How Believing Can Be Like Questioning (John 2:13–25)

22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

—John 2:22–23 (emphasis mine)

The two scenes of the temple cleansing end with the disciples “remembering” (vv. 17, 22). Their remembering sets up a contrast, not only with what has preceded, but with what is next introduced.

In the first instance, the disciples remembering is set against the sellers and money changers on one side, and the authorities’ questioning on the other. While the sellers are violating Scripture, the disciples come to remember it.

Second, their remembering is set again in contrast again with the authorities questioning and then with the crowds “believing.” The disciples’ remembering was a believing. The crowd’s believing was the kind that would forget. Not all believing is believing. The authorities demand a sign for belief. The crowds believe for a sign. Saving faith is the result of the work of God within a man. It matters not what wonders are done without. Remember Pharaoh?

Some of you question. You don’t believe in Jesus. You are outright opposed to Him. You might be religious. You might believe in God. You believe some good things about Christ. But as to the Scriptures’ central claims, you demand a sign. In some ways, yours is a healthier state, for you know how you stand in relation to the Christ of the Bible. But as creation testifies that there is a God and that you stand under His wrath, so too Scriptures testify that Jesus is the Christ and that there is grace for sinners if you would receive Him.

Do not demand a sign as though you were the authority. Bow before the one with all authority. He has spoken. He has spoken with all authority. He has spoken with a self-authenticating authority by His holy word. Your problem isn’t in your head. It is in your heart. The problem isn’t the absence of information in your mind, but the presence of arrogance in you heart.

Others though, your religion has all the right external markers. You come to the right place—the temple of the living God, the church of God with Christ as her head. You don’t question. You look to Bible and its signs and its wonders. You believe, but alas, you don’t believe. You believe only in the Jesus you want to believe in. Do you not see the same arrogance then lies in your heart? Instead of denying Christ outright, you shape Him how you will. 

For both, I pray you look to the Scriptures now, that you bow under them, that you sit under the Spirit’s teaching, and that you not only learn who Christ is, but that you believe in Christ, that you entrust your soul to Him. 

Who is this Jesus?

He is the zealous Son of the Father. Yes, there is grace in Christ, but know there is also anger, wrath, and judgment. Jesus will not compromise His love of His Father for His love of sinners. You cannot assume His love and redemption. Salvation was purchased by judgment. If you don’t trust in the one who bore judgment, you will bear it yourself. Jesus not only is the bearer of the judgment of God, He is the bringer of the judgment of God.

He is the temple that was destroyed by man, but raised for our salvation. Man in sin slew Him. God in grace raised Him. By His resurrection, the Father declared Jesus to be His Son. The verdict of man didn’t stick. The verdict of God lives eternal. Christ alone is the meeting place of God and man. He is the High Priest. He is the Lamb of God. He is the Temple. Only in Christ may sinners draw near to the Holy God of heaven, and in Christ, they draw near as sons.

He is the Passover Lamb slain for the people of God that judgment might pass over them. He is spotless, precious, perfect sacrifice. He is the substitute. Having no sin of His own, He bore the sin of others.

He is the Life. They destroyed the temple, but He raised it up. The darkness cannot conquer the light. The grave cannot keep Life in its belly. He is the resurrection.

He is the knower of men. He knows you as he knows these men. He knows you as he knew Nathanael. He knows not only who you are, but He knows who you will be, as He knew of Peter. He knows the sin and depravity and wickedness that are in your heart.

If you now know something of the truth of who Christ is, and thus something of the truth of who you are—flee to Him! Follow Him. Do not question. Do not believe in Him as you wish Him to be. Believe in Him as He is, and you will have eternal life.

Don’t Miss the Signs (John 2:1–12)

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

John 2:11

This is the first of Jesus’ signs. Six more will follow in the “book of signs” (the label scholars affix to chapters 1–12) for a total of seven. Some of those scholars put the tally at only six. They say Jesus’ walking on the waters disqualified since it wasn’t done “publicly.” But as the servants and disciples are the only ones in the know with this first sign, I think this disqualifies their disqualification.

What then is a sign? Signs signify, and the significance of that can be seen in the language that is absent from John. “Signs” as a designation is often coupled with “wonders.” The only use of “wonders” in John is found on the lips of Jesus in 4:48 where He says, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” “Wonders” or “marvels” are that which leave one in awe. Perhaps the most common denominator in the gospels for what we commonly speak of as “miracles” is “mighty works.” While Jesus will refer to His “works” in John, a different word is in play. The single word translated “mighty works” throughout the synoptic gospels conveys power. The “works” Jesus does in John’s gospel, are simply His labor. So in John then, rather than the power or the marvel of His acts being in the forefront, it is their significance. Bruce Milne highlights the distinction well:

“The distinction can be put in this way: for the synoptic writers Jesus’ miracles are actual occasions of the incursion of the kingdom of God. …For John, the miracles, though no less real as historical acts of supernatural power, are more symbolic; they point beyond themselves to Jesus and his significance. Put more succinctly, the synoptic miracles are essentially eschatological, John’s essentially christological.”

But what then is the significance of this sign? Signs like the feeding of the five thousand are easy. Thereafter, Jesus shortly goes on to say, “I am the Bread of Life.” Here we are left hanging to pick up the clues ourselves. One grave danger in searching for significance is that of finding it everywhere, including where it is not. For example, some have made much of “the third day” relating it to the resurrection. I think that’s more than a bit thin. Even so, there are a number of subtle hints at significance as one goes along, and it is as they all pile on that they begin to take on added weight.

This was the first of Jesus’ signs, and I don’t believe it is without significance that it was done at a wedding, that it involved water jars used for Jewish rites of purification, that it involved water being turned to wine, and that it was done quietly so that only a few were in the know. And yet, I don’t think any of those things are especially the focal point. What is the significance of this first sign? It manifests Jesus’ glory (v. 11). Not as that “hour” mentioned in v. 4 will do. Not publicly. But it does manifest soemthing of His glory for the disciples. They see that glory and they believe. What “glory” is it that was manifested? John has already told you of the glory they saw.

“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. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:14, 16–18).

This first sign gets at the same point as every sign we will encounter in this gospel. They all signify this one thing. They all have one singular aim. Including that sign of signs, the hour of Jesus’ glorification when He is lifted up on the cross and raised from the grave. And it is after this eighth and climactic sign that John tells us, “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).

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

The Doctor: Be Strong in the Lord—An Illustration

“Go back to the Old Testament. We find Moses leading those grumbling, recalcitrant children of Israel. They come to him one day and say: ‘There is no water here; have you brought us out of Egypt in order that we may die of thirst here in the wilderness? There is no water; everything is as dry as a bone; what can we do?’ And God told Moses to strike a rock, informing him that when he did so water would come pouring out of it. Now there lies the predicament. Moses was a man, and though he was a very good man he knows that if he strikes rocks nothing will happen. He may have struck many a rock but no water had come gushing out. But here he is told that if he strikes a certain rock with his rod water will come gushing out of it. That constitutes the whole predicament of faith. That is exactly the position of all of us as we stand face to face with the command: ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might’. ‘But who am I?’ you say. ‘I am just a weakling. What is the use of telling me to be strong?’ The answer is this. Moses in faith took his rod and he smote, he struck, the rock; and out of it came the water gushing forth. It was not Moses’ power, but it was his arm and it was his rod. Moses did not just stand by and see the water gushing out. Moses had to lift up his arm and he had to strike, to smite, that rock. But as he did so the power was given to him, and the water came gushing out of the rock. There you see the two elements in this matter. You see the activity of the man, but you see that the power is given to him by God. It was not Moses—Moses lacked the power to do such things. But Moses was given the power to do them. The two things come together. But the point I am emphasizing now is that Moses, if he had hesitated there, and had done nothing, would not have seen this marvellous miracle; but by acting he discovered that the power was given. He ‘tasted’ and he ‘saw’! That is the way in which it happens.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier

What Will You Give? How Am I to Know? (Genesis 15:1–21)

“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’

And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’

Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” —Genesis 15:4-6

When all you have is God’s covenant word, you already have all you need. Twice Yahweh comes to Abram repeating His covenant promises (15:1, 7). Twice Abram replies with a lament of faith mingled with doubt.

“O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?…

O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”  (Genesis 15:2, 8; emphasis mine).

“What will you give?” While Yahweh does lead Abram to look at the stars, these simply serve as an illustration of the Word. When Abram doubts the Word, Yahweh gives him the Word. Abram has nothing more in his hand, but the Word is once again laid on his heart.

“How am I to know?” While Yahweh does formally establish a covenant with Abram at this juncture, nothing of the promise is realized. This covenant act is simply one reinforcing the covenant promises already made. God has spoken. Now He speaks louder as it were, still, this covenant act is essentially the promise spoken again. God had spoken. It will certainly be. He speaks again in this act to emphasize to Abram the certainty of His promise. When Abram doubts the Word, God still essentially gives him the Word.

All the days of our pilgrimage, the fullness of the promise will ultimately lie ahead of us. All the days of our pilgrimage, we will have nothing but the Word, sacraments, and our Lord’s covenant presence with us as His people. This is all we need. As we sojourn, as far as the promise of full and final deliverance from sin and of a land not marred by its curse, we have nothing but the Word. And in this, we have all that we need, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. When you doubt the Word, cry out to your covenant Lord, that by His Spirit, He would minister the word of Christ to you afresh.

What has he given? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.

How are we to know? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.

When God Flips Creation (Jeremiah 32:1–44)

 “And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. 12 And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, 14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’ —Jeremiah 32:9–15

The Book of Consolation is like the one great win in a season that otherwise seems a total wash. There have been some great plays, some scattered promises here and there, but here is their solitary “W.” Chapter 32 opens the second half of this four quarter game, and like the first chapter (chapter 30), though immediate judgment is confirmed, still final restoration is promised. They’re going to take some devastating hits, but they shouldn’t doubt they’ll come out ahead in the end.

In the second half, the approach changes. We move from poetry to prose, and in that prose we have a narrative concerning another sign-act. What is a sign-act? Let’s review. In chapter 13 Jeremiah was commanded to purchase a linen loincloth and make a long journey (somewhere in the ballpark of 600 miles) to the Euphrates and bury it there. Likely he then returned home only to sometime later be told to go back and retrieve the loincloth. We won’t take the time to rehearse the meaning of this sign-act, but suffice it to say it spoke of Judah’s judgment and it was a costly act for Jeremiah and thus acted like a bullhorn, magnifying his message. In chapter 16 Jeremiah was forbidden a family. Again, this was a costly act and one that foretold judgment. In Chapter 19, Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and smash it. While not as costly as some of the other acts, this was far from a great investment and again foretold judgment. Most recently, in chapters 27–28, Jeremiah makes yoke bars, only for the false prophet Hananiah to take them from his neck and break them. Jeremiah made his craft project and brought it to show and tell where a bully breaks it so that he has nothing to bring home.

As we are now in the Book of Consolation, you may well expect the sign-act not to speak of judgment, but of grace. Indeed it does. And so, instead of this act resulting in a personal loss for Jeremiah, you might expect some gain. Instead, this sign act appears to be his worst investment yet. Jeremiah receives insider trading advise, but it doesn’t play out how you’d expect. It’d been one thing if Jeremiah had been told to buy some property in and around Babylon at the beginning of his ministry. Instead he’s purchasing property in Judah on the eve of her destruction. This is like investing in a French Chateau in 1940 when the German Blitzkrieg has already breached the Maginot Line.

house-2169650_1280The plot of land is in enemy occupied territory. Jeremiah is in jail. He has preached the fall of Judah and a seventy year exile to follow. He has no family or offspring to inherit the land. All this is clearly on the table when Hanamel seemingly comes insisting Jeremiah redeem the land. Hanamel strikes one as that cousin that comes to the funeral to sell Amway. Family reunions to him are a business opportunity. In this, God’s hot tip isn’t “Be on your guard. Get ready. Don’t fall for it.” but instead, “Buy! Buy! Buy!”

Our puzzlement betrays our American eyes. The point of acting as a redeemer wasn’t to benefit you personally, but to honor Yahweh who allotted the land by family and love your kin so that they keep an inheritance in Israel (Leviticus 25:23–28). Jeremiah’s obedience to the covenant law is a sign that God is not through with His people. He is their Redeemer. Because God won’t pull up short on His promises, we need not pull short on obedience. Righteousness doesn’t always make sense as an investment in this life, but if you live unto God, this is not your concern. It isn’t short term temporal gain, but long term eternal reward that is your aim.

Jeremiah here made the best deal ever, not because of what he got on this earth, but because of what God promised in the next. As Derek Kidner comments, “Seventeen shekels of silver were surely never better spent.”

Meridian Church · Jeremian 32:1–44 || Redemption of the Land || Josh King

Singing While the Bombs are Falling (Habakkuk 3:17–19)

This post was originally published on January 12th, 2015. It was lightly revised and republished on April 19th, 2020.

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I think anyone can get the general sense of Habakkuk 3:17 from an initial reading, but reading that verse in light of the entire Old Testament and then seeing what Habakkuk goes on to say is like hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” within the entirety of Handel’s Messiah—it makes it soar.

Figs, grapes, and olives were the choicest produce of the land. They’re iconic; frequently used in the prophetic corpus. There seems to be an increasing severity to the images Habakkuk uses. The absence of figs by itself hardly suggests privation. From grapes they received their daily drink, but these wouldn’t be essential for life. From the olive they resourced oil not only to anoint their faces, but to fuel their lamps and cook their food. The fields yielding no food transitions from frills to necessities. The flocks being cut off not only means the absence of another food source, but also of clothing. Finally, the cattle being absent from the stalls suggests not so much that beef isn’t now an alternative to mutton, but that their tractors have been stolen. Now there is not only no food, there is no possibility of food. David Prior paints the canvas well:

Everything has been destroyed. There is no grain, oil or wine. There is no meat or wool. There is no food of any kind—fruit, vegetables, cereals, milk, meat. It is not simply a devastated economy. It is the end of everything that can keep body and soul together. There is nothing, absolutely nothing—and an invading army takes possession of the land, pillaging and raping with indiscriminate violence. It is Bosnia, Vietnam and Rwanda rolled into one. ‘How could life be sustained at all in such conditions?’ Nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to wear. Not just poverty, but the enemy stalking the land. Nowhere to hide.

But this is only the general sense that a good reading of the text itself can give us. There is a much deeper significance. Our story begins in a garden of plenty and peace. It is the story of a kingdom: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Man rebels against God’s rule and is driven from the garden, separated from God—not His people. The earth is cursed. Thorns grow. But God calls Abraham out for Himself. He promises to make from Abraham a people for Himself, to give them a land, and to bless them—to reverse the curse.

Habakkuk gives us a picture of the curse gone full bloom, consuming all so that nothing blooms. Habakkuk is saying that though there is not one tangible evidence to His senses of the covenant God made with His people, yet he will rejoice in Yahweh. When the only part of God’s promises that you have is God Himself, that is all you need. Just like Abraham, Habakkuk can’t see the promises, but greets them from afar (Hebrews 11:8–16).

Picture a devastated village within German occupied territory during the second great war receiving news that the tide has turned. The war isn’t over, but they believe it will be soon. In the midst of the bombed out buildings and stripped gardens, with tattered clothes they sing and dance with joy. When there is not one tangible sign of the kingdom come, when all you have is the Scripture’s declaration of Christ’s victory, this is all faith needs to rejoice because it is all that faith ever has. When faith sings in the midst of darkness it demonstrates that the joy of the kingdom isn’t in the people, the place, or the rule (peace and righteousness) themselves in isolation from God as though that were possible. The joy of the kingdom is that it is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

The Threat of Security (Habakkuk 2:6–20)

This post was originally published on December 29, 2014 and was revised  on April 3, 2020.

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.

—Habakkuk 2:9–11

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When threatened, picking up a sword could be the most dangerous response. Reaching for a gun when an officer has commanded “Freeze!” is a fool’s act. Sometimes, the supposed wisdom of security is really the folly of unbelief. All our attempts at security might be nothing more than thinly veiled self-reliance and idolatry.

Nebuchadnezzar built an eagle’s nest where he thought his dynasty and kingdom would be safe. Walls were erected wide enough for a chariot to travel on. Much was invested in security, but all this was counterproductive because the most crucial factor in any building program wasn’t heeded—the One who holds the atoms of every stone, brick, and piece of lumber together—God Almighty.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalm 127:1

All that was for safety only testified against Babylon. The materials gained by evil means antiphonally cry out against her (2:11), just as Abel’s blood cried out against Cain (Genesis 4:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Where men see glory, God sees sin; and He isn’t intimidated. Babylon was a city built with blood and sin; and thus, it was not a city to flee to, but to flee from. Worse than building their own prison, they’d constructed nothing more than a giant lightning rod to attract the unbearable storm of God’s wrath.

Your efforts at security may not be mortared with blood, but if they’re an expression of self-reliance and idolatry, then it’s still bonded with explosive-laced sin and a fire is coming. Tis far better to be Habakkuk in certain-to-fall Jerusalem, confusingly trusting in the Rock (1:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

When Trees Feel Like Wheat (Jeremiah 11:18–12:6)

“The LORD made it known to me and I knew;
then you showed me their deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
I did not know it was against me
they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.’
But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously,
who tests the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.” —Jeremiah 11:18–20

field-1971873_1280.jpgDavid said that the righteous man, who delights in the law and meditates on it day and night, is like a tree plated by streams of water. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1:2–4). Sometimes though, trees feel like chaff and the chaff appears as solid as a redwood (Jeremiah 12:1–2).

The saints, this side of the curse, lament the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked, but it is easy for their lament to give way to doubt and despair. Such despair is rooted in ignorance and unbelief.

We’re ignorant. We forget that we’re not home yet. We’re exiles and enemies surround us. We’re on their turf. Many are not wise to the world because they’re worldly-wise. We remain ignorant because we’ve enrolled in their school. The church has opted into the program. Nice and naive—that’s how they raise us. We’re still led like sheep to the slaughter, but with a dumb look on our face. We’re children taking suckers from the strangers of this world when our Father has taught us better. Then we accuse our Father when those suckers are poisonous. We need to keep the innocence and lose the ignorance.

We don’t believe. Our Father has spoken but we’re all Romans 14 and no imprecatory psalms. We disbelieve one portion of God’s Word by pitting it against another. There are times to shake off the dust from our shoes as well as times to bless those who curse us. Let the reader understand. When Paul exhorted us to “repay no one evil for evil” and to “never avenge yourself” it was with the truth that vengeance is God’s. This is exactly what Jeremiah prays for here. David was able to extend mercy to his enemies because he trusted God would avenge.

Do not be ignorant of the wicked. Believe in the righteousness of God. Then you’ll see that it’s not that the ship of the church is sinking, but that the ocean is in such turbulence because it is being drained. In the midst of the tempest, faith knows that the ship remains solid, while it is the world that is fading away. We’ve got the wrong reference point. The wicked only appear to be rooted, because they are rooted in this world that is fading away. When our eyes are on the Son, we’ll see that it’s not that we’re being blown away, but that this present world is, and the wicked along with it.

A Drink from Brooks: Christ the Greatest Good

“Christ is the greatest good, the choicest good, the chief good, the most suitable good, the most necessary good. He is a pure good, a real good, a total good, an eternal good, and a soul-satisfying good (Rev. 3:17, 18). Sinners, are you poor? Christ has gold to enrich you. Are you naked? Christ has royal robes, he has white clothing to clothe you. Are you blind? Christ has eye-salve to enlighten you. Are you hungry? Christ will be manna to feed you. Are you thirsty? He will be a well of living water to refresh you. Are you wounded? He has a balm under his wings to heal you. Are you sick? He is a physician to cure you. Are you prisoners? He has laid down a ransom for you. Ah, sinners! tell me, tell me, is there anything in Christ to keep you off from believing? No! Is there not everything in Christ that may encourage you to believe in him? Yes! Oh, then, believe in him, and then, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ (Is. 1:18). No, then, your iniquities shall be forgotten as well as forgiven, they shall be remembered no more. God will cast them behind his back, he will throw them into the bottom of the sea! (Is. 43:25; 38:17; Micah 7:19).” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices