Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Steven M. Baugh and Richard A. Riesen
The Editor ..................................................................................................................... 2
1. A SERMON ON I PETER 1:3-5
Geerhardus Vos ............................................................................................................ 4
2. A KING AND A CRIPPLE
James T. Dennison, Jr. ................................................................................................ 18
3. BEHOLD MY SERVANT
David L. Roth .............................................................................................................. 27
4. YOUR LIFE IS THE WORSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST
William D. Dennison .................................................................................................. 37
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ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 1, No. 2
Once again, we are pleased to feature a previously unpublished sermon by Geerhardus Vos. This message evinces one of Vos's favorite emphases–the eschatological character of Christian hope. It is this semi-eschatological dimension to the Christian life which Vos perceived and articulated so magnificently in his printed works. One must make allowances for his long Germanic sentences, but the patient reader will be lifted to the heavenlies in Christ Jesus as he follows Vos's careful exposition of the New Testament hope.
This is as appropriate an occasion as any to comment briefly on the career of Professor Vos. He was born in the Netherlands in 1862 and immigrated with his parents to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1881. From 1883-85, he studied at Princeton Seminary under William Henry Green. For the next three years, he studied in Europe; one year at the University of Berlin, the remaining two at the University of Strasbourg where he received the Ph.D. in 1888.
He returned to Grand Rapids where he assumed his duties as Professor of Systematic and Exegetical Theology at the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church (now Calvin Theological Seminary). But the needs of the kingdom were broader than a small school in central Michigan. Vos's peculiar gifts in exegetical and biblical theology, his firm grounding in systematic and historical theology and his thorough acquaintance with the German critical scholars drew successive invitations from his former mentor, William Henry Green. In 1893 (the year of the Briggs heresy trial), Vos acceded to this "Macedonian call" and returned to his New Jersey alma mater to assume the newly created Chair of Biblical Theology. Here he remained until 1932.
Biblical theology was his love. His lectures constantly set the concatenations of all redemptive history before his listeners. With that distinctively Reformed definition of biblical theology as the self-disclosure of God in its historical manifestation, Vos opened the
primacy of the eschatological dimension to his listeners and readers. From his seminal work Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, to his most challenging work The Pauline Eschatology, to his most exquisite work "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit" [written for the 1912 Centennial celebration of Princeton Seminary and now reprinted in Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (ed.), Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co.)], the focus was upon God's revelation of himself in history, through the grace of his beloved Son, by the power of his mighty Spirit.
Geerhardus Vos died in 1949 in the city to which he had immigrated in 1881. His penetration of the mind of the sacred writers lives on through his pen. As you read his sermon on I Peter 1:3-5, you too will sense how the mind of God has been revealed to you in his word and how you too have been raised up to a new hope in the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.
A Sermon on I Peter 1:3-5
We are all undoubtedly familiar with the characterization of Peter as the apostle of hope. The well-known distinction runs: Paul the apostle of faith, John the apostle of love, Peter the apostle of hope. Of course generalizing definitions like this are apt to be somewhat misleading. They would be wrong if they were to give us the impression that in Paul hope was not particularly prominent or for John faith [was] not especially important. A single glance at the writings of these two apostles would suffice to convince us of the contrary. These three are necessary ingredients of all Christian life. The only question can be–which of the three is the most characteristic in each; or, what is the same thing put in a different way, in connection with which [does] the individuality of each find clearest expression?
These great Christian virtues are not something arbitrary. They correspond closely to the fundamental dispositions and activities in the natural constitution of man. What a man is temperamentally by nature that he will as a rule be temperamentally in the state of grace. Evidently Peter's was a temperament of hope. We can observe this in all that is recorded of him in the Gospels and Acts. And thus in his regenerate, Christian life also he retains this peculiarity. That side of redemption which has to do with hope most deeply impressed, most strongly appealed to him. And, therefore, he was used by the Spirit as the apostle to interpret for us the nature and influence of Christian hope. The whole epistle bears witness to the prominence of this factor in the writer's mind. It is, of course, highly significant that it emerges here at the very beginning before any other thing is mentioned and that it is immediately introduced in such a way as to make us feel that the essence of what Christians are consists in this–that they have a hope. They are begotten again for that. When they were made new creatures, it was that they might have a new hope. But in the sequel also the writer returns to it. In the thirteenth verse of this chapter, he exhorts the readers as follows: "Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." In the third chapter, the fifteenth verse, he enjoins the readers to be ready always to give answer to every man that asks them a reason concerning the hope that is in them. And not only of the religious life of his readers, but of religious life in general, especially of the religious life of the old covenant, he makes hope the keynote. Of the holy women of old, whom he holds up as examples to the Christian women of his own time, he has nothing greater to say than this, that "they hoped in God" (I Pet. 3:5).
And what is even more characteristic is the close connection which the apostle establishes between faith and hope. In the seventeenth verse of this chapter, he exhorts the readers to pass the time of their sojourning in fear: fear in view of the holiness of God who as Father without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work. But fear is not the whole of the Christian consciousness. There is another
side to it and that is hope. The God who is judge is also the one who has given Christ as a savior. The Christians are believers, through Christ, in a God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for the express purpose that their faith might also hope in God. For thus, it seems, we must render the close of the twenty-first verse rather than "that your faith and hope might be in God." In thus closely connecting faith and hope, our epistle bears a certain similarity to the epistle to the Hebrews with which it also possesses some other interesting points of contact. In Hebrews, you will remember, faith is in one place defined as "the substance of things hoped for" (Heb. 11:1).
Hope and the Future
Let us for a few moments consider this idea of the Christian hope and the significance the apostle ascribes to it for the practice of religion. In the first place, we notice that the hope of which the text speaks is not a general sort of hopefulness–the expectation of future blessedness in an indefinite sense. It is true the Christian is a man of hope so far as his outlook upon the future as such, be it near or remote, is bright and cheerful. But what Peter means is something different from this, something far more specific. The hope he refers to is the hope of the future kingdom of God, the final state of blessedness, the hope of heaven, as we would call it. This is stated in so many words; for the apostle after having first said that we were begotten again unto a living hope, goes on to substitute for the conception of hope that of the inheritance reserved in heaven for us. And [he] adds still further that while this is reserved for us, we are also guarded for it as for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The Christian is a man, according to Peter, who lives with his heavenly destiny ever in full view. His outlook is not bounded by the present life and the present world. He sees that which is and that which is to come in their true proportions and in their proper perspective. The center of gravity of his consciousness lies not in the present but in the future. Hope, not possession, is that which gives tone and color to his life. His is the frame of mind of the heir who knows himself
entitled to large treasures upon which he will enter at a definite point of time; treasures which will first enable him to become a man and develop his powers to their full capacity, and every one of whose thoughts therefore projects itself into the period when he shall have become of age and enjoy the fruition of his hope.
It is characteristic of youth to live in the future because youth knows instinctively that the true realities, the great possibilities of life lie before it; that that which it now is, is merely provisional and preparatory; that growing is for being. Yet even more emphatically this is true of that youthful stage of Christian life which believers spend here on earth. For after all, that which young people expect in the future is indefinite and uncertain. They know that what they have is not yet the true life. But what the true life, when it comes, will bring, if it comes at all, they cannot tell. Here hope is negative. But the Christian's hope is positive. His youth is like unto that of the heir during his minority who knows precisely what awaits him. Nay more than this, the Christian has the assurance which no heir in temporal things can ever have. He knows with absolute certainty that not merely will the inheritance be kept for him, but that he will be kept for it. Here then there is something that possesses all the requirements necessary to make hope a safe and normal life-principle. The Christian can hope perfectly. He is the only one that can hope perfectly for that which is to be brought unto him. For him not to have his face set forward and upward would be an anomaly, sickliness, decadence. To have it set upward and forward is life and health and strength. The air of the world to come is the vital atmosphere which he delights to breathe and outside of which he feels depressed and languid.
Undoubtedly, the early Christians, as we observe them in the New Testament and even later, had more of this youthful spirit of the faith than you and I and Christians of the present day can boast of. Christianity in a certain sense has grown old in us. We do not, as much as we ought to, have our hearts in eternity. What is the reason? It is easy to say that the Christians of the apostolic age expected the
speedy return of Christ which would soon make an end of the present world; and that for this reason they had a great advantage over us. To some extent this may be true, although to a far larger extent I believe that a precisely opposite connection between these two facts might be affirmed. I venture to say that the apostolic church was so much interested in the return of the Lord and the time of his coming because spiritually it was predisposed for making this a question of supreme concern. In other words, because [it was] a church full of hope, it pondered with eager interest the problem of the how and the when its hope was to be realized.
Hope and the Second Advent
There is a very easy way of testing this. To us, to every believer individually, death, and through death, the eternal world is just as near as the second advent could have appeared to the Christians of the time of Peter and Paul. Does the absolute certainty that we are so near to it have the same influence upon us as their belief had upon them? And if not, does not the difference plainly arise from this–that the forces of eternal life were so strong in them as to keep their hope ever fresh and green, whereas in our case they are frequently so weak as to make our hope little more than a profession, a name. Where are the few nowadays (we may ask it not excluding ourselves) who carry with them the consciousness of belonging to another world, of being heirs to an unbounded future? [Where are the few who are conscious] to the same extent (I shall not say as Peter and Paul were) as the plain, average believer in those times was, so that for the whole New Testament wherever we open it, there blows upon us, as it were, a breeze fresh from the ocean of heaven? And what a pity that we succeed so little in creating and reproducing this atmosphere around us! What a dignity it lends to the Christian life to have such hope even theoretically. If you have ever moved for a time in circles where the Christian faith had ceased to exist, where the belief in immortality had practically vanished, where people lived consciously and professedly for this world only (and do not even attempt any longer
to break down the bars that shut them in), then you will have felt how sadly life was degraded, how pitifully brought down to the animal stage, even though it had all the advantages of worldly refinement and culture, simply because this element of hope had been taken out of it.
Modern paganism in this respect is not substantially better. It is worse than ancient paganism, being more self-conscious and confirmed. And of ancient paganism Paul already summed up the whole sad story in the double statement that it was without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12), an exile from what is the noblest birthright of humanity. Now if this be so, how imperative in view of it becomes the duty of every true believer in the present age to cultivate the grace of hope; to make himself remember and to make others feel, not so much by direct affirmation, but rather by the tone of life that the future belongs to us and that we belong to the future; that we are children of the world to come and that even now we allow this world to mold and rule and transform us in our thoughts and desires and feelings. If we could only learn again, brethren, what Peter calls "to hope perfectly" (1:13), what a witness of the reality of the Christian religion, what a powerfully attractive influence there might proceed from this one manifestation of our spiritual life! People not having such hope would feel the difference between themselves and us and regret at not having it might in many instances offer the first inducement to regain an interest in it and inquire about it.
Consequences of the Life of Hope
The necessary consequence of this life of the Christian in hope is that he learns to consider the present earthly life a journey, a pilgrimage, something that is necessary for the sake of the end, but which does not have any independent value or attraction in itself. This also is a thought which pervades and colors the entire epistle. Peter in the very opening words addresses the readers as sojourners of the dispersion–two terms which strikingly express that they are away
from home, scattered in a strange world, a colony with regard to heaven, as truly as the scattered Jews were a diaspora with reference to the holy land and Jerusalem. He tells them to gird up the loins of their minds as befits a traveller journeying through. And again he says: "Pass the time of your sojourning in fear" (1:17). Once more: "Beloved I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" (2:11). Without a certain detachment from this world, other-worldliness is not possible. Hope cannot flourish where the heart is in the present life.Two things, however, ought to be remembered here in order not to misunderstand this teaching. In the first place, this detachment from the world is not and ought not to be an external matter, but an internal disposition. The question is not whether one shall deny himself all earthly, temporal possessions. He might do that and yet in his heart be far from a pilgrim, a sojourner. And on the other hand, he might not do this and yet inwardly obey the exhortation of the apostle because he had succeeded in disengaging his heart. And in the second place, such an inward attitude towards the world cannot be assumed and maintained artificially by merely compelling ourselves not to love the present life. If this is to be a natural, healthy state of mind, it must be the result of a greater, a supreme interest in the life to come. The negative must be the effect of the positive. The love of heaven must drive out the inordinate love of what is earthly.Hence the author entirely directs his exhortation to the positive side. He does not urge the readers to make themselves strangers on earth or even to consider themselves so, but simply takes this for granted as a fact which none of them can be unaware of. All he does is to point out how their situation in the world bears out the truth of their not being of it. He tells them repeatedly that their sufferings are due to this. For you will observe, the suffering of which the epistle speaks so much was not suffering in general, but suffering of a specific kind–that brought upon believers by the enmity of the world; whence also it was prefigured by the suffering of Christ. And the world makes the Christian suffer because it instinctively recognizes that the
latter belongs to a different, to an opposite order of things than itself. The malice of the world springs from reservations that the believer should refuse to identify himself with the world. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you" (4:12)–the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren which are in the world, i.e., because they are in the world–wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess. If we are true believers, brethren, though we ourselves should sometimes forget, the world will not fail to remind us of the difference between it and us. And, on the other hand, if we at any time feel perfectly at home in the world, if our consciousness of its necessary antagonism to us is entirely in abeyance, then there is abundant reason for us to examine ourselves. And the probability is that we have been backward in cultivating our hope upon God and the world to come.
Hope and Regeneration
In the third place, we observe that this hope of the believer is something into which he has come by being born again. Its origin is ascribed to God: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." God took mercy upon us because he saw us leading a life without hope. And therefore by a new birth, he radically changed our world for us so as to make it a world of hope. The peculiar way in which the apostle expresses this fact ought to be carefully noted. He might have said, "God gave us a new hope," or, "God brought us into a new hope." But what he says is, "God begat us again unto a living hope." Undoubtedly this representation is chosen in order to emphasize the comprehensiveness and persuasiveness of the hope which the Christian obtains. It means a change as great as the crisis of birth; a transition from not being to living, when the hope of the gospel breaks upon our vision. The change is not partial. It does not affect our life in merely one or the other of its aspects. It revolutionizes our whole life at every point. What this means is a total regeneration of our
consciousness, a regeneration of our way of thinking, a reversal of our outlook upon things in their entirety.
he term "to be begotten again" or "to be born again" does not always have the same meaning in Scripture. Sometimes it stands for that fundamental act whereby God implants a new spiritual life in us deep beneath our consciousness and beneath all our experience in the center of our nature. In that case, regeneration is confined, as it were, to a single point and from this point the implanted life expands and unfolds itself. But there is also in the New Testament a wider conception of regeneration according to which it describes the change in us as it presents itself to our own conscious experience and therefore the change not of a single point within us, but the change as reflected in the entire compass of our consciousness. It is the coming in of the new life as a complex, rich world of new relations and new realities and new reactions. In this sense Paul says that when anybody is in Christ, he is a new creation (II Cor. 5:17); not merely a new creature, but a new creation–behold the old things have passed away, all around him has become new. When a man becomes conscious of his being in Christ, there takes place such a transformation of his spiritual environment for him that it may be fitly compared to the great world-change that shall take place before our eyes when the new heavens and the new earth appear at the end of time. These two regenerations resemble each other in their pervasive, comprehensive character.
Peter and Resurrection Hope
Now in this sense also, I take it, Peter affirms that believers have been begotten again unto a living hope. In all probability the representation, while applicable to all believers, was influenced to some extent by the apostle's memory of his own experience. There had been a moment in his previous life when all at once in the twinkling of an eye, as it were, he had been thus translated from a world of despair into a world of hope. It was when the fact of the resurrection of
Christ flashed upon him. Under the two-fold bitterness of his denial of the Lord and of the tragedy of the cross, utter darkness had settled down upon his soul. Everything he expected from the future in connection with Jesus had been completely blotted out. Perhaps he had been even in danger of losing the old hope which as a pious Israelite he cherished before he knew the Lord. And then suddenly, the whole aspect of things had been changed. The risen Christ appeared to him and by his appearance wrought the resurrection of everything that had gone down with him into the grave. Nay, there was far more here for Peter than a mere resurrection of what he had hoped in before. It was the birth of something new that now for the first time disclosed itself to his perception. His hope was not given back to him in its old form. It was regenerated in the act of restoration. Previously it had been dim, undefined, subject to fluctuations–sometimes eager and enthusiastic, sometimes cast down and languishing; in many respects earthly and carnal, very incompletely spiritualized and, apart from all these defects, a bare hope which could only sustain itself by projection into the future, but lacked that vital support and nourishment in a present substantial reality without which no religious hope can permanently subsist.
Through the resurrection of Christ, all these faults were corrected; all these deficiencies supplied. For Peter looked upon the risen Christ as the beginning, the first fruits of that new world of God in which the believer's hope is anchored. Jesus did not rise as he had been before, but transformed, glorified, eternalized, the possessor and author of a transcendent heavenly life at one and the same time, the revealer, the sample and the pledge of the future realization of the true kingdom of God. No prolonged course of training could have been more effective for purifying and spiritualizing the apostle's hope than this single, instantaneous experience; this bursting upon him of a new form of eternal life, concrete and yet all-comprehensive in its prophetic significance. Well might the apostle say that he himself had been begotten again unto a new hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. And, of course, what was true of him was even more emphatically true of the readers of his epistle, who, if they were
believers from the Gentiles, previously to their conversion had lived entirely without hope and without God in the world.
The Goal of This Hope
This substantial renewal which the consciousness of man undergoes when he is brought in contact with the resurrection-life of Christ is still more clearly expressed in the other statement of our text. For you will observe that the apostle describes the goal of this new begetting in two ways. First, he says, "unto a living hope" and then he says, "unto an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away." What he means is evidently nothing else than that through the resurrection of Christ, his hope has been made to terminate directly upon the heavenly inheritance in all its compass. It was a birth into a state of consciousness that knew itself infinitely rich in heavenly places in Christ. [It was a birth] in which all the thoughts and the aspirations have for their fixed background this sense of nobility of being heir to untold treasures. What matters is that the inheritance is not yet received, so far as our legal title to it is concerned and our ideal possession of it! We have been born unto it through the resurrection of Christ.
The three adjectives "incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away" describe the spiritual, heavenly character of the inheritance. They describe that aspect of it in virtue of which the hope of the believer can justly be called a new-born hope–distinct not only as a new fact, but distinct by its new qualities. They describe that in which the inheritance which Peter expected after the resurrection differed from that which he expected before. These adjectives simply unfold what is already given in the statement that the inheritance is reserved (or rather preserved), kept secure in heaven. Because by its very nature it belongs to the heavenly, spiritual world, it is exempt from corruption. The forces of decay that rule in this world of death cannot attack it. It is undefiled–the principle of moral evil, the power of sin cannot invade it. It fadeth not away–even the lapse of time
which in a normal world destroys the beauty and freshness of things cannot dim its glory for it is constituted under the laws of eternity and not of time.
A Living Hope
By no means however does it follow from this that existing under such laws and so securely protected from the corruption and defilement and decay of this world, it is also debarred from exerting its power in this world and acting upon us while we form yet part of this lower order of things. For the apostle, as you will observe, describes the hope to which the Christian has been born again as a living hope. This is but another way of saying that the inheritance unto which he has been born again is a living inheritance; an inheritance that moves and sways, that strengthens and inspires us, and that not merely subjectively through our knowledge of it, but objectively through the spiritual power that proceeds from it. The word "living" is used in two other passages in our epistle. It is said of the word of God that it "liveth and abideth forever" (1:23). And Christ is called the "living stone" (2:4) unto whom coming believers themselves also as living stones are built up a spiritual house.
From this we can infer what is meant by a living hope. Just as living stones are different from ordinary stones in that they do not wait passively until somebody comes and puts them into a building, but lend themselves in free spiritual activity for the purpose of edification; so a living hope is a hope which is not dead material in the mind of the believer, but an active force in his life, something that makes its influence felt and carries him along–that sustains and inspires him. The hope of the Christian can do this because it relates to something that is not purely future, but already exists in the present because it is a hope in an inheritance, the most real of all realities. The inheritance may be invisible, but this does not detract in the least from its power to become operative in our life. Nay the very fact of its being invisible vouches for its efficacy because this invisibility
means that it forms part of the spiritual world and the spiritual world is infinitely more real and infinitely more powerful than the things which our eyes can see. Hence the Christian, while not having seen it, loves it and rejoices in it greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory. He fashions himself according to it. He purifies his soul in harmony with the purity that intrinsically belongs to that world. He abstains from fleshly lusts because they war against the spiritual nature of the soul by which he is related to this spiritual realm which is the object of his hope. He is of sound mind, sober unto prayer. In all these things he but conforms himself and responds to the claims which his heavenly destiny has upon him. He lives in the presence of the world to come and allows it to be the ruling factor in all he thinks and does.
Finally, brethren, the living hope of which the apostle speaks has this for its peculiarity that it possesses a personal center in Christ and God. All through the epistle this is strikingly brought out. That which controls and attracts the believer in this hope is not a confused mass of expectation, not a medley of fantastic dreams. There is a unifying idea in it; it is, in the last analysis, the certainty that there is a state in store for us which shall bring us face to face with God and Christ. The Christian is a sojourner here and must live in the future because he knows full well that under the present conditions he can never attain to that full possession of God and his Savior for which in his best moments his heart and flesh cry out. The veil of sense lies between; the barrier of sin lies between. Even though he lay hold of God as Moses did–seeing the invisible–there is something that lies beyond his reach, that eludes his grasp. And the believer knows, moreover, that as long as he cannot fully possess God, God cannot fully possess him nor be completely glorified in him. This sentiment lies at the basis of all genuine God-born Christian hope–the sentiment which enabled even the Psalmist under the old covenant to transcend the darkness and mystery of death and to say, "Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; in thy right hand there are pleasures forever more . . . . As for me I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy
likeness" (Ps. 16:11; 17:15).
on Conference Sunday, November 13, 1904, at
(The sermon above is transcribed from Vos's personal sermon notebook deposited in Heritage Hall of Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan and is used here with their kind permission. The editor has reduced the manuscript to typescript and supplied minor corrections as well as the subheadings.)
A King and a Cripple
II Samuel 4:4; 9:1-11; 16:1-4; 19:16, 17, 24-30
David's treatment of Mephibosheth following his return from exile strikes us as harsh and unfair. And so the majority of commentators have regarded this incident. If we indulge a bit of righteous indignation and holy anger at David's injustice, we find ourselves in the company of many before us who have regarded Mephibosheth as the victim of a raw deal. Yet there have been a few who have suggested that Ziba's accusation in chapter 16 was accurate–that Mephibosheth was guilty of conspiracy and treason! These same persons have characterized the devious Ziba as a virtual saint. John Lightfoot, the great 17th century Hebrew scholar and member of the
Westminster Assembly, suggested that the David of II Samuel 19:29 is the benefactor of Mephibosheth. According to Lightfoot, David makes Ziba the steward or manager of Mephibosheth's lands rather than the owner of half of them.
But Lightfoot has failed to notice Ziba in the crowd–the crowd of those proclaiming the return of the king. Ziba comes with Shimei–Shimei who had cursed and thrown stones at the son of Jesse as he fled from his son, Absalom. Ziba comes with the throngs–throngs from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Ziba comes with the ferry boats–ferry boats poised to carry David back over Jordan. Ziba comes at a most opportune time!
The David who stands before a bedraggled Mephibosheth is the David who has been shamed by Joab. The story is found in verses 1-8 of chapter 19. Shamed for fixating his grief on a renegade son; shamed for turning the thrill of victory (Absalom's defeat) into an empty, hollow, bittersweet campaign. The David who stands before a bedraggled Mephibosheth is the David who has been shamed with the candid charge, "Thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends" (II Sam. 19:6 KJV). The David who stands before a bedraggled Mephibosheth is a David shamed and threatened–threatened with desertion by the commander of his army if he does not sit in the gate (II Sam. 19:7,8). Sit in the gate to speak to his people. How long had it been? How long had it been since David had humbled himself to sit in the gate; to sit in the gate and listen to the cries of his people–to listen to injustices poured out and tragedies recounted and laments for losses. How long since the shepherd-king had sat in the seat of tenderness–the seat of tender compassion with an ear bent to the plight of his people?
Too long! Too long he had not come to the place of judgment; too long he had vacated the seat of attentive listener. David had grown remote, distant, aloof. And Absalom? Absalom knew. Absalom knew how to exploit his father's weakness. How insidiously Absalom sat in the gate (11 Sam. 15:l-6)! How treacherously Absalom listened to
the pleas of the aggrieved!
David became the figurehead of an insensitive regime–a regime out of touch with the people. Absalom became the shepherd. But this shepherd was a wolf. And the wolf drove the legitimate shepherd and his little flock from its pasture (II Sam. 15:l0-37)–up the Mt. of Olives (II Sam. 15:30), across the brook Kidron, down to the Jordan, over to the east bank. The shepherd-king compelled to flee his citadel, his Zion, his uru salim ("city of peace")!
Had part of Israel followed Absalom because they knew the truth? David, in growing powerful, had grown insensitive. He had surrounded himself with advisors like Joab. Joab–opportunist, manipulator, assassin–yet a man fiercely loyal to the monarchy; a man whose life was dedicated to the institution which David had erected on Mt. Zion. Joab whose loyalty was motivated by his lust for power. Joab who slew, Judas-like, Abner and Amasa (II Sam. 3:27; II Sam. 20:9-10) because he would brook no rival as Secretary of State or Army Chief of Staff.
David at the Jordan
It is a David controlled by matters of state who now comes to the Jordan. Joab is at his side making certain appearances are kept up. Joab is not only Secretary of State, he doubles as Press Secretary! Shimei comes with abject hypocrisy (II Sam. 19:18-20). David spares him (II Sam. 19:23). Ziba comes with his sons and servants (II Sam. 19:17)–an impressive retinue! But this is a day for impressions; after all, had Ziba not supplied the fugitive David with bread, fruit and wine (II Sam. 16:1)? An appearance at the moment of David's return is markedly opportune (II Sam. 19:17). And so Ziba intended it. To see himself, his sons, his servants: surely David would recall the loaves, the fruits, the raisins, not to mention the donkeys.
Into this scene of pomp and pageantry comes the unkempt figure
of a cripple. Unwashed, unshaven, unsightly, Mephibosheth meets David on his return to Jerusalem in order to plead his case (II Sam. 19:24-28). Did he meet David at the gate (II Sam. 19:25)? Did Mephibosheth come to the place of justice seeking justice? His approach to David is confident. After all, this is his benefactor; this is the one who has fed him from the royal table for years. This is the bosom friend of his father Jonathan; this is the one who cried, "Is there yet any of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness" (II Sam. 9:1 KJV)? This is the one before whom Mephibosheth had prostrated himself in painful humiliation (II Sam. 9:6), only to hear the words, "Fear not" (II Sam. 9:7). This is the covenant-keeper who had pledged hesed (kindness) to him for Jonathan's sake. This is the one who had bestowed merciful kindness, undeserved kindness. Though Mephibosheth was but a dead dog, nevertheless David, the shepherd-king, bestowed undeserved kindness (hesed).
"Will not the shepherd-king of Israel do right?" thinks Mephibosheth. "Will he not see the marks of humiliation upon me? Will he not see my unwashed clothes, my unshaven face? Will he not count me loyal–a true servant of the king–when he sees my feet, my painful feet, untreated these months of exile? Will his heart not go out to me as one slandered and unjustly deprived of his inheritance?
"But David is concerned only with his own prestige. "Why didn't you come with me Mephibosheth" (II Sam. 19:25)? Ask a cripple, lame on both feet, dependent on a treacherous servant–"Why didn't you come with me?" As well ask a dead man why he doesn't breathe! David is concerned only with his decree. This king in Zion now hides behind the cloak of the Medes and the Persians. "I have said thou and Ziba divide the land. Speak to me no more of these matters" (II Sam. 19:29).
What's your hurry David? Why so curt and brusque? Why do you brush aside this plea? Why do you hasten on with matters of state and government policy? Do you see Ziba, David? Has the thief caught
your eye?–with his retinue of 35 able-bodied men! What is Mephibosheth?–this solitary cripple; this lame beggar? What does he bring to herald your return?–dirty clothes, unkempt beard, twisted feet! Certainly no political clout; the house of Saul is dead save this cripple. "Speak to me no more!"
And Mephibosheth is content; content with having protested his innocence; content with the display of his loyalty to the king; content with the marks of humiliation and sorrow upon him. Mephibosheth is content. "As good as dead, yet by your merciful kindness (hesed), I now live. Let Ziba have all. For all I need is the king in his peace. Shalom upon the house of David! Shalom upon the house of Israel! Shalom upon the Israel of God!" It is enough for this cripple that the rightful king returns in peace to possess his kingdom. That is sufficient!
The Cripple and His King
The shame in this incident does not belong to Mephibosheth. The cripple in this story is not the son of Jonathan. The royal lineage in this scene is not displayed by the seed of Jesse. Mephibosheth, now disposed of his inheritance, is the possessor of mercy (hesed) and peace (shalom). For Mephibosheth understands humility; Mephibosheth understands insufficiency; Mephibosheth understands unworthiness. "What is thy servant [but] a dead dog" (II Sam. 9:8 KJV)? In truth, Mephibosheth is a suffering servant!
This scene presents a David controlled by circumstances, not a man in control of circumstances. David has grown distant, no longer in touch with his constituency. He has become the pawn in the power plays of others more powerful than himself–Joab and Ziba. He is now of waning importance, a symbol, a figurehead. This scene presents David in his weakness. The dynamics of human weakness are all here: inability to do the right thing, the just thing; treatment of loyal ones as disloyal and disloyal ones as loyal; inability to act decisively;
embarrassment at genuine humility and sacrifice. These dynamics are still with us. You will find them in the corporate board room and the white collar market place; you will find them in the union hall and the blue collar market place; you will find them in the corridors of Congress and the halls of justice; and shamefully you will even find them in the church. In the pew and behind the pulpit; in denominational headquarters and in regional councils: you will find the injustices, the insensitivity, the manipulators. It is all still very much a part of the kingdom on earth.
It is weakness–weakness to play to the crowd, eyeing privilege, status, authority. David was worried about his position, not his principles. And it is weakness to be manipulated by the presence of others as well as by the force of circumstances. Joab may have been right about the simpering monarch (II Sam. 19:1-8), but David had long before surrendered his royal resolve to his opportunistic commander-in-chief. The aftermath is plain in the case of Mephibosheth. He who is manipulated by others learns the game of manipulating others. No sooner does David bend to Joab with an eye to Ziba and his crowd than he strips Mephibosheth of one half his rightful inheritance. When one plays games with the crowd, one leans precariously toward playing the crowd's game. What a subtle weakness this is–this manipulative game. Quite often, those who use it most are unconscious of its power and influence in their lives–so habitual has it become. The Christian community must guard against stroking and controlling personalities by whatever conditioning and for whatever ends. The world will see the hypocrisy sooner or later and we will be judged for the shameful phonies that we have become!
And what can be said about the weakness of retreating from injustice. When wrong is before us clearly and dramatically as it was before David, what can be said when wrong is pursued and right eschewed. David is embarrassed by Mephibosheth's self-effacement. He cannot look on the cripple who bears injustice meekly, humbly and with benevolence. "You have condemned the just and he doth not resist you" (Jam. 5:6 KJV). This cripple returns good for evil;
benediction for malediction. Mephibosheth will not play the game David plays. David deals out injustice; Mephibosheth turns his cheek and submits, blessing the king with his lips. It is the second time in his career that David has encountered one more righteous than he. Remember Uriah–loyal Uriah who would not go down to the bed of Bathsheba, but slept in the servants' quarters because he was devoted to his sovereign and his soldier-comrades (II Sam. 11:6-13).
We are called to experience the strength which comes from humility. We are called to taste the power which comes in serving. Not dominating others, not tyranny, not display of authority, but meekness, lowliness, servanthood. We are called to unthreatened and unintimidated servanthood.
Is it enough for us not to be first? Are we content to think more highly of others than ourselves? And why? Because we have already felt what it means to regard ourselves of lesser importance. Lesser importance than our God who created us; lesser importance than our Lord who redeemed us. Is it enough for us not to be first because we have experienced the feeling that we are dogs–"dead dogs": vile, loathsome, filthy, wretched. We have experienced the feeling of unworthiness because we have felt the holiness of God–the awful, terrible, wonderful holiness of God. We have experienced the feeling of unworthiness because we have felt the sweet, marvelous ecstasy of merciful kindness–of grace. Grace which has broken us; grace which has restored us. Grace which has wounded us; grace which has bound up our wounds. Grace which has melted us, grace which has moved us, grace which has touched us.
Where is pride in the presence of grace? Where is haughtiness and arrogance; where is a domineering and manipulative spirit? The grace of Christ Jesus our Lord is too sweet, too tender, too moving to coexist with putting ourselves first. Jesus did not put himself first,
but made himself of no reputation and took the form of a servant. He humbled himself; how can we walk as if we are the hot shots and big shots of the earth? John the Baptist would not put himself first. When the Lamb of God comes to him, John says, "He must increase, I must decrease." The Lamb of God cannot come to a heart which must be first. There is no room! No room for the Lamb and self. Self must go so the Lamb can stay.
No, the proud have never felt the presence of the Lamb because the Lamb resists the proud. But the Lamb gives grace to the humble. Yes, to the humble, the despised, the rejected, the outcast, the cripples: to these the Lamb gives grace.
The humble say, "Lord Jesus, you know what I am. Lord Jesus, you know what a dog I am. Lord Jesus, I want that to die." And Jesus says, "I will nail that to the cross I bear; I will take it to death in my death. I will set you free; free to be humble; free to be unworthy; free to be insufficient; free to be weak. Because," says Jesus, "I am strong; I am worthy; I am all-sufficient; I am Lord over all."
Jesus says, "You mistreated ones; you victims of injustice; you Mephibosheths–I freely give you merciful kindness (hesed). I give you shalom–the shalom of the kingdom of heaven." For you see, to the Mephibosheths, to the lame, Jesus says, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." You see, to the Mephibosheths, to the cripples, Jesus says, "Fear not . . . come unto me and I will feed you with living bread and living water." You see, to the Mephibosheths, to the righteous sufferers, to the victims of gross injustice, Jesus says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted; to preach deliverance to the captives . . . to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk. 4:18,19 KJV).
And the Mephibosheths say, "It is enough! We are servants of the King of Kings. We are bond slaves of the Prince of Peace. We are guests in his house–no better than dead dogs. Yet he showed
us mercy; he bestowed grace upon us. He fed us from his very own banquet table. It is enough. Having the King is enough!"
James T. Dennison,
for further reading:
Behold My Servant
David L. Roth
You and I are able to look around today and see many things. We are able to do this because there is light in this room. But do you remember when there wasn't any light at all, anywhere? When you simply could not find a star in the sky? Nor the moon? When even the sun itself was dark as coal-tar? Of course you wouldn't remember having actually been there. But you might remember having read about it in the first chapter of Genesis. There we read that the earth was "formless and void" and darkness was everywhere. Now do you remember?
Jeremiah remembered. In fact, this Genesis scene was being
re-enacted before his very eyes. Re-enacted in a different sense, but re-enacted nonetheless. When Jeremiah considered the sorry state of Israel in the wake of God's wrath, he remembered Genesis. "I looked on the earth," he sighed. "I looked . . . and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light" (Jer. 4:23).
This dark, foreboding parallel to Genesis was not the end of the matter though. Into the Genesis darkness, God spoke light into being. Here too, in the sin-raped world of Jeremiah's lament, God was about to bring forth light. He was about to send light through the knarled, twisted shadows cast by men's hearts.
In time, the Lord brought what he had promised from the lips of the prophets. And the appearance of the light from on High is precisely what is on John's mind as he presents the gospel to us. Near the beginning of his gospel, John tells us that life was in Christ Jesus (1:4); that this life was the light of men (also 1:4); and that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (or "overpower") the light (1:5).
John 9, then, is about this light. It is about Jesus–light sent from the Father. It is about Jesus whose life is the light of men. And I suppose John 9 is about darkness too. At least in so far as the failure of the darkness is concerned. The failure of the darkness to comprehend (or "overpower") the light.
Now obviously, John did not write chapter 9 all by itself. Instead, it goes right along with the other twenty chapters he wrote. So this chapter fits into the purpose of the gospel as a whole. That purpose:
"that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31).
The images, the events, the conversations–everything–John puts together in such a way that his reader will be moved to a living response with Jesus. John's gospel is not a newscast or a history text. He presents what actually happened but in language intended to convey its meaning. He interprets what happened, as God himself interprets it, so that we will know what to make of it all. And we are expected to respond accordingly, of course.
The image of light and darkness is not meant to draw us away from real-life into a sort of religious, make-believe world. It is an image drawn from common experience to explain the mystery of what has happened. Surely you have stumbled in a darkened room, unable to strain enough light from it with which to see. Surely you have experienced the stark difference it makes to turn on a light in just such a darkened room. It is precisely this common experience that John makes use of to get across the meaning of Jesus' coming to us. Jesus is something like a light in the darkness (or maybe I should say a light is something like Jesus).
In any case, we can find several common images in John's gospel: bread, shepherds and others. Images which offer tangible illustrations of what is at stake in the gospel message. And so it is that John uses the image, the common experience, of light and darkness to show us Jesus. John tells us of the miraculous healing of a man born blind and of its impact on the religious leaders of the day. The light shines in the darkness . . . .
Jesus came to his own people but by and large, they rejected him. On the other hand, those that did believe in his name were given power to become children of God (John 1:11,12). For while Jesus did not come to judge the world–that he will do soon enough–there is a sort of judgment that takes place; a separation of the light from the darkness. Those who do not believe on Christ are judged already in
that the light came into this world but men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. In this sense a judgment does take place, even as I speak (John 3:16-21). "For judgment I came into this world," says Jesus, "that those who do not see may see; and that those who do see may become blind" (John 9:39). A man born blind comes to see. Men born sighted become blind. A man born in darkness comes to the light. Men born in the light seek out darkness.
To begin, let us look back in time. Let us go back so that the day on which this incident takes place is "today" in our minds. And let us go from where we sit, to Jerusalem. Let us so move in our minds that the setting of John 9 is "here" in our imaginations. In this way, let us together go into John, chapter 9.
Today is not very different than yesterday. True, today is a sabbath. And true, today comes in the midst of probably the most crowded day in Jerusalem: "the feast of Yahweh" (Lev. 23:29). Last night, there were men bearing torches as they danced about. And on their lips could be heard sayings like: "The man who has never seen the joy of the night of this feast has never seen real joy in all his life." Words not meant to taunt, but who else hears them than a man born blind? A man who has never seen anything?
No, today is not very different than yesterday. For today, like yesterday (like so many yesterdays), will pass as it came. A beggar sitting near the temple; sitting and begging; sitting and hoping for a little mercy from those who pass by. Today, like yesterday, a beggar sits in the dust. A man born blind, withered in spirit–as good as dead to those who pass by. The dirt lies matted where he sits. His back to a wall and his face . . . his face to the darkness.
But why should I try and make you feel for this man born blind? How could I possibly describe what life is like for this man? It will do little good to try and imagine what it must be like to have been without sight, always. Cover your eyes. Go ahead, cover your eyes. It's just not the same, is it? You would have to forget all that your eyes have ever shown you.Forget soft wisps rising from morning coffee.
Forget fresh-fallen snow, amber coals as night surrounds your campfire; forget aspen stands in the fall. Forget the first glimpse of a loved-one across an airport terminal. More easily could a woman forget her nursing child than for you to forget, really forget, your sight.
On second thought though, don't you suppose John knows this? Of course he does. John has something else in mind in telling us about this miracle. We shouldn't waste time trying to imagine ourselves blind in order to have a stake in John's message. Empathy is not John's point here. Jesus is the point. This man is blind in order that the works of God may be displayed for all to see. He is blind so that we might be drawn to Jesus, light from on high.
To Open Blind Eyes
John begins: Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind. (You know him by now, don't you? This man born in darkness.) The disciples wonder, 'what evil is God punishing this man for?' After all, "who made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord" (Ex. 4:11)? But in fact, that God has something to do with this man's blindness is not debated here–either by the disciples or by Jesus. Our Lord simply replies that we do not see evidence of God's anger here, but of his mercy. This man is a showcase for the works of God's grace, not his wrath. He is evidence of what God is doing among men. And specifically, what Jesus was sent by the Father to do. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him
should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
"While I am in this world;" says Jesus, "I am the light of the world" (John 9:5). To illustrate this fact, he spits on the ground. Then he makes some mud out of the spittle and puts it in the blind man's eyes. "Go and wash in the pool of Siloam," he directs. Off goes the man, probably led there by someone nearby. Once there, he washes years of mud from his eyes. Colors, textures, shapes, depth-of-field–after all these years in darkness the man born blind can see. "I am like this," Jesus had said. "I am light coming into darkened eyes. Do you see me?"
To Bring Out Those Who Dwell in Darkness
From this point on, nearly to the end of the chapter, Jesus seems to disappear from the scene. I say "seems to disappear" because, as far as John is concerned, Jesus is still right here. He is here because he is the light of the world. He is the life which is the light of men. And so, even though Jesus is not present in body, he is still the main subject of what follows. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (or "overpower") the light.
Eyes widen as someone nearby recognizes the man born blind. (Only now he isn't blind at all.) "Isn't this . . . ?" "No, it can't be!" "It's him, alright." "Naw, it's only someone who looks like him." But the man himself kept insisting, "It's me! It's really me!" "Oh ya? Then how is it you can see after all these years?" What is his answer? "It was a man called Jesus that healed me." [A man called Jesus! Is that all he is? A man called Jesus? Ah, but there is more to come. His eyes are simply not accustomed to the light yet.]
Enter: the darkness. Enter: the Pharisees, those renowned for their keen sight into the things of God. Those who claim to walk in the light. Do they see this as a work of God? Do they see the light of the world? Well, I'm afraid not. At best, they are confused. [And
sadly, there is more to come. They squint in the light now. Soon they will close their eyes altogether.]
On the one hand, Jesus doesn't keep the sabbath like they do–how could he be of God? Still, how could he perform such miracles if he is a sinner? [A point the man born blind will bring up later too.] "Well, what do you say about him?" their breath heavy with disinterest.
A man called Jesus? No, the man born blind rubs his eyes and sees a little more clearly now. "Maybe he is a prophet?" The light begins to shine brighter. And the Pharisees recoil, looking into their hearts for something with which to shadow their eyes. The light is getting too bright. "What do you know!? Maybe you were never really blind after all." And they call for the man's parents. The parents, it turns out, are quite afraid of the Pharisees. Still, they do back up their son's story–at least that he is their son and that he was born blind. Still they search for some dark thing with which to cover their eyes.
"Alright! Admit that this Jesus fellow is a fraud. Admit that he is a sinner and not from God." The darkness struggles to overcome the light. The man simply shrugs. "I don't know about that. I do know that I was blind and now I see." Then one of the Pharisees nearby leans forward a bit, cocking his head a little to put forth a probing eye and a doubtful glare. "What did he do to you?" "I told you already, but you don't listen," objects the man. And then comes the last straw: "You don't want to become his disciples too, do you?" Necks stiffen, eyes ablaze–the Pharisees hiss out their taunt: "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! Na, na, na! We know God spoke to our master. But your master has no credentials" (wagging fingers giving rhythm to their chant).
The men famous for their sight into the things of God, show their blindness. No credentials! Isn't this man's sight a credential? What do they want? The man born blind is rather surprised too. "Well here is an amazing thing," he says, "that you do not know where he is
from, and yet he opened my eyes. [In other words, 'how stupid can you be?'] We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does his will, he hears him. Since the beginning of time it has not been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." The sheer uniqueness of this miracle should serve as a credential. No credentials! Are they blind?
Jesus came to his own and they received him not. The shadows of their own hearts hid them from the light. They loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. And yet they could not comprehend (or "overpower") the light. So they excommunicated the man born blind. He was cut off from them. The light is separated from the darkness.
And I Will Lead the Blind
Jesus finds the man. "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Is Jesus just a man? Is he just a prophet? No. The man born blind has come to see. And oh how he can see! God, in Christ, has reached into the darkness and drawn one of its children into the light. And he worships Jesus there. To all who receive Jesus, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become the children of God. John does not name the man born blind. And he does not tell us of his life as one who can see. For John is not so much concerned that we identify or identify with this man. Rather, he hopes we will look with this man toward Jesus. Again, John tells us of this man specifically to show us God working in his Son.
The man who could not see can see. For the Son has power to shine into even the most hopeless darkness. Men who could see, now cannot see. For the Son is the true light and all others cast shadows rather than brightness. The light has come into the world but men loved the darkness instead; for their plans, their hopes, their deeds were evil.
Please do not think that John presents "darkness" as an alley in the bad part of town; or a dimly lit prison cell; or the shadows just beyond the reach of a city park lamp. The darkness wears a three-piece suit. It stays home with the kids or paints the town. The darkness is eloquent or it slurs its speech in a bottle of cheap wine. It dresses well or it wears hand-me-downs. What John refers to with the image of darkness, is many things. The "darkness" is everything, everybody, that opposes God.
John does not intend to convey a grotesque cartoon figure to us by referring to "darkness." He is using this common, everyday image to indicate something of the character of the world's opposition to God. No one who walks in darkness really knows where he is going. No one who makes his home in the dark will ever see his home. And no one who lives in the darkness will ever see life. Dark things can be used like cosmetics to make us appear important, make us appear to have everything well in hand. But at noon these shadows will flee.
These Are the Things I Will Do
In the beginning, God spoke light into being. And he separated the light from the darkness. What he did then in creation, he has done even more wonderfully now. To raise our anticipation, God spoke from the tongues of the prophets of what he was going to do. Isaiah had spoken of one whom the Lord appointed as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes and make darkness into light before them (Isa. 42).
Jesus has come. And his coming is like light shining in a dark night or sight in blind eyes. And, as in creation, the light is separated from the darkness. Those who love the darkness have no stake in the light. Those who love the light have no stake in the darkness.
If you have never heard John, he is laboring to convince you to believe in the name of Jesus—come to the light. For in him is life
and his life is your light in this dark world (and in the world to come). If you have heard John before, do not yawn; please do not hear with sleepy ears and heart. Be revived in hearing the gospel again. Know that the shadows that sometimes hide your Lord from your eyes will flee at his impending arrival. And remember your identity as children of light. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend (or "overpower") the light. Hold on tightly to your hope so that you may have life eternal. For you have come to the city which has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it. Because the glory of God has illumined it and its lamp is the Lamb (Rev. 21:22-27).
(A revision of a message delivered at Westminster Theological Seminary, Escondido, California)
Your Life is the Worship of Jesus Christ
William D. Dennison
I am sure that in the past you have heard many sermons on the opening verses of the Gospel of John. After all, this section contains some of the most familiar verses in the entire New Testament. I am sure you have heard such topics as: the deity of Christ, the preexistence of Jesus Christ, the concept that Jesus Christ is light, and the rejection of Jesus Christ by his own people. But the one topic that we are not accustomed to hearing from these verses is the worship of Jesus Christ and how we are identified with that worship in our everyday life.
In this respect, I would like to focus on verse fourteen. If you
look at verse fourteen however; you will notice that it does not even contain the word "worship." Although verse fourteen does not contain the word "worship," I hope to demonstrate that worship underlies or undergirds exactly what John is speaking about in that verse. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that verse fourteen does not give us a step-by-step formula on how to worship Jesus Christ. Rather, in Johannine vocabulary, if you are born again into the new covenant of grace, then your life is (by definition) the worship of Jesus Christ. I am not concerned at this point with "how-to-do" Christianity. One can go down to the local Christian bookstore and purchase all the "how-to-do" books one wants. My concern is the very definition of the believer's existence in Christ. And thus, in this case, my concern is that the believer understand his life as the worship of Jesus Christ. After all, we who are part of the Reformed tradition have constantly demanded that we are to worship our Lord in all that we do; whether it be at work, school or play. All must be done in a worshipful relationship with our God. Is there a biblical basis for understanding that worship is to encompass our everyday lifestyle? I believe there is; and I believe that it has its focal point in John 1:14. However, to understand John 1:14, we must go back into the Old Testament.
John and the Old Testament
Between John 1:14 and the Old Testament, we notice a very important grammatical connection. The Greek word for "dwell" (cf. John 1:14) has a direct relationship with the Hebrew word which means "pitching a tent" or "making a dwelling." More importantly, the Greek verb "to tent" (skenoo = "to dwell" or "to tabernacle"–John 1:14) resembles the Hebrew root skn from which the Hebrew noun shekinah is derived as the technical term for describing God's presence "dwelling" among his people. This grammatical connection is made vivid if we go back to the Israelite construction of the tabernacle in Moses' day.
You recall that the Israelites came out of Egypt by passing through
the Red Sea on dry ground. You remember that the Lord had led them into the Sinai peninsula and had brought them to Mt. Sinai where they received the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). In Exodus 24, Moses goes up to the top of Mt. Sinai again. This time God instructs Moses that the people are to build him a tabernacle, i.e., (in the original Hebrew) a "dwelling." It will be the place where he will "dwell" in the midst of his people. Listen to God's instruction to Moses in Exodus 25:8,9: "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, the pattern of the tabernacle [dwelling place], and the pattern of all the furniture, even so shall you make it." Moses and the Israelites are told, therefore, to make a tent, i.e., a tabernacle so that God can dwell among his people. Thus, the tabernacle becomes the site of God's localized presence here on earth.
But we must not overlook one more aspect of God's instructions to Moses concerning the tabernacle. Notice the concept of the manifestation of God's glory in Exodus 24:15,16: "And Moses went as up into the mount, and the cloud covered the mount. And the glory of God abode upon Mt. Sinai, and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud." It is when Moses is face to face with the glory of God that God instructs him about building the tabernacle. Thus, when the tabernacle was finally erected, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord filled it. Listen to the word of the Lord from Exodus 40:34: "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle." In the building of the tabernacle, we have the representation of God's presence dwelling with his people in all his glory here on earth! And what are the people to do? They are to come and worship their God in that holy place.
The same thing is true concerning the temple built by Solomon. When the children of Israel had secured the promised land, the Lord instructed Solomon to build a permanent place for the people to come and worship him–a beautiful temple. Just like the tabernacle, the temple represented the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people. It was also the place where the glory of God came to rest.
Listen to I Kings 8:10, 11: "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord."
The tabernacle and temple represent, therefore, God's glory as being present in the midst of his people as God saves them from the bondage of Egypt, provides for them in a desolate wilderness, gives them victory over their enemies and secures for them a land and a nation according to his covenant promise.
Ezekiel and the Temple
But the Old Testament picture is not complete unless we focus upon Ezekiel. Because of the sin of Solomon, God divides the nation of Israel into two nations: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Ezekiel is a prophet to the southern kingdom. He has a vision about the future destruction and captivity of the children of Judah by the Babylonians (Ezk. 10:3-5, 18, 19; 11:23). Why does God's glory depart? I would like to make two suggestions: (1) God, in his glory, cannot be identified any longer with the gross immorality of the Israelite people; and (2) although the Babylonians have been chosen by God to carry out his temporal justice, nevertheless, the Lord's glory is not going to be destroyed or captured by that non-covenantal nation. Since I do not consider myself an Old Testament scholar, the following statement may be an exaggeration. Personally, I cannot think of a sadder event in Israel's history. They stood erect in their self-pride, thinking that nothing could damage their relationship with God. After all, they were God's chosen people; they were the children of the covenant. However, Ezekiel has a vision that God's glory is going to depart from them. In other words, God no longer can be identified with his people; he no longer can be identified with the children of the covenant. Their sin has become too great! How sad; how extremely sad!
But Ezekiel has another vision recorded in chapters 43 and 44. This time Ezekiel sees that the temple is going to be restored. At that time, the glory of the Lord will fill the temple; the Lord will dwell with his people; and his people will come and worship him. At this time in the future, the Lord will live among his people forever.
I wish to proclaim to you that the temple that Ezekiel 44:4 is speaking about is none other than the person and work of our Lord, Jesus Christ! John 1:14 speaks of the fulfillment of Ezekiel's vision of the future temple. The Lord himself now comes to dwell (to tabernacle) among his people. But he does not come in tabernacles or temples constructed with human hands; rather he comes with our flesh, so that in his work we can behold his glory–the glory of the signs and wonders that he does for the salvation of man. Some of his disciples beheld the revelation of his glory in a very realistic way when Jesus was transfigured before them. Christ appeared before them with "divine honor, divine splendor, divine power, and as the divine radiance of God himself." Indeed, the glory of God is fully revealed in his Son.
Jesus as Temple
Jesus Christ has now come, therefore, as the worshipping temple or tabernacle of God. That is what the destruction of the temple is all about as recorded in John 2:19-22. In that passage, Jesus tells the Jews to "destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews had no idea what Jesus was taking about. But John states that Jesus was referring to his body, or more specifically the resurrection of his body. In other words, the body of Jesus Christ is the dwelling place of God. It is the worshipping sanctuary of his people! This is why his people come and worship at his feet–before and after his resurrection. They now worship in the true sanctuary of God. Yes indeed, God does not dwell in buildings made with human hands; he dwells fully in all his majestic glory in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ!
The Messiah, the Anointed One of Israel, comes indeed "to tabernacle among us" so that the people of God can now truly worship "in Spirit and truth" (John 4:24). The concept that Christ is "among us" gives to us the continual, abiding confidence that Christ is always with us. This is a strength to our faith. In light of Christ's death and resurrection and the sending of his Spirit, the apostle Paul adds another dimension to this truth, i.e., Christ dwells in you, the believer. If Christ dwells inside of you, then you must define your life in terms of Christ. This means, with respect to worship, that your life is the worship of Jesus Christ! This is one reason why the Bible tells us that hate, envy, jealousy, lust and the ways of the flesh are not characteristics of the Christian life. These characteristics are not to be a part of the Christian life because through the Spirit of Christ, the Lord dwells in you both "to will and to do" the things of his kingdom and righteousness. Your life is the worship of Jesus Christ.
The biblical concept is clear. By the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the believer, the body of the believer now becomes the worshipping house of the Lord! Do not miss this point! This is exactly what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 6:19 when he writes: "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." Paul does not pick the term "temple" out of the air. That word encompasses for Paul the Old Testament concept of the temple (cf. I Cor. 3:16, 17). In other words, your body is the walking tabernacle of God. God dwells in you through the person of the Holy Spirit who focuses your life upon Jesus Christ. But also notice the concept of the glory connected with the body of the believer in I Corinthians 6:20: we are to glorify God with our bodies. Our bodies are to be the visible radiance of Jesus Christ. They are to manifest the honor and power of Jesus Christ; and they are to be the splendor of Jesus Christ right now as we journey on this earth.
Christ in You
As we have seen the tabernacle and temple that appeared in history of Israel represented Gods dwelling place with his
people in all his glory. Both the tabernacle and the temple pointed us to the fullness of their revelation–Jesus Christ, who being God himself, took on flesh of our flesh and dwelt among us as we beheld his glory. But Christ did not leave himself without witness. He sent his Spirit to dwell in and to glorify the new covenant believer. As we look at the revelation of this truth, do we as New Testament believers truly understand what God has done in the history of redemption? When we listen to and observe some of our Christian brethren on the radio and television, do we find this biblical truth being expressed? In some cases, we do not! Realistically, we notice that some ministers and Christian organizations are building visible monuments and empires to themselves under the title, "to the glory of God." This understanding of the Scripture cuts at the very fabric of God's revelation in the history of redemption. God does not dwell in buildings, monuments and empires made with human hands. Rather the message of the Scripture is clear: through the true and everlasting tabernacle and temple of God, Jesus Christ, God has made his people his sanctuary. You, the believer, are the walking temple of God! By definition, your life is the worship of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ!
Do you understand your body in this way? Do you understand your life is a testimony to what Jesus Christ has done for you in the past (he has crucified your sin to the cross and has been raised from the dead so that you may have victory); what he is doing for you in the present (enabling you to live in the peace of your accomplished redemption); and what he will do for you in the future (he will take you unto himself forever in eternal glory)? By merely being in Christ, that is what your everyday walk–your everyday worship in Christ–is declaring. Live in the joy and assurance that by being a believer in Jesus, your life is defined in terms of Christ. In this case, your life is the worship of Jesus Christ!