Encouragement, Big Words, & Escaping Prison (“Of Interest” Ep. 15)

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This week, I’m talking about some encouragement I found in one of the Lord’s parables, sharing an interesting article about some big words, an interesting resource to find some amazing resources, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress by exploring Bunyan’s love for the Bible sustained him through difficult times.

Interesting Links:

The Tale of the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon

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Super thanks to Kevin MacLeod from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/ for all the amazing music in this episode. Check him out!

CHAPTER 1

Once upon a time there was a grand kingdom beset by two fierce dragons. Had it not been for the dragons, the kingdom would have been a wonderful place to live. The people were strong and kind, the lands vast and fertile, and the artists, musicians, and craftsmen were some of the most creative, inventive, and inspiring there had ever been.

One day, two huge shadows came over the kingdom. A commotion that no one had seen coming, nor could have ever prepared for, broke out in the skies above them. It began as rumbles and flashes of light in the distance. Many dismissed it as thunder and lightning – a passing storm. But the wise men of the land – the lords, wizards, and clerics – were concerned.

It wasn’t long until the distant rumbles became very nearby roars. The citizens of the kingdom began to leave their homes, the taverns, and castles, wondering what was happening and why. The looked up and saw two great dragons, one fiery red, the other as blue as sapphire, locked in a ferocious battle. Over and over they would withdraw, spread their wings, extend their claws, and come together with a great crash.

The red dragon was wild, unpredictable, fierce – the blue dragon was more calculating and maneuverable – and from their mouths came blasts of fire and ice – that were so powerful they could be felt all the way to the ground – but neither dragon seemed very hurt.

The battle raged for days, and weeks, until the whole kingdom had come nearly to a standstill. The dragons battle was all encompassing. Some had lost their homes, even loved ones, as the dragons swooped closer to the ground, blasting huge, flaming scars into the land – or completely freezing any crops, animals, or people that were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Occasionally, the red dragon would land in a field and eat whole herds of cattle…. but the blue dragon preferred people, and would sometimes swoop out of the night sky and grab two or three people with his giant talons, toss them into the air, and catch them in his great, gaping, fanged mouth. And then, once they had feasted, their battle would continue.

The dragons didn’t seem to care about the kingdom at all – all they cared about was defeating the other.

CHAPTER 2

After many more weeks, the citizens were forced to try to live with the battle above them. The people were forced to adapt. Some seemed excited by it – exhilarated by the thrill and wildness of the combat, even creating a scoring system and placing bets on which dragon would win the day. Others were terrified – refusing to leave their homes. Still others – though they were a rare few – were finding ways to profit. Occasionally a scale or a drop of blood would fall, and they would venture out to find and sell it. The more practical townsfolk knew that regardless of what was happening above them, winter was coming. The crops needed harvesting, the roofs of buildings needed repair, or the dragons wouldn’t be their only problem.

For the whole winter the battle raged, and then into spring, and into summer… but as time went on something strange had started to happen. The people began to not only get used to the battle – they even started to figure out ways to use the dragon’s fire and ice to their advantage. They began to chart the patterns of the battle, watch the changes, and predict where the next blast would be. In the winter they would set up long lines of wood and meat and other objects that would be set aflame and then collected. They discovered that the blue dragon’s ice had the unique property of taking a very long time to melt, and so, in the summer, they would collect the blasts of ice and use them to preserve food, even cool their drinks.

Sure, some people, buildings, and crops were occasionally destroyed – but after so long, the people had not only adapted, but had come to see the dragon battle as normal – just part of life.

But the lords, wizards, and clerics didn’t feel that way – not at all. They knew that that the kingdom couldn’t continue this way.. Eventually, the battle in the sky would consume everything and everyone. And so they worked day and night to find a solution.

CHAPTER 3

Then one day, the wisest of the wizards came to the parliament of Lords and presented something that would change the fate of the kingdom. He had been gathering dropped scales and blood, bits of ash, shards of ice, and through his magic and alchemy and science, was able to create a single arrow – one that had the power to not only pierce the hard dragon scales, but to weaken one of the dragons so much that they couldn’t fight anymore. The Lords raised a great cheer, and praised the wizard, promising lands and riches and rewards – but the old conjurer continued to look grave.

The Lords soon calmed down, an uneasiness settled over them as they looked at his furrowed brow… and then, as silence fell, the wizard looked around the room and said, “But which dragon gets the arrow?”

“Can’t you just make another?” one of them asked. “Yes… but the formula requires not only many ingredients, and many scales and drops of their blood, but must be brewed for at least two years. And, what’s more… the effect of the arrow only lasts for two years. There is no way around it. You must decide which dragon you want.”

For many days they argued the costs and benefits of fire and ice, red and blue, until one day, the wizards apprentice – who was also a very wise young man – said to them all — “Why not let the dragon’s decide?”

Soon, a party of adventurers, soldiers, lords, and wizards, climbed the highest mountain in the land. Upon reaching the top, they yelled out as one, “Dragons! Stop your battle for a moment! For we have something we must say! This is a request and a warning – you must listen to us or it will be your doom.”

Never before had either of these dragons been spoken to in this way. It surprised and intrigued them so much, that they pulled back from one another… the red dragon looked at the blue and said in a booming voice, “Hold for a moment. Let us hear what these little things have to say. It has been many years since we had a break from our battle for any entertainment – so, if only for amusement, let’s hear them.”

The blue dragon replied, his own voice incredibly loud, yet strangely pleasant – “Yes, brother… this should be interesting.”

The dragons looked at the tiny human band, turned, and flew at them. Even the most courageous of the soldiers felt his stomach sink within him, not knowing what would happen next.

But the dragons merely landed, coming to rest upon some crags on opposite sides of the mountain. The blue dragon simply said, “Speak.”

The Wizard had been chosen, and said, “Oh great and mighty dragons. Your battle has done great damage to our kingdom. Your fire and ice have destroyed our lands, houses, and people. We have grown weary of your battle and have spent many months creating a weapon against you, and have come to present you a choice – either take your terror and mayhem away from our lands, never to return – or choose from between you which of you which we shall cripple for two years, leaving the other the victor.”

The red dragon’s eyes flashed with red fire, the blue dragon’s with blue flame – and they said, in unison, “We will not leave. These skies are our sacred battle ground. We will not leave.”

And they flew up together and began to battle again – but this time it was more ferocious than ever. They tore at each other leaving gashes and scars, tearing holes their wings, and huge bite marks on their necks.

For three days they continued, devastating more of the land than ever before. Some people called the Lords and wizards foolish for ever going to the mountain, for ever presenting the choice…

CHAPTER 4

And then, on the third day, there was silence. Everyone came out of their homes to see what had changed. And there, standing perched on the great city wall, were both dragons. They looked worn, beaten and exhausted. The blue dragon spoke, “This fight has gone on longer than either of us can remember. We know nothing else other than to fight one another. And no matter how hard we fight, there never seems to be a clear victor. Your threat has broken this stalemate, and for that we are thankful. Both of us desire victory as much as we desire rest. And so we have come to present our cases to you.”

The other spoke, “I am the Red Dragon. I am wild, unpredictable, fierce, and powerful. There is nothing more that I love than myself. If you let me survive, I make you no promises other than that so long as my interests align with yours, you will be well. But if they do not, I do not care if you live or die. Sometimes I feel like roaring and displaying my grandeur to the whole world, and if you do not worship me, I will become angry. Sometimes I feel benevolent, and will use my magic and flame to help you – so that you may worship me all the more. I love battle, and will often fly to other kingdoms to demonstrate my power to them – and they may become angry and fight against you, or in their fear they may cower and bring gifts, of which I will sometimes share, sometimes keep, and sometimes destroy, for that is my nature. I am the Red Dragon.”

Then the other spoke, “I am the Blue Dragon and I am not like my hot-headed brother. I too want your worship, but I am willing to work with you. If I am chosen to survive, I will use my magic and ice to help you, for you have not even begun to see the miracles my ice can do! I do not love to fight, except with my brother, and so I will spend most of my time wandering your lands, speaking well of you, basking in your adulation, and performing great tricks to excite and entertain. I have but one requirement of you. I have a great thirst for human blood – and it is your blood that gives such great potency to my magic. And so, once per week, you must bring me four people to eat – and I will make it easy on you. I do not want your warriors, wizards, craftsmen, or cooks. I will accept an old person, a sick person, a weak person, and a baby. I do love eating the babies most of all – for it is their blood that gives my magic the most potency. If you choose me to survive, I will do many good things for you – but my price is the blood of the old, sick, weak, and infant. I am the Blue Dragon.”

Then, both dragons closed their eyes, raised their heads, opened their wings, exposed their sparkling chests, and spoke in unison, “We are ready. Aim your weapon. Decide between us.”

The wizard, atop the highest tower of the castle, produced the arrow from his robe. It gleamed with magical white light. He handed it to the archer, who took it carefully, armed the bow, and looked at the wizard… which do I shoot?

The wizard replied, “That is for the people to decide.” And cried out from the tower, “Citizens of this great kingdom. Before you stands the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon. They have made their cases. And now you must choose. Red or Blue.”

Jesus Calls His Witnesses – John 5:30-47 (Sunday Study: Ep. 3)

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Script:

We’re back in our study of the gospel of John this week looking at the last section of chapter 5, from verse 30-47, entitled in the ESV, “Witnesses to Jesus”

Remember the context here. The Jewish leadership, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, are all upset because Jesus healed a man who had been sick for decades – but he did it on the Sabbath. After accosting the healed man for walking with his bedroll down the street, questioning him about what he was doing, and hearing that someone was going around healing people on the Sabbath, they launched an investigation. When Jesus caught up with the man he healed again to tell him who He was, the man went back to the authorities and reported Jesus.

This incensed the Jewish leaders and they ran after Jesus and started to give him trouble, asking him who he thought he was for defying their Sabbath traditions and going against their made-up, non-mosaic rules. And Jesus literally looks at them and says in verse 17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” suggesting that he had a different, and much closer, relationship to God that other people. He was saying that He had authority over the Sabbath – the same authority God has – and implied that if God is allowed to break their dumb, unbiblical, Sabbath rules – then He is too.

This ticked off the Jews so much that they decided to kill him.

Then, in verse 19, Jesus goes into a long dialogue teaching them who He really is, what authority He has, and why they should believe him. And in our passage today, starting in verse 30, Jesus gives a list of reliable witnesses that will back up his claim to be equal in authority and glory to God.

John’s gospel is all about making absolutely clear who Jesus is and claims to be, about giving signs through story, contrast, miracles, witnesses, and Jesus’ own words – and so, in good Gospel of John fashion, as Jesus speaks, he shares a whole bunch of witnesses who can confirm his story.

See if you can spot them as we read…

John 5:30–47

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (ESV)

For as long as there have been Christians, from the very beginning two thousand years ago, people have been asking for witnesses, evidence, proof, that Jesus is who He says He is. I’ve literally heard people say, “I’ll believe if He comes down, talks to me personally, writes his name in the sky, rearranges the stars, and does some miracles right before my eyes. But until then, I won’t believe.”

If the Pharisees are any indication of how people would respond, then I don’t think what these people want would do it either. Jesus gave ample evidence for who He was, what authority he had, who His father was, why he deserved to be followed as Lord, Saviour and God, and yet these men, these scholars who knew the Bible better than anyone else – refused to believe and hated Jesus instead. Or… maybe to be more accurate… they couldn’t refute him, the evidence was too great, but believing meant bowing their knee, changing their minds, humbling themselves, admitting they were wrong, and then calling Jesus their King, Prophet, High Priest, and God – and they didn’t want to. It would cost them too much.

It would cost them their position, prestige, and power. It would be embarrassing, humiliating, and they’d have to change their lives. Their whole world would have to be taken apart, utterly leveled, and then handed over to Jesus for Him to rebuild properly. And that was too much. So instead of looking at the overwhelming evidence that kept piling up before them – and I mean lots, and lots of irrefutable signs – and believing what their eyes, ears, and spirits were saying — they, instead, got more angry, more bitter, more jealous, and crushed that part of their minds, hearts, and souls that kept telling them the truth – and chose to believe their own lies instead.

It’s like Romans 1:18–22 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”

This is still true, isn’t it? God reveals himself in the majesty of nature, the eternity of the cosmos, the intricacy of molecules and atoms — and no matter how much their heart cries out saying, “There must be a creator behind this!” people still crush, suppress that truth – because to believe that means they would have to subject themselves to God and God might tell them to do something they don’t want to do – so they get angry, ignore the evidence, and then make up something that sounds better to them.

God reveals himself in their consciences – their innate ability to know right from wrong, good from evil, their hatred of their own sins – the sins that they keep doing and can’t stop – and the hatred of the sins committed against them – and their desire for peace, hope, joy, and a clean heart – all that is God revealing himself to them —— but they know that to admit that God exists, and that God is the author of morality, that there is a divine judge, means that they are on the wrong side of Him, and their pride can’t believe that so they crush down that thought, medicate it away, surround themselves with people who will keep telling them how great they are, and keep the noise and entertainment and distractions going so they don’t have to think about God anymore.

And, in the most ironic part of this, as they deny all the evidence before them and inside of them, they “claim to be wise”. These days, it’s a sign of intelligence that you’re willing to deny God exists. You know, it wasn’t even that long ago that to deny the existence of God was the opposite. Only a fool wouldn’t believe in God… just look around!

All the greatest scientists for thousands of years were all at least Theists, believing in a higher power that created all things. Sure, they argued about what that power was, but no one believed that the universe just popped into existence out of nowhere for no reason. That’s stupid.

But not anymore. I saw a clip a while back where Bill Nye[1] goes on a bit of a rant saying that it’s basically impossible to be useful in this world, if you believe in God. He says that anyone who claims that the universe has a Creator, cannot be scientifically literate, is denying reality, votes wrong, thinks wrong, and can’t possibly be to be any kind of scientist or engineer. Theists can’t be biologists, or medical doctors, or astronomers, or engineers, or any kind of real scientist – or for that matter, even a person of intelligence.

That’s insane. Truly insane. It is the sign of a person who is so fully committed to a materialistic worldview, who is so entrenched in his own dogma, who is so committed to his own worldview – and probably so committed to never thinking about his own life from a moral, let alone eternal, perspective – that He will absolutely deny what most people in the world today – and most people in history – have believed as just a given.

I don’t mean to go on a tangent here, but I’m going to anyway – so hang on a bit because this is interesting and important.

Historically, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, to get a full education meant studying the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium was Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric – or, how to think clearly and communicate. The Quadrivium was Arethmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy – or, the tools we need to grow into mature people and understand the world.

At some point in the Middle Ages, probably after the Dark Ages in the 12th Century, above all that education was added the Queen of the Sciences and her handmaiden. What was the Queen of the Sciences? Theology, the Study of God founded on God’s word. Her handmaiden? Philosophy.

How could one know how to think, how to reason, and how to understand and explore their world, if they didn’t have the foundational concepts of Theology: “There is a God who created all this”, and Philosophy: the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. God was the biggest answer to HOW and Philosophy gives the biggest answer to WHY and everything else we know comes after. And people were educated like this until about 150 years or so ago when modernism took over and, as RC Sproul said, they deposed the queen and drove her into exile along with her handmaiden. Where once theologians and philosophers were honoured and considered the smartest and wisest in the land – they are now considered useless and stupid.

And, once again, to drive this point home – and to confirm that Bill Nye is a ding-dong, Isaac Newton was educated like this, so was Marie Curie, Galileo, Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin (and yes, Darwin believed in God as the first cause of the universe!), Copernicus, Leonardo Da Vinci… they all believed in God and studied Theology and Philosophy. And I think they did ok in science…

Anyway, back to the sermon.

Here, before Jesus, stand a group of haters and doubters, who, despite the evidence before them, refuse to believe what they see because of the consequences of that belief.

And so, Jesus gives 7 evidences to them. He begins, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.”

In other words, “What I’m doing and saying is right and approved by God. And I’m not the only one saying this. Here’s my witnesses:”

His first witness, from verses 32-35, is John the Baptist, his forerunner, and a man who many considered to be a prophet of God.

The second witness, from verse 36, were the abundant and undeniable miracles Jesus had been performing all over the place and in public. Like the formerly sick man who had kicked this all off.

The third witness, from verse 37-38, is God the Father Himself. Even one of their own members, Nicodemus, came to Jesus in chapter 3 and said, “ “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

The fourth witness, from verse 39-44, are the scriptures. Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies and lived perfectly by every law. Every book of the Old Testament tells people what to look for, and Jesus met all the requirements. Think of the Apostle Paul, right? Super smart guy, one of the best – if not the best biblical scholar in the world. But he was totally and completely against Jesus, arresting and murdering Christians left and right – and then he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. Then, for days, maybe even years, all of that bible knowledge, all the memorization, all his studies, starts to snap into place. How did He never see it before? His heart was darkened, he refused to believe the truth, he preferred lies to the truth – but now the Truth Himself had set Him free and He finally saw the light. And every scripture in the Old Testament made sense and he knew it pointed to Jesus.

And the final, fifth witness, was Moses Himself. If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you don’t believe Moses was telling the truth – because Moses not only gave specific predictions about Jesus, but also showed all the ways that the history of salvation pointed directly to Jesus as the Christ.

So, what’s our application today? I think there are two fairly simple ones:

First, is to realize that studying and meditating on the scriptures, isn’t just an exercise, it is a way to meet Jesus. Whatever book you are in, from Genesis to Revelation, that book will not only teach you about Jesus, but give you an opportunity to meet Jesus, the real Jesus, the person of Jesus, in a new way. Cold, rigid, heartless study of the Bible – the kind that we just do and then forget, or just fills our heads with trivia – will drive us away from Jesus. But when we come expectantly before God’s word, prayerfully, anticipating Jesus Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to meet us in that place, teach us, and meet us there, suddenly that reading fills us up with life and light like never before.

So, if you find yourself in a cold study, a heartless study, just going through the motions – then stop. Spend some time praying, asking God to send His spirit to illuminate His word again, to meet Him in it, to have a real, intimate, personal experience with Him through His word. Maybe that means dropping that study and just reading the Bible for enjoyment. Just pick it up and read through your favourite book, or through a gospel, or through Judges or Ruth, or another narrative book – and not just a verse at a time or chapter at a time, but to read it as a book. They print Bibles now that have no verse numbers or chapter numbers, that look just like books. Grab one of them and read without all the study notes and breaking up of the story with all the other stuff. Get the distractions out of the way so you can meet Jesus in His word again.

And second, remember that there really are good evidences for not only the existence of God, but for Jesus being the Lord and Saviour of the world. Our faith isn’t one based on a foundationless hope, or man-made fictions meant to just inspire. Our faith is based on evidence, history, witnesses, logic, and reality.

So, don’t be afraid to ask big questions, look more deeply into what you believe, ask whether what you think is really true, really has evidence, can really be believed. Some people are afraid – they don’t want to look into it because they’re worried that their faith is foundationless and the idea of living without God is worse than living with a fake one.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/bill-nye-vs-ken-ham-are-evolution-and-religion-at-odds/

How the Devil Tricks People Into Sinning – Romans 6:22-23 (“Sunday Study” Ep. 2)

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This week we’re going to do something a little different. Yes, I’m aware that I’ve only done this once and that last week I told you that we’d be going through the gospel of John, but that was before I came across this amazing clip from a John Piper sermon that I really want to share. I came across it while listening to the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, but it’s originally from a sermon he preached on Dec 17, 2000, from Romans 6:22-23 called “The Free Gift of God is Eternal Life.” I’ll put a link on the website if you want to hear the whole thing.

But before we jump into that, I think I should do a bit of an introduction.

One of the troubles with preaching Romans is that you’re almost always jumping into the middle of something. The whole book is constructed as a bunch of well-built, systematic theological teachings, arguments, and connected thoughts that really do need each other to be fully understood. In other words, we need context.

And to make it worse, not only are we jumping into the middle of the Apostle Paul’s teaching – that started, like, all the way back in chapter one – but we’re also taking just a clip out of John Piper’s sermon. So that sort of makes things doubly ripe for trouble.

 But I’ll do my best.

In chapter 1 Paul presents the Gospel as the revelation of the Righteousness of God and compares it to the wickedness of man. That leads to chapter 2 and 3 which speaks of how God’s Righteousness leads to a necessary wrath against those sinners… and who are those sinners? Everyone. For All have sinned. That’s the problem. We’re sinners, we can’t save ourselves, we don’t even want to, and we are all destined to stand before a wrathful God who will condemn us to everlasting torment. That’s a real problem.

What’s the solution?

In Chapter 4 we learn about how the man Jesus Christ, the son of God, was perfectly righteous, and died in our place, and that the only way we can be saved is through faith in the risen Jesus Christ. But what about people in the Old Testament before Jesus? Paul answers that too. The answer is still faith.

Then, in chapter 5, we see that that faith naturally leads to a wonderful hope, because our faith in Jesus makes it so that we can stand before God as righteous, clean, holy, perfect in Jesus. Justified by faith, at peace with God through the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just like Adam got us into this mess and condemned humanity to the curse, so Jesus got us out of the mess, and redeemed his people from the curse. And he offers this gift for free.

Then, in chapter 6, Paul hears his detractors cry out: “What do you mean it’s free? Free? That’s madness. Then everyone will just go sin all the time, ask forgiveness, and go to heaven. That’s ridiculous. How can you go to heaven without following the law, being religious, being good, doing good things? Free salvation, this amazing grace, will lead to spiritual anarchy!

Which leads us close to our passage today…

I’ll pick up the reading in Romans 6:15 and we’ll end at Romans 6:23. Remember, the clip from John Piper is only talking about the last couple verses, but now we’ve got some context.

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15–23)

(Clip Starts at 58 seconds)

You’ve got to love John Piper’s passion – and his illustrations – and so many quotable quotes!

“Satan is a liar – he even lies about his lies. … Oh how we should hate him. Oh how free you should want to be right now from this slave-master’s clutches on your lives so that you’re not a dupe and a lacky day in and day out like most people seem to be.”

John Piper

As far as an application goes I can only share my own personal reflection and how this impacted me.

I think it’s easy to become friends with sin, to think it’s not that big of a deal, to keep a few favourite sins as pets. To make an agreement with the devil that you’ll keep on doing these things that kill your soul – if he’d just leave you alone.

I know that’s been my temptation. My last few years have been pretty brutal. I’ve felt pain and misery in every arena of my life, except my physical body. It’s almost like when God told Satan to do whatever he wanted to Job, but didn’t allow him to touch his body – except I didn’t remain upright and righteous like Job – but I did get miserable and start to complain like job.

And I could feel the compromise setting in where I’d start to think, “Ok, I know God doesn’t want me to do this, or I know God wants me to do this, but I’m exhausted, hurt, sad, afraid, wiped out – and, like Satan did to Jesus in the wilderness – he offered me an easier way. Just bow the knee a little, just compromise a little, just be a little more selfish, succumb to hopelessness, fear of man, the belief that the immediate comfort from sin is better than sitting patiently at God’s feet, that going through all this stress is a good excuse to avoid bible reading, avoid prayer, avoid worship, avoid thanksgiving, avoid other believers.

And, John Piper her reminds me that not only was I believing lies, but I was becoming Satan’s lacky – and I didn’t even know it. I was doing what Paul said in Romans 1:25 that unbelievers do. I was “exchanging the truth of God for a lie and serving the creature – Satan and myself – rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.”

Even today, as I sit here recording this, I’m still struggling with the motivation to do daily readings, study, journal, pray, listen to worship music. I was talking to a friend the other day and told him that I know for a fact that there’s a lot of stuff twisted up inside me, and it’s like I’m too afraid to sit down and let God unravel it – because in doing so, I’m afraid I’ll unravel completely.

But that too is a lie. It’s a lie to believe that coming to God will be worse than not. It’s a lie to believe that letting the Great Physician do some Soul Surgery will be worse than letting the cancer grow inside me. And those lies come straight from the devil himself.

I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way – or if you do now. Are you believing lies about God, exchanging God’s truth for the lies of the devil, and becoming Satan’s willing slave, lackey, and dupe – instead of letting Jesus be Lord, friend, and saviour?

Ask yourself this – how would you know? Could it be that you are so deceived that you literally don’t know God’s truth from Satan’s lies? That all the excuses piled up in your brain, the ones that seem so good, and right, and reasonable to you – are actually just demonic traps for fools, keeping you from experiencing actual joy, actual freedom, actual peace, actual contentment, actual healing? Could it be that the food Satan keeps feeding you, the table you keep running to, that you think is so helpful and good – is actually poinsoning you and you don’t even know it?

Maybe it’s time to ask God to tell you the truth, to show you the truth, to invite him to shine light in places where you haven’t let him before, and to open your eyes to the spiritual reality in your life. That takes courage, sacrifice, trust – and it takes humility before God, and before other Christian leaders and friends to which God is going to have you confess your sins and get accountability from.

Do you feel that fear welling up inside? Do you feel that anxiety? Do you feel that anger that says that no one can tell you what to do, that you’re fine, and all the myriad excuses for why you shouldn’t be opening your heart, soul, and mind in that way….. that’s the devil trying to make sure you stay his. Don’t let him. And I won’t either.

New “Sunday Study” Podcast! – John 5:19-29 – “Jesus Declares Himself to be Equal with God”

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If you weren’t following along when these were being released as sermon podcasts – or with the YouTube videos of the services – or for that matter, have just completely forgotten since I haven’t been in the Gospel of John since the end of August – then maybe you might want to go back and listen to those, but be warned, even though we’re only in Chapter 5, I’ve been preaching in this book since last October and there are already 18 sermons in this series.

But for those who don’t want to listen to 13 and a half hours of sermons to catch up, let me give you a quick review of where we’re at – because we’re about to jump into the middle of a section that really does need context.

The first thing you need to remember is that the Apostle John’s intention when writing this gospel was to paint a portrait of who Jesus is by using stories, symbolism, contrasts, and reflections that are like a sort of appendix or supplement to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It was written 30+ years later and a lot of people had already read those three, but were still either confused about or misrepresenting what they said about Jesus – and so John wrote his gospel to make sure everyone knew exactly who Jesus is.

And he did it in a really intricate way. He uses a whole bunch of 7s – 7 titles for Jesus, seven miracles (or signs) that teach something about Jesus, seven “I am” statements where Jesus just flat out tells people something about Himself using the Divine Name that God gave to Moses – YHWH, or “I Am”.

Also, while using all these sevens, John uses stories where Jesus interacts with different groups of people, and different size groups. At first it’s just John the Baptist and a couple of his followers, but then we go a bit bigger to a Jewish wedding, then a bit bigger to Jewish people and the leaders at the Temple, then the picture shifts to a one-on-one with a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (the leaders of all the Jewish people), then John contrasts that interaction by making the next story Jesus’ one-on-one interaction with a socially rejected, sinful, superstitious, non-Jewish woman in a foreign land. Then Jesus comes back and interacts with yet another people group – the Romans.

John’s whole mission is to introduce Jesus by not only hearing what Jesus says about Himself, but through His interactions with all manner of people – seeing how they respond to Him and He responds to them.

But, by John 5, Jesus has had interactions with pretty much everyone, and it was time to shift the story again. The whole first part of the story John told was how popular Jesus was, how His ministry and influence grew, and how His infamy grew too – but in John 5:18, the verse before the one we’re studying today, — right after Jesus declares His equality with God – we see a shift. It says, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

 And then, for the rest of the chapter Jesus explains, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he meant:

Let’s read John 5:19–29:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 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. (ESV)

You see now why we needed some context. In verse 1 we see that this event is happening right in the city of Jerusalem, on the Temple grounds, during an important Jewish Feast. That means the place is absolutely packed. Jesus has just healed a man on the Sabbath, the Sanhedrin flipped out, and Jesus looks right at them, the rest of the Jewish people, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Temple guards, and anyone else within earshot – and says, “I am equal to God the Father. What God does, I do. What God knows, I know. The powers that God has, I have too. The authority that God has over death and life, I have too. The worship and honour due to the Father, is due to me too. And it is up to me, because I’m God, to declare the words that lead to eternal life. And if you believe me, and me alone, you will be saved from eternal death. In the end, when you die and you stand before the judgment seat of God, do you know who will be sitting there? Me. I will judge whether you are worthy for heaven or not. So stop fighting me, stop arguing with me, stop telling me I’m wrong – just shut up, listen, and obey. Because I AM GOD.

That’s what this section is saying. Jesus declares equality with God in person, power, authority, and glory. And He says in effect, with absolute clarity – no parables or metaphors – who He really is.

That phrase in verse 24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” is so key!

I talked a little bit on the Thursday podcast about Hell, and perhaps the most important question for a human to ask themselves or anyone else is, “How do I avoid going to hell?” Jesus gives the answer.

He begins, “Truly, truly”. Whenever you see something doubled in scripture, it’s time to perk your ears up. It’s a way to emphasize how suuuuuper important what He’s about to say is.

Then he says, “I say to you” – He makes it absolutely clear He’s not talking in platitudes or giving some kind of high-fallooting theological teaching. He’s not speaking theoretically, or giving an opinion. He’s looking at YOU… YOU YOU. Not some other YOU. YOU YOU. Not just the Jews, not just the Sanhedrin, not just the Apostles, not just old people, or religious people, or sick people, or lonely people, or weak people. He’s literally talking to YOU.

And He says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” What are the qualifications there? You have to hear Jesus words, believe not only the words, but believe in God and what God says through Jesus – because remember the first line of John – Jesus is literally the Word of God. So you need to hear the words, personalize them and believe them in your head and heart, and attach them not just to a concept or religion, but to the very person of God, the real, actual, person of God that you can talk to and listen to and connect with and experience – and if you do that… you will escape hell and live.

That’s the qualifications for Eternal life. Hear the Word of God, the gospel, the story of salvation, the declaration that you are a sinner, condemned by a righteous God to eternal torment in hell, and have one hope – that Jesus Christ would take your sin upon himself, die in your place, take your punishment, go to the grave for you, and then defeat death, destroy the effects of sin — and that God would accept what Jesus did on your behalf as payment for your sins. That’s the word you need to hear.

And then you need to believe it. Believe you aren’t just a good person that occasionally messes up, but that you are a sinner who loves sin and can’t stop sinning. Believe that the sins you commit have brought death your soul, and death to everything in your life, and will eventually lead you eternal death in hell. Believe that you are doomed. And then believe that Jesus offers the only way, the one and only way of salvation – not one of many, not because you deserve it, not because you’re so great, not because Jesus saves everyone, not because you earned it, not because of any other reason than God decided to show you your sin and invite you to be saved… and let that knowledge drive you to despair, and then raise you up to worship and thanksgiving to the one, true God, and His Son Jesus Christ.

Not theoretically, not religiously, not culturally, not a God of your own design, not picking and choosing the parts of Jesus you like and forgetting the parts you don’t, not chopping his word up into bits you prefer and others you want to forget, not thinking that Jesus doesn’t care what you do and just saves everyone because he’s so nice – but actually believing, speaking to, and connecting with the real, actual, historical, biblically revealed Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – and giving your whole heart, soul, mind and strength to Him – because He has shown you favour and saved you from eternal torment by his grace.

So what’s the application here today? Basically – to make sure you know who Jesus really is, are believing the right things about Him, and are actually saved. To check your heart to see if you are a religious hypocrite, a Christian pretender and play actor. To ask yourself if you have really, actually contended – really wrested with whether you believe that Jesus is God, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and that Jesus is your one and only Lord and has the right to command you to do anything – and that you will respond “yes”, not only because He’s your Creator and the God of the universe, but because you want to say yes because he’s also your friend, your brother, your father, and lives not only with you but within you.

To ask yourself – Am I going to heaven and why?

To ask yourself – Am I living as someone who really believes what I say I believe? Or do I pretend my faith, and then put Jesus on the shelf most of the time, until I need him for something.

To ask yourself – Am I treating Jesus and His word like a trivia game, just amassing a bunch of knowledge for interests sake, but never letting the truth of it actually break your hard heart, utterly destroy your warped self-perception, and allow Him to completely rebuild who you are from his perspective?

You see, despite what the world might say, there are not “many ways to God.” There are not “many roads to heaven”. Not “all religions are equally valid”. Not “all truths are equally truthful.” Not “all opinions deserve to be heard.”

There is One God, Lord, one Saviour, one path, one truth, one mediator between God and man – and that’s Jesus Christ. And if you’re not on His page, believing what He says, and living with Him as a current reality, daily reality, moment-by-moment reality that affects every single part of your existence – then you need to change.

 As verse 25 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

If you hear me today, if you hear the voice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, today – please listen, believe, and make that belief real – so you can hear and live.