It Takes More than An Apple (John 3:1–12)

“This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

—John 3:12

What are we to make of Nicodemus’ statement? He says nothing disagreeable. He says much that is true. He seems to be on the right trail. He is different from the other leaders. Yet, at this point, it is not enough.

He addresses Jesus as “Rabbi,” an honorable term for a teacher that means “master.” But compare his use of “Rabbi” to that of Andrew and the disciple who was likely John,  “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (1:38). Andrew and John address Jesus as Rabbi, wishing to be His disciples. Nicodemus does so, as one who believes he is His peer. This can be seen in his next statement.

“We know you are a teacher,” Nicodemus continues. Who is this “we”? The rulers, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The fisherman’s approach to the Savior, having received John’s testimony, expressed humility. Nicodemus however, lets Jesus know that they know. How nice it must have been to have their recognition, as though the brambles said to the tree, “Cousin Oak, we recognize you as a woody plant.”

Further, they know He is “come from God.” He is God-sent. And the reason they know this is, Nicodemus says, is because no one can do the signs that Jesus does unless God is with him. Instead of demanding a sign, as his infuriated colleagues did earlier, this Pharisee say that the signs Jesus is doing, they see them, and they testify that Jesus is “a teacher come from God.”

But when you begin to listen to Jesus’ reply, you sense something is wrong, but what exactly is it? I believe there are basically two things. First, Nicodemus is a man. Pause. Back up. Read this passage again, but beginning with 2:24 and then ignoring helpful, yet intrusive man-manufactured address markers.

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”

Jesus doesn’t entrust Himself to Nicodemus. Yes, he speak to Him differently than He does the other rulers, Still, He also speaks to Nicodemus differently than He does Andrew or Peter or Philip or Nathanael. Something is wrong. Nicodemus is a man. Jesus knows what is in man. John has given us subtle clues that something is wrong inside Nicodemus. Light may be shining without, but there is still darkness within.

Second, Jesus is more than a man. Nicodemus confesses true things about Jesus, but he doesn’t confess Jesus. John wrote this book so that you might believe, not just select true things about Jesus as you might perceive them, but so that you might perceive the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done and thus believe in Him. John wrote for this purpose and thus the events that He records were for this purpose: so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.

Nicodemus’ statement is really a question. The very question that was put to John the Baptist in 1:19–23. The same question that was essentially put to Jesus when they demanded a sign. “Who are you?” Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as “a teacher come from God.” He fails to recognize Him as the Christ, the Son of God.

Know this, it is not enough to sincerely compliment Jesus with truth. Nicodemus is notably different, but he isn’t different enough. He must be born again. There is a way of complimenting and praising Jesus with truth, that falls flat. Nicodemus’ compliment falls flat, like that of another ruler. “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’” (Luke 18:18–19). It does no good for a man to compliment Jesus as a man. You must worship Him as God.

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.

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 Valley Below and the Peak Ahead (Philippians 2:9–11)

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, so that…” —Philippians 2:9–10a (emphasis mine)

With Philippians 2:5–8 we stumble onto the ground of Christ’s humiliation. In 2:9–11, we are carried up to the heavens of Christ’s exhalation. Like Moses, we stumble onto the burning bush—God come down. Then, like Isaiah, we are carried up to heaven, to see Christ seated on His throne.

Traversing Philippians 2:6–11 is like going directly from the Dead Sea to Mount Everest. This text takes one as far below sea level as it does above it. In verses 6–8 we are plunged as low as hell (experienced by Christ on earth mind you). In verses 9–11 we are lifted as high as heaven. Christ humbles Himself to be an earthly servant. God exalts Him as heavenly Lord.

And yet, as high as we come in verse 9, we have not yet reached the peak. From verse 9 one can both look back to the valley, and higher up to the summit. If we ask why Christ was exalted, from verse 9 we can see two different answers. The “therefore” looks back to the grounds of Christ’s exaltation. The “so that” looks forward to the goal of Christ’s exaltation.

Why is Christ exalted? Here we are not simply told that Christ humbled Himself and that God exalted Him, but that God exalted Christ because Christ humbled Himself. Christ’s exaltation was a necessary conclusion and consequence of His humiliation. Because the valley was so deep, God will have the mountain so high.

Why is Christ exalted? As we look up to the cloud covered summit, the answer is stunning. Christ is exalted so that He might be exalted.

“…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” (Philippians 2:10–11; emphasis mine).

Just as Christ humbled Himself so that He might humble Himself (2:7–8), God exalts Christ so that Christ might be exalted. Christ’s humiliation is complete. It is finished. But His exhalation has not yet come to its fullness. There is nothing lacking in Christ. Rather, the exhalation that lies ahead is the inescapable manifestation of Christ’s absolute authority for creation’s universal recognition and confession. Christ’s exhalation involves His resurrection, ascension, session, and return. One of these is not yet. The first three are towards the purpose of the last one. Christ was exalted so that He might be exalted. Come Lord Jesus!

The Glorious Danger of Being Caught Up into Christology (Philippians 2:5–8)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but 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 2:5–8).

All of Scripture is God’s holy, authoritative, inspired, inerrant word, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, but with Philippians 2:5–11, we come to a most holy place. Like Moses with the burning bush, one feels they stumble onto it. We thought we were simply walking along, then suddenly we are confronted with God manifest on earth. Perhaps, rather than saying we stumble onto it, we should say we get caught up into it. That’s exactly what Paul appears to have done, He does so frequently in his letters. It is as though at the mention of Jesus Christ and His humility, Paul gets carried up. He doesn’t get carried away. He gets carried up. It is one thing to be distracted  by chasing rabbits. Those are unnecessary endeavors. It is another to be distracted by chasing a unicorn. Remaining focused on a lesser thing when confronted with transcendent glory is no virtue.

This is the locus classicus, the definitive text of Christology in the Scriptures, and we don’t come to it directly. Paul doesn’t take up the subject matter of Christology. He stumbles onto it, and then He gets caught up into it. Paul is writing to the Philippians about unity and humility and suddenly, we are caught up with Him into the mystery of the God-man.

This is the glorious danger that all true discussions of Christian ethics and discipleship are liable to. One should always feel they are on the verge of tripping into the Trinity or being caught up into Christology. It is a danger one should readily welcome and plunge into. If our discussions of discipleship avoid this glorious danger, they fail. They fail to be an expression of our living as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ, the gospel of the God-man (Philippians 1:27). 

While we cannot replicate the gospel, we should imitate it. We cannot live the gospel, but we should live gospel-shaped lives. The gospel not only provides a river of life, it shapes the banks in which that river is meant to flow. Pondering the mysteries of the incarnation of our Lord, the hypostatic union, Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, is not simply as practical as church unity, it is essential to it.

Union, All the Way Up (Colossians 3:1–4)

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” —Colossians 3:1–4 (ESV)

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:5–6 (ESV)

The saints union with Christ isn’t hanging by a thread. Nor is our connection with Christ one of steel cables linking us to certain points of Christ, say His death and resurrection. You are as immersed into Christ as a baptized Baptist. With respect to my Presbyterian brothers, you are not sprinkled into Jesus. Further, when you come up out of the baptismal waters you don’t come out of Jesus. Jesus is the ocean the saints swim in. As united as a man is to his wife, so Christ is united to His Bride; two have become one.

Jesus is in such union with His people, that now, as the God-man, He does nothing without them. This union goes all the way. If you are in Christ:

Jesus’ death, is your death.

Jesus’ resurrection, is your resurrection.

But the glories do not stop there.

Jesus’ ascension, is your ascension.

Jesus’ session, is your session.

Jesus’ appearing, will be your appearing.

These are things that are above. These are heavenly things. The ascension and session of Christ are two neglected doctrines. Perhaps this is why our lives are more earthly than they ought to be.

The Exegetical Systematician: Orientating Advents

“In God’s plan all history is oriented to the incarnation of the Son of God and to his manifestation in glory at end of the age. The lessons for us are numerous. But one is of paramount importance. Life here and now that is not conditioned by faith in Jesus’ first coming and oriented to the hope of this second is godless and hopeless.” —John Murray, The Advent of Christ

The Exegetical Systematician: So Close

“The fact is that the Lord Jesus came not only into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful, but he also came into the closest relation to sin that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful.” —John Murray, The Death of Christ

Creating Word, Sustaining Word, Redeeming Word (Colossians 1–20)

Jesus created the spheres and circles of the universe and set them spinning. From the macro-cosmos of Jupiter its 53 named moons, the Sloan Great wall of galaxies, and the colossal star UY Scuti, to the micro-cosmos of uranium 235, protons, and quarks—all things visible and invisible—all were made through Jesus.

Further, Jesus is no deistic spinner of the watches He has made. He is no grand designer of perpetual motion machines. The universe was not an epic pitch of the omnipotent one, wherein he wound up and let go. Jesus not only creates, he sustains. By His word creation is—always, at all points of its is-dom. It came into being by His word and is sustained in being by His word (Hebrews 1:3). You walk around on, breath in, and are made of nuclear energy. Micro-cosmos, capable of undoing you a million times over, are not simply held together by His hand, they are by His hand. They don’t have an independent existence. Jesus doesn’t simply do maintenance on the stars. He does stars at every point of their existence.

Jesus doesn’t complete the watch to set it in motion independently of Him. He motions it at all times. Man makes a generator because he is limited. He can’t produce electricity. Man isn’t more intelligent than God because he can make a hands off machine. God is unlimited in wisdom and power, such that, nothing works without Him; including you and your generator. God never has too many irons in the fire.

But what are all these ticks and tocks ticking and tocking towards? Has an alarm been set? Is a consummatory suppertime comming? Yes; one day this old creation will grow up, mature, and be born anew—a new creation, and then, the marriage supper of the Lamb. The cosmos isn’t an experiment. Men toy with magic and science and find power that undoes them. Jesus created and sustains that He might be preeminent in the redemption of all things by the blood of the cross. The Word delivers no impromptu speech. Every word—creating words, sustaining words, redeeming words—every word is scripted, with the basic plot outlined in the Scriptures.

The Exegetical Systematician: Why?

So in the death of Christ we encounter an absolute abnormality. In all other cases men and women deserve to die. He did not deserve to die. Yet he died. What is the reason?

But there is something, perhaps more astounding. This arises from who he was. He was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God and for that reason equal with God the Father in respect of Godhood, of divine identity. He, the Word, eternally pre-existing, eternally with God, and eternally God, became flesh. He was the eternal life with the Father and in him was life. So death was not only the contradiction of what he was as human. It was the contradiction of all that he was as God. This is the astounding feature of Christ’s death. He died. But death in his case was the contradiction of all that he was as divine and human, as God-man. This, therefore, points up the absolute uniqueness, the unprecedented unparalleled character of his death. And it points up the urgency of the question: why? —John Murray, The Death of Christ