Dying to Live – part 1

Different Crowd, Same Story

On the first day of Passover week, a large crowd of Jewish pilgrims welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and hailing Him as the Messianic King of Israel.  This crowd was massive, as there were likely more than 2 million people who had travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover.  This was far from the first time that Jesus drew a large crowd; crowds surrounded Him through much of His earthly ministry.  And Jesus’ relationship with the crowds was always a tenuous one.  Jesus did not trust the crowds, and it seems that whenever a large crowd surrounded them, Jesus would disperse them with hard sayings designed to separate the true believers from the false.

For instance, in John 2 when Jesus was in Jerusalem for an earlier Passover feast, John writes that “during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.  But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (2:23-25).  Many people believed as a result of the miracles Jesus performed, but Jesus did not entrust Himself to them because faith in signs and wonders is not true faith.

When Jesus was in Galilee in John 6, large crowds followed Him because they saw the signs He was performing in healing the sick (6:2).  After Jesus fed the massive crowd with five loaves and two fish, the people were so awestruck that they tried to make Jesus king (6:15).  But Jesus withdrew from them.  When the crowd followed Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus told them that they were only seeking Him because He gave them a free meal (6:26).  He then instructed them to believe on Him for eternal life (6:27-29).  Instead, the crowd clamored for another sign (6:30-31).  And so Jesus dispersed them, literally driving them away with hard sayings concerning Himself as the bread of life, and telling them that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood they had no life in themselves (6:35-58).  When they left, complaining about the difficult words He spoke (6:60), Jesus explained their rejection in terms of God’s sovereignty in divine election and effectual calling (6:44, 65, 70).

In John 8, when Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, Jesus once again attracted a large crowd of “believers” (8:30).  But Jesus knew their faith was not genuine, and so He once again dispersed them with difficult teaching, telling them they were not true children of Abraham, but instead were children of the devil, liars and murderers who did not belong to God (8:31-47).  Finally, when Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the incarnate Son of God who existed before Abraham, this crowd of “believers” picked up stones to kill Him.

Now in John 12, the very same scene plays itself out again.  Jerusalem was abuzz over whether Jesus would appear for the feast of Passover in spite of the Sanhedrin’s determination to seize Him and kill Him (11:55-57).  This buzz was only intensified by the news swirling around that just a few months prior, Jesus raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead.  And so, when Jesus approached on the road to Jerusalem, the crowd went out to meet Him, waving palm branches and hailing the King of Israel.  But this crowd was no different than the previous crowds; their faith in Jesus was no more genuine.  By and large, these were fake followers with a fake faith.

Once again, their “faith” was grounded in the signs which Jesus performed.  “So the people, who were with him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him.  For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign.  So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him’” (12:17-19).  And once again, Jesus gave hard truths, difficult words that were intended to separate the sheep from the goats, the true from the false, the followers from the fans.[1]  At the end of this episode, Jesus once again withdrew from the crowds because of their unbelief.  “These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them.  But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (12:36-37).

Which Are You – Fan or Follower?

Passages like these beg a question which ought to cause each and every one of us to pause in self-examination.  To which group do I belong?  Am I a fan of Jesus, or a follower of Christ?  Am I a part of that large crowd for whom Jesus is nothing more than a Sunday morning pastime – I show up and cheer on Jesus for awhile, all the time thinking that He must be very impressed with me, what with my “mostly” good life and my “mostly” perfect attendance at church?  Or am I a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ – I have staked all of my hope on His blood and righteousness alone, and my heart longs to spend the rest of my life denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Him?  Am I a fan of Jesus, or a follower of the Lord Christ?  Have I merely made a decision for Jesus, or am I among His true and genuine disciples?

It is not especially fun to preach messages like this, but it is necessary.  You need to know that Jesus says some very difficult things that ought to shake our complacent church culture to the core.  Things like: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).  Many are on the broad road to destruction, and only a few are on the narrow way to life.  That ought to shake us.  Or: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).  There are many who profess faith in Christ but do not truly possess faith in Christ as evidenced by their lawless lives of iniquity, and they will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  That ought to shake us.

And so should our passage today shake us, for it leaves us no room for the kind of complacent Christianity that is so pervasive in our culture, and has been so pervasive in our own church.  Jesus declares to us today, unless you die with Me, sacrifice with Me, suffer with Me, and follow Me, you will not be glorified with Me.  This is a line in the sand passage, and Jesus intended it to be.  And at the end of the day, very few were on His side of the line.  I wonder on which side of the line you fall today?

[1] This turn of phrase, which I employ throughout this sermon, comes from Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan (Grand Rapids: MI, 2011).

Posted in Faith, Sanctification | Leave a comment

The Bible and Slavery

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Slavery?

Last Sunday evening at FBC Buffalo, our study of 1 Timothy brought us to the beginning of chapter six, which reads, “All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.  Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.  Teach and preach these principles” (6:1-2).  The charge is often leveled that Christianity is pro-slavery, on the basis of this passage and other passages like it in the New Testament that command slaves to obey their earthly masters (Col. 3:22; Eph. 6:5-8; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 2:18).  The question is often asked – why does the New Testament not condemn slavery as a social and moral evil?  Why does Paul command slaves to render obedience to their earthly masters, and why does Peter command submission even to those who are harsh and unreasonable (1 Pet. 2:18-20)?  These are good questions.  Let me try to answer them briefly.

It is true that the Bible does not explicitly condemn all forms of slavery, and in fact provides regulations for how Christians should operate within the structures of slavery, whether Christians are the slaves or the masters.  But the Bible is steadfastly opposed to the kind of slavery found in colonial and early America, in which human beings were kidnapped and forced into slavery entirely on the basis of their race or ethnicity, and then were often horribly abused, neglected, and treated as subhuman property.  This kind of slavery the Bible abhors and treats as an abominable denial of the sanctity and dignity of human life.  So, in the interest of finding out exactly what the Bible teaches regarding slavery, let me give you a couple of basic thoughts.[1]

Old Testament Texts Cannot Be Used to Justify Slavery

Early American Christians often used Old Testament texts from the Mosaic Law to justify the African slave trade.  But they were wrong to interpret and apply these texts in the ways they did.  These texts cannot be used to justify the kind of slavery (or segregation) once found in America.  There were two instances in which the Old Testament permitted slavery.  First, the Mosaic Law permitted Israelites to capture (i.e. instead of kill) foreign slaves during holy war (Lev. 25:45-46).  However, what God permitted and commanded of Israel during holy war is not normative for other peoples in other places and in other times.  Israel was the unique instrument of God’s righteous judgment against these wicked and pagan nations (Gen. 15:14-16; Lev. 18:24-28).  Therefore, it was right for Israel to exterminate or enslave the Canaanites, as they were acting as God’s agents, operating under God’s explicit sanction.  The LORD God has the absolute sovereign right to give and to take life (i.e. the right of the Potter over the clay – Rom. 9:21), to enact laws over His creation and to execute judgment for the transgression of those laws.  But it is wrong for anyone else to exterminate or enslave foreign peoples, because we do not have God’s righteous sanction to do so.  That was a unique moment in redemptive history, under a unique covenant between God and His people Israel.

Secondly, the Mosaic Law permitted voluntary slavery in order to allow people to pay off their debts through service (Lev. 25:39-43).  But this was only allowed for up to six years, after which time every slave was to be released.  In either case, it should be obvious that American slavery is not justified by such Old Testament texts, because the African slaves were not captured in holy war, and their service was neither voluntary nor temporary.

It should also be noted that the Mosaic Law regulated slavery in Israel to prevent the very evils once found in American slavery.  Kidnapping slaves was a crime punishable by death (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7).  Negligent homicide was also punishable by death (Deut. 22:8).  This means that the entire African slave trade, which was built through the capture and kidnapping of African tribes, and included a horrendous and often deadly voyage to the Americas, would have been condemned by the Law of Moses.  And nowhere does the Old Testament law give slave owners the right over their slave’s bodies, to starve, rape, maim, or kill them without severe (capital) repercussions from the law.  On the contrary, the Old Testament commanded that justice and mercy be extended to the most helpless in society, including the “alien among you” (Lev. 19:34).

New Testament Texts Cannot Be Used to Justify Slavery

Furthermore, New Testament texts cannot be used to justify the kind of slavery found in America either.  This is because the kind of slavery often practiced in the Roman world bore little resemblance to the kind of slavery practiced for centuries in America.  For instance, in ancient Rome, slavery was rarely based upon race or ethnicity (except in the case of slaves captured in warfare).  Rather, slavery was often based upon economic necessity – people were enslaved as a way of paying their debts or the debts of their families.  Slavery was often voluntary – people sold themselves as slaves in order to learn a particular trade (like an apprenticeship, only more binding).  And the life of slaves in the Roman world was considerably better than the life of African slaves in America.  They often worked in highly-skilled positions, such as education or medicine or business, they enjoyed a higher social status, and since there were a variety of ways for slaves to earn their freedom, slavery was not necessarily permanent.  In many cases, I suppose, slavery in the Roman world was more akin to indentured servitude than what we could commonly call “slavery.”

In fact, the New Testament explicitly condemns three of the greatest evils associated with American slavery – kidnapping, abuse, and racism.

  • Kidnapping for the purpose of enslavement is condemned in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 – “The law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…”  The word the NASB translates as “kidnappers” (andrapodistes), the KJV renders as “menstealers,” and the ESV renders as “enslavers.”  Those who traffic in slaves are lawless, rebellious, ungodly, unholy, profane sinners.
  • Abuse of slaves is condemned in Ephesians 6:9 – “And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”  It should be obvious that sexual abuse is forbidden, but this verse also outlaws physical and verbal abuse as well.
  • Racism is condemned by such passages as Colossians 3:9-11 – “Do not lie to one another, since you have laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”  One could certainly argue from natural law that all men, regardless of race, are created in image of God and are therefore created equal (the Declaration of Independence so argues).  But this verse makes plain that there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for those born of the Spirit to regard one race as superior to another.  To harbor racism in your heart, and to justify it rather than to mortify it, is to deny the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And one more point… Just because the Bible instructs slaves to bear up under suffering from their masters does not mean that it is right for masters to cause suffering to their slaves.  And just because the Bible gives instruction to slaves and masters does not mean that it condones slavery, anymore than the Bible’s instructions regarding divorce means that the Bible condones divorce.  The Bible’s regulating the evils of a fallen, cursed, and sinful world does not mean that Bible condones everything that transpires in a fallen, sinful, and cursed world.  In short, you cannot, in good conscience, argue for the legitimacy of slavery using Scripture for proof texts.  The only slavery permitted by the Bible is that which is voluntary, peaceful, dignified, and respectful.  In short, what the New Testament calls “slavery,” we might be more apt to simply call “employment.”

[1] In the following material I have been helped tremendously by a terrific section in Philip Ryken’s commentary on 1 Timothy.  Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 237-240.

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The Land of the Free?

Last Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, the federal holiday set aside to honor the fallen Civil Rights leader, as well as the movement that he led.  The holiday serves as an annual reminder that the phrase “Land of the free and home of the brave” was a misnomer for much of American history.  Until recently, entire segments of human beings in this country were denied basic rights and were treated as sub-human.  For much of our existence, we denied the very foundation of the Declaration of Independence we hold dear, that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Rather than being true to that noble claim, we acted like the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, who proclaimed that “all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  Slavery, and then later Segregation and the Jim Crow laws, are a blight upon American history.  I think it is right and just and good that all Americans be reminded of our sordid past when it comes to racial issues, and that we celebrate the progress made toward racial harmony and racial equality, progress that has come at the expense of much blood, sweat, and tears.

Racism of any kind is philosophically indefensible and morally reprehensible.  That is why it is particularly perplexing how Christians would justify racism in their own hearts, minds, and actions, when they have been born again by the power of God and awakened to faith in the gospel of Christ, when they are being restored to the image of the God with whom there is no partiality (Rom. 2:11) and who is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).  Racism is sin.  Please don’t misunderstand… I can totally understand how genuine Christians struggle with racism.  We constantly struggle with our sinful flesh and battle against the strongholds of sin that remain even after regeneration and conversion. What I have trouble understanding is how Christians can justify racism as if it were not sin, even to the point of institutionalizing racism through legalized slavery and segregation.  And yet it happened… a lot… even among those who otherwise were utterly orthodox believers:[1]

  • Cotton Mather, a colonial Puritan of considerable influence, once wrote a document entitled “Rules for the Society of Negroes,” in which he argued that slaves who disobeyed their masters were to be beaten and barred from the church.
  • John Newton, the great evangelical pastor and hymn-writer of late 18th century England, was a slave ship captain for years after his conversion to Christ.  It is said that Newton celebrated communion on the main deck of his ship while human beings suffered in chains below deck.  It was only later that Newton repented of buying and selling human beings, and greatly encouraged William Wilberforce in the task of abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire.
  • Such theological luminaries as Jonathon Edwards and George Whitefield owned slaves; although to be fair, both strongly opposed cruelty to slaves.

In the words of the 19th century African-American abolitionist and Presbyterian minister Henry Highland Garnet, while slavery “stretched its dark wings of death over the land, the Church stood silently by – the priests prophesied falsely, and the people loved to have it so.”[2]  It makes one wonder what other evils pervade our land while the Church stands silently by, while the priests prophesy falsely and the people love to have it so…

[1] The following examples are cited in Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 235-236.

[2] Quoted in Ryken, 235-236.

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The Lion and the Lamb

A Strange Way to Conquer

One of my favorite scenes in the book of Revelation is found in chapter five, when John saw the vision of heaven and God seated upon the throne.  In His right hand was a scroll written on the front and the back and sealed seven times (5:1).  In the scroll are written the decrees of God concerning salvation, judgment, and the eternal reign of our Lord and of His Christ.  A strong angel then proclaimed with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” (5:2). But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy to break the seals and open the scroll (5:3).  And John began to weep, because no one was found worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll; no one was found worthy to execute God’s righteous decrees upon the earth.  None was worthy… save one.  “… and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5).

Any reader of the Old Testament knows exactly of whom the elder spoke.  The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” is a reference to Genesis 49:8-10, in which Jacob, upon his deathbed, prophesied that from the tribe of Judah would come a lion, a king who will rule over Israel, and indeed over all the nations of the earth.  The “Root of David” is a reference to Isaiah 11:1-10, which again speaks of a descendent of David who will reign in righteousness and peace over all the nations.  This is the Messianic King who is the hope of the entire Old Testament, the one who will bring salvation, righteousness, peace, joy, and life to His people.  Of course He is the one worthy to open the scroll and execute God’s righteous decrees!

But then John turned and looked, and what he saw is not what we expect at all.  “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” (5:6).  We expect to see a Lion; what we find is a Lamb.  We expect to see a conquering King; what we find is a bloody sacrifice.  And yet the elder said that the King has overcome; He has conquered, so as to be worthy to open the scroll.  And then it clicks…  How did the King conquer?  How did the Lion overcome?  He overcame by dying… and rising again (the Lamb slain, yet standing).  The King conquered by becoming a crucified and risen Savior.  And when the Lion/Lamb stepped forward to take the book out of the hand of Him who sat on the throne, all of heaven erupted in praise – “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (5:9-10).

This is the message of the gospel.  God became man; the King became the Suffering Servant; the Lion became the sacrificial Lamb.  In order to sit upon the throne of righteousness and glory, Jesus first hung upon the cross of sin and shame.  Why?  Because it was only by His blood that He could purchase men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  It was only by dying as our curse-bearing, sin-atoning, wrath-absorbing sacrificial Lamb that He could bring His people into His everlasting kingdom.  And that is why we worship Him.

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In Search of Genuine Love – Part 3

It Is an Affectionate Love

Fourth, it is an affectionate love.  Mary poured out this very costly perfume upon Jesus, and then wiped His feet with her hair.  Whatever else this act may signify, it at the least signifies the great affection which Mary felt for her Lord.  Hers was not a distant admiration for Jesus as a “good teacher” (cf. Mark 10:17).  It was an intense, emotional, affectionate love for her Savior.

Is your love for Jesus affectionate?  Does it stir your emotions?  I grant you that men and
jar 008women feel and display emotions in different ways.  I grant you that different people have different personalities and different degrees of emotional depth.  I am not saying that you need to get all weepy and sappy when you think or talk about Jesus.  In the Garden need not be your favorite hymn (because Jesus isn’t your boyfriend…).  What I am saying, however, is that your love for Christ needs to affect you on an emotional level.  Jesus is a real Person, who really died in your place upon a real cross, shedding real blood, absorbing real wrath which was really due for you.  That Jesus is a real Person means that you will relate to Him with real emotions.  Do you love Him?  Or is Jesus just an idea, a name spoken, fact learned, a prayer prayed, a ticket for heaven punched?

 It Is a Costly Love

Fifth, genuine love for Christ is a costly love.  The perfume which Mary poured over Jesus was very expensive, and there was a lot of it.  John writes that it was a “pound of very costly perfume of pure nard” (12:3).  Basically, this was a 12-ounce flask of perfumed oil imported from India, where the nard plant was grown.[1]  When Judas complains that it shouldn’t have been “wasted” upon Jesus, he says that it should have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor (12:5).  Unless Judas is exaggerating, the value of this perfume was roughly equivalent to a year’s wages (they did not work on Sabbaths or festival days).  Put into today’s terms, this would be about $25,000 (300 twelve hour days at minimum wage).  That is what Mary thought of Jesus’ worth, of His supreme value.  To Mary’s mind, of course the Lord of Glory is worth her pouring out a $25,000 flask of perfume in order that she may worship Him and anoint Him for the day of His burial.  She probably wished she had more to give.  But to Judas’ mind, this was an incredible waste, which is not surprising considering that in just a few days Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, or about $1,000.[2]  That’s what Judas thought of Jesus’ worth.  Judas’ objection was not borne of genuine concern for the poor, but of greed.  For Judas was a thief who used to pilfer from the money box (12:6).  If the perfume had been sold, he would have been able to steal a portion of it.

How much you think of Jesus’ worth will be evident in how much you are willing to give to worship Him.  Does your giving to the worship and work of Christ reflect that He is your supreme treasure?  Or does your stingy giving reflect a stingy heart that loves stuff and comfort and earthly treasures far more than it loves Jesus?  Do you always give to Christ only what is left over after your wants and desires are all fulfilled, or do you say with King David, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing” (2 Kings 24:24).  Lavish love manifests itself in lavish gifts to the object of our love.  So whether we’re talking about money, or time, or service, what does your giving say about the genuineness of your love?

 It Is Our Primary Love

Finally, genuine love for Christ is a primary love.  That is, our love for Christ takes precedence over all other loves.  Look at Jesus’ words in verses 7-8 – “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.  For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”  Jesus was not going to be with His disciples in the flesh much longer.  Therefore, instead of spending this money to relieve the suffering of the poor, it is appropriate and right that Mary should spend it all, every last drop, to worship Him.

By the way, only a fool would say that this verse gives us warrant to ignore the poor.  The Bible makes abundantly clear that we should give, generously and sacrificially, to relieve the suffering of the poor.  In fact, Jesus says that one of the ways we love Him is by caring for the poor (Matt. 25:31-46).  Jesus’ point is that He is to be our supreme treasure.  And while they have the opportunity to spend time worshiping and loving Him in the flesh, the poor can wait.  Jesus is first… always.  We are to love Him more than we love our families (Matt. 10:37), more than we love our own lives (John 12:25).  Love for Jesus must be our primary love.

Go To the Fountain

Every person falls into one of two camps.  On the one hand are those who do not love Jesus at all, or maybe their “love” for Christ is fake, fraudulent, and disingenuous.  And on the other hand are those of us who do not love Jesus as much as we should, as much as we would like to if only we were free from this body of sin and death that divides our affections and leaves us “prone to wander. . . prone to leave the God I love.”  Nobody loves Jesus perfectly… not yet.

So to both groups, the remedy is the same.  Go to the fountain and drink deeply of the gospel of Christ, wherein His love for you is manifested so clearly in His death upon the cross.  Drink of this gospel, and continue to drink, until you find love for Christ consuming your heart and mind.  “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).  May we love and live for Him who died and rose again on our behalf.

[1] Carson, 428.

[2] Figures taken from John Piper, “Leave Her Alone, Judas, This Is For My Burial,” www.desiringgod.org.


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In Search of Genuine Love – Part 2

It Is a Grateful Love

Secondly, genuine love of Christ is a grateful love.  This act of love demonstrated by Mary was an act of gratitude to Jesus for the great things He had done for her.  This may have included the great thing Jesus was about to do for her, and for all His people, at the cross (assuming Mary was aware that she was anointing Him for the day of His burial), but it was definitely an expression of gratitude for the wondrous love Jesus had shown her family by raising her brother Lazarus from the dead.  Just a few months prior, Mary was in utter despair, having lost her brother suddenly and tragically to disease and death.  Now, there was her brother, alive and well, eating and reclining at the table with the Master who had raised him.  When Mary considered the great things Jesus had done (and would do) for her, she was moved with love for Jesus, and demonstrated her love by lavishing upon Him this extravagant act of worship.jar 008

Is your love for Jesus a grateful love?  Do you know what great things has He done for you?  We could begin with our lives, families, jobs, homes, and all of the other things we so often take for granted.  These things don’t just happen.  They are gifts to us from God, for “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  But more specifically, did you know that you should rejoice over a resurrection the same way Mary rejoiced in the resurrection of her brother?  For you were dead in trespasses and sins, and God made you alive together with Christ and raised you up with Him (Eph. 2:5-6).  Out of His sheer mercy and sovereign grace, God gave you new birth, a spiritual resurrection, opening your blind eyes and enlightening your darkened mind to see and to understand the glory of the gospel.  Had God not awakened you out of your spiritual death, you would have never seen, you would have never believed, and you would have never been saved.  You were a wondering sheep, lost and hopeless, and Jesus sought you, found you, called you by name, and saved you.  That’s why I love Jesus.  When I was dead, He made me alive.

 It Is a Public Love

Thirdly, genuine love for Christ is a public love.  It is a love that is unashamed to claim Him as my Savior, my Lord, my Redeemer, and my King.  Mary’s love for Jesus was a public, unashamed love.  Not only did Mary perform this act of worship openly and publicly, in the presence of Jesus’ disciples and friends, but there was a tremendous risk involved in even being associated with Jesus at this point.  “Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he was to report it, so that they might seize Him” (11:57).  And it wasn’t just Jesus who was in danger, for we read in verses 9-11 that they had put the hit out on Lazarus as well, because his resurrection and testimony was causing many Jews to believe on Christ.  And evidently the disciples felt the danger and sensed the risk of being associated with Jesus, for at the end of the week they all fell away for fear of the Jews.  And yet Mary publically received Jesus into the home and anointed Him for His burial.

Genuine love for Christ is never a private love.  Youdo not love Jesus unless you are unashamed to call Him Lord and Savior, Redeemer and King.  You do not love Jesus unless you are willing to acknowledge Him before men, and the initial way we acknowledge our allegiance to Christ, and love for Christ, is through baptism.  It is faith alone that saves, but faith without baptism is dead, which is why Jesus told His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:15-16).  A faith that is unwilling to confess Christ in baptism is not true faith, like a man who professes to love his wife yet refuses to wear the wedding ring she gave him.

But baptism is not the only way we profess our love for Christ.  We acknowledge our love for Jesus when we attend public worship on the Lord’s Day.  Not coming to the Lord’s house, not singing the Lord’s praise, not hearing the Lord’s word, not fellowshipping with the Lord’s people, indicates that you do not actually love the Lord Jesus and are not actually saved.

Genuine love for Christ is a public and unashamed love.  A person who loves Jesus will bear shame, scorn, ridicule, persecution, suffering, and even death for the name of Christ.  Do you love Jesus with a public and unashamed love?  Have you professed your love for Christ in baptism?  Do you profess your love for Christ by making Lord’s Day worship a priority in your life?  Do you openly acknowledge Jesus before your friends, your family, and the world?

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In Search of Genuine Love – Part 1

(John 12:1-11)

The Beginning of a Long WeekImage

When we open up the text of John 12, we find ourselves at the beginning of the most important week in human history.  After the raising of Lazarus, the chief priests and Pharisees decided that Jesus needed to die in order to quench the messianic fever that was gripping the nation.  But Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb, and Passover lambs were not slaughtered until the eve of Passover (the Day of Preparation), and so Jesus temporarily escaped the fires of their murderous hatred and camped in the region of Ephraim near the wilderness, until the appointed time of His sacrifice.  But when the time of the Passover neared, Jesus arose and began the march to Jerusalem.

Before Jesus entered Jerusalem, however, He stopped for the night in Bethany, where He shared a meal with His disciples and His friends.  The events of this meal are recorded for us elsewhere in Matthew 26 and Mark 14, and from those accounts we learn that the meal was held in the home of Simon the leper, whom Jesus had evidently healed of His leprosy.  Also present were Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead just a few months prior, and Martha and Mary.  John tells us in verse one that it was six days before the Passover, which means (if I’m counting correctly according to the way the Jews marked days as beginning at sunset) that it is Saturday evening.  The next day is Palm Sunday, when Jesus will make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise.

A Picture of Love

But it is what transpired that night in the house of Simon of Bethany that draws our attention.  For in the middle of dinner, or perhaps immediately following, Mary “took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (12:3).  Although John does not record these words, Matthew and Mark write that Jesus responded to this astonishing act of devotion by saying, “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9).  What a commendation, what an honor…  And those words proved true, for Matthew, Mark, and John recorded this event in their Gospels, and here we are, 2,000 years later and on the other side of the globe, hearing of it as well.  Why?  What was it about this act that so impressed Jesus that He would memorialize it forever in His Scripture, even connecting it to the very proclamation of the gospel itself?

     I think the answer is that it displays what genuine love for Christ looks like.  It provides us with a picture of real, heartfelt affection for the Lord Jesus.  It shows us how a person relates to Jesus once he or she has been awakened by grace to behold the supreme glory and value of Christ.  I think this is an extremely important point, especially in today’s church, because I am convinced that many people who call themselves Christians are not actually Christians at all because they do not actually love Christ.  They have their name on a church membership roll; they have their name on a baptism certificate; they may have “walked the aisle” or “asked Jesus into their hearts,” but their hearts remain cold and dead.

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.”  Whoever does not love the Lord Jesus is to be accursed, which means eternally damned.  So this is not an irrelevant question for anybody.  On the contrary, this is a topic of eternal relevance.  Those who love Jesus will spend eternity enjoying the blessings of God’s grace, and those who do not love Jesus will spend eternity enduring the curse of God’s wrath.  So, do you love Jesus?  How do you know?  Let’s look at six characteristics of Mary’s love.

It Is a Gospel Love

I want you first to notice that genuine love for Jesus is first and foremost a gospel love. That is, genuine love for Jesus Christ is born of the gospel, is anchored in the gospel, and is continually fueled by the gospel.  I love Jesus because of the cross.  The death of Christ on my behalf is the supreme demonstration of God’s love for me (Rom. 5:8).  And my love for Christ is caused by His love for me.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  How did God love me?  By sending His Son to die as the propitiation (sacrifice of atonement) for my sins. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Had God not loved me by providing atonement for my sins, I would never have loved Him.  I would never have known Him as Savior and Redeemer, but only as Judge and Executioner.  Genuine love for Jesus is first and foremost a gospel love, a cross-centered love.  I love Jesus because He suffered, bled, and died in my place.  I love Jesus because He is my sin-atoning, justice-satisfying, curse-bearing, wrath-absorbing Savior.

Mary’s love for Jesus was a gospel love.  That is, it was a love vitally connected to the atoning death of Christ.  Look down at verse 7 – “Therefore Jesus said, ‘Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.”   Jesus connected Mary’s act of lavish devotion to His own death and burial.  Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone, because she is anointing Him in preparation for His burial.  Does this mean that Mary knew Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the purpose of dying?  Does this mean that Mary knew the significance of Christ’s death as the Passover Lamb who would take away her sins?  Did Mary know she was anointing Jesus for His burial?  Perhaps.  Jesus had not kept secret what lay in store for Him when He arrived in Jerusalem.  Just a few days prior, maybe even earlier that same day, Jesus had told His disciples as they walked on the road going up to Jerusalem, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles.  They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).  Anyone with ears to hear would have known exactly what was going to happen once they arrived in Jerusalem.

But did Mary understand the significance of His death?  Once again, Jesus did not keep this a secret.  A little further along the road, Jesus had told His disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Jesus told them, “I am going to give My life in order to redeem yours.”  But the disciples did not seem to grasp this, or else I would think their discussions with Jesus would have taken on a different form in the Upper Room (John 13-14).  They certainly did not understand His promise of resurrection, or else they would not have been so despondent when Jesus died, nor so surprised when He was raised.  But perhaps Mary, the one who loved Jesus and sat at His feet, basking in His words of life… perhaps she understood, and decided to prepare Jesus for the week ahead by preemptively anointing Him for His burial.[1]

But on the other hand, perhaps Mary did not know, and was simply displaying her love and affection for Jesus by lavishing upon Him a costly gift.  Perhaps she was like Caiaphas, doing and saying more than she knew.[2]  I like to think she knew what she was doing, but in the end it doesn’t really matter.  Because by week’s end, she knew exactly what Jesus had meant; and from that day forward, she and everyone else to whom the gospel has been preached know that she was anointing Jesus for the day of His burial.

Is your love for Jesus a gospel love?  If your love for Christ does not flow out from the gospel and is not fueled by the gospel, then it cannot be genuine love.  Martin Luther knew this.  He knew that the Bible commanded him to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).  But as he searched his heart, he found that He could not love God.  “Love God?  Sometimes I hate Him!”  And why did Luther hate God?  Why could he not love Him?  “Sometimes Christ seems to me nothing more than an angry judge who comes to me with a sword in His hand.”[3]  He hated God because God commanded Him to do what he knew was impossible for him to do – namely, to keep God’s law in perfect righteousness.  And then, Christ would judge him on the last day and sentence him to hell for not keeping the law.  Martin Luther was not like so many people today who do not believe God when He declares that He requires perfect obedience and promises judgment and death for all disobedience.  They think that God will grade us on a curve.  Luther was far too smart for that.  He knew that God is supremely holy and would never compromise His justice at the expense of His mercy.

It was not until God awakened Luther and opened his eyes to the glory of the gospel that he understood how a holy God expresses holy love.  Let me read you what Luther later wrote:

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust.  My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.  Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him.  Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith.’  Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith.  Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.  The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.  This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven. . . .”[4]

There can be no genuine love apart from the cross, for it was at the cross that the curse of the law was removed and God’s fierce and righteous wrath was absorbed.  And it is only when I know myself to be free from the curse and wrath of God that I am free to love Him as a Father rather than fear Him as a Judge.  Genuine love is first and foremost a gospel love.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 917.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1991), 430.

[3] Quoted in R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), 91.

[4] Quoted in Sproul, 114-115.

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