Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.
The Bible and Christian biography make a great deal of silence, but we of today make of it exactly nothing….
At the risk of being written off as an extremist or a borderline fanatic we offer it as our mature opinion that more spiritual progress can be made in one short moment of speechless silence in the awesome presence of God than in years of mere study. While our mental powers are in command there is always the veil of nature between us and the face of God. It is only when our vaunted wisdom has been met and defeated in a breathless encounter with Omniscience that we are permitted really to know, when prostrate and wordless the soul receives divine knowledge like a flash of light on a sensitized plate. The exposure may be brief, but the results are permanent. ROR168-169
Today, Lord, I long for that moment of silence in Your majestic presence. Speak, Lord, in this stillness. Amen. 
[Warren Throckmorton] From where I sit in small town PA (usually at a fast food place with good WiFi), it appears that there are some similarities between the last couple of years at Mars Hill Church and the current situation at Harvest Bible Chapel.
Elders and Leadership Style
At MHC, trouble had been brewing for several years over treatment of elders and perceptions from departed members and elders that Mark Driscoll was domineering and unnecessarily harsh. The same perceptions and polarization have occurred at HBC involving their founding pastor James MacDonald.
This morning I became aware of something called the Statement of Record on the HBC website where former and current elders are pledging loyalty to MacDonald. Up to the very end of Mars Hill Church, a core group of elders and members remained committed to Driscoll and expressed animosity toward the elders who brought formal charges against Driscoll.
Also this morning, the Elephant’s Debt blog posted a resignation letter from a former elder and staff member. In the letter, questions are raised about the leadership of MacDonald and financial management of the church. This letter along with the texts and emails posted earlier by Julie Roys remind me of various leaked lettersand formal charges written by current and former MHC elders concerning the leadership of Mark Driscoll.
Many of the concerns seem similar. Driscoll’s charges included allegations of harsh treatment of subordinates, domineering leadership style, and using the church structure to enrich himself. Similar allegations have surfaced regarding HBC and MacDonald.
Driscoll and MacDonald
It should also be noted that Driscoll and MacDonald have a relationship which dates back to the Mars Hill era. MacDonald was on MHC’s Board of Advisors and Accountability. He resigned near the end of the church’s life in 2014. Recently, Julie Roys reported that HBC gave $50,000 to Driscoll’s new church in Phoenix. And who can forget the little trip by MacDonald (on the left) and Driscoll (right) to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference.
Another similarity I see is the adversarial relationship between critics and defenders in both situations. There were sharp differences and strong feelings in the MHC camps. The same dynamic is at work here. When MHC responded to public or media questions, they were cagey and defensive. In private, the sides were fierce in opposition. In the HBC case, a lawsuit is in play. This really ratchets up the polarization.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by and originally published by Warren Throckmorton]
There is no other name under heaven.
The angel that appeared to Joseph emphasized the meaning of Jesus’ name: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus, from the Hebrew Joshua, or Jehoshua, means “Jehovah will save.” The name itself was a testimony to God’s salvation. But, the angel told Joseph, Mary’s Son would be the very embodiment of Jehovah’s salvation. He Himself would save His people from their sins.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter, speaking before the Sanhedrin, also emphasized the importance of Jesus’ name: “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The world for once chooses to say with us, “Christ is come.” Those who do not ordinarily come to the light do not refuse to advance some steps towards the risen day. Is this good, or is this evil? Shall we refuse to let them bear a part with us in our Christian joy? Shall we drive them back again into their worldliness? Shall we forbid them because they do not feel and do not think and do not speak as we do?… Shall we not rather say to them, “Come and rejoice with us—advance and stand in the ranks of God’s people—listen to what He has done for His Church and for the world?” Which of the two plans is the more likely to win souls for Christ and to glorify God?
Henry Alford (1810–1871)
Luke 2:10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
which will be for all the people; (2:10b)
The good news the angel proclaimed is for all the people. Laos (people) refers first to Israel (1:68; 7:16; 19:47; 21:23; 22:66; 23:5, 14), since “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22; cf. Rom. 1:16). But the promise of salvation is not for them only. Praising God after seeing the baby Jesus in the temple, Simeon said, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (2:30–32). Significantly, laos in verse 31 is plural, while it is singular in verse 32. Simeon’s words reflect the truth expressed in Isaiah’s prophecy:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (60:1–3; cf. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6–9; 51:4)
The good news of salvation, having been proclaimed first to Israel, is now proclaimed throughout the world (Matt. 28:19–20).
Acts 2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (2:47b)
The dynamic corporate life and spiritual character of the church had great impact. Two features of that impact appear in this verse.
they were an attractive church
and having favor with all the people (2:47b)
Their duties and character granted them favor with all the people. They were still going to the Temple and being open about their faith, so that all could see and experience their transformed lives. Later came the intense persecution by the Jews. They proved true the words of Jesus in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Their unity was an answer to our Lord’s high priestly prayer “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:21).
Some of the reasons the early church found favor with the common people can be discerned from the apology written by the philosopher Aristides early in the second century:
Now the Christians, O King, by going about and seeking, have found the truth. For they know and trust in God, the Maker of heaven and earth, who has no fellow. From him they received those commandments which they have engraved on their minds, and which they observe in the hope and expectation of the world to come.
For this reason they do not commit adultery or immorality; they do not bear false witness, or embezzle, nor do they covet what is not theirs. They honor father and mother, and do good to those who are their neighbors. Whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols made in the image of man. Whatever they do not wish that others should do to them, they in turn do not do; and they do not eat the food sacrificed to idols.
Those who oppress them they exhort and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. Their wives, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest. Their men abstain from all unlawful sexual contact and from impurity, in the hope of recompense that is to come in another world.
As for their bondmen and bondwomen, and their children, if there are any, they persuade them to become Christians; and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.
They refuse to worship strange gods; and they go their way in all humility and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them. They love one another; the widow’s needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan from the person who does him violence. He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting. When the Christians find a stranger, they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as a true brother. They do not call brothers those who are bound by blood ties alone, but those who are brethren after the Spirit and in God.
When one of their poor passes away from the world, each provides for his burial according to his ability. If they hear of any of their number who are imprisoned or oppressed for the name of the Messiah, they all provide for his needs, and if it is possible to redeem him, they set him free.
If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with the necessities. They observe scrupulously the commandments of their Messiah, living honestly and soberly as the Lord their God ordered them. Every morning and every hour they praise and thank God for his goodness to them; and for their food and drink they offer thanksgiving.
If any righteous person of their number passes away from the world, they rejoice and thank God, and escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby. When a child is born to one of them, they praise God. If it dies in infancy, they thank God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. But if one of them dies in his iniquity or in his sins, they grieve bitterly and sorrow as over one who is about to meet his doom.
Such, O King, is the commandment given to the Christians, and such is their conduct. (The Apology of Aristides, translated by Rendel Harris [London: Cambridge, 1893])
With all of that virtue to commend them it is small wonder they were an attractive church.
With “Reformed” Christians gradually getting less and less Reformed all the time, it’s important to set matters straight on Mary’s supposed status as “Mother of God.” While Reformed believers across the West are becoming more Catholic (celebrating Lent, for example) and its leaders (like Tim Keller, for example) claiming that the Papists are Christians, it’s increasingly important to separate Catholic myth from Biblical fact.
Adriel Sanchez, a Presbyterian Pastor, recently posted an article, How and Why Mary is God’s Mother. The Social Gospel Coalition’s Australia division ran an article this week entitled, How the Virgin Mary Led Me to Christ. Of course, calling Mary “the Virgin Mary” is like calling Jesus “the Christ child.” Mary is no longer a virgin and Christ is no longer a child. This focus on Mary at Christmas time often serves as a distraction from focusing on Christ himself. A proper estimation of Mary should help us avoid the doctrinal pitfalls of the Papists while still trying to celebrate a holiday they invented because, we too, like eggnog and presents.
What does it mean that Mary is not the Mother of God?
First, denying Mary the title of “Mother of God” does not mean that Jesus is not God (He is) and neither does it mean that Mary is not Jesus’ mother (she is). Rather, denying Mary this title indicates, first and foremost, that it is grossly simplistic and reductionist. While the God-Man, Christ Jesus, is God independently of God the Father and God the Spirit and the three together form the singular Godhead in Triune glory, calling Mary “Mother of God” is unhelpful and fosters confusion regarding the Holy Trinity. Mary is not the equivalent of the goddesses Nyx or Hemera in the Greek pantheon, who gave birth to the gods.
Secondly, the title, “Mother of God,” is problematic because Mary contributed to the development of Jesus’ human nature, but not his divine nature. It might be proper to say that Mary is the mother of everything of Jesus that is human within the hypostatic union. However, here we want to be careful to avoid the heresy of Nestorianism, which holds that Jesus has two natures (human and divine) that are not hypostatic in union, but separate entirely. While Protestants (and Catholics, for that matter) believe Jesus has two natures, we don’t believe those two natures can be divided even though they can be distinguished. However, it is difficult – because of the divine nature of Christ and his pre-existence before the incarnation – to claim Mary is the “Mother of God” when that God existed before her. At the very least, the term “Mother of God” needs an asterisk with further explanation. She is the bearer and motherer of God the Son.
Third, “Mother of God” is better understood as Theotókos (“God-bearer”), a term that was used to describe this relationship at the Council of Ephesus in 431. It is 100% true that Mary “bore God” and of that, we should not quibble. She certainly gave birth to God. The idea of motherhood, however, is more complicated than birth. Perhaps more than any other generation, with the prevalency of surrogacy, should we understand that nuance. The term Theotokos was juxtaposed against the Nestorian alternative of Christotokos (“Christ-bearer”) at the Council of Ephesus (again, the Nestorians argued that Mary gave birth to the human Messiah – or Christ – but not to his divine self, being God). Ultimately, the council settled on the term Theotokos. But this term is far more precise in the original tongue than “Mother of God.” That phrase, in English, is overly simplistic. There is no doubt that within Mary’s womb rested the divine and human natures of Christ perfectly unionized in the flesh of a fetus. However, the implications of “Mother” in English – particularly on a genetic level – are far more complicated. While sloppier translations and Wikipedia articles may not draw the distinction between “Mother of God” and “Theotokos,” however, historically, theologians have.
Fourth, the concept of Theotokos has been abused by Papists to turn Mary into a god. The risk is even more real with the term, “Mother of God.” As GotQuestions.org says…
Through the years, many legends accumulated around the person of Mary, and she became an object of worship in her own right. About 350 years after the Council of Ephesus used the term Theotokos in reference to Mary, the Second Council of Nicaea declared, “We honor and salute and reverently venerate . . . the image of . . . our spotless Lady the all-holy mother of God.” This shows the trend within the Roman Church to move from a focus on the Incarnation of God to a veneration of the “Mother of God,” even to the point of honoring her images and praying to her as the “Queen of Heaven,” “Benefactress,” and “Mediatrix.” The necessity of such veneration is not implied by the term Theotokos, but some people wrongly infer it.
Roman Catholic leaders teach their followers to go to Mary to find help in their time of need: “From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 1, Section 2, Chapter 3, Article 9, Paragraph 6, 971)…These views of Mary represent a theological shift away from Christ as our sole Redeemer and Intercessor (1 Timothy 2:5) and an overemphasis on Mary as the “Mother of God.”
We can’t help it if doctrine perveters take a perfectly Biblical and wholesome concept like Theotokos and create from it an idol. However, we can be more careful in our own tongue to clarify to our children and loved ones that Mary indeed gave birth to God the Son, but we do not use the term “Mother of God” so as to not confuse those already prone to idolatry.
Mary, like the rest of us, was a sinner in need of saving (Luke 1:46). She was not immaculately conceived, she did not live a life of perfection, she did not raise again from the dead and did not ascend into Heaven. Neither did she remain a virgin.
Mary was, however, a very blessed woman (Luke 1:48) who no doubt was an exceptional human being. And, as a human being, her womb was used to incubate and give birth to a child who was both God and babe. She was Theotokos.
[Contributed by JD Hall]
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (1:9)
For this reason refers to the favorable report Paul had received from Epaphras (v. 8). Since the day Paul heard that report, he had been praying for the Colossians. It may seem unnecessary to pray for those who are doing well. Much of our prayer time focuses on those who are struggling, facing difficulties, or fallen into sin or physical distress. Paul, however, knew that the knowledge that others are progressing in the faith should never lead us to stop praying for them. Rather, it should encourage prayer for their greater progress. The enemy may reserve his strongest opposition for those who have the most potential for expanding God’s cause in the world.
Such unceasing or recurring prayer (1 Thess. 5:17) demands first of all an attitude of God-consciousness. That does not mean to be constantly in the act of verbal prayer, but to view everything in life in relation to God. For example, if we meet someone, we immediately consider where they stand with God. If we hear of something bad happening, we react by praying for God to act in the situation because we know He cares. If we hear of something good that has happened, we respond with immediate praise to God for it because we know He is glorified. When Paul looked around his world, everything he saw prompted him to prayer in some way. When he thought of or heard about one of his beloved churches, it moved him toward communion with God.
Nehemiah is an example of one who prayed without ceasing. After King Artaxerxes demanded the reason for his sadness, Nehemiah told him of the destruction of Jerusalem. Asked by the king for his request, he prayed a quick, brief prayer before replying (Neh. 2:4). In the midst of a stressful situation, Nehemiah was conscious of God’s character and purposes.
A second aspect of unceasing prayer is people-consciousness. We cannot effectively pray for people unless we are aware of their needs. Paul exhorted the Colossians to keep alert in prayer (4:2), while to the Ephesians he wrote, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).
The two elements of praying without ceasing came together in Paul’s prayer life. His love for God led him to seek unbroken communion with Him. His love for people drove him to unceasing prayer on their behalf. The prayers of Paul recorded in his letters are a precious legacy. They reveal his heart and are models for us to emulate. This text records the first of those prayers.
Paul’s petition is that the Colossians be filled with the knowledge of His will. Plēroō (filled) means to be completely filled, or totally controlled. The disciples’ hearts were filled with sorrow when Jesus told them of His departure (John 16:6). Luke 5:26 tells us the crowd was filled with fear after Jesus healed the paralytic. The scribes and Pharisees were filled with rage after Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 6:11). The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31), while Stephen was full of faith (Acts 6:5). In each case they were totally under the control of what filled them.
Paul wants the Colossians to be totally controlled by knowledge. Epignōsis (knowledge) consists of the normal Greek word for knowledge (gnōsis) with an added preposition (epi), which intensifies the meaning. The knowledge Paul wants the Colossians to have is a deep and thorough knowledge.
Knowledge is a central theme in Paul’s writings. He said of the Corinthians, “In everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:5). He prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” would give the Ephesians “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). To the Philippians he wrote, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). In Colossians 2:3 we learn that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. Our new self “is being renewed to a true knowledge” (Col. 3:10). As those verses indicate, true biblical knowledge is not speculative but issues in obedience.
The denial of absolutes, particularly in the area of morals, characterizes our society. Without a source of authority to provide absolute standards, virtually anything goes. What moral values are enforced are often arbitrary, based merely on human opinion. But for the Christian the authoritative Word of God provides absolutes. Those absolutes are the basis upon which all truth about God and all standards of faith and conduct are set. Because knowledge of those absolutes is the basis for correct behavior and ultimate judgment, it is crucial that Christians know God’s revealed truth. Ignorance is not bliss, nor can anyone please God on the basis of principles they do not know.
So the Bible views knowledge of doctrinal absolutes as foundational to godly living. Most of Paul’s letters begin by laying a doctrinal foundation before giving practical exhortations. For example, Paul gives eleven chapters of doctrine in Romans before turning to godly living in chapter 12. Galatians 1–4 are doctrinal, chapters 5 and 6 practical. The first three chapters of Ephesians detail our position in Christ, while the last three urge us to live accordingly. Philippians and Colossians also conform to the same pattern of doctrine preceding practical exhortations. Godly living is directly linked in Scripture to knowledge of doctrinal truth.
The Bible warns of the danger of a lack of knowledge. Proverbs 19:2 says that “it is not good for a person to be without knowledge.” It was for lack of knowledge that Israel went into exile (Isa. 5:13), and God says in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” First Corinthians 14:20 warns us, “Do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature.” Ephesians 4:13–14 tells us that lack of knowledge produces “children tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Verse 18 describes unbelievers as “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them.”
How does a person obtain knowledge? First, he must desire it. In John 7:17 Jesus says, “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.” That thought is echoed in Hosea 6:3, “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” Second, he must depend on the Holy Spirit. It is through Him that we know the things God has revealed to us (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10–12). Finally, he must study the Scriptures, for they make the believer “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Perhaps the most graphic text related to the pursuit of divine truth is Job 28.
Paul prays that the knowledge we have would be of His will. God’s will is not a secret; He has revealed it in His Word. For example, it is God’s desire that a person be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Once a person is saved, it is God’s will that he be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:17–18 says, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Furthermore, sanctification is God’s will: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). God also wills that the believer be submissive to the government. Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution … for such is the will of God” (1 Pet. 2:13, 15). Suffering may also be God’s will for the believer: “Let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:19). Finally, giving thanks is God’s will. Paul writes, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Having the knowledge of God’s Word control our minds is the key to righteous living. What controls your thoughts will control your behavior. Self-control is a result of mind-control, which is dependent on knowledge. Knowledge of God’s Word will lead to all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Though the terms wisdom and understanding may be synonymous, sophia (wisdom) may be the broader of the two terms. It refers to the ability to collect and concisely organize principles from Scripture. Sunesis (understanding) could be a more specialized term, referring to the application of those principles to everyday life. Both sophia and sunesis are spiritual; they deal in the nonphysical realm and have the Holy Spirit as their source.
Believing, submissive Bible study leads to the knowledge of God’s will. A mind saturated with such knowledge will also be able to comprehend general principles of godly behavior. With that wisdom will come understanding of how to apply those principles to the situations of life. That progression will inevitably result in godly character and practice.
9. For this cause we also. As he has previously shewn his affection for them in his thanksgivings, so he now shews it still farther in the earnestness of his prayers in their behalf. And, assuredly, the more that the grace of God is conspicuous in any, we ought in that proportion specially to love and esteem them, and to be concerned as to their welfare. But what does he pray for in their behalf? That they may know God more fully; by which he indirectly intimates, that something is still wanting in them, that he may prepare the way for imparting instruction to them, and may secure their attention to a fuller statement of doctrine. For those who think that they have already attained everything that is worthy of being known, despise and disdain everything farther that is presented to them. Hence he removes from the Colossians an impression of this nature, lest it should be a hinderance in the way of their cheerfully making progress, and allowing what had been begun in them to receive an additional polish. But what knowledge does he desire in their behalf? The knowledge of the divine will, by which expression he sets aside all inventions of men, and all speculations that are at variance with the word of God. For his will is not to be sought anywhere else than in his word.
He adds—in all wisdom; by which he intimates that the will of God, of which he had made mention, was the only rule of right knowledge. For if any one is desirous simply to know those things which it has pleased God to reveal, that is the man who accurately knows what it is to be truly wise. If we desire anything beyond that, this will be nothing else than to be foolish, by not keeping within due bounds. By the word συνέσεως, which we render prudentiam, (prudence,) I understand—that discrimination which proceeds from intelligence. Both are called spiritual by Paul, because they are not attained in any other way than by the guidance of the Spirit. For the animal man does not perceive the things that are of God. (1 Cor. 2:14.) So long as men are regulated by their own carnal perceptions, they have also their own wisdom, but it is of such a nature as is mere vanity, however much they may delight themselves in it. We see what sort of theology there is under the Papacy, what is contained in the books of philosophers, and what wisdom profane men hold in estimation. Let us, however, bear in mind, that the wisdom which is alone commended by Paul is comprehended in the will of God.
Perpetual Prayer for the Colossians to Fully Know God’s Will (1:9)
9 At the outset of this section, Paul tells his recipients that from the day he was informed about their response to the gospel in general and their love in the Spirit in particular he has been in perpetual prayer for them. Paul considered prayer to be a vital part of his life in and ministry for Christ (cf. v. 3). To be sure, “Apart from prayer, life as a redeemed bondservant of Christ was both inconceivable and impossible” (W. B. Hunter, “Prayer,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993], 725). Paul informs the fellowship that he has been asking God to fill them “with the knowledge of [God’s] will” (cf. v. 1). More than for factual knowledge about God, Paul has been praying that the Colossians will have a true knowledge of God and will receive direction from God. The knowledge Paul covets for these Christians is characterized by spiritual wisdom and understanding. Language of fullness, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding recurs in Colossians. In fact, the letter contends that divine revelation and spiritual wisdom converge and culminate in Christ. In essence, Paul is prayerful that the Colossian believers will be filled with the fullness of God in Christ. No substitutes or supplements will suffice for the One who “is all, and is in all” (3:11).
Paul teaches them how to pray
Paul had a prayer longing (v. 9a). ‘We … do not cease to pray for you’. The news that Epaphras brought produced ‘an upsurge of prayer’. Paul was committed to the task of intercession, and his prayer here teaches us how to pray well. He shows the Colossians that they should pray God’s thoughts after him and pray with the Bible in their hands, because prayer according to God’s will is prayer made ‘in the Spirit’ (Eph. 6:18) and ‘with the understanding’ (1 Cor. 14:15). Paul’s intercession clearly illustrates this mode of prayer. As they follow the pattern of Paul’s prayers they will learn what the content of acceptable prayer should be. Christians often pray for earthly things while Paul prays here for spiritual and heavenly things. Paul puts praying in perspective and gives the Colossians the big picture; he lays before them the really important issues.
There are two models of prayer in the New Testament. The first is individual prayer, where the stress is on personal intercession and private devotion from the heart (Matt. 6:5–15). The second model is corporate prayer, where the stress is on plural watchfulness and joint intercession. It may appear that the former is what we have here in these verses, but the ‘we’ phrases (vv. 3 and 9) tell us that, when Paul prays for the Church at Colosse, he does not pray alone; rather he prays for the Colossians in the company of others. Prayer is talking face to face with God. The Greek word for prayer speaks of talking to God and is never used of petitions to men. Local Churches are meant to have times of corporate prayer. Believers are meant to pray with one another. To neglect this fact is to miss the blessing promised, because there are some things men will not receive unless they ask for them (Luke 11:9–11). Private and corporate times of prayer demonstrate life and maturity in a believer. As effective intercession is very demanding, commitment to praying with others is of great help.
Paul teaches them what to pray
What was it that the Holy Spirit led Paul to request? There are four things of importance.
he prays for fullness (v. 9b). Paul prays that they would be ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’. The second-century Gnostic sects loved words like ‘fullness’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’, and claimed them as their own. They were key words for the ‘spoilers’, too. However the apostle prays that the saints in Colosse will possess the real thing, not in part, but in fullness. Christians need to know ‘what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Rom. 12:1f.) and ‘understand what the will of the Lord is’ (Eph. 5:17).
1:9 / The request that God fill (lit., “that you might be filled, plērōthēte), suggests that there is some spiritual vacuum that needs to be corrected. It is the same idea expressed in 4:12 with reference to Epaphras, whose concern for the Colossians was that they stand firm, “mature” (peplērophorēmenoi) and fully convinced, in complete obedience to God’s will.
The filling is to be with the knowledge of God’s will and not some type of speculative or intellectual gnōsis (“knowledge”) so characteristic of the false teachers. Wisdom (sophia) and understanding (synesis) likewise are not some abstract intellectual concepts from the Greek world but attributes that God’s Spirit gives. As spiritual gifts from God, they enable God’s people to live abundant, fruitful, and obedient lives in accordance with his will. Paul’s readers need spiritual wisdom to determine God’s will for their lives; they need spiritual understanding to apply God’s will to specific situations in life.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 142–143). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Like Christmas itself, we can become nostalgic about reconciliation rather than embrace the messy grace and humility that it requires.
Many of us love Christmas. We love the lights, the festivities, and the jovial delight that comes with the season. And as much as I hate to admit it, here in the biting-cold Midwest I even enjoy the snow this time of year, although those pretty flakes can be gone once the New Year rolls around.
But no amount of nostalgia can capture the real power of Christmas: Christ has come for us. He has crossed behind enemy lines to rescue us who have long been slaves of sin, fear, and death. We celebrate Christmas because we celebrate our king becoming vulnerable, becoming weak, humbling himself to bring reconciliation between us and God.
Reconciliation is a wonderful idea when we are the ones that have been fought for, and we are the ones who receive mercy, forgiveness, and restored relationship.
But like Christmas itself, we can become nostalgic about reconciliation rather than really embrace the messy grace and humility that it requires.
We all have work to do reconciling relationships with the people in our lives. Whether it’s a slight irritation with a coworker or a full-on feud over deep wounds, we all have imperfect and broken connections with other humans. But those minor cracks can break, and major brokenness can soon become septic.
If we are to pursue building up the Church, be effective in our evangelism, and experience the true fullness of mercy, grace, and redemption, we cannot ignore broken relationships.
And if we are going to truly say, “Merry Christmas,” then we must adopt the passion of Jesus to step into the awkward, uncomfortable, humbling messiness that is reconciliation.
We are God’s kids. When Jesus came, he didn’t stop at forgiveness; he brought us into full relationship; he brought us …
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by Martha F. Lee
The American Spectator
December 21, 2018
This past October, the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman who had spent eight years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy. Following her acquittal, extremist groups across Pakistan, including the prominent Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), violently protested against the decision and called for Bibi to be executed. Islamists have reportedly been going “house to house” to track down her family.
After striking a deal with leading Islamist parties, the Pakistani government has prevented Bibi from leaving Pakistan. Now, her husband has appealed to the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to provide the Bibi family with asylum. But while dozens of organizations across the United States have expressed their support for Bibi and the asylum request, there is one group that remains conspicuously silent: the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
ICNA is usually a regular commentator on events in South Asia — mourning the death of prominent Islamists in Bangladesh, or condemning jihadist violence against religious minorities in Pakistan. ICNA is also involved in the discussion of asylum rights and immigration reform. In June 2018, the organization denounced the “Muslim Ban 3.0” and reaffirmed its support of all “efforts to bring justice in our legal system.” ICNA officials have even taken part in the recent demonstrations over America’s border with Mexico. ICNA’s own former president Naeem Baig was filmed at the San Diego border expressing the organization’s support for migrants and the message that “love knows no borders.”
But when we asked ICNA if it supports Asia Bibi’s acquittal and her asylum request, ICNA refused to respond.
What might explain this silence on the part of an organization seemingly so dedicated to the support of refugees and migrants? While ICNA may appear enmeshed in immigration activism and other progressive campaigns, its roots actually lie in the same extremist JI movement in Pakistan that has been campaigning for Bibi’s killing. Apparently, ICNA’s loyalty continues to lie with JI as well.
For some years, ICNA was led by Ashraf Uzzaman Khan, a prominent JI activist who was convicted of war crimes in 2013 for his role in the murders of civilians during Bangladesh’s war of independence, in which JI fighters assisted the Pakistani army with the rape and murder of thousands of Bangladeshis. In the decades following the massacres, JI’s violence has continued, and in 2017, the U.S. designated JI Pakistan’s “militant wing,” Hizbul Mujahideen, as a terrorist organization.
Still, ICNA remains closely linked to JI. ICNA’s youth division website promotes the books of JI founder and Islamist theorist Abul A’la Maududi, whose ideas influenced Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb and, later, terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Yusuf Islahi, a leader of JI’s Indian affiliate (JI Hind), has been an invited speaker at ICNA conventions.
In addition, ICNA established two aid charities which are both tied to Jaamat-e-Islami: ICNA Relief and Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). HHRD openly funds Jamaat-e-Islami’s charitable arm in Pakistan. And in 2017, HHRD organized a conference in Pakistan with the designated Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Salafi-jihadist group responsible for the deadly Mumbai attacks in 2008. HHRD’s Chairman, Mohsin Ansari, is an alumnus of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), the student wing of JI’s branch in Pakistan. Over the past month, thousands of students from IJT have been very involved in the protests against Bibi’s acquittal.
Just like ICNA, HHRD has also refused to provide comment on Asia Bibi’s case.
Charities tied to the Muslim Brotherhood — another Islamist network that has a long history of a close partnership with JI — have also failed to offer support for Bibi. Islamic Relief — which was founded by senior Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood official Essam El Hadddad — is also closely involved with immigration activism in North America. But when asked to comment on her case, an Islamic Relief spokesperson refused to mention Bibi at all, only saying that Islamic Relief supports giving “people a voice to control their destiny and encourages policies that helps foster human rights, civility, and success.”
This noncommittal response can also be explained by Islamic Relief’s own ties to extremism and to JI itself. Islamic Relief has been banned as a terror organization by the UAE, because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. In 2017, the Bangladeshi government also banned Islamic Relief from providing aid to Rohingya refugees, citing concerns about radicalization. Most recently, Islamic Relief published praise of its leading activist in Pakistan, Khalid Mirza, who just so happens to be a prominent leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami branch in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.
For years, Muslim organizations in America have been at the forefront of the movement for more progressive immigration policies. ICNA and Islamic Relief both showcase their work for refugees on their websites, and have promoted rallies and demonstrations led by progressive, pro-immigration crowds. Islamic Relief insists that refugees do not leave willingly and that “the choice to leave home is excruciating,” while ICNA regularly posts articles chronicling its efforts to assist refugees.
But these prominent American Islamist organizations do not appear keen to extend all this progressive rhetoric to Asia Bibi, whose life is in total, irrefutable danger, as JI and other Islamist movements actively and violently campaign for her execution. Islamist silence over Bibi confirms that the progressive values professed by organizations such as ICNA are nothing more than a facade, and that the loyalty of these groups lies not with liberal causes in the West, but with extremists in South Asia.
Martha Lee is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
“God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name … that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Philippians 2:9, 11
To receive Christ as Savior is to submit to His authority as Lord.
Is Jesus Lord? According to the declaration of the Father, He is. We cannot know Him any other way than as Lord. That’s why the first creed in the history of the church, given in Philippians 2:11, says, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Every Christian must acknowledge that. It is the foundation of the Christian faith, the very substance of what we believe. We don’t make Him Lord after salvation. Every time I hear someone say, “You need to make Jesus Lord,” it is as repellent to me as hearing fingernails scraped down a blackboard. We never make Jesus Lord—God has already done that.
Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and those who would receive Him must take Him for who He really is. Puritan John Flavel put it this way: “The gospel offer of Christ includes all his offices, and gospel faith just so receives him; to submit to him, as well as to be redeemed by him; to imitate him in the holiness of his life, as well as to reap the purchases and fruits of his death. It must be an entire receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In a similar vein, A.W. Tozer said, “To urge men and women to believe in a divided Christ is bad teaching, for no one can receive half of Christ, or a third of Christ, or a quarter of the Person of Christ! We are not saved by believing in an office nor in a work.” Jesus is Lord, and if you refuse Him as Lord, you cannot call Him Savior. If you have truly received Him, your life will be characterized by submission to His authority.
Suggestions for Prayer: Take time to acknowledge the lordship of Christ in your own life.
For Further Study: Read Romans 10:9–13. What is a sinner to confess if he is to be saved? ✧ According to 2 Corinthians 4:5, what message did Paul preach?
IT is our wisdom, as well as our necessity, to beseech God continually to strengthen that which he has wrought in us. We often forget that the Author of our faith must be the Preserver of it also. The lamp which was burning in the temple was never allowed to go out, but it had to be daily replenished with fresh oil; in like manner, our faith can only live by being sustained with the oil of grace, and we can only obtain this from God himself.
Let us, then, day by day, go to our Lord for the grace and strength we need. We have a strong argument to plead, for it is his own work of grace which we ask him to strengthen. Only let your faith take hold of his strength.
“How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3–4).
God confirmed the truth of the gospel preached through Christ with many miracles.
When Jesus preached the gospel, He performed miracles that made what He said believable. He said, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works” (John 10:38). Jesus claimed to be from God, then made it obvious He really was from God.
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Jesus confirmed His ministry by His own miracles. Peter reiterated that fact on the day of Pentecost: “Jesus the Nazarene [was] a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22).
God also gave these same confirming signs to His second generation of preachers—the apostles, so no one could dispute the validity of their message. What the apostles said was not their own opinion; it was divine truth substantiated by signs, wonders, and miracles.
Signs, wonders, and miracles are synonyms referring to all the supernatural things the apostles did. But the apostles also confirmed the Word with “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” That’s a reference to the temporary sign gifts described in Scripture, such as tongues and healings, not to the permanent edifying gifts given to the church for all time.
Today God attests to the gospel with the miracle of His written Word. Let it not be said that you neglected Jesus Christ. History confirms that hours of neglect cost Napoleon Waterloo. Neglecting Christ’s salvation will cost you eternal blessing and joy and will bring you damnation. Don’t allow yourself to drift past God’s grace.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for His Word and that through it you have all the truth you need to communicate the gospel.
For Further Study: Read Acts 5–19, and list all the miracles performed by the apostles to confirm the gospel.
By Elizabeth Prata
This section of verses that show Jesus’ life are focused on His attributes & earthly ministry. We’ve seen Him as servant, teacher, shepherd, intercessor, and healer. We looked at His attributes of omniscience, His authority, and now His sinlessness.
The Cripplegate/Nate Busenitz: In what way was Jesus ‘made sin’ on the cross?
Thirty Days of Jesus Series-
Day 1: The Virgin shall conceive
Day 2: A shoot from Jesse
Day 3: God sent His Son in the fullness of time
Day 4: Marry her, she will bear a Son
Day 5: The Babe has arrived!
Day 6: The Glory of Jesus
Day 7: Magi seek the Child
Day 8: The Magi offer gifts & worship
Day 9: The Child Grew
Day 10: The boy Jesus at the Temple
Day 11: He…
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Christ’s Appearance to Thomas
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (20:24–31)
Not all of the apostles had been present at Jesus’ first appearance. Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. Thomas was nicknamed Didymus, (“Twin”) for the obvious reason that he had a twin (who does not appear in Scripture). The Synoptic Gospels mention him only in the lists of the twelve apostles; the details of his character come from John’s gospel.
Thomas was the eternal pessimist. Like Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh stories, he was a melancholy person, with an uncanny knack for finding the dark cloud in every silver lining. Thomas first appears in John’s gospel in connection with the story of the raising of Lazarus. Aghast that Jesus planned to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem, where the Jews had recently tried to kill Him (11:8), Thomas exclaimed fatalistically, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him” (v. 16). But Thomas’s pessimism should not be allowed to obscure his courage; though he thought the situation was hopeless, he nonetheless was willing to lay his life on the line for the Lord. His love for Jesus was so strong that he would have preferred to die with Him rather than to be separated from Him.
Thomas next appears in the upper room. Jesus had just announced His imminent departure (14:2–3), and reminded the disciples that they knew where He was going. Heartbroken that Jesus was leaving, Thomas promptly contradicted Him, saying despondently, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (14:5), suggesting such devotion that he seemed to think it would be better to die with his Lord than to try to find Him later. Such was his love for Christ.
It is too bad that Thomas missed the Lord’s appearance. Why was he not there? Was it due to his being negative, pessimistic, even melancholy? Was he off somewhere feeling sorry for himself because his worst fear had come true?
Thomas may have felt alone, betrayed, forsaken. His hopes may have been crushed. The One he had loved so greatly was gone and his heart was irreparably torn. He may not have been in a socializing mood. Maybe being alone seemed best. He could not be in a crowd, even with his friends.
But when Thomas returned from wherever he had been, the other disciples were exuberantly and eagerly saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he would have none of it. Thomas was certain he would never see Jesus again. He refused to get his hopes up, only to have them dashed once more, so he announced skeptically, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” It was that remark that earned him the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But the track record of the other ten apostles was no better; they too had scoffed at the initial reports of the resurrection (Mark 16:10–13; Luke 24:9–11) and failed to believe the Scriptures that predicted it (20:9; Luke 24:25–26). What made Thomas different was not that his doubt was greater, but that his sorrow was greater.
Thomas would soon be taken up on his skeptical offer. After eight days the disciples were again inside, but this time Thomas was with them. Once again, the doors had been shut, and once again that proved to be no deterrent to the risen Lord. As He had done eight days earlier, Jesus came in and stood in their midst. He immediately singled out Thomas. Ever the sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:15), Jesus gently, lovingly, compassionately said to him, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” The Lord met Thomas at the point of his weakness and doubt, without rebuke because He knew Thomas’s error was connected to his profound love. In patient compassion, He gave Thomas the empirical proof he had demanded.
That was enough for the doubter; his melancholy skepticism dissolved forever in light of the irrefutable evidence in the person confronting him. Overwhelmed, he made perhaps the greatest confession of any of the apostles, rivaled only by Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16), exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” Significantly, Jesus did not correct him, but accepted Thomas’s affirmation of His deity. Indeed, He praised Thomas for his faith, saying to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?” But looking ahead to the time when the tangible, physical evidence Thomas had witnessed would no longer be available, the Lord pronounced those “blessed … who did not see, and yet believed” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Peter 1:8–9). They, who will never see physical evidence of Christ’s rising, will have a greater measure of the Holy Spirit to empower faith in the resurrection. This is the second beatitude in this gospel (cf. 13:17). Blessed does not just convey a condition of happiness, but also declares the recipient to be accepted by God.
It must be noted that our Lord’s words do not indicate anything defective about the faith of Thomas.
Thomas’s faith is not depreciated … “but for the fact that Thomas and the other apostles saw the incarnate Christ there would have been no Christian faith at all. Cf. 1:18, 50f.; 2:11; 4:45; 6:2; 9:37; 14:7, 9; 19:35” (Barrett, p. 573).… later believers come to faith through the word of the earlier believers (17:20). Blessed, then, are those who cannot share Thomas’ experience of sight, but who, in part because they read of Thomas’ experience, come to share Thomas’ faith. (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 660)
Thomas’s confession and Christ’s response are a fitting lead in to John’s summary statement of his goal and purpose in writing his gospel: Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book (cf. 12:37; 21:25). Those who have not and will not see the Lord risen will depend on this gospel penned by John (as well as the other three) to provide the word concerning Christ by which the Spirit can give them regeneration and faith (Rom. 10:17).
And there are many more miraculous signs that Jesus did beyond the miracles recorded in chapters 2–12 (and the other Gospels), including the greatest sign—His resurrection—but they are not necessary because what has been written is sufficient. This statement establishes that this gospel of John is about the miraculous signs pointing to Jesus as Christ and Lord—for the purpose John explicitly expresses in the next statement.
But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. As has been said, to expand this verse one need only to go back through the whole gospel. This is the summary statement. To believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate (1:1, 14), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29), and the resurrection and the life (11:25) is to believe that truth that when accepted provides forgiveness of sin and eternal life (3:16). John’s purpose is clearly evangelistic. Again, Carson aptly unifies the thought:
John’s purpose is not academic. He writes in order that men and women may believe certain propositional truth, the truth that the Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus, the Jesus whose portrait is drawn in this Gospel. But such faith is not an end in itself. It is directed toward the goal of personal, eschatological salvation: that by believing you may have life in his name. That is still the purpose of this book today, and at the heart of the Christian mission (v. 21). (John, 663. Italics in original.)
A Great Benediction
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It is a remarkable characteristic of the Word of God that it is filled far more with blessings than with curses. There are curses, to be sure. There are warnings of judgment. But when all is put together, the blessings are far more numerous and more wonderful than any of these more somber elements.
The Bible begins with a blessing, for we are told that after each day of creation God commented upon the work, saying, “It is good.” The Bible ends with a blessing, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev. 22:21). In between are such verses as: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’ ” (Gen 1:28); “I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2); “After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him” (Gen 35:9); “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num 6:24–26); “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Ps. 1:1); “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12); “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless” (Ps. 119:1); “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (Rom. 4:7–8; cf. Ps. 32:1–2); “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). In my concordance I find 375 Old Testament passages that deal with God’s blessing. I find 108 separate passages in the New Testament.
It is not surprising in view of this wonderful characteristic of our God and of his revelation to find that the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, also had many words of blessing during the days of his ministry. We think of the beatitudes of Matthew 5, an obvious example (vv. 3–11). There are blessings pronounced upon children (Mark 10:16), upon one or more of the disciples (Matt. 13:16; 16:17), upon faithful servants of God (Matt. 24:46), upon those who hear the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28). There is the benediction at the close of John’s Gospel, which is our text: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
This blessing, the fifth of Christ’s “last” words in John’s Gospel, is great for several reasons, among them that it is the last of Christ’s blessings spoken while on earth. Appropriately, it is one that concerns not just a single person or a limited group of people but rather all who should believe on him as Savior.
What Does Christ Mean?
What does Jesus mean when he says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? Does he mean that a subjective faith is better than an objective faith, that a faith that has no relation to evidence is better than a faith that has? Does he mean that only a faith like that is blessed? It is hard to think that this is his meaning, because he has just provided tangible evidence of his resurrection for Thomas by appearing to him and inviting him to put his finger into the holes of his hands and thrust his hand into Christ’s side. Again, it is clear that John did not interpret Christ’s words in this way, because immediately after this John says that he has written certain things in his Gospel in order that those who read might believe.
So we may grant that Jesus is not advocating a faith entirely without evidence. But that still does not answer the question. What does Jesus mean? I believe he is speaking, not of a subjective faith, but of a satisfied faith. He is speaking of faith that is satisfied with what God provides and is therefore not yearning for visions, miracles, esoteric experiences, or various forms of success as evidence of God’s favor. More than that, he is saying that a faith without these things is not inferior to but is actually superior to a faith based upon them.
Take these things one at a time and see why this is so. Take visions, first of all. If you are a normal Christian, I am sure there have been times when you have been discouraged, perhaps overcome with doubt, and you have said, “Oh, if God would only reveal himself to me in some special way so that my sight, touch, or hearing could assist my faith.” We remember that there were people in the Bible who had such evidence. Abraham saw visions; he spoke with the three angelic visitors; he heard the voice of God from heaven on Mount Moriah. Moses met God on the mountain; on one occasion Moses was hidden in a cleft of the rock and witnessed the fire, wind, and earthquake as Jehovah passed by. Isaiah had a vision of God high and lifted up. The disciples saw Christ in the days of his flesh. Paul was caught up to the third heaven. John himself had the magnificent visions recorded for us in the Book of Revelation. “Why can’t we have something similar?” we argue. “Surely we could believe much better and be far more effective in our Christian walk and witness if we did.”
But that is not true, even though we like to tell ourselves that it is. For one thing, we usually want such experiences for the wrong reason—vanity. We would have a far higher opinion of ourselves if we should be granted an experience which most do not have. For another thing, visions do not necessarily lead to greater faith. In the opening pages of Miracles by C. S. Lewis, the well-known Oxford professor and author tells of a friend of his who once saw a ghost. Before the vision, she disbelieved in an immortal soul. After it, she still disbelieved. Obviously, faith gives meaning to experience rather than the other way around.
Second, there are miracles or other special acts of God’s providence. Do you pray for miracles? Do you think you could believe God better if you saw some? The opposite is the case. If you are looking for miracles (which God sometimes does provide, but seldom), you will gradually become insensitive to the thousands of normal evidences of God’s mercy which you receive constantly.
Third, there are people who think they would be stronger in faith and be better able to live the Christian life were they to have some special esoteric experience. We read a passage like 1 Corinthians 12:9–10, where Paul speaks of God granting to some “gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues,” and we think that if we could only do or experience something like that, we would be stronger and happier as Christians. But that is not true either. God sometimes grants such experiences for the good of his church; the very fact that Paul lists these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 is evidence that he does. But surely anyone who reads these chapters carefully will note that Paul does not encourage us to seek these experiences. If anything, he seems to warn against them, and he certainly does not pronounce any special blessing upon their exercise. Why? Because the blessings of the gospel are for those who live by faith and not by sight, who live by their faith in the character and benevolence of God and not in the evidence of visions, miracles, or other such experiences.
There is one other item which must not be left out, if only because it is so common in our day. It is the supposed evidence of success, measured by the number of people converted, church growth, income for Christian institutions and other such things. Does this mean that we are not to work to see as many people converted as possible? Does it mean that we are not to be concerned with church growth? Does it mean that we should not be concerned with the level of income necessary to run Christian schools, missions, churches, and other institutions? Not at all. But it does mean that we are not to tie our faith in God to such circumstances. We are to pray and believe and go on working even when we do not see this kind of numerical blessing.
What is faith? Faith is believing God on the basis of his Word and then acting upon it. This is true faith. It is this that God blesses. God promises a blessing upon those who have faith. We cannot repeat that enough. God blesses faith, and not the living out of some unusual experience.
How could it be otherwise if (1) God is to be fair in his dealings with his people and (2) the blessings of which he speaks are to be for all? Suppose it to be the other way. Suppose God’s blessing were linked to the unusual. In that case, either his blessing would be for a small and select company only, or else the things we consider unusual would have to become commonplace, in which case they would cease to have the character of “special evidences.” They would be like those other countless evidences of God’s providence which we enjoy daily but do not regard so highly, simply because they are common. No, the blessings of God are for all; and they are based, not upon the unusual in Christian experience, but upon faith which by its very nature and definition is common to all who call upon the name of Christ as God and Savior. This is why the Gospel of John ends on this note. It ends here because John wants to encourage everyone to believe on Jesus and enjoy God’s blessings.
What are those blessings? There are many ways to answer that question, because faith is discussed again and again throughout the Bible. But we may answer it at this point just from John’s Gospel, remembering that John’s Gospel is the Gospel of faith preeminently. In John the Greek word for faith (pistis) always occurs in its verbal form (pisteuō) and is therefore translated “believe.” But in that form it occurs more often in John than in any other biblical book, even Romans (which has much to say about faith) or books that are longer. We find the word 101 times in John’s Gospel, compared with a combined use of “faith” and “believe” 64 times in Romans and only 22 times in Mark. So John is obviously concerned with faith and considers it of prime importance. What does he say of the blessings that flow from it? The following ten items are prominent.
- It is by faith that we become children of God and thus enter into the privileges of being in God’s spiritual family. John indicates this at several points but especially in the first chapter, where he says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). Certainly this is a great blessing and the source of many others that follow.
- It is through faith that we have eternal life. This is the teaching of the best-known verse in the Gospel, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Death is an “enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). But death shall be conquered by faith, which unites us to Christ who conquered it.
- By faith we are delivered from judgment. John quotes Jesus as saying, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (5:24).
- John 6:35 teaches that faith ushers us into the blessings of spiritual satisfaction now: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” To come to Christ is to believe on Christ; that is what the parallelism suggests. So belief in Christ is set forth as the key to having all spiritual longings fulfilled.
- Jesus also calls faith the means for entering into the final resurrection: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25–26). The blessings of the resurrection are for those who believe on Jesus.
- Faith in Jesus is also said to be the way in which we become blessings to others, as the Holy Spirit who communicates all God’s blessings works through us. This is taught in John 7:38–39: “ ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” The image is of a broad river flowing through a desert land, giving life and joy to all who come upon it.
- Through faith we see the glory of God. “Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ ” (11:40). Without faith we will be like the heathen, who are surrounded by the glory of God in nature, yet either do not see it or else attribute it to that which is not God by a worship of idols. It is only as we look to God that our eyes are increasingly opened to see what he is doing.
- Faith is the secret of a holy life. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (12:46). In biblical language, darkness is the darkness of sin (cf. 1 John 1:5–10). So walking in the light means walking in holiness by means of the spiritual and moral life which God gives.
- The blessing of a fruitful and effective life comes by faith. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (14:12). This does not necessarily refer to what we would call miracles, though taken together the disciples may well have performed more miracles than Jesus did. It refers rather to the many works of witnessing, preaching, and Christlike service performed by Christian people. They are performed by those who take God at his word and go out boldly to do his bidding.
- Finally, it is through faith that we receive the benefits of Jesus’ prayers on our behalf. He said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (17:20). If, as we are told in James, “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16), how much more shall the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ avail for us! If we lacked all other promises of blessing through faith, this alone should be enough.
What I have written here applies most directly to those who are Christians, to those who have believed on Jesus and to whom these blessings are therefore given. But it applies to non-Christians too in that you are challenged to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Do not say, as many do, “I think I could believe in Jesus if he would just appear to me in some special way. I could believe if I had some miraculous vision.” That is not true, though you may think so. Pharaoh did not believe though he witnessed the greatest collection of signs and wonders ever granted to one man at one period of history. Those things are of no use to you. The problem is not miracles or the lack of them. The problem is sin. You are a sinner, and Jesus is the answer to your sin. He died for you, bearing your punishment. Now you must come to him in simple faith. You cannot see him. But you can find him if you seek him with your whole heart.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)
The Bible might be called God’s book of blessings. This is not to say that the Scriptures contain only blessings. There are commands, warnings, and even curses as well. But the Bible predominates in blessings. The purpose of the Bible is to lead us into God’s blessings so that God might be blessed in blessing his people.
The Bible begins with blessings, as God created all things and called them “good.” The Bible also ends with a blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:21). In between, we find blessing upon blessing. After making man, “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’ ” (Gen. 1:28). When God led Israel out of bondage, he put a benediction into the mouth of his priest, Aaron: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26).
When God’s Son, Jesus, came to earth, he spoke remarkable blessings. His Beatitudes begin, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Jesus blessed children (Mark 10:16), faithful servants (Matt. 24:46), and those who keep his Word (Luke 11:28). In the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke his last blessing when the disciple Thomas had believed, an especially significant blessing since it refers directly to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Since salvation is received through faith, this blessing provides a key to them all: Jesus promises us, even if we have not seen him with our eyes, that if we believe his Word, we will be blessed with all the blessings that have ever been blessed by God.
In the last of his records of Christ’s appearances to his disciples in Jerusalem, John turns to an event recorded nowhere else in Scripture: Jesus’ ministry to the disbelief of the disciple Thomas.
We do not know as much about Thomas as the more prominent disciples. What we learn of him in John’s Gospel, however, presents a consistent picture of dogged, loyal pessimism. In chapter 11, Thomas reacted to the news that Jesus was going back within the reach of the menacing religious leaders by saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Later, when Jesus began his Farewell Discourse by saying that he was going to heaven to prepare a place for the disciples, Thomas complained, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5). This small amount of evidence suggests that Thomas was loyal to Jesus and even courageous, but that he was also fatalistic and dour. This picture is confirmed by his refusal to believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus died, Thomas’s gloomy mind saw the extinction of all hope. A. W. Pink observes, “He reminds us very much of John Bunyan’s ‘Fearing,’ ‘Despondency’ and ‘Much Afraid,’ in his Pilgrim’s Progress—types of a large class of Christians who are successors of doubting Thomas.”
It is with this Thomas that John concludes his account of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe’ ” (John 20:24–25). It is for saying these words that Thomas has been known to history as “doubting Thomas.” We should not disparage him, however, as if he were the only disciple to doubt: all the disciples failed to believe on Christ’s resurrection at some point.
When it comes to people with sincere doubts, the Bible is remarkably gracious and accommodating. Consider the Queen of Sheba, who had heard the incredible stories about the wisdom and glory of King Solomon, so that she traveled to Jerusalem “to test him with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1). Her behavior revealed her as a skeptic of the best kind: she did not believe everything she heard, but she was open to believing the truth. So she inquired personally, posing Solomon riddles and asking to see the evidences for the claims that she had heard. The Bible records, “When she came to Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. And Solomon answered all her questions” (10:2–3). After seeing the truth for herself, the Queen of Sheba exclaimed, “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me” (10:7).
This kind of doubt—a genuine quest for the truth and a willingness to believe it—is often blessed by God and should be honored by all his servants. If you find it hard to believe what you have heard about Christianity and want to know the truth, you should turn to the Bible with an open mind and heart. You should feel free to ask your questions of pastors and other Christians. As long as you are truly seeking truth and are sincerely open to believing if you are persuaded, then Jesus’ promise applies to you: “everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds” (Luke 11:10). If you are sincerely wondering about Jesus, your quest is likely to end with the Queen of Sheba’s ringing affirmation: “Behold, the half was not told me!”
The problem with doubting Thomas, however, was that he really was not a doubter at all. Instead, Thomas was a determined disbeliever. He set forth conditions, demands that expressed not his willingness but his unwillingness to believe: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Thomas was not unsure or puzzled, but stubbornly rejected the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Leon Morris writes: “He would not be persuaded by the combined testimony of all the rest of the apostolic band.… He could not understand why all the apostles, sensible men whom he knew well, had accepted it. And no matter how stupid they had been, he was not going to follow their example.”
It is interesting that Jesus appeared to the disciples on Resurrection Sunday and then did not appear to them again until the next Sunday (when John says that Jesus returned “eight days later,” he is counting inclusively, as was the Jewish pattern). It is possible that Jesus was emphasizing the gathering of his people for worship on the Lord’s Day. Thomas, alone of the remaining eleven disciples, had not been present in the previous week’s gathering when Jesus first appeared. It is not surprising, then, that while the other disciples were strengthened in their faith, Thomas drifted into a hardened state of unbelief. His absence from the fellowship contributed to his unbelief.
This reminds us why all believers need to be regular and consistent in attending the worship of the church. This principle is especially true for those who are wavering in their faith or godliness. Alexander Maclaren urges: “The worst thing that a man can do when disbelief, or doubt, or coldness shrouds his sky, and blots out the stars, is to go away alone and shut himself up with his own, perhaps morbid, or, at all events, disturbing thoughts. The best thing that he can do is to go amongst his fellows. If the sermon does not do him any good, the prayers and the praises and the sense of brotherhood will help him.” Of all the blessings that we miss when we fail to attend church, the most certain is the strengthening of our faith through the ministry of God’s Word. Because he was absent when Christ first appeared to the disciples, Thomas missed the joy of Christ’s presence and the Lord’s ministry of peace. It is no wonder that he spent a week in despondency when he might have been rejoicing in the resurrection.
Thomas benefited, nonetheless, by the faithful Christian friendship of his fellow disciples. They might have reasoned, being aware of God’s sovereignty in salvation, that there was nothing for them to do about Thomas’s absence. But that is not what they did. Even though they could not persuade Thomas about what they had seen, their witness seems to have accounted for his presence on this second Sunday, so that Thomas was present when the Lord appeared again. Likewise, believers today should be alert to those who have drifted away from the church and should provide the encouragement and witness they need in order to return to the fold of Christ.
See My Hands
Despite his unbelief, Thomas was brought to faith by Jesus’ second appearance in the midst of his disciples. John writes: “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’ ” (John 20:26). If this sounds familiar, the reason is that this is a virtual replay of the previous week’s appearance. In his resurrected body, Jesus was able to appear right before his disciples without coming through the door. This time, he spoke directly to the remaining unbeliever: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe’ ” (20:27).
There are three points for us to note about Jesus’ ministry in calling Thomas to faith. The first is that Jesus did not mind repeating his earlier ministry. Jesus was born in this world to offer peace with God to men and women lost in sin, so it was no burden for him to repeat this message a second time. Indeed, Jesus delights today to present himself over and over again to sinners whom he is calling to salvation, speaking to their hearts, “Peace be with you.” If you have been saved, it is because Jesus came to you through his Word and declared peace. He told you that his atoning death had put an end to God’s wrath against your sins and summoned you to lay down your arms in surrendering faith. If you recognize that Jesus offers peace with God and eternal life, then it is Jesus himself who has come before you and speaks to your soul through the Bible, calling you to faith.
Second, Jesus also presented the cause of our restoration to God. Just as in his earlier appearance, he displayed the marks of his sacrifice for our sins upon the cross. Jesus constantly sets the cross before us to stir up our faith and grant us peace. If you find yourself doubting God’s love, remember the cross, where God’s Son freely gave his life for you. If you feel that you could not possibly have peace with God, remember the wounds of Christ and see the price that satisfied God’s justice toward you. If you close your eyes at night and fear that you might die and be sent to hell, remember 1 John 1:7: “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.”
It is because of this focus on the cross that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to provide a perpetual memorial of the peace he won through his atoning death. Receiving the emblems of Christ’s body and blood, broken and shed for our sins, every believer should be assured not only that God will receive his or her soul into heaven in the future but also that God’s blessing has been secured for us right now. A. W. Pink writes: “When we have gone astray, what is it that recalls us? Not occupation with the intricacies of prophecy or the finer points of doctrine (important and valuable as these are in their place) but the great foundational truth of the Atonement. It was the sight of the Saviour’s wounds which scattered all Thomas’ doubts, overcame his self-will, and brought him to the feet of Christ as an adoring worshiper.”
Third, notice the pastoral care with which Jesus ministered to Thomas’s disbelief: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe’ ” (John 20:27). On the one hand, Jesus was graciously answering Thomas’s demand, not ridiculing or rebuking Thomas but ministering to his unbelief. J. C. Ryle comments: “It is hard to imagine anything more tiresome and provoking than the conduct of Thomas.… But it is impossible to imagine anything more patient and compassionate, than our Lord’s treatment of this weak disciple.… He deals with him according to his weakness, like a gentle nurse dealing with a froward child.” On the other hand, Jesus in this way revealed to Thomas the truth of his deity. How could Jesus know what Thomas had said, unless he was the Lord of resurrection life, the God who knows all secrets? When Thomas finally believed, it was not ultimately because of the testimony of his friends, valuable as that was, but because Jesus had revealed himself personally in such a way that Thomas could no longer disbelieve.
William Hendriksen points out how thoroughly Jesus responded to Thomas’s objections with a gracious answer designed to win his faith. Thomas had insisted, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,” and Jesus told him, “See my hands.” Thomas demanded to “place my finger into the mark of the nails,” and Jesus invited him, “Put your finger here.” Thomas added that he must “place my hand into his side,” so Jesus answered, “Place it in my side.” “I will never believe,” Thomas insisted, but Jesus commanded in sovereign grace, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:25–27). In every conversion, Jesus personally ministers to the unbelief of the individual sinner and sovereignly calls the individual soul, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” If Jesus is calling to you, you should listen and respond. When Jesus comes before you through his Word, you should put away your unbelief and follow the example that Thomas gave before you.
Doubt Replaced with Faith
The first thing we notice about Thomas’s conversion is that he does not seem actually to have placed his fingers into the wounds of Jesus’ hands and side. Once Jesus had revealed himself to Thomas, the disciple no longer placed any demands before his faith; instead, his faith compelled him to drop all his objections and immediately profess Jesus as Savior and Lord. It was not because his demands had been met that Thomas decided that he was willing to believe. Instead, Christ’s personal self-disclosure overwhelmed the unbelief and drew Thomas to Christ as a servant and worshiper.
In this way, Thomas moved from being the last holdout to Jesus among the disciples to the one who offered the highest profession of faith in Christ. It was just as Paul would later declare: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). In John’s Gospel, indeed in all four of the Gospels, there is no greater profession of faith than the one given by the once-disbelieving Thomas: “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” (John 20:28).
Thomas professed Jesus in two vital terms that every Christian must likewise embrace. First, he named Jesus his Lord, committing himself wholly to Jesus for salvation, worship, and obedience. Thomas thus gave the confession of Psalm 16:2: “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ ” Some Christians are taught that we may look to Jesus as Savior while withholding commitment to him as our Master. Thomas belies this notion, showing that faith in Christ demands a self-surrender to him as our sovereign Lord.
Second, Thomas professed the deity of Christ, worshiping him as “my God.” J. C. Ryle calls this “a distinct testimony to our blessed Lord’s divinity. It was a clear, unmistakable declaration that Thomas believed him, whom he saw and touched that day, to be not only man, but God. Above all, it was a testimony which our Lord received and did not prohibit, and a declaration which He did not say one word to rebuke.”
In order for Jesus to offer the salvation presented in the Bible, it is necessary for him to be God. His eternal priestly mediation, his sufficient atonement for sin, and his perfect redemption, along with the effectual, sovereign call by which he summons sinners to believe, all require that Jesus be very God of very God. Ryle comments:
Forever let us bless God that the Deity of our Lord is taught everywhere in the Scriptures, and stands on evidence that can never be overthrown. Above all, let us daily repose our sinful selves on Christ with undoubting confidence, as one that is perfect God as well as perfect man. He is man, and therefore can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is God, and therefore “is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him.”
Thomas worshiped Jesus and confessed him as the Lord, the sovereign, covenant Savior of the Bible, and as the one true and living God, incarnate in the flesh for our salvation. Do you confess these things to be true of Jesus? If you do, be sure to add another word that Thomas inserted. He confessed Jesus not only as Lord and God but as “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus offers himself to you, so do not fail to receive him in worshiping faith. And then offer yourself to him in surrendering adoration, acclaiming him as “my Lord and my God.” If you do, like Thomas, you will be saved.
Blessed Are the Believers
With Thomas’s glorious confession, the apostle John brings the record of his Gospel to its climax. He began with an assertion to the deity of Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word,” he wrote, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Over twenty chapters, John has told of the remarkable ministry of Jesus, centered on the seven great signs of his deity, and then focusing on Christ’s departing ministry, his saving crucifixion, and his glorious resurrection. For John, the fitting climax to this whole Gospel record is a determined unbeliever who was confronted by the sovereign grace of Jesus and confessed the titanic truth declared all through this Gospel: “My Lord and my God!” To John, the gospel is not merely true but saving truth; he wrote his Gospel so that, like Thomas, “by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
It is with the evangelistic purpose of this Gospel in mind that John concludes Jesus’ ministry to Thomas with words spoken by Christ about disciples who would come afterward. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Do you have conditions and demands—things that you must see—before you will consider believing in Jesus? Jesus might or might not answer them in the way that you desire, but he will reveal himself to you personally if you will seek him through his Word. Jesus was reminding Thomas that there would be legions of disbelievers saved without a physical demonstration of Christ’s resurrection body, but with an equally effectual revelation of Christ in the written record of the apostles. It is through his Word that Jesus stands before us today, calling us to faith with a self-disclosure that is just as real and powerful as that which brought Thomas to his knees and with a special blessing for those of us who believe.
Jesus insisted to Thomas that if you believe without having seen him, you will be blessed. What are these blessings? They include the blessings received by anyone who has ever believed: your sins will be forgiven, you will receive the free gift of eternal life, you will be accepted into God’s embrace as a dearly beloved child, you will be delivered from the judgment that is to come, you will be raised in a glorious body like the resurrected body of Christ, you will have power to lead a holy and spiritually peaceful life, and you will be blessed to be used by God as a witness for the salvation of others. These blessings and more will be yours by making Thomas’s confession your own, acclaiming Jesus as “my Lord and my God!” If you have done this, then you can marvel at the truth that Jesus’ final gospel blessing was a benediction spoken over you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
29. Because thou hast seen me, Thomas. Christ blames nothing in Thomas, but that he was so slow to believe, that he needed to be violently drawn to faith by the experience of the senses; which is altogether at variance with the nature of faith. If it be objected, that nothing is more unsuitable than to say that faith is a conviction obtained from touching and seeing, the answer may be easily obtained from what I have already said; for it was not by mere touching or seeing that Thomas was brought to believe that Christ is God, but, being awakened from sleep, he recalled to remembrance the doctrine which formerly he had almost forgotten. Faith cannot flow from a merely experimental knowledge of events, but must draw its origin from the word of God. Christ, therefore, blames Thomas for rendering less honour to the word of God than he ought to have done, and for having regarded faith—which springs from hearing, and ought to be wholly fixed on the word—as bound to the other senses.
Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed. Here Christ commends faith on this ground, that it acquiesces in the bare word, and does not depend on carnal views or human reason. He therefore includes, in a short definition, the power and nature of faith; namely, that it does not rest satisfied with the immediate exercise of sight, but penetrates even to heaven, so as to believe those things which are hidden from the human senses. And, indeed, we ought to give to God this honour, that we should view His truth as (αὐτόπιστος3) beyond all doubt without any other proof. Faith has, indeed, its own sight, but one which does not confine its view to the world, and to earthly objects. For this reason it is called a demonstration of things invisible or not seen, (Heb. 11:1;) and Paul contrasts it with sight, (2 Cor. 5:7,) meaning, that it does not rest satisfied with looking at the condition of present objects, and does not cast its eye in all directions to those things which are visible in the world, but depends on the mouth of God, and, relying on His word, rises above the whole world, so as to fix its anchor in heaven. It amounts to this, that faith is not of a right kind, unless it be founded on the word of God, and rise to the invisible kingdom of God, so as to go beyond all human capacity.
If it be objected, that this saying of Christ is inconsistent with another of his sayings, in which he declares that the eyes which behold him present are blessed, (Matth. 13:16,) I answer, Christ does not there speak merely of bodily sight, as he does in this passage, but of revelation, which is common to all believers, since he appeared to the world as a Redeemer. He draws a comparison between the Apostles and the holy kings and prophets, (Matth. 13:17,) who had been kept under the dark shadows of the Mosaic Law. He says, that now the condition of believers is much more desirable, because a brighter light shines around them, or rather, because the substance and truth of the figures was made known to them. There were many unbelievers who, at that time, beheld Christ with the eyes of flesh, and yet were not more blessed on that account; but we, who have never beheld Christ with the eyes, enjoy that blessedness of which Christ speaks with commendation. Hence it follows, that he calls those eyes blessed which spiritually behold in him what is heavenly and divine; for we now behold Christ in the Gospel in the same manner as if he visibly stood before us. In this sense Paul says to the Galatians, (3:1,) that Christ was crucified before their eyes; and, therefore, if we desire to see in Christ what may render us happy and blessed, let us learn to believe, when we do not see. To these words of Christ corresponds what is stated in another passage, in which the Apostle commends believers, who love Christ whom they have not seen, and rejoice with unspeakable joy, though they do not behold him, (1 Pet. 1:8.)
The manner in which the Papists torture these words, to prove their doctrine of transubstantiation, is exceedingly absurd. That we may be blessed, they bid us believe that Christ is present under the appearance of bread. But we know that nothing was farther from Christ’s intention than to subject faith to the inventions of men; and as soon as it passes, in the smallest degree, beyond the limits of the word, it ceases to be faith. If we must believe without reserve all that we do not see, then every monster which men may be pleased to form, every fable which they may contrive, will hold our faith in bondage. That this saying of Christ may apply to the case in hand, we must first prove from the word of God the very point in question. They bring forward the word of God, indeed, in support of their doctrine of transubstantiation; but when the word is properly expounded, it gives no countenance to their foolish notion.
30 Many other signs also Jesus did in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, you may have life through his name.
29 The first clause of v. 29 may be a statement (so KJV, NIV) or a question (so NET, RSV). The latter is perhaps better: “Because you have seen me, have you believed?” Then comes the contrast: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The entire Christian church from the ascension onward is comprised of those who have believed without seeing. If physical seeing were necessary to convince people of the reality of the resurrection, the church would have faltered within the first year of its life.
… finding one pearl of great value.—Matt. 13:46a
Job’s ancient description of humanity’s relentless quest for wealth sounds amazingly up-to-date:
Man puts an end to darkness, and to the farthest limit he searches out the rock in gloom and deep shadow. He sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot; they hang and swing to and fro far from men … Its rocks are the source of sapphires, and its dust contains gold.… He hews out channels through the rocks, and his eye sees anything precious. (Job 28:3–4, 6, 10)
For all the efforts to mine and process precious metals and gems, none of those riches offers anything of lasting value (cf. Job 28:12–15, 21, 23, 28).
The blessing of being a kingdom citizen—a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ—is truly priceless and more valuable than all the world’s greatest riches combined. That citizenship is so incomparable because it is “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4). This heavenly inheritance includes the unsurpassed, divine spiritual blessings of forgiveness, love, peace, purity, righteousness, eternal life, and more.
Even with its priceless nature and ultimate value, God offers His kingdom to any person who surrenders all, repents, and trusts in Christ as Lord and Savior. Whatever values a man or woman has clung to in the past, God will happily exchange for the priceless kingdom treasure.
|Are you in one of those phases of life in which Christianity feels like all cost and little return? Reflect today on the treasures of faith. Ask God to bring them to mind whenever you get discouraged or weary of the battle. They are worth much, much more than the price of admission.|
– Episode 2224 –
The law Gospel distinction
Segment 1 (00:00) – The use of the law
Segment 2 (09:10) – Do, do, do Christians
Segment 3 (17:33) – The use of the Gospel
Wretched Surprise! (25:18) – Sermon Sizzler, Alistair Begg, Carry your Bibles
READING: Revelation 19-22
For much of my Christian life, I’ve heard a portion of Revelation 21:6 – “Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.’” In particular, I’ve heard that Jesus is the one who always has been and always will be – He’s the first and last letter of the alphabet, the beginning and the end. What I have not often heard is the focus on God’s remedy for spiritual thirst in the rest of the verse.
God gives the water of life to those who are thirsty.
When I read those words, I cannot help but wonder if I’m thirsty enough. Do I genuinely long for my time with the Lord each day? Do I awaken in the morning, excited to talk with God as the day starts – and beginning a conversation that continues until the time I fall asleep at night? Does my heart ache if I make it through a day (or days, even) without meeting with God at some point? Do I prioritize the Word because I know I can’t live without its guidance?
I could go on and on with the questions, but I trust you get the point. God freely gives His water to us, and yet we’re sometimes not nearly as thirsty as we ought to be. Would you please pray for me that I would thirst more for God as we approach a new year?
- Ask God to make you thirsty for Him. Then, each day ask for the same.
- Thank Him that He already paid the price for the living water.
PRAYER: “God, make me thirsty for You. Show me that nothing else will satisfy my thirst.”
TOMORROW’S READING: Review and catch-up day