The Friends of Jesus Know Divine Truth
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (15:15)
The term slaves did not have many of the negative connotations in Jewish culture that it does today. In fact, some of the most noble figures in the Old Testament were described as slaves (Heb. `ebed) of God, including Moses (Num. 12:7), Caleb (Num. 14:24), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), Job (Job 1:8), David (2 Sam. 7:5), Isaiah (Isa. 20:3), and even the Messiah (Isa. 42:1). In the New Testament Paul (Rom. 1:1), James (James 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), and John (Rev. 1:1) similarly called themselves slaves (doulos) of Jesus Christ. The term reflected their utter submission to and dependence on their heavenly Master. This word, doulos, and the related verb douleuō, always and only refer to slavery. Doulos is the corresponding word to kurios (lord). Jesus is Lord, believers are His slaves. Doulos is, however, usually translated “servant,” or “bond-servant.” But their nearly 150 uses in the New Testament are to be understood as references to slavery. A slave was bought, owned, subjected to, provided for, and protected by his master (kurios). He lived in total submission to the will of his master.
Slaves did not usually have an intimate relationship with their earthly masters; the slave would normally not know what his master was doing; that is, he was not privy to his plans. Masters did not disclose their goals and purposes to their slaves; they merely instructed them as to what they wanted them to do.
While it is true that the followers of Jesus are also designated as slaves, that is not sufficient to fully convey our relationship to the Lord. Incredibly, we are also called His friends—a more exalted title even than “disciple.” In the Old Testament only Abraham had the privilege of being named the friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa.41:8; James 2:23). A custom from biblical times sheds light on the great honor believers have in being the friends of Jesus Christ. William Barclay writes,
This phrase is lit up by a custom practised at the courts both of the Roman emperors and of kings in the middle east. At these courts, there was a very select group called the friends of the king, or the friends of the emperor. At all times, they had access to the king; they even had the right to come to his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him. (The Gospel of John, vol. 2, The New Daily Study Bible [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], 207–8. Italics in original.)
It is that kind of intimate access that Jesus graciously grants to His friends.
Because they are His friends, Jesus promised to share with believers all things that He had heard from the Father. They “will know the truth, and the truth will make [them] free” (John 8:32). In John 17:6–8 Jesus prayed to the Father,
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
When the disciples asked Him, “Why do You speak to them [the crowds] in parables?” (Matt. 13:10), Jesus replied, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted” (v. 11). In Luke 10:23–24 He told them, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.”
The friends of Jesus have insight into “the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25–26). The term “mystery” in the New Testament refers to things hidden in the past, but now revealed by Jesus to the apostles, and through them to all believers. The New Testament reveals the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11), the mystery of Israel’s hardening (Rom. 11:25), the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19), the mystery of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51), the mystery of God’s will (Eph. 1:9), the mystery that Jews and Gentiles would be one body in Christ (Eph. 3:4–6), the mystery of the union of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32), the mystery of Christ’s indwelling of believers (Col. 1:26–27), the mystery that the Messiah would be God incarnate (Col. 2:2), the mystery of lawlessness, which will be fully revealed in the person of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:7), the mystery of the faith (1 Tim. 3:9), and the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16).
Their ability to understand the spiritual truths Jesus reveals to them sets His friends apart from the unredeemed, who have no such privileges:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:12–16)
MacArthur New Testament Commentary
|December 18||The Privileges of Christ’s Exaltation|
“God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”
Christ is exalted as Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus’ exaltation was the reversal of His humble incarnation. He who was poor became rich; He who was rejected became accepted; He who had learned obedience returned to a position of power that calls all others to obey Him. Commentator William Hendricksen wrote, “As king, having by his death, resurrection, and ascension achieved and displayed his triumph over his enemies, he now holds in his hands the reins of the universe, and rules all things in the interest of his church (Eph. 1:22–23). As prophet he through his Spirit leads his own in all the truth. And as priest (High–priest according to the order of Melchizedek) he, on the basis of his accomplished atonement, not only intercedes but actually lives forever to make intercession for those who “draw near to God through him.” And God was the source of Jesus’ exaltation.
In Philippians 2:9 the apostle Paul says that God “bestowed on Him the name.” The Greek word translated “bestowed” means “to give graciously” or “wholeheartedly.” Christ so fully and completely accomplished God’s plan of redemption that God wholeheartedly and graciously poured out on Christ the gifts of exaltation. Though He could not be made more than God, He now enjoys all the privileges of God as well as all the privileges of the God–man, which He now is.
Puritan minister Thomas Watson wrote in his Body of Divinity, “Christ’s exaltation is our exaltation…. As sure as Christ is exalted far above all heavens, so sure will he instate believers in all that glory with which his human nature is adorned. John xvii 22.” Be encouraged, for one day Christ will also exalt you!
Suggestions for Prayer: First Corinthians 15:24–26 shows that God has exalted Christ as Sovereign over everything. In keeping with that theme, use Psalm 99 as the basis of your own prayer to praise Christ as Ruler over all.
For Further Study: According to Romans 14:9, why did Christ humble Himself? ✧ What has the Father given to the Son as part of His exaltation (John 5:22)?
Christ’s Grace to Sinners
For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.
Jesus’ ancestry may surprise you. His genealogy includes some names you might be shocked to find in the royal line of the King of Kings. Four women in particular stand out. Not only is it unusual to find women listed in a Hebrew genealogy, but these women are particularly noteworthy because they contrast so dramatically with the absolute purity and righteousness of God’s Anointed One. All of them were outcasts, yet they made it into Jesus’ family album. They are a strong assurance of God’s grace to sinners like us.
ADORATION FOR ONLY ONE
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
The admonition to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart… and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37) can mean only one thing. It means to adore Him.
I use the word “adore” sparingly, for it is a precious word. I love babies and I love people, but I cannot say I adore them. Adoration I keep for the only One who deserves it. In no other presence and before no other being can I kneel in reverent fear and wonder and yearning and feel the sense of possessiveness that cries, “Mine, mine!” …
Consecration is not difficult for the person who has met God. Where there is genuine adoration and fascination, God’s child wants nothing more than the opportunity to pour out his or her love at the Savior’s feet. WHT088-089
Father, may I indeed sense that genuine adoration and fascination that leads me to pour out my heart in love for You. Amen. 
Parable of the Leaven, Part 2
He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”—Matt. 13:33
In order for it to have the positive influence we referred to yesterday, the leaven of God’s kingdom must be hid. And that does not mean hiding to be invisible but hiding to penetrate deeply, completely permeating the world as leaven thoroughly permeates bread dough. Believers are not to be of the world, but they must be in the world to reach and change it with the gospel (cf. Mark 16:15; John 17:14–16, 18).
When we faithfully serve as the moral and spiritual leaven of the kingdom, our influence in the world will be both positive and pervasive. And for this to happen, we don’t have to be powerful national leaders, wealthy entrepreneurs, or popular sports figures—just obedient servants of Jesus Christ.
Evangelism and other aspects of kingdom ministry often seem to have little immediate effect. As the church grows bigger, the world’s population grows at a much faster rate, and the church remains a remnant by comparison. But the Lord continues to add to His kingdom by reaching millions through radio, television, publications, and the Internet—means that were largely unavailable or untapped just a century ago.
The leavening work of the kingdom may seem invisible or ineffective to you—“a day of small things”—but that does not mean the Lord is not at work. Jesus’ purpose in this parable and the previous one on the mustard seed was to assure the apostles as well as believers of every era that the kingdom would not fail but ultimately prosper and triumph (cf. Matt. 16:18).
|Is God calling you or your church to infiltrate a certain segment of culture or an area of your community with the transforming agent of gospel influence? As He leads, begin dreaming about how you might do that—and what He might do as a result.
|December 18||Bearing with an Exhortation|
“I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22).
Invitations to salvation must provide both exhortation and warning.
Hell is undoubtedly full of people who did not actively oppose Jesus Christ but simply drifted into damnation by neglecting to respond to the gospel. These are the kinds of people the writer challenges in Hebrews 2:1–4. They were aware of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, but they weren’t willing to commit their lives to Him. As a result, they were drifting past the call of God into eternal disaster.
The Word of God always demands a response. Any effective teacher of it must do more than just dispense facts; he must warn, exhort, and extend an invitation. He may have impressive knowledge of the truth, but if he doesn’t have a passionate concern for how people react to it, he is not a worthy representative of Jesus Christ.
Jesus had that kind of compassion. Despite the rejection of His own people, He ached for their salvation: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37). You can feel His heart go out to the people.
Paul had similar compassion: “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of My brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:2–3). A true teacher is interested in more than just academics; he is concerned that people respond rightly to what is taught.
Just as the writer of Hebrews had to warn and exhort his readers, at times it becomes necessary for us to warn those to whom we are witnessing. If you want to see unbelieving friends, relatives, or associates come to Christ, warn them. Let them see the passion in your heart and your love for them. Please don’t allow anyone to slip into eternal destruction without being warned sufficiently.
Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God to give you wisdom regarding when to warn the people to whom you are witnessing.
For Further Study: Read Hebrews 3:7–4:13, 6:4–8, 10:26–31, and 12:25–29, noting the pattern the writer followed in presenting these other warnings.
GIVE GOD THE CONTROL
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.
I know that I am being repetitious—but this needs to be said again and again: Our Lord will not save those whom He cannot command!
The lifetime God has given us down here is a lifetime of decisions. Each person makes his own decisions as to the eternal world he is going to inhabit. We must decide to take Jesus for what He is—the anointed Savior and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of all lords! He would not be who He is if He saved us and called us without the understanding that He can also guide us and control our lives.
The root of sin is rebellion against God, and hell is the Alcatraz for the unconstituted rebels who refuse to surrender to the will of God.
There are many arguments about the reality of hell. A man might endure fire and brimstone and worms—but the essence of hell and judgment for a moral creature is to know and be conscious that he is where he is because he is a rebel!
Hell will be the eternal domain of all the disobedient rebels who have said, “I owe God nothing!”
Dear Lord, the grim reality of hell is rarely preached in our churches anymore. Is it any wonder that the consequences of sin are no longer feared? I pray that our churches will not shrink from telling the world the whole truth of the Bible.
THE SLEEPING CHURCH CANNOT RESIST HER ENEMIES
Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep…let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
ROMANS 13:11, 12
Some day the Church can relax her guard, call her watchmen down from the wall and live in safety and peace—but not yet, not yet!
All that is good in the world stands as a target for all that is evil and manages to stay alive only by constant watchfulness and the providential protection of Almighty God.
The Church lives in a hostile world. Within and around her are enemies that not only could destroy her, but are meant to and will unless she resists force with yet greater force. The Christian would collapse from sheer external pressure were there not within him a counterpressure sufficiently great to prevent it. The power of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, not optional but necessary. Without it the children of God simply cannot live the life of heaven on earth. The hindrances are too many and too effective!
A church is a living organism and is subject to attack from such enemies as prey on living things. The human body can fight its enemies even while it is asleep, but the Church cannot. She must be awake and determined—or she cannot win.
She must recognize her enemies for what they are and she must resist them: Unbelief, Complacency, Self-righteousness, Fear of Man, Love of Luxury, Secret Sympathy with the world, Self-confidence, Pride and Unholy thoughts. These we must resist with every power within us, looking unto Jesus, author and finisher of our faith!
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 379). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.
 Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 361). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 365). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
by Mike Ratliff
18 Οἴδαμεν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει, ἀλλʼ ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ τηρεῖ ἑαυτὸν καὶ ὁ πονηρὸς οὐχ ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ. 1 John 5:18 (NA28)
18 We know that everyone having been born of God does not continually sin, but the one having been born of God, he keeps him and the evil one does not touch him. 1 John 5:18 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
In the 1 John 5:18 (above), in the best manuscripts, the word I translated as “him” after the word “keeps” is the Greek noun αὐτὸν or auton, a personal pronoun, which is the Accusative, Singular, Masculine case of αὐτός or autos, “he, she, it, self, same.”
However, in the Textus Receptus, 1 John 5:18 reads as follows:
Οἴδαμεν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει ἀλλ᾽ ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ…
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This is a follow-up article to a piece I wrote yesterday: “Are You trembling Yet?” It is a supplement to that article, not a corrective. In that essay I spoke about the God with whom we have to do, and how a proper response is to tremble before his presence: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/12/17/23182/
While everything I said in that article is true, there needs to be more said to give us the whole picture of where things now stand because of the life and work of Jesus Christ. And this is big picture stuff: bridging the Testaments and seeing how the biblical storyline flows.
Simply put, there is continuity as well as discontinuity between the Testaments. Some things do not change, including the character of God and his eternal purposes. But how we can enter into and enjoy God’s presence does change somewhat.
For example, in the Old Testament only the high priest could enter into the holy of holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. But now in Christ we all have full and unhindered access to the Father because of his perfect and final atoning sacrifice.
This is a major theme of the book of Hebrews of course – a newer, better covenant has been brought about by the death and resurrection of Christ. As the Son of God, Jesus is greater than the prophets (Heb. 1:1-4), greater than the angels (1:5-14), greater than Moses (3:2), and greater than the high priests (5:1-10). He is greater or better than what has gone before.
Indeed, the word “better” is found around a dozen times in the book. For example, in Hebrews 8:6, 9:23 and 12:24 we read about things like the better ministry and better sacrifice of Jesus and the better promise of the new covenant. Hebrews 7 speaks of the priesthood, compares Jesus to Melchizedek, and goes on to say this in verses 18-28:
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’”
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
Notice that nothing has changed concerning who God is – a holy, pure and righteous God who hates sin – but the way of access or approach to God is now fully open to all who come through Christ. The shed blood of Christ makes all this possible. Hebrews 9:11-15 puts it this way:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
So now we can come boldly into God’s presence. As we read in Hebrews 10:19-23:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Because Jesus is our great high priest we can approach God with confidence. As Hebrews 4:14-16 puts it:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
And while we still rightly tremble before a majestic and awesome God, we can come humbly before him and enjoy fellowship with him because of what Jesus has done on our behalf. Thus the passages I quoted in yesterday’s article about the Israelites fearing to approach the mountain of God need now to be seen in the light of our bold access to God.
As Hebrews 12:18-24 states:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Again, it is not that God has changed. Nor have we. God is still holy and to be feared, and we are still sinful and under his wrath. But because of the finished work of Christ, those who come to God through Christ in faith and repentance can now have full access to God.
We still do not trifle with God or pretend that he is now our buddy. He is still God, but now we have been adopted into God’s family. While we are fully loved and accepted in God’s family, that does not mean we therefore can do as we please. God will discipline us when we get off track. As Hebrews 12:7-11 puts it:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
So the same awe-inspiring and holy God of the old covenant is now someone we can have a personal relationship with, thanks to the new covenant brought about by Jesus Christ. And none of this is because we have somehow become better – it is because Jesus is the better priest and mediator. I like how Donald Guthrie puts it:
Both old and new covenants were provisions of God’s grace for those who could not make any provision for themselves. The recipients of the new covenant had no greater claims upon God than those of the old. The greater significance of the new did not rest in an agreement between God and a better people. It is superior entirely because it has a better mediator. It is based on a more effective removal of sins.
Because of Christ we can come to God and rejoice in his presence. But we also tremble at who he is. C. S. Lewis spoke about the biblical balance required here in his children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan the lion – the Christ figure in his seven-volume fiction series – is seen in this light.
Aslan is one to have a personal relationship with, yet one still to be properly feared. As Lewis put it in The Last Battle: “‘Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?’ said Tirian. ‘Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion’.”
Or as he put it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
“‘Is – is he a man?’ asked Lucy. ‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.’ ‘Ooh,’ said Susan, ‘I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’ ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you’.”
So I encourage you to read these two articles in tandem. God is someone who deserves our awe and reverence – we tremble in his presence. But because of what Christ accomplished in the new covenant, we can come boldly into the very presence of God. And that is a cause of great rejoicing.