A Matter of Death and Life
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

A Matter of Death and Life

John 5:25–29  (ID: 3622)

Jesus stands at the crossroads between the broad way that leads to destruction and the narrow path that leads to eternal life. In this study of John 5:25, Alistair Begg examines Jesus’ announcement of two critical, life-transforming hours: one in the present, when the spiritually dead are made alive in Christ, and another in the future, when Christ returns and the physically dead will be resurrected to either eternal life or eternal judgment. All who hear and believe Jesus’ words are invited to trust Him and be saved.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

John 5:9—the end of verse 9. We’ll read from there to verse 29. Please follow along if you can. John 5:9. The man has been healed, he has taken up his bed, and he’s gone walking away. And we pick it up from the final sentence of John [5:]9:

“Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed, and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you[’re] well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’

“This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.’

“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.’”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Well, our “Truly, truly” for this morning so John 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

Our Father, we pray earnestly and humbly for the help of the Holy Spirit to faithfully say what the text says, to understand it, to believe it, and to live in the light of it. And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Now, by this time you know that we’re going to say, almost without exception, that every one of these “Truly, trulys” has to be set within the context—obviously in the context of the whole Bible, certainly in the context of the purpose of John in his Gospel. John 20:31: “Many more signs have been done that are not included,” he says, “in this Gospel, but these are included in the Gospel in order that you might believe and that by believing you might have life in his name.”[1] So, all the way through he’s writing not a biography. He’s not writing a history. He is providing us with a Gospel, and his purpose is straightforward. And we have to keep that in mind always so that we don’t go astray.

We also have to set every one of these verses within the wider context of what is being said. And that demands that we are able to look back as well as looking forward. And so I encourage you to be diligent in looking into the text, if you can, to make sure that if I’m saying it’s in a certain verse, it’s actually there, or you can come to me afterwards and say, “No, you had that completely wrong. It’s somewhere else.” But that would be okay. It happens to me all the time.

But anyway, here we go.

It all began, as we now know, because a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years was seen in the community walking along the road, carrying the mat that he’d been lying on for virtually all of his life. People that we might have expected to say, “What a wonderful, joyful reality this is!” had actually taken upon themselves to oppose what had happened, to speak unkindly to the man. These individuals are identified here in the text as the Jewish folks who were obsessed with rules. They were so obsessed with their rules that they couldn’t find it in themselves to rejoice in what had happened to this man. And when they finally managed to discover who it is that spoke to the man in this way and find out that it is Jesus of Nazareth, then they are now completely committed not only to trying to silence him but actually to kill him. And they are concerned that this Jesus is not only a breaker of the Sabbath, but he is guilty of blasphemy. They were in no doubt that he was making claims to deity. And so, instead of acclamation, their response is persecution.

Now, last time, in seeking to handle this, or be handled by this, we delved somewhat into the doctrine of the Trinity, and I quoted from the Athanasian Creed and so on. In that experience and in response to the experience, I was fearful that I was perhaps guilty of dealing with it in such a way that we couldn’t see the forest for the trees. And in reflecting on it as the day unfolded and then into the beginning of the week, I was still really there in my thinking, and I was saying to myself, “I wonder if anybody really got the connection between that question, ‘Do you want to be healed?’[2] and then everything else that followed from that.” I said, “I’m not sure. I’m not sure.”

And then, wonderfully, I got an email, just a little encouragement from God, written by somebody. I won’t tell you who it is, but it’s from far away—from, I don’t know, two thousand miles away. And this person wrote to say, “I woke up on Sunday morning overwhelmed with a sense that I should be in church. I decided that, since I was not in a place where I was immediately accessible to a church, to tune in to what used to be my church—namely, Parkside Church.” She’s writing in real time, and she says, “Today was the first service in twelve years that I have attended.” I won’t go into the details of it, but she essentially says this: “When you asked that question—the question that Jesus asked, ‘Do you want to be healed?’—I said, ‘Yes, Lord Jesus, I desperately want to be, and I need to be.’” And she realized that what Christ had done in the transforming of the man was setting the scene for the radical transformation which was not taking place first of all in physical terms but in the great need that is spiritual.

And that reality we need to underpin once again: the link between the man’s physical predicament and our spiritual predicament—that it is emblematic of the problem that we face. By nature, the Bible makes clear, we are helpless spiritually. We’re not in a position to fix ourselves. We are as helpless spiritually, the Bible says, as this man was physically.

And that’s why when Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” you remember he said, “I’ve got nobody to help me. I’m completely alone in this situation. I couldn’t reach out and find somebody around here who could do for me what needs to be done.”[3] And, of course, we then considered Jesus’ response to the objection of his opponents: “My Father is working,” he says, “and I[’m] working.” Down in verse 21: “As the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” And Jesus is explaining to these individuals that what he’s doing is the work of God. It’s God who gives life. It is only God who saves from judgment.

And the question then would be: How does that happen? How is somebody granted life? How is somebody set free from the prospect of judgment on the last day? And we don’t have to imagine the answer. It is clear in verse 24: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life … does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

It’s God who gives life. It is only God who saves from judgment.

That is why the Bible says that “faith come[s] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”[4] That is why God says to Moses, “There’s going to come a prophet after you, and I want everybody to listen to what it is he has to say.”[5] And of course, that is Jesus himself. And now Jesus stands in this context, and he affirms that which the prophet anticipated, and he does so in the ears of those who are actually unwilling to hear.

You remember in Paul Simon’s song “The Sound of Silence,” he speaks about people who are “hearing without listening.”[6] I’m not sure what he meant by that. But here, these people are listening without hearing. They’re listening without hearing. It is everyone who hears and then believes.

I’ve said this to you before, but if you remember it: in childhood (at least I do), I didn’t have an alarm clock. I didn’t want one; it might wake me up. And it was the responsibility of my parents to do that job, and often my mother. And as you’re coming just out of your slumbers, it just sounds like there’s somebody somewhere shouting something. There’s just a noise. And then, as you come a little further into the real world, you say, “There’s someone shouting about something. They’re shouting… It sounds like they’re trying to wake somebody up.” And then, “Oh! It’s my name that’s being called. They’re waking me up.”

I think that would be the testimony of some of you. You came around this church or another church. You said, “There’s somebody shouting about something. I wonder what they’re shouting about. There’s somebody seems to be calling somebody—calling them to faith. Oh!” And who’s the one calling? Not the preacher. Jesus. Jesus! That’s what he’s saying to these folks: “My Father is at work. I’m at work. And whoever hears and believes my words will pass from death to life.”

The hymn writer captures it perfectly in a wonderful hymn I don’t think that we have ever sung—I’m not sure—but hopefully we will now. But it begins, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest.’” And then a subsequent verse goes,

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light.
Look unto me, your morn shall rise
And all your day[s] be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In him my [light], my sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
Till trav’ling days are done.[7]

That’s the testimony of somebody who has heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come to me.” You see, that’s what Jesus is doing. He’s inviting us to himself. He’s not inviting us to church. He is the head of the church. To invite him to himself is essentially the same. But nevertheless, that is not the invitation. The invitation is to come to him.

Now, let’s pick up on this notion of “My Father is working …, and I am working.” The question is: When is this taking place? When are you working? When is the Father working? And let me suggest: he is working now and then. Now and then. Now, I don’t mean that in the colloquial way that we use it, which means, essentially, if we say, “Well, do you brush your teeth?” and your grandson says, “Now and then.” And you say, “Well, now and then is not going to be good enough. We need now, and now, and now, and now, and now.” So we’re not using it in terms of “intermittently” or “occasionally.” We’re using it in light of what the text says—and I’ll point it out to you. Verse 25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming”—notice—“and is now here.” Now: “and is now here.” Verse 28: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming.” Then. You see the distinction? Twenty-five: an hour is coming, and it’s now. An hour is coming, and it’s then.

Working Now

Now, this “now” in verse 25 is when “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God.” “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God.”
Well, none of us, Jesus has already pointed out—none of us honor the Son as we should.

You see, people say, “I think that my big problem with religion is that I just don’t do enough good things,” or “I haven’t been good enough,” or “I haven’t fixed myself,” or whatever it is, or “I’ve got a whole litany of bad things that I’ve ever done.” That actually is not the greatest problem. The greatest problem is that by nature, we do not honor Jesus as the Son. We do not. We use his name as a cuss. We use his name as a byword. We make reference to him as a figure of history. We may damn him with faint praise by suggesting that he was a great man. But we don’t honor him. We don’t call him Lord. We don’t call him Savior. We don’t call him King. That’s the problem: you do not believe.

Now, you’ll notice that; it’s there in the text. People say, “Well, I know that it says that, but I’m quite a decent person, you know.” Let me ask you: Do you honor the Son? “Well, I believe in God.” Let me ask you: Do you honor the Son?

The Bible explains that our natural state is spiritual death. The idea that pervades our culture is that somehow or another, we live in a middle ground in between life and death, between truth and error, and so on; and it is up to us to decide along the way which of these places we want to spend our time and give our energies, as if somehow or another, we live in some quasi-unequivocal state or a state of equivocation. So, we have the option: “This one or that one.” No, says the Bible. No. We are on a broad road that leads to destruction, and there is a road that leads to life,[8] and the pathway from the broad one to the narrow one is through a person. That person is Jesus. He stands at the crossroads, inviting us to honor him, to believe him, to hear him, and to trust him.

We’ve got no one to help us in this regard. We’ve got no one to help us. You think about the predicament of modern man in relationship to the things that are before us in our world today. Who’s going to help? Who’s going to fix these things? Who can transform? Who else can do this? Who else? Who else? Only a holy God. How do we meet the holy God? In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You and I weren’t made alive in abstraction. We were made alive by being united with Christ.

You remember, actually, in Luke 15, when Jesus gives that wonderful story of the two boys that are estranged from their father, and the one boy has gone away and decided he’s going to do his best to make sure that he doesn’t have to deal with any of the stuff with his father anymore. And you remember it says that “he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of [the] country”[9] who gave him a wonderful job feeding pigs. And then it says, “And no one gave him anything.”[10] “No one gave him anything.”

“Do you want to be healed?”

“I have no one to help me.”

“Well, you can surely get yourself out of your predicament, can’t you?”

“No one. No one gives me anything.”

Here it is: Can dead people bring themselves to life? No.

That’s why in chapter 3 Jesus is making clear in the “Truly, truly,” “You must be born again. You’re in need of regeneration.”[11] We’re in need not of doing something but of having something done—that the work of regeneration is not something that we do to put ourselves in a place with God, but it is something that God has miraculously done in Jesus in order to reconcile us to himself.

Now, when you go forward into the Epistles, this comes across clearly. Ephesians chapter 2: “And you were dead,” he says, “in [your] trespasses and [in your] sins.”[12] Who’s he referring to, a special group of people? No, everybody! Everybody! We’re all dead men. It’s the walking dead: “dead in [your] trespasses and [your] sins.” And you read on: “But God, who is rich in mercy, according to the great love with which he has loved us, made us alive together with Christ”[13]—that the second person of the Trinity has united himself with humanity in the incarnation, and in the miracle of regeneration, we are united with Christ in Christ. We are not simply people that have become religious and decided to follow Jesus. We are in Jesus: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old is gone; the new has come.”[14] What is “the new”? It is the reality of the Spirit of God filling the life of one who has been made a child of God. And that is why we have a hope of a resurrection: because we are united with him in his death in order that we might be united with him in his resurrection. I mean, it is ontologically impossible for a person who is in Christ to be lost for eternity. Why? Because Jesus isn’t lost for eternity! That’s what he’s saying here. “And you who were dead…” Colossians 2:13: “And you who were dead, God made you alive together with him.”[15] You and I weren’t made alive in abstraction. We were made alive by being united with Christ.

This is all the “now,” though, you will see. This is all now. We’re still only in verse 25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here… Everyone who hears and believes…”

“Ah, that’s all you have to do, believe? That’s easy,” says somebody. In fact, you hear this all the time: “Oh, the problem is easy believism.” Do you think believing is easy? I’ll tell you what’s easy: fasting. I’ll tell you what’s easy: giving to the needy. I’ll tell you what’s easy: going on a pilgrimage, walking in the woods, thinking deep thoughts. I’ll tell you what’s easy: going to Rome and climbing the Scala Sancta, the marble steps. All that is pretty easy. But to believe? No, by nature, we don’t believe.

In fact—and this is not in our program, really, but look at verse 44 if you have 5 open before you. Jesus is going to go on and say along the same lines to these folks, “How can you believe …?” “How can you believe …?” You can do a lot of things. But:

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do[n’t] think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: [that would be] Moses, on whom you [as the great prophet] have set your hope. For if you [believe] Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.[16]

I say to my Jewish friends, “Yeah, you believe the first five books of the Bible, apparently. But if you really believed them, then you would honor Christ. Because Moses is a forerunner pointing to Jesus.” “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” The authority of heaven is in the Scriptures.

You see, I think it’s J. C. Ryle who says this, and I thought it was a wonderful sentence. I wrote it down, and I forgot to write against it who said it, so we’re giving it to the late bishop. He says, “To enter [Christ’s] school,” we come “as penitents, and become His believing scholars.”[17] To enter Christ’s school, we come on our knees.

Getting into a good school around here, you have to fill in a form. You have to explain who your grandpa was, your mother was, how many times you’ve run a hundred meters in under ten seconds, how you were in the debating school, you were a fine fellow and a terrific girl and so on, and eventually everybody can say, “My, my, what a wonderful thing that you’ve been accepted into the school!” We like that kind of thing. That’s what I’m saying. Go on a pilgrimage. Climb the steps. Do whatever you want to do. Do all. That’s not the basis of acceptance. The basis of acceptance is “I need you. I believe in you. I believe that you are who you said you are.”

Now, you will notice that verse 26 begins with “For…” “Here’s the logic of it,” he says: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself”—this mystery, again, of the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity equal, when the tasks are assigned, in the equality of their relationships, this life is in his Son. That’s why the prologue begins, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”[18]

Don’t think for a moment that somehow or another, when you read that, that the Father has granted the Son after the incarnation something that was not there before. No: in him was this life. And somehow or another, language defeats us in trying to imagine the counsels of eternity, where the Father says, “I’ll do this, you do that, and the Holy Spirit will do this.” I mean, it’s almost too trivial to speak of it in those terms. But nevertheless, that’s what’s going on.

Working Then

Now, we spent a long time on now. We need to get to then. Then. It says, “An hour is coming.” You say, “Yeah, I wish it would come a little sooner.” Yeah. “An hour is coming.” Someone says, “I know. It’s ten o’clock.” All right.

“And he has given him authority”—this is Jesus—“to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do[n’t] marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” Now, we know that Jesus didn’t come to condemn but to bring salvation. That’s John 3:17: he didn’t come to condemn but to bring salvation. However, the Father has entrusted the responsibility of judgment to his Son, to the Lord Jesus. You remember back in the Old Testament, when Abraham is pleading to God for the city of Sodom, you read there in the middle of Genesis 18, “The judge of all the earth will do right.”[19] God is the judge of all the earth. He will always do what is right. And he has entrusted this judgment to his Son.

It’s important that we realize that God is not indifferent to sin, to rebellion; that God is not indifferent to the issues of right and wrong. An indifferent God is the worst of all concepts—a God who has control but no interest in the well-being of that which he has made, the God who can pass easily over the atrocities of mankind, who will leave things just to run out, to play out whatever way they choose. No, what we discover in the Bible is very straightforward, and that is that one day—one day—evil will actually be disposed of. One day, evil will be disposed of—decisively, authoritatively, unequivocally disposed of.

And this, of course, hits right into the heart of contemporary thinking. Because men and women do not like to think of God as a judge: “Well, why would I have to answer to him? I mean, what does he have to say about this?” C. S. Lewis addresses this in The Problem of Pain, and he says, “The ancient man approached God … as the accused person approaches [the] judge.” Ancient man comes to God as the judge, the man as the accused. “For the modern man…” And think about it: he’s writing some long time before our present context. It’s even more so.

For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He[’s] quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.[20]

Now, you see, that is the natural response of humanity. And until you or I come to terms with the fact of our own sinfulness, until you or I come to face the reality of our predicament before a holy God, until I come to realize that my sinful, rebellious heart deserves to be punished—until I realize that, I will never see that God is just in his judgments.

God is not indifferent to sin, to rebellion. God is not indifferent to the issues of right and wrong. An indifferent God is the worst of all concepts.

Again, Lewis—listen: “Once we realize the enormity of the consequences of sin on ourselves and those we affect by our utter selfishness, we come to understand that judgment is an outgrowth of … love. His wrath falls on sin because it is so destructive. We deserve His wrath.”[21] Until we come face-to-face with that, you can sing a month of Sundays the hymn that begins, “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure,”[22] and it will go right out of your mouth and right over the head and into the stratosphere and mean absolutely nothing at all. But the day when I realize that, that’s the day. And what John is telling us is that this responsibility is given to Jesus “because he is the Son of Man.” “Because he is the Son of Man.” Verse 27: “He[’s] given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”

Now, let’s go all the way back to Daniel chapter 7, when we were in the Commons, and we made it through the first six chapters, and then we really struggled at chapter 7. But we were able to sing a song that came out of Daniel 7:13–14:

And I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all [the] peoples, [the] nations, [the] languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, [it won’t] pass away, … his kingdom [is] one that [will never] be destroyed.

Who is this about? Jesus! He’s the one! He’s the Son of Man. He has dominion. The context in Daniel 7 is that the court of heaven is seated, and the books are opened. And in that context of judgment, one steps forward, the Son of Man. And that’s what John is referencing here.

And “all [those] who are in [their] tombs will hear his voice.” Now, if you underline, you should underline that and then just go and walk twice around the building. And “all”—not “some”—“all who are in [their] tombs will hear his voice.” This is not now. This is then. Remember, the first time: “An hour is coming and has now come.” This: “An hour is coming.” The tomb of Lazarus, in a few chapters, is going to declare Jesus’ power and authority over death itself. But only one person comes out, presumably just because he called his name. I like the idea that if he had just said, “Hey, come out,” there would have been a huge resurrection of people all coming out, going, “Goodness, gracious! What’s going on here?” So he says, “Lazarus, come out,”[23] and Lazarus came out. He came out to die once again. But here we will come out not to die once again. No. We will come out, some to eternal life and others only to face judgment.

Let’s make sure we understand this: all is not over when we die. There is no purgatory. That’s an invention. We have, present tense, passed from death to life in Christ. That is settled. We didn’t deal with that. But the idea that is sort of present in everyday conversation—“Well, he was a bit of a rascal and so on, but you know, all bets are off; when you’re dead, all the toys go back in the box, and everybody can have a nice time for eternity”—that’s a lie of the devil. It’s a perfect lie. All is not over when we die. Death is not the great equalizer.

And so Jesus explains, “Don’t marvel at what I’ve just been saying. Think about this: an hour comes when all who are in their tombs will hear his voice, and they will come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” What is Jesus saying there? He’s saying this: that our doings are an index of the condition of our hearts. It would be unbelievable if Jesus were now to introduce a doctrine of good works as a means of salvation after all that we’ve already done in the first four chapters. No, no. Verse 24 is the key to understanding verse 29: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me … does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Well, what do we mean here? Jesus is not speaking here about the cause of salvation but the evidences of salvation. Later on the people ask him, “What must we [be doing], to be doing the works of God?” This is chapter 6. And Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him [who] he has sent.”[24] “That you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Jesus is inescapable. Jesus is inescapable. We can escape him for a week. We can escape him by running into all kinds of things. But he stands at the crossroads. The prophet Amos says to the people of his day, “Prepare to meet your God.”[25] The converted Jewish man Saul of Tarsus says to the people in Athens, “Prepare to meet the risen Christ”: “He has appointed a day when he will judge the world, and he has given proof of this by raising Jesus from the dead.”[26]

“Well,” you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t know quite what to do with this.” Well, if you find yourself saying honestly in your heart of hearts, “I have never really reckoned on this—what you said about how easy it is to do those things to make myself feel better about myself or to make me think that by my religious activities I can improve my standing with a God who is perfect in his holiness”—well, I say to you: listen now so that you will not be ashamed then. Listen for his voice now. Call on him as the coming Judge to be your present Savior. Run from him now and you will face him as Judge then. Seek him now and you will not come into judgment, having passed from death into life.

One of the commentaries that I have on my shelf is by a Scottish commentator, William Barclay, who I always say to young men, “Be very, very careful with Barclay, because although he’s good historically and he’s good on a Greek text, sometimes he gets a little off the program.” And so I decided to read him this week, and in the course of these concluding verses, this is what he says: what Jesus is saying here is we need to decide whether we’re going to make ourselves fit or unfit for his presence.[27] “Oh,” I said, “what a dreadful word that is—that that would be the end of this talk: ‘Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let us all go out and spend the next seven days trying to make ourselves fit for his presence.’” As if we could! As if we could stand before the bar of God’s judgment and plead our own case, argue in our own defense.

No, don’t do that. Let’s just be like the man at the pool: “I’ve got no one to help me. No one has given me anything in this regard.” And that, then, is what takes us to the cross of the Lord Jesus. Because there we understand that this is where wrath is the outpouring of the magnificence of his love—that what we deserve is his judgment, but because of the love with which he has loved us, Christ bears our punishment. Christ takes our place. And when that dawns, I think the answer really ought to be that we’re humbled by it, that we lay down the arms of our rebellion, and that we join with him in seeking to see others do the same.

Well, may God so move in our hearts that we understand that entry into his school, as Ryle says, is entry in penitence.

A brief silence, and then we’ll sing a closing song.

Lord, you know every one of our hearts. You know where we are before you. Lord, I pray that just as you shone through the darkness all those miles away into the life of that young lady last week—she heard your voice—grant that we, the spiritually dead, might hear your voice and believe and pass from death to life.

[1] John 20:30–31 (paraphrased).

[2] John 5:6 (ESV).

[3] John 5:7 (paraphrased).

[4] Romans 10:17 (KJV).

[5] Deuteronomy 18:15 (paraphrased).

[6] Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence” (1964).

[7] Horatius Bonar, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” (1846). Language modernized.

[8] See Matthew 7:13.

[9] Luke 15:14–15 (KJV).

[10] Luke 15:16 (ESV).

[11] John 3:3, 7 (paraphrased).

[12] Ephesians 2:1 (ESV).

[13] Ephesians 2:4–5 (paraphrased).

[14] 2 Corinthians 5:17 (paraphrased).

[15] Colossians 2:13 (paraphrased).

[16] John 5:44–46 (ESV).

[17] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. John (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1879), 1:290.

[18] John 1:4 (ESV).

[19] Genesis 18:25 (paraphrased).

[20] C. S. Lewis, “God in the Dock,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 244.

[21] K. Alan Snyder, “Lewis: God Is the Judge, Not Us,” Pondering Principles (blog), August 24, 2013, https://ponderingprinciples.com/2013/08/24/lewis-god-is-the-judge-not-us.

[22] Stuart Townend, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” (1995).

[23] John 11:43 (ESV).

[24] John 6:28–29 (ESV).

[25] Amos 4:12 (ESV).

[26] Acts 17:31 (paraphrased).

[27] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1, Chapters 1 to 7, rev. ed., The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 193.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.