When Jesus Calls Witnesses (John 5:30–47)

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.

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 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 Don: The Story of One Grand Miracle

“One is very often asked as present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who ask it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian.” —C.S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle

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

Looking for God’s Jewels Outside their Setting

wedding-ring-1556673-1280x864Bible Promise Books are silly and trite. People go to them looking for some promise that God will get them through a tough week when God is saying in His Word that He will get His saints through death, and on the other side, resurrection, no curse, and blessedness evermore where God is our God and we are His people.

Bible Promise Books fail to understand that every promise is a diamond set within the ring of covenant. Too many are trying to wrest promises not betrothed to them. If you want the ring of all God’s promises, you must be wed to Christ.

Don’t survey the Bible as a thief bent on self-profit. Stare long and hard at the craftsmanship of God’s promises set within the covenants that are fulfilled in Christ and truly know the richness that is yours in union with Him.

The Exegetical Systematician: You Cannot think of Christ apart from the Church

We cannot think of Christ properly apart from the church. All the offices he exercises as head over all things, he exercises on behalf of the church. If we think of the church apart from Christ, or transfer to the church prerogatives that belong only to Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry. But if we think of Christ apart from the church, then we are guilty of a dismemberment that severs what God has joined together. We are divorcing Christ from his only bride. The central doctrine of the Christian faith should remind us of the evil of such divorce, for this doctrine is that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25). —John Murray, The Church—It’s Identity, Functions, and Resources

What’s the Point? (Exodus 37)

The symphony of Exodus has four movements: Egypt, Exodus, Sinai, and Tabernacle. Of the last sixteen chapters of this book thirteen deal with the tabernacle. The remaining three are are so intertwined with the tent that they cannot be understood apart from it. The tabernacle is the climactic focus and conclusion to this epic book.

The major theme of the tabernacle is God dwelling with His people in covenant love by mediation and sacrifice. This theme is carried over from chapters 25–34 into chapters 35–40, but in chapters 35–40, an additional minor motif is added, that of the Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience of Israel.

Some homiletics professors (homiletics is the study of the art of preaching) will tell you that your sermon must have only one laser-focused point. Good homiletics instructors will tell you that the point of your sermon must be the point of the text. Indeed, this is excellent advice for clear and effective communication, but I have a fear in this. What if God intended a text to have multiple points? Or a main point with various side points. In other words, I fear trying to wrap up God’s words in too pretty of a bow with our little words. Let the text be lord, for the Lord is Lord of the text, not us. If a text appears to have multiple points, declare them. Certainly, the minister should be able to state these clearly and succinctly, and show how they relate. No doubt there will be unifying factors, but again, these unifying factors may be multiple and varied.

And so here, in Exodus 37 one could pick up on either the major or the minor themes and faithfully preach the text. Or, they could preach them both and show the harmony between them. It is such preaching, preaching “in harmony” rather than “in unison,” that I believe is most glorious.

So how do these two themes harmonize? Here are just two thoughts. First, by emphasizing that this tabernacle was built according to God’s commands by the power of the Spirit it reminds us that the tabernacle isn’t something man is doing for God, rather, it is something God is doing for man. All of this—the plan, the materials, the construction, the function, the sacrifices, the feasts, the priesthood, the ceremonies—all of this is a gift from God. The second thing is that none of this was sufficient. The tabernacle wasn’t enough. The Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience of Israel wasn’t enough. All of this is a shadow of the One, who by His perfect Spirit-powered ministry and obedience would make all things new in the ultimate hope of a new creation where all is temple. How do these two motifs harmonize? In the single symphony of the Scriptures titled Jesus Christ. So perhaps the professors were right, every sermon should have a single point. Not only so, but every sermon should have the same ultimate point—Jesus Christ.

All Concerns the Tabernacle and the Tabernacle Concerns All (Exodus 30)

When you’re going on vacation the final bits of packing might seem haphazard and chaotic, but two things could be happening.

1. Things really are a mess. You’ve run through the house last minute gathering up tidbits you either forgot to pack or now think you might need and just throw them in.

2. There has been a strategic ordering and packing up of things and you’ve simply come to remaining smaller items that could only be packed last and for which there was no room in any other bag.

God didn’t pack the tabernacle instructions like you might pack for vacation. Everything has been highly organized. Chapter 25 concerned the furniture of the tabernacle, chapter 26 the tent itself, chapter 27 the courtyard, chapter 28 the priest’s garments, and chapter 29 the priest’s consecration. Now it’s time to pack some remaining items. Remember that the chapter divisions are inserted by man. These chapter divisions have been very good in seeing some natural divisions, but we must remember that they’re divisions within a section all concerning the tabernacle. The smaller items that make up chapter 30 don’t cohere together the way the items in chapter 28 do, but they do cohere with chapter 29 the way that chapter 25 does.

How do these all things go together? The way everything in chapters 25–31 go together. All these chapters are about the tabernacle. All these chapters are packed into the same place, or rather, are about the same place.

Even if a neighbor looked in on a crazily packed family car and asked what all that randomness was about, they could reply, “Vacation.” It’s not unrelated randomness. It is all about vacation.

This chapter is neither unrelated or random. All concerns the tabernacle.

When Israel would sojourn through the wilderness, all of these things wold be packed together and carried by the Levites. All of these things relate to the tent. The tabernacle is diverse, but not because it speaks of a great many different things, but of the great depth and diversity of a single thing, Christ and His redemption—that thing which binds not only the tabernacle together, but everything together. All concerns the tabernacle, and the tabernacle concerns all. Jesus’ redemption is so big that it not only unites all the tabernacle, it also is uniting all creation as a tabernacle.

God Doesn’t Give Busy Work (Exodus 29)

God doesn’t give busy work. The consecration of the priests was a big to do, but what was all the doing for? Why were the priests and the altars consecrated so? Two answers are given, and the first one flows and swells into the second like a river bursting forth into a grand delta.

The priests and the altar are consecrated for the daily offerings (Exodus 29:38–42). In the morning, a lambs offered with wine and flour; in the evening, the same. A full meal is to be cooked up to Yahweh on the altar twice daily.

But why all of this? Why the priests, the altar, the tabernacle, the daily offerings? The answer God gives is Himself. These daily offerings are to be made at the tent of meeting where Yahweh meets with Israel (Exodus 29:42–43). How does the Holy God meet in covenant love with a sinful people? By the priest, the altar, and the tabernacle.

None of this smacks of man trying to pull himself up to heaven. Nor is this God giving man secret carful instructions to climbing a heavenly stairway. All this action is a display of God’s action. The tabernacle and all the priest’s action is a reflection of heavenly realities. Ultimately it is God who consecrates the tent and the priests (Exodus 29:43). The tabernacle is no display of man’s wisdom, but God’s. It speaks nothing of man’s work, but God’s redemption. The tabernacle is not about man ascending, but God descending.

God’s meeting His people here is not to be thought of as the event of a lifetime, but a lifetime event. God meets with His people here because He dwells here (Exodus 29:45). He dwells in their midst as their God for they are His people. He dwells with them in covenant love.

Still this isn’t the end of the blessedness that the tent testifies to. God is not content just to be their God; He wants them to know that He is their God (Exodus 29:46). Specifically, He wants them to know that Yahweh (all caps LORD), the one who has revealed Himself as sovereign, self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable and incomprehensible, is their redeemer, the one who has delivered them.

The way that God wants Israel to know all of this is by a tent and priesthood that testify of Christ. Don’t shun knowledge of the tabernacle. Don’t think a study of the priest’s consecration moot. All of this is so that you might know Jesus, whose name means “Yahweh Saves.”