized. He is truly God and truly man in one person. And thus it is that when He tabernacled among us, we behold in His person, the very glory of the only begotten of the Father. In one sense, the incarnation veils His glory, in another, it reveals it. The incarnation of our Lord doesn’t compromise the divine glory of His person; it communicates it. The two natures remain distinct, yet the human nature serves to manifest to us the divine person.

After Moses plead to see the glory of Yahweh, God explained that no man could see him and live. Even so, God would allow Moses to see a passing by of His glory as He pronounced His name. “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6–7a). And the Word is that very Word, that Name, become flesh. “Jesus” is the Father’s clearest annunciation of who our Triune God is to us. He is Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious. His name Jesus, Yeshua, means “Yahweh saves.”

The glory that we may now see in the face of the Word incarnate, is the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. So while the incarnation is indeed the grand miracle of nature, surely J.I. Packer is right to insist, “Here is stated not the fact of the Incarnation only, but also its meaning; the taking of manhood by the Son is set before us in a way which shows us how we should ever view it—not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace.” It is the marvel of marvels that the Word became flesh. It is the wonder of wonders why the Word became flesh. Why? So that heavenly waves of grace might crash on our earthly shores. Why? So that heavenly Light might pierce our dark world. Why? To modify a line from Lewis, “The Son of God became a man to [make] men to become sons of God.”

But to do so, the Son would not only need to be born like a man. He must die like one. He must be born to live for their righteousness. He must die to pay for their sins. The brilliant French mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his wretchedness through the greatness of the remedy required.” For our healing, not only must the Word take on flesh, that flesh must be rent. He is the tabernacle. For us to behold the glory, the curtain must be torn. Because His flesh was torn, we may now boldly approach the throne of the Father, knowing that from the rent flesh of Christ flows grace upon grace upon grace.

The Bishop: Two Great Marks

“The Child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two, we have one. He may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace.”—J.C. Ryle, Holiness

Your Carry-Through Luggage (John 1:1–5)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

—John 1:1–5 (ESV)

As you prepare to board the gospel of John the pilot hands you a special piece of carry-on luggage necessary for a proper flight. Don’t stow it in the overhead bin. Do not put it under the seat. This carry-on luggage is carry-through luggage. Hold on to it tightly throughout the flight. John’s prologue (1:1–18), especially the first five verses, and supremely the first verse, are your carry-through luggage. The Methodist theologian C.K. Barrett has this travel advice, “John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous.”

When John hails Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” don’t forget that the Lamb is the Word who was in the beginning. When Jesus cleanses the temple, don’t forget that He is the Word who was with God in the beginning. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, don’t forget that He is the Word who was and is God. When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well, don’t forget that He is the Word who became flesh.

Carry the beginning with you through to the end. But also, go to the end to carry it with you from the beginning. This gospel, like all the gospels, must be read backwards. You really must read any one of them twice to really have read them once, for they must be read in light of the ending. Martin Kähler, a critical theologian, is famous for his statement concerning Mark’s gospel, which has sense been applied to all of them. They are all of them, in his words, “passion narratives with extended introductions.” The last days of Jesus’ life are roughly the subject of between a quarter and a third of the synoptics. This is amplified in John. The second section of this gospel, beginning in chapter 13, is known as the “book of glory” or the “book of the Passion.” Near half of John’s gospel concerns His last days from the Passover forward.

But it is also at the end of this gospel that John makes explicit his purpose in writing. “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). Do you see all the parallels there with John’s prologue? This book is written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and from the beginning, John wants you to know this critical aspect of that confession:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

The Slaying of Rahab the Sea Dragon (Psalm 89)

O LORD God of hosts, 
     who is mighty as you are, O LORD, 
     with your faithfulness all around you? 
You rule the raging of the sea; 
     when its waves rise, you still them. 
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; 
     you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. 
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; 
     the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.

—Psalm 89:8–11

The steadfast love and faithfulness of God’s covenant is sure to endure forever because the might of God lies behind it. That might is spoken of here using the most striking of metaphors. In order to grasp it, it may be helpful to take an inventory of all the elements laid before us. We have sea, heaven, and earth, that is, we have creation as a noun. We also have creation as a verb, as an act. And then there is the might of God and the defeat of his enemies. But most uniquely, we have Rahab. The might of God that lies behind his forever steadfast love is that which crushes Rahab. Surely this doesn’t mean crushing a Canaanite woman. What is Rahab here?

Awake, awake, put on strength, 
     O arm of the LORD; 
awake, as in days of old,
     the generations of long ago. 
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, 
     who pierced the dragon? 
Was it not you who dried up the sea, 
     the waters of the great deep, 
who made the depths of the sea a way 
     for the redeemed to pass over?” 

—Isaiah 51:9–10; emphasis mine
“The pillars of heaven tremble 
     and are astounded at his rebuke. 
By his power he stilled the sea; 
     by his understanding he shattered Rahab. 
By his wind the heavens were made fair; 
     his hand pierced the fleeing serpent” 

—Job 26:11–13; emphasis mine

This is very similar to the language used of Leviathan in Psalm 74.

“You divided the sea by your might; 
     you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 
You crushed the heads of Leviathan; 
     you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 
You split open springs and brooks; 
     you dried up ever-flowing streams. 
Yours is the day, yours also the night; 
     you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; 
     you have made summer and winter”

—Psalm 74:13–17

Piecing our clues together, it appears as though Rahab is a sea dragon, as in the Mesopotamian myths; a creature associated with chaos. For example, Marduk is said to have defeated the primordial sea goddess Tiamat and to have made heaven and earth from the rent carcass. Thus it is that some accuse the Bible of appropriating pagan mythology at this point.

But earlier in Isaiah we read this, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty; therefore I have called her ‘Rahab who sits still’” (Isaiah 30:7; emphasis mine). Rahab is also clearly a nation in Psalm 87:4.

What are we to make of this? Back up. Take in the big story. When God delivered His people from Egypt in covenant faithfulness he did so with signs and wonders, with a mighty arm judging not only Egypt, but her gods (Exodus 12:12). Egypt is likened to a sea monster of chaos and by defeating her, by crushing the serpent’s head, a people are formed and brought into a land of milk and honey.

Listen to Isaiah 59 again: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (emphasis mine). At the Red Sea, Rahab was slain. The serpent crushed. The people of God delivered. The chaos stilled.

And here, all this is being reflected on in reference not to God’s covenant faithfulness to Moses, but to David. And of the King the psalmist will soon say, “I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers” (89:25). Here is anticipated the serpent-crushing Seed of the woman who calms the chaos of the seas cursed with the serpent. One cannot but think of the Anointed One, the Christ, who after rebuking the tempest on the sea of Galilee then rebuked the Gaderene demoniacs so that the demons went into the pigs who then rushed down a steep bank and into the sea and drowned (Matthew 8).

Behold the Christ, the Son of David whose hand is on the seas and whose foot is on the serpent’s head. At the cross, when it seemed the King was forsaken, it was then that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness were most manifest as it was there, that the pierced foot crushed the dragon’s head.

The Bishop: No Half Imitations

If we say with Paul, ‘O wretched man that I am’, let us also be able to say with him, ‘I press toward the mark.’ Let us not quote his example in one thing, while we do not follow him in another (Rom. 7:24; Phil. 3:14). —J.C. Ryle, Holiness

The Bishop: Unhappy in Heaven if Unholy

“Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth. The notion of a purgatory after death, which shall turn sinners into saints, is a lying invention of man, and is nowhere taught in the Bible. We must be saints before we die, if we are to be saints afterwards in glory. The favourite idea of many, that dying men need nothing except absolution and forgiveness of sins to fit them for their great change, is a profound delusion. We need the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the work of Christ; we need renewal of the heart as well as the atoning blood; we need to be sanctified as well as to be justified. It is common to hear people saying on their death-beds, ‘I only want the Lord to forgive me my sins, and take me to rest.’ But those who say such things forget that the rest of heaven would be utterly useless if we had no heart to enjoy it! What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by any chance he got there? Let that question be fairly looked in the face, and fairly answered. No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in the water, when an owl is happy in the blaze of noonday sun, when a fish is happy on the dry land—then, and not till then, will I admit that the unsanctified man could be happy in heaven.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness