The Resurrection of Christ is the single most important doctrine for the Christian faith. But it is also the doctrine that is hardest to believe.
We know that there are many hard core atheists who cannot even begin to wrap their minds around it. But let’s not forget that the early disciples didn’t come to grips with it all that quickly either.
We know that Jesus had repeatedly told them he would rise again from the grave during his life. And the passage before the one we just read we find that a couple of them had seen the empty tomb. And that passage ends with Mary seeing the Lord and running to tell the other disciples
So the disciples had the testimony of the resurrection proclaimed to them numerous times. But it would not come until Jesus proclaimed it to them himself.
Being that this was difficult for the disciples, we should not think that it should be any easier for us. Sure, we Christians might "know" the doctrine of the resurrection--at least it may be an esoteric doctrine floating around in the back of our minds. But in our heart of hearts, it might not be fully confirmed.
If you are ever tempted to doubt the resurrection--or if you waver in its applicability to you, this passage is one that was written for you. For in this passage Jesus proclaims the reality and the availability of his resurrection life.
In the first two verses we read Jesus seeks to solidify the fact that He has brought us eternal life.
I. Jesus proclaims its reality [19-20]
And I want you to see that he proclaims this life to them in three different ways. First of all, Jesus proclaims the reality of his resurrection through his wounds.
A. by his wounds
Verse 20 says that after Jesus appeared he showed them his hands and his side. In other words, he showed them the indelible marks of his crucifixion. And, then, after the disciples witnessed these wounds, it says that they were glad. They were immediately cheered and full of joy.
And it wasn’t just because they had been reunited with an old buddy. These guys now had a full understanding of what was going on. They now understood that Jesus was alive and that he had indeed conquered sin. These wounds were a testimony that his death had taken away the curse that was due to them for sin.
It is interesting to think too that these wounds are eternally etched in Jesus’ body. We don’t know much about what a glorified, resurrected body will be like. The Bible seems to speak in code when it talks about what we’ll be like when we are raised up. But the idea of the resurrection is that there is no more sin and no more accompanying affects of sin.
So, people sometimes ask, "When Christ comes again will we get older? Will we age? When I celebrate my 1 millionth birthday, will I look older?" The answer to that is yes and no. It depends on what you mean. Yes, we will get older. Our bodies might mature and possibly even change, but we won’t go through the process of "aging," at least not as we know it now.
We commonly think of aging as getting wrinkles and gray hair. But when the resurrection comes, all that will be gone. We’ll be older, but we won’t have all the expressions that are common to the process we now know as aging. Our knees won’t ache. Our backs won’t hurt. We won’t limp or need a cane to walk
The resurrection will do away with the effects of the fall that have to do with death and decay.
But its interesting that Jesus, even in his glorified state, still bears the scars he received in his sacrifice. That can only be for one reason. It is to affirm to us the reality of who He is and what He has done.
I like what Matthew Henry says. Henry says, “Conquerors always glory in the marks of their wounds.”
That’s what we did when I used to play football. The day after a game, we would come in for practice and each of us would show off his bruises.
There’s a sense in which Jesus gets to do that for all eternity. And that’s essentially what he did here for these disciples. He rolled up his sleeves and he pulled up his shirt so that his disciples could know the reality of his saving work.
Today we can’t see Jesus. He has ascended into heaven and he is seated at God’s right hand. So we can’t see him, but we can see his wounds.
Every time we celebrate communion, we are able to look at the wounds of Christ. We can hold in our hands this little torn piece of bread and, figuratively, we see the wounds. And that meal is given to us so that we can have our faith affirmed just like it was affirmed to the disciples. So remember that next time you take communion. Remember that Jesus is using that moment to solidify your faith. He’s confirming your faith in that little piece of bread. Just as Christ’s wounds were a visible sermon that declared to his disciples that he had had victory over death, that little piece of bread is a visible sermon to you declaring that you too may participate in the resurrection life he has purchased for you.
But the reality of the resurrection is not just affirmed by Jesus’ wounds, it’s also affirmed in his work.
B. In his work
Look at verse 22. It says that Jesus breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
What did Jesus do here? What was the work? Some people think that this is John’s version of Pentecost. I’m not sure that I agree with that. Pentecost happened after Jesus ascended into heaven. I think this is different. This was something of a precursor to Pentecost.
I believe Jesus’ work here is a reference back to the book of Genesis. Do you remember what happened when God first created man? When God first created man, he made him out of the dust of the earth. But he didn’t become a living being until he breathed life into him. He was just a body lying on the ground. But the Scripture says that God breathed life into him and he became a living being.
I think that this is an allusion back to that. Jesus, in this work, reminds them of that first event of creation—that day when man first received life. And he’s basically reiterating the point that He is the author of life and he now is bestowing upon them the reality of new life. They are now new creations. Though they are dead in sin, the Lord has imbued them with new life.
You might say that this is a resuscitation that corresponds to Adam's first day. It is a reminder that, though their bodies may return to dust, they will be brought up once again to live forever.
But there’s one more way the resurrection reality is proclaimed. Jesus not only proclaims it by his wounds and his work. He also proclaims it in his words.
C. In his words
Our passage tells us that when Jesus appeared, he preached a mini sermon. He said, “Peace be with you.”
Maybe you thought this was just a way of greeting them. Or perhaps you thought Jesus was just trying to calm his disciples who he has just scared by walking in on them. The doors were locked and they weren't expecting any company. Maybe you thought that Jesus gave them a start and simply tried to calm them down by saying, "Peace be with you."
That might be part of it. But there's more to it than that. These words are pregnant now with redemptive meaning. When Jesus said, “peace be with you,” he was verifying the reality of his resurrection.
Peace in the Hebrew mind has to do with wellness. It has to do with wholeness. When someone greeted you by saying, “Shalom” they were wishing a blessing upon you. They wanted you to experience the fullness of well-being by being completely whole.
Jesus’ greeting is more than just a well wish. As he speaks he is giving his disciples an insight into the present reality of the resurrection. Real peace is now a reality in their lives. Wholeness has been effected because he has risen from the dead. Death is no longer anything you have to fear because Jesus makes you complete again. His resurrection is the reminder that we will be completely restored in body and in soul.
I just said that we don’t know much about the resurrection and what it will be like. Again, it is kind of like the Bible talks in code when it refers to our future state. But I can say this: We know more about the resurrection of those who believe than we do the resurrection of those who don’t. Someone once said that the Bible is “eerily silent when it comes to the resurrection of the wicked.”
We know that those who believe will experience peace. They will be made whole. But those who don’t believe, what is their resurrection be like? Yes they will be resurrected, but their resurrection isn’t a resurrection to wholeness. Those who believe it is a resurrection unto life, but for those who do not believe, it’s a resurrection unto condemnation.
I don’t know exactly what it will be like, but I can’t help but think that the unbeliever’s resurrection will be rather ghoulish. I wonder if all the zombie stuff that is so popular today is something of a parallel to the resurrection of those who don’t fear God.
I can’t say for sure, but I know that their resurrection is not a resurrection unto peace. It is not a resurrection unto wholeness. Yes, they will undergo a physical resurrection. Their bodies will come up from the grave, but from what I can gather, it is not going to be anything to which you can look forward to. It will be a resurrection that is overshadowed by decay and death. There’s not going to be any peace in it.
That’s why I want to extend the invitation to you today that if you do not believe in Christ, that you turn to him and put your trust in him. Today you can know the peace that is spoken of here. You do not have to be condemned for your sins because Jesus has been victorious over death.
And I know that you can enjoy being a part of it because of that our text goes on to talk about. You see, our passage not only confirms the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, but it also confirms the availability of his resurrection.
II. Jesus proclaims its availability [21-23]
Look at verse 21. You’ll notice John doesn’t spend a lot of time on the resurrection. The passage quickly moves from Jesus’ resurrection to Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples. He says, “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then verse 22 tells us that he equipped them for the work they were going to do by breathing on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit.”
So you look at this and you think, what’s going on here? Jesus doesn’t even allow time for questions about his resurrection. It’s almost as if he passes right over it.
And I’ll admit, I wanted a little more too. I said, “I have to preach a resurrection sermon. Why isn’t there much here on the resurrection?” But Jesus didn’t want to talk about the resurrection. He wanted to get on with business. He simply shows up, shows himself off, and sends them out.
So what we have here is the most abrupt ordination service that has occurred in the history of man. That’s what this is. It is not so much a resurrection appearance as it is an ordination service. Jesus’ main purpose in coming to that room is to put his disciples in evangelism mode. He’s appeared to them in order to send them out into the world to preach the gospel.
But why is he in such a hurry? I think it’s because Jesus really wants people to know that this new resurrection life are to be made available to everyone in the world.
You know how you sometimes write up an email and you hit send a little too quickly. Maybe you realize you had something else to say or perhaps you should have said something a little differently. (or maybe, as is often the case, you should not have said anything at all!).
Well, Jesus hits the send key pretty fast. Of course, it is not a mistake. He does so purposefully. It is because he’s ready to get this thing going.
It’s almost like he says, “I want you guys to recognize that this life I have, is not just for you. It is for everybody. I’m making eternal life available to everyone who will receive it.” He wants these guys to proclaim it wide and far.
This is the lesson that he wants us to have today. This life—this resurrection life—is available to you. It is available right now. Jesus is sending his word to you today that your sins can be forgiven and you can take part in the resurrection unto life. All you need to do is look to him for it.
You’ll notice that’s the point in the last verse we read. In verse 23 Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Now, there is some difficulty in understanding this verse. It kind of makes it sound like you need special recognition from someone in order to be forgiven of your sins. But that’s not what its saying. Only God has the power to forgive you sins.
If anything, it is saying that your sins can be forgiven. You do not have to be condemned. You don’t have to go to hell and suffer the punishment that is due for your sin because redemption is available. Christ has made it available. All you have to do is receive and rest upon him, and resurrection life is yours.
18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'
This verse explicitly defines the doctrine of election (that God ordained some to everlasting life); and it strongly infers by way of negation the doctrine of reprobation (that God ordained who would be damned): Judas being essentially being one who is “not chosen.”
The doctrine of reprobation is much disputed. People can’t believe that a good and loving God can actively choose to consign people to hell.
How do we answer someone who suggests this?
I believe that Scripture (particularly Romans 9) leans towards the latter. One might even look at it from a rational point of view: When a coach selects his starting lineup, even though he "actively" names the starters, he just as "actively" non-names the bench players. –Todd Pedlar
Let’s look at a couple other Scriptures dealing with reprobation. What do we learn from them?
Let’s back up. What does John 13:18 have to say about reprobation? (Reprobation is actually to be a doctrine of comfort to the disciples!)
19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.
Jesus here acts as a prophet foretelling the future. What attribute does this display? Why was it important that they know ahead of time that all this was going to transpire?
Answer: It is a comfort that not one thing was outside his preview. All of this was orchestrated by his design. He planned his own death and was bringing it to pass. All this is for the purpose of strengthening our faith
20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me."
After having talked about reprobation, he reminds them of the gospel. He who betrays Christ betrays the one who sent Him (and think of the evil that will befall Judas for it!). Now think of the flip side: The disciples will have the opportunity to bear witness to Christ (they will not fall away). They also will have communion with the Father. The contrast is quite sharp, and comforting.
21-26 Jesus' reveals his betrayer
It is interesting that Jesus knew which would betray him. But it is not like this was a revelation that just came to him. John 6:64 tells us that He knew it from the very get go. Whether he knew it by divine intuition or by his supreme understanding of the scripture & his messianic office doesn't really matter. What matters is that he knew it. What’s more, He lived 3 years alongside Judas with that knowledge!
How do you think this affected Him? How does that knowledge affect you? Is there any practical benefit from this?
Answer: Think of it like this, Jesus loved and served his greatest enemy. As one of our members said-- None of the disciples even had a clue that Judas was the betrayer. That seems to indicate that Jesus didn’t treat him any differently than the rest. Jesus loved him just as much as the others.)
27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."
Some commentators say that Jesus not only predicted his betrayal, but he “sealed it.” What do you think?
Answer: You may quibble with whether or not Jesus sealed his betrayal, but at least we can agree that Jesus hurried Judas along. Yes, Satan entered Judas, but Jesus pushes him out the door and sets it into motion. If He doesn't seal his betrayal, t is certainly evident that Jesus “commissions” Judas to stop piddling around and get it done.
In all reality, Jesus is acting out his priestly office. He is not only sacrifice, but sacrificer. He brings the knife to his own throat, so to speak. In doing this we see Christ’s control over all the affairs and (most of all) understand that he freely willingly becomes our savior. None of this comes about accidently. He brings it about with unflinching resolve.
What does death taste like? Every dying soul knows that it doesn’t taste good. It is an elixir that makes one’s pallet shudder. But scripturally speaking, death tastes fruity.
The pungent wine that Christ consumed on the cross should tingle our spiritual pallets. For it points us towards an equally pungent truth: redemption.
It should not go unnoticed that the last act of Christ’s life was his partaking of the sour wine. For the spoiled fruit that touches his tongue hearkens us back to the beginning of the story.
In Adam’s fall, sinned we all. His sin was what plunged men into the bitter ruin of sin and death. When once his lips touched the forbidden fruit, he forfeited his life. As its juices flowed down his chin the havoc of hell fell upon humanity.
Certainly, the fruit was not a poison in and of itself. All had been created good. This fruit was no less good than any other in the garden. Yet it was a probationary fruit. God had forbidden it. The law said, “In the day you eat of it, you will surely die.”
Some scholars like to speculate and say that God would not have withheld the fruit forever, eternally dangling it before him as a form of temptation. They like to suggest that the forbidden fruit was much like any other item requiring patience, like sex.
Sex is a glorious creation of God, but it forbidden until the proper time. The Lord requires us to wait until we are united to our spouse in the bonds of marriage. He reveals the glory of it only at the proper moment.
So theologians opine that the forbidden fruit was much like a dessert that the Lord wished to save until that proper moment of its revealing.
But we will never know that for sure. For Adam, the fruit was ripe to eat.
Death came through one man, and it came once his lips set upon the fruit. He tasted death, and all of its repulsive tartness.
Yet, that last act of Adam’s life is reflexively expressed in the last act of the Second Adam. There is no coincidence. The sour wine that was given to Christ in his dying moment was ordained of God. Christ must taste death too. If redemption is to be had, his lips must savor the fetid fruit of Adam.
Life was first quenched through a fruit that hung on the branches of Eden’s tree. The fruit that dangled from the hyssop branch on Calvary also brought death. But it was a death that brought life.
To be sure, the Savior’s fleshly thirst was not quenched. As mentioned before, it aggravated his state and only served to vex his yearning for hydration. We can say, however, that his primary thirst was quenched.
Christ lived to do the will of the Father. Unlike the first Adam, His sole craving was obedience. And in opening his mouth to this fruit he was performing an act of compliance.
He must die. The Father demanded it. When in Gethsemene he asked if this cup could pass from him. But he realized that he could not avoid it. “Not my will, but thy will be done,” said He.
So, as his final deed he opens his mouth and bites into the sponge. He obediently tastes the punitive flavor of death....and he swallows the curse of hell.
There is no comfort in hell. At every moment those who are damned are afflicted with pain. There is no dulling of it; nor is any “getting used” to the sensation.
The puritans would talk about souls “writhing” in hell. That is an apt description because there are no comforts to be had.
If you’ve ever had a bad back, you have tried to get comfortable. It isn’t possible. You keep turning and twisting. You are writhing on your bed because the pain will not let you sit long in any given position.
Such is the experience of one who is in hell, and such was the experience of Christ in his death.
His body languishes away on that cross, and with it comes the pains of dehydration. He has had nothing to drink for at least 12 hours, and the day’s trauma has taken its toll. He thirsts.
Typically, when someone is in their dying days and last moments of life you do everything in your power to set them at ease. You give them a pillow and lay them in a position where they might be comfortable. If they are thirsty, you may put a cool cloth to their lips or give him some ice chips so as to offer them some sort of reprieve.
Today we even have hospice care. It is a whole business developed around the idea that the sick and dying should be given as much comfort as possible before they pass from this life into the next.
Yet when Christ was in the throes of death he received no such succor. His thirst was not quenched with a damp cloth or even a sweet wine—a sensation that would have brightened his eyes exceedingly, if even it be only for a fleeting moment. No! This reprieve is refused him who was damned of God. Instead they shoved upon him a putrid prick of sour wine.
His bitter death was made even more bitter.
My friend Lyle used to make his own wine. Before he moved to Alaska, he gave me his collection of wines that he had made. Let us just say he was an amateur at best in his wine making. It was not altogether good and I left it sit in my basement. As a matter of fact, I just threw it away a couple weekends ago. It had been down there for 6 years and I figured it was time to get rid of it.
Of course, we had to open every bottle and pour out the contents before we disposed of the bottles. As we did so, the fragrance of the fermentation was quite strong, but not exactly repulsive. It made me wonder, had this stuff aged well? Had time improved its taste?
I dabbed my finger in the wine and I stuck some on my tongue. I gagged. My tongue immediately lurched and my body’s reflexes induced coughing and spitting. My daughter, wide eyed with alarm, cried out, “Are you okay?!” Due to the recoil of my choking fit I couldn’t exactly answer her. I simply went into the house to get a drink of water and wash my mouth.
Christ was literally dying of thirst. To compile his anguish they made him imbibe a repugnant swig of sour wine.
Hell is a place where every comfort in life is removed. As God pours out his wrath and curse he strips away every grace and every blessing that he allotted you in life. Water and refreshment is a luxury that is afforded to us now by means of God’s benevolence. When we are deprived of it we should recognize that it is the due wages of our sin.
Jesus himself expressed the nature of hellish thirst in his own ministry. He told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. In death, Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham and received comfort. But the rich man, what of him? He descended into hell, and his sufferings were so great that he yearned for a drop of water—just a drop would have been soothing to him.
When the Psalmist cried out that his tongue was sticking to the top of his mouth, he was articulating through parched sensations that the heavy hand of God had come down upon him. It was a lamentation of how ghastly the curse for sin was.
Here on the cross Christ was taking that curse. But he must drain this cup to the dregs!
It was not enough for him to be deprived of the soothing sensation of hydration though. The bitterness of the judgment of God must be tasted in its full. It was not enough for him to thirst, he must writhe. He must have his pains increased and intensified. He must be vexed. His taste buds must be aggravated through the irritating stimuli that sin justly deserves. He must gag and choke even to his dying breath. Even that last breath must not be easy. It must come through a throat clogged with a cocktail of death.
This episode of sour wine is only a momentary event. Two verses are perhaps too long to describe the length of what happened. But this moment, however brief it is, conjures up every judgment God ever inflicted through drink. Moses made the people drink the ground up grains of their venerated golden calf. The adulterous woman was made to drink the bitter dust & ash from off the alter (Numbers 7:1-35). Jeremiah prophesied of the cup of the furry of God’s wrath that the nations were made to drink.
Here in this wine upon Christ’s lips we see the anger of God’s judgment being poured out. The hot hostility of justice must be shoved down his gullet to the very end. No mercy can be given to this sin offering. No comfort can be afforded him who has become sin for us. He must writhe and he must suffer.
The Apostle Paul talks about how the saints in Corinth are continually comforted with every comfort that there is in Christ. When we read those words, let us not gloss over them lightly. As we see Christ die in such an excruciating way, we must remember that it was for us and for our salvation. It was so that we, poor wretches that we are, may have the comforts of heavenly life secured for us.
The sponge that was lifted to Christ’s lips is a reminder to us that he has soaked up every ounce of the extremity of God’s justice. Christ endured the severity of hell, even to his dying breath, that sinners such as us might not taste even the slightest drip of its bitterness. It was so that we, through faith in Him, might be allowed to drink deeply of the refreshing wells of God’s grace and mercy.
It is an important part of the game for us. The guys who are sitting out want in… and the guys who are not in as good of shape want out!
I mention this because the words before us here resonate with this theme of substitution. Jesus here does a little switch-er-oo in his family.
To begin with, Jesus looks at Mary and says, “Behold your son.” And in these words I want you to see that Jesus isolates himself.
I. He isolates himself
What you see going on here is something akin to an athletic event where one athlete is substituted for another. When you have a substitution on the basketball court, one player steps in for another. But the one who was substituted must now leave the game. He must take his seat on the bench. In a sense he is isolated from the rest of the players.
What we see here at the cross is that sort of thing taking place. Christ is removing himself from the union he has with his mother. He isolates himself by formally breaking the familial tie he has with her
As he does this we see him willingly taking upon himself the wrath and curse of God.
Isolation is a curse. When God created us, he designed us to have communion with one another. I know that this may be hard to understand for you. We live in such a fragmented and broken society. But that is not the way it is supposed to be. We were created to have communion with one another. True happiness is found being in the presence of other people with complete peace and unity. There is no quarreling in heaven. No factions. Those are characteristics of hell because hell is a place of isolation.
The story of Cain and Able is so telling on this. Do you remember what happened to Cain after he killed his brother? The passage in Gen. 4 tells us that God punished Cain by making him a “fugitive and a wanderer on earth.” His punishment was isolation. His lot in life was to bear the curse of loneliness. And he recognized how miserable that would be because his reaction was one of complete despair! He cried out, “O my punishment is too much for me.” “It is greater than I can bear!”
You’ve no doubt experienced the misery of isolation. How many of you have been in a church that has been ruptured for some ungodly reason? (there are godly separations. But rarely do they happen for godly reasons.) When that church split, you suffered, didn’t you? You were cut off from other godly people. You lost the opportunity to share in their gifts and graces. It was as if there had been a real amputation in the body of Christ. That isolation is a curse. And that is why it is a foul thing to have the peace, purity and the unity of the church rent asunder.
Our society is a miserable place today, isn’t it? You know why? It is because there is so much isolation. Studies say that 36% of children today are born without fathers in the home. That’s not counting those fathers who leave soon-there-after. Kids are isolated.
Even those places that we would not call broken homes are most often places that are fractured. Whole families live in isolation from one another. Mom and dad go opposite directions in the morning. Kids are shipped off to day care or school or to who knows where afterwards. That’s not the way it was meant to be. The two are to become one. The family unit was to be one of the strongest bonds on earth. Home is to be where communion and happiness is found.
And here at the cross you have a severing of the most intimate of earthly relationships. The tie to the home is cut. Christ isolates himself from his own mother.
We know that Jesus is the Son of God. But he was also the son of Mary, according to the flesh. He was nursed at her breast. He was nurtured by her daily affection. He was cared for just as any other human son.
Jesus was not a stoic. He was very man of very man. And to formally have to cut his ties with his mother would have been mentally excruciating. To have to watch her weep over him at the foot of the cross and then see her walk away under some other man’s arm would have been a hell in itself.
Yet, this isolation was the work of the obedient lamb. He willingly broke up his own family so that he might descend into hell for YOU and bear the awful curse of isolation in your place.
You will notice too that as he steps away from the family, he forces another person to stand in his place. That’s the flip side of a substitution. One is not just removed, he is replaced.
II. He replaces himself with his beloved.
Let’s go back to our basket ball illustration. When a sub comes in, what does he do? He replaces one of the players on the court, doesn’t he? He takes his place and stands in his stead. He now has all of the responsibilities and he gets to enjoy all the privileges of the one he took the place of.
Perhaps a better example may be found in the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event was fencing. Italy and China were competing for the bronze medal. Late in the match Matteo Tagliariol, the Italian star, pulled a muscle and had to bow out of the event. His replacement, Stefano Caozzo stepped in and, with only two touches, sealed the medal. What is amazing is that Caozzo got to go home with the medal while the only thing guy who did all the work got to go home with was a terrible limp!
That is a great illustration of how a substitute gets all the blessings that are due to another. And that is a beautiful illustration of what happened right there at the cross.
When Jesus looks at John and says, “Behold, your mother,” he says you now have my spot! You are my replacement. You are going to stand in where I am supposed to be, and you get to enjoy what I am supposed to have.” What was he supposed to have? It was life, of course!
I don’t think it is by coincidence that John is at the foot of the cross at this moment. I don’t think that it happened by chance that Jesus appointed him as the one to stand in Jesus’ place. He is chosen to be because he is the beloved disciple. And as the beloved disciple, he represents every disciple that is beloved by Christ.
Therefore we see in this replacement what kind of death Jesus is dying. It is a vicarious death. It is the fulfillment of all the bulls and goats the priests had sacrificed up to this point. Everyday a family would enter the temple and they would bring their animal. They would lay their hands on it and then give it to the priest who would then slay it. In doing so the family was saying, this animal is dying as my substitute. It will stand in my place as the one who deserves death, and I will be the beneficiary. I will stand in its place as the one who shall live.
Jesus here says, you beloved disciples are the beneficiaries of my life. You get to stand in his place. Just like the Italian guy who got the bronze medal, you get to go home with the prize—You get to go home with everything.
Though you did nothing to deserve it, Christ has thrust you into his place. He has given you access to the Father. He has given you an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade. Though you were a not-so-innocent bystander, he has given you the chance to live forevermore in Paradise.
It is no wonder why we are made to listen in here. The words were no doubt uttered with the utmost pain and with almost inaudible volume due to the agony of crucifixion. Yet they reverberate through history with seismic thunders. They point us to the fact that Christ has become our Great Redeemer. Christ isolated himself in the pit of hell, so that we may walk through the gates of heaven.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5
We have the custom of hanging lights on our christmas trees. But do you ever wonder where that tradition came from? Most histiorians believe that the custom originated with Martin Lutehr.
It was a cold winter's afternoon in the dense German forest, recounted one historian. Martin Luther did not notice the sun slowly setting and the sky growing dark. His thoughts were on the sermon he was preparing. The forest soon came alive with the night sounds of owls, wolves, and other wild creatures.
Luther shivered and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. Then he quickened his pace, saying a little prayer for comfort as he went.
The forest grew darker. Martin Luther scurried along, continuing to pray that he would not cross paths with a wild animal. He glanced up at the night sky which was filled with tiny pricks of light. Martin Luther realized that those stars were God’s handiwork. He said that they were "Lights from Heaven to guide and comfort me, just as a star led the Wise Men to the stable that first Christmas."
Martin Luther smiled up at the twinkling sky. He was no longer afraid. Feeling safer, Martin Luther looked around for a small tree he could take home for Christmas. He found a young fir tree, pulled it up, and dragged it with him through the forest.
At long last Martin Luther was safe at home. He quickly prepared the little fir tree, hoping to surprise his family. He noticed on the table by the window the triangle shaped candle holder.
Soon Martin Luther called his family in, so he could tell them about his long walk through the dark and dangerous forest. Everyone gasped at the sight of the little fir tree. It was customary to hang Christmas trees upside-down from the ceiling beams and leave them undecorated. Yet, Martin Luther had placed this little tree upright in a pot, high on the table. The candles had been removed from the triangle shaped holder. Now, as the very first Christmas tree lights, they flickered from the tree's delicate branches -- just as the stars had flickered through the forest to guide Martin Luther.
The family gathered around as Luther told them what had happened earlier that evening.
"Just as I was getting very frightened, I saw the stars twinkling through the trees as if God was saying, 'Don't be afraid, for I am with you.' And that's when I realized the theme for my sermon. God's light shines through the darkest night for everyone, but sometimes we have to look up to see it."
Indeed, that story recounts for us not just the story of why we decorate our Christmas trees. It recounts for us the entire theme of the book of John. John tells us that Jesus is the Light of the world who came to dispel the darkness of evil. And throughout this gospel account John tells us that everyone who looks to this light may have solace from the spiritual darkness that envelops us.
And certainly that is what we find in the verse that is before us this morning. John records for us in this one line the story of the original Christmas Light, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his penetrating power over darkness. And the first thing John tells us is that Christ, as the light, invades the realm of darkness.
I. The light invades the realm of the darkness
Look at how it begins. It says, “light shines in the darkness.” Now what you have to understand is that this is language of aggression. This is not just a passage that you read and is supposed to give you warm fuzzy feelings. It is the language of invasion.
You can understand it when you think back to the creation of the world. The imagery takes you right back to the book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The very next verse then says, “Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
So, even though God had made everything—if you were there—you wouldn’t be able to see a single thing with the naked eye. But then verse 3 goes on to say, “And God said, “Let there be light.” All of a sudden the black velvety veil of darkness was peeled back. Everything was now visible because the darkness had been banished from the universe.
In the first creation, light invaded the universe. John uses that imagery to then describe the new creation. The spiritual darkness that covered the world (and continues to cover the world)—be it the ignorance, the unbelief, the immoral lifestyles—it finds itself under attack. It is shrinking back because of the shining light of Jesus Christ.
You see then, that the incarnation was not just a sweet little nativity scene with shepherds, animals and wise men. The incarnation was God’s Normandy. It was his D-Day. Light invaded the realm of darkness and there follows the conflict between light and darkness, truth and error, belief and unbelief.
Some people love Christmas, but they love it for the wrong reasons. I am tired of hearing all the silly reasons people celebrate Christmas. “It is about family.” “It is a time to think about others.” “It is a time to____”. But that is not what Christmas is about. Christmas is where God re-drew the battle lines of his war on evil. Christmas is God’s frontal attack on the Devil and his dominion over us. It is his Tet offensive. And when Mary gave birth to the Christ child, it was as if the world of darkness and evil had just been hit with a bombshell.
Some of you will probably know what the Ying and the Yang is and the religion that it represents. It is that circle with one side that is white and one side that is dark and it looks like two tad poles chasing each other. That symbol is a symbol of a dualistic system where light and dark are both equals. The good and the evil possess the same power and are in a continual struggle with one another. They battle back and forth and there is no telling which will be victorious (or, for that matter, if there will ever be a victory).
But this passage puts that silly religion to rest. The light here is shown to be infinitely superior to the darkness. When you walk into a dark room and flip on a light, the light streams throughout the room. The darkness has no power against it. When the light shines, darkness flees.
And that is exactly what happens with Christmas. The Light of the world had invaded the devil’s territory. He came to bring liberty to those who are in the darkness of their sins. Light came into the world to break the bonds of darkness and evil forever.
But you will notice that the light does not just invade the realm of the darkness. The light also exposes the filth of the darkness.
II. The light exposes the filth of the darkness
The thing about light is that darkness does not like it. That’s because when light shines, the things that are safely concealed in the darkness are exposed. And that is what you find in this passage. When it says that the light shines in the darkness, it is telling us that the vile and wicked things that were safely concealed in the world were exposed. They were shown to be what they really are.
I remember a time when I was a kid. It was a summer night and my best friend and I were running around the neighborhood being kids. We were just playing and having a good time. And we decided to cut through one of our neighbor’s yards in order to get back to home. As we walked along we saw something laying on the ground in front of us. It was easily seen because it was such a very light color and the ground was quite dark. But despite being able to see its outline, we didn’t quite know what it was. As we got closer, one of us noticed that it was an animal. We immediately concluded that it must be one of the neighborhood cats prowling around. Being that we were in no real hurry to get home we walked over to pet the cat. But it was not until we got right up on it and saw it in the fuller light of the moon that we realized that it wasn’t a cat. It was a possum! Since we were young we didn’t know anything about possum. So far as we knew this foreign animal was the deadliest and most vicious animal in the world. It could be a rabid, killer possum so far as we knew! So we freaked out. We ran home as fast as we could.
You see. That little animal, so long as the dark shrouded its real identity, was a nice little kitty cat. It was something to be admired and cherished. But once the light exposed it for the vile thing that it was, it was something to be avoided.
And that is what the light of Christ does. It exposes the true evil of evil. That which is vile, can be cherished as long as it remains in the darkness. But as soon as it comes into contact with Christ, it is shown to be what it really is.
I like the illustration that James Montgomery Boice, the former pastor of 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, gave. He tells of the time when he was a young child at summer camp. Each night the kids would be laying in their bunk beds after the lights had been turned out. When it was dark in their cabin they would take up their flashlights and play silly games with them. One of the games they would play is “whose flashlight is the brightest?” That’s the game where you shine you flashlight in someone’s eyes and try to blind them. And all of you know that is great fun!
But as soon as the sun would come up in the morning, all of the flashlight games would end. That’s because the flashlights can’t compare with the intensity of the sun.
And Dr. Boice says this: So long as we live in this world we are able to compare the relative merits of human goodness. But all these distinctions fade away in the presence of the white light of the righteousness of Christ.
Do you hear what he is saying? We all can compare ourselves to one another now. We all can say, “Well, I’m better than so and so,” just like one kid could say, “My flashlight is brighter than yours.” But when we stand in the presence of Christ and are made to compare ourselves with him, we come to find that his righteousness far exceeds our own. All of our light is not that bright in comparison. All our righteousness is as filthy rags compared to his. When the light of Christ shines, we see our need for true righteousness—his righteousness!
And that is the glory of Christmas. Christ came to earth in order to obtain for us the very righteousness we need. The greatest gift of Christmas is that righteousness that is wrapped up in Christ. For God says that if we renounce our filthy works—if we see them for what they are in the light of Christ’s righteousness— and turn to Christ, we will receive that gift. We will be robed in the righteousness of Christ.
But there is one more thing to notice from this passage. The light not only invades the realm of darkness. It not only exposes the filth of the darkness. We also see that the light conquers the hostility of the darkness.
III. The light conquers the hostility of the darkness
The best way to react to the darkness is the way I just mentioned: to renounce your filthy life and turn to Christ. That is the way God prefers you to react. But there is another way to react: you can fight him.
Look again at this verse. It says, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” Do you hear the tension? The darkness has not overcome the light. But in order for it to fail in overcoming it, it must at least attempt to overcome it, right?
That is exactly what happens when you are faced with a sudden blast of light, isn’t it? When you are in a dark room and someone flips on a light or shines a bright flashlight in your eyes, your immediate reaction is to put up your hands and shield your eyes. You try to fight against the light.
That is what happens when Christ shines his light. Christ came into the world, shining ever so brightly in his purity. And how did people react? They hated him, didn’t they? They couldn’t stand the fact that he was exposing their filthy lives. So they lashed back at him. The devil sought to fight against him. He tried to find a way to trip him up. The Jews looked for a way to be rid of him. At last they determined they had to kill him in order to snuff him out once and for all.
And that is how people continue to act, isn’t it? I mean the light is not finished shining, is it? The light continues to shine in every one of us! Remember that Chirst not only said, “I am the light of the world.” He also said, “You are the light of the world.” Every one of us who have come to faith in the Lord Jesus has him dwelling in us. And we are to let the light shine before men. Our lives are to radiate the light of Christ. And as they do the world has the same reaction to us as it did to Christ during his life. They will lash out at us, just like they did to Jesus.
But no matter how they try, they cannot overcome. Christ’s light always overcomes the hostility of the darkness. So what if they put us to death? So what if they mock us and treat us maliciously? Is that all that bad? Of course not. It is our confirmation that we are children of God.
I know that we often don’t see it. It often feels like the darkness wins many of the battles. But the darkness cannot overcome. Its hostility is futile.
I remember watching the news a while ago. They were doing a report on the tensions over in Palestine between the Israelis and the Palestinians. You know there has always been tension between those two groups. But the news cast showed pictures of a group of Palestinian kids throwing rocks at a group of Israeli soldiers. The soldiers were decked out in their riot gear. They had on helmets and body armor. They held huge shields in their hands to deflect whatever may come their way. And their weapons were visible too. They had machine guns and other artillery on hand and ready to fire.
But isn’t that a good illustration of the battle between Christ and his enemies. Their hostility is futile. They attempt to lash back, but they are merely tossing sticks and stones. They are nothing compared to the mighty force of Christ.
No matter how hard they may try, the darkness cannot overcome. Christ will always shine. His light is the light of righteousness that shines victoriously. And he shall always be victorious.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.