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Exodus 37; John 16; Proverbs 13; Ephesians 6

Mar 26, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 37; John 16; Proverbs 13; Ephesians 6

THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, the “Counselor” or Paraclete, is dependent on Jesus’ “going away,” i.e., his death by crucifixion, subsequent resurrection, and exaltation (John 16:7; cf. 7:37-39). This raises important questions about the relationship between the Spirit’s role under the old covenant, before the cross, and his role this side of it. That is worthy of careful probing. Here, however, John’s emphasis on the Spirit’s work must be made clear.

At the end of John 15, the Counselor, we are told, will bear witness to Jesus, and to this task to which the disciples of Jesus will lend their voices (15:26-27). The prime witness falls to the Spirit. In John 16:8-11, the Counselor convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He does so because Jesus is returning to the Father and no longer exercises the role of convicting people himself.

If the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus in 16:8-11, in 16:12-15 he brings glory to Jesus by unpacking Christ to those who attended the Last Supper (the “you” in v. 12 cannot easily be taken in any other way, and controls the other instances of “you” in the rest of the paragraph; cf. also 14:26). As Jesus is not independent of his Father, but speaks only what the Father gives him to say (5:16-30), so the Spirit is not independent of the Father and the Son: “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears” (16:13). His focus is Jesus: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (16:14). And of course, even here what belongs to Jesus comes from the Father: “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (16:15).

The reason why Jesus himself has not unpacked everything about himself and his mission to the disciples is that they are not yet ready to bear it (16:12). Even this late in their discipleship, they cannot quite integrate in their own minds the notion of a King-Messiah and the notion of a Suffering Messiah. Until that point is firmly nailed down, the way they read their Scriptures — what we call the Old Testament — will be so skewed by political and royal aspirations that they are not going to get it right.

How much of the Spirit’s work focuses on Jesus Christ — bearing witness to him, continuing certain aspects of his ministry, unpacking his significance!

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Exodus 36; John 15; Proverbs 12; Ephesians 5

Mar 25, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 36; John 15; Proverbs 12; Ephesians 5

GOD’S LOVE IS SPOKEN of in a variety of ways in the Bible.

In some passages God’s love is directed toward his elect. He loves them and not others (e.g., Deut. 4:37; 7:7-8; Mal. 1:2). But if we think of the love of God as invariably restricted to his elect, we will soon distort other themes: his gracious provision of “common grace” (Is he not the God who sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust? [Matt. 5:45]), his mighty forbearance (e.g., Rom. 2:4), his pleading with rebels to turn and repent lest they die, for he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (e.g., Ezek. 33:11). On the other hand, if this were all that the Bible says about the love of God, God would soon be reduced to an impotent, frustrated lover who has done all he can, poor chap. That will never account for the loving initiative of effective power bound up with the first passages cited, and more like them.

There are yet other ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. One of them dominates in John 15:9-11. Here the Father’s love for us is conditional upon obedience. Jesus enjoins his disciples to obey him in exactly the same way that he obeys his Father, so that they may remain in his love: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands, and remain in his love” (15:10).

The context shows that this is not telling us how people become Jesus’ followers. Rather, assuming that his hearers are his followers, Jesus insists that there is a relational love at stake that must be nurtured and preserved. In exactly the same way, the love of the Father for the Son says nothing about how that relation originated (!), it merely reflects the nature of that relationship. The Father’s love for the Son is elsewhere said to be demonstrated in his “showing” the Son everything, so that the Son does all the Father does and receives the same honor as the Father (John 5:19-23); the Son’s love for the Father is demonstrated in obedience (14:31). As my children remain in my love by obeying me and not defying me, so Jesus’ followers remain in his love. Of course, there is a sense in which I shall always love my children, regardless of what they do. But there is a relational element in that love that is contingent upon their obedience.

Thus Jesus mediates the Father’s love to us (15:9), and the result of our obedience to him is great joy (15:11). “Keep yourselves in God’s love” (Jude 21).

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Exodus 35; John 14; Proverbs 11; Ephesians 4

Mar 24, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 35; John 14; Proverbs 11; Ephesians 4

THE FAREWELL DISCOURSE, beginning in John 14, includes some extraordinarily rich material on the Holy Spirit. Some highlights:

(1) In Greek, every noun is grammatically designated masculine, feminine, or neuter. The word for “spirit” is neuter. When a pronoun referring to “spirit” is used, it too should be neuter. In this chapter, however, the pronoun is sometimes masculine, breaking grammatical form, a way of gently affirming that the Holy Spirit is personal.

(2) Among his titles is “Counselor” (14:16), or, in some English versions, “Comforter” or “Helper.” When Comforter is coined, it drew from Latin words that meant “to strengthen” or “to strengthen along with.” Today a comforter is either a thick quilt or someone who helps the bereaved, and is therefore too restrictive to convey what is meant here. The Greek word is capable of a variety of nuances, so some do not translate it but merely transliterate it (i.e., put it into English spelling) as Paraclete. He is certainly someone who is called alongside to help and to strengthen. Sometimes the help is legal: he can for instance serve as prosecuting attorney (16:7 -11), and he may be our legal “Counselor.” (The word should not conjure up pictures of camp counselors or psychological counselors.)

(3) He is, Jesus says, “another Counselor” (14:16, italics added). In older Greek, this word for “another” usually had overtones of “another of the same kind.” By the time of the New Testament, that meaning is fairly rare; it cannot be assumed, but must be demonstrated from the context. In this case, Jesus is clearly promising to send someone who will stand in his place. Intriguingly, apart from its use in the Farewell Discourse, the word rendered “Counselor” is found in the New Testament only in one other place, viz. 1 John 2:1 (NIV: “one who speaks to the Father in our defense”). So Jesus is the first Paraclete. At his impending departure, he promises to send the Holy Spirit, another Paraclete, to and for his followers.

(4) He is also called “the Spirit of truth” (14:17). This not only means he tells the truth as opposed to lies, but that he is the true Spirit, the one who mediates the very presence of the Father and the Son to the believers (14:23).

(5) The Spirit, Jesus promises, “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (14:26). Since the “you” are being reminded of what Jesus said, in the first instance they must be the first disciples. The Spirit will enable them to recall Jesus’ teaching, and flesh out its significance in the wake of the cross and resurrection. How secure would the links have been without his work?

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Exodus 34; John 13; Proverbs 10; Ephesians 3

Mar 23, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 34; John 13; Proverbs 10; Ephesians 3

WHEN AT THE END OF THE previous chapter, Moses asks to see the Lord’s glory, he is promised (as we have seen) a display of his goodness (33:19). But no one, not even Moses, can gaze at God’ s face and live (33:20). So the Lord arranges for Moses to glimpse, as it were, the trailing edge of the afterglow of the glory of God — and this remarkable experience is reported in Exodus 34.

As the Lord passes by the cleft in the rock where Moses is safely hidden, the Lord intones, “YAHWEH, YAHWEH, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (34:6). The Hebrew words rendered “love” and “faithfulness” are a common pair in the Old Testament. The former is regularly connected with God’s covenantal mercy, his covenantal grace; the latter is grounded in his reliability, his covenantal commitment to keep his word, to do what he promises, to be faithful, to be true.

When John introduces Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1-18), he tells his readers that when the Word of God became flesh (1:14), he “tabernacled” among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One who came from the Father, full of “grace” and “truth.” There are good reasons to think that John has chosen these two words to render the paired expression of the Old Testament. He was clearly thinking of these chapters: Exodus 32 — 34. Echoing Exodus 33, he reminds us that “no one has ever seen God” (1:18). But now that Jesus Christ has come, this Word-made-flesh has made the Father known, displaying “grace and truth” par excellence. The Law was given by Moses — that was wonderful enough, certainly a grace-gift from God. But “grace and truth” in all their unshielded splendor came with Jesus Christ (1:17).

Even the lesser revelation graciously displayed for Moses’ benefit brings wonderful results. It precipitates covenant renewal. The Lord responds to Moses’ prayer: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you” (34:10). From God’s side, this ensures their entry into the Promised Land, for the Lord himself will drive out the opposition (34:11); from the side of the covenant community, what is required is obedience, including careful separation from the surrounding pagans and paganism. “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14).

How could it be otherwise? This God is gracious, but he is also true.

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Exodus 33; John 12; Proverbs 9; Ephesians 2

Mar 22, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 33; John 12; Proverbs 9; Ephesians 2

ONE CANNOT UNDERSTAND Exodus 33 without grasping two things: (1) The tabernacle had not yet been built. The “tent of meeting” pitched outside the camp (33:7) where Moses went to seek the face of God must therefore have been a temporary arrangement. (2) The theme of judgment trails on from the wretched episode of the golden calf. God says he will not go with his people; he will merely send an angel to help them (33:1-3).

So Moses continues with his intercession (33:12-13). While dwelling on the fact that this nation is the Lord’s people, Moses now wants to know who will go with him. (Aaron is so terribly compromised.) Moses himself still wants to know and follow God’s ways. God replies, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (33:14). But how does this square with the Lord’s threat to do no more than send an angel, to keep away from the people so that he does not destroy them in his anger? So Moses presses on: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here [angel or no!]” (33:15). What else, finally, distinguishes this fledgling nation from all other nations but the presence of the living God (33:16)?

And the Lord promises, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name” (33:17).

Although Moses continues to pray along these lines in the next chapter (34:9), the glorious fact is that God no longer speaks of abandoning his people. When the tabernacle is built, it is installed in the midst of the twelve tribes.

Three brief reflections: (1) These chapters exemplify the truth that God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5; 34:14). For one human being to be jealous of another is sinful: we are finite, and we are called to be stewards of what we have received, not jealous of others. But for God not to be jealous of his own sovereign glory and right would be a formidable failure: he would be disowning his own unique significance as God, implicitly conceding that his image-bearers have the right to independence. (2) God is said to “relent” about forty times in the Old Testament. Such passages demonstrate his personal interactions with other people. When all forty are read together, several patterns emerge — including the integration of God’s “relenting” with his sovereign will. (3) Wonderfully, when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God promises to display his goodness (33:18 -19). It is no accident that the supreme manifestation of the glory of God in John’s gospel is in the cross.

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Exodus 32; John 11; Proverbs 8; Ephesians 1

Mar 21, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 32; John 11; Proverbs 8; Ephesians 1

EXODUS 32 is simultaneously one of the low points and one of the high points in Israel’s history.

Only months out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites prove so fickle that the delay of Moses on the mountain (a mere forty days) provides them with all the excuse they need for a new round of complaining. Moses’ delay does not prompt them to pray, but elicits callous ingratitude and disoriented syncretism. Even their tone is sneering: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’ t know what has happened to him” (32:1).

Aaron is revealed as a spineless wimp, unable or unwilling to impose any discipline. He is utterly without theological backbone — not even enough to be a thoroughgoing pagan, as he continues to invoke the name of the Lord even while he himself manufactures a golden calf (32:4-5). He is still a wimp when, challenged by his brother, he insists, rather ridiculously, “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (32:24). Despite the covenantal vows they had made (24:7), many in the nation wanted all the blessings they could get from Yahweh, but gave little thought to the nature of their own sworn obligations to their Maker and Redeemer. It was a low moment of national shame — not the last in their experience, not the last in the confessing church.

The high point? When God threatens to wipe out the nation, Moses intercedes. Not once does he suggest that the people do not deserve to be wiped out, or that they are not as bad as some might think. Rather, he appeals to the glory of God. Why should God act in such a way that the Egyptians might scoff and say that the Lord isn’t strong enough to pull off this rescue (32:12)? Besides, isn’t God obligated to keep his vows to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13)? How could God go back on his solemn promises? His final appeal is simply for forgiveness (32:30-32), and if God cannot extend such mercy, then Moses does not want to begin a new race (as angry as he himself is, 32:19). He prefers to be blotted out with the rest of the people.

Here is an extraordinary mediator, a man whose entire sympathies are with God and his gracious salvation and revelation, a man who makes no excuses for the people he is called to lead, but who nevertheless so identifies with them that if judgment is to fall on them he begs to suffer with them. Here is a man who “stands in the gap” (cf. Ezek. 13:3-5; 22:29-30).

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Exodus 31; John 10; Proverbs 7; Galatians 6

Mar 20, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 31; John 10; Proverbs 7; Galatians 6

IN THE EXTENDED METAPHOR of the shepherd in John 10, Jesus keeps revising the dimensions and application of the metaphor as he drives home a variety of points, a few of which we may pick up.

(1) For the biblically literate, it would be difficult not to think of Ezekiel 34. There God denounces the false shepherds of Israel, and repeatedly says that a day is coming when he himself will be the shepherd of his people, feeding them, leading them, disciplining them. Jesus’ insistence that, so far as shepherds go, those who came before him “were thieves and robbers” (John 10:8), would call Ezekiel 34 to mind. Then, toward the end of that Old Testament chapter, God says he will place over his flock one shepherd — his servant David. Now the Good Shepherd is here, one with God (1:1), yet from David’ s line.

(2) In defining himself as the “good shepherd,” Jesus says that the “good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11). This pushes the metaphor to the wall. In real life, a good shepherd risks his life for his sheep, and may lose it. But he doesn’t voluntarily sacrifice his life for the sheep. For a start, who would look after the other sheep? And in any case, it would be inappropriate: risking your life to save the livestock is one thing, but actually choosing to die for them would be disproportionate. A human life is worth more than a flock of sheep.

(3) Yet in case we have not yet absorbed the incongruity of Jesus’ claim, he spells it out even more clearly. He is not simply risking his life. Not is he merely the pawn of vicious circumstances: no one can take his life from him. He is laying it down of his own accord (10:18). Indeed, the reason why his Father continues to love him is that the Son is perfectly obedient — and it is the Father’s good mandate that this Son lay down his life (10:17; cf. Phil. 2:6-8).

(4) Jesus’ sheep respond to his voice; others reject him. The implicit election is ubiquitous in the passage (e.g., 10:27-28).

(5) Jesus’ mission includes not only sheep among the Israelites, but other sheep that “are not of this sheep pen” (10:16). But if they are Jesus’ sheep, whether Jews or Gentiles, they “will listen to [his] voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (10:16). Here is the fulfillment of the promise that in Abraham’ s offspring all the nations of the earth will be blessed. And this is also why, in the last analysis, there can never be more than one head of the church — Jesus Christ himself.

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Exodus 30; John 9; Proverbs 6; Galatians 5

Mar 19, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 30; John 9; Proverbs 6; Galatians 5

AS THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND precipitates the bread of life discourse, so Jesus’ healing of the congenitally blind man in John 9 precipitates some briefer comments on the nature of spiritual blindness and sight.

Some of the authorities were finding it difficult to believe that the victim had in fact been born blind. If it were the case, and if Jesus had really healed him, then this would say something about Jesus’ power that they did not want to hear. Then as now, there were plenty of “faith healers” in the land, but most of their work was not very impressive: the less gullible could easily dismiss most of the evidence of their success. But to give sight to a congenitally blind man — well, that was unheard of in faith-healing circles (9:32-33). Unable to respond to the straight-forward testimony of this man, the authorities resort to stereotyping and personal abuse (9:34).

Jesus meets up with him again, discloses more of himself to him, invites his faith, and accepts his worship (9:35-38). Then he makes two important utterances:

(1) “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (9” 39). In some ways, this is stock reversal, like the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), or the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) — a common theme in the Gospels. But this reversal is in the realm of vision. Those who “see,” with all their principles of sophisticated discernment, are blinded by what Jesus says and does; those who are “blind,” the moral and spiritual equivalent of the man in this chapter who is born blind, to these Jesus displays wonderful compassion, and even gives sight.

Some Pharisees, overhearing Jesus’ comment and priding themselves on their discernment, are shocked into asking if Jesus includes them among the blind. This precipitates his second utterance.

(2) “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (9:41). Of course, Jesus might simply have replied “Yes!” to their question. But that would not have exposed the seriousness of their problem. By subtly changing the metaphor, Jesus drives home his point another way. Instead of insisting his opponents are blind, Jesus points out that they themselves claim to see — better than anyone else, for that matter. But that is the problem: those who are confident of their ability to see do not ask for sight. So (implicitly) they remain blind, with the culpable blindness of smug self-satisfaction. There are none so blind as those who do not know they are blind.

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Exodus 29; John 8; Proverbs 5; Galatians 4

Mar 18, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 29; John 8; Proverbs 5; Galatians 4

TWO COMMENTS on John 8:12-51.

(1) Already in John 7:7, Jesus said to his brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify that what it does is evil.” Both in his own person and in his uncompromising words, Jesus is so offensive that the world hates him. He is the very embodiment of 3:19-21: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

John 8 now goes further. Jesus insists that when the Devil lies, “he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (8:44). Then Jesus adds, “Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me” (8:45).

That is stunning. The first clause is not concessive, as if Jesus had said, “Although I tell you the truth, you do not believe me.” That would be bad enough. But Jesus says, “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me.” What options does that leave him? Should he tell the smooth lies that comfortable people want to hear? That might get him a hearing, but it is unthinkable that Jesus would follow such a course. So he continues telling the truth, and precisely because he tells the truth, he is not believed. To those so blinded, speaking the truth is precisely what hardens their hearts. It ignites the burning hatred that issues in the conflagration of the cross.

(2) Jesus insists that “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day” (8:56): probably what Jesus has in mind is the promise God made and renewed to Abraham that in his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12). It is unlikely Jesus is claiming that Abraham had some vision that unfolded the life and times of Jesus in a kind of visionary preview. What he means, rather, is that Abraham knew God, believed God’s promises about the offspring, and in faith contemplated the fulfillment of those promises, rejoicing in the prospect of what he could not yet fully grasp: “he saw it and was glad” (8:56). But at very least this means that Jesus is the object and fulfillment of God’ s promise to Abraham, thus superseding him in importance. More: if the eternal Word (John 1:1) was always with God, and was always God, even Abraham’ s faith-borne contemplation of God was nothing less than a contemplation of him who became Jesus of Nazareth. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am” — the very covenant name of God (Ex. 3:14).

When his opponents pick up stones to kill Jesus because of this second point, they prove his first point.

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Exodus 28; John 7; Proverbs 4; Galatians 3

Mar 17, 2015 | Don Carson

Exodus 28; John 7; Proverbs 4; Galatians 3

THE PRIESTLY GARMENTS God prescribes (Ex. 28) are strange and colorful. Perhaps some of the details were not meant to carry symbolic weight, but were part of the purpose of the ensemble as a whole: to give Aaron and his sons “dignity and honor” as they discharge their priestly duties (28:2, 40).

Some of the symbolism is transparent. The breastpiece of the high priest’s garment was to carry twelve precious or semi-precious stones, set out in four rows of three, “one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes” (28:21).

The breastpiece is also called “the breastpiece of decision” (28:29). This is probably because it carries the Urim and Thummim. Perhaps they were two stones, one white and one black. They were used in making decisions, but just how they operated no one is quite sure. On important matters, the priest would seek the presence and blessing of God in the temple, and operate the Urim and Thummim, which would come out one way or the other and thus, under God’ s sovereign care, provide direction. Thus over his heart the priest simultaneously carries the names of the twelve tribes “as a continuing memorial before the LORD,” and the Urim and Thummim, “whenever he enters the presence of the LORD,” thus always bearing “the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD” (28:29-30).

On the front of his turban, Aaron is to affix a plate of pure gold. On it will be engraved the words, “HOLY TO THE LORD” (28:36). “It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’ s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the LORD” (28:38). This assumes that the” sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate” were primarily sin offerings of various sorts, offered to atone for guilt. The priest, even by the symbolism embodied in his garments, conveys this guilt into the presence of the holy God, who alone can deal with it. The text implies that if the priest does not exercise this role, the sacrifices the Israelites offer will not be acceptable to the Lord. The priestly/sacrificial/temple structure hangs together as a complete system.

In due course these meditations will reflect on passages that announce the impending obsolescence of this system, which thereby becomes a prophetic announcement of the ultimate priest, the ultimate covenant community, the ultimate authority for giving direction, the ultimate offering, the ultimate temple. There is no limit to his “dignity and honor” (cf. Rev. 1:12-18).

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