Summary: God gives eternal life and joy to those who die “in the Lord.”
The relationship between Jesus and the religious leadership continues to deteriorate. By refusing to acknowledge their importance, his ministry threatens their power and prestige. Therefore, they turn on him: attempted arrest, entrapment, theological tests, dismissing his answers on technicalities, and now mocking his words.
Jesus responds with what we might call, “Tough Love.” He warns of their precarious position before God—they risk dying in their sin. Unless they find a provision for their failures, they will face their Maker clothed in their own righteous deeds, which the Bible calls “polluted garments,” or “filthy rags.”
God records this interaction to challenge where our faith rests. Many claim Jesus without committing themselves to who he claims to be. May God give us grace to hear and examine ourselves in the light of the Word. [Read John 8.21-30. Pray.]
The story is told of a man walking in his neighborhood when he came face-to-face with Death. Death was obviously shocked to see the man, but said nothing; the two simply passed in the street. But the more that fellow thought about this strange meeting, the more frightened he became. So we went to a wise friend and asked what he should do. The friend told him that Death had probably come to take him away the next morning—he had best flee.
So the man headed to a distant city to elude Death. He traveled treacherous streets slickened by snow, roads rarely used at night because they wound through steep mountain passes. But he survived the terrible journey, and congratulated himself on having escaped. As he watched the sunrise, however, Death tapped him on the shoulder and said: “I have come for you.”
“What are you doing here?” exclaimed the terrified man, “I thought I saw you yesterday near my home!”
“Yes, you did,” said Death. “That was why I looked surprised—for I had been told to meet you today in this city.”
That is an obvious parable for how we cannot cheat death. It reminds me of the inscription on the tombstone:
Pause, Stranger, When You Pass Me By,
As You Are Now, So Once Was I.
As I Am Now, So You Will Be,
So Prepare For Death And Follow Me.
Someone scratched into the weathered cement these two additional lines:
To Follow You I’m Not Content,
Until I Know Which Way You Went.
Benjamin Franklin wrote a friend: “Everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Death cannot be avoided. The Cryonics Institute in Michigan will freeze your body if you pay them enough. They advertise: “When future medical technology allows, our member patients hope to be healed, rejuvenated, revived, and awakened to a greatly extended life in youthful good health, free from disease or the aging process.”
Such dreams are silly and foolish. Instead, the Bible tells you the truth: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9.27). Everyone dies, and everyone faces judgment. “Which way we go” depends on whether we die “in our sin” or “in the Lord.” These are the only options.
In this text, Jesus looks into the lives of religious men, leaders in the church, and says, “Your hope is in your goodness; but it is not good enough. Therefore you will die in your sins.” Please be careful here; do not mistake Jesus’ criticism for a condemnation of their efforts. They have sought, as Paul affirms in Romans 10.2: “They have a zeal for God.” Jesus does not dismiss good works; instead, he warns that seeking to establish their own righteousness, they reject the gift of God’s righteousness. Hold on to your own, or let go and grab hold of God’s. Which will it be? To answer that question…
1. We Must Beware Seeking Which Does Not Save (John 8.21-24a)
On Thursday I tried to re-shelve volume one in Manton’s Works. The color and markings stand out, so rather than look carefully for the location, I scanned the shelves where I expected to see the set. My books are filed alphabetically by author, so I knew generally where to look. But my first glance did not reveal the match. So I quickly ran my eyes down the shelves, starting in a place I was sure was before the correct location and continuing until I knew I was past. Still no matching volumes.
Confused, I looked again at the spine—yes, it was Manton. I verified that I had begun at “Luther.” I did my alphabet: L—M—N—O—yes, I was on the correct side of “L.” Where are the Mantons? I knew what they looked like, here was one of the set in my hand. So I went to the first, “M,” and checked book by book: MacArthur, Machen, Mack…Manton. There it was—with a white dust jacket I had taken off this volume while reading it. When you “know” exactly what you are looking for, an unexpected difference can blind you.