In on the Divine Joke of the Gospel (John 16:16–24)

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?”

—John 16:16–17

As the Upper Room Discourse draws to a close, Jesus presents to the disciples something of a riddle. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Later, this riddle, along with Jesus’ elaborations thereon, are referred to as “figures of speech.” The disciples later say that they understand once Jesus speaks plainly (16:29), but it is clear that even then they don’t yet fully get it.

The gospel is a divine joke that Jesus lets His friends in on. When the joke sets in for the disciples, their sorrow will be turned to joy. They will then see how Jesus’ trouble speaks to their comfort. They will laugh and their joy will be indestructible. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (16:20).

When does the joke set in? They will see when they see. In a little while, they will see. The resurrection is the punch line that brings joy out of the cross. The gospel is not a joke for those with a dark, twisted, macabre sense of humor.

John Piper has said that the gospels are meant to be read backwards. There is a sense in which you have to read them twice in order just to read them once. In particular, he was referring to the cross as illuminating everything that comes before it, but of course he meant the cross in light of the resurrection. You must not only read the life of Jesus in light of His death. You must read His death in light of His life—His resurrection life.

Sinclair Ferguson tells of a clever British economist who when asked one December of the expected economic forecast answered, “the significance of Christmas will not become clear until Easter.” Easter is the explanation to the riddle of Christmas. God wrapped His Son in Human flesh in the incarnation. The meaning of that gift was unwrapped when His flesh was rent on the cross. But it is the Resurrection that then makes sense of why Good Friday is good. If there is no resurrection, there is no gospel. Without the resurrection, the cross is void of good news. But the tomb is empty, and thus, our hearts are full of joy.

Clamping Down on the Resurrection (John 11:17–44)

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

—John 11:23–27

Signs signify. John wrote this gospel, highlighting particular signs so that what was signified thereby would be believed. “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). What is signified by this specific sign is that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. By belief, the life that you have is the life that is in Jesus. Believing that Jesus is the Christ means believing that He is the Resurrection and the Life and receiving that life. This sign is for faith in Jesus as the Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life.

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus tells Martha. D.A. Carson says this is a “masterpiece of planned ambiguity.” This is not a conventional comforting condolence, though it is easily mistaken as such. In a time of grief 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 gives us not only some of the most comforting words for the bereaved, but commanded words to share with those who have lost one in Christ.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage [NASB “comfort”] one another with these words.”

Martha takes Jesus’ words just as such words of comfort. They are not. Jesus is telling her that the future hope is about to be demonstrated in the here and now. Martha again replies with an answer of faith (v. 24). She believes in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus hasn’t come to simply give her the comfort of truth. He has come to be the truth that comforts. This sign is pointing to the bigger reality of the resurrection on the last day. But, as a sign, that future reality is present. The resurrection that is to be on the last day, is a resurrection in Jesus. The Resurrection is present with Martha.

Here is how present resurrection is with not only Martha, but with anyone who believes in Jesus: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (vv. 25b–26a). If you believe in Jesus, you live even though you die. If you believe in Jesus, you live such that you never die. Jesus again and again has said that whoever believes in Him has eternal life (3:26; 5:24; 6:47). This is because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in Christ are in union with Christ. They have died in Christ and they have risen a new creation. When the spiritually dead believe, they have risen with resurrection life.

Saints, you already have this resurrection life. Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life is present with you. Though you die, you shall life. Those who live in Christ, shall never die. You already possess a life that death cannot touch, for death has already touched it and lost. You possess a life from the other side of death. A life that undid death.

Jesus here directs Martha’s faith away from focusing on an abstract doctrine to focusing on Himself as the embodiment of that doctrine. Doctrine is precious and true, but don’t treat doctrines as truths that float out there, independent of the being and work of Christ. It is as though the wire connections of Martha’s faith are weak. There are gaps. The sparks of faith are jumping, but Jesus is working to clamp Martha’s faith directly onto Him. Believe doctrine, but believe your doctrine in Christ. It is not faith in the doctrine of Christ that saves, but faith in the Christ of that true doctrine that saves.

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

No Mere Resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33)

We are all born Sadducees denying the Resurrection. Dead men don’t believe in the Life. The Sadducees want to discredit Jesus and they don’t believe in resurrection. They want to make Jesus look foolish for believing in resurrection. They want belief in resurrection to look stupid and thus for Jesus to look stupid. They just don’t realize how synonymous their goals are. “I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).” One way Jesus could have replied to their inquisition was, “I move that we suspend this debate for a few days. Then I will present you with conclusive evidence.”

Just as the previous passage in Matthew wasn’t about taxes, this one is not about mere resurrection. It isn’t about simply learning that there won’t be marriage in heaven or that when God enters into covenant relationship with someone, that covenant is forever, therefore the person God is in covenant must be forever (Matthew 12:32). There is no such thing as mere resurrection unto life. There is the Son’s resurrection, and those who are immersed into it. All resurrection is about Jesus. Scripture is God speaking, to you (Matthew 22:31). Here God is saying, “See my Son? He is never discredited. Resurrection is true. Learn this in My Son.” If you are a slow student, don’t worry. God will repeat Himself loudly when the next week begins on Easter morn. “[Jesus] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4).

We are born dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). We are born dead men who try to discredit the Life. We are Sadducees who try to murder the Life. The dead cannot ultimately murder the Life, but the Life can raise the dead. The Life died that the dead might live. This is because His death was ours and His resurrection is ours. You will be as resurrected as Jesus is, for His resurrection is yours.

Matthew 17:1-13 & No Gory, No Glory

We want the figure of a god, without the diet and exercise. When it comes to our salvation, to being godlike, we want to do it on our own, and we don’t want to do that much. We want glory, with none of the pain. We are spiritually health conscious in a way, but we want a quick, easy, and cheap fix. Gives us a pill, give us a surgery. What we will not do is really sweat or really work. We will not sacrifice our diet of sin. The diet of religion is both lazy and sinful seeking less than perfection. It is lazy because it seeks less than perfection. It is sinful because it seeks less than perfection. Its seeks to enjoy sin with minimal consequence. It does not truly seek to be holy as God is holy.

Physically, in our age of dieting, many try to delude themselves. Its funny how many articles are written as if it is some secret that diet and exercise are the key to health. There is only one way for health to get deep into your bones. It takes work. Our spiritual health likewise involves work. Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).” But be careful. Our salvation is something we work out, it is not something we work for. No drug we manufacture can bring about our salvation, and all our work, even our best work is also futile. We’re not simply spiritually flabby. We’re dead. We couldn’t sweat enough “good,” we couldn’t bleed enough “payment” even if we wanted to. Any sweat is already only our due, and all our blood is the debt we already owe. We need unequaled and unobligated sweat and blood.

Our salvation is no sweat-less labor; no bloodless surgery. A laparoscopic procedure won’t suffice. Flesh must be rent wide open. Blood must be spilt. To give the dead life, The Life must die. Then, and only then, do our eating habits change, for we have an appetite for the Bread of life. Then, and only then, do our work habits change, for we love to do good works unto God’s glory through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of the fall there is only one way to glory, and that is through the gory. For us to go up, God must descend, further down than any.

The transfiguration is framed by a lot of cross talk (Matthew 16:21-28; 17:9, 12, 22-23). Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone this vision until after He is resurrected. The glory light they have seen will only be properly understood when illuminated by a dark cross. The transfiguration is not so much a flashback to Jesus’ eternal glory, as it is a flash-forward to his resurrection glory, and the cross comes first. No gory, no glory. He takes our part, that we may take His.

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 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, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” -Philippians 2:8-11

1 Corinthians 15:12-28 & If I Don’t Rise, Jesus Didn’t

The Corinthians were affirming Jesus resurrection, but denying their own. Paul says you can’t do this. You would think that you could. Imagine you are about to appear before a judge for sentencing. The judge has the power to pardon at will. Just before you are sentenced the judge’s son, with whom he has no tiff, comes before the judge to be sentenced for the same crime. You reason that if the son is pardoned, there might be a chance for you, but if the son is not pardoned, you haven’t got a prayer. That is how you might expect Paul to relate Jesus’ resurrection and ours. But Paul flips it. Imagine the son is pardoned. It would take some gall to exclaim, “If I’m not pardoned, then your son wasn’t.” That is akin to what Paul is arguing. He isn’t saying, Jesus was resurrected, so there is a chance for you. He is saying that if you don’t burst some sod with a new bod, then Jesus is rotting in a grave.

You might expect Jesus’ resurrection and yours to relate to one another like a tree trunk and branches. In some ways they do. Our resurrection blooms out of His. But Paul says that our resurrection and Jesus’ relate more like a husband and wife than a trunk and branches. If the trunk falls, the branches fall, but if the branches fall you can still have a trunk. But with a marriage, if either party dies, the marriage is dissolved. If Jesus is didn’t rise we won’t. If we don’t rise, Jesus didn’t.

Why is this so? Lets go back to court. When could you say with confidence to the judge who pardoned his son, “If I’m not pardoned, then your son wasn’t?” What if you were tried as a single entity? This is what happened in Christ. Jesus rep work didn’t end on the cross. Jesus didn’t fly solo from the grave; He led a host of captives. Jesus didn’t rise independently. Jesus wasn’t a lonely acorn busting potting soil in some individual’s hobby hothouse. He rose as the firstfruits of a greater harvest of a huge field. His resurrection and yours are part of the same event. Further, Paul says, Jesus is the second Adam. He represents a new humanity. His resurrection was the beginning of new creation. The rest must necessarily follow.

How sure can you be that if your body is under dirt that God will begin cultivating the earth to make it new by ripping you out of her? As sure as you are the Jesus is risen. The degree of faith you have in the risen Christ is to be same measure of faith you are to have in your resurrection. Further, it is the very same faith.

Matthew 12:38-45 & No Show On Demand

Jesus, unlike many entertainment corporations today, does not offer a show upon demand. When the Pharisees ask for a sign it further reveals their attitude toward the miracle Jesus has just performed (Matthew 12:22, 25). It reveals their attitude toward all of His miracles, their attitude toward Jesus himself. The Pharisees do not need a new sign, they need new hearts, for they cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

And yet Jesus promises them a sign. What does Jesus mean that He will give them no sign except the resurrection? He has give them many signs, and He will perform many more. If we look at some instances of the apostolic preaching of the resurrection where this “evil and adulterous generation” is also mentioned I think we will see what Jesus means (all emphases mine).

[T]his Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.  – Acts 2:23-24

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  – Acts 3:13-15

For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead,

[B]ecause he [God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”  – Acts 17:31

[Jesus] and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  – Romans 1:4

The resurrection is the vindication of Jesus. It shows the wicked and adulterous generation to be wrong in their opinion concerning Jesus. They kill Him, God raises Him from the dead. And still today the resurrection is the sign that all doubters, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists have to deal with (toward understanding and using the apologetic strength of the resurrection I recommend beginning with The Reason for God, specifically chapter 13).

So to all who ask, “Why on earth doesn’t God do something? Why doesn’t He prove Himself?” We reply that God has indeed on earth done something; in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ and everything in between, God has indeed on earth done something. To those who ask a sign to validate our message I love the reply of Calvin. When Roman Catholics contended that their miracles authenticate their message, and then asked where the reformers miracles were, Calvin replied:

In demanding miracles of us, they act dishonestly. For we are not forging some new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that Jesus Christ and His Disciples ever wrought serve to confirm.

Doubters, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists don’t need new signs, they need their eyes open to the signs that are.