Archives For Theological Convictions

John 12:12-19

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Introduction

Many have read and recounted the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11; Mk. 11:1-10; Lk. 19:29-44; Jn. 12:12-19), otherwise known as Palm Sunday. Prior to entering into Jerusalem, Jesus views the city and weeps (Lk. 19:41-44). Once arriving, Jesus visits the temple (Matt. 21:12-17; Mk. 11:11; Lk. 19:45-46) and predicts his death (Jn. 12:20-36).

Historical and Contextual Setting

As we read this text and ponder the events of this first day of the Jewish week, and the last week of Jesus’ earthly life leading to his crucifixion, it will be helpful to address some of the historical and cultural background. The crowd and Galilean pilgrims are there for the Jewish festivities. They spread their cloaks on the ground with Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem.

During the Jewish festivals, especially Passover, Jerusalem was an exciting place. The population of the city was approximately 40,000, and because Passover was one of the major Jewish pilgrimages, during this festival the population would increase to about 240,000 people, six times its normal amount. There was great anticipation for those celebrating this festival, and the city was abuzz. The Romans were on special alert during these days. Having that many Jews in one place concerned them. All the Jews were enthusiastic about their faith and this ritual of Passover, as they relived an important part of their history and their faith. The Romans wanted to control the people and the festivities, so they were extra observant and vigilant.

In addition to these historical and cultural matters, there were significant theological issues as well. Jesus entered into Jerusalem on a donkey. This is a fulfillment of the prophecy given by Zechariah. This was important for the Jews. Furthermore, the way in which Jesus entered into Jerusalem was the same way Solomon entered when he became king. The message communicated through these events, which fulfilled Old Testament prophetic promises, is that the Messianic king entered Jerusalem, God’s holy city. This was exhilarating for the Jews and others in the crowd. They were expecting a Messiah who would be a national deliverer, who would reestablish the Davidic kingdom. Jesus looked a lot like the Messiah who had been promised in the Old Testament Scriptures: he taught with authority, he healed the sick, he even raised the dead. The people welcomed him with this in mind, as they prepared the way for him as the Davidic king entering Jerusalem.

What this means is that Jesus entered into an exciting, tense and potentially explosive situation. The Romans wanted to keep things under control, so things did not get out of hand. The Jewish authorities also had concerns since they did not want to upset the Roman authorities. It was an intense and unstable situation for Jesus and the disciples.

Biblical Context

This section in John’s Gospel focuses on the feast of unleavened bread culminating in the Passover. John begins this section in this way: “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead” (12:1). At Bethany, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil (12:3). Other Gospel writers also include that Jesus’ head was also anointed, indicating there was sufficient oil to anoint both Jesus’ head and feet (Matt. 26:7; Mk. 14:3).

Judas, not unexpectedly, objects, since this oil could have been sold for a full year’s wages (12:5). It was, according to Judas, a waste. In the providence of God, it was a precursor to the anointing of Jesus’ body after his crucifixion and prior to his burial.

Large crowds came to see Jesus and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (12:9). The chief priests desired to kill both (12:10).

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry

A great crowd that had come to the feast of unleavened bread (12:12), associated with the Passover (12:1), heard Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, so they followed him (12:12; cf. 12:9). The excited crowd took palm branches and spread them on the road where Jesus rode into the city on a donkey (12:13). As they went out to meet Jesus with the palm branches, they recalled the words recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. They quoted a text from Psalm 118:25-26, which they believed was being fulfilled by Jesus as he approached Jerusalem.

One has written, “By waving palm branches (a Jewish national symbol) the people hail Jesus as the Davidic king and echo the language of Ps. 118:25-26, hoping that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Most of the crowd probably understood the title King of Israel in a political and military sense, still hoping that Jesus would use his amazing powers to resist Roman rule and lead the nation to independence.”

“Hosanna,” is a Hebrew expression which means “save,” and it became an exclamation of praise. It remains so to this day. The statement “king of Israel” refer to the expectations for this person to be a political deliverer, whose identity is as the Messiah. In the beginning of this Gospel, John records Nathanael saying the same thing about Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (1:49)!

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, which is the fulfillment of another prophecy written by Zechariah (9:9), which identifies the one on a donkey as a king. Jesus came not on a war horse, but on a donkey, depicting his humility. As one concludes, “Jesus is depicted as the humble shepherd-king of Zech. 9:9, who comes to the Holy City to take his rightful place. An early messianic prophecy speaks of a rule from Judah, who, riding on a donkey, will command the obedience of the nations (Gen. 49:10-11).”

His disciples did not understand these things, until after Jesus was glorified (Jn. 12:16; cf. 7:39) At that time, the Spirit brought these things to mind (cf. Jn. 16:13) and gave them “eyes to see” and understand. The same occurred with what Jesus said of the temple and his body (2:22).

The crowd that was with him when he raised Lazarus from the dead continued to follow him. They continued to “bear witness” to what they had seen. It was this sign that led the people to desire to meet Jesus. (John records seven signs or miracles Jesus performed that are truly significant, in that they point to the person of Jesus Christ who is the God-man: water turned to wine [John 2:1-11]; healing the sick [Jn. 4:46-53]; healing on the Sabbath [Jn. 5:1-29]; feeding the multitude [Jn. 6:1-14]; walking on water [Jn. 6:16-24]; healing the blind [Jn. 9:1-12]; raising Lazarus from the dead [Jn. 11:1-44].)

The Pharisees concluded this was getting them nowhere, which meant their earlier desire to kill him was only strengthened. They claimed the “whole world”, was going to see him (12:19; cf. 12:10), a bit of hyperbole to strengthen their justification and resolve to kill him.

Following this, Jesus speaks of his impending death, his “hour” in which he and the Father are “glorified” (Jn. 12:23; 17:1).

Conclusion

The “hour” is related to the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry which is the cross, the place where Christ experiences the depths of sin, yet also the beginning of his exaltation through resurrection and glorification.

It is important to note John’s transition. When Jesus was asked to do certain things, He made it clear that the “hour had not yet come” (Jn. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). But Jesus final journey to the cross marks his transition such that John records Jesus as saying, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn. 12:23; cf. 12:27(2x); 13:1; 17:1).

The cross is the unique way through which He will be glorified. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer begins, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn. 17:1).

Response

Jesus’ sinless life, his perfect substitutionary death and his glorious resurrection and ascension are historical and doctrinal truths we remember this week. More than that, these are truths that we not only believe and affirm, they are truths we have experienced which have transformed our lives. Ultimately, this leads to worship of the Lord Jesus. Like Thomas, we utter, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28).

Might our focus on the Lord Jesus Christ this week lead to worship of him and proclamation of this truth, as we trust him to work in the lives of people “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

What are the resources you provide for God’s people to aid in their evangelistic endeavors with Jehovah Witnesses, the modern day Arians? How do you refute their belief that “there was a time when Jesus was not?”

It is also helpful to hear first-hand from Jehovah Witnesses what they use to prepare their people for their door-to-door “evangelism.” Below are 28 questions from one such aid prepared for JWs, calling into question the deity of Jesus. It is their attempt to validate their own position denying the eternality of the second person of the Godhead, the Son, and to call into question the orthodox belief that Jesus is fully God (and fully man).

The Arian, and subsequent Jehovah Witness, view denying the full deity of Christ was condemned as a heresy at the Council of Nicea (325). In the words of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381):

[We believe in one God . . . And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through Whom all things came into being, Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human.

For a bit of history, and using a reference in Evangelical Convictions, we refer to the orthodox truth regarding the Trinity (p. 43): “Our God is a triune God – one God in three Persons.” And the intra-trinitarian relationship is explained in this way(p. 42, n. 28): “Theologians through the centuries have spoken of the Father as ‘unbegotten,’ the Son as ‘eternally begotten of the Father,’ and the Spirit as “proceeding from the Father and the Son.’”

Here is the tool to which we ought to be able to respond. How well did you do?

Good Points For Field Service

IF JESUS IS GOD

  1. Why is he called the “firstborn” of all creation? Col. 1:15, Rev.3:14
  2. Why did he say that he did not come of his “own initiative” but was sent? John 8:42, 1 John 4:9
  3. Why did Jesus not know the “day and the hour” of the Great Tribulation but God did? Matt. 24:36
  4. Who did Jesus speak to in prayer?
  5. How did he “appear before the person of God for us”? Heb. 9.24
  6. Why did Jesus say “the Father is greater than I am”? John 14:28, Php. 2:5, 6
  7. Who spoke to Jesus at the time of his baptism saying “this is my son”? Matt. 3:17
  8. How could he be exalted to a superior position? Php. 2:9, 10
  9. How can he be the “mediator between God and man”? 1Tim. 2:5
  10. Why did Paul say the “the head of Christ is God”? lCor. 11:30
  11. Why did Jesus “hand over the Kingdom to his God” and “subject himself to God”? 1 Cor. 15:24, 28
  12. Who does he refer to as “my God and your God”? John 20:17
  13. How does he sit at God’s right hand? Ps. 110:1, Heb. 10:12, 13
  14. Why does John say “no man has seen God at any time”? John 1:18
  15. Why did not people die when they saw Jesus? Ex. 30:20
  16. How was Jesus dead and God alive at the same time? Acts 2:24
  17. Why did he need someone to save him? Heb. 5:7
  18. Who is reffered to prophetically at Prov. 8:22-31?
  19. Why did Jesus say “that all authority has been GIVEN to me in heaven and on earth”? Matt. 28.18 Dan. 7:13, 14 (similar)
  20. Why did he have godly fear? Heb. 5:7
  21. How could he learn obedience and be made perfect? Heb. 5:8-9
  22. Why would an angel be able to strengthen him or angels minister to him? Luke 22:43, Matt. 4:11
  23. Why would Satan try to tempt him if he KNEW that he was GOD? Matt. 4:1-11
  24. Jesus when sent to the earth was made to “be Lower” than the angels. Heb. 2:7. How could any part of a God Head EVER be lower than the angels?
  25. Then if Jesus was the sameas God, who was he being tempted to rebel against? could God be tempted to rebel against himself? Matt. 4:1
  26. Near the end of his earthly life, Jesus cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt. 27:46 Can God desert or forsake himself?
  27. 5:8 says that Jesus learned obedience! To whom would he obey if he was GOD? And Does God need to LEARN anything?
  28. God’s justice is strickly perfect. Ex. 21:23-25 for example. The ransom price was one perfect human for another. An imperfect man’s life would be too low. Ps. 49:7 If Jesus was the same as God, the ransom price paid by a God would have been too high. Adam was a perfect MAN and the ransome price was a perfect MAN, not higher nor lower.

Cf. Phil Johnson, “A Practical Example Showing Why Doctrine Is Important

Our EFCA 2017 Theology Conference was excellent. We learned, we worshipped, we were encouraged – and we encouraged one another, and we were equipped.

Resources

Resources from the Preconference have been posted: Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?

On the website you will have access to the recordings of the discussion between Al Moher, who answered the question “yes,” and Jack Collins, who answered the question “no.” You will also be able to peruse or download the Notebook, which consists of information about the speakers, an introduction to the Conference, and bibliographies from the two speakers.

Listen, Discuss and Learn

After listening to the presentations and responses of Mohler and Collins, we spent the third and final session in discussion groups. It is one thing to carry on this important discussion in an academic setting as we did. But it is another thing when this discussion happens in the same local church, around an elder table.

To gain the most from this session, here is a suggested format for thought and discussion with others.

  • Read the introduction to this preconference found on pages 14-15 of the Notebook.
  • Listen to the presentations and responses of Mohler and Collins. Discuss what you learned.
  • Read “Continuing the Discussion in the Local Church – A Case-Study” on pages 24-25 of the Notebook, and respond to the seven questions related to the case-study.
  • In order to give this discussion a context in the EFCA, read the additional resource “Creation, EFCA Statement of Faith and Evangelical Convictions” after having read the case-study and before discussing the questions. This is found on pages 25-26 of the Notebook.
  • Read and discuss “The Doctrine of Creation: Pastor and Elder/Leadership Affirmations – An EFCA Example,” consisting of Theological Foundations, Scientific Foundations and Pastoral Implications, on pages 26-29 of the Notebook. (This is an example of something you could use in your local church. It has no authority and has not been adopted by any church. It was written, in conjunction with the theology conference, for the purpose of providing a resource for this important discussion which serves as a model for what might be done in a local church. It is intentionally thorough, so you can see the breadth of issues to include, and then you can, based on your own situation, determine what to use that is most helpful to you, meaning all of it, some of it, or none of it. But even if you do not use any of it, you will have been made aware of the breadth of the issues.)

Conclusion

We affirm without reservation or equivocation the biblical truth “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We profess with conviction, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 1, God). We also profess with that same conviction “the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 2, The Bible). With these foundational and essential truths, we humbly and charitably engage in dialogue and debate regarding the question, “Does the Bible speak definitively on the age of the universe?”

In the EFCA, we strongly affirm the infallibility, inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures.  We also affirm unequivocally the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is grounded in the Scriptures, God’s Word, which is living and active. Consider what our commitment to this gospel means, according to God’s Word.

  • We are not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
  • We affirm the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
  • We testify to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).
  • We affirm the gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-3).
  • We live a life worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
  • We experience (and proclaim) the gospel in Word and power (1 Thess. 1:5).
  • We have been entrusted with the gospel (1 Thess. 2:4).

This unwavering commitment to God’s Word, the Scriptures, and God’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, also has significant implications in how we live life together with other believers. Grounded in the essentials of the gospel, we are willing and eager to partner with other like-minded and like-hearted believers, and grant liberty and charity on some of the non-essentials.

In the Free Church, this has been referred to as “the significance of silence.” What this means is that we will discuss and debate an issue, but we will not divide over it. We believe our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ, both a doctrinal purity and a practical unity, enables us to live life together with others in the local church, and to partner with other gospel-committed ministries outside our local church and denomination (consider Ephesians). In fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ allows us not only to survive in such a setting, it enables and empowers us to thrive and flourish. And we believe this practical unity grounded in doctrinal purity manifests the gospel in practice which we preach and teach in doctrine. This is rightly referred to as evangelical unity.

The Spiritual Heritage Committee is working on a new book, Evangelical Unity, which will address these issues, and which will serve as a companion to the book that spells out our understanding of the essentials, Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (2011). In the past, these two works were This We Believe: The Background and Exposition of the Doctrinal Statement of The Evangelical Free Church of America (1961) and The Significance of Silence (Vol. 2 Heritage Series) (1981).

There are historical precedents of those who have been committed to a similar gospel-centeredness in doctrine and practice. Richard Baxter (1615-1691), one of those from the past, delineates what Christian unity means, cf. Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 5 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 155.

Baxter writes “there must be an union among all churches and Christians in these following particulars.”

  1. They have all but one God.
  2. And one Head and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
  3. And one Sanctifier, the Holy Ghost.
  4. And one ultimate end and hope, even the fruition of God in heaven.
  5. And one Gospel to teach them the knowledge of Christ, and contain the promise of their salvation.
  6. And one kind of faith that is wrought hereby.
  7. And one and the same covenant (of which baptism is the seal) in which they are engaged to God.
  8. And the same instrumental founders of our faith, under Jesus Christ, even the prophets and apostles.
  9. And all members of the same universal body.
  10. And all have the same new nature and holy disposition, and the same holy affections, in loving God and holiness, and hating sin.
  11. They all own, as to the essential parts, the same law of God, as the rule of their faith and life, even the sacred canonical Scriptures.
  12. Every member hath a love to the whole, and to each other, especially to the more excellent and useful members; and an inclination to holy communion with each other.
  13. They have all a propensity to the same holy means and employment, as prayer, learning the Word of God, and doing good to others.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What would you add to the list? What would you delete? What would you edit?
  • Where do we come short in our understanding and in our living out of this unity – created by the gospel of Jesus Christ and expressed by our unity with others in Jesus Christ?

 

On January 19, 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism was first published by Reformed scholars in Germany. This Catechism was written by Peter Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, and espouses a Reformed view of theology. Shortly after its publication, it was accepted by most of the Reformed churches in Europe. It was originally written “to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers.”

As a catechism, its structure is that of a question followed by an answer. It also includes Scripture references supporting the responses. It consists of 129 questions and answers, and soon after it was published, it was structured to be read in a year, and thus divided into 52 sections to reflect the 52 weeks of the year. In the sixteenth century, the National Synods of the Reformed Church adopted the Three Forms of Unity, which consisted of the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618-1619).

Here is a brief introduction to the Catechism:

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year.

The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections, so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches each Sunday of the year. In The Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favorably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year, Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons.

The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. These requirements were strongly emphasized by the great Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is the most influential and the most generally accepted of the several catechisms of Reformation times.  

The first two questions frame the whole Heidelberg Catechism, and are foundational for the whole of the Christian life. These two questions and answers are worthwhile to memorize.

1.Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,[1] but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,[2] to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.[3] He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.[5] He also preserves me in such a way[6] that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;[7] indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.[8] Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life[9] and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.[10]

[1] I Cor. 6:19, 20 [2] Rom. 14:7-9. [3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14. [4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2. [5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8. [6] John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. [7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18. [8] Rom. 8:28. [9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14. [10] Rom. 8:14. 

2.Q. What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A. First, how great my sins and misery are;[1] second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;[2] third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.[3]

[1] Rom. 3:9, 10; I John 1:10. [2] John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 10:43. [3] Matt. 5:16; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 5:8-10; I Pet. 2:9, 10.

I have used the Heidelberg Catechism as a supplement to my Bible reading. I have also used it with my family as part of our family worship/devotions. I commend it to you as well.

In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows:

Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.

The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use. At their best, they have been foundational and formative to Christians and the propagation of the Christian faith for centuries. If one does not use a catechism for spiritual formation, what is being used? It is not that young people and adults are not being formed and shaped. The concern is that what they are being formed and shaped by and to is not substantive biblical and theological truth.

At our upcoming Theology Conference, “Reformation, 500: Theology and Legacy,” one of our lectures will address The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here, and you can register here.