I AM LAZARUS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 18, 2020
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
— John 11:38-44, ESV
In the seven signs recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus turned water to wine (ch. 2), healed an official’s son from a distance (ch. 4), healed a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (ch. 5), fed the five thousand (ch. 6), walked on water (ch. 6), made a blind man see at the pool of Siloam (ch. 9), and raised Lazarus from the dead (ch. 11). Each miracle is also a parable that points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the Lord and He is the Savior.
The same can be said for the seven “I Am” sayings. Jesus is the bread of life (ch. 6), the living water (ch. 8), the door (ch. 10), the good shepherd (ch. 10), the resurrections and the life (ch. 11), the way, the truth, and the life (ch. 14), and the true vine (ch. 15). Each metaphor bears witness to the miracle of God coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ in order to save us. He is the Lord and He is the Savior.
Only one scene in the Gospel powerfully couples both a saying and a sign in one capsule. It is the funeral of Lazarus, where Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” then proceeds to resurrect and give life to her previously deceased brother. This event caps the first half of the book, and provides the impetus for the drama played out in the second half, the final week of Jesus’ life, which ends in His own death and resurrection.
Please pay close attention to what we are about to see in this scene in Scripture. It is supremely important. It is central to the gospel story and it is central to the gospel itself. It is a miracle and it is a parable. It is a physical (and temporal) resurrection of a body being raised that points to the spiritual (and eternal) resurrection of a soul being saved. He was Lazarus, He is Lazarus, and in the end, you will want to say, “I am Lazarus.”
He Was Lazarus
He was Lazarus. He was the brother of Martha and Mary, a good friend to all, and a very close confidant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was devout in his faith, diligent in his work, delightful to be around. Now he was dead, gone, buried in the tomb, his body decaying for four days. Many had gathered around the grave. Many tears were shed. The mood was extreme sorrow, which was about to turn to shock and awe.
Because Lazarus was, Jesus was. Because Lazarus was dead, Jesus was there, right by the family’s side, bunkered in the safety of Bethany for a moment before making the Passover trip to hostile Jerusalem. Because Lazarus was dead, Jesus was grieving, even unto His own tears. Jesus love him, this we know. Because Jesus loved the man so, He hated his death. John writes that the Lord was “deeply moved” (vs. 38).
This is an unusual and very descriptive New Testament term, used only five times, three of which occur in the Lazarus narrative. It speaks of someone who is upset, agitated, tinged with anger. Jesus is well known for His righteous indignation. He called unbelievers dogs, He called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes, and He literally whipped the tar out of money changers and others who were profaning the place and time of holy worship.
This time, the Lord was angry at the corruption of the world by sin, the fallenness and frailty of human flesh, and that old slewfoot the devil, too. He was angry that Satan had lured all mankind into sin, that sin had made man selfish and separated him from God, and the curses of infirmity and mortality had finally tagged someone Jesus particularly loved, the man named Lazarus. At least, he was Lazarus.
Lazarus was, so Jesus was about to do something astounding to reverse Lazarus’ curse, and give gospel hope to sinful people everywhere.
He is Lazarus
No one expected what happened next, except Jesus, who was about to change Lazarus from a “was” to an “is.”
It is important to understand and believe that Lazarus was stone cold graveyard dead. He was not asleep. He had not fainted. He was dead, and long enough so that his sister Martha knew “an odor” would be released if they rolled back the gravestone.
I was once told, “All you preachers know how to do is just preach.” Well, all dead people know how to do is be dead. They cannot see, hear, walk, or talk. They cannot take the first step and let God take the rest.
When Jesus raised the Nain widow’s only son from the dead (ref. Luke 7), He touched the casket and spoke to the dead, and he arose. When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from her deathbed (ref. Mark 5; Luke 8), He touched her hand and spoke to her, and she arose. To raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did not touch a thing, but once again He used words, “Lazarus, come out.”
These are three different people, in three different places, with three different means of handling, but one consistent thing. Jesus spoke and the word of God, literally, was heard by the dead and the power in those words raised the dead to life. It was the word of God that quickened Lazarus’ heart and lungs, jumpstarted his brain, reversed his rigor mortis, enabled him to rise and walk, and out of the grave he came.
Lazarus was, now Lazarus is. He was dead, now he is alive. And Jesus did not charge him a penny. “Mercy there was great and grace was free.”
Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus was a miracle that overcame Lazarus inability to raise himself, unconditionally preferred Lazarus to other dead people in the world, was limited to raising Lazarus from the dead, irresistibly enticed Lazarus to come out of the grave, and kept Lazarus alive until God was ready to call him to his permanent home.
The miracle of Lazarus is also a parable of saving grace. I know. Because, I am Lazarus.
I Am Lazarus
There is a captivating scene in the movie “Spartacus,” near the end, when the hero played by Kirk Douglas and his fellow freed slaves have failed in their final revolt against Rome. The survivors of the battle faced the penalty for rebellion, which was death by crucifixion. However, the Romans promised to let the survivors live, albeit in slavery, if they would simply identify and turn over the leader of their army, Spartacus.
One by one the men stood and spoke. “I am Spartacus!” “I am Spartacus!” “I am Spartacus!” They loved Spartacus, they experienced life with Spartacus, they identified with Spartacus, and did not want to live without Spartacus and the freedom they enjoyed together. In the end Spartacus was crucified, then symbolically resurrected, as his only son was smuggled out of Rome to freedom. I am Spartacus, no I’m not. But let me tell you who I am.
I am Lazarus! I was dead spiritually because of my sinful nature, choices, and acts before Jesus came to me and gave me eternal life (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff). Being dead, I could not seek Him or reach for Him (ref. Romans 3:10ff), but He sought me and bought me.
I am Lazarus! I do not know why, but He chose to save me before I was born again, before I was even born, before He created the world (ref. Ephesians 1:4). He did not choose me because of anything He saw in me (ref. Romans 9:10-18), but because He sovereignly chose to love me and save me.
I am Lazarus! I am a member of a short list of the world’s population to receive the benefit of Christ’s perfect life and atoning death on the cross (ref. Romans 5:8). Not a drop of Jesus’ blood will every be wasted, and one of those drops hit me.
I am Lazarus! When I heard the word of God effectually (ref. Romans 10:17), I irresistibly repented (ref. Acts 11:18) and believed (ref. Ephesians 2:8) and followed the Lord. I could not have remain lost and unfaithful any more than Lazarus could have remained dead and camped out in the tomb.
I am Lazarus! I stand here now, spiritually and eternally alive, and will still be standing for the Lord until the day I die, by the Spirit and the word of God (ref. John 10:28; Philippians 1:6).
I am just one example of how this great miracle, the seventh sign in John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, is also the greatest parable of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And Scripture reveals God saves by sovereign grace so that He alone with get the glory. Remember that “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’”
So “come out” and experience the glory of God in the grace of salvation. Hear the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Climb out of the tomb you have built with your own sin and rebellion against God. Breathe the spiritual air of the Christian life. Follow the Lord in this life until in the next you see Him, face to face. When you do, just tell Him, “I am Lazarus!”
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 11, 2020
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
— John 11:23-27, ESV
Central to the Gospel of John is the story of Lazarus. Central to the story of Lazarus is the fifth of seven “I Am” statements given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Like all seven, this “I Am” decree proves and preaches. It proves Christ’s claim of being essentially equal with Almighty God. It preaches the gospel, extolling the benefits of bodily resurrection and eternal life to the one who believes.
Furthermore, this particular proclamation provides us with perhaps the finest funeral sermon ever preached, given as it was at the graveside service of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus. It was brief (no amens, please), God-centered, and brimming with hope. On day, all funerals for followers of Jesus will end up like this one.
Life and Death
As far as we can tell throughout human history, everyone who has ever lived has died. Exceptions should be made for a couple of Old Testament dudes named Enoch and Elijah, and maybe a few folks out west who were allegedly abducted by aliens. Those of us who are living now have to face the fact that we too are likely to die, which brings us to the age old question. Is there life after death? The answer coming from every corner seems to be yes, according to people of all faiths and even those with no faith.
That is why the Egyptians buried their pharaohs in pyramids of great treasure, for they thought they would somehow take it with them or come back and get it. That’s why radical elements of Islam blow themselves up, for the sexcapades and extra-planetary pleasures promised in the next life. Mormons follow a dreamer named Joseph Smith who schemed a similar heavenly scenario. Even secularists who practice no religion at all speak of death as a passage to a so-called better place to meet the anonymous man upstairs. It seems everybody is working for a never ending weekend to enjoy after our workaday lives are through.
Why is this, that everyone seems to have some belief in life after death? It is because the eternal God has made all of us, faithful and faithless and even those of false faiths, in His own image (ref. Genesis 1:26). God is eternal, and “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out” (ref. Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, the human race strongly suspects there is life after death, we just can’t see past the finish line. The great prophet Jackson Browne sums it up:
“I don’t know what happens when people die,
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try,
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear, that I can’t sing,
But I can’t help listening.”
Lazarus’ family and friends, including Jesus, were all devout Jews. They had a bedrock belief in life after death. The Psalmists (ref. Psalm 49:15, 71:20), the author of Job (ref. Job 19:26), the prophets Isaiah (ref. Isaiah 26:19) and Daniel (ref. Daniel 12:2), and others taught the grave is not the end.
Martha reflected this belief in her first exchange with the Lord on this matter: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said, “I know.”
Jesus did not say anything new to Martha, yet. After all, she was Jewish, and the majority of the Jews of her day did not follow the Sadducees on this subject, the sect who did not believe in resurrection or life after death (which is why they were sad, you see?). The Pharisees laid out the majority Jewish position of an afterlife (so don’t boo them in this case).
Most Jews believe. Most Christians believe. Most Muslims believe. Most everyone believes in some kind of life after death. This time the majority is right.
Resurrection and Life
Long before Lazarus’ funeral, Jesus had promised a resurrection for everyone. This Gospel of John recorded it: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (ref. John 5:28-29).”
Based on Christ’s prior teachings, everyone will experience one of two types of resurrection. One of them results in life, eternal life. The other is for judgement, resulting in an eternal death sentence and permanent separation from God. Jesus now makes a bold claim which guarantees a good resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus says seven times in John, including here, “I Am,” ego eimi, YHWY, the name of Almighty God. This means Jesus is speaking for God, as God’s Son and essential equal with God. We believe the God of the Scriptures is almighty, sovereign, eternal, powerful, and truthful. What He promises He provides, on His terms.
Jesus is not promising a resurrection, but the resurrection, one of the two. His declaration should be interpreted as the one for the good and godly that leads to life with Him, forever. He had already proven His power to resurrect, with Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s only son, and He was about to prove it again with Lazarus. Christ's soon coming death would liberate five hundred more from the tombs, and His own bodily resurrection on the third day would crown the promise.
But who can claim this gospel promise? Who gets in on the good resurrection and life, and who gets the evil resurrection and judgment? It is a matter of good works verses a lack thereof? Sort of, but remember something else Jesus had said well before the funeral: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (ref. John 6:29).
Belief and Unbelief
“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Life after death is not dependent upon race, whether you are Jewish or Gentile. Life after death is not guaranteed by baptism or church membership, either. You have to “believe,” and you have to “believe this,” and this is the gospel.
The Gospel of John is the Gospel of faith, but not just any faith. It has to be a faith in God as God has revealed Himself in the person and work, the resurrection and the life, of Jesus Christ. And it cannot be a simple faith, as in simply believing the facts about Jesus. Yet it is not overly complex, either.
To teach on true faith, The Apostle John consistently prefers the verb “believe.” Almost always it is in the present tense. So what Jesus and John taught is that simple, saving faith in the gospel must have some complex layers. It must be a deep, abiding, active, and ongoing faith conjoined with faithfulness. The faith God requires and the faith God gives must first convince the mind of the historical facts in question about Jesus Christ. Faith must move the heart with the anguish of of sin and love for the One who forgives. Faith must temper the will to be conformed with God’s will, forged by the Spirit and the word. Only then can a person really say they “believe” in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Take Martha, for example.
Present and Perfect
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus demanded faith in the present tense. Martha’s response was literally and literarily perfect. She called upon the name of the “Lord” and said, “I believe.” She professed her belief in the perfect tense, which speaks of a past action with present evidence and future consequences.
Martha had been justified by faith, as indicated by her great confession, a conclusion she had come to even before Lazarus’ death and resurrection. She was being sanctified by faith during the dramatic events at the tomb, for she was leaning on the Lord and being led by the Lord Jesus Christ in the present moment. Therefore, she was assured of being glorified by faith, of her own future experience of resurrection and eternal life in Heaven.
This is a picture of perfect faith. You do not have to be perfect to obtain faith. You will not be perfect when you have faith, until its final stage. But you have to have a perfect faith, a complete faith, a valid past profession, a present proof of a spiritual life, and a future hope of resurrection and life with the One who is “the resurrection and the life.”
The Bible has much more to say on this subject, and Jesus did not address the resurrection of the evil and faithless here. It is true that all of mankind will experience a resurrection before God, be judged by God, and consigned to an eternity with God, or without Him. The difference will be faith, its object, and its genuineness. Please believe Him, presently and perfectly.
The stage has been set by Lazarus’ death. Crying time is about to be over. Jesus has seized the day by preaching the gospel of who He is and what He offers to those who truly believe. Now He is about to show off, and show us, in the most dramatic illustration of faith and its rewards found anywhere in Scripture.
SOMETIMES I NEED TO CRY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 4, 2020
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
— John 11:17-37, ESV
In this part of the Lazarus story we come to terms with our tears. We don’t talk about them often, as sadness and its subsequent shedding of tears is a difficult subject to address. We’d rather avoid it altogether, having inherited a stiff upper lip from our British ancestors and adopted the American adage that big boys, and in this egalitarian age big girls, don’t cry.
Music helps and hurts. Roy Orbison made a big hit out of “Crying” in 1961. Much later, lesser know recording artists Homer and Jethro made a mockery of tears with their infamous “I’ve Got Tears In My Ears From Lying On My Back Crying Over You.”
So should we hold our tears back, let them flow, or laugh them away? Why don’t we let Holy Scripture decide for us?
Sometimes I Need to Cry
I’d already been a parent for fifteen years when my fourth daughter came along. I didn’t know I was doing it all wrong. When Christie, Ashley, or Emily got hurt and cried, my response was typical. “There, there, don’t cry,” I would say. That didn’t work on Courtney Grace. She began speaking her mind as soon as she learned to talk. If you tried to comfort her by telling her not to cry, she’d stomp her feet and look you in the eye and say, “Sometimes I need to cry!’
She was right. I think Lazarus’ sisters and the Lord Jesus Christ would agree. Just look at all the tears in this text. Martha’s words can only be interpreted through tears. Mary, the more emotional of the two sisters, went to Lazarus’ tomb “to weep there” (vs. 31) and “Jesus saw her weeping” (vs. 33). “The Jews who had come with her also [were] weeping” (vs. 33), a rare sympathetic thing for the Jewish John to write about “the Jews,” opposers to Christ during His ministry and a diaspora people by the time the Gospel was written.
And finally, in the shortest verse in Scripture, one memorized by all former students of the late, great Dr. Gray Allison who required a hundred memorized verses written verbatim on his mid-term and final exams, “Jesus wept” (vs. 35). The word translated wept is unique, used only here in the New Testament, and means that Jesus cried, and cried, and cried. Weddings and funerals lasted for days, not minutes, in the old world, and this funeral for Lazarus was soaked in tears from beginning to abrupt end. Sometimes, even God needs to cry.
There Are Good Reasons to Cry
Sometimes we need to cry because sometimes there are good reasons to cry. A loved one’s death is at the top of the list. Lazarus, the godly helper, must have been greatly beloved by all. His sisters, his Bethany neighbors, even the Lord Jesus Christ wept profusely at his funeral. Death is not final for Christ followers, but death is still a proper, legitimate, and biblical reason to cry.
The is a good reason why we cry at deaths, even though death is not the end for a Christian. The separation caused by death, albeit temporary, is very real and painful. People cried over Lazarus, not knowing at the time he would be raised again on the fourth day. Devout Jews cried over Lazarus, even though they affirmed the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine championed by the usually annoying Pharisees. We cry when we lose someone we love, because of the unspecified lost time we will experience without them. We miss their smile, fellowship, giftedness, good works, and more. These are good reasons to cry.
Death and lost time hurt. The pain is real, and pain is the thing that produces the tears. Physical pain can make you cry. Emotional pain can make you cry. Spiritual pain, knowing that all suffering and death is ultimately caused by our collective sin against God, can make you cry.
And here is what the pain, the loss, and the tears are all about. Life and death are about relationship, covenant, community. God did not create us to be alone. He created us for a covenant with Him, relationships with one another, and fellowship together on earth, as it is in Heaven. And when that relationship is broken, even temporarily for true believers, it is a sharp pain, it is great loss, and it is crying time, for good reasons.
Consider the odd truth that the Bible says plainly in the Old and New Testaments that God hated a man named Esau. Do you know why? Esau thought little of, actually despised, you could even say hated, the covenant relationship between a son and his earthly and heavenly fathers. God hates that which, and those who, destroy godly covenants and important relationships. That’s why God is on record for hating divorce, because it is the destruction of a covenant and the collateral damage of broken relationships ripple abroad. Death can break covenants and relationships, too, which is one of the many good reasons God wept at the death of Lazarus.
So while there are good reasons to cry, and to observe why even God cried in this episode, there is also a reminder while we are living to cherish our God-ordained relationships, for this is what we are made for. Hold on to the Lord, your church family, your family and friends. Be true to covenant and relationship, so much so that it will hurt deeply if they are broken, even temporarily, by death. And know that when death happens, God is there.
God’s Responds When We Cry
We need to cry because there are good reasons to cry, especially when a relationship is broken into by the uninvited guest of death. But through eyes of tears there is wonderful news to read in this story. When we cry the most, when we hurt the deepest, God is always there to help, comfort, and guide us.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His presence. He did not send flowers or a card, as appropriate as that might be in certain circumstances. He did not video chat, since Covid-19 was not the culprit that took Lazarus. He showed up, in person, as befits the close, covenant relationship He enjoyed with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. What a difference it made when the family saw Jesus’ smiling, and crying, face! Good relationships can be maintained and broken hearts can be mended when we show up for one another, the way God does for His children. It’s well over half the battle in victorious marriages, families, friendships, churches, and any relationship oriented entity.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His word. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. That’s where Job’s friends blew it, they should have shown up and shut up. But Jesus shared vital, gospel words with Lazarus’ family even before the big event of the resurrection. They constitute the fifth of the seven great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John, and the next sermon will be devoted entirely to them. But for now, suffice it to say that the greatest words you can ever share with anyone anytime, especially in times of death and sorrow, are words that communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus comforted Lazarus’ family with His actions. He took the bull by the horns, the body by its death, and with His presence and with His word Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We will say much more about this in the following studies, but for now observer Jesus’s pattern of comfort: presence, words, actions. You and I cannot heal on demand nor raise the dead at a funeral, but there are plenty of other actions we can take to comfort and support those who are hurting. Let God show us the way.
As far as Lazarus is concerned, not many in history have experienced an earthly resurrection like his. There are only a very few cases in the Bible. Some say the rarity of resurrection is happening today, where the light of the gospel is going to the darkest places on earth. But by grace through faith, all of God’s people are privy to the promises Jesus spoke at Lazarus’ funeral. Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25), and all who enjoy a covenant relationship with Him will never die. Earthly death is just a door that leads us from the lesser to the greater, from the temporal to the eternal, from the earth of pain and sorrow to the Heaven where tears will flow no more.
But for now, there are times when we need to cry. When we do, God is there, in Spirit and in word. So when someone you love is crying, don’t be the dumb parent I once was. Go to them, tell them it is okay, say “Sometimes I need to cry,” and keep it up until the promise of the Lord is fulfilled:
“[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes … death shall be no more … Amen … Come, Lord Jesus” (ref. Revelation 21:4, 22:20), especially when we need to cry.
DEATH SETS THE STAGE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 27, 2020
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
— John 11:1-16, ESV
With ten chapters behind it and ten more to follow, chapter eleven centers John’s Gospel in more ways than one. The author’s overall aim is to magnify the death and resurrection of Jesus, and he does so magnificently from beginning to end. But the middle chapter reveals to us that the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ may have never happened except for the death and resurrection of a dear friend of His named Lazarus.
This death and resurrection of Lazarus is the last straw for Jesus’ enemies and sets a great stage for the grand finale of the gospel. The seventh sign is also the best illustration of the gospel anywhere in Scripture. All human beings are spiritually dead because of sin, but those whom God chooses to save are raised to life by the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the first sixteen verses we build the stage to see the grand play, a stage set by the news of the death of Lazarus. Grab a seat in front for the first scene and see a special man, extraordinary love, pure sacrifice, and some surprising faith.
A Special Man
Chapter eleven begins with “a certain man” (vs. 1). His name is “Lazarus,” which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Eleazar,” which means, “God helps.” There are seven men with that name in Old Covenant literature, and all of them are good men who, with God’s help, helped others to know and love God.
Lazarus was the brother of two sisters, Martha and Mary, and we will speak more about their special relationship with Jesus in a moment. They had a home in Bethany, a small village on the edge of Jerusalem. Bethany is a one-hundred mile, two day journey from Jesus’ home base of Capernaum.
The sisters sent a SOS to Jesus. “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (vs. 3). In other words, “Lazarus! Eleazar! God help us! Our brother is sick and about to die.” It takes two days for Jesus to get the message, then Lazarus expires. Jesus waits two days before beginning the two day journey to Judea, thus Lazarus will have been dead for four days when the Lord arrives.
God’s specific plan for this certain man is calculated, planned out to the minute. It is the same for you and me. It is so ordered “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vs. 4). Whatever happens to one of God’s children, even something as appalling as death, can set a stage for God to act for His ultimate glory and our overall good.
A Higher Love
The motivation behind God’s plan for this certain man was love. And it was no ordinary love. It was a higher love.
Think about it, there must be higher love,
Down in the heart or in the stars above.
Without it, life is wasted time,
Look inside your heart, I'll look inside mine.
— Steve Winnwood
Though Jesus obviously had a special relationship with Lazarus and his sisters (ref. Luke 10:38-42), I’m not sure they knew how much Jesus loved them until death placed them on this particular stage. Sure, the message Martha and Mary sent said, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (vs. 4). But they word they chose for “love” is phileo, friendly love, family love, fond love. It’s as if they said, the one you are so fond of is dying.
The late, great author Brennon Manning was known for being terminally happy, in spite of his many trials and tribulations. When asked why he liked to say, “The Father is very fond of me.” Indeed He is, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Jesus was fond of this family. He liked talking to Lazarus. He liked teaching God’s word to Mary. He liked Martha’s cooking. But the Apostle John, who could look inside Jesus’ heart as well as anyone, found in Him a higher love.
John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (vs. 5). In a world where koine Greek was the official written language, John could have used eros, selfish and sensual love, but he did not. He could have repeated the word the sisters used, phileo, friendly love, but he did not. He used agape, a higher love, a deeper love, a sacrificial love. This is John’s favorite word to describe the love of God, and for good reason, for such great love requires great sacrifice.
A Great Sacrifice
John will use the word agape again when he writes, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (ref. John 15:13). Consider how Jesus showed His love for His friend, Lazarus.
Jesus did not merely say a prayer or send an encouraging word. He walked a hundred miles to be with the family in person. In doing so, He put Himself at great risk. Remember our last episode in the Gospel of John? Jesus disciples did. “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’ (vs. 8).”
Jesus was sacrificing His own life by going to see Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He was walking in the day or in the light, another favorite expression of John, which means He was doing the will of God, whatever the cost. The opposite, symbolized by walking in night or darkness, means sin, dishonoring or disobeying God, and this Jesus could not do, even if it meant giving up His own safety and security. Jesus knew the risks of going back into Judea, He new the next Passover was at hand, and He knew this time, He would be the lamb.
When you commit to a life that honors and obeys the will of God, and you do so in response to God’s great love for you and your true love for Him, you will sacrifice. You will always sacrifice your time, often your resources, sometimes your health, and maybe even your life. Yet, as we will see in the subsequent acts of this great play, no child of God ever really dies.
A Surprising Faith
As Chapter eleven continues, there is much more to see about Jesus. There is much more to say about His dearly beloved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. But the last verse that sets the stage is a quote from a more obscure, often misunderstood disciple.
Thomas was not his real name. Thomas was his nickname. Everyone called him the twin, didymus in Greek, to-ma in Hebrew, Thomas in English. We don’t know his real name and we don’t know anything about his twin brother or sister. We think we know something about his character from his other nickname, Doubting Thomas.
Since the New Testament era unfolded, anyone who doubts anything, anywhere, anytime is called a Doubting Thomas. Christians use the term, non-Christians use the term. Thomas is shrouded by doubt now everywhere he goes. But he should not be called Doubting Thomas, he should be called Courageously Faithful Thomas.
When the other disciples were trying to talk Jesus out of going back into Judea, listen to what Courageously Faithful Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It takes a special man to say that. It requires a higher love to say that. It involves personal sacrifice to say that. It is not doubt, but a strong and living faith in Jesus Christ.
You are special to God. His love for you is higher than you could ever know. He has sacrificed for you, died for you. Are you willing to die for Him?
You could be like Thomas and those original disciples, who almost to a man did die for the gospel. You could be a historic martyr like Jim Eliot, who died in Ecuador giving out the gospel. Or you could me a more ordinary Christian, dying one day at a time just trying to do the will of God. You’ll have your doubts. You’ll have difficult days. And unless you live until Rapture, you will die. But as we will see in the subsequent acts of the play, no one who knows the Lord will every really die. Death just sets the stage for the greatest life of all.
EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 20, 2020
30 I and the Father are one.”
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
— John 10:30-42, ESV
One of Bob Dylan’s first and most enduring hits contains the repeated chorus, “Everybody must get stoned.” Those who don’t know Dylan well or listen carefully to his Nobel Prize winning lyrics think this is a song advocating the use of illicit drugs. But Dylan, by his own testimony, never wrote a drug song.
“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (a much debated title that does not appear anywhere in the lyrics) is a song about persecution, persecution for being someone different or doing something differently. Dylan wrote it in the mid-60’s during his transition from folk/acoustic to rock/electric. His fans booed him and the critics trashed him. It was professional persecution. Hearkening back to his Jewish upbringing and the Old Testament Scriptures, Dylan felt like people were throwing stones at him.
Dylan is pretty cool in my book, but Jesus is the coolest, ever, and everlasting. He was a distinctive person. There is no one else like Him. He did things differently for His day, or any day For being distinctive and doing things differently, as you can see in this text, “The Jews picked up stones to stone Him.” If someone as divine and perfect as Jesus is to be stoned, then everybody must get stoned.
The Distinctive Person of Christ
The Jews, especially the religious leaders, should have known that when Messiah appeared, He would be an “only begotten” (ref. John 3:16), which literally means “one-of-a-kind,” being who is both fully God and fully man. Consider the prophecies of the most quoted Jewish prophet, Isaiah:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
— Isaiah 7:14
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
— Isaiah 9:6
The virgin-born man who is “God with us,” and the God-man who is both “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace” is Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord Jesus Christ. So it should be no wonder, and certainly nothing worth being stoned over, that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
But it freaked the Pharisees out something awful. Not even Jesus’ reference to Psalm 82 could convince them that He had not blasphemed the true and living God. How could He, when the Father and the Son are two persons of the exact same being, the same substance, homoousian.
Remember, they were not looking Jesus the Divine, but for another Judah the Hammer. They were playing politics, looking for military might and an economic policy that favored them. They were looking for a leader who would codify their extra-biblical rules, not God’s word.
Besides, if Jesus and the Father are one, they thought, they would have to bow down and worship Him. They would have to follow and obey Him. They would have to love and honor Him. They would have to put the sovereign Lord above their autonomous selves. Perhaps this is why the vast majority of Americans today, and up to 30% of confessing evangelicals, deny the deity of Christ.
So, it was decided, Jesus had to go. “The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him,” as they had at least once before (ref. John 8:59). And if they are going to stone Jesus for being Lord and Christ, then everybody must get stoned.
The Different Work of Christ
“Believe the works,” Jesus said to them. But they would not. They weren’t that kind of works, done in the kind of way, that the Pharisees wanted.
If the religious rulers of Jesus’ day could have captured the power of God and put it in a bottle, they would have poured it out upon certain people in a certain way. They would have used it against their enemies, to destroy them. They would have used it for financial gain, to enrich themselves. They would have used it to enforce a smothering legalism upon the population, whereby they could control them and make them conform to their image.
Jesus worked differently. He catered to the poor and marginalized and even reached out to Gentiles. His followers were fisherman, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He used His power never to harm, only to help, never to confine, only to liberate.
Jesus kept a woman they would have stoned from being stoned, lepers they shunned from being shunned, and the blind they kicked out of the synagogue from remaining in darkness. Jesus did so many of these works on the Sabbath day, which was no violation of God’s word, but a strict rebuke against the Pharisees’ ridiculous rules.
“For which of them are you going to stone Me,” Jesus asked. All of them, I suppose. But if you are going to stone Jesus Christ for doing God’s work God’s way, then everybody must get stoned.
The Distinctive and Different Life of Christ
Jesus knew He would not get stoned that day, it was not yet His time. But Jesus did know, omniscient God that He is, that they would not fail to kill Him in four months time.
With this in mind, Jesus retreats from the aborted stoning, lingers into the shadow of the cross, and takes time to reflect. We would do well to reflect with Him, to consider the great price God’s Son paid for God’s people, and come to the conclusion that if Jesus Christ had to have the cross, all of His followers must take up their cross, too.
At this time of reflection we only know about a mere three years of Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke do describe His birth, and Luke ads a caveat at age twelve, but the bulk of the Gospels, especially this one well chronicled by John, covers a little over three cycles of the annual Jewish feasts and festivals.
It began with John the Baptist, which is why we find Jesus here, “Across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first.” Jesus, with about a hundred days to live, thought about they day just over three years prior when He was baptized by John to begin His public ministry. He thought about His first followers, Peter and James and John and the others, who must have been by His side at this moment. He thought about all the sermons and miracles He had done to prove His deity and preach the gospel. He thought about all the joy at the meals and festivals, and He thought about the pain and suffering, which He could now see through His front windshield.
Ironically, at this out of the way place, it is written, “Many believed in him there” (vs. 42). John’s Gospel of belief sometimes plays fast and loose with the term, sometimes superficial, sometimes sincere. How can you tell if it is distinctive, different, saving faith? Do you pick up stones against Jesus, or are you willing to take them with Him?
Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be good,
They’ll stone you just like they said they would;
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home,
And they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.
— Bob Dylan
Jesus did not just try to be good, He was and is the Good Shepherd. They killed Him just like they said they would. He went back home, to Heaven, with the promise to bring sheep with Him. He died alone on the cross, but Jesus will not be alone, if you will take up your cross and follow Him. Everybody must get stoned.
SHEEPING IS BELIEVING
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 13, 2020
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
— John 10:22-30, ESV
The Gospel writer John must have really loved sheep, even though they have always been considered dumb animals. They do make an apt metaphor for Christians, though, and John mentions them more than the other three Gospel writers combined. Though he was a fisherman in his youth, and a fisher of men under Jesus Christ, he preferred to picture the King and the kingdom of God as a Good Shepherd with His sheep.
This was not the image of the Messiah the Jews were looking for in the first century, however. They wanted a warrior. They wanted a shrewd and powerful politician. They wanted a candidate for president who would make Israel great again by overthrowing the deep state of Roman overlords.
The Jewish religious rulers had been watching Jesus of Nazareth for about three years. He showed promise, with His insightful parables and undeniable miracles. But He was not militant enough, not material enough, not manly enough for them. So they ran out of patience with Jesus at this feast, and at the next one, they would kill Him.
Jesus Was Not Their Messiah
The “Feast of Dedication” is the setting for this story. It was not one of the big three (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), so it did not require a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But it was important and symbolic, and Jesus decided to attend, for the last time.
The celebration, also known as the "Festival of Lights,” occurs in the month that corresponds with our December. While we celebrate Christmas, Jewish people commemorate “Hanukkah” (the Hebrew word for “dedication”).
Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!
— Adam Sandler
Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of Israel in 164 B.C. from a tyrannical overlord named Antiochus IV “Epiphanes” (a self-given nickname of a madman who thought himself a manifestation of the gods), who had profaned the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing swine on the altar. After the war was won and the Temple was cleansed, a small oil lamp was found and lit. Instead of burning for the normal eight hours, its light shone for eight days and nights.
The hero of the Jewish revolt was Judas Maccabeus, or Judas “the Hammer.” Hammer-time was about the only time the Jews lived freely and independently in the promised land from the time of the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. to the United Nations’ recognition of the State of Israel in 1948.
This is a significant part of the story because this is the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for in Jesus’ day. They wanted a hammer, not the humble, holy, and hard-to-understand person embodied by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was not their kind of messiah and they were not Jesus’ kind of sheep.
They Were Not Jesus’ Sheep
The Jewish religious rulers and the people at large did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus said this was due to one simple fact. “You are not among my sheep,” Jesus said, which is perhaps the saddest and most tragic thing a person could ever hear from God. But God knows, and it is not too difficult for others to tell, who the sheep are not.
When you are not a sheep, you do not want to go where the other sheep go. Jesus’ sheep form an assembly of born again believers who gather on the Lord’s Day for worship and serve the Lord every day as ambassadors of Christ’s church. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep,” because they generally shun the church.
When you are not a sheep, you do not want to eat what the other sheep eat. Jesus’ sheep feed upon the word of God, the Bible. It is the centerpiece of their Sunday worship and their daily diet throughout the week. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep” by the way they ignore or attack the Bible.
When you are not a sheep, you do not follow the Shepherd like the sheep in love, devotion, and obedience. You can tell those who are “not among my sheep,” for they follow their own way, their own will, and spend their time and money on things they want, without reverence or respect for God and His sheep.
When you are not a sheep, you will not wind up where the other sheep are ultimately going. Christ’s sheep are going to Heaven, according to the precious promises of God given by God’s Son in this passage of God’s word. On the Day of the Lord it will be painful and obvious to tell those who are “not among my sheep,” for they will be banished from the presence and kingdom of God and experience the awful wrath of God.
John Chrysostom said, “If you do not follow Jesus, it is not because He is not the Good Shepherd, it is because you are not a sheep.” When you are not a sheep, you just don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when you do, sheeping is believing.
Sheeping Is Believing
John’s Gospel is about believing. John’s Gospel is about sheep. Sheeping is believing.
What people believe wrongly about believing in our day is that it is a singular act of belief. But believing is not a singular act. It is a new life and an ongoing lifestyle. It is becoming a sheep, behaving like a sheep, and receiving the blessings and benefits of sheephood.
We become sheep by being “born again … through the living and abiding word of God” (ref. 1 Peter 1:23; see also John 3). “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said. It is a real epiphany, unlike the ungodly claim of Antiochus IV. Sheep hear the voice of God when by grace the gospel is preached to them and in faith they understand it and accept it. When a non-sheep turns from sin and selfishness and turns to the Lord, they turn into a sheep.
We behave like sheep when we obey God’s word and God’s will in our lives and lifestyles. “Follow Me” becomes the two most important words the Good Shepherd ever spoke. True sheep, Jesus said, “They follow Me.” John also wrote, “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (ref. 1 John 2:4-6). Sheep are not perfect, they get wounded and weary, but the warp and woof of their lives is to follow the Lord and obey His word.
We get the benefits of sheep in the double blessing of eternal life and eternal security. Sheep, and sheep only, are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Sheep who know the Lord can know they are saved and kept and guaranteed an abundant life now and an eternal life forever, with the Good Shepherd of our souls.
And just who is this Good Shepherd? He is Jesus Christ, and He is God, for Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” I’ll have much more to say about this in the next sermon. For now, believe in sheeping, for sheeping is believing. Sheep are not so dumb, after all.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 30, 2020
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
— John 10:11-21, ESV
The third and fourth of seven “I Am” statements made by Jesus in the Gospel of John are bound together in one beautiful sermon. Yet the gravity of each “I Am” declaration requires us to weigh each one individually. They go together. They stand alone. This is yet another perfect Johannine paradox.
“I am the door” is stated twice in vs. 1-10. This two-fold proclamation affirms Jesus is God and Jesus is the only way to God. Inside “the door” is two-fold life, eternal and abundant. It is grand announcement, transcendent, exclusive, corporate, cool.
“I am the good shepherd,” also expressed twice with much elaboration in vs. 11-21, is equal in inspiration of course, but quite different in tone. It is a personal promise and speaks of God in ways that are imminent, embraceable, personal, warm-hearted.
We must go through “the door” to be saved, to be sure. But it is “the good shepherd” who does the saving. Jesus Christ is the one who saves us, sustains us, and secures for us the eternal and abundant life. Let us take a close look at who He is as “shepherd” and experience what He does for we who qualify as “sheep.”
The Good Shepherd is God
Shepherds were a common sight in Israel. They pioneered a noble, if not profitable, profession. It was hard and dangerous work. Wolves are mentioned in the text, and other biblical passages speak of predatory lions and bears, too.
There was actually a Jewish law in Jesus’ day that required shepherds to stay put in the face of one wolf, but they could run for the hills if two or more wolves reared their heads. Like any profession, shepherding had its bad and good representatives, so there were bad shepherds who would neglect or abandon the sheep, and there were good shepherds who would do their duty and then some.
Jesus did not liken Himself to any ordinary shepherd, or even a good shepherd. He said, “I am the good shepherd.” The use of the definite article “the” means Jesus is the only one of this kind of shepherd. The superlative choice among three adjectives available for the word “good” means even more.
In His encounter with a rich young ruler (recorded in the three other Gospels), the man did not call Jesus the good shepherd, but he did call him the good teacher. Jesus seized on his use of the word “good” and said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (ref. Luke 18:19). In so saying, Jesus meant either He was not good, or that He is God, who is great and good.
Combine all four Gospels and discover that Jesus is both good and God. When this perfect goodness and the fulness of deity takes bodily form (ref. Colossians 2:9), He comes out looking like a shepherd, “the good shepherd.”
“The good shepherd,” the Lord Jesus Christ, loves His sheep, so much so He is willing to stand in the face of a million wolves and die in order to save them.
The Good Shepherd is Savior
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” said the good shepherd Jesus Christ.
This was a startling statement, made some six months ahead of Calvary. On the surface, it did not make sense at first. No shepherd would die for a sheep, not even a good one. Human life is simply worth more than sheep life.
So while it would have been stunning to think of a man dying for a sheep, it becomes even more unfathomable when you consider God’s willingness to die for man. But that is exactly what our God did for us, for His people, on behalf of and in place of, “for the sheep.”
A “hired hand” would not protect the sheep, but rather turn and run. Hired hands represent non-Christian religions who use religion as a false security blanket. Hired hands can be nominal Christians, too, who make superficial professions of faith only to tuck and run when real discipleship is required. Such a hand cannot lead you to God nor protect you from the onslaughts of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
A “wolf” would not die for the sheep, but rather kill them if possible. Wolves represent more precisely those worldly lusts and devilish desires that devour the very people to whom they promise pleasure. A wolf could be illicit drug, sexual immorality, or even a simple dollar bill that woos a person out of the safety of home and hearth into the killing fields where souls die and go to Hell.
Hired hands fail and wolves kill but “the good shepherd” saves! Jesus saves lovingly (ref. John 3:16), Jesus saves sacrificially (ref. Romans 5:8), and Jesus saves willingly (vs. 18).
Sheep are always in danger and the greatest danger is death. But “the good shepherd,” who is God, died so that the sheep never have to perish, but have everlasting life.
The Good Shepherd is Personal
When God saves, He does not save flocks, He saves sheep, one at a time. Salvation must be personal. You will not go to Heaven because your parents were sheep, or because you married a sheep, or because you rubbed shoulders with sheep. You must personally become a sheep through a personal relationship with “the good shepherd.” Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me … and they will listen to my voice” (vs. 14-16).
All Christians are sheep who were once goats, and I don’t mean the greatest of all time. We were sinners separated from God and spiritually dead. But when we are reached by grace and gripped by mercy, it is“the good shepherd” who has left the ninety-nine for a moment in order to come and claim just one sheep, personally.
Goats become sheep when they are chosen by the Shepherd, converted by the Shepherd, and secured into the sheepfold by the Shepherd. Goats become sheep when they “listen to my voice,” Jesus said, when the word of the Shepherd turns them around in repentance and opens their eyes in faith. Then begins this personal relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep, which logically and theologically leads them into the corporate relationship of the sheepfold, which is the church of the living Shepherd.
It is my understanding that you cannot herd goats. They won’t listen to a shepherd, they won’t band together, they don’t care for one another. But sheep are different. Though they come to the Shepherd one by one, they do band together, they follow the Shepherd together, pursue godly things that honor the Shepherd, and are used by the Shepherd to produce more sheep, generation after generation, bringing them into this eternal and abundant fold.
Jesus is God and Jesus is Savior, but He must be your personal God and Savior to consider yourself a sheep. So hear the Lord’s voice, heed His call, and start showing the signs of a sheep. Baaaaaa!
The Good Shepherd is Controversial
As Jesus gathers His flock with the gospel, there erupts “a division … because of these words.” The flock is fine, well fed, protected, eternally secure. The division is among the goats outside who cannot seem to make up their mind about “the good shepherd.”
Jesus of Nazareth, “the good shepherd,” claimed to be the only God and Savior for those in a world of lost goats to become sheep. Let me make your options simple by using an age old alliteration. Jesus Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord.
If He was a liar, He was also a fool. He made no money off His scheme, achieved no high office, and let himself get caught in a conspiracy between the right and the left only to be crucified in the middle. But His lies were not the reason for His demise, for He told none.
If He was a lunatic, as every other would-be messiah has proven to be, then He would have been forgotten like a lump of coal on the ash-heap of history. There would not be a thousand books written about Him, nor would the book of books have a second testament. So He could not have been mad.
That only leaves us with the last option, Jesus Christ is Lord. If Jesus is Lord, then let the clamor and division cease. Let sin no more abound. Let unbelief be erased. Repent and believe the good news about “the good shepherd,” and accept Him as your personal God and Savior today.
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 23, 2020
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
— John 10:1-10, ESV
Every four years we have a presidential election. Each one seems to become more acrimonious than the one before. No longer does one party present their ideas as better for the country than the other party’s, but rather each side predicts the violent death of America if the other side wins. With the future of the free world at stake, I suppose we should pay attention and vote wisely.
A similar tug of war took place near the end of Jesus’ public ministry. There was no separation of church and state in those days, because the state of Israel was the church, so to speak, the visible expression of the kingdom of God. Among the religio-political parties vying for control were the legalistic Pharisees, the liberal Sadducees, the big government Herodians, the ideologue Essenes, and the militant Zealots. One of them arose to fiercely oppose the would-be Messiah from Galilee, lest Jesus take away their power and prestige.
This opposing party was the populist Pharisees, who promised the people lower taxes on earth and a simple path to Heaven, by keeping their man-made, cookie-cutter religious rules. Jesus, on the other hand, preached giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, plus a more comprehensive plan of salvation that required giving absolutely all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength to God.
The Pharisees warned that if people followed Jesus, Israel would be ruined and the Romans would take over (as if they hadn’t already). Plus, Jesus, they said, was a notorious sinner who kept breaking their Sabbath rules, so there was no way He could lead people to be right with God.
Jesus countered by claiming that if the people followed the Pharisees, they would become twice as much children of Hell as the Pharisees themselves. It was an ugly campaign, but it produced one of the most beautiful chapters in the word of God, John 10, where Jesus’ message is essentially, don’t follow them, follow Me.
We begin with the first 10 verses, with Jesus’ recurring claim of deity and constant offer of salvation. They are packed in His third of seven “I Am” slogans recorded by John. Jesus said, “I am the door.”
The Door is Legitimacy
The Pharisees were constantly critiquing Jesus as unqualified to sit on the thrones of David (as Savior) and God (as Lord). They bore false witness about Jesus being born in Galilee (He was born in Bethlehem, Judea), raised by peasants (Mary and Joseph were from the royal line of David and the messianic tribe of Judah), and a breaker of God’s law (He only broke their man-made, legalistic rules, never the word of God).
Jesus counters by claiming, “I am the door,” the only legitimate entrance and access to the kingdom of God, which is likened to “sheep” in a “sheepfold” in this chapter. On the other hand, all of the other leaders and parties, especially the Pharisees, were “thieves,” “robbers,” and “strangers.” They were the illegitimate ones, offering false gospels and empty promises.
It was established then, and it remains true today, that the only way to have legitimate access to the true and living God is through “the door” of Jesus Christ and Christianity. And God is guarding the door, assisted by “gatekeeper” preachers heralding the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you listen to the wrong message and try to slip in using another religion, God will ban you like a “thief.” If you try to buy your way in with money, your money will perish like that of a “robber.” If you try to convinced Him you belong because you are a good person, He will not hear you and draw you near to His heart because you are a “stranger” to Him.
Do you want God in your life? Do you want to be involved in the life of the kingdom of God, and live in it forever? Then you have got to enter in the right door, the only legitimate door to God and God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “I am the door.” I vote for Him!
The Door is Salvation
When you walk through the door of Christ, by grace through faith, you find salvation. Jesus said the second time, “I am the door,” then followed, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” “Saved!”
The Pharisees were insulted, for they saw no need for themselves or anyone else to be saved by Jesus. Good people who play by the rules don’t need to get saved. If anything, they felt they were saved already by their own works. They saw themselves as the “sheep” of God’s “sheepfold,” even the “shepherd” assigned to bring others inside. But in actuality they were wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Yet people followed the Pharisees then, as they do now. You ask the typical non-Christian or nominal Christian today, the man on the street or the mainline Protestant, the secular humanist or the lapsed Catholic, “Would you like to be saved?” They will laugh in your face. “Saved?” “Saved from what?”
Do you know what steals like a “thief,” takes away like a “robber,” and leaves you cold and alone like a “stranger?” Sin. Sin is the disobedience or disregard of God’s perfect will, best described and discerned from His holy word, the Bible. We all sin, and the perfect and holy God does not take it lightly. This is why sinners need the salvation found just inside “the door.”
It is hard to reach people who are lost in the throws of the drunkenness of alcohol and drugs, for they feel too good. It is hard to reach people who are lost in the pleasures of sexual immorality, spurning biblical marriage and morals, because they feel too much. It is hard to reach people who are lost in their own pride, greed, and lust for money, for they feel too little. It is hard to reach people who are lost, when the thieves and robbers and strangers of this present world have hypnotized them to feel like they not.
Jesus is different. He loves you enough to tell you the truth. His word teaches that we are all sinners, by nature, by commission, and by omission. His law condemns us to earthly consequences and eternal punishment. But His gospel saves us, with the imputed righteousness of His perfect life and the atoning for sin in His sacrificial death.
Many doors lead to sin. One door leads to salvation. Jesus said, “I am the door.” I vote for Him!
The Door is More
You know John 3:16. Take a look at John 10:10. It adds more to the salvation promised by God through Jesus Christ.
Have you seen the commercials that come on television during football season (Dear Lord, Let there be a football season this year?!). They taught the Southeastern Conference as the best and claim that to the member institutions and their states (including Arkansas and Georgia!), football means more. The SEC offers the best players, the smartest coaches, the greatest game experiences, the most champions. Amen!
People who walk through the door and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are not better than other people. But, we most definitely enjoy better lives. We have more. We have more quantity of life and more quality of life. We have a better eternity and a better existence. Our lives, because the door we have entered through, just means more.
Spurn the Pharisees and your own pride, walk through the door of the gospel of Jesus Christ, be born again by grace through faith in Christ, and you will have more. You will have more time when this life is over. The time is infinite and it is called eternity and the location is Heaven. But that is not all.
Before you go to enjoy your immeasurable life in Heaven, you will live the most meaningful life possible on earth. I did not say pleasurable, prosperous, or pain-free, I said meaningful. You life will just mean more, if it is lived for Christ and His kingdom.
You will give God glory in your public and private worship. You will give God pleasure in the way you walk as a disciple and help to make other disciples. You will give God joy in your fellowship with Him and your fellow sheep. You will give God help, yes, you will partner with God, as a means of ministry to others and in the mission to spread the gospel all over the world. All other lives are temporary and ultimately empty. The Christian life just means more.
And, you just might enjoy it, too. Luther championed sex, martial sex which he freed the priests to seek and enjoy. The Puritans had beer for breakfast. Spurgeon told the funniest jokes in Elizabethan England, drank brandy, and smoked big cigars. When Covid-19 is over, I’m going back to throwing my PPP’s, Pastor’s Patio Parties and dining out regularly with members of the church family. Being a Pharisee is gloom and doom and death; being a Christian is eternal and abundant life.
But, to be a Christian, you have to go through the door. Jesus said, “I am the door.” I vote for Him!
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 16, 2020
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
— John 9:1-41, ESV
The best selling and most often recorded song of all time was not written by the Beatles or Bob Dylan. It was written by a Reformed Pastor by the name of John Newton. Newton, as you may know, was an English slave trader who was converted to Christianity in 1748. In 1790, while carrying out his pastoral practice of writing hymns to accompany his sermons (he wrote at least 280), he penned “Amazing Grace.”
The biblical inspiration for the beautiful hymn came from, among other places, this story in the Gospel of John. It is the sixth of seven “signs,” or prominent miracles recorded by John, and it repeats the second of seven “I Am” statements made by Jesus. In the miracle, Jesus heals a young man born blind, whose famous testimony, “Though I was blind, now I see,” (vs. 25)
is echoed in Newton’s famous first verse.
Remember that virtually every miracle performed by Jesus is a parable preached by Jesus. The miracles are parables that proclaim the good news of salvation, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That Jesus saved this man’s sight is grace indeed, but that Jesus saved the man’s soul, that’s amazing grace.
This is the story of “a man blind from birth” (vs. 1). He did not lose his sight, he never had it, and had no idea of what it is like to see. It was not his fault that he was blind, per se, nor any fault of his parents, it was just his lot in life, a lot cast by God (ref. Exodus 4:11) in order to glorify God (vs. 3, ref. Romans 8:28).
There was no cure for blindness then, just as there is no complete cure now. No miracle worker, not even Moses nor Elijah, had ever healed blindness, neither have any charlatan televangelists like Bennie Hinn or Joel O’Steen. If blind you are, it is blind you will stay, apart from the miraculous grace of God.
This man had made peace with his blindness. He lived in darkness, it was a darkness he was used to. When Jesus found him, he was doing what blind people did in those days, sitting down beside the road begging for coins. This he did day after day, until the day “the Light of the world” (vs. 5) entered his darkness.
It is clear here that the only thing that could bring this man out of blindness and into sight, out of darkness and into the light, was the miraculous grace of God, held in the powerful hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was a miracle worker in His day, though a discriminate one. He healed on His terms, in His time, and in His own various and sundry ways.
In this miracle, John’s sixth sign, Jesus took the initiative, as God always does. He was aware of the man’s suffering, and allowed it up to this time in his life. The Lord did something unusual, combining spit and dirt to make mud to cover his blind eyes. The Lord did something usual, too, by giving a command, this one to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, which required faith, repentance, and obedience.
The man believed in the word and work of Jesus. He turned from his begging bench toward the Pool of Siloam, the very illustration of Christ’s living water. He obeyed the Lord and washed himself in the water. Then, though he was blind, he could now see.
The religious and legalistic Pharisees were upset with Jesus, the healed blind man, and his parents. Jesus had performed, and they had received, a miraculous work, but it was a work performed on the Sabbath Day, in violation of their extra-biblical rules.
The parents threw their son under the bus. They did not want to get kicked out of the synagogue and lose their works-based-religion and social status. They should have been singing Jesus’ praises and taking their son on his first sight-seeing tour, but they cowed down to the crowd.
The man, perhaps as young as 13 or as old as 20, stood up to the Pharisees and stood apart from his parents. In the process, he was transformed twice. He received his physical sight. Though he did not know what Jesus looked like, blind as he was during their first encounter, he recognized Jesus’ voice. Upon hearing the word of God and seeing the Son of God, he believed, as attested to the change in address from “sir” to “Lord” (a nuance correctly captured by the two different English renderings of the one Greek word “Kurios”).
“Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
— Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13
While only 39 million people in the world today are born physically blind (less than 1/2 of 1% of the population), 100% of human beings are born spiritually blind. Theologians call this condition total depravity. It is the absolute inability to see God, seek God, or give God the only thing that pleases Him, namely faith (ref. Hebrews 11:6), on your own. It is a state of sin and unbelief, to which the vast majority of people become accustomed.
Like the man born blind, we are helpless until we are helped by the Lord. People can help, with prayers and witness. Church attendance can help, where the Bible is rightly preached and the sacraments are regularly observed. There are many means of grace. But there is only one source of saving grace, and that source is our sovereign Lord.
If you see salvation as something you can earn, you will never have it. If you see salvation as some kind of cooperative effort between you and God, like Pelagius and Arminius and Finney, then you are badly mistaken. If you see salvation as a miracle of divine grace, like John and Paul and Augustine and Luther and Calvin and Spurgeon, then you see correctly. But remember, such sight is a miraculous gift of God’s saving grace.
Salvation is a gift that makes a blind man see, a lame man walk, a dead man live. Salvation is a gift given by a discriminate God, who has chosen the recipients before the creation of the world, then reaches them in different ways and means. Salvation is a gift given when the word of God is heard, and the grace-enabled response is faith, repentance, and obedience, just like the man in this story.
Thought the particulars differ from person to person, people who are saved by grace always experience joy, persecution, and resolution. I wish we could do away with the middle man, but he is part of the proof of our salvation.
Joy comes from seeing, walking, and living with the Lord. The Bible makes sense. The church is a delight not a drudgery. And the heavenly insurance policy, the assurance that Heaven awaits at the end of your journey on earth, is an unimaginable comfort.
Persecution comes from within, religious folks like the Pharisees, even family members and friends who do not share or understand radical faith. Persecution comes from without in the world in which we live, ever more so as the days for Christ’s return approach. Battle lines are drawn, choices have to be made, but for those who have been saved by grace to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, there is only one road.
When one really sees the gospel and resolutely follows Jesus, there is a peace that the Apostle Paul says passes all understanding (ref. Philippians 4:7). It is all of grace, it is an ever deepening faith, and it is all about the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes one want to sing.
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath bro't me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.
— John Newton
WHEN FAITH DOES NOT SAVE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 9, 2020
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
— John 8:31-59, ESV
The second of five pillars of the Great Reformation is “Sola Fide,” or “Faith Alone” saves. This distinguishes Reformed churches from Roman Catholicism, which touts faith plus sacraments, and Churches of Christ, which preach faith plus baptism, and the contemporary Church of Oprah, which believes any belief will do as long as you are a good person.
While I would not leave the Reformed tradition to embrace any of the above religions, I must confess they have a point. While I support the second pillar of “Faith Alone,” I confess there is a faith that does not save. It is not faith alone, but a faith that remains alone, unaccompanied by biblical obedience, genuine repentance, spiritual disciplines, and a pattern of good works.
Such is the superficial faith that plagued many Israelites of the Old Covenant, whose lips gave service to God but whose hearts were far from Him. It is the unsaving faith of modern day revivalism, which woos people down an aisle to make an emotional decision for Christ, which wears off as soon as the emotion dies down. It is the worthless faith without works criticized by Paul and James in the New Testament. It is the faith that is aptly illustrated by fickle followers of Jesus during His last days at His last Feast of Tabernacles.
Faith does not save when it is not accompanied by obedience to the word of God.
Apparently the Lord had made a big impression upon people in Jerusalem. His astounding claims of possessing living water and true light, backed up by three years worth of miracles and messages, had prompted a profession of faith from many. So they came forward at the end of the festival, like a crowd streaming down the aisles of a Billy Graham crusade or a Baptist church revival, and Jesus counseled with them.
Jesus’ first word to those making profession of faith was, “If.” He did not have them fill out a pledge card, or write a date down in their Bibles to never doubt, or give them any other kind of false assurance. He admonished them to prove it. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but salvation is not a profession of faith alone. It is a proven faith.
Jesus made the following declarative statements: “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples” (vs. 31); “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” (vs. 47); “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death” (vs. 51); and, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (ref. John 14:15). Consider the converse of those statements. Look at what the Gospel writer John wrote later, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (ref. 1 John 2:3-4).
The only way to prove that faith alone has saved you is to prove your faith is not alone. It is accompanied by obedience to the word of God, the Bible. The commandments in Scripture are relatively clear and uncomplicated. Those who profess faith in Christ are to be baptized into the membership of the church. They should attend public worship on the Lord’s Day and always put God first in their hearts. They should subject their speech, their sexual morals, their home, and their habits to the Lordship of Christ and the word of God. A Christian cannot achieve perfection is this life, for such belongs only to Christ, but he or she will be committed, obedient, and faithful to the faith they profess in the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, then they have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when there is no repentance from sin.
The opposite of saving faith and its ensuing faithfulness to God is an unsaving faith marked by the perpetual practice of sin. It is a faith without repentance, which is all too common in our modern Christian culture.
Jesus’ first sermon was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ref. Matthew 3:17). He also said, “Unless you repent, you will perish” (ref. Luke 13:3,5). Repentance is a change of mind and heart that turns away from sinful habits and toward faithful obedience to the Lord. Again, repentance is not perfection, but it is the practice of holiness rather than the practice of selfish sins, like spending Sundays for yourself instead of God, or engaging in repeated sexual immorality, or spending your life striving for money and material things at the expense of a spiritual and faithful life.
The bad news about the common man is that he is depraved, spiritually dead, powerless to fight against sin and selfish pleasures. The good news about the gospel, when brought home by the Holy Spirit with true faith and repentance, is that, in Jesus words, it will “set you free” (vs. 32) from being that person “who practices sin [as] a slave to sin” (vs. 34).
The people professing faith in Jesus on this day denied their need for repentance, for freedom from the slavery of sin, of needing to be washed clean of wrong and empowered to do right. They did not repent. They did not obey. They looked like a great number of contemporary church members today. They have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when it clings to religion rather than the gospel.
Not every lost church member blows off church attendance. Some of them don’t miss a Sunday. Some of them have memorized sections of Scripture. Some of them get elected to church leadership positions. But like the false believers in Jesus’ day, these people have faith in religion, not in the real gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The people who came forward to profess faith on this day were Jews, staunchly practicing their Jewish religion. They were at the required Festival. They were in and around the right Temple. They clung to the right patriarch, Abraham, the literal grandfather of Israel. But when presented with the full gospel, the gospel of faith in God’s Son that requires faithfulness to God’s word, they let go of any acceptance, affection, or allegiance to Jesus Christ.
They fell back on their religious commitment instead. Since they could say, “Abraham is our father” (vs. 39), they could claim God as their Father, too (vs. 41). They did not need a personal relationship with Jesus. They thought their membership in the Jewish faith would be enough to earn them acceptance with God.
I am an obituary reader, morbid though it may seem. And though I do not mean to be as critical as this may sound, I am always dismayed when someone is eulogized as being of the Baptist faith, or the Methodist faith, or the Catholic faith, or any other denomination or tradition. Being Jewish cannot save any Jew who rejects Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, nor is salvation found in being a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or whatever. If your faith is in religion rather than the person and work of Jesus Christ, then you have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when it attacks Christ or true Christians.
Not all unbelievers and false believers overtly attack true believers. But, it is common, and proof that a person is no closer to God than Pluto is to the Sun. When Jesus told those who professed faith in Him that they really had no faith at all, they went on the attack.
First they said to the Lord, “You are a Samaritan” (vs. 48), the equivalent of a racial slur. Then they said Jesus was demon possessed (vs. 48, 52), which was blasphemy. At the end of the day, “They picked up stones to throw at Him” (vs. 59). But it was not Jesus’ time to die, not for another few months, so their attack failed and they all fell away to resume their lives without saving faith.
I have been under attack in every place I have ever served. It is not because I preach false doctrine, but because I preach the true gospel of real repentance, genuine faith, and persevering obedience to the word of God. It is not because I violated the church constitution and bylaws, but because I reformed them to be congruent with the Scriptures. It is not because under my watch people were not added to the church rolls, but because I removed people from the church rolls who were living in sin or forsaking the church. I have been called a legalist and I have been called a liberal. I have been called a goody two shoes and I have been called that drinking and dancing preacher. I have seen my family’s faith grow during these trials and I have watched family members abandon the faith because of the pressure.
But my problems pale in comparison to those endured by the Lord Jesus Christ. He suffered rejection by the Jews in this story, and the vast majority of mankind rejects Him still. He escaped stoning here but He could not, He would not, escape the pain and death of the cross.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the eternal God and only Savior. Yet true, historic, and biblical Christianity has never been harder to find. This is in spite of the fact that most people in our culture claim to have faith. I’m afraid the faith they have, is a faith that does not save.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org