Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Obadiah 1 – A Message of Hope

The Book of Obadiah, with its one chapter, is the shortest book in the Old Testament. I have never heard a sermon from this book. Nevertheless it is a chapter with many important lessons for us today.

No-one knows anything about the prophet Obadiah apart from the fact that he was given this prophecy by God. This in itself is a reminder that many of God’s servants, perhaps the vast majority, remain unknown, at least to subsequent generations. How many preachers from my hometown in the past, for example, could I list, never mind say anything else about them?

The theme of Obadiah’s prophecy is twofold: first, the enemies of God’s people, represented by Edom, will eventually perish no matter how secure they may seem at the moment; second, God’s people will eventually prosper no matter how irrelevant and weak they may seem at the moment.

The people of Edom were the descendants of Esau, who was the nephew of Abraham and the brother of Jacob. One would expect them therefore to have some affinity with a people group with which they had connections and with whom they shared a common border. Yet throughout their history they had shown no concern for or interest in Israel. Edom assumed, wrongly, that their geographical location would provide permanent security (v. 3), that their wise men, for which they were famous, would provide enduring leadership (v. 8), and that their soldiers would always protect them (v. 9). It is not difficult to find similar outlooks today.

Obadiah refers to an occasion when Jerusalem had been ransacked and Edom had rejoiced over the tragic events that followed, pillaging property and murdering those who tried to escape (vv. 10-14). Yet Edom, along with other nations, would yet be conquered; indeed there would be no survivors to live in their ‘secure’ land. This prophecy was fulfilled when Edom was conquered by Babylon and disappeared from history. Of course, far greater nations than Edom have also disappeared and I suspect that the Great Day will reveal than one major reason for their disappearance was their opposition to God’s kingdom.

In contrast with Edom, a small remnant would remain in Judah (v. 17). Eventually the geographical territory of Israel would be recovered, and their restoration would also include taking over territory once ruled by their enemies, including Edom (vv. 19-21). This is a picture of how God’s kingdom makes progress, eventually becoming strong in places where once it was opposed very strongly. We see this happening as the gospel grows throughout the world.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Jesus gives peace (John 16:32-33)


Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:32-33).

As Jesus was walking along the road with his disciples, he was conscious of the heavenly Father’s presence. The prayer that follows in John 17 shows us how strong that consciousness was. Shortly afterwards, he would be in deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading that the Father would remove the cup of woe from him. The next day, after enduring unimaginable cruelty, he would be forced to carry his cross to Calvary. Even there, to begin with, he was aware of the Father’s presence as is evidenced by his prayer to the Father to forgive the soldiers. The kind presence of the Father gave great comfort to Christ as he drew near the great darkness.

But when the Father’s presence changed from acts of kindness to inflicting wrath, Jesus lost this sense of comfort. Yet although Jesus went through this difficult experience, it did not prevent him from overcoming the world. His sufferings were the part to victory. Nor did it prevent him wanting peace for his disciples.

Jesus mentioned the Father’s love to them and his own mission on their behalf because he knew that they were going to experience great trials, both immediately and also in the future. When these troubles came, they would need a sense of divine peace in order to persevere. This peace would be theirs as they thought of the words that Jesus had said. In his teaching on this occasion he had told them about the activities of the Father and of the Spirit, as well as his own. Recollection of these descriptions would bring them peace.  The content of this peace included knowing that the Father would love them and that Jesus had triumphed in the mission that he had been given. This is what gives courage and confidence to the disciples of Jesus. 

We, too, will face trials of different kinds from the world. When that happens, we will find peace if we take seriously the words of Christ about all that the Trinity has done, is doing, and will do. The Father loves us, sanctifies us in order to produce fruit, and is going to share his home with us. The Spirit will be in us, instructing and guiding us, comforting and counselling us. The Saviour will be teaching us and preparing for us a home in heaven. These are some of the benefits that give peace to believers.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The shallow response of the disciples (John 16:29-32)


His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me (John 16:29-32).


It is clear that their response is shallow because of the way Jesus questioned it. Here we have a reminder that fine words do not always mean that the speaker is describing what he really senses. Sometimes we give answers that we think the speaker wants us to give and in so doing we attempt to cover up our ignorance or lack of experience. But the disciples could not deal with Jesus in this way. It would have been better for them to have admitted their inability to understand.

Jesus reminds them that very soon they are going to experience a difficult trial, and the trial will reveal the shallowness of their faith. This is what inevitably happens, as Jesus indicates in his parable of the sower. The proof of satisfactory faith as opposed to shallow faith is that it will remain loyal to Jesus when the difficult times come.

Yet there is also a measure of comfort here because it was true disciples who had shallow faith at this time. We know that they did not remain in such a spiritual condition, but eventually developed into possessing a satisfactory faith. And the same gracious Saviour who developed it in them will also develop it in us, that he will ensure that our faith becomes more honest and realistic.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The amazing journey of the Son (John 16:28)


I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father (John 16:28).

Jesus here reminds his disciples of his great mission, of the stupendous undertaking that he agreed to fulfil. He voluntarily came forth from the Father into the world. This short phrase contains fullness of meaning. 

It describes a journey of descent through his incarnation, his humiliation, when he became a human. It contrasts his eternal abode he had enjoyed with the temporary residence he experienced on earth. The humiliation was not only connected to another location, but it also included living in a sinful world. 

It describes a journey of danger as he came into the world to rescue those whom the triune God loved from eternity and upon whom they wanted to bestow great blessings. From his birth onwards, he was the object of attack by demonic powers. The most dangerous part of the journey was jet to happen, when he would suffer on the cross at the hand of his Father when he paid the penalty for sin. 

It was a journey of delights as he met and interacted with some of the people he had come to save. We often think of the joy that Andrew, Peter and the other disciples had when they met Jesus and received forgiveness for their sins. But we should also think of the joy of Christ as he met them and brought them into his kingdom. We get insights into his joy when we read John 4 and reflect on his discussion with the woman of Samaria.

It also describes a journey with a destiny because he was now about to  leave the world and go to the Father. He had almost finished the work the Father had given him to do and he was anticipating the great reward that lay ahead of him in the Father’s presence when he returned to the Father’s house.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The amazing love of the Father (John 16:27)


 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;  for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God (John 16:26-27).

Jesus reminds the disciples that the heavenly Father loves them. Usually we think of the Father’s love as preceding our love for him. I suppose we would have expected Jesus to refer to the Father’s eternal love for his people. That knowledge is a source of great comfort for believers; it gives them joy to think about his electing grace, so undeserved. 

Yet Jesus does not refer to that aspect of the Father’s love. Instead he says that the reason for the Father’s love to them is that they love Jesus and believe that he is divine. The Father loves for them is not only a preceding love, it is also a responsive love because Jesus makes clear that the Father loves his disciples for their reaction to Christ and their estimation of Christ.

This description of the disciples by Jesus is a very gracious one. He knew the state of their hearts at that time, how they were unaware of his imminent sufferings and in a sense uninterested in them because they did not believe they were going to happen. Yet Jesus sees beyond the surface of their souls and his eye penetrates deeper into their attitudes. He gladly sees that they truly love him and truly believe that he is a Divine Person (he was not only sent by God, but he came out from God). And the Father delighted to see those features as well.

These words of Jesus remind us that a true believer will have a deep love for Jesus even although he or she may be undergoing a time of spiritual darkness. That darkness will not destroy either their love or their previous understanding that they had received from God. Peter, on a previous occasion, had stated that he believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and he knew this because God had revealed it to him: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 16:17). 

These words are also a great encouragement to us. We think our love is weak and our understanding is small. But love to Jesus is a sign of life and awareness of who Jesus is is evidence that we have been taught from above. If we love Christ and confess him as the Son of God, the Holy Spirit has been working in our hearts. And the presence of these spiritual attitudes give pleasure to our Father and he loves us in response.

This experience of divine love is not retained within the Godhead, as it were. It is also conveyed into our souls by the Spirit. Sometimes, when we are perplexed and troubled, we sense this great reality, that the heavenly Father loves us. It is a precious experience.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Jesus, the heavenly teacher (John 16:25)


I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father (John 16:25)

Throughout this section of John 13–16, there has been a strong emphasis on the activities of the heavenly Father. The Saviour, as he comes to the end of his teaching, returns to this dominant theme and highlights several aspects of it for the benefit of his disciples.

First, he says that in while (after his resurrection and ascension), he will tell them plainly about the Father (v. 25). Up until now, he has had to teach them in figures of speech or parables because they could not appreciate what the situation would be like after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended back to heaven. Their inability was in a sense understandable, so Jesus assures them that he would still remain their teacher when these changes occurred. 

When that happened, his teaching would be plain. We are not to think that Jesus is saying that the content of his teaching, while on earth, was more difficult than what he would teach later. There are two reasons why it would be plain. 

Firstly, during his earthly ministry Jesus often taught in enigmatic ways, such as using parables. The reason for this method was not that his parables are simple illustrations of his difficult statements. He told his disciples that parables were a means of preventing those who rejected him from seeing the truth (Mark 4:33-34); they also encouraged his disciples to ask him for clarification. Often Jesus had taught in a way in which his meaning was not obvious. He would not teach them in this manner when he returned to heaven. 

This leads on to the second reason why his teaching would be plain – the coming of the Spirit would enable his disciples to understand what Jesus had previously taught them and what he would continue to teach them as he gave them new understanding of God’s purposes.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Prayer and joy (John 16:23-24)


In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:23-24).

Jesus gives to his disciples one example of a source of joy: prayer (vv. 23-24). It is important to note that there are two different words translated ‘ask’ in verse 23. Although they can be used interchangeably, when appearing together it is likely that the first is used in the sense of asking information. Jesus is saying that when the ‘little while’ has ended, they will not be able to ask him for clarification or for more details.

At first glance, this would seem a reason for sadness, not joy. But Jesus also said that when the ‘little while’ was over they would be able to pray to the Father ‘in his name’. To pray in his name does not mean that we append the phrase to our prayers in an unthinking manner. Rather it means that we pray to the Father conscious of the place that has been given to Jesus. We can imagine a rich man telling a pauper to go to the bank and ask for money in the wealthy man’s name. Jesus tells his disciples to pray as paupers coming in the most wealthy name of all.

The common way by which the place given to Jesus has been recognised is through his offices of prophet, priest and king. We can come personally and ask the Father that Jesus would teach us spiritual truths as a prophet, bless us with peace and comfort as a priest, and rule over and defend us as a king.

We can also pray in this manner in an ecclesiastical sense. When we know of a church that needs teaching, the answer is to ask the Father that Jesus will instruct the disciples; when we discover a church that needs peace and comfort, we should ask the Father that Jesus will give these blessings to it; when we become aware of a church that needs protection, we should ask the Father that Jesus would protect it and deliver it.

We can also pray in this way in an evangelistic sense. We can ask the Father that Jesus would teach sinners, that he would reveal to them the blessings of reconciliation and forgiveness, and that he would become Lord of their lives.

We can also pray in this way in a national sense. Our nation needs to be re-educated by Jesus, to receive the blessings of salvation from Jesus, and to know the protection that only Jesus can give.

Praying in this way is a source of joy because it is in line with the Spirit. When we pray in a manner that honours Jesus, the Father will give large answers to our prayers and we will know great joy at his goodness.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Permanent joy (John 16:22)


but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:22).

At the end of verse 22 Jesus informs his disciples that no one will be able to take their joy away after his resurrection. This is perhaps a surprising statement given that the Saviour has just referred to persecution. His promise here is a reminder that Christian joy is not dependant on circumstances and cannot be destroyed by circumstances. Paul in Corinthians 6:8 says that although he had many reasons for sadness he was nevertheless always rejoicing. Indeed he also states that joy is a basic feature of life in the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’). 

Yet if this is the case, why are Christians not always joyful? There are many types of difficult situations in which Christian joy can be expressed.  There can be joy despite intense persecution (1 Peter 1:6: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials’).  There can be joy in situations of difficult problems (Colossians 1:11: ‘May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy’). There will be joy when the gospel progresses, when people are converted and experience the forgiveness of their sins. If joy can be known in all these diverse situations, why are Christians not always joyful?

One reason is the toleration of sin. When a believer allows sin in his life, he grieves the Spirit, with the result that the fruit of the Spirit, which includes joy, does not develop. It is impossible for a Christian simultaneously to allow sin and know spiritual joy.

Another barrier to joy that some Christians experience is a sense of oppression that arises from recognising that their inward sin is still strong. It is appropriate to realise that sin is there – Romans 7 makes that clear. Yet the believer has to recognise that this awareness can be accompanied by joy. He should remind himself that it is evidence of a changed heart, that he is being sanctified. Hatred of sin is a source of spiritual joy.

The permanence of joy in a believer’s life is the result of the work of the Spirit. When a Christian depends on Jesus and endeavours to be satisfied with him, then the Spirit conveys to his heart joy that comes from the fullness of joy that exists in Jesus. There are no external or internal factors that can in themselves prevent that joy coming to any of Christ’s people.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Joy from the presence of Christ (John 16:22)

but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:22).

Jesus gives three details about the joy they would have when they would see him again. He says that their joy will be connected to his presence, that it will be permanent, and that it will be maintained and enhanced by prayer in his name to the Father. We will think about his presence in this reading.

So their joy will be connected to the company of Christ. In their case, it would be due to the appearance of the risen Jesus, although Jesus does not mean that their joy was dependant on him always being there. He merely states that his re-appearance would be the beginning of their renewed experience of joy. And it would be connected to their new-found ability to understand what had happened (Jesus’ words, ‘In that day you shall ask me nothing,’ suggests they would cease asking for explanations). What would they understand?

First, they would understand that the cross was not a disaster. It would become clear to them that Jesus had died as their substitute, that he had taken their place of the cross. They would realise that he had dealt with the problem of their sins, that through his work of atonement they could have their sins forgiven. This is a reason for great joy, to know that through the cross-work of Jesus we can be pardoned all our sins.

Second, on that day of reunion on the resurrection day they would realise that Jesus was the conqueror of death. They had lived in a world that was permeated with death, now they were going to live in a world that was permeated with the power of the risen life of Christ. Instead of death being a petrifying despot that conquered all in its way, Jesus had destroyed it in the sense that it was no able to overcome him.

Third, their joy would have been increased as they experienced the graciousness of Jesus on the day he arose from the dead. As they heard his compassionate and gentle greeting of peace as he entered their presence (John 20:19), they would have realised that he did not hold their failures against them.

Fourth, their joy would have come from knowing that the risen Christ, although absent from them once he had ascended to heaven, would continue to be active. His activities – sending the Spirit at Pentecost, representing them in heaven, preparing a place for them in heaven, returning in the future and raising them from the dead – will each bring joy to them as they meditate on them.

These four reasons are not limited to the original group of disciples. They should be ours as well.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Sadness before the joy (John 16:16-22)


“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’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 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. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you (John 16:16-22).

Sometimes we can be puzzled by what the Bible says. Here the disciples are confused by the words of Jesus in verse 16: ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ His words seem to be contradictory. In a little while they are to see him and not see him. We can see what he meant because we know what happened to Jesus and the disciples. In a little while they were to be separated after Jesus was arrested; then three days later, after the second ‘little while’, they would be reunited after the resurrection of Jesus. 

Their experience is often duplicated in our lives. We can struggle to understand some teachings in the Bible or we can go through hard times that seem too much for us to bear. On such occasions we wonder what God is saying or doing.

In this case, their dilemma is resolved by Jesus giving to them further instruction. We might say that it will not be so easy for us because we do not have Jesus present with us physically. Yet we do have Christ’s teachings recorded in the New Testament and we have the Holy Spirit to teach us.

Jesus explains to his disciples that they are about to experience great sorrow. At the same time as they are sorrowing, the world is going to be rejoicing. The period of great sorrow would be the three days when Jesus was dead. During that time, there would be a celebration taking place among the Jewish leaders because they will think that they have destroyed Jesus. It is hard for Christians to appreciate the degree with which these people hated the Saviour. But their celebration would cease when the soldiers who guarded the tomb arrived with the news that the tomb was empty. Instead of rejoicing, there was regret. It was so different with the disciples. During the three days when Jesus was dead, they would be very sad, but on the resurrection day they would be very glad (John 20:20).

The illustration of the pain of an expectant mother would have told the disciples that the sorrow they were about to experience would have a happy conclusion. Yet it teaches more than that. Jesus does not say to the disciples that their sorrow would be replaced by joy, instead he says that it will be turned into joy. The cause of their sorrow, just as with the sorrow of the mother, will become the cause of their joy. What happened to Jesus when he was arrested made them sad; in the days ahead, once they had been reunited with him, what happened to Jesus would become the source of their joy. 

Monday, 18 February 2013

The goal of the Spirit (John 16:12-15)


I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12-15).

In verse 14, Jesus states what will be the goal of the Spirit. It is to bring glory to Jesus. He will achieve this by revealing to the disciples things that belong to Jesus Christ. In a sense, this is the range of the ‘all truth’ that the Spirit is to reveal. He is going to inform the disciples concerning the future activities of Jesus Christ. The ‘things that are to come’ refer to what would happen to Jesus – his cross, his resurrection, his exaltation, his return.

Obviously when Jesus spoke these words, all these events were still future. Yet as we think of these events, some have taken place, others are taking place, and some have yet to take place. I want to follow that threefold division as we think of some of these glories that belong to Jesus.

The glories of the past
First, the Spirit gave to the disciples an understanding of what took place on the cross which they did not have when Jesus died on the cross. Through the illumination of the Spirit they realised that the work of Jesus was a redemption in which he purchased them from slavery to sin. They also realised that his death was an atonement when he paid the penalty due by them for their sins. Further they understood that the cross was a battlefield on which Jesus defeated the powers of darkness. As they think about the significance of the cross, they are filled with wonder and joy, and have a desire to serve such a Saviour.

They are also instructed by the Holy Spirit concerning the significance of the exaltation of Jesus. It began with his resurrection and it was followed by his ascension to heaven. Although unseen to human eyes, they realise that the ascended Jesus was welcomed by the Father and invited to sit on the divine throne. This was Christ’s reward and as the disciples think about it, they are filled with wonder and joy and desire to serve such a King.

The glories of the present
There are many features of Christ’s work in the present about which the Spirit will teach disciples. But I will mention two. First, Jesus is the representative of his people in heaven. This representation ensures that they will receive what God has unconditionally promised to them. Linked to his representation is the intercession of Jesus whereby his presence in heaven ensures that they will receive the precise spiritual input that they need at any given moment. Thinking of these aspects of Christ’s representation should fill them with wonder and joy and give them a desire to serve such a Saviour.

Another activity of Christ’s about which the Spirit instructs the church is the Jesus’ ongoing pursuit of converts from all the nations. From every people on earth he is drawing sinners to himself. Because he possesses all power, he is able to use every event to cause people to trust in him for mercy. This divinely-given awareness of what Jesus is doing in order to receive glory should fill his disciples with wonder and joy and give them a desire to serve such a Saviour.

Glories in the future
As with the past and the present, there are many events still to come in which Jesus will be glorified. There is the conversion of the Jews, there is the resurrection from the dead, there is the Day of Judgement, and there is the formation of the new heavens and new earth.

This is one way by which the Spirit functions as a Comforter. Through his truthful word he reveals to our souls the glories that belong to Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us search the scriptures so that we can know as much about them as possible.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The guidance of the Spirit (John 16:12-15)


I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12-15).

In verse 12, Jesus points out that there were many teachings that the disciples needed to hear, but they could not appreciate them at that time. Yet they were not to despair because the promised Spirit would soon be with them. He would be with them as the Spirit of truth, so they need not worry that somehow his presence would be less effective.

Jesus points out that the Holy Spirit will function as a guide. This means he will lead these disciples into new territory. This territory is described as ‘all truth’. Jesus does not mean that they are going to discover all geographic truth or all historical details. The range of truth is limited to his teachings. Although he was going away, he was not going to cease to be the teacher of his people. He would continue to teach them by the Holy Spirit.

The disciples needed such a guide. In the territory of ‘all truth’ they were to come across great mountains, deep valleys, wide plains and broad seas of doctrines and experiences that they would have to explain to other believers. When we think of these disciples, we must remember that they were both like us and yet different from us. They are different in the fact that they were the apostles.

As Jesus speaks to them here, he is describing a twofold activity of the Spirit. As disciples, they needed illumination by the Spirit just as we do; as apostles, they would receive inspiration from the Spirit to record infallibly the ‘all truth’ that the Spirit would teach them. This truth would be doctrines that the church should believe and practices that she should obey. Jesus is therefore revealing to these men that they would responsible for the completion of the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit would guide them and the other writers of the New Testament as they composed the various books that would be written.

Jesus then tells the disciples what will be the origin of this new revelation. He says that the Holy Spirit will not speak independently of the other members of the Trinity: ‘he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.’ This is an illustration of what each person of the Trinity speaks to the others. Within the communion of the Trinity, which is far beyond the ability of human minds to probe, there is an ongoing discussion of their eternal purpose. This is what fills their infinite minds with satisfaction and their infinite hearts with joy; every action of each person of the Trinity within the history of the universe is according to this eternal purpose.

Obviously when Jesus spoke these words, many of the future details of that purpose had not been revealed. This is why he says to the disciples that the Holy Spirit will reveal to them the things that are to come. The Holy Spirit will give them understanding concerning the future.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The presence of the Spirit and our witness (John 16:8-11)


And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:8-11).

As Christ’s disciples, we will function as witnesses, speaking about Jesus to others on suitable occasions. How does this practice relate to the work of the Spirit? Here are four suggestions.

Firstly, the Holy Spirit convinces effectively. He has never lost a case yet concerning a person he was determined to save. Further he will be so effective that at the end of the day he will have convinced millions and millions of sinners. We have no reason to despair at the success of the gospel.

Secondly, our confidence should be in the Holy Spirit. People are not converted because a witness is intelligent or persuasive, although it is important that the disciple tells the truth about Jesus. Our confidence is to be in the unseen Witness and not in the visible witness.

Thirdly, we should pray earnestly that the Holy Spirit would bless our witness. Jesus promises that the Spirit will be given to those that ask for him (Luke 11:13). In connection to this, we should ensure that we are not doing anything that grieves the Spirit and causes him not to work through us.

Fourthly, how do we know that the Spirit is working? We know he is working not because we see peculiar experiences but because we see folk drawn to Calvary, who desire the righteousness of Jesus, and who long to be forgiven their sins. These desires never arose in a heart in which the Spirit is not working.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11)

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:8-11).

The Spirit will convince of sin, righteousness and judgement. What does that mean?

Sin
So the Spirit will convince people about the nature of sin and will do so in the context of their refusal to believe in Jesus. This implies that they have previously heard about Jesus from the disciples and what he has done for sinners.

I suspect that this particular sin of unbelief is mentioned because they are refusing to accept the message of the gospel from Christ’s disciples. They have been told about the remedy for all their sins and they refuse to take it. When that happens, the witness of the disciple will not go further until the Spirit comes in with his witness. The Spirit testifies powerfully about Jesus as the Saviour of sinners. He makes Calvary real to the sinner, shows to him the beauty and attractiveness and glory of the cross. At the cross, the sinner sees the awfulness of sin, and what a price had to be paid in order for sinners to be forgiven.

Righteousness
The second factor about which the Spirit convinces the world is righteousness, with the explanation being that Jesus is going to the Father. This is a reference to the exaltation of Jesus which happened at his ascension. This reference to righteousness can have several meanings.

First, it can refer to the Spirit convincing sinners about the truthfulness of Jesus; in other words, the Spirit vindicates the claims of Jesus. Jesus had stated that he was the promised Messiah, but sinners refused to believe this claim and instead put him to death. The proof that he was right is his resurrection and subsequent glorification. The Father raised Jesus from the dead because he was the Righteous One, and the Spirit convinces sinners about the true identity of Jesus.

Second, it can refer to the Spirit illuminating sinners regarding the pathetic state of their self-righteousness. When they hear the gospel invitation to sinners, they may conclude that it is suitable for criminals. But they don’t need it because they think their own good living is sufficient. The Spirit instructs them that their best deeds are filthy rags in God’s sight. The only people that can get to the Father are those who are as righteous as Jesus. And, there is no-one who is like that in themselves.

Third, it can refer to the Spirit revealing to sinners that, although they are unrighteous, they will be given the righteousness of Jesus as their personal standing before God. Jesus did not only live a righteous life for himself, he also did it on behalf of others. His perfect life is reckoned as theirs when they put their trust in them. Condemnation is removed and this new standing of acceptance before God is bestowed.

Judgement
The third factor that the Spirit convinces the world about is judgement, and the explanation is that the devil has been judged. When Jesus was speaking, this judgement was imminent. It took place at the cross where Jesus defeated the devil. In Colossians 2:15 Paul refers to this judgement when he says that Jesus destroyed the principalities and powers. Jesus did so by removing the record of our wrongs for which the devil was insisting that we should be punished.

The cross was also the fulfilment of the promise made in the Garden of Eden that there would come a Champion who would destroy the devil and be bruised in the process. Satan has been judged and his arguments have been nullified because Jesus paid the penalty for sin. The Spirit informs sinners that there is a way to escape the sense of condemnation that the devil can bring into their hearts when they hear the gospel. He will highlight their sins and suggest that there is no forgiveness for them. But the Spirit comes and strengthens the witness of the disciples to the victory of Jesus over the intrigues of the devil.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The purpose of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11)


And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:8-11).

The word that is used for the Holy Spirit can be translated in a number of ways, depending on the context. It can mean advocate, counsellor, helper as well as comforter. Literally, it means ‘one who comes alongside’. He comes as a friend, as a guide, as an equivalent replacement for Jesus.

Yet when Jesus describes what the Spirit will do, he does not first mention what he will do in believers. Instead he mentions the objective that the Spirit will pursue with regard to the world. The objective is to convince it of three factors – sin, righteousness and judgement – and along with each factor he gives an explanation.

The objective of the Spirit is to convince the world. Usually the term translated ‘convince’ or ‘reprove’ was used in a legal sense of a lawyer convincing or refuting another person. Given that the Saviour desires the salvation of sinners, it is likely that the convincing and refuting is designed to change their thinking and actions and bring them to repent of such behaviour and beliefs. But it is important to note the difference between the way the Spirit deals with the world and the way he deals with disciples. Concerning the world, he is the prosecutor who is against them, but concerning believers he is the counsellor who is for them.

It is also likely that Jesus is stressing that the only Person that can bring about this change in people is the Holy Spirit. We know that there are some court cases that require very efficient barristers because the issues are so big they cannot be left with minor lawyers. In spiritual things, the disciples are minor lawyers who in themselves will be unable to convince the world. But they have a Barrister (the Holy Spirit) who takes the case and brings about the desired conviction.

In the context, the disciples, as they bear witness to the world, will have spoken to them about sin, righteousness and judgement. Yet they find their efforts are having little effect. But along with their witness comes the witness of the Spirit, and when that happens, people begin to understand what the disciples are saying.

We will consider the significance of sin, righteousness and judgement in our next reading.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Priorities of Jesus (John 16:5-7)

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:5-7).
   
The Saviour has given many difficult teachings to his disciples, particularly his soon departure to heaven and the intense opposition they are going to face from the world. If we could have asked them what they would most have wanted, they would have probably replied that they wanted Jesus to remain with them. His insistence that he would soon depart filled them with sorrow. This emphasis by Jesus gives us a window into two of his priorities.

First, Jesus was always aware that he was here on a mission, that he had been sent by his Father to accomplish salvation. This was the desire of Jesus’ heart, not only because he loved those for whom he was going to die and so rescue from the state of sin, but also because he loved the Father. Jesus was determined to finish his task.

Second, Jesus was also aware that his departure would benefit his disciples because it would mean that he would send the Holy Spirit to them. The arrival of the Spirit would result in many benefits and the one that is in view here is his help in enabling the disciples to witness effectively for Jesus in a hostile environment. At the end of chapter 15, Jesus had told his disciples that they were to witness for him to those who opposed him, but they would not witness alone because the Holy Spirit would simultaneously and powerfully witness along with them.

This coming of the Spirit does not mean that he was not working in the world before he came at Pentecost. No-one in Old Testament times ever believed in the future Messiah without the illumination of the Spirit. No-one during these periods made progress in sanctification without the work of the Spirit. David was led to repent of his sin by the work of the Spirit in his heart (Ps. 51:11). Moses was guided by the Spirit (Isa. 63:10).

Having said that, it is clear that the Spirit has been given in more abundance than happened in Old Testament times. This is true geographically (he works all over the world), numerically (he works in more people), and internally (he gives greater understanding and greater assurance to New Testament believers than was known by Old Testament saints). At the same time, we must realise that what we experience of the Spirit today is only a foretaste and a sample of our experience of him in the world of glory to come.

Jesus also gives a mild rebuke to his disciples because they failed to ask him where he was going. Their silence in this regard had contributed to the intense sorrow that they were experiencing. The implication is that more information would have reduced, if not removed, their confusion and sadness. Of course, this neglect is not limited to the apostles. We often are confused and sad because we have lack of information. Although we cannot physically ask Jesus a question, we can pray that he would enlighten us in what the Bible teaches.

Of course, Jesus knew that his disciples could not accomplish by themselves the task that he was giving them to do. He had told them that without him they could do nothing. Although he was leaving them, he was also sending an equivalent Person to be with them, the divine Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Some benefits of opposition (John 15:18-25)


If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause (John 15:18-25).

Although Christians will face opposition, they have certain benefits from it. I will mention three. First, they understand a little of what Jesus went through himself as he worked out their salvation. He endured great hostility on his journey to the cross as well as the malice he experienced on the cross. As they think of what he experienced, they have a sense of gratitude to him.

Second, they also discover that they can know the effects of the empathy of Christ. He has been through personally what they are experiencing and is able to succour them sympathetically as well as providing the appropriate grace for persevering in the face of strong opposition. Jesus always acted appropriately when he was derided.

Third, although they are called to witness for Christ in a situation of opposition, they discover that they are enabled to speak for him and remain loyal to him because of the enablement of the Holy Spirit. This is promised by Jesus in verses 26 and 27. He also promised the Spirit in Matthew 10:16-20: ‘Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.  When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’  And Peter says something similar in 1 Peter 4:14: ‘If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.’  

Monday, 11 February 2013

Three reasons for the opposition – 2 (John 15:18-25)


If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause (John 15:18-25).

In this passage, Jesus gives three reasons as to why the world will hate his people.

First, they will be hated because they are not part of the world (v. 19a), because they are different (the differences are those that believers develop through abiding in Christ). This is the stigma that many believers face. The obvious deduction to be made from this reason is that there should be a marked difference between the disciples of Jesus and other people. It is not too difficult to suggest that a lack of opposition indicates that the disciple cannot be identified by the world because he lives according to the same standards as the world.

The second reason that Jesus gives is that they will be hated because they have been chosen by Christ to be his servants (v. 19b). In a sense, this is a description of the roles that Jesus called his apostles to fulfil. But by extension it applies to all Christians as they function in the ways that Jesus has commanded. Although this is difficult to endure, there is an aspect of comfort in it because the existence of opposition indicates the authenticity of their Christian lives. Therefore this reason is very similar to the previous one except Jesus links the opposition to his involvement in his people’s lives.

The third reason given by Jesus is that the world hates Christians because they hated him (vv. 20-25). This hatred was undeserved because Jesus had no malice towards them; indeed he should have been loved by them because he went about doing good. The hatred was also unreasonable because it resulted in them not experiencing great personal benefit from Jesus.

Why did they hate Jesus? First, because he pointed out their sins to them. He did this by his words and by his works. There are many such examples in the Gospels. Secondly, they hated Christ because they did not have a personal relationship with him or with his Father. In other words, they were not depending on him as the Saviour nor did they have any interaction with the Father as his children. Lack of understanding of who Jesus is caused them to oppose him.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Opposition – 1 (John 15:12-17)


If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause (John 15:18-25).

In John 15 the Saviour has been describing some of the effects and evidences of abiding in Christ. These effects are seen in three different relationships: with Christ, with fellow believers and with the world. With Christ the relationship involves absorbing his word, praying about it, obeying it, and receiving joy; with Christians the relationship involves brotherly love; with the world the relationship involves facing opposition, including ‘hatred’ and ‘persecution’. These three relationships should happen simultaneously.

It is the case that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples deal with many profound subjects such as the nature of God, our relationship to him, the blessings that he gives, and the way that he keeps his promises. Yet Jesus also stressed some negative consequences of discipleship, such as intense hatred and opposition.  For example, in the Beatitudes he says: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account’ (Matt. 5:10-11).

I suspect that Jesus is saying that believers cannot cope with the hatred unless they are practising the previous two relationships. With regard to the second relationship, when we are hated by one group it is important that we have another group that loves us. And with regard to the first relationship, the existence of the hatred of the world is a teaching of Jesus that we have to absorb and pray about because we have to make an appropriate response to that attitude. If we make the wrong response, we will not have his joy to strengthen us, but if we make the right response we will have his joy.

Perhaps a surprising aspect is the almost matter of fact way that Jesus speaks about hatred. We sometimes are surprised by the emphasis that the New Testament makes regarding opposition because we don’t face physical or verbal opposition to a great extent. But that is not the case in many parts of the world. Throughout the world today many believers are imprisoned for their faith and others suffer various kinds of harassment. Indeed there are many martyrs.

What does Jesus mean by the term ‘world’? He does not mean humans as individuals although at times individuals can oppose Christians. Rather Jesus means the organised opposition to his kingdom that marks human societies. Often this opposition is a combination of political and religious antagonism. This was true in Christ’s own day when the Jewish religious leaders and Roman political leaders opposed his mission. He points out in John 16:1-4 that the oppressors believe that they are serving God. This combination of religious and political oppression and persecution has re-appeared many times throughout the centuries.