Forgiven and Sent (John 20:19-23)

Big Idea: Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent.

In the movie Memento, Leonard Shelby is an ex-insurance investigator whose wife dies. The last thing that he can remember is the death of his wife. He tries to solve his wife’s murder, but there’s a problem. Because of a blow to the head by the murder, Leonard has a type of amnesia that makes it impossible for him to remember anything new for more than a few minutes. As he tries to solve his wife’s murder, he has to create a system to help him remember things using notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos.

During the movie, one of the characters says to Leonard: “You don't know who you are anymore.”

“Of course I do,” Leonard responds. “I’m Leonard Shelby. I'm from San Francisco.”

“No, that's who you were,” Teddy says. “Maybe it's time you started investigating yourself.”

What follows is a series of revelations about Leonard that cause him to question his identity. He then suffers a severe identity crisis that leads to the movie's shocking ending — all because he can't remember who he is. 

“You don’t know who you are anymore…Maybe it’s time you started investigating yourself.” These are great words, and I want to apply them to us today. When we forget who we are, it has disastrous consequences, and it leads to an identity crisis.

So today I want to look at the passage we just read and ask one simple question: who are we? And this passage gives us two answers.

1. We are forgiven

Here’s the background to the passage. Jesus has just been raised from the dead. Most of Jesus’ followers hid in fear when Jesus died. Many of them wouldn’t even believe that he had risen again. Jesus is meeting with his followers again, and it’s a potentially awkward moment. How will Jesus respond to his closest friends who let him down at the crucial moment of his death?

John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Jesus could have said, "I've got something to say to you..." He could have condemned them for abandoning him. He could have criticized them for hiding. He didn't come, though, with a word of condemnation. He came instead with the everyday greeting, "Peace be with you."

In English, that sounds like he's saying a lot. That's not how we normally greet people. In that culture, this was a standard greeting. Jesus came in and simply said our equivalent of "Hello." He repeated himself in verse 21, saying again, “Peace be with you.” By the time he repeated it the second time, it began to take on more than the customary meaning of “hello.” Jesus was extending peace to people who had let him down. Jesus is restoring relationship with people who had abandoned him.

 He knows who he's dealing with. He knows their doubts and their failings. Here, and in other conversations with his followers after his resurrection, he reestablishes a relationship with these very normal people. He doesn't write them off or dismiss them. He reestablishes a relationship with them.

Here's the thing about Jesus that we need to understand. He is very aware of our shortcomings. A few years ago, the then-new president of the University of Toronto admitted that he was suffering from a case of impostor syndrome. “It was one of the more acute attacks of impostor syndrome that I've had,” he said. “You have a real sense that this is an enormous responsibility and worry that this is something you've been chosen to do by some misunderstanding.”

I think there is also such a thing as spiritual impostor syndrome, to think that God has chosen us due to some misunderstanding, or to think that God wouldn't have chosen us if he knew the truth about us. Of course, we know that God doesn't have any illusions about us. He's never surprised by how we let him down. It's not some misunderstanding. God looks at our lives, and he understands our weakness, and his word - because of what Christ has done for us - is, “Peace be with you.”

When I was twelve, I started to struggle in an area of sin that I thought was really bad. I somehow thought that I was struggling in an area that was unusual for a person who claimed to be a Christian. I remember feeling overwhelmed with guilt. I talked to a couple of people I looked up to, and they recommended that I talk to my pastor about it.

I did. I was as nervous as anything. I suppose I was hoping that he would understand, and I was afraid that I would see this shocked look on his face when I admitted my struggle. I told him, and for a second — before he had a chance to recover — I could tell that he was truly shocked.

We need to remember that Jesus is never shocked by what we've been struggling with. He's not surprised or overwhelmed by our failures and our doubts. He knows, and he still comes to us — even in our failure and our fears — and re-establishes a relationship with us.

He even understands and reassures our doubts. "When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side" (John 20:20). Jesus is not surprised by your sins and your doubts as he looks at you. He has no illusions about who you are.

This is huge, and it forms our identity, our understanding of who we are. We are, before anything else, a community of sinners who are in relationship with God not because of having it together. We are a community of people who are in relationship with God because Jesus looked at us in our weakness and said, "Peace be with you." We are a community of grace because we have received so much grace.

That is primarily how I understand who we are at Liberty Grace Church. Who are we? We are ordinary people who let God down, but have encountered Jesus and heard his words, “Peace be with you.” The thing that ties us together as a group of people is that we are in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are not in relationship with God because we are any better than anybody else. We are in relationship with God despite our weaknesses and failures and doubts. It’s all because Jesus has initiated this relationship with us.

This is the basis of our identity. It shapes everything about us. It also means that as we come into contact with others, we don't go, "Ha! Sinner!" We live as those who have been forgiven, so we can live and explain grace and joy and peace and hope.

This is who we are - a group of people who know failure and doubt, but who are in relationship with Jesus. This is important but it's not enough. This is key to our identity. We are people who have been forgiven.

 But that’s not all that we are.

2. We are sent.

After Jesus re-establishes a relationship with his followers, he gives them a job to do — one that is unbelievable, considering their failures. He passes the baton to them, and gives his job over to them.

This is the opposite of what you'd expect. These people fail the test, and Jesus comes to them and puts them in charge. Jesus looks at us, sees who we are, and still he gives us the responsibility of doing what he did during his ministry.

Verses 21-23 say:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus restates his mission - “As the Father has sent me…” Jesus talked a lot about being sent by his Father. Over and over again, he talked about the reason for his existence, and the reason for what he was doing. “As the Father has sent me…” Jesus served because Jesus was sent. He preached, healed, and forgave because that is what God called him to do. Jesus was always clear on his mission, what he was there to do.

Jesus accomplished this mission by going to those who were out of relationship with him. He talked about not going to the spiritually healthy but to those who weren't doing well spiritually. His ministry was grounded in the nature of God, who is a sending God.

You can capture the sweep of this throughout Scripture. One of the big macro-themes is the image of God. God made us in his image (imago dei). This image has been broken by sin. God's been working to restore that image, to undo the damage caused by sin. The Bible tells us that we're being changed into the image of Christ, who is in the image of God. He's restoring that image.

Another macro-theme is the mission of God (missio dei). God is on mission to restore that image. The whole Bible is about the mission of God. God chose a people to carry out his mission to bless the world. God sent his Son to carry out this mission. Now, Jesus gives the mission to those who follow him, to the glory of God (gloria dei).

In other words, we were made in the image of God to participate in the mission of God, all for the glory of God.

This is the reason for our existence as a church, as a group of people. It's rooted in the very nature of God. God is a sending God. The Father sent Jesus; the Father and the Son sent the Spirit; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together send the church into the world.

Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im write:

God is a missionary God in this culture and in every culture. His nature does not change with location. Therefore, a missionary posture should be the normal expression of the church in all times and places..

The church needs to realize that mission is its fundamental identity. A nonmissional church misrepresents the true nature of the church. (Planting Missional Churches)

Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent. We’ve been given a mission by God who is on mission. We are a missionary people. We are a group of people who have been sent into this community to do what Jesus did. We've been called to enter the lives of people who are out there. We have been sent to leave our place of security, to risk ourselves, to travel to the places where people are, to go onto their turf rather than to expect them to come onto our turf. We've been called to become missionaries in our own societies, to understand our culture, to creatively engage the issues of the day. We've been sent into the world just as Christ as sent.

I find it fairly easy to remember the first part — that we’re forgiven — compared to remembering the second part of our identity: that we’re sent. But we need both parts of our identity. When we forget our mission, we soon lose the very nature of what it means to be the church. We lose our identity as the missionary people of God.

A church can't exist without mission. It's not an add-on or part of what we do. There is no such thing as a missions budget. The entire budget of the church is the missions budget. The essence of the church is to live in relationship with God, sent into the world just as Christ was sent into the world.

Think this is too much? I don't blame you. This is why Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He’s given us everything we need to carry out our mission.

God has called you. He's not surprised by your mistakes or doubts. He's given you the job to be sent to live and serve just as Jesus lived and served. Reggie McNeal says:

God must have a lot of confidence in you to put you on the planet at just this time. It was his sovereign decision to insert you onto planet earth during a time of huge transition. It takes incredible faith to lead or follow Christ during hinge points of history ... Jesus doesn't slam you for your doubts, fears and uncertainties either. He wants to encourage you in your current assignment. (Reggie McNeal, The Present Future)

God must have had a lot of confidence in you? That's sort of right. God had confidence in what his Spirit could do through ordinary, failed people like us.

Some of us have been ordained as pastors. But some of you have an even higher calling. You've been ordained as teachers, firefighters, students, sales representatives, parents. You've been sent to where you live and work and study, just as Christ was sent.

You're not there by accident. God has strategically placed you there. He's given you all the resources you need. You have been sent. You are in relationship with God, and sent into the world to be a blessing to the world.

So today I want to ask you: Who are you? Who are we as a church? And the answer comes in two words. We are forgiven, and we are sent.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to talk about what this means for us as we try to live it out. But today I just want to pick up the notes, Polaroids, and tattoos, just like the character in the Memento movie, because like him, we tend to forget who we are.

Remember the line I mentioned from the movie? “You don’t know who you are anymore…Maybe it’s time you started investigating yourself.” What would happen if we investigated ourselves and reminded ourselves that we are forgiven and sent? What if we left clues about this so that we remembered this every day of our lives? How would we live our lives differently if we lived out of this identity? My suspicion is that it would change everything.

Who are we? We are people who are forgiven and sent. And this, my friends, changes everything.

Father, thank you today that the story doesn’t end with our failure. Thank you that Jesus enters the room and says, “Peace be with you.” And then he repeats himself to make sure we get the point. Thank you that we are forgiven and restored into relationship with you. It’s a core piece of our identity. We have been forgiven.

But thank you also that we’ve been sent. We are your missionary people, sent a missionary God. Thank you that you haven’t just given us a mission, but you’ve given us the Holy Spirit so we could carry out this mission.

I pray that this identity would shape everything about our lives. Help us to remember every day who we are: that we are people who are forgiven and sent. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

How Can We Know What Happens After We Die?

Big Idea: How do we know what happens when we die? By listening to someone who’s come back from death.

As we’ve gone through this series, both Nathan and I have wondered at times how we got stuck with some of the topics. Two weeks ago I spoke on hell. Today I speak on death. Nathan is the guy who speaks on sex, and I’m the guy who speaks on death and hell. Go figure!

But tonight’s topic is an important one. Like many of us, I’ve had to wrestle with the question of death. A few weeks ago, on June 23, my half-brother passed away. That makes you confront again the question of what happens when we die.

I remember one cold February up in Stouffville when I stood beside the grave of a friend and led the committal service as her pastor. I remember having a distinct thought as I waited for everyone to get ready: Either I am about to share the best news possible about death, or I’m about to perpetrate one of the worst lies possible on some of the most vulnerable people. It’s as simple as that. Either Christianity has something valuable to say on death, or it’s the worst kind of lie. There’s really no in between.

Mike Wittmer, who’s written my favorite book on death — did you know I had a favorite book on death? — says this: “If death was no big deal, then there would be no reason to be a Christian.” The reason that Christianity packs such a punch is that it deals with death, which is in the end our last enemy, and one that we will all face.

So what happens when we die? Is Christianity true? How can we know what to believe? This is important, because we’re either going to hear reliable information today that changes everything, or Christianity simply isn’t worth our time.

And to answer this question, we first have to acknowledge how awkward it is to talk about death. It’s one of the reasons that this sermon is awkward. We don’t like to think about death. We spend a lot of our lives without really thinking about death. At funeral homes, many pay their respects and get as far away from the coffin as possible. We embalm to conceal the appearance of death. We use euphemisms to avoid acknowledging the reality of death. We no longer have graveyards, but cemeteries and memorial parks. We avoid making wills because we don’t want to think about our own death. You certainly don’t bring the subject of death up at a dinner party. But it’s important to break through the discomfort and talk about it, because we can’t avoid it no matter how hard we try.

Mike Wittmer says:

You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. One morning the sun will rise and you won’t see it. Birds will greet the dawn and you won’t hear them. Friends and family will gather to celebrate your life, and after you’re buried they’ll return to the church for ham and scalloped potatoes. Soon your job and favorite chair and spot on the team will be filled by someone else. The rest of the world may pause to remember— it will give you a moment of silence if you were rich or well known— but then it will carry on as it did before you arrived. “There is no remembrance of men of old,” observed Solomon, “and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow” (Ecclesiastes 1: 11).

You are going to die. What a crushing, desperate thought. But unless you swallow hard and embrace it, you are not prepared to live.

It’s important, then, to sidestep the discomfort of death and think about it, because it’s inevitable, and unless we face its reality, we really aren’t prepared to live.

So what happens when we die? There are really only three theories. One is extinction: that we cease to exist. Another is that we come back in some other form, as in reincarnation. The third and final view is that we continue to exist as ourselves. Which one is true?

To answer this question, people try to look at things like past life memories and anecdotal evidence. There’s a lot of talk about near death experiences, in which someone claims to have died, gone to heaven, and returned. I don’t find those helpful, though. There’s no way to judge the validity of those experiences. Earlier this year a publisher pulled the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, a New York Times bestseller, after he recanted his story. “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” he said. “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”

So how do we get any reliable information? I believe that answer is Jesus. Jesus provides reliable information on death, because of who he is — God become man — and because he actually conquered death. When you want to find out what somewhere is like, ask someone who’s been there. And when you want to find out what death is like, ask the person who’s not only been there, but has conquered it, who has dragged death to the grave.

So let’s consider this afternoon: What did Jesus teach us about death? He said a lot, but I want to summarize it today by saying that Jesus taught three things: Death is an enemy. Death is not the end. And death will die.

First: death is an enemy.

You hear a lot of things about death. In The Lion King, Simba’s father says, “You see, it’s all part of the circle of life. There’s nothing unusual about death. It’s just the next step of growth. It’s just the next stage of life.” Not true! Others say that death is sleep, or going into a harbor. In 1910, King Edward VII of England caught a cold,  developed bronchitis, then pneumonia, and was dead within a week. His funeral was preached by Henry Scott-Holland, the canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, who uttered these words:

Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room … Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute unbroken continuity. What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you for an interval. Somewhere very near. Just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

The problem with these words? They are a denial of the severity of death. Death is a huge deal. It is wrong. In John 11, Jesus stood beside the grave of his friend, and he read these powerful words:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35)

When it says that Jesus was deeply moved and troubled, these words are pretty powerful. It means that Jesus experienced anger, outrage, emotional indignation. What got Jesus so worked up? Was he just grieving for a friend? New Testament scholar D.A. Carson says: “His inward reaction was anger or outrage or indignation,” and then he suggests that his anger was a mix of anger “with the sin, sickness and death in this fallen world that wreaks so much havoc and generates so much sorrow,” and the unbelief of those around him who treated death as if there is no resurrection. In other words, Jesus didn’t see death as neutral, or just part of life. Jesus was indignant at death.

Let’s get rid of the idea that death is just part of life, or it’s a good thing. Death is unnatural. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). It’s an enemy. Theologian Millard Erickson says:

Death, then, is not something natural to humans. It is something foreign and hostile. Paul pictures it as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). And there is little doubt that God himself sees death as an evil and a frustration of his original plan.

Death is not good. Mike Wittmer once attended the funeral of an infant who had died in a tragic accident. The pastor offered the usual words of comfort: “We can rejoice, for this child is better off than we are. He isn’t really dead. He is more alive than he’s ever been, safe in the arms of Jesus.” Although there’s truth in those words, they don’t reflect the ugliness of death, or acknowledge that something horrible has happened. The grieving father stood up, and…

with quivering voice declared that no parent should ever have to bury their child. He pointed out that every death is ultimately the result of sin, and that when he held his dead son in the hospital, he thought he saw the face of sin. The mask of sin had been ripped away and he saw sin for what it is, the enemy that will one day steal from us everything and everyone we have ever loved. The father didn’t try to make us believe that all was well, but from the depths of despair he raised a fist of defiance. “People tell me that someday I will make peace with Jack’s death,” he said. “I will never be at peace with death. Scripture tells me that one day I will be at peace, but only when death is no more. I will not be at peace until I see my son again.”

That is the Christian view of death.

Death is not natural. It’s an enemy. That’s the first thing that Jesus teaches us.

Second, death is not the end.

The debate about what happens after we die is not a new one. The Sadducees, one of the major groups constituting Palestinian Judaism, did not believe that the soul continued to exist after death, or that people suffered punishments or received rewards after they died. They believed that the soul and the body perished at death. We don’t have to wonder what Jesus thought of this, because he told us. When they tried to trap Jesus by asking him a question about the resurrection, trying to trip him up, Jesus scolded them: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). He then began to teach about the resurrection.

What did Jesus teach? He taught that when the body died, the soul did not. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” he said (Matthew 10:28). He told a story, a parable, in Luke 16 about a rich man who died, as well as Lazarus, a beggar. Jesus described both of them as continuing to exist, one in heaven, and one in Hades, a place of torment. When he was dying on the cross, he told a criminal who was being crucified beside him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus repeatedly spoke about the afterlife. Most clearly, he said this to Martha, the brother of Lazarus, at his tomb:

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:23-26)

Jesus says here that he will raise the dead on the last day. The believer, even though he or she dies, will nevertheless come to life at the resurrection. In one sense, even though they die, they in some sense never die.

The New Testament develops all of this. You can summarize its teachings like this: upon death, believers go immediately to a place and condition of blessedness in God’s presence, and unbelievers enter an experience of misery, torment, and punishment. The body dies and disintegrates, but the soul lives on. But that’s not even the end. That’s just our souls. In John 5, Jesus said:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)

Christ will raise our bodies from the dead when he returns, he says. Wayne Grudem explains what it will be like:

“Imperishable” means that they will not wear out or grow old or ever be subject to any kind of sickness or disease. They will be completely healthy and strong forever. Moreover, since the gradual process of aging is part of the process by which our bodies now are subject to “corruption,” it is appropriate to think that our resurrection bodies will have no sign of aging, but will have the characteristics of youthful but mature manhood or womanhood forever. There will be no evidence of disease or injury, for all will be made perfect. Our resurrection bodies will show the fulfillment of God’s perfect wisdom in creating us as human beings who are the pinnacle of his creation and the appropriate bearers of his likeness and image. In these resurrection bodies we will clearly see humanity as God intended it to be.

How do we know what happens when we die? Listen to Jesus. Jesus was not ambiguous. When the body dies, the soul continues to live. The body, too, will be raised to life again one day. How do we know what happens after death? Jesus told us.

There’s one more thing we learn from Jesus on what happens after we die.

Third, death will die.

This is the best news of all. Not only does Jesus promise resurrection, but he also promises to kill death. Death will die. The evidence for this is his own resurrection. I love how the spoken word artist Propaganda puts it:

His righteousness, His death, functions as Payment

Yes. Payment

Wrote a check with his life but at the resurrection we all cheered cause that means the check cleared

When Jesus rose from the dead, it showed us that he had triumphed over death. Death is defeated. Through death he destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). One preacher puts it this way: “The Christian teaching is the death of death in the death of Christ, the shaking of shaking in the shaking of Christ, the demise of demise in the death of Christ, the destruction of destruction in the destruction of Christ” (Tim Keller).

The poet George Herbert said, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel has made him just a gardener.”

This is the best news of all. Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). I heard of someone who attended the funeral of a child in Chicago in which the pastor shocked the mourners by glancing down at the coffin and interrupting his eulogy with the sudden exclamation, “Damn you, death!” Catching himself, he quickly added, “Not God— it's death I'm damning. And God, too, has promised to damn it.” That’s exactly what is happening as a result of the cross. Death is being damned, and death will die.

How do we know what happens when we die? By listening to someone who’s come back from death. And that person tells us that death is an enemy, that death is not the end, and that death will die. Because Jesus lives, all those who trust in him will live too.

I can’t think of a better way to close this sermon than to close with the last paragraph of Mike Wittmer’s book on death. I told you it was good. Listen to what he says:

You are going to die. Take a moment to let that sink in. You are going to die. Death is the final enemy you will ever face, and Satan has saved his largest scare for last. But fear is no match for faith. Do you believe that Jesus swam the sea of death, scattered “the king of terrors” (Job 18: 14), and has now returned for you? Then climb on His back, and He will carry you. Here comes the fight of your life. Prepare to win.

Father, thank you for showing us what happens when we die. I pray that every one of us would realize that we will die, and then climb on his back, because he will carry us. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

What About Other Religions?

Big Idea: How can Christianity claim to be exclusively true? Because our relationship with God is not based on sincerity, morality, or religion, but on Jesus himself.

It came up at the book club in Liberty Village the other week: “What makes you think that Christianity is better than any other religion?” It’s a great question. There are billions of people on this earth, and many — most — aren’t Christian. Many haven’t even heard of Christianity. And yet Christians claim that Christianity is true, and by extension, that other belief systems aren’t true. How can Christians claim such a thing?

If you’re looking for one of the offensive parts of Christianity, you’ve found it. It seems arrogant to say that Christians are right and everyone else is wrong. It also sounds intolerant. It may even sound dangerous. If you look through history, wars — including religious wars — have been fought by those who think they’re right and that others are wrong.

At the beginning of his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller lists some of the objections that people have to the exclusivity of Christianity:

“How could there be just one true faith?” asked Blair, a twenty-four-year-old woman living in Manhattan. “It’s arrogant to say your religion is superior and try to convert everyone else to it. Surely all the religions are equally good and valid for meeting the needs of their particular followers.”

“Religious exclusivity is not just narrow— it’s dangerous,” added Geoff, a twentysomething British man also living in New York City. “Religion has led to untold strife, division, and conflict. It may be the greatest enemy of peace in the world. If Christians continue to insist that they have ‘the truth’— and if other religions do this as well— the world will never know peace.”

Exclusivity is offensive. So we need to answer the question I was asked honestly: “What makes you think that Christianity is better than any other religion?” Or, to put it differently, How can Christianity claim to be exclusively true?

To answer this question, I want to look at a fascinating encounter that Jesus had with a religious man. We just read about it from John 3. As we look at this question, I want to look at three things we notice in this passage: how we normally think we’re in, why this view is wrong, and what Jesus offers instead. Let’s begin by looking first at how we normally think we’re in with God.

How We Normally Think We're In with God

The question of which religion is best really comes down to a set of assumptions. In my observation, here are the most common things I hear when we talk about faith and what religion is best:

  • All religions are basically the same.
  • Each religion sees part of the truth, but no religion can see the whole truth.
  • In the end, you can’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. You can only take your best guess.
  • What really counts is your sincerity and your morals.

In other words, what really counts is trying your best. As long as you try your best, and you’re not an idiot about it — you don’t lead an immoral life, and you aren’t an arrogant idiot towards people of other faiths — you’re golden. The most important thing is to try your best, and to live tolerantly with others who are also trying their best as well.

If you want to push someone a little, you can ask, “Really? You think that all religions are the same? You think that Branch Davidians or religions that require child sacrifice are equally right?” And then most people would say no, that they mean that all major world religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism — are basically the same, or at least all valid. The problem is that it’s hard to make this argument when you look at the facts. An introductory comparative religions class, or even a five-minute Google search, will cure you of that belief. They’re not only different, but they contradict each other. Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses. Buddhists say there is no deity. Christians believe Jesus is a human being and is also God, while Muslims say the notion of any human man being worshiped as God is blasphemous. Even Buddhism, which many think is much more open, flexible, and tolerant than Christianity, has its hard edges of exclusionary doctrines and beliefs. When the Dalai Lama was asked whether only the Buddha can provide "the ultimate source of refuge," he replied:

Here, you see, it is necessary to examine what is meant by liberation or salvation. Liberation in which "a mind that understands the sphere of reality annihilates all defilements in the sphere of reality" is a state that only Buddhists can accomplish. This kind of moksha or nirvana is only explained in the Buddhist scriptures, and is achieved only through Buddhist practice.

The view that all religions are basically the same is meant to be inclusive, but ends up being condescending to people of all faiths. It’s just as condescending as telling a dedicated NDP member that deep down, his beliefs are just the same as Stephen Harper’s beliefs. That’s not inclusive, that’s just rude and it completely ignores the facts. Any reasonable person would have to conclude that there are actually significant differences between the major world religions when you look at them honestly.

So the normal way of thinking that all religions are the same just doesn’t work. Once we acknowledge that there are real differences, we’re left with either thinking that the differences matter, or that they don’t. The view that the differences don’t matter is one that I’m guessing most people hold. It’s the view that all religions, despite their differences, are equally valid paths to God. This is the view that existed when most of the Bible was written. Certainly it’s the view that was around when Jesus was alive. The Romans in Jesus’ day had all kinds of time for religious beliefs. The only religious belief they couldn’t stand is the belief that one view is right and that the others are wrong. When the early Christians refused to worship other gods and take part in sacrifices, that caused major problems.

Before we look at the problem with this view, I want to pause to point out that the view that all views are valid is itself a religious view. It’s actually a truth claim that’s as exclusive and dogmatic as any truth claim Christianity makes. In other words, if you argue that all paths to God are valid, then you are claiming that your view of faith is valid, and that all opposing views are false. It doesn’t solve the problem of competing belief systems; it simply adds another one. It’s saying that your Enlightenment Western individualistic faith assumptions about human nature and religion are privileged over other views, and even that you have a right to impose these views on others. Tim Keller makes a really good point when he says:

Everybody has a take on spiritual reality which is based on a set of religious assumptions, based on faith. Everybody thinks their take on spiritual reality is better, and other people should adopt it, and the world would be a better place. Therefore, everybody has a set of exclusive beliefs. Everybody has a set of exclusive beliefs!…Don’t say, “Oh, Christians, you have exclusive beliefs, but I don’t.” You don’t know yourself. You may not think you do, but you do. Everybody has exclusive beliefs. Therefore, the real question is which set of exclusive beliefs produces the most peace-loving, reconciling, inclusive behavior. That’s what you want to know.

So there we have it. There’s no escaping the fact that everyone claims to have the truth. Christians do, and so do Western Enlightenment individuals who claim that all paths are equally valid, that all paths lead to God. The real question is which claim is right. So what I want to do is to look at the story at John 3, which is going to tell us a couple of things. It’s going to tell us the problem with the view that all paths lead to God. It’s also going to show us a better way, one that is going to be challenging for everyone here, regardless of whether you are a Christian or not.

What Jesus Thinks of Our Way to God

John 3 is a fascinating look at our attempts to find a path to God. In John 3, we meet a good test case for the theory that all paths lead to God. The guy we meet is remarkable. He’s Nicodemus, and he’s introduced as a ruler of the Jews and a teacher of Israel. He was a Pharisee, someone who was meticulous about obeying God. Sometimes the Pharisees are regarded as the bad guys now, but everyone back then would have seen the Pharisees as one of the good guys So this man is religious. He’s also a distinguished teacher. It’s possible that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of 70 men who had authority over every Jew on earth, and the greatest teacher in Jerusalem at the time. This is a very devout and religious man who is sincere about his faith and known for being a good guy. He’s the perfect case study for the idea that all paths lead to God. If Nicodemus can’t make it in, we’re all in trouble.

In the chapter we have before us, Nicodemus comes to Jesus one night and initiates a conversation. This is, in essence, a collision of a good person who is very sincere and righteous, and Jesus. What happens when a good, moral, upright, religious person meets Jesus? Will Jesus affirm him and encourage him, or will Jesus challenge and confront him?

When Nicodemus approaches Jesus, he addresses Jesus as Rabbi. He’s off to a good start, because he’s showing respect to Jesus. His first words to Jesus are complimentary. For someone who is a leading religious figure in Jerusalem, he’s being very respectful, even deferential, to Jesus. But Jesus cuts him off and gets right to the heart of the matter. Jesus says something that as been misunderstood throughout the years, but something that is crucial if we are going to answer this question. Look at what Jesus says to him:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

This is the part that’s caused a lot of problems and misunderstanding. If you ask people what “born again” means, you get the idea that it’s a certain type of Christian. Some claim to be “born again Christians” and if you’re like me, the people you think about who fit that label are the people you invite to a party if you want to shut it down. But that’s not at all what Jesus means by the term.

So what does he mean? What he means is this. Nicodemus has a lot going for him: knowledge, gifts, understanding, position and integrity. He’s the equivalent of a Buddhist bodhisattva, a Catholic Cardinal, or a Protestant Billy Graham. If all roads lead to God, Nicodemus is at the very front of the road. But Jesus says that all of this — his knowledge, his gifts, his standing, his obedience — counts for exactly nothing. You have to admit that Jesus is not discriminatory here. This applies not just to people who identify as Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus. He applies it to people who identify as Christians as well. We all have the same basic standing: zero.

Jesus says that we need to be born again. What does this mean? To be “born again” means that we receive from God nothing less than a completely new life: a completely transformed, completely forgiven life. Here’s the amazing thing: even a man like Nicodemus needs this. In order for Nicodemus to be accepted by God, God must completely remake him from scratch. Nothing less than than a completely new beginning can put right all that’s wrong with us. Basically, we’re a write-off. Nothing is salvageable. John Calvin put it this way: “By the term born again He means not the amendment of a part but the renewal of the whole nature. Hence it follows that there is nothing in us that is not defective.” There’s nothing in us that hasn’t been corrupted by sin.

When we got married, my mother gave us a clock. It was a beautiful clock with a pendulum. A few years after we got it, the batteries leaked and the clock stopped working. The mechanics of the clock were all corroded by that acid. We took it in to get fixed, and there was nothing they could salvage. The whole insides of that clock had to be replaced. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying. From the outside, we look okay. But inside, corrosion has taken place. We don’t need a minor tweak. We need every part of us that’s been corroded to be changed. We don’t need an upgrade; we need a completely new heart.

This is a little bit depressing, but it’s also encouraging as well. What this means is that we’re all on equal ground. “The most pulled together, accomplished person and the person whose life is the biggest failure come to God as equals” (Tim Keller). Being sincere, moral, and religious doesn’t help. Our relationship with God is not based on sincerity, morality, or religion. It can’t be. We need to be completely remade from the inside out. Christians can’t claim a higher moral standing.

So let’s summarize. All religions aren’t the same. They are contradictory. And, according to Jesus, our relationship with God is not based on sincerity, morality, or religion. You could take the leading followers of any religion, including Christianity, and all of them have the same standing before God: zero — until we’re remade from scratch. This leads us to the last thing I want to look at:

What Jesus Offers

What do we do about this situation? There are pretty much two answers to this question in this passage. I wish we had time to look at it completely. But the answer to these questions is at the core of the good news that I want to give you today. Here are the two things:

First: We can’t do anything about it ourselves. This is the hardest thing to accept, and it’s also what sets Christianity apart from every other religion. It’s inherent in the phrase “born again,” and it’s repeated when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). We need a new beginning, a new birth that cleanses and renews to our very core. We can’t do this. God has to do it for us. Tim Keller says:

Therefore, everybody, the best and the worst, come equally and need the grace of God. If they’re going to be saved, if they’re going to have a relationship with God, if they’re going to be born again, it has to be God’s grace, God’s intervention, God’s power. You can contribute nothing. That’s what that term means.

Babies do not contribute anything. They don’t bring themselves about. They don’t get born because they’ve planned on it. It all has to do with what the parents have done. It has nothing to do with what they do. Therefore, you are saved by grace. That’s the first key, because understanding salvation by grace and experiencing God’s grace always go together.

I want you to understand this today. Christianity is not about you making yourself a better person. It’s not about getting your act together. The only thing you bring to God is your need, but that’s exactly what God wants from you.

Second: The way that we’re changed is by looking to Jesus. Jesus says something strange in verses 14 and 15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus referred to an unusual story from Hebrew history (Numbers 21:4-9). God’s people grumbled, and God sent poisonous snakes as a punishment. But God also provided a way out: a bronze serpent (representing God’s punishment for his people’s sin) that Moses put on a pole. No matter how badly they were bitten, no matter how many times they’d been bitten, no matter how sick they were, they just had to look in faith and live.

Jesus says in this passage that he is that new provision for our sin; that he would be lifted up, and that whoever looks in faith at his provision for their sin would live. How do we get new hearts? How are we completely made new? By looking in faith to Jesus, who was lifted on the cross. “The radical change, the new birth, is possible only when he takes our infected natures upon himself, bears the venom, and imparts a new nature to us” (Kent Hughes).

We began by asking the question: How can Christianity claim to be exclusively true? And the answer is this: Because our relationship with God is not based on sincerity, morality, or religion, but on Jesus himself. You don’t need enlightenment. You don’t need improvement. You need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior, and he invites you to look to him and live.

Father, thank you for Jesus. We thank you today that he diagnosed our condition perfectly. I thank you that he has also provided a way for us to be made new. The new nature comes on the basis of the work of Christ for us.

The Scriptures say:

Turn to me and be saved,

all the ends of the earth!

For I am God, and there is no other.

(Isaiah 45:22)

So we turn to you today, we look at Jesus, because you are God and there is no other. Help us to do this today. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Fall to the Ground (John 12:20-36)

Big Idea: Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life, but because of what he accomplished in his death.

Purpose: To show the beauty of the cross, so that people will be drawn to Jesus.

In the next few minutes, I want to open an important passage of Scripture that helps us understand why we're here tonight. It's found in John 12. It's just days until Jesus is crucified, and in this passage Jesus sets his sight on the cross, and helps us understand why it's so important that he died.

The Sunday before Jesus died, something happened that made Jesus announce that it was time for him to die. Not only did he announce that it was time for him to die, but he explained the meaning of his death. Let’s read the passage together, and then consider what it means for us.

[Read John 12:20-36]

This is God’s holy Word.

We are gathered here tonight, over a thousand of us, in memory of someone who accomplished shockingly little with his life.

Think about it. Most times, when we remember the life of someone famous, we are able to list their accomplishments:

  • Abraham Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer who rose from poverty to become the President of the United States, leading it through one of its greatest crisis and abolishing slavery.
  • Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary who became the first black President of South Africa, and who led the country to dismantle apartheid.

Unlike Lincoln, Einstein, and Mandela, Jesus accomplished shockingly little with his life. Think about Jesus’ accomplishments, or rather, his lack of accomplishments:

  • He had no military, political, or financial power.
  • The only followers he scraped together are peasants.
  • He was executed in his thirties, probably at the age of 37.
  • He was penniless when he is killed. His only possession, a robe, was taken away from him when he was killed.
  • At the very end, he was abandoned by his friends and by God himself.

And yet despite all of that, he has become the most influential figure in the history of the world.

Tonight, in the few minutes that we have, I want to ask why. Why is Jesus, who accomplished so little with his life, so compelling?

We don’t have to guess what the answer is, because Jesus tells us himself. Here's what Jesus tells us. It’s very simple, and it’s in the passage that we just read.

What Jesus tells us in this passage is this: Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life — as great as it was — but because of what he accomplished by his death.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not denigrating Jesus’ life. Jesus lived a sinless life. He taught and performed miracles. But if Jesus had not gone to the cross, his life would have counted for nothing. If Jesus hadn’t have died on the cross, his life would be a footnote in history. In this passage, Jesus says that if he didn't die, his life wouldn’t have accomplished its purpose. He would have failed in his mission and his life would have had very limited impact. There would not be millions of people around the world who have been completely changed by him. The reason that Jesus is compelling is not because of what he accomplished in his life, as great a life as it was; it’s because of what he accomplished by his death.

You may be thinking, what did Jesus accomplish by his death? Jesus tells us in this passage. There are three things that Jesus accomplished by his death that make him so compelling:

  • By dying, Jesus revealed the operating system of the universe
  • By dying, Jesus brought God glory
  • By dying, Jesus judged the world and defeated the devil

Let’s look at each of these, and how we should respond.

What did Jesus accomplish by his death?

1.    By dying, Jesus reveals the operating system of the universe (24-26)

You may have seen the video going around called “Kids react to Walkmans.” These kids are handed a Sony Walkman from thirty years ago, and they have no idea what they’re holding. They think it’s a walkie talkie or something so old that it’s running IOS 4. They’ve never seen a Walkman, and they’ve only heard about cassette tapes. They have no idea what to do with it. They know the “operating system” of iPads or anything else you could throw at them today, but they don’t know what to do with an ancient device like a Walkman.

It’s the same when I get together with some of my friends. I used to be a Windows user; now I use a Mac. I have no idea how to use Windows anymore, no matter how much Julian or Joe to help me. The thing is: operating systems matter. No matter what computer or device you have, you need to know how to use it.

It’s the same in this world. To live well, we have to live according to the operating system of the universe. The problem is: What is the operating system of the universe? Our news cycles are full of stories of killings, identity theft, and political maneuvering. Our lives are full of the stress of making a living and, in the end, in making a life that will have been worth living. In order to live well, we need to have an idea of how this world operates, but it’s not always clear what that operating system is. We need to have it revealed to us.

In his book The Call of Jesus, Derek Worthington describes the default operating system of post-Christian spirituality. The operating system has three components to it:

  • a distant God who is far-off, detached, remote, and inaccessible, and not involved with our daily lives;
  • ourselves as the ones who have authority in our lives; since God is far-off; it’s up to us to make things happen;
  • consumerism as the path to fulfillment; the way to a good life is to buy goods and services that make us happy

That’s how most of us live. We believe in God, but that he’s distant. We take charge of our own lives, and live to consume. “We are our god. The market, our sanctuary. Our religious practice is buying; consuming. Retail therapy.” We live according to this operating system, but it never delivers the happiness that it promised.

But that’s where the cross comes in. The cross shows us that this is not the operating system of the world. Jesus shows us the true operating system of the universe in verses 24-26:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

According to Jesus, this is how the world operates:

  • You have a God who is not distant. You have a God who is present in the person of Jesus Christ, and who is very involved in our lives.
  • You have a God who then pushes us out of the position of control in our lives. God is God, and we aren’t; we take action, but only under his sovereignty and control.
  • The path to fulfillment is not consumption; it’s self-giving love seen most clearly in Jesus, who offered up his life in service and love.

You see this everywhere.

You see this in agriculture. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The purpose of a grain of wheat is that it dies, germinates, and produces a great crop. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma one of the best writers on food and agriculture, devotes a whole chapter in his book Cooked to the importance of dying in agriculture and food. Whether you’re talking about fermentation or plants and animals in general, there’s a whole lot of life that comes from death.

You see this in movies. In Armageddon, the character played by Bruce Willis tries to stop an asteroid from destroying earth. They prepare a nuclear bomb to blow the asteroid apart, but something goes wrong. The character played by Willis has to stay behind and manually detonate the bomb, giving up his life so that others can live. You see this in movies all over the place. You see this in Gravity: George Clooney’s character gives up his life so that Sandra Bullock’s character can live. Harry Potter’s mother offers her life to save Harry. Dumbledore says to Potter, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love.”

You see this in life. Mindy Tran is 5-foot-1 and 130-pounds. In other words, she’s a lot smaller than the one-ton Honda Accord that she drives. But when that car has her two-year-old twins in it, and that car begins to roll towards traffic, she didn’t think twice. She grabbed onto the car and was pinned under the right axel, stopping the car before it hit the traffic. She suffered a fractured pelvis, severe injuries to her legs and a separated left shoulder. She is unable to walk, and months of rehabilitation lie ahead. The newspaper that reported the story editorialized at the end: “What better role model could they have, once they are old enough to truly understand, than a mother who was willing to lay down her own life to preserve theirs?”

Most powerfully, you see this at the cross. The reason that this is the operating system of the universe is that it is the operating system of God himself. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, tells us that his whole purpose is to fall to the ground and die, to lay down his life so that others could live. At the heart of the universe is a God who willingly lays down his life for us. When Jesus died for us, he revealed that self-giving love lies at the heart of the universe. At the heart of the universe is a Savior who willingly went to the cross for you. “On the cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away” (Tim Keller).

This makes Jesus different from anyone else. Jesus died willingly in our place so that we could live. Most kingdoms do anything they can to protect their king. This is even true in chess. When the king falls, the kingdom is lost. Therefore, the king must be protected at all costs. When the Allies invaded Normandy on D-Day, June 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill desperately wanted to watch the invasion from the bridge of a battleship in the English Channel. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was desperate to stop him, for fear that the Prime Minister might be killed in battle.

When it became apparent that Churchill would not be dissuaded, Eisenhower appealed to a higher authority: King George VI. The king went and told Churchill that if it was the Prime Minister's duty to witness the invasion, he could only conclude that it was also his own duty as king to join him on the battleship. At this point Churchill reluctantly agreed to back down, for he knew that he could never expose the King of England to such danger.

King Jesus did exactly the opposite. With royal courage he surrendered his body to be crucified. On the cross he fell to the ground and died so that he could bear much fruit, so that we could live. He says that we can stake our lives on this: that he died so that we could live. He reveals this as the operating system of the universe. C.S. Lewis says:

In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives himself in sacrifice. When he was crucified he “did that in the wild weather of his outlying provinces which He had done at home in glory and gladness” from before the foundation of the world…This is not a…law which we can escape…What is outside the system of self-giving is…simply and solely Hell…that fierce imprisonment in the self…Self-giving is absolute reality.

The cross shows us that self-giving love is at the heart of God. It’s at the heart of the universe he created. And he calls us to live this way too.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:25-26)

Do you want to know the way to make your life count? Lay it down as Jesus did. George Müller, a man who cared for over 10,000 orphans in England during his life, was once asked, “What has been the secret of your life?” He replied, “There was a day when I died, utterly died — died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends — and since then I have only to show myself approved to God.” Dying is a daily requirement for spiritual vitality. The way to be rich is to be generous. The way to power is to serve. The way to real influence is to not seek influence. The way up is down. The pathway to glory is through death. Jesus’ dying for our salvation is also a pattern for our imitation.

Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life — as great as it was — but because of what he accomplished by his death. And in this passage, he explains what his death accomplished: by dying, he gave us life. There was a debt to be paid: God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be borne: God himself bore it.

But that's not all. There's something else that Jesus accomplished by his death. At the cross, Jesus reveals the operating system of the universe. But Jesus accomplished something else that made his death so compelling:

2.    By dying, Jesus brought God glory (27-28)

We’re a little late, but we've become fans of Downtown Abbey. We’re only in season two; don’t tell us what happens. One of my favorite characters is John Bates, valet to Lord Grantham. John Bates has an estranged wife who shows up one day threatening to reveal something that would dishonor Lord Grantham and his family unless Bates quits. Bates willingly takes the fall to preserve the honor of the Grantham name.

There is something compelling about paying the price for the sake of the other. We’ve already seen that this is what Jesus does at the cross: he dies to reveal his self-giving love for us. This is the very nature of God. But there’s more. We read in verses 27 and 28 that Jesus dies not just out of self-giving love for us, but out of a desire to bring glory to his Father. Read verses 27 and 28: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour." You get a sense here of how daunting the cross is to Jesus. In a few days, Jesus would bear the world's sins and suffer separation from his Father. As he looked ahead, he understood that he would be paying an infinite cost for our sins. As he looked ahead to the cross, he stumbled. He knew this would not be easy.

So what kept him going to the cross? When the way gets hard, it's always important to go back to why, and that's exactly what Jesus did here. His sacrificial death has always been the primary purpose of his mission to the world. The whole reason he came is the cross. It was his destiny, his burden, his pursuit. We've already seen one reason why: because his death reveals the self-giving love of God that’s at the centre of the universe. But there's more.

What other reason did Jesus have in going to the cross? Jesus tells us in verse 28: “‘Father, glorify your name.’” Jesus is totally committed to the glory of God. He will do whatever it takes to bring that glory about, even to die. God's glory is the principle that controlled his life and ministry. Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because the cross would bring God glory.

What happens next is amazing. For only the third time in Jesus' ministry, God speaks audibly. God the Father affirms what God the Son says: that the cross is a powerful demonstration of the glory of God. You want to see the glory of God? The birth of a baby shows the glory of God. The beauty of mountains displays the glory of God. The beauty of the stars on a clear, dark night displays the glory of God. But the cross shows you more of God's glory than all the stars and mountains. When you look at the cross, you see the very glory of God.

This is the irony of the cross. The cross is an instrument of torture and disgrace. As he went to the cross, Jesus was beaten, mocked, stripped, and humiliated. The cross was not just designed to execute; it was designed to humiliate. The irony, though, is that the cross becomes a means to glorify God. Isaiah 52, written hundreds of years before, speaks of Jesus:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
(Isaiah 52:13)

Jesus will be glorified. Jesus picks up up this in verse 23: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” How will he be glorified? Jesus tells us in verses 32-33: “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.:” (John 12:32-33)

How is God glorified? How is Jesus going to be high and lifted up? By being mocked, stripped, and nailed to the cross. If you want to see the glory of God, look at the crucified Savior. If you want to see the glory of God, look at the God who is wiling to die for you. The death of Jesus Christ is the supreme manifestation of the glory of God.

How does the cross show God's glory? The cross reveals the holiness of God. It demonstrates his righteousness. It reveals that God could not simply ignore or overlook sin. Sin has a cost, a real cost, and someone had to pay it. God would be unjust if he did not judge evil. The cross shows us the holiness of God who is righteous and who has to deal with sin.

But the cross also reveals the love and mercy of God. At the cross, we see both the holiness and the mercy of God. When the living creatures and elders worship Jesus in heaven, they look to the cross. They say:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.
(Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

Jesus is so committed to God’s glory that he is willing to give up his life and die. The cross reveals the glory of God like nothing else, because it reveals his holiness and his mercy, and the extent of his self-giving love.

Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life — as great as it was — but because of what he accomplished by his death. Jesus' death reveals that self-giving love is at the heart of the universe, and it also brought glory to God. But's not all:

3.    By dying, Jesus judged the world and defeated the devil (31)

Just over a year ago we moved into a condo. I was so excited to move into our condo. The real estate listing said the unit is huge, stunning, includes many upgrades. I looked over the listing this week and couldn’t find anything negative about your place at all. It sounded great! And make no mistake about it: we love it.

The only problem is that the management company keeps sending us these letters asking if the deficiencies have been corrected yet. The seller never mentioned any deficiencies. So I contacted the seller, and he couldn't remember any deficiencies. I contacted the management company, and asked them to tell me what's wrong with our place. I heard nothing back. Eventually I got an email back from the management company, and eventually an inspector showed up with a binder with all the details. All I wanted is two things: for someone to tell me what's wrong, and for someone to make it right. I needed someone to to tell me the deficiencies in our place, and for someone to correct those deficiencies.

It turns out that this is exactly what Jesus does for the world. Jesus says in verse 31. Listen to what the death of Jesus does. It's two things. First, it reveals what's wrong with the world. When the world exercised judgment on Jesus by sending him to the cross, it judged itself. When Jesus comes to the world and the world rejects him, it reveals what's wrong with the world. In the murder of Jesus, evil is exposed in its most extreme form. The worst about us is revealed. It exposes our deficiencies. "The cross is a judgment on the way the world thinks, on the values of the world, on the very epistemology of the world, the way the world knows and thinks" (Tim Keller). That's why there is no hope for those who reject Jesus, because the cross is a judgment on those who reject him.

But it's not enough to expose deficiencies. The deficiencies need to be fixed. And at the cross, this is what Jesus does. Jesus says that the world is judged, and the prince of the world is cast out. In this present world, in its fallen state, the ruler is Satan. Ephesians 2:2 calls him the prince of the power of the air. At the cross, he thought he had achieved his greatest victory. Think about it: Satan had Jesus on the cross. Satan had succeeded in killing Jesus. But what looked like Satan's triumph was in fact his defeat. Colossians 2:15 says, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." When Jesus was glorified, "lifted up" on the cross, Satan was dethroned. The death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus mark the end of Satan's dominion, and brings his defeat. It's like a lot of Leafs games I've watched: the defeat has already happened; it's just that the clock is running out. At the cross, Jesus administered the death blow that will ultimately still the movements of Satan.

That's why Jesus is so compelling. Jesus lived a great life. But we're here not because of what Jesus accomplished with his life. That's why when the Greeks come looking for him, he says that it's time to go to the cross. He understands that if the nations are going to come to him, he must finish the work he set out to do. The world awaits; if he's going to be the Savior of the world, he has to die.

We're here because of what he accomplished with his death. At the cross, Jesus died to bring us life; he died to bring God glory; Jesus died to reveal what's wrong with this world and to fix it.

That's why Jesus says in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  You see, the cross isn’t just true; it’s beautiful. It’s not just factual; it’s beautiful. When you see the cross, 

If you want to see something beautiful, look to the cross. Look at Jesus, who deserved love, glory, wealth, crowns, songs, choruses, pageantry, and delight. Look at him who gave all of that up and went to the cross; who fell into nothingness so that you could fall into his delight, so you could fall into his honor.

R.A. Torrey said, "Preach any Christ but a crucified Christ, and you will not draw men for long." But look at a crucified Christ and you will see the sheer beauty of what he's done — what he's done for you.

But a response is needed. Jesus says in 35-36:

The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The light will not always be available. There is a finite, limited time in which each individual has an opportunity to respond to Jesus. After that comes the darkness. One's response to the light decisively determines one's judgment for eternity. If you want to walk with certainty, you should act at once. We have a limited time; looked to Jesus who died to give you life; who died to bring glory to God; who died to defeat evil, and who draws all people to himself.

Jesus accomplished shockingly little with his life from a human level, but he accomplished everything with his death. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit...And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." It could be today that you are being drawn by Jesus tonight. Look to him tonight and be drawn to Jesus by the beauty of the cross.

Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for a God who would give up riches and glory and honor and go to the cross to die so that we could live, so that you could be glorified, and so that evil could be defeated.

We see the beauty of the cross tonight — not just the truth of the cross, but the beauty of the cross. Draw all of us to Jesus tonight. Our prayer is that as we see Jesus lifted up on the cross, that you would draw all people to him. So draw them to Jesus right here, right now. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Ritual and Reality (John 2:13-22)

Big Idea: Jesus exposes religious pretension and replaces it with himself.

Purpose: To expose our tendency to replace reality with ritual, and to see Jesus as the answer to this problem.

When I was a child, we had this picture of Jesus hanging in the Sunday School room at my church. As I remember, the picture was of Jesus as a shepherd holding a sheep. He had light brown hair and blue eyes, and he looked like a very gentle and serene man. I can’t remember all the details, but I can remember the feeling from the picture that Jesus is a very peaceable type of man who probably never raised his voice or got upset.

This view of Jesus seems to be a popular one. A hymn about Jesus has these words, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child…” Theologian N.T. Wright states that many popular depictions of Jesus portray him as: “a hippy peace-child, a delicate flower of a man, a dew-eyed first-century Jewish Gandhi. Why would anyone want to hurt Him? Maybe because He’s so annoyingly precious; but that’s not the story of the gospels.” Instead, Wright says, we should be looking for a “crucifiable” Jesus, a Jesus who does something so provocative as to make the religious leaders of the day murderously hostile.

And that’s exactly the Jesus we find today. We’ve been looking at the Gospel of John, and today we come to the first public event that takes place in John’s gospel.

Don’t miss that: this is not a random event. This is Jesus going to Jerusalem, the center of religious and political life. This is Jesus in the spotlight for the first time in the Gospel of John. We’re going to see that Jesus is not who we expect. In particular, we are going to see two things, and the first is this:

Jesus exposes religious pretension.

That’s the first thing we’re going to see in this passage: Jesus exposes religious pretension.

I love watching movies, and I certainly love watching movies that involve James Bourne or 007. Quite often these movies involve a chase scene through a crowded market, usually on a motorcycle. In those scenes, tables get knocked over. People jump out of the way at the last minute. Things get destroyed, and general mayhem takes over. One of the reasons that I love watching these movies is because it’s so chaotic, so unbelievable. I expect that kind of ruckus from James Bond or James Bourne, but not from Jesus.

But here we see Jesus entering the Temple, what someone called the “beating heart of Judaism” (Wright). This was the center of everything: of worship and music, politics and society. It was the place where Israel’s God had promised to live in the middle of his people. It was the focal point of the nation.

And we see Jesus choosing one of the most important times: Passover, the holiest and most important religious celebration commemorating when God delivered the nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt. And mayhem ensues.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” (John 2:14-16)

This is not the Jesus we expect! When this happens, there are Roman troops stationed in the Fortress Antonio overlooking the temple in case there are any problems. And yet Jesus takes deliberate, calculated action. He goes and makes a whip of cords. He comes back and drives the merchants out of the Temple. People are running. Animals are all over the place. Money is flying. Tables are being knocked over. What is going on here?

We’d better be careful to state what’s not going on. This is not Jesus just losing his temper or having a hissy fit. Jesus does not need an anger management course. To dismiss this as the impulsive act of someone with a temper problem would be to miss the whole point of what is happening in this passage. There is anger here, but it is a righteous anger, not an impulsive one. There’s much more to the story than a simple temper tantrum.

John has already told us his thesis: that this is God himself in flesh entering the Temple. You even see a hint of that in verse 17, where the disciples remember a psalm about a righteous sufferer who is consumed with zeal for God’s house. In other words, Jesus enters the Temple as God himself in the flesh, and is filled with righteous anger against what he sees.

And the thing that he judges is religious pretension. He has no time for the religious games going on, for religious hucksters. What has him so angry? It’s the corruption of true worship. It’s that ritual had replaced reality; that religion had become a front for greed. The place that was supposed to represent God’s holy presence had instead become a profit center. Jesus is the enemy of religious pretension.

I guess there are a couple of concepts we have to get our minds around tonight as we think about this. One is the idea that God gets angry; the other is the idea that God, in Jesus, hates religious pretension. In other words, religion can actually be a dangerous thing when it is not genuine worship. You could put a warning label on religion just like you see on a bottle of toxic chemicals. Eugene Peterson said it best: “Religion is the death of some people.”

One of the best things I’ve ever read on both of those topics is in a book with an unusual name: The God Who Smokes. No, it’s not about God lighting up a cigarette. It’s about a God who is…

…so full of passion and blazing emotion that he burns – and yes, smokes in the ferocity of his infinite, holy love that compelled him to give it all away for his Bride. And he who gave it all for us is worth giving ourselves completely to.

The author writes of God’s desire that we not substitute religious pretension for true worship in these words:

God really believes that he is the most worthy, most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe. And he is fixated on the certainty that only he deserves worship – that to him alone belong honor, glory, and praise forever and forever. With red-rimmed, stinging eyes and burning hair, all we can say is – he is right. He is astonishingly beautiful, utterly majestic and perfect in the symmetries of justice and righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. He is as hypnotically compelling as a surging forest fire and ten times as dangerous. He is out of control – ours, not his.

That's the picture we see in this passage: a God who believes that there is such a thing as true worship; who believes that religious pretension is the enemy of what we need most, which is true worship; and who burns with passion and a desire to overturn religious pretension.

Let’s put it a different way. God wants true worshipers, and he is against everything that becomes a substitute for true worship, even if that substitute is religion. Religion can be a substitute for what we need most, which is a relationship with the true and living God. Chad Walsh said these words:

I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert people to agnosticism. After all, if a person travels far enough away from Christianity, he or she is always in danger of seeing it in perspective and deciding that it is true. It is muchness safer, from Satan's point of view, to vaccinate a person with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease.

It’s a little like this time that I was talking to Charlene. I had my back turned to her and went on for quite a while. I thought we were having a really good conversation. Eventually I turned around and saw that Charlene had long left the room and I didn’t even know it. That’s what is happening here: they are going through all kinds of activities directed to a God who has long stopped paying attention to all of their religious rituals and performances.

As Flannery O’Connor said, one of the best ways to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin. One of the best ways to avoid Jesus is to be religious. Or, as someone else has said, there are two ways to avoid God: irreligion and religion. Religion is just as bad as irreligion. Both are dangerous, because both lead us away from a genuine relationship with God. Jesus is not calling us to religion. Jesus has no time for religion. Jesus has no time for religious pretension. He reserved some of his hardest words and actions for religious people. Ritual can replace reality, and it’s deadly. Jesus calls us to something completely different, which we are going to see in a minute.

What was taking place in the Temple was all the outward activity with none of the genuine reality. The motives had become mixed: it was much more about what they could get from the Temple rather than responding in grateful joy to what God has done. Religion, quite frankly, can be a way of avoiding Jesus. Jesus hates religious pretension.

Jesus replaces it with something better.

This passage is not just about Jesus hating religious pretension. Jesus replaces religious pretension with something far better.

You see this in verse 18. The Jewish leaders ask Jesus for his credentials: what sign does he offer for taking this radical action? It’s a fair question. It’s a way of asking what right he has to clear the Temple like he did.

Listen to what Jesus said in response in verse 19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The religious leaders were incredulous when they heard this:

The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20)

As they spoke these words, they were standing in what is known as the Second Temple. It had been standing for centuries, but Herod had been working on rebuilding it for decades, and the work still wouldn’t be completed for another thirty-some years. It was a project that lasted over eighty years and involved over ten thousand workers. He did such a good job that he made it even more magnificent than even Solomon's original Temple had been. It ranked among the world's wonders of the day. Even when Jerusalem was attacked and destroyed in 70 CE (A.D.), the commander of that attack tried to spare the Temple from destruction because of its beauty. Listen to what Jesus' disciples said about the Temple: "Teacher, look at these tremendous buildings! Look at the massive stones in the walls!" (Mark 13:1). Josephus, one of the most famous historians of that day, wrote that his Temple project was "the most glorious of his actions...sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him." Herod was a lavish builder of cities and projects, and that has to go down as one of his greatest accomplishments.

So how could Jesus say that they could tear the Temple down, and he would rebuild it in three days? Two things. First, he’s saying that they’re destroying the Temple by their abuses.

When you desecrate the worship of my Father with your white-washed greed, you destroy what this temple is, and you expose it to the wrath of God. It will indeed be destroyed. And that happened 40 years later when the Romans leveled it in A.D. 70. (John Piper)

They’re killing the Temple by their actions, he says. They’re destroying it.

But there is a deeper meaning. He is referring to himself as the Temple.

Just like you kill worship in the temple with your consumerism and materialism, you will kill me. I and my Father are one. If you destroy his house, you destroy me. If you treasure money more than my Father, you will treasure my destruction—and buy it with 30 pieces of silver. (Piper)

Jesus says: Let me give you the sign that I have the authority to condemn the Temple. You are going to kill me, and when you destroy me, I will raise it up again.

So what he's saying is this:

First, that Jesus is the new Temple. We don’t need a building anymore to represent God’s presence on earth. We don’t need the Temple anymore because Jesus is now the connecting point between us and God. In a month we are celebrating Christmas and singing about Emmanuel, God with us. Authentic worship is not be attached to Jerusalem or any other place. It is attached to Jesus. There is no pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There will only the movement of the heart from money and religion to Jesus Christ. Jesus asks us to turn away from religion to himself.

Second, he’s saying that the resurrection is the ultimate authentication that he is who he says he is. Jesus says, “You want proof that I have the right to condemn religious pretension? Just wait until you kill me and then I raise myself up in three days.” The real question for all of us is whether the resurrection really happened or not. Pay attention to this question. If it did, then we need to pay attention to Jesus. If Jesus really did come back from the dead as he said here, we need to pay attention to him, because he is no ordinary man.

That’s what we learn here. Jesus condemns religious pretension, and he replaces it with himself. Jesus is the alternate to the ritual of religion. Jesus is the way of connecting with God. And he gave his life willingly for you so that you could be in relationship with God. Jesus is the way of connecting with God.


This isn’t just a story about some hypocritical religious leaders a long time ago. It’s really our story too. At the end of this passage we learn that the problem isn’t just out there; the problem is within everyone of us as well.

Verses 23 to 25 lay it out for us:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

This is amazing. Even among those who trusted Jesus, there is something that is not trustworthy. Jesus knew that even among those who believe, there is something fundamentally wonky. We are prone to get it wrong. Even among those who have true faith in Jesus, there is the possibility that we will ritual will replace reality.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that despite the fact that Jesus knows this about us, he loves us. I love what John Piper says about these verses:

You always have a person who is willing to love you, knowing absolutely everything about you. The reason I say he is “willing to love you” is that Jesus has a special covenant love for those who trust him.

Christianity is not about becoming better people. It’s not about becoming a better version of ourselves through self-improvement. It’s about looking outside of ourselves to the only One who has the power to change us from the inside-out. It’s never about following a set of rules or becoming the best we can be. It’s about looking to Jesus, the only One who is worthy of our trust.

The ground of our hope is never that we will get it right, individually or as a church. The ground of our hope is that there is someone who knows us, who knows how unreliable we can be, and who has come to give himself for us. He is the reality. He invites us to come today to him and trust him.

Jesus exposes our misunderstanding and disobedience and replaces it with something better. Let’s come to him and cast ourselves upon him today.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

How Easter Changes People (John 20:1-10)

This semester I’ve had the privilege of teaching some preaching students. The past couple of weeks they’ve preached. After they are done preaching, I get up and ask the other students, “What was the main idea, the one thing that the preacher was trying to say?” Sometimes they get it word for word. Other times they shrug their shoulders and look at each other. Sometimes I ask the preachers and they don’t know their big idea. Then you know we’re in real trouble.Easter Sunday is too important to waste, so let me give you my big idea for the sake of clarity. As we look at this text, I want to take the next few minutes to say one thing. If you walk away this morning forgetting everything else I’ve said, I want you to get this: Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever. Again: Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever.Let me explain.

Unlikely and Quirky People

In the passage we have before us, we have three main characters. What I love about these characters is that they are so unlikely and so quirky. These are not heroic figures. These people are about as real as they get.First, you have Mary Magdalene. She is the first person to see the empty tomb. This makes her the first witness of what happened on that Easter morning. She’s the most unlikely person for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she’s female at a time when people didn’t accept the testimony of women. In Israel no woman could be a witness in a court of law. A woman's testimony was inadmissible and worthless. And yet in John 20 it is a woman who is entrusted with the most crucial testimony the world can ever hear.But there’s something else that makes Mary Magdalene the most unlikely person to be a witness to what happens. In Luke 8 and Mark 16 we learn a little bit more about who she is. Luke 8:2 identifies her as “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” We don’t know much more about her, but this is enough to tell you that she had a past. Philip Yancey comments on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how we his followers often do:Jesus appointed the Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume: "Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." And Mary Magdalene, she of the seven demons, he honored as the very first witness of the Resurrection—a testimony at first discounted by his more prestigious followers. Where we shame, he elevates.So Mary’s the unlikely one, but then we have two quirky characters. In verses 4 to 10 you have the somewhat comical picture of two of the disciples who hear the report of the empty tomb and go to investigate. One is Peter. If you read the gospels, you understand a little about Peter’s character. He’s impetuous. He’s the first to open his mouth, even when he shouldn’t. In this passage you have him rushing to the tomb. He’s not as fast a runner as the other disciple, but when he catches up he doesn’t hesitate to go in and investigate. Then there’s the other disciple - probably John, who wrote this book - who gets there first but hesitates to go in, as you would probably do before you came to an open grave.Here’s the picture you get. These are people who are completely unexpected, and somewhat quirky. The good news of Easter is that it’s for ordinary people in all of our ordinariness and in all of our quirkiness. It’s not for airbrushed and heroic people. It’s for people like Mary Magdalene, people like John and Peter, people like you and me. Easter is about unlikely and quirky people. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”But that’s not all. They’re not just unlikely and quirky.

Who Don't Get It

They're not just unlikely and quirky. They also don't get it. This is great news for those of us who also don’t get it. All through his ministry, Jesus had predicted that he would die. He also predicted what would take place afterwards. He predicted that he would rise again from the dead. We read, for instance, in John 2:Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22)If the disciples had understood, they would have been there waiting. But they didn’t understand. They didn’t get it. I think John is making this point even in how he introduces this chapter: “Now on the first day of the week…” Not “on the third day…” That would assume that we were keeping track, that we were counting down in anticipation of his resurrection. No, it’s the first day of the week. They show up not expecting anything but a dead body. They simply don’t get it.You see this by the confusion that takes place. They seem at first to think that maybe a grave robber has been there. This wouldn’t have been completely surprising. Grave robbery was so common that the Emperor Claudius eventually ordered capital punishment for those convicted of destroying tombs, removing bodies, or even displacing the sealing stones. If you want proof that they didn’t get it, though, then you just have to look at verse 9: “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”This is comforting for me. Have you ever been to a movie that’s so confusing that you can’t figure it out? You have to ask others all kinds of questions or go online when you get home to figure out what happened. I’ve seen a bunch of movies that seemed brilliant, and that I didn’t understand at all. It was like that in school as well. There were some subjects that I just got. There were other subjects that I just couldn’t get no matter how hard I tried.It turns out that Easter is for those of us who just don’t get it. In Luke 24, Jesus said this to a couple of people who should have understood Easter but just didn’t get it: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Easter is not for those who are spiritually advanced. The Gospel of John is telling us that it’s for people who don’t get it, people like you and me.Remember that I only want you to remember one thing this morning. Let’s review so far and then add the next building block.

Encounter Easter and are changed forever.

We’ve already covered the first two parts of this: that this passage is about unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it. But this is the next part: they encounter Easter and are changed forever.It’s here that we see something that you have to face as you look at the biblical accounts of Easter. One biblical scholar notes that there is a pattern that takes place in all the resurrection narratives:
  1. The beneficiaries of the appearance are engulfed in a human emotion (Mary, grief; the disciples, fear; and Thomas, doubt).
  2. The risen Christ appears to them in the midst of their condition.
  3. As a result, their condition is transformed
We won’t look at the whole of chapter 20 this morning, but that’s exactly what happens here. These witnesses encounter an empty tomb. They’re befuddled. They don’t know how to account for what they discover. In particular, they account something that they can’t explain. Look at verses 6 and 7:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
It’s easy to explain an empty tomb: grave robbers. If that is all that happened, then we would not be celebrating Easter. But Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John did not just discover an empty tomb. They discovered the linen cloths that had been used to wrap Jesus’ body as they buried him. In John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we read, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” That’s not what happened with Jesus. Nobody had to unbind his burial clothes. It appears that he was able to pass through them with his resurrected body, just as he was able to later appear in a locked room in verse 19. Not only that, but the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, was folded up by itself. Jesus had taken it off and folded it neatly, as if to say, “I won’t be needing this anymore.”You can account for an empty tomb. It’s very hard to account for graveclothes that have been left behind as if they’re not needed anymore. It’s even harder to account for Jesus’ appearing to the other disciples in the rest of this chapter.But even here in verse 8 you begin to sense the beginning of the change that’s taking place. “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” What they encountered on Easter morning changed them, and changed them forever.There are three facts about the resurrection that even critical scholars accept.
  1. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ.
  3. As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew.
In other words, even critical scholars accept that the disciples encountered something at Easter that changed them. These three things - the empty tomb, the encounters with the risen Christ, and the new boldness of the disciples, form a threefold strand of evidence. Matt Perman writes:
Virtually all scholars who deal with the resurrection, whatever their school of thought, assent to these three truths. We will see that the resurrection of Christ is the best explanation for each of them individually. But then we will see, even more significantly, that when these facts are taken together we have an even more powerful case for the resurrection--because the skeptic will not have to explain away just one historical fact, but three. These three truths create a strongly woven, three chord rope that cannot be broken.
It’s hard to describe how profoundly Easter changed these people. It changed everything about them. The rest of the New Testament is evidence of the effects of what happened on Easter morning.Sometimes something happens that is so profound that it changes everything. Easter is that. The Big Bang theory in science says that something happened 13.7 billion years ago that has continuing, profound effects today. This is as big a bang as anything scientists could imagine. The continuing effects of Easter still continue today. Ralph Stockman writes:Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem forty days after his crucifixion than on the day of His Triumphal Entry. A false report might last forty days but the church which was founded on a Risen Christ has lasted for nineteen centuries, producing generations of the race's finest characters.So let’s put all of this together. Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever. That’s the one thing I want you to take away today. We see this in the passage before us. But we also see it continuing today.Three things before we’re done:First, if you’re an unlikely or quirky person, you may be here for a reason. Jesus seems to be drawn to those who aren’t what you’d expect. The good news of Easter is that Easter is for people like you. You don’t have to be heroic or spiritual. God chooses the most unlikely people, the people you would never expect.Second, if you don’t get it, then you’re welcome as well. I love that there was no one waiting at the tomb expecting Jesus to rise. Even the women, who were last at the cross and first at the tomb, weren’t expecting Jesus to be raised. It reminds me of art class when I was in school. I did pretty well in school, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to draw. The only thing that I could eventually do is to give up. Easter is for people like this. You need to realize that Easter is not for those who are naturally at the top of the spiritual class. There’s nobody, actually, who is. Easter is for those of us who don’t get it, who are spiritual failures. Easter is for people like you and me.Finally, Easter can change you. It’s been changing people throughout the centuries.Once upon a time I had a young friend named Philip. Philip was born with Downs Syndrome. He wasn’t easily accepted by other children, but he went to Sunday school and attended the third-grade class.The teacher idea for his class the Sunday after Easter. You know those things that pantyhose come in—the containers that look like great big eggs—my friend had collected ten of them. The children loved it when he brought them into the room. Each child was to get one. It was a beautiful spring day, and the assignment was for each child to go outside, find a symbol for new life, put it into the egg, and bring it back to the classroom. They would then open and share their new life symbols and surprises one by one.The kids ran all around the church grounds, gathered their symbols, and returned to the classroom. They put all the eggs on a table, and then the teacher began to open them. All the children stood around the table. There was a flower. Then there was a butterfly. Then some kid - a joker - put in a rock just to be different. Eventually they opened one of the eggs and there was nothing. They were all confused. One of the kids said, “That's not fair—that's stupid!—somebody didn't do right."The teacher felt a tug on his shirt, and he looked down. Philip was standing beside him. "It's mine," Philip said. "It's mine." And the children said, "You don't ever do things right, Philip. There's nothing there!" "I did so do it," Philip said. "I did do it. It's empty. The tomb is empty!"There was silence, a very full silence. Philip got something that the rest of the kids didn’t. And when Phillip died, the kids remembered this empty egg and the empty tomb. At the funeral, nine eight-year-old children marched up to the altar, not with flowers to cover over the stark reality of death. Nine eight-year-olds, with their Sunday school teacher, marched right up to that altar, and laid on it an empty egg—an empty, old, discarded pantyhose egg.Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever - people like Philip, and people just like you and me.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

It Is Finished (John 19:28-30)

Most deaths, when they occur, come as a surprise. This past week, Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and photographer, was killed in Misrata, Libya. His last tweet is chilling: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.” He was killed the very next day, a victim of a rocket-propelled grenade in that war-torn country.

It would be easy to see the death of Jesus as a surprise. It was Passover. Tensions in Jerusalem were running high. We’ve seen recently what happens when massive crowds gather, especially when there’s political unrest and suspicion. It’s a tinderbox. I’m sure that many back then thought that Jesus was caught up, arrested and killed, by events that were swirling out of control.

But the text we have in front of us says something very important. John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” This morning, I’m preaching a sermon on one word, the last word that Jesus spoke before dying. In our English versions it’s three words: “It is finished.” It’s Jesus’ last teaching before he dies, the last thing that he has to say. In Greek, it’s one word: tetelestai. It means that all has now been completed. It’s not the cry of a victim who’s caught up in events that are out of control. It’s the triumphant announcement of someone who is fulfilling his mission, who sees that all the necessary steps have been taken and fulfilled.

Here’s what we need to see: Jesus was not a victim. At the cross, he fulfilled his obligations and did what he set out to do. Earlier, Jesus had said:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)

Still later he said this as he looked forward to the cross:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

And here, even as he’s being killed, you see him in complete control of what’s happening. This is so much so that when he dies, John says that he “gave up his spirit.”

Here’s the one thing I want you to hear this morning as we look at the final teaching from Jesus as he hung on the cross: At the cross, Jesus completed his work. At the cross, Jesus finished what he set out to do.

And specifically (and briefly) I want to look at two things that Jesus finished at the cross: he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; and he completed the plan of redemption.

First: Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

Verses 28 and 29 say:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

At first glance the Bible looks like a huge book of many different types of stories. If you’ve attended church for a while, you’ve heard many of them. But then there are huge parts of Scripture that you don’t hear a lot about, that are sometimes more difficult to understand. When you pick up this book, it’s easy to think that it’s a mishmash of loosely related stories and themes that go in every direction.

But when Jesus lived, he kept picking up threads from the stories that we thought were unrelated. Genesis 28 tells the story of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. In John 1, Jesus says that this story is about him. Numbers 21 tells the story of Moses placing a bronze serpent on a pole. In John 3, Jesus says that this story is all about him. In John 8, Jesus claims to be the God who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. When one of the disciples turns against him, Jesus points to this as a fulfillment of Scripture. Over and over again, both John and Jesus take the Old Testament Scriptures and say that it’s not an unrelated series of stories. It’s all about him.

Here John alludes to what seems at first to be an obscure verse from Psalm 69:21. The psalmist is writing as a faithful person who is suffering. In the middle of the psalm, the psalmist says, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” We would probably never read that and think that this is a prophesy about Jesus. But on the cross, Jesus says that this too is about him. Crucifixion used thirst as part of the process of torture. As Jesus hung on the cross, though, his primary concern was not for his own thirst. His mind was on the relevance of what David wrote and how it applied to Jesus. And so Jesus said, “I thirst,” so that we could compete, and fulfill, all that was written in the Old Testament about him.

David Greenglass was a World War II traitor. He gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union and then fled to Mexico after the war. His conspirators arranged to help him by planning a meeting with the secretary of the Soviet ambassador in Mexico City. Proper identification for both parties became vital. Greenglass was to identify himself with six prearranged signs. These instructions had been given to both the secretary and Greenglass so there would be no possibility of making a mistake. The signs were:

  1. once in Mexico City, Greenglass was to write a note to the secretary, signing his name as ‘‘I. Jackson'';
  2. after three days he was to go to the Plaza de Colon in Mexico City, and
  3. stand before the statue of Columbus,
  4. with his middle finger placed in a guide book. In addition,
  5. when he was approached, he was to say it was a magnificent statue and that he was from Oklahoma.
  6. The secretary was to then give him a passport.

The six prearranged signs worked. Why? With six identifying characteristics, it was impossible for the secretary not to identify Greenglass as the proper contact. How true, then, it must be that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah if he had 456 identifying characteristics well in advance and fulfilled them all. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” he was stating that all of Scripture is about him, and that he has fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies and signs that point to him. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” As Spurgeon put it, “He meant, first of all, that all the types, promises, and prophecies were now fully accomplished in him.”

Secondly: Jesus completed the plan of redemption.

Not only did Jesus fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies; he also completed the plan of redemption. Think again about what Jesus prayed the night before he said these words. In John 17:4 he prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” You may want to ask, what is the work that God gave him to do? It’s a good question. Jesus had hinted a few times throughout John that he was sent by his Father to do something. In John 4:34 he said, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” In John 9:4 he said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

So we get a sense that Jesus was up to something. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose. Surprisingly, Jesus announces that he has finished his work at a surprising moment. His work involves his death. On the cross, he can say that he has completed the assignment that God has given him.

We need to ask what it is that Jesus finished or completed on the cross. And the answer is this: he completed the plan of redemption. We have a problem: we have sinned against God. All throughout Scripture, God gives us hints as to how he will deal with this problem. In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sin, God covers their nakedness with the skins of animals. Death had to take place in order for shame to be covered. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he commanded them to celebrate Passover. At Passover they would sacrifice the Passover lamb. They would mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb. God said that when he saw the blood, he would pass over them. He would spare their lives. Blood had to be shed so that they could live. Then God instituted a sacrificial system. At the temple, priests would sacrifice the blood of goats and calves. You had this sense that our sin demands justice, and that justice must be paid. The killing of animals pointed to what was necessary. But you’d also have the sense that it wasn’t enough. The blood of animals is not enough to meet the demands of justice. Besides, the sacrifices were ongoing. Tomorrow there would be more sin, and more sacrifices would have to be shed. If you’ve ever seen what a sacrifice is like - they have a video on YouTube - you would realize that it’s a messy thing, and one that you wish could end.

Then Jesus comes along. In John 1, John the Baptist looks at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you know what John is saying? Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to. At this death, he pays the ultimate price for sin. On the cross Jesus sheds his blood to deal once and for all with sin. He bears the judgment as the sacrifice for our sins. On the cross, Jesus could say, “It is finished,” and say that the plan of redemption has finally and fully been completed. The word that Jesus uses for “It is finished” is one that people would write on a bill once it had been paid. Jesus is saying here that the bill has been finally paid. His work is now complete. Hebrews says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

I love how Spurgeon puts it:

The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once for all, and for ever, by the one offering made in Jesu’s body on the tree. There was the cup, hell was in it, the Savior drank it — not a sip and then a pause; not a draught and then a ceasing, but he drained it till there is not a dreg left for any of his people. The great ten-thonged whip of the law was worn out upon his back, there is no lash left with which to smite one for whom Jesus died. The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition, there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God. Sheathed is thy sword, O Justice! Silenced is thy thunder, O Law! There remains nothing now of all the griefs, and pains, and agonies which chosen sinners ought to have suffered for their sins, for Christ has endured all for his own beloved, and “it is finished.”

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant that he had fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies that pointed to him. He also meant that he had completed the work that God had sent him to do, of offering his life as a sacrifice for our sins.

So let’s think for a minute of what this means for us.

I don’t know that there could be any better news than this one word that Jesus proclaimed from the cross: It is finished. It means that the work is finally and fully complete. There is nothing left to do other than to receive the benefits of this work, to put our faith in the one who offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. Christ came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves. He finished the work that God sent him to do.

Author James Herriot tells of an unforgettable wedding anniversary he and his wife celebrated early in their marriage. His boss had encouraged him to take his wife to a fancy restaurant, but Herriot balked. He was a young veterinarian and couldn't really afford it. "Oh, do it!" the boss insisted. "It's a special day!" Herriot reluctantly agreed and surprised his wife with the news.

En route to the restaurant, Herriot and his wife stopped at a farm to examine a farmer's horse. Having finished the routine exam, he returned to his car and drove to the restaurant, unaware that his checkbook had fallen in the mud. After a wonderful meal, Herriot reached for his checkbook and discovered it was gone. Quite embarrassed, he tried to offer a way of making it up. He had no way to pay the bill that he had incurred.

"Not to worry," the waiter replied. "Your dinner has been taken care of!" As it was, Herriot's employer had paid for the dinner in advance.

God has done the same for us. Jesus' utterance on the cross, "It is finished," is a Greek term meaning "paid in full."

One more story. A girl signed up for a class on English literature. She found it far more difficult than she had expected, and she desperately wanted to drop it. She went in to see the teacher to see if she could drop out and switch to a regular English class as well. The head of the department said to her, “I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?”

The girl said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.” The teacher took the threat of a bad grade away so that she could be freed to do her best without fear of punishment.

That is what God has done for us. At the cross, Jesus dealt with our sins. He finished the work. The course is complete. We’ve been given an A, not because we earned it, but because Jesus did. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. It is finished; everything has been done. We only have to receive what Christ has done for us at the cross in offering his life for us.

At the cross, Jesus completed his work. You can stake your life on it.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Abide in Me (John 15:1-8)

Dr. David A. Dunning, professor of social psychology, was fascinated to read a story of a bank robbery that took place in Pittsburgh. The robber, a 5 foot 6 inch man weighing some 270 pounds, walked into two banks in broad daylight and attempted to rob them. He made no attempt to disguise himself.

Within hours of the robberies, police found him. He was easily identified from the surveillance tapes. Nevertheless, he was shocked. "But I wore the juice!" he said to the arresting officers. It turns out that before the robberies he smeared his face with lemon juice. It caused his face to burn, and he had difficulty seeing, but he was under the impression that smearing lemon juice on his face would render him invisible to the camera. He had tested this at home with a Polaroid camera and it had seemingly worked. It's more likely, of course, that the film was bad, or that he simply didn't point the camera in the right direction because of the lemon juice in his eyes.

In any case, this lead to Dr. Dunning, the professor of social psychology, writing a report called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments." How would you like to be the person who inspired a study like that? Dr. Dunning writes, "Not only do [incompetent people] reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of their ability to realize it."

This morning I'd like to suggest that we are all in danger of not only being spiritually incompetent, but also of being unaware of our condition. It's bad enough to be spiritually incompetent, but the problem is even greater than this. It's like we're surprised by our spiritual incompetence. We're wearing the juice, so to speak.

This applies to us individually. We are completely unable to produce the kind of changes in our lives that need to take place. But this is also true of us as a church. We want to make a difference in the lives of those who are part of Richview. We want to make a difference in the community. But we're spiritually incompetent and we don't even realize it.

The passage we read this morning speaks to this issue. It's the night before Jesus dies. Jesus is meeting with his disciples in what's called the Farewell Discourse. He's preparing them for what lies ahead, not only the next day, but in the future when he's ascended to heaven. In this passage Jesus deals with the issue of our spiritual incompetence - our inability to produce fruit on our own. He helps us to grasp three things: that he is the true vine; what the Father is up to; and finally, what we need to do as a result.

So let's first look at verse 1 and see:

Jesus is the true vine.

In John 15:1, Jesus says, "I am the true vine." I think I've read this verse dozens, maybe hundreds of times. Most of the time I've read, "I am the vine," which is actually what verse 5 says. I've usually missed the word true in verse 1. It's a significant word.

The disciples would have known the Old Testament very well. They would have known that one of the main images used of Israel, the covenant people of God, was the vine. If you had asked them, "Who is the vine?" they would have answered, "Israel is the vine."

For instance, you may have thought of Psalm 80:8-9, which says:

You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.

Or you may have thought of the prophets, who frequently spoke of Israel as a vine or a vineyard. You'd recall the words of Hosea 10:1:

Israel is a luxuriant vine
that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built...

Or Isaiah 5:1-2:

Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

That would have reminded you of the chilling words spoken by Ezekiel, who said:

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem...

If you had been one of the disciples, you would have known that Israel is the vine. But it hadn't been a very good vine. It had produced wild fruit. It had not produced the kind of fruit that God had expected. It had failed in its assignment, and God had spoken in judgment against it.

But then Jesus comes along and says, "I am the true vine." Jesus is the true and better vine. He produces the fruit that the people of God failed to produce on their own. Where God's people failed, Jesus has succeeded. He is the true and better vine that has produced the fruit we should have produced all along.

What does this mean for us? Two things. First: to be connected with God previously, you had to be connected, through faith, with Israel, God's covenant community. They were the vine, and you had to be connected with Israel to be connected with God. Now, Jesus is claiming that if you want to be connected with God, you need to be connected with him. He is the true and better Israel. He is the one through whom we find our connection with God.

But it also means that we see Jesus as the one who has done for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. It's right and important to remember that Jesus died for us. But we also need to remember that Jesus lived the life that we couldn't live. He produced the righteousness that we couldn't produce for ourselves.

Really what it means is that we don't look to ourselves to produce the spiritual life that we need. We can't produce what God expects. But Jesus says that he is the true vine. He is the one in whom we find life. Instead of looking to ourselves, we look to him.

So we see in this passage that Jesus is the true vine.

We also see what God is doing in the world.

John 15:1 says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." This is a continuation of the image, but it's more. It's also a snapshot of what God is doing in the world. God is the author of life. Right from Genesis 1 we see that God is the creator of life. Here the image is of God cultivating life in this world, and he's doing it through Jesus. We're going to see in a minute that it includes us as branches.

What is God doing in the world? On Christmas Eve, the National Post ran an editorial. The Post usually runs the stories we consider news. The editorial said:

The Christian understanding is that there is another history, a sometimes-hidden history that reveals the true story of the world, told in its proper depth. It unfolds in the Sinai desert, in a stable in Bethlehem, on a cross in Jerusalem, in the work of martyrs and saints in places far away from the chancelleries and parliaments. This hidden story of God's love breaks into history even as a flickering flame banishes the darkness...

This passage shows us that if we want to understand what's going on in the world, we need to understand what God is doing. And what God is doing is bringing life to the world, and he's doing so through Jesus Christ, who is the true and better vine. And he's including us as well.

We're going to get to our part in a minute, but notice in verse 2 what the Father is doing: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Not only is God bringing life through the true vine to the world, but he is also dealing with us as well. We're the branches connected to Christ. The Father is active in our lives a well in two ways.

First, he removes branches that don't bear fruit. Jesus says this in verse 2, and he repeats it again in verse 6: "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." What does this mean? Some have wondered if this means that we can lose our salvation. We need to remember that elsewhere in this gospel Jesus has assured us that all of his true disciples will be preserved to the end. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). This is an allegory, and Jesus' purpose is not to teach on eternal security. What he is saying is this: God sees to it that there is no such thing as an unfruitful branch. That's the first thing that the Father does.

Jesus also says that the Father prunes the branches. "He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." We have a pear tree in our backyard that hasn't been pruned in years. I can tell you what happens when things aren't pruned: they grow wild, things get unhealthy, and the fruit suffers. Jesus reminds us here that the Father is active in our lives pruning so that we can bear more fruit. Afflictions make us more fruitful. The Father is actively involved in our lives so that we bear more fruit.

Jesus has helped us understand that he's the true vine. He's helped us understand what God the Father is up to in the world. There's one more thing that he helps us understand in this passage:

Our role as branches is to abide.

We've seen this morning that we're spiritually incompetent. Not only that, but the great danger is that we are in danger of not realizing that we're incompetent. This is humbling and liberating at the same time. It takes the pressure off of us, but it also helps us realize we're more powerless than we thought. I can't preach this morning in a way that will produce lasting results. It's beyond me. You and I can't change our characters in a way that will bring lasting change. Our church can't be effective in ministry on our own power no matter how skilled our leaders, no matter how great our strategy. As D.A. Carson puts it:

The Christian or Christian organization that expands by external accretion, that merely apes Christian conduct and witness, but is not impelled by life within, brings forth dead crystals, not fruit.

But we've seen that God is active. We've seen that Jesus is the vine. And we see now that our role is as branches. We're not the main point. It's hard for a branch to get overly proud. It's only a branch. It's hard for a branch to think that it's all about them. Understanding that we're branches both humbles us and encourages us. We're nothing by ourselves - but we're connected to what God is doing. Our story is small, but we're part of a larger story that's bigger than we can imagine.

What's our role? If you read this passage, Jesus tells us one thing over and over: abide. The word abide takes place some ten times in verses 4 to 10. It means that we do what branches do in relation to vines: stay connected. We get everything we need from Jesus. We are completely dependent upon him. "No branch has life in itself; it is utterly dependent for life and fruitfulness on the vine to which it is attached" (Carson). We can do nothing of lasting value without him. Apart from him, we can do nothing. The passage mentions a couple of ways that this happens: through God's Word (John 15:3) and through prayer (John 15:7). It's a matter of complete dependence upon and connection to Christ.

Notice that it's not our job to produce the fruit. It's our job to abide. God produces the fruit as we do so. The fruit represents what God produces in our lives through Christ, including obedience (John 15:10), love for other disciples (John 15:12), and

I love how Jerry Bridges puts it:

We are always challenging ourselves and one another to "try harder." We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, "God helps those who help themselves." The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.

This is our role: to abide in Christ. And this is the reason: because apart from him, we can do nothing. But as we abide in Christ, we will bear fruit, and as verse 8 says: "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."

Father, this morning we ask that you would humble us. Help us to truly grasp that we can do nothing apart from Christ. Give us a view of what you are doing in bringing life to the world through Christ who is the true vine.

And Father, may we abide in Christ. And as we do so, we pray that you would make us fruitful so that we bring you glory. We ask this in the name of Christ, Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Living Water (John 4:1-28)

Occasionally you have a conversation that changes your life. You can't plan these things. It's not like you wake up one morning and say, "Today I'm going to have a conversation, and it's going to change my life forever." They seem to come out of the blue when you least expect it.

Today we get to eavesdrop on such a conversation. It happened almost two thousand years ago, and it's so significant that, if the world is around a thousand years from now, they'll still be talking about it. It's a conversation that still has the power to change our lives today.

I'd like to look at four things in this passage: the surprise, the need that's uncovered, the solution to this need, and the resolution.

First, let's look at this story and see the surprise.

Because one of the most surprising things about this conversation is that it even took place.

In John 4:4-9 we read:

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

You need to know a little about the background of these times to understand how surprising this conversation was. This is a conversation that nobody would have expected.

We read, "Now he had to go through Samaria." Jesus was Jewish, and Jews and Samaritans did not get along at all. Samaritans were people with some Jewish background who had intermarried with other nations to become a mixed race. They had their own version of the Jewish Bible, their own temple. The orthodox Jews of that time hated Samaritans so intensely that they often traveled miles out of their way to avoid the Samaritan territory. Hostility between the two groups was widespread and very bitter.

On top of that, Jesus and this woman faced a gender divide that was very unusual in that day. Today we don't think twice about a man initiating a conversation with a woman like Jesus did here, but back then it was highly unusual.

On top of this, this was a woman with a sexual history. She's at the well in the middle of the day, at noon, and alone. We read those detail and it doesn't really strike us as unusual at all. But people back then did not go to the well at noon in the heat of the day. They would much rather go early in the morning or later in the day when it was cooler. And they wouldn't go alone. She had to carry back water for drinking, cooking, and washing. It's not a fun job, but it's a lot better if it's social and if you have help. Why is she there in the middle of the day and all alone? Probably because she's a bit of an outcast. We're going to read later that she's had serial marriages and is now living with a man who is not her husband, which was against both Jewish and Samaritan standards at that time.

On top of that, she wasn't looking for a conversation or an encounter with Jesus. It's not like she woke up that day and prayed that God would move in her life that day. She has all these strikes against her: racial barriers, gender barriers, moral barriers, and even spiritual barriers. And yet Jesus reaches past those barriers and strikes up a conversation that changed her world, and continues to change worlds today.

Listen: it's important to see this. In the last chapter, Jesus has just finished talking to a man who has none of these barriers. He's Jewish, he's male, he's upstanding, and he's spiritually minded. It's very easy to think that these are the people that Jesus likes. Jesus likes hanging out with good people who live good lives and who have good reputations. But John here shows us that Jesus does not just relate to people like that. Jesus has no problem taking the initiative with people who aren't that good, who may have all kinds of reasons for not being at a church. Jesus initiates with people who have pasts, people that other people have written off. In other places he says that these people enter his kingdom before the "good" people.

You may be here this morning thinking that you have to overcome all of these barriers before you can have a conversation with Jesus. You have to clean up your life and get ready to become a respectable, religious-type person. But the message of the Bible is that Jesus initiates with us right where we are in the most surprising way. Becoming a religious do-gooder can actually take you further away rather than closer. Jesus initiates with the most unlikely people. He may be initiating with some of you this morning.

That's the first thing we see in this story. Jesus initiates in a surprising way with unlikely people. We also see something else:

Second, that Jesus uncovers our deepest need.

Jesus and this woman are at a well. It's noon and both are probably very thirsty. These days we rarely feel thirst because we usually have water handy. Think of a time when you have really been thirsty. You finally get some water or some other drink, and when you get it, you've never tasted anything better.

Jesus touches on this need for water, because he's already asked for a drink. He takes it further when he says in verse 10: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." What's living water? It's water that moves in a stream or a spring, as opposed to water that sits in a well. Now, if there was a stream or a spring around, there would have been no need for this well, which was at least a hundred feet deep. Where would Jesus have found this living water? We find out that Jesus is not actually talking about a literal spring or stream. He's using it as an image to get to her deep thirst, a thirst that goes far beyond physical thirst. In verses 13 and 14 he says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

If you're ever in Philadelphia, there's a a beautiful drive that leads out of the city along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River. Along the drive there is a section of the riverbank lined with boathouses, called Boathouse Row; and across from Boathouse Row there is a statue of a pilgrim with a Bible under his arm. If a person is on foot and is exploring the riverbank, he soon finds a stream that empties into the Schuylkill near the pilgrim, as well as a trail that winds along it. If he follows this trail up over Sedgley Hill toward Brewery Town, he comes upon the source of the spring. There, over the spring's source, there's an inscription once placed by the city government--"Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again."

I wish that we could post this inscription over many things - over our careers, over our relationships, over achievements, over everything really. All of these quench our thirst at some level, but whoever drinks of these things will thirst again. They don't ultimately quench our thirst. We use money, sex, and power to try to quench our spiritual thirst. Ultimately these thirst quenchers leave us unsatisfied. When used as a substitute for the living water that Jesus talks about, they can be spiritual poison. They ultimately leave us thirsty.

Quarterback Tom Brady set the record for most touchdown passes in a regular season, paving the way for his winning the MVP award. At the age of 30, he has already won three Super Bowls--an accomplishment that sets him apart as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. He's now married to a supermodel. Yet listen to what he said in an interview:

Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, "Hey man, this is what [it's all about]." I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me? I think, "It's got to be more than this." I mean this isn't--this can't be--all it's cracked up to be.

What's the answer? I wish I knew... I love playing football, and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find.

Canadian author Doug Coupland put it this way in one of his novels:

Now, here is my secret. I tell you with an openness of heart I doubt I will ever have again. So I pray you're in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God. My secret is that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I am no longer capable of giving. To help me be kind, because I no longer seem capable of kindness. I need God to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Jesus has an uncanny ability to put his finger on the greatest need of the person he is talking to. Here he puts his finger on this woman's deepest need. She's spiritually thirsty. She has a deep hunger for God that nothing else can fill.

So far we've seen that Jesus initiates with unlikely people, and that he puts his finger on their deepest needs.

The next thing we see in this passage is the solution to this thirst.

There are two things we learn about this in this passage. The first is what is not the solution. You'll notice in this passage that Jesus and this woman have an interesting conversation about a lot of things:

  • Her moral situation in verses 16-18 - Jesus surfaces the issue, which allows her to know that he is no ordinary person. Make no mistake: Jesus knows about all the things we'd like to hide, but they're not really the issue. Our sin is a big issue, but Jesus can give us living water no matter what our sins may be.
  • Religious arguments in verses 19-25 - Jesus and the woman get into all kind of issues - which temple is the right one, and so on. I don't think this was a diversionary tactic. Once the woman realized that he was at the very least a prophet, she brought up one of the live issues of that day. There are all kinds of issues that we can talk about today - science and the Bible, why there is so much evil in the world, what about other religions - but they are not the real issue. They're important, but they are not the core issue.

You'll notice that the core issue in this passage is actually a person. They get to it in verses 25-26:

The woman said, "I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

Then Jesus declared, "I, the one speaking to you--I am he."

What is he saying here? He's saying that the key issue we must wrestle with is who Jesus is. He claims to be the source of living water. He claims, as one commentator puts it, "more than either Jew or Samaritan had comprehended in the word 'Christ'. He is the answer of God to the sin of the world" (Edwin Hoskyns). In which case Jesus is not just giving this woman information. He is giving her an invitation. It's a challenge to respond. It's another way of Jesus saying, "Come to me, and I will satisfy your deepest thirst."

This is very good news. Jesus claims to be sent from God. He goes out of his way to encounter people who have a past. And he reveals their deepest hunger, and then offers himself as the solution to their thirst. Later on in John, Jesus goes to the cross. The Bible teaches that Jesus takes our place. In John 19:28 Jesus says, "I am thirsty." This is more than just physical thirst. He would have been physically thirsty. He had been scourged. He was bleeding and hanging in the hot near-Eastern sun. But it would have been more. Tim Keller says, "When Jesus says I'm thirsty he says He is taking the spiritual cosmic thirst so that He can give you the Water of Eternal Life.."

Well, what to make of all of this?

I hope that you will see this morning that Jesus surprises us by initiating with surprising people. He also identifies our hunger. He then presents himself as the real solution, the one who assumes our deepest thirst, and offers us satisfaction for our deep longing for God. He claims to be the one who has come to save us and satisfy us, and he invites us to come to him.

What do we do about this? C.S. Lewis wrote a scene in his book The Silver Chair. Jill is in the land of Narnia, and she's thirsty. At once she sees a magnificent stream . . . and a fearsome lion (Aslan, who represents the Jesus):

"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first. . . .

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May - could - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."


"There is no other stream," said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up.

It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went straight to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realized that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all.

Let's pray.

Jesus initiates with us. It's surprising. He identifies our deepest need, our deepest thirst. He offers himself as the solution to that thirst. He is the one who, when he died, assumed our deepest thirst so that he could offer us the water of eternal life.

Come and drink. There is no other stream.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
(Isaiah 55:1-3)

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.