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Archaeology: Friend or Foe of Biblical History? Out of Egypt and Into the Wilderness

In previous articles, we have looked at how archaeology can be utilized by Christians who affirm the historicity of the Old Testament events. Though many in our day claim that archaeology causes problems for believers, we have asked whether this is truly the case. Indeed, as we have seen thus far, archaeology creates problems only for those who presuppose that the biblical texts contain historical errors and that archaeology is a hard science that speaks more truthfully than the Bible. Christians who believe that God’s Word is true appropriate the observations of archaeology very differently and study it with an eagerness and excitement because of the wonderful role it can play in contextualizing and illustrating many aspects of the biblical text. Before we consider what archaeology can tell us about the exodus and wilderness wanderings of the Israelites, we should consider a brief methodological point.

Shall We Then Harmonize?

The word harmonization is often used in biblical studies to describe how believing scholars reconcile apparent discrepancies and inconsistencies in the Bible. It is often claimed that attempts to harmonize these seemingly discrepant passages are an artificial and contrived practice. Not only do critics scoff at harmonizing seemingly disparate textual claims, they do the same with attempts to harmonize the claims of Scripture and science and, as in our case, the claims of Scripture and archaeology. Critics say we need to admit that these two sources stand in true contradiction to one another and then side with the “more objective” conclusions of science. From there, we are asked to accept the Bible as a religious, though not historical, document. It hardly needs stating that such a proposal stands in stark contrast with what the Bible itself claims to be (i.e., the divinely inspired, infallible, and thus authoritative Word of God), but our interest is in why critics would be so quick to dismiss harmonization when harmonization is a regular part of human experience.

In reality, skeptics are unable to live according to their own professed beliefs about harmonization. The late Raymond Dillard of Westminster Theological Seminary points out that “The question is not ‘should we harmonize or not,’ for harmonization is a virtually universal and inevitable feature of daily life. At home parents confront sharply different versions of a recent squabble between children . . . and [try] to create a scenario . . . closer to what a more detached observer would have reported or what would have been recorded on videotape.”1 While there are times one child is lying, other times both children are speaking the truth, only each is emphasizing one aspect more than others. Dillard insists: “Encounters like these are regular features of daily life. . . . One cannot a priori or simplistically repudiate harmonization of biblical data without contradicting what would be a routine and natural response to data in other areas of life.”2 Indeed, even ancient historians routinely work to harmonize different sets of data. As an example, Matt Waters, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, practices this very thing in his recently published history of the Persian Empire.3 As they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”; Christians should feel no embarrassment for doing the hard work of seeking to harmonize the difficult data that archaeology presents with the historical narrative that Scripture provides.

The Location of Egypt’s Capital

Following the final plague, Pharaoh relented and let the Israelites leave Egypt. Exodus 12:37 says that they traveled from Rameses to Succoth. Exodus 13:20 then notes their travel from Succoth to Etham at the edge of the wilderness. Exodus 14:2 records that Israel then turned back and camped “in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon.” We often skim past these names since most of us are not well versed in ancient topography. But historians have not been so quick to pass over these, and some have even claimed that these place names are proof that Exodus does not record true history. One example will illustrate.

In the early 1900s, archaeologists were divided on the location of biblical Rameses (called Pi-Ramesses in Egyptian sources). The site of San el-Hagar (ca. 75 miles northeast of Cairo), also known as Tanis, was believed to be the location of Rameses because stonework and bricks inscribed with the name Rameses were present at the site. The problem, however, is that Tanis was not built until the eleventh century B.C., which not only was later than the Ramesside period but also was too late to accommodate either of the main dates proposed by conservative scholars for the exodus.4 Archaeological excavations about 10 miles southwest of Tanis at the adjacent sites of Qantir and Tell el-Dab‘a, however, yielded royal palaces with more inscribed Ramesside inscriptions. Tell el-Dab‘a was identified as the former Hyksos capital, Avarris, and nearby Qantir has been identified as Rameses. While adherents to a fifteenth-century B.C. exodus date recognize that Qantir itself did not flourish until the thirteenth century B.C., they note that the remains are of a huge city that encompassed also the site of Tell el-Dab‘a, which was present already in the fifteenth century B.C.5 Thus both positions can rightly claim this site as support.

Though there is nearly universal agreement by scholars about the location of Rameses at Qantir/Tell el-Dab‘a, some critical writers have claimed that the exodus stories were written late in Israel’s history and are merely a retrojection of places and names that bear little resemblance with real history. When critical Egyptologist Donald Redford insisted that linguistics did not allow for an identification of the biblical name Rameses with the Egyptian name Pi-Ramesses, minimalist scholars capitalized on this. Lester Grabbe, for example, argued that Rameses (as opposed to Pi-Ramesses) was a widespread topographical name in the first millennium B.C. and thus the stories of the exodus do not describe Pi-Ramesses of ancient Egypt, but realities from a much later period.6 Another linguist, Wolfgang Heck, however, wrote a thorough critique of Redford’s work forcing critical scholars either to sheepishly admit Redford’s errors or ignore Heck’s critique.7 Indeed, the only way the biblical texts could speak as they do about the geography of the exodus and its beginnings at Rameses is if they truly reflect the historical reality of the Late Bronze Age in Egypt. The only other option for critical scholars is to posit that the supposed “late inventors” of the exodus story wholly by accident gave the precise name for the Egyptian capital at the time when the exodus was said to have happened! Such naïve and blind faith is ironic. After all, critical scholars claim that faith should not inform one’s study of ancient history.

The Location of the Re(e)d Sea

When I was young, I distinctly remember seeing a map of the Middle East and feeling excited when I saw the Red Sea bordering the west coast of Saudi Arabia. I thought for sure that modern-day maps had accurately pinpointed the body of water made famous by Exodus 14–15. Students of Hebrew, however, have sought in vain for a literal reference to a “red” sea in the Bible. Instead, the body of water through which the Israelites passed on dry ground is literally named yam suf, the Sea of Reeds. It is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which has given us the name Red Sea by translating the phrase yam sufas eruthra thalassa (Exod. 15:4). It is true that there are salt-water reeds that grow along sections of the Red Sea, but reeds are most often thought of as growing in fresh water. As Egypt has several substantial freshwater lakes within a reasonable distance of Rameses, how can we narrow down our investigation into the location yam suf?

While media claims to have found chariot wheels covered in coral and strewn across the bottom of the Gulf of Aqaba are tantalizing, in reality archaeology has not found evidence for the location of yam sufin such a sensational manner. It has, however, drawn attention to an ancient man-made feature that would have affected the Israelites’ journey to yam suf and narrows the range of options. This is the eastern border canal that quarantined off large sections of Egypt between the Great Bitter Lake, Lake Timsah, and many of the other lakes from antiquity that have disappeared since the drying up of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile River and (more recently) the digging of the Suez Canal. This eastern border canal was discovered by Israeli geologists in the 1970s and would have been in operation during the time of the exodus.8 While this man-made water barrier was noted by classical writers like Herodotus, the discovery of its remains helped scholars to better understand one of the most significant obstacles faced by the Israelites in the exodus.

Though many routes for the exodus have been proposed, several seem unlikely due to severe limitations.9 As an example, a northern route following the main road out of Egypt, the Way of Horus, would have been a much shorter and more direct journey but was funneled through a heavily guarded path peppered with Egyptian military outposts. The coast was “heavily militarized” and would have been, according to Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen, a jump “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”10 This seems to be the concern of Exodus 13:17: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see fighting and return to Egypt.’”

Instead of northward, God initially sent Israel in a southerly direction. Though going “up” from the land of Egypt (Exod. 13:18) sounds like traveling north, Egypt was conceived in reverse in ancient times. “Lower Egypt” was the portion of the country closest to the Mediterranean Sea (north on a map) whereas “Upper Egypt” was further south, following the Nile River upstream. When traveling in a southeasterly direction, however, the Israelites would inevitably bump up against the eastern border canal, preventing them from traveling southeast indefinitely or of even turning east at will. This seems to be reflected in Exodus 14:2, where God tells them to “turn back” (i.e., head northward) and encamp facing “the sea” (presumably yam suf, although it simply says the sea [hayam] and could refer to one of the many Ballah or Bitter lakes of antiquity and not specifically yam suf). Pharaoh himself would have seen the people as boxed in by the wilderness (Exod. 14:3).

Where then does this put our quest for the location of the Red/Reed Sea? The Bible records that after turning back, the Israelites encamped in a specific location: in front of Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-Zephon (Exod. 14:2). As it turns out, ancient Egyptian texts mention these same places as all located in proximity. And what is more fascinating is that Egyptian texts locate them near a large body of water named pa-chuf in Egyptian. The name pa-chuf is linguistically related to yam suf and seems quite likely to be the same body of water.11 What is more, the name Pi-hariroth in Exodus 14:2 is related to an Egyptian term, pa-char, derived from a Semitic word meaning “canal.” In light of all this, the Red/Reed Sea seems most likely to have been located as part of the Ballah lake system, east of Rameses and east of the Nile delta. It is quite likely that the texts—biblical and ancient Egyptian—even envision the Red/Reed Sea as connected to the eastern border canal and thus a key feature of this ancient Egyptian defense system. Imagine how Pharaoh must have felt watching the Lord easily lead his people through a defense system designed to stop even the more formidable military foe!

Archaeology of the eastern border canal, combined with an understanding of ancient geography gathered from ancient Egyptian texts, encourage us to view yam suf as one of the large lakes in the Ballah lakes system. As water features east of the Nile delta have had a volatile existence, historically speaking, it is likely that the Red/Reed Sea is no longer even in existence. Over the course of the first millennium B.C., the Pelusiac branch of the Nile slowly migrated northward some 10 to 12 miles, leaving even the largest lakes to dry up and fill with sand down into the present. Indeed, since that time, the Pelusiac branch has disappeared and the digging of the Suez Canal has further changed the topography of the eastern delta. Nevertheless, we know from archaeology that a significant canal system utilized a series of large lakes in an area not far from Rameses. This helps us to contextualize the story of the exodus and reconstruct the travel itinerary of the Israelites. But speaking of travel, what do travel speeds help us understand about the locations of the exodus?

Narrowing Down Candidates for Mt. Sinai

As alluded to above, some have claimed to have found the remains of Pharaoh’s army some 200 miles southeast of Rameses in the modern-day Gulf of Aqaba. As studies of ancient travel times have shown, one day’s journey in the ancient world would cover a distance of 17 to 23 miles. How does this square with a 200-mile trip to the Gulf of Aqaba? Numbers 33 recounts the travel itinerary of the Israelites in a more systematic fashion and even includes a technical term, “stage” (or “stages,” ESV), which refers to distance one could cover in a single day. We read that the first day was a journey from Rameses to Succoth (v. 5). The second day was a journey from Succoth to Etham (v. 6). The third day was their journey back northward (the “turning back” of Exod. 14:2) to Pi-hariroth. On the fourth day, they passed through the sea. If the Gulf of Aqaba truly was the Red Sea of the Bible and really did contain Pharaoh’s chariots, the host of the Israelites, including women and children, traveled an astonishing 66 miles per day! It is hard to imagine that the Gulf of Aqaba is a reasonable location for the Red Sea.

We mention this because some in recent years have suggested that Mt. Sinai is located not in the Sinai Peninsula, where it has been traditionally located, but in Saudi Arabia at a site called Jebel al-Lawz.12 Others have posited other sites in Arabia, or sites in the northern Sinai. The work of Emmanuel Anati at Har Karkom, about 55 miles north of modern-day Eilat, has become another alternative suggestion in recent years. While the approximately 150 miles from Rameses to Har Karkom would fit within the eight-to-eleven-day time period allowed by Numbers 33:8–15, problems emerge when the journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea is said to take eleven days to cover only 32 miles. One could propose that the entire assembly of Israel suddenly took on a snail’s pace, traveling just under 3 miles per day for this last leg of the journey; however, such an approach seems a bit forced.

Ancient tradition has suggested the site of Gebel Musa in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula is the location of Mt. Sinai. St. Catherine’s Monastery is a famous site purporting to mark the location of the burning bush (Exod. 3). While Byzantine traditions are not the most reliable for determining biblical locations, and while Gebel Musa has some limitations (e.g., it lacks room for the Israelites to camp at its base), its location seems to jibe better with consistent travel speeds and the itinerary of Numbers 33. It should be noted that Gebel Musa is located close to other mountains that have been proposed for Mt. Sinai: Gebel Serbal and Gebel Katherina. Unfortunately nothing more can be proven with the current state of archaeological knowledge. Nevertheless, archaeology has helped us to understand the beginning of the Israelites’ journey out of Egypt, and thereby provides us with some options for considering the remainder of their travels.

Conclusion

Two major conclusions can be drawn from this article. First, archaeology can help us to identify ancient cities that correspond with biblical names and thereby provide a context for the events in Scripture. This is certainly the case with the location of Rameses at Qantir/Tell el-Dab‘a, and seems likely the case with the location of the Red Sea east of Rameses in the ancient Ballah lake system. But second, archaeology cannot always be used to illustrate with the detail we might wish. This seems to be the case with the location of Mt. Sinai. Nevertheless, archaeology provides us with a useful tool for taking what might otherwise be a boring list of old cities and campsites in Exodus and Numbers and viewing them as a real itinerary with stopping points that seem viable based on known travel speeds and ancient topography. In the next installment of this series, we move into the time of Israel’s settlement in the land of Canaan. This is where archaeology begins to yield more information about the biblical text than ever before.

 

1.  Raymond B. Dillard, “Harmonization: A Help and a Hindrance,” in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, ed. Harvie M. Conn (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 153.

2. Dillard, “Harmonization.”

3.  Matt Waters, Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire 550–330 BCE(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 39, 73.

4. Note that 1 Kings 6:1 posits 480 years between the exodus and the commencement of the temple construction. Those who interpret this time frame as an exact time marker view the exodus as taking place in the fifteenth century B.C., whereas those who view it as a figurative number representing twelve generations of forty years each place the exodus in the thirteenth century. We will consider this question more in a future article.

5. Bryant Wood, “From Ramesses to Shiloh,” in Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, ed. David M. Howard and Michael A. Grisanti (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003), 262; idem, “The Royal Precinct at Rameses,” Associates for Biblical Research, April 3, 2008, http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/The-Royal-Precinct-at-Rameses.aspx.

6. Lester Grabbe, Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?(London: T&T Clark, 2007), 86.

7. For this debate and citation of Hecks’s work, see James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 117–18.

8. For the background of this canal and its implications for the exodus, see Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 164–75.

9. For pros and cons of the various options, see Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 266–72.

10. Kitchen, Reliability of the Old Testament, 267.

11. For a full discussion, see James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 105–8.

12. This has been pushed by a group called BASE Institute, led by a former police investigator and S.W.A.T. team member, Bob Cornuke (see www.baseinstitute.org). Hoffmeier expertly points out the flaws in the BASE arguments for Gebel el-Lawz. See Israel in Sinai, 133–36.

 

Rev. R. Andrew Compton
is assistant professor of Old Testament at
Mid-America Reformed Seminary.

 

Chapter and Verse Divisions in the Bible

Where did the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles come from?

When Scripture was originally written, there were no chapter and verse divisions. These man-made additions to our Bibles came much later. It was Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury in England, who added chapter divisions into the Latin Vulgate around A.D. 1227. A Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan divided the Hebrew Bible (what we as Christians call the Old Testament) into verses in 1448. Then, Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus) divided the chapters into verses in his Greek New Testament in 1551. The first English translation to make use of his verse divisions was the Geneva Bible of 1560.

 

That is something of the history behind the chapter and verse divisions. The question becomes “Was this development a good thing?”

My answer would be yes and no. It is fair to say there are pros and cons in this matter.

The designations are helpful in that they allow us to find a verse or passage in a short time. We can find a verse easily without the need to read an entire book of the Bible. The numbering system allows us to go straight to a verse or passage we wish to locate. This is a wonderful, practical benefit. Imagine if there were no chapter/verse divisions and a preacher asked the congregation to find the section of Isaiah dealing with the Suffering Servant of the Lord. How many people would find the passage? Not many, and certainly, not very many in a swift manner. However, if the preacher says, “Let’s turn to Isaiah chapter 53,” anyone in the audience with a Bible in hand can find the passage in just a few seconds. In this way, then, chapter and verse divisions are helpful and convenient when it comes to finding references and quotations.

But there is a downside—a major downside. These divisions make it especially easy for us to look at a verse in isolation, with no reference to its context. Many pages could be filled with examples. Just one is Philippians 4:13, where we read, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse, in isolation, could be interpreted (falsely) to mean that Christ strengthens us to achieve any human endeavor, the “all things” referring to any conceivable task. An athlete might apply this by thinking the verse means Christ will strengthen him to win every race he enters—that this in fact is God’s promise to him. An author might use the verse as a promise that whatever he writes will be a best seller, and the Christian salesman might believe that he will be number 1 in company sales because of his relationship with Christ. Christ strengthens us to accomplish anything we set out to do.

But here’s the problem. The verse teaches nothing of the kind. The “all things” Christ does strengthen us to do refers to the things Paul wrote about in the previous sentences (vv. 10–12):

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Verse 13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” has a context which, if ignored, leads to a false interpretation. The correct one is this: Whatever the situation, whatever the circumstance, whether in hardship or in much provision and abundance, whether there is plenty or whether we experience hunger and great need, God’s grace is more than abundant for us in Christ. He will strengthen us to endure whatever it is we have to face. That was true for Paul, and it is also true for all who trust in Christ. We can go through any event in life, whether it is a very good or a very hard thing, because the Lord Jesus Christ will strengthen us to do so. That is the meaning of Philippians 4:13.

The word arbitrary refers to something based on a random choice or personal whim, rather than reason or a sound logical system. Some of the chapter divisions in our Bibles are especially arbitrary. And this is another downside.

Just above, I mentioned Isaiah 53 and its reference to God’s Suffering Servant. Yet if we look at the words in their context, the passage starts speaking of this Servant in Isaiah 52:13, not Isaiah 53:1. Rather than Isaiah 53 starting where it does, a much better place for the insertion of a new chapter would have been at Isaiah 52, between verses 12 and 13. This would then allow us to see the entire passage in one section in our Bibles, rather than this unnecessary breaking up of the passage in a way that defies all logic and reason. And it is more than all right to say this, because in doing so, I am not being critical of God’s Word in any way. God’s Word is flawless, inerrant, and inspired. I am critical here only of what man has added to God’s inspired text in our Bibles. The chapter division here in Isaiah 53 is not helpful at all. Quite the opposite!

In summary, I think it is a good thing for us to have chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles, for the sake of convenience. However, it is important that we never forget that context is a key factor in forming a correct understanding of Scripture. When we forget context, misinterpretation is inevitable, and this is something we should always be vigilant to avoid.

Rev. John Samson
is the pastor of King’s Church, Peoria, AZ.
www.kingshurchaz.com

 

“I Am the Gate for the Sheep”: A Devotional on John 10:7b by Rev. Steve Swets

We continue our study of the seven “I Am” statements of Christ. We have seen that He is the bread of life, the light of the world, and now the gate for the sheep. As we think about sheep, there are likely a number of different images that come to mind, but much of the way that modern sheep farming is done is foreign to the first-century mind. When a modern sheep farmer wants to round up his sheep, he jumps on a quad or a dirt bike and sets off. Oftentimes sheep farms are much bigger now than they were in Jesus’ day, and often a large number of different animals make up the average farm. For these next two studies, let us put modern farming out of our minds.

As Jesus gives this allegory or figure of speech in our text, the average shepherd cared for twenty to eighty sheep. He walked with the sheep, spending all day and night with them. He didn’t have much of a social life, so to speak. He named his sheep, and his sheep knew his voice. He was entrusted to care for the sheep, protect the sheep, lead the sheep, water and feed the sheep. John 10 contains two “I Am” statements of Jesus dealing with shepherds and sheep. In the next study we plan to see Jesus as the good shepherd; this month, that Jesus is the gate to the sheep. Our Lord Jesus proclaims Himself to be the way of salvation.

The Meaning

God has always governed His people through the means He has appointed. What we see taking place in the Old Testament is a continual word picture of the leaders of the people being shepherds, and the people of God as sheep. The shepherds were to serve the great Shepherd of the sheep, which was God: think of Psalm 23 or Isaiah 40:10. The problem was that so many of the shepherds of Israel were wicked (Jer. 23; 25; Isa. 56:9–12). If we look closely at Ezekiel 34 (it is best to turn there in your Bible) we see that after renouncing the wickedness of the shepherds in the first ten verses, in verse 11 God says that He Himself will be the one who will have to shepherd His sheep. Notice verse 12, “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered.” We will have to keep that in mind when later in John 10 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” He is the one God is ultimately speaking about in Ezekiel 34. In Ezekiel 34:23 it says, “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.” Jesus is the Son of David who would be greater than David. Most of this principle we will study in the next article, God willing, but keep it in your mind as we keep looking at our text.

The opening picture of our text is that of a sheep pen or a sheepfold. During the day, a shepherd would lead the sheep from pasture to pasture, from watering hole to watering hole, to ensure their nourishment and livelihood. At night it was unsafe to leave the sheep out on a hillside, so he would have to put the sheep in some type of pen. Depending on the size of his flock, sometimes a cave would be used and the shepherd would sleep by the entrance of the cave to ensure no one or nothing went in or out. In a village, there would be an open roofed enclosure made of wood or likely stone, sometimes even connected to the back side of a house. In this type of closure, the sheep would be brought in and then the gate would be locked or closed to make sure none of the sheep wandered out. This is the picture we have of our text.

It was an enclosure which had more than one flock, so it had different shepherds sharing an enclosure for the evening. There would be a watchman, John 10:3 says, who would open the gate for the shepherd. He was not to open it for others, and therefore, if someone or some animal wanted to steal a sheep, he would climb over the wall. When these structures were out in the wilderness, the dangers would be bears, lions, or wolves; in town this was less of a danger. The danger then became someone rustling or stealing sheep. John 10:1 calls this person a thief or a robber. Those terms refer to mostly the same thing, but the difference is that the robber uses violence to accomplish his goal.

Jesus, in this allegory, compares Himself as the faithful shepherd with those others who are thieves and robbers. Sheep will follow the voice of their shepherd, and they will not follow the voice of a stranger. So, to go back to the sheep pen, if there are three shepherds who keep their sheep in the same pen, how do they divide them again the next morning? What happens is the watchman opens the gate for the shepherd, and he calls out to his sheep and they follow him; the other sheep ignore the stranger’s voice and wait only for the voice of their own shepherd. This is still done in many Eastern cultures where shepherds share watering holes and flocks come together and they all leave with their own flock by following the shepherd’s voice. There is a closeness between a shepherd and his flock: he knows the name of the sheep and they are with him 24/7. It is like having a faithful dog: as soon as the owner comes home and the dog hears the voice, the ears perk up and the dog wags its tail. When a stranger comes, there isn’t trust at first. This idea is the same with sheep.

The Pharisees and the others who are listening did not understand what Jesus was saying. John 10:6 says: “Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.” So, in verses 7–10 of John 10, he makes it more explicit. Some have said that this becomes a mixed metaphor. In the first five verses Jesus is a shepherd; now, in verses 7–10, he is a gate. How is this? The way we must understand this is that verses 7–10 amplify what Jesus was saying. Also, as with an allegory, we must be careful not to be too particular of every detail.

So, now the picture focuses upon Jesus as the gate for the sheep. Notice Jesus uses the “I Am” statement again. This is a divine claim! But now, Jesus is the gate. Jesus calls Himself that very thing that brings the sheep into the safety of the sheep pen and brings them back out into the place where they can be fed and nourished. Whoever enters through the gate, Jesus says in John 10:9, will be saved. So, coming in through the gate is a picture of salvation. Salvation here is pictured as a place of safety, going in and out of the sheepfold, and having an abundant life. This is what John 10:10 means when it says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

A full life or an abundant life is one of fellowship with God. It is a life that is so full that it cannot be destroyed by death. It is a life of abundant grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is this the life you are living—a full life in the grace of God? Or are you living a life of fear? If you believe, if you have entered through the gate which is Christ, by faith, you can go in and out of the sheep pen without fear. The sheep pen can be the church—John 10:16 makes this clear. It is initially speaking about Israel, but for us today it speaks of the church. Are you afraid of what is out there? Are you afraid of your neighbors? Are you afraid of ISIS? Are you afraid of Satan? You need not be, because the shepherd gives abundant grace to the sheep. Be wise out there, be loving out there, be active out there, get involved in your community. Invite your neighbors over for supper and then invite them to church or just invite them into your lives. We will ask ourselves in the next article, but if we are afraid, then do we really trust that Jesus is the good shepherd who will not lose one of His sheep?

Brothers and sisters, there is only one way in. At some point, that shepherd is going to call the sheep in at night, and if you are not in the sheep pen, then you are in danger, eternal danger because one of these nights will be the last one. Do you hear the voice of the Savior? He says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.”

 

The Danger

After explaining to you that you do not need to be afraid if you have entered the gate, now let me warn you of two obvious but serious dangers.

The first of these dangers is listening to the wrong voice. In John 10:3 Jesus says that the shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them out. Notice that beautiful phrase, “He leads them.” Most modern shepherds drive the sheep. They walk behind the sheep and have a dog or two to keep the sheep in line. Not Jesus; He leads the sheep. The way that He leads them is not by the fact that they see Him but rather that they hear Him. The danger then is to follow the wrong voice.

The wrong voice is described by Jesus as that of a robber or thief or a stranger. What would the wrong voice sound like? In Jesus’ day, it was the voice of unbelieving Pharisees. It was a voice of threatening. Just as they threw the man who was healed of blindness out of the temple, so a false shepherd threatens the sheep. Pastors (which is the Latin word for shepherd) must not threaten the sheep; they should lead the sheep and teach them to run away from strange voices. Like what? Who are the thieves of our day?

The thieves of our day are those who teach that there is another way to be saved; those who teach that all religions ultimately lead to the same place. A thief might also say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Thieves today who have a false voice are those who promote a false religion, whether it is naturalism and its daughter evolution. Namely, it is that which is contrary to God’s Word. Another false voice is that of prosperity preachers who teach that God wants you to be wealthy and have all of your carnal desires met, and the reason you are sick or weak is your own fault. The first danger is listening to the wrong voice.

The second danger is seeking to enter by the wrong entrance. Jesus claims to be the exclusive gate. The only other way into the sheep pen is an illegitimate way: the way of thieves and robbers. We have already mentioned false religions and the like under the first danger. Likely the great danger of seeking the wrong entrance is seeking to enter the kingdom of God without the church.

This is the notion that someone can be a part of the universal church without being faithfully involved in a local church. This is the teaching that says that you can live a healthy Christian life without the communion of the saints, without accountability, without corporate worship, and most dangerously, without the means of grace—the preaching and sacraments.

What has become obvious to those watching is the role of religion in American politics. How many of the candidates attended worship on Sunday? How many attended worship on this Sunday last year? It is a show, and it is a joke. An individualistic faith with an individualistic salvation isn’t entering by the gate, which is Christ. It is sitting on the wall, it is straddling the fence. Cyprian, the early church father, said, “You cannot have God as your Father if the church is not your mother.” These people are the opposites of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were members of the local church but were not members of the universal church. We need both, and it is local church where we express our membership in the universal church.

Beware of the dangers.

The Application

As we take a step back from this “I Am” statement, what can you take home from the knowledge that Jesus is the gate for the sheep?

First (and we will build on this in the next article), be comforted in the fact that Christ will protect and feed us. John 10: 27–28 says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” Jesus will not leave us out in the wilderness for the lions, bears, and wolves to devour. Rather the I Am is an iron gate of protection for the sheep. He feeds us as the bread of life, He nourishes us with streams of living water, and He does so in His Word and by grace through the Holy Spirit.

Second, it is the calling of the Christian pastor to teach the sheep to run away from a strange voice. An important part of preaching is the defense of the faith or apologetics and polemics. This is especially the case in catechism sermons. In the faithful preaching of the Word, the sheep ought to be able to hear the voice of the good shepherd. The shepherd at times has to keep sheep from cliffs, pitfalls, and predators.

Third, enter in at the gate and follow the voice of Jesus. Many of you were welcomed into the sheep pen in a sense when you were baptized as members of the covenant. Praise God for that, but don’t rest merely on that. The picture of our text is that of sheep going in and out. Sometimes when sheep go out, they get lost. The shepherd with the one hundred sheep left the ninety-nine to go and find the one that was lost. When he found that sheep, he picked it up, put it on his shoulders, and carried it back to the flock. How would that sheep have gotten lost? That sheep entered dangerous territory or didn’t follow the shepherd. This is what our sin does. Flee from it. Repent and believe and experience abundant life.

There is only one gate, and that is Jesus. Come to Him. Enter through Him and have life, true, eternal, life.

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Rev. Steve Swets
is the pastor of Rehoboth United Reformed Church in Hamilton, ON. 

 

Let Them Hear Them by Rev. Daniel Hyde

Jesus’ illustration of the rich man and Lazarus in the afterlife brings home the powerful point that the Word of God is authoritative (Luke 16:22–31). The rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them of hell (Luke 16:27–28). But Abraham responded in a provocative way: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). The Old Testament prophets constantly called the people of God back to the Law of God, the Word of God (Deut. 17:10; Isa. 8:20). Jesus constantly called His disciples and His opponents back to the Scriptures (Luke 16:29; Matt. 4; 19:28; 22:29; John 5:39; 10:34–35; Acts 17:2, 11; 18:28; 26:22). The apostle Peter points us to the Word, not to himself as the supposed pope (2 Peter 1:19). We know the story of the Bereans (Acts 17:11), whom Paul described as noble because they searched the Scriptures to determine if Paul’s words were true. The rich man in Luke 16 responded: “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). Abraham’s reply? “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

The Scriptures are authoritative. The authority of Scripture is the inherent right they posses that makes it necessary for us to believe every truth and to obey every command. This is why the Westminster Confession says, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (1.4).

I want you to think about this question with me: How do we know the Scriptures are authoritative? The debate between Rome and the Reformation on this question was and continues to be: Do we come to this persuasion primarily through the church’s testimony or through the testimony of the Scriptures themselves? We say the authority of the Word of God is demonstrated primarily by God Himself and His Word and secondarily by the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith said it like this:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. (WCF 1.5)

The Spirit’s Witness

The Word of God clearly evidences and testifies of its own authority. And the way we recognize this is the Spirit’s witness. It is important to recognize the Spirit is behind the Word as the cause of its authority. The church’s witness is important, too, but it is only the means by which the Word is proclaimed so that the Spirit can do His work.

We read of the Holy Spirit’s internal testimony in our hearts that we are children of God (e.g., Rom. 8). And as He testifies to us that we belong to God, He does so in His Word. Jesus calls His words “spirit and life” (John 6:63). But what is the inner witness of the Spirit? Is it the same thing that Mormons teach when they say all we have to do is read and pray and we will have a burning in the bosom? No. This internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is not spiritual ecstasy or enthusiasm. It is a certainty that convinces our mind of the reasons implanted in the Word itself.

The Word’s Own Witness

The Spirit bears witness to us through the means of the Word of God. This is why we say that the Word is autopistis, that is, self-testifying. This means that the authority of Scripture is derived from its origin and source, which is God Himself. One illustration of this is to think about a jewel. Take a diamond, for example. Its refraction of light, its glowing brilliance in the sun, and its ability to cut glass all testify that it is a diamond. It has this ability to testify of itself.

In what ways do the Scriptures testify of their own authority, that they are from God? The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5 mentions six. Let me just briefly list them for you to write.

Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.

First, the heavenliness of the matter. We are dealing here not with myths and old wives’ tales but with a message from heaven to earth. In the Scriptures we read God’s own address to us.

Second, the efficacy of the doctrine. This means that the doctrines have an effect upon us. When we learn of sin, we come to know why things are the way they are. When we learn of Jesus Christ, we come to put our trust in Him. When we hear of the law, we seek to obey.

Third, the majesty of the style. This doesn’t mean that it is so incomprehensible that it has to be from God, but that there is something elevated in the poetry and prose that evidences its divinity. There is something about the doctrines, as well. Reason cannot produce the doctrines of the Trinity, incarnation, satisfaction, and resurrection of Christ, and fulfillment of prophecy. This must be a book from another source and not from man.

Fourth, the consent of all the parts. There is harmony in the one Bible between the two Testaments, which were written over several thousand years, by many authors, in multiple languages, and in different continents. We see this in the prophecies that are fulfilled.

Fifth, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God). This is not a self-help book or a means to an end. This is a book about God. This is why medieval Christians described the task of theology, saying, “Theology is taught by God, teaches of God, and leads to God.”

Sixth, the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation. No other book offers the   like the Bible.

The Church’s Witness

Let’s finally come to the church’s witnesses. The Holy Spirit is the one who convinces us of the authority of the Word through the Word. As a secondary means, the church and other external witnesses help us to see this as well. But it has to be in this order: Spirit and Word and then church. Men like Francis Turretin said the church was an introductory and ministerial means of bringing us to believe the authority of the Word (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:87–88). This is why Ephesians 2:20 is so key to us as Christians. What we learn there is that the church is built upon the Scriptures and then gets any authority it has from the Scriptures. This means that the Scriptures did not come to be because of the church.

Conclusion: One Main Application versus Rome

Let me conclude with one main application versus Rome’s understanding of this issue. What all this means is that the church discerns the Word of God and distinguishes it from other false books, but the church doesn’t make these books the Word of God.

Rome bases its whole claim upon a circular argument: Why do we believe the Bible is divine? Because the church says so. Why do we believe what the church says? Because the Bible says it is authoritative. And how do we know that this teaching of the Word is true? Because the church says so. And the circle never ends. This is why John Calvin once wrote, “Against opposing arguments they will set up this brazen wall—who are you to question the interpretation of the Church?” (Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote, 69).

The Scriptures, therefore, are our supreme judge in all doctrinal controversies. At the great Council of Nicea, Emperor Constantine said, “Therefore laying aside warring strife, we may obtain a solution of difficulties from the words of inspiration” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2, 3:44). And while the church will always have error until Christ comes again (1 Cor. 11:19), we ultimately listen to God speaking in the Scriptures more than we listen to popes and even our own theologians.

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Rev. Daniel Hyde
is the pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad, CA. 

 

 

The Dangers of Neglecting the Assembly (or, See You on Sunday!)

“Do we have to go to church today?”

This is a question my parents remember me asking more than a few times when I was growing up. I’m sure other parents have heard their own children ask the same question. I certainly have! This request is somewhat understandable from a child’s point of view. I admit that when I was eleven, there were times I would’ve rather stayed home to work on my Lego catapult than go to church on Sunday. I knew going to church was good; I would have agreed that God wanted us to worship Him together. But I might have argued that going to church once or twice a month was good enough. That was my logic as a child in a Christian home. It’s not the best logic, but from a child’s point of view, it is somewhat understandable.

One problem in the Christian life is when adults use this same logic: going to church is good, God wants us to worship together, and going once or twice a month is good enough. It’s one thing for a child to reason this way; it’s a very different thing for an adult to do it. So I’d like to spend a little time on this topic. There are legitimate reasons why some people can’t meet for worship frequently (illness, emergencies, legitimate travel, etc.). However, I believe that most of our reasons for neglecting worship are not legitimate (ball game, boating, too tired, etc.). But that’s the topic of a different article.

For now, I want to open the discussion by asking questions like these: What are the dangers of neglecting public worship? How does it hurt a Christian when he or she frequently misses worship? What does it hurt to skip church? Or, to repeat a child’s question, “Why do we have to go to church today?”

The following answers to those questions are based on Scripture and biblical principles. I don’t want to come at this topic from a legalistic point of view (you must worship in order for God to accept and save you), nor do I want to come at it from a traditionalistic point of view (we worship every week because that’s the way we’ve always done it). Instead, I want to give reasonable, wise, and biblical answers to these questions. So again, what does it hurt the Christian to habitually skip public assembly?

It is against God’s will. In Hebrews 10:25 Scripture clearly rebukes Christians who habitually neglect public worship. To paraphrase, the verse says, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some people today.” Without debating the number of worship services these people were missing, it is safe to say that the early church was regularly meeting together to worship Christ; for one example, Acts 2:42 says God’s people were “continually devoting themselves” to meet (NASB). By the time and context of Hebrews, some in the church were very irregular in their attendance, and they were clearly called out for skipping church. So our Larger Catechism says that sins forbidden in the fourth commandment include “all omissions of the duties required” in keeping the Sabbath and “all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them” (WLC Q/A 119). It is displeasing to God when His people habitually neglect public worship services; it does not bring Him glory and honor because it is against His will.

It is harmful to the Christian’s faith. Missing public worship services hurts a person’s faith. God has promised that through His Word He will powerfully bless His people. Faith in Christ comes through hearing His Word (Rom. 10:17), and that faith is strengthened through the same Word. The Word of God’s grace is able to build you up in faith (Acts 20:32; see also Ps. 119). This is why we call preaching an ordinary means of grace—it is one of the primary ways God showers His grace upon His people (see WLC Q/A 154). If we habitually neglect preaching, we habitually neglect God’s showers of grace. And neglecting showers of grace makes the seed of faith wither rather than grow in our hearts. The same can be said of the sacraments, which are signs of Christ’s work for us—other means God uses to strengthen our faith. So think of habitual neglect of worship like habitual neglect of watering and fertilizing a garden in an arid climate. The plants will not grow. So our faith will not grow if it is not regularly watered by the Word and sacraments.

It hinders Christian fellowship. Hebrews 10:24–25 not only talks about attending worship services, it also talks about Christian fellowship in the same sentence. Alongside the exhortation to stop missing worship services, the author of Hebrews tells God’s people to stir one another up in love and good works, and encourage one another in the faith as we await Christ’s return. Assembly, encouragement, love, and good works go hand in hand. This kills our self-centered, individualistic attitude and helps us think and live in a more covenantal, corporate way. We should regularly assemble with other Christians so we can encourage one another in the Christian faith and be encouraged by one another. One commentator put it this way, “The entire community must assume responsibility to watch that no one grows weary or becomes apostate. This is possible only when Christians continue to exercise care for one another personally.” After all, Christianity is not a solo endeavor, nor does it square with the individualism of our culture. Jesus said “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NASB). This is why the Westminster Confession says, “Saints by profession are bound to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God” (WCF 26.2). A true Christian doesn’t say, “I love Jesus but not the church.” If a person frequently skips worship, he is casting his doubt on the importance of fellowship and love for God’s people.

It diminishes God’s praise. The Bible (especially the Psalms) is full of examples where God’s people publicly sing praises to His name and honor Him together. For example, Psalm 34:3 says, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (cf. Ps. 95:1–2, 6; Rev. 19:7). When we rarely sing praises to God with His people, it diminishes our praise of God—praise which we should want to give Him together with His people: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps. 122:1). Habitually missing worship service means habitually neglecting to praise God with His people. This even sets a bad example before unbelievers; an unbeliever might begin to think (wrongly) that one can be a Christian without attending public worship services. Indeed, it is inconsistent if a person calls himself a Christian but does not care about praising the Lord with other Christians.

It confuses other Christians. To put it in common terms, Christians have historically been known as “church goers,” and this is a biblical way to think (see the first point above). When a Christian frequently skips worship services, other Christians who notice begin to wonder why this person is skipping. Or, if a child in a Christian family notices that a certain other family never comes to worship, that child might wonder why that family is not worshipping. I myself have been confused by those who call themselves Christians but rarely worship publicly. The Bible teaches that if a person is truly a Christian, that person doesn’t depart from the body but sticks with it (1 John 2:19). In other words, if a Christian frequently skips church, he is setting a poor example for other Christians and causing them confusion (rather than building them up as he should). Perhaps people who frequently skip church need to think more about how this might harm other Christians. Habitual neglect of public worship is a blemish on a Christian’s profession of faith that can cause other Christians to stumble. Certainly no Christian should want to be a stumbling block for another Christian!

It obstructs true piety. In the church’s liturgy God’s people learn the rhythm of the Christian life: praise, confession of sin, forgiveness of sin, prayer, hearing God’s Word, and learning how to live for Him. These elements of worship help keep our Christian life oriented in the right direction; liturgy is like a Christian recalibration. God’s law gives us moral clarity, a biblically informed conscience, and leads us to recognize and confess our sins. Hearing God’s forgiveness helps us fight guilt and shame, and learning how to live a life of gratitude helps us live for His glory. Habitually avoiding worship services make us forget the right way to walk as disciples, casts confusion on morality, messes up our consciences, makes us prone to shame and guilt, and throws a fog on the realities of God and His grace. Someone who constantly skips worship is exposed to the world and often falls into the sin of worldliness. As a friend recently reminded me, the psalmist’s confusion about reality was cleared up when he went into the sanctuary of God (Ps. 73). Neglecting worship services gets in the way of true Christian piety.

It makes the pastor’s and elders’ task difficult. God has called the pastor and elders of a local church to care for the flock, to pay attention to it, love it, set good examples for it, to pray for it, and so forth (see Acts 20:28–31; 1 Tim. 3:4; 1 Peter 5:1–3, etc.). In fact, church leaders are accountable to God for how they lead and care for the flock (Heb. 13:17). When a person habitually neglects public worship, the pastor cannot preach to that person and the elders begin to worry about that person’s faith and life. Certainly pastors and elders should do their duty even outside the public worship service, but it is very difficult for pastors and elders to do their task of shepherding when someone constantly misses worship services. In fact, Hebrews says that Christians should “obey” their leaders, “submit to them,” and “imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7, 13). The Bible even talks about Christians honoring elders (1 Tim. 5:17). When a Christian constantly dodges worship services the elders have called for, he is not obeying and submitting to his leaders, nor is he showing honor to them. One might even think of the fifth commandment here, which implies that God’s people must obey those in authority over them. Despite the fact that most Americans don’t like authority figures, the Bible is quite clear: we must obey elders and pastors that God has put in authority over us. Neglecting worship services is a failure to obey authority and makes pastors’ and elders’ jobs difficult.

It is making light of membership vows. Although some churches today care little about membership, historic Reformed churches have membership vows that are taken from various places in Scripture (cf. Deut. 6:13; Ezra 10:5; Ps. 50:14; 116:14, etc.). When a Christian joins one of Christ’s churches, he makes certain covenantal (and public) promises: that he believes in the triune God, that Jesus saves him from sin, that he wants to live a godly life, and so forth. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a person vows “to participate faithfully in this church’s worship and service, to submit in the Lord to its government, and to heed its discipline.” One of the vows in the URCNA is a promise to share “faithfully in the life of the church, honoring and submitting to its authority.” If a person makes a vow in church and then bails on the church by habitually forsaking worship, that person is not keeping the vows he made. Here is where one might discuss a violation of the ninth commandment (see also WCF 22.5 on vows and oaths).

It is a sign of apathy in the faith. If a person loves the Lord with fervency, loves His Word with passion, and loves other Christians, he will want to worship Christ with other Christians (cf. Ps. 122:1; Isa. 2:3). I don’t know of any Christian who fervently loves Jesus but never sings to Him with His people and doesn’t care to sit at His feet with His people to hear His Word. I do, however, know of Christians who grow lazy in the faith and would rather watch a football game or fire up the barbeque than sing to Jesus with other Christians. The Larger Catechism says one of the sins that the fourth commandment forbids is “being weary” of the duties required on the Sabbath (WLC Q/A 119). John Newton once wrote a letter to his congregation on this very topic. Among other things, he said, “Most of you agree with me that Scripture is God’s revelation. But do not some of you act inconsistently with your acknowledged principles? Your business and entertainment indispose you for due observation of our church services. You have other things to do, so you miss many sermons. . . . Many people can give their attention to trivial entertainment for several hours without weariness, but their patience is quickly exhausted under a sermon where the principles of Scripture are applied to the conscience.”

It invites Satan’s temptations. I once saw a clip on a nature show on hyenas and how they hunt for food. They often look for and hunt the antelope that is a bit removed from the herd since there is protection in numbers. Similarly, Satan and his demons often attack Christians at a vulnerable point: when they are alone, not accountable to anyone, not hearing God’s Word regularly, and not benefiting from Christian strength in Christian numbers. Satan is no idiot—he knows the best times to attack. It is no coincidence that Peter says Satan is like a hungry lion on the prowl (1 Peter 5:8). The church is Christ’s flock, and straying from the flock is spiritually dangerous. To remove oneself from the assembly is to expose oneself to Satan’s attacks and invite his arrows of temptation.

It is a step down the road of apostasy. The track record of apostates is to go to church for a while, then less frequently, then not at all. Hebrews 10 (mentioned above) doesn’t just give a command to habitually worship with the assembly; it also warns of the hellish punishment for those who forsake Christ. If someone is truly a Christian, he will not leave the flock. However, those that left “were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 NASB). One commentator wrote this of Hebrews 10:24–25: “The writer regarded the desertion of the communal meetings as utterly serious. It threatened the corporate life of the congregation and almost certainly was a prelude to apostasy on the part of those who were separating themselves from the assembly. The neglect of worship and fellowship was symptomatic of a catastrophic failure to appreciate the significance of Christ’s priestly ministry and the access to God it provided.”

I realize we live in a world of a thousand distractions and ten thousand entertaining things to do on the weekends. Our weekday schedules are overcrowded to the point where we’re completely drained by Sunday. It is very hard to get our priorities right, manage our time well, and live for the glory of God without falling in love with the world. It takes prayer, tears, effort, Scripture reading, encouragement from Christian friends, and firm resolve to habitually attend public worship.

I plead with readers to ask God’s forgiveness if they’ve failed in this—and to ask Him for grace, motivation, and desire to regularly worship Him with the saints. God is gracious, He hears us when we ask for help, and He is patient with our weakness and lethargy. Rest in God’s grace and (re)commit yourself to habitual worship! Remember this: I’ve never heard anyone say, “My faith has grown weak and feeble ever since I started going to church more often.” Trust that God will bless you as you gather with His people to worship. Trust that the gospel of grace will encourage, refresh, comfort, and motivate you in the Christian faith.

My above list was a negative one, so I’d like to end on a positive note. Using the same points above, we can positively say that regularly attending public worship services 1) is God’s will for you, 2) strengthens your fellowship with other saints, 3) helps you praise God better, 4) is beneficial for your faith, 5) builds up other Christians, 6) helps keep Satan’s attacks at bay, 7) keeps you from straying off the path, 8) enflames true piety, 9) makes the pastor’s and elders’ jobs easier and more enjoyable, 10) helps you keep your church vows, and 11) is a sign of strong faith.

Dear Christian, you are called to be salt and light, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, to live a strong Christian life, and to enjoy, glorify, and praise God while on this journey. God has not left you on your own to do these things. He’s given you His Word, His sacraments, and His church to help you on the way.

See you on Sunday! 

(A shorter version of this article appeared in the August-September 2015 issue of New Horizons.)

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Rev. Shane Lems
is the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, WI.
Unless otherwise indicated, he quotes the English Standard Version. 

 

 

The Tongue, Small Yet Great

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
—James 3:2–5a

According to researchers at the University of Arizona, “men talk just as much as women–on average, 16,000 words in a day.”1 Imagine that . . . 16,000 words in a day! However, Proverbs 10:19 warns, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking.” Indeed, the more you talk, the more likely you sin. Aware of the teaching found in this verse, it’s really no wonder that James takes the time to write about taming the tongue! As we reflect on James 3:2–5a, there are at least three significant observations that we should make: (1) the inclusive truth about the tongue; (2) the importance of the tongue; and (3) the inclination of the tongue.

First, we must recognize the inclusive (or universal) truth about the tongue, which is that we all make moral mistakes with it! Verse 2 reminds us that “we all stumble . . .” In this context, “stumble” means to fall into sin and commit moral error. You and I—all of us—struggle and fall into sin at times with our tongues. The text adds that we do this “in many ways.” This can include such sinful behavior as lying, slander, gossip, vulgarity, insults, blasphemous comments and verbally abusing others. Indeed, one of the many ways in which we sin against God is in our speech, and there are so many ways in which we are liable to do this!

James continues, “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says . . .”—that is to say, if anyone claims to have mastered the use of his tongue—“ . . . he is a perfect man.” In other words, to say that you never sin in your speech is to declare boldly that you never sin at all—that you are perfect! Anyone who fits this description is “ . . . able also to bridle his whole body.” Supposedly, this person is “perfect” in the sense that he is able to control all parts of his body . . . but the truth is that nobody is perfect!

To insist that you have fully mastered the use of your tongue is to imply that you are fully perfect—which means, also, that you have absolute control over your mind, your eyes, your heart, and so on—but the fact that you sometimes stumble in what you say shows that you also stumble at times in other ways. Without doubt, we all stumble in regard to our mind (what we think), our eyes (what we see), our ears (what we hear), our heart (what we feel), our hands (what we do), and our feet (where we go).

We all stumble—we are all vulnerable to temptation—and we all sin. Even James acknowledges his own need to admit this. He intentionally uses the pronoun “we,” counting himself among those who fail in their moral behavior. Proverbs 20:9 asks, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” Who among us no longer falls into temptation? Not one person! This truth is a universal one—we still struggle with sin—and this includes sin with regard to our tongue.

Children—have you spoken to your parents disrespectfully? Have you lied to them? If you know that you have done this, will you now come before the Lord and repent of your sin, and commit yourself to speaking to your parents with love and respect?

Parents—have you used overly harsh words when disciplining your children? Have you ever said things that you didn’t truly mean, such as, “You are always bad!” (knowing that your child is not always bad), or “You don’t do anything right!” (knowing that it isn’t true)? If you have, will you confess your error to your children, seek their forgiveness for this, and repent before God?

Husbands and wives—have you communicated with one another in anger when there have been disagreements between you? Have you used unnecessary yelling to communicate with one another? Worse yet—have you done this in front of your children? Do you need to confess sin of this sort to one another—and to God—in order to restore health, happiness, and love to your marriage? If so, then isn’t it worth the effort to do this in order to see the joy and blessing increase in your home? (It is!)

Proverbs 12:18 says, “Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal.”2 Oh, friends—how often have we deeply wounded other people simply because we were not careful with our speech? Far too often, we are hasty, careless, insensitive, and thoughtless of the ways that we speak to others. In this passage, though, James offers us a sobering warning—we should take this matter very seriously, for we all stumble in what we say—and this truth is inclusive, in that it includes you and me.

Second, we should acknowledge the importance of the tongue, which is great! James already addressed this subject in James 1:26, where he wrote the following: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Now, in chapter 3, James delves more deeply into this problem, offering us twelve additional verses of instruction about our speech. The fact that he’s teaching us about the tongue in multiple parts of his epistle should leave no doubt concerning the subject’s importance to James—and, more especially, to God.

Clearly, the tongue is an important part of our bodies! We should note, though, that James sometimes uses the word “tongue” in a literal sense to mean a physical part of our bodies, while in other verses he uses the word figuratively, in regard to our speech and our communication with one another. In regard to our physical bodies, though, the tongue is vital. There are certain parts of our bodies—such as our wisdom teeth, our tonsils and our appendix—which can be removed with little consequence. However, without a tongue, we would have great difficulty communicating with other people!

James is drawing the conclusion that the tongue, though small, can greatly affect the outcome of our lives. He offers two illustrations to help us see this. First, he likens the tongue to the bit in the mouth of a horse (v. 3). That small metal mouthpiece, when put on a horse, is what enables riders to steer the direction of the horse. Without the bit, a rider can have great difficulty controlling where the horse goes. In the same way, each of us must control our tongue, which in turn helps determine the direction in which our life goes.

The popular commentator Albert Barnes once wrote, “A man always has complete government over himself if he has the entire control of his tongue. It is that by which he gives expression to his thoughts and passions; and if that is kept under proper restraint, all the rest of his members are as easily controlled as the horse is by having the control of the bit.”3 This, of course, is true!

As a second illustration, James compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship (v. 4). What a powerful illustration this is! In fact, James made excellent use of illustrations throughout this epistle—a skill which he, no doubt, acquired from listening to his half-brother, Jesus, when he taught! Illustrations are intended to help us learn profound truths about God, and that’s precisely what James is aiming to do here. He’s explaining that even ships, which are large and are constantly being blown to and fro by the wind, are actually guided by the small rudder—and by the will of the captain, who controls the rudder and determines the ship’s direction.

To control a ship’s rudder is to control the ship. Again, we see the same principle being taught. While the tongue is a small part of our bodies, how we use it can greatly influence the direction of our entire lives! None of us are perfect, and we will all continue to struggle with temptation regarding our speech, but the more control that each of us have over our tongue, the more control that we’ll have regarding the direction of our lives.

Throughout this book, James is concerned that there are some people who claim to be Christians, but demonstrate no good works. They give no signs or evidence that they have experienced genuine spiritual conversion.

If we are in Christ, we have the grace of God in our lives—and we can use that grace to direct our tongue, so that we may bring honor and glory to God. If, however, we continuously live with an uncontrolled tongue, it’s indicative of the fact that we are not truly in Christ. In other words, we can’t truly be in Christ if we consistently slander others and tell lies. We should be alarmed if we don’t sense an overwhelming conviction about such sinful behavior in our lives—conviction which the Holy Spirit promises to bring in the lives of all true believers.

Finally, in this passage from James, we should also see the inclination of the tongue, which is sinful! In verse 5, James warns, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” In our speech—as in all areas of our lives—we are naturally inclined to sin. We have a tendency to curse God, and to sin against other people, by the things that we say. The tongue is small, but it is powerfully dangerous—like a poisonous snake that can bite!

With our tongues, we can destroy churches; we can ruin families; we can divide brother against brother and sister against sister. Evil words can emotionally wound a spouse or provoke our children to anger. A person’s character can be publicly shattered by what he says, or by what others might say about him.

So much of the evil and suffering in the world begins with sinful talk! Truly, the tongue can destroy our lives if we aren’t careful to honor God with how we use it! Regarding our ongoing struggle to guard our speech in this way, Matthew Henry wisely noted, “No man can tame the tongue without Divine grace and assistance. The apostle does not represent it as impossible, but as extremely difficult.”4 How true this is! Why don’t we humbly pray to God to help us tame our tongues?

Questions

1. Why is it foolish to deny the universal truth about the tongue? Explain James’ line of reasoning to answer this question.

In what area or sphere of your life are you most tempted to sin with your tongue? What steps of confession and repentance need to be taken?

2. In what way is your tongue important to the direction of your life? Explain the illustrations James uses to emphasize the importance of the tongue.

3. What are some practical and specific ways you can use your tongue to direct your life for God’s glory?

4. Do you experience the Holy Spirit’s conviction when you sin with your tongue? Why is your answer to this question so critical?

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References:

1. Ashley Phillips, “Study: Women Don’t Talk More Than Men,” ABC News, July 5, 2007, http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3348076&page=1 (accessed June 6, 2016). 

2. Good News Translation.

3. Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the General Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850), 65. 

4. Matthew Henry, Short Comments on Every Chapter of the Holy Bible (London: Religious Tract Society, 1839), 972.

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Rev. Brian G. Najapfour
is the pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, MI, and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012) and  Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of and Devotion to Prayer (2013). He and his wife, Sarah, have two children, Anna and James. He blogs at biblicalspiritualitypress.org.

Reformed Youth Services 2016 Annual Convention Myron Rau

In this twentieth anniversary year of Reformed Youth Services (RYS), the fifteenth annual convention was held at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. The week of July 25–29 brought just short of seven hundred youth, sponsors, speakers, and workshop leaders together for an exciting time of spiritual growth and fellowship. Over the years many lives have been touched and changed from participating in these annual conventions. The following are reports from two of the young people who attended the 2016 convention.

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Mr. Myron Rau
is the chairman of the board of Reformed Fellowship. He is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

 

Convention 2016: Salt Life Miss Cambrie Atsma

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver
—Prov. 25:11

This year at convention we learned how to live the salt life. Our main sessions taught about being at peace with one another. As Christians, “we are broken to bless, to bless the broken.” “We are a rock that needs to be broken of our pride.” As the youth of the church we were encouraged to apply Colossians 4:5–6, “Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” We learned that salt needs to be “poured out into the world” and that “we need to sow salt of destruction on our sin.” The biblical picture of salt was clearly seen through the speakers in our main sessions. From preservation to destruction, salt can affect many things, just as our speech and actions can affect those around us and our light in the world.

In addition to our main sessions we started every day with our Sunrise Group. My group had eight people who lived in my dorm. We had devotions and shared what we were learning and how we were growing as Christians that week. It was such a blessing getting to know more believers on a personal level. I also got to know more people through free time. We had some time each day to walk around, play cards, or play various sports. I constantly had the chance to meet like-minded Christians.

We had the privilege to pick the workshops that we wanted to attend. I enjoyed them all, but my favorite was “Who Do You Need to Forgive?” by Pastor Bob of Little Farms Chapel. He taught that we need to accept our forgiveness before we can forgive others. “God sees us as washed; we need to accept God’s view of us” (see 1 Cor. 6:9–11).

As always, the music was fantastic. It was such a blessing to be able to sing praises with so many fellow believers. I was also part of the Convention Choir. We sang at the Thursday night talent show. This also gave many youth the opportunity to share their gift and talents with the convention crowd.

Over all, my favorite part of convention was the Sunset Group. We would meet each evening with our own church’s youth group. We would talk about our day, what we learned, and share stories from the day. We were able to bond with each other and grow closer as a church family.

“Be of the same mind towards one another. Do not set your mind on things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, life peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:16–18).

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Miss Cambrie Atsma
Bethany URC
Wyoming, Michigan

Salt Life Report - RYS Convention 2016

Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
­—Mark 9:50

This is my third year at the RYS Youth Convention. I can undoubtedly say that it is a tremendous blessing as a young Christian to be able to attend and experience the wonderful thing convention is. This year the theme was the “Salt Life,” where we were educated first on the secular world view on the “Salt Life,” which was then contrasted with the biblical view on the “Salt Life.” During the main sessions Rev. Nymeyer and Rev. Tuinstra spoke on how we as followers of Christ are salt, and that we can have a positive effect in the midst of the corrupted world we live in. We were taught that just as salt must be broken to bless, so we must be broken spiritually because of our sin, and realize the grace we’ve been given, so that we may then go and bless the broken. Following the blessing salt can be, we learned of the destructive quality of salt, being instructed to get rid of the salt of destruction in our own lives, putting to death the old self, and being renewed. “But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”(Eph. 4:20–24).

The blessing of RYS Youth Convention goes further than what we learn through the main sessions. Throughout the week we attend workshops, participate in athletic events and games, sing glorious praise to God, and experience fellowship with fellow Reformed youth, as well as the leaders and sponsors. Not only do we get the opportunity to go and grow in our faith, but also we learn to establish deep roots planted by streams of water so that our faith doesn’t wither easily (Ps. 1:3). The youth leave with an intense feeling of joy and a confidence in our faith, as we are reminded of our awesome God. We also walk away with new enduring friendships that help keep us accountable for who we are in Christ.

The week consisted of a lot of learning, fellowship, worship, free time, fun at amusement parks, a talent show, sports tournaments, enjoying time in the cafeteria, and playing games in the lounge. It is an event that has had a huge effect in the lives of many Christian youth, in addition to the leaders and sponsors. I turned to my pastor on the plane home and said that looking at my life, seeing my shortcomings, seeing how God has worked to grow my faith as a believer, and seeing how great God is through convention, there is nothing more I desire than to serve God for the rest of my life. The days spent at convention, the things learned, the friendships formed, the memories made, are things that will be taken with us through the rest of our lives.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:9–13).

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Mr. Kees Kiledjian
First Chino URC
Chino, California

 

“I Am the Light of the World”: A Meditation on John 8:12–20

This is the second devotional on the “I am” series of statements of Christ found in John’s Gospel. Read John 8:12–20 prayerfully and then keep your Bibles open.

The statement of our Savior focuses upon light. Light extinguishes darkness. As we come to our passage, we are reminded that by nature humans are in darkness. One way to describe the fall is that man fell from light. The world was plunged into darkness. (R. C. Sproul has written an excellent children’s book dealing with this theme called The Lightlings. Read it to your children.) The darkness of the human heart is what Jesus addresses in John 8:12–20. As you read this devotional article, ask yourselves what it means that Jesus is the light of the world and what our calling is in reflecting that light to those around us.

A Divine Claim

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” This statement was profound, prophetic, fulfilling, angering or comforting, and divine. To help us wrap our minds around this, we must understand what is taking place. The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths is about to come to an end. This was one of three national feasts the Jews celebrated. In John 7:37, it refers to the last and greatest day of the feast. What happened on the last day of the feast and the others was that in the temple the two golden menorahs were lit, the candelabra with seven lamps or candles. The court of the women would be lit, the city would be illuminated, and from the surrounding hills the temple could be seen lit up. Once the candles are blown out, then darkness hangs over the city. It is in this context that Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

In the previous article, the significance of the use of the term “I am” by Christ was mentioned. In Greek, the two simple words ego eimi mean “I am.” Not only is this a reference to the divine and God’s revelation of the covenant name at the burning bush, but also, more specific to our text, is the fact that it was God who would be a light to the nations. There is a double reference to God as the light: He is light to the elect Jews and to the nations.

As we turn for a moment to the Old Testament, we can see that Jesus’ statement is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Psalm 104:1–2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.” God covers Himself in light. We must understand this to be the fact that God is adorned as light, Himself giving light its source. God is the light, and now Jesus is claiming to be the light.

Isaiah of all the prophets develops the messianic theme of light. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” That beautiful verse corresponds to John’s prologue, where we read, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:4–9; for further reading, see Isa. 42:6–7a [John 9]; Isa. 49:6 [cf. Mal. 4:2]). When Jesus says that He is the light of the world, He is claiming to be the Messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah, the one who would build His church by bringing light also to the Gentiles.

There is another Old Testament connection taking place in the earlier context of John. This connection is with the wilderness. The greatest miracles and blessings of the wilderness wandering culminate in Jesus Christ. In John 3, Jesus connects His death on the cross for the salvation of sinners with the serpent on a pole in the wilderness. As we get closer to John 8:12–20, we remember that previously Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” He referred to Himself in John 6:58 as that bread which is greater than manna. In John 7:37–38, Jesus connects Himself to the water in the wilderness. But, unlike temporary water from the rock, Jesus will give streams of living water by way of the Holy Spirit. Now, Jesus calls Himself the light of the world. What was Israel’s light in the wilderness? Exodus 13:21–22 says, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.” It was that pillar of cloud and fire that gave light and clarity to the Israelites and darkness and confusion to the Egyptians (Exod. 14). Now Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Following the light is what Israel was to do on their way to the Promised Land. Do you see the redemptive theme? We also are to follow the light as we make our journey to the Promised Land. Now it should be getting clearer why the Pharisees were so angry at Jesus.

He not only calls Himself the “I am” a second time, but also He connects His person and work to God’s great work of redemption in history. As a light to the world, He expands the church outside of the walls of Israel. He is the light of the world. The bright candles in the temple which illuminate all around the temple are blown out. Jesus is the light that will pierce the darkness. His teaching here is directed at the hypocritical Pharisees, as we will see in a moment. In John 9:5 Jesus repeats this statement. This happens as He heals a man who was born blind. His whole life the man saw nothing but complete darkness, and Jesus miraculously restored the sight he never had. As this man’s retinas are filled with light, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus’ statement comes to the spiritually blind Pharisees and to the man born blind, who because he was healed by Jesus will be excommunicated from the temple.

To put it in other words, Jesus is saying, “I am the light of the world” to the religious elite and to the religiously lost. What He is saying to the Pharisees and to us if we are not on guard is if we are not following Jesus, if we are not looking to the light, if we are not walking in the light, if we seek light from elsewhere, we are like the Pharisees. As Paul tells the Corinthians, to do many amazing things without love is nothing. So too, to live an outwardly religious life without the inward renewal of the spirit is nothing. To surrender our time, money, energy, even prayer to the Lord without the surrendering of our hearts, what profit is it?

This is what Jesus means by following Him. It means to believe in Him and to trust Him. The famous book by Charles Sheldon, In His Steps, written nearly a century ago, gets at this. What if in every decision you made in life, you asked, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Now, there are some problems with the question, partly because Jesus would never get Himself into compromising situations as we often do, but the main thrust is the same. The result of believing or of following Jesus is that the deeds of darkness or of the flesh are taken off and the fruit of the Spirit is put on (Gal. 5). The tree must be good before the fruit can be good.

Remember that when outsiders come to worship. Don’t expect outward piety if there is not yet inward renewal. To expect people from the outside to act like Christians or talk like Christians before they have followed the light is a contradiction. It doesn’t make sense, and even worse, it might encourage a negative form of Pharisaism.

What Jesus is saying to those still in darkness is that there is a light that had come into the world. He will provide the only solution to those things which flourish in darkness: sin, brokenness, frustration, spiritual depression, loneliness. What Jesus provided the man born blind is the same thing He gives to those who follow Him: He gives them eyes to see. So, when sin or temptation arises, they can see it; when brokenness abounds, they can see through it and sail those waters. Following the light doesn’t mean that everything in the rest of your life will be easy. The man born blind was insulted by the Pharisees and then excommunicated. “‘Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.’ They answered and said to him, ‘You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?’ And they cast him out” (John 9:32–34). They threw out the man born blind because they hated the one who healed him. In John 9:35–38, how did the man respond? In faith. He didn’t cry because the religious elite had barred him from their legalistic blindness; rather, he worshipped Jesus.

A Necessary Response

There is always a response to the proclamation of the good news. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus claimed to be God. The same is true with the preaching of the Word. “The flower fades, the grass withers, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.” Jesus is that Word, which John said has come into the world: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:11–12). “His own” is a reference to the Jews. How did they respond?

They raised all kinds of weak counterarguments (John 8:12–20). First, they claimed that Jesus cannot say those things because He wasn’t permitted to testify for Himself, so then Jesus’ testimony is not valid. This could be true if it was not for the fact that Jesus was the omnipotent, omniscient, sinless one. He says that His Father can testify for Him.

Second, they object about His father as a witness. In verse 19, they ask, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus reply was spot on: “You do not know Me or my Father.” They were spiritually blind: the Light had come to shine in the world and they did not recognize it. The law and the prophets testified to it, and the Psalms and the Wisdom literature testified to it. The suffering servant of Isaiah had come as a light into the world, and the very thing that Isaiah said would take place is about to take place. God will lay on Him the transgression of us all.

The third objection was to the fact that where He was going they could not go. They thought He was going to commit suicide (John 8:22). Jesus said He is not of this world, but they are; they are from below. He is not about to commit suicide; they are about to commit homicide. They are about to crucify an innocent man, though verse 20 reminds us that His time hadn’t yet come.

But they will commit homicide. They will seek to put out, to snuff out the light of the world, but they cannot. For this light is not a light from men. He is not the light of the candelabra which burns for a week and then everything goes out and all is dark again. No, this is the light sent from God. This is the one who said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

The man who was born blind and was healed humbled himself and worshipped Jesus. He believed that indeed Jesus was the Son of Man, the light sent from God. The religious leaders, hardened and angry, sought to destroy Jesus. They said He was a liar and an imposter. Who do you say He is?

Are you following the light? Is Jesus your light among the darkness of this world? A couple of years ago I went camping, and there was a trail, a shortcut through the woods to the bathroom. I went with my wife, and we took one flashlight. The trail narrowed, and she went ahead with the flashlight and I followed right behind her. But something happened. I tripped and fell over a tree root. The problem was that the light wasn’t bright enough, and I had not followed closely enough. Spiritually, sometimes we fall as we walk through the woods of life, don’t we? We stumble in sin and discontent. When we do, repent, but also ask yourself, are you walking close to the light, or have you slowly fallen back a bit? When you think about your life and your relationship with the Lord, isn’t it true that when you are most often in prayer and in devotion, in Bible study and Bible reading and worship attendance, that things seem to go better? The fact is that things might not be going much differently; however, if we are walking close to the light of God’s Word, our path is illuminated. We are reminded that we depend upon the Lord for guidance.

When the storms clouds come upon us, we are sheltered by God. In the darkness of a broken relationship, or a struggle with addiction, or a difficult child, or a difficult parent, it is Jesus who sheds light upon our path. Follow Him! He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Follow Him, live in Him, trust in Him, and be comforted in the truth that you belong to Him. The light has come into the world, and it is Jesus. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Rev. Steve Swets
is the pastor of Rehoboth United Reformed Church in Hamilton, ON.  


Current Issue: November/December 2018
Volume 68 Issue 6

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Listen to a 42-minute audio lecture by Dr. Carl Trueman
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This lecture was given at the annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship held November 7, 2008, at Trinity United Reformed Church, 7350 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Caledonia MI.

 

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