“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
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31–32
Who are you?
Who is Jesus?
The opening arguments of John 8 concerned the latter question. At verse 31 there is a turn to the former. John Calvin opened his Institutes with a chicken or the egg conundrum, pondering which of these came first: knowledge of self or knowledge of God. He begins by saying, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.” First he answers,
“Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”
So first there is this knowledge of our own depravity then that makes way for a true knowledge of God. But Calvin goes on to say,
“Again it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.”
Calvin then leaves the question hanging without resolution except to say, for the matter of teaching, we must begin with the knowledge of God. But in doing so I do believe he has answered the question. There is a sense in which these are simultaneous, and yet, there is a priority given to the knowledge of God. It is by His light that we see the answer to both of these questions.
We know the darkness within by means of the Light without. But then, once illuminated, we must admit the darkness that is exposed in order to proceed in any knowledge of the Light. Jesus unfolds something of who He is in 8:12–31. He is the Light of the world. Many seem to receive this truth and believe in Him, but once the Light begins to expose their own darkness, they refuse the Light for refusing to own the darkness of their own hearts and parentage.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world (v. 12). You are full of darkness. You love the darkness. You are under the dominion of darkness (v. 44). You belong to the kingdom of darkness. Own this. Come humbly to Christ confessing this and pleading His mercy, and light will not only expose, it will transform. Believe that you are a sinner and come to Christ as the Light and you will know the truth of Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the eternally begotten son of the Father. You are a rebellious creature of God most high, subjected to sin through Adam. Jesus is the Son; you are a slave (vv. 34–35). You are in bondage both to the practice sin and to its condemnation. You cannot not sin. Jesus cannot be convicted of sin (v. 46). Look to Jesus and you will see your sin. You will see all your righteousness to be as filthy and full of hypocrisy as the sham righteousness of the Jews and religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus. But as you look, know that He took on flesh to live as a sinless man that you might be clothed in His righteousness. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Son will set you free and you will be free indeed.
Who are you? Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son doing what He has seen with His Father—God (vv. 28–29, 38). You do what you have heard from your father—the devil (v. 38. 41, 44). Murder and lies brood within your heart. Anger and deception abound. Hatred and willful ignorance proliferate. You lie and murder. Jesus not only speaks the truth, He came to lay His life down, pleading even as He was dying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” You need not fear the deep darkness, the unspeakable that lies within your own chest, for Christ not only made atonement that you might be forgiven, but so that you might be cleansed. In Him there is not only justification but sanctification. There is not only propitiation, but purification. You can own who you are in repentance when you own who Jesus is in faith. The darkness within isn’t greater than the Light without. No matter how much evil you’ve done, no matter how much darkness lies within, no matter how many murderous and hateful thoughts you entertain, it is as nothing compared to the righteousness that Christ accomplished and the righteousness that abounds in Him.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will no longer be who you are. You will be a new creation in Him. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be justified, you will begin being sanctified, and you will one day be glorified. You will not longer be a child of darkness, but a child of light. You will not longer be a slave, but a son. You will no longer be a child of the devil but a child of God. All because who you are will no longer be found in who you are but in who Christ is so that you may boast as Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20). This will be true of you: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Dear soul, if you have believed, you are now in union with Christ and Romans 6 speaks of who you now are:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:5–11).
And so I ask you once more, who are you?
31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.John 5:31–32
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”
Very true, yet, we might say Lewis gave the ancient man too much credit. While our Lord walked this earth, as the Jews were constantly “judging” Him, they were expressing a sin with roots running all the way back to Eden. In trying to be like God, we treat God like a man. We sit in judgment. We might still believe in a God who is judge, but we’ve remade Him in our own image so that we fare better under His judgment. We have tried to flip the court.
Jesus flips it back right side up. He calls forth witnesses. Witnesses to His identity. When Jesus calls witnesses, it is essential we remember who sits in the dock.
Man is not without a witness to God, and thus, man stands in the dock as guilty for rejecting this witness. All have the witness of general revelation. This is a revelation of given generally to all men through creation, providence, and the conscience. Romans 1:18ff tells us that the eternal power and divine nature of God is revealed to all men. Further, because men suppress this truth, the wrath of God is revealed against them for their doing so. Look honestly around at this world under the curse and left in its sin and you cannot deny this conclusion: God is powerful and God is angry. He is just. We are condemned. We are not without witness. We have witness not only to the eternal God, but to our infinite sin and of our cursed condemnation.
All men have this witness, but some also have the witness of special revelation. And though this revelation speaks even more clearly of our sin and our condemnation, it does so as a presupposition for another purpose. Special revelation testifies to the mercy and grace and redemption of the Triune God. It witnesses to these truths. This is the witness that has long been set before the Jews. And now in this text, with Christ, the light of redemptive revelation is nearing its zenith. Yet the Jewish authorities are blind. They are so blind, they think Jesus is in the dock and it is they who sit on the judgment bench as judge.
Dear souls, this is the witness that is set before you today in the Scriptures. Creation speaks of the glory of your God and the heinousness of your sin against Him and the terror of His wrath. Scripture speaks louder of this glory that you have sinned against but adds to it the glory of His redemption. In the light of this witness, there will either be a great salvation or a great sin today. Realize that you sit in the dock with the Jews. Do not try to flip the courtroom as they do. Do not think you are hearing witnesses called for you to stand in judgment over Jesus.
Jesus calls witnesses as one who stands ready to save you, a sinner already condemned. Graciously Jesus puts these witnesses before these men and before us. We are in the dock. Jesus testifies to Himself here.
Receive Him and there is life. Reject Him and you don’t simply remain in your sin. Your sin has grown exponentially more deplorable and your judgment greater, for you have not just suppressed the witness of general revelation, but the witness of special revelation.
How you receive this testimony is a matter of life or death. Hear this witness, and you will leave the court graciously justified. Reject this witness, and you will leave justly condemned.
“Lot seems to have stood alone in his family! He was not made the means of keeping one soul back from the gates of hell!
And I do not wonder. Lingering souls are seen through by their own families; and, when seen through, they are despised. Their nearest relatives understand inconsistency, if they understand nothing else in religion. They draw the sad, but not unnatural. conclusion, Surely, if he believed all he professes to believe, he would not go on as he does.’ Lingering parents seldom have godly children. The eye of the child drinks in far more than the ear. A child will always observe what you do much more than what you say. Let us remember this.” —J.C. Ryle, Holiness
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.”
“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.
1I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! 8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! —Psalm 34:1–3, 8
Praise is invitational. Praise is joy come into bloom ready to pollinate. Praise is unselfish joy. Praise is a shared joy that wants others to share in that joy.
C.S. Lewis, in answering what he calls the “problem of praise” (that is the seeming problem of God being selfish in demanding our praise) gives several answers. The following one is highly pertinent to our meditation.
“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”
Praise goes out hoping to bring others in and David wants to bring the saints all the way in. When David invites us to praise Yahweh with him, he doesn’t do so like a husband praising his wife asking “Isn’t she amazing?” There is a distance between a husband’s enjoyment of his wife and thus his praise of her and another’s enjoyment of her and praising her. David invites you to praise Yahweh with him the way one man will praise a slice of pizza. “This is the best. Have some!”
I almost hesitate to use this illustration because we have stepped down from something greater to something lesser to make the point. The greater joy, a wife, cannot be fully shared. The lesser one can. For the saints though, God is the greatest joy and fully shareable.
Do you leap at the invitation extended by David? If not, have you really tasted? Do you really fear? Have you cried out? Have you sought?
If you did answer “Yes!”, then isn’t it your longing not simply to join in praise with David but to extend his invitation to praise further? Don’t you not only long to praise, but long for others to praise God? Oh for a thousand tongues to sing! I cannot have a thousand tongues of my own, but I may be used by God to grow the choir. If praise is the consummation of joy, and my joy is God, my own voice is not enough. There must be more. The longing to praise is inseparable from the longing for others to praise.
“The trouble with all false evangelism is that it does not start with doctrine, it does not start by realising man’s condition. All fleshly, carnal, manmade evangelism is the result of inadequate understanding of what the apostle teaches us in the first ten verses of this second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. If you and I but realised that every man who is yet a sinner is absolutely dominated by ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” if we only understood that he is really a child of wrath and dead in trespasses and sins, we would realise that only one power can deal with such an individual, and that is the power of God, the power of the Holy Ghost. And so we would put our confidence, not in man-made organisations, but in the power of God, in the prayer that holds on to God and asks for revival and a descent of the Spirit. We would realise that nothing else can do it. We can change men superficially, we can win men to our side and to our party, we can persuade them to join a church, but we can never raise the spiritually dead; God alone can do that. The realisation of these truths would of necessity determine and control all our evangelism.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11,
“15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15–18).
In many areas of life there are two kinds of fans. It could concern literature, film, music, but let’s take baseball as our example. The first type is the more common. He enjoys the game, but he loves his team. The second, the more rare, enjoys a team, but he loves the game. He is the true baseball fan. It is baseball itself that he is a fan of. And of course there are those who just come for the hot dogs, but that is another matter.
As to the fans, here is how you might distinguish the two. When the game is over, even if it was an amazing game, the more common fan will always walk away devastated if his team lost. Something of his identity is linked with that specific team. He loves his team in a sense more than he does the game. In contrast, the second type, though he wishes his team to have won, will walk away talking about how great a game it was.
Simply because man takes up holy things doesn’t act as a forcefield against such vices. We see the same thing in the church. I’m afraid it is more common to find Christians, who quite often, what they get really excited about is their team and not the game. Their team might be the flavor of music, a particular ministry, a preacher, or even a solid theological persuasion. Your team can be a good team, the team that should win, but God have mercy on us so that it is the game itself that we most love. God have mercy on us such that it matters not if we’re watching amateurs who play just to play, or professionals who are only in it for glory and money—still we can rejoice, simply because it is the game we love.
For Paul, it is far less concerning for an insincere man to preach the true gospel, than for a sincere man to preach a false gospel. The truth of the message is more important than the sincerity of the messenger. Because Christ is preached, Paul rejoices.
If Christ is preached, let us rejoice. When Christ is preached at Falls Creek, at an Arminian seeker-sensitive Church, or by some hipster topical-sermon preaching pop-culture pastor, rejoice! There may be much that bothers us, there may be much to legitimately critique and express concern about, to point out how the very gospel preached is outshone or subverted by other things, but inasmuch as the gospel is preached, let us rejoice. Or can you only rejoice when it is your team? When it is a reformed church? When it is through a ministry like Ligonier rather than Lifeway?
Opposite the “holy club” from which Wesley and Whitefield came, their later arose what were called “hell fire clubs” to mock and obstruct the revival. At one tavern, among such a group, a Mr. Thorpe rose to outdo his fellows in mimicking George Whitefield, or “Dr. Squintum” as they called him because of malady that is something like a lazy eye. He began by reading Luke 13:3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But as he continued mocking Whitefield’s preaching of the gospel, he was converted and later became a minister.
I’m not advocating that we rejoice when the gospel is so ridiculed, but this should make it clear why, when the gospel is preached, we can rejoice in that. Why can we rejoice whenever the gospel is preached, regardless of who preaches it? Because, as Paul told the Romans, it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. However man may try to use the Son to make themselves shine, they will always be overshadowed. Attempt to use Jesus as your spotlight, and you’ll find Him so bright, all eyes will be on Him.
In the prophets of Samaria
I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.
In conversations concerning politics and religion, Americans frequently mention a wall of separation between church and state. That idea was intended by Jefferson as a one way street, yet most people today, ignoring the “Wrong Way” signage, are driving the opposite direction. The phrase was meant, not to keep the church from driving to Washington, but to keep Washington from driving a church—a state church on the republic.
Nevertheless, using my liberty to leverage the phrase in yet another manner, let us pray that the church is truly separate from the state in this—in holiness. Let us pray that there is a wall of separation between the sins of the state and the state of the church. Unfortunately, I believe the reason the state is full of lies is because the church is. The world is dark because the world is dark while the light has been hidden. When the world is rotting without pause, it means that which is posing as salt isn’t salty and therefore good for nothing but to be cast out.
In Israel there was to be no separation of church and state; rather, both were to be separate, set apart unto Yahweh. But both the state, that is the kings, and the church, that is the prophets and priests, had become defiled. In chapters 21–23 Jeremiah first denounces the kings and then the prophets. More time is spent on the kings in these chapters, but it’s highly likely more time is spent on the prophets in the book as a whole. Indeed, Jeremiah speaks concerning false prophets more than any other true prophet.
Whereas the main invective against the kings was their oppressing the poor, that of the prophets was their deceiving the people. The former fleeces the sheep, the latter leads them to destruction. John MacKay comments,
“From the preceding section the impression might readily be gained that the problems facing Jeremiah had to do with the political institutions of Judah and its civil leadership. That unfortunately was true but they were by no means the exclusive source of opposition to him. Both church and state were corrupt in Judah, and in this section he focus is on the religious degeneracy of the land. …it was what they [the prophets] proclaimed in the name of the LORD that set the tone for church and state in Judah, as well as reflecting prevailing sentiment.”
This section is “concerning the prophets,” but yet is speaks of the wickedness of the land. The implication is that the prophets are to blame. Where prophets are false, the church is false. When the church is false, the state of the state is sure to be one full of lies.
Meridian Church · Jeremiah 23:9–40 || Concerning the Prophets || Josh King