John, New from Reformation Trust Publishing
John presents the fruits of Dr. R. C. Sproul’s lifetime of biblical study as expressed in his most recent calling. After a long and distinguished ministry as a teacher in various settings, Dr. Sproul accepted a call in 1997 to preach at St. Andrew’s in Sanford, Florida. There, he adopted the ancient practice of preaching through books of the Bible, eventually working his way through several of them. He has now begun to adapt those sermon series in book form, and the result is the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series. In John, the second volume in the series, Dr. Sproul deals with major themes in his easily understandable style. Readers will find invaluable insights into the goals John had in writing his Gospel, the background for Jesus’ time, and the meanings of some of John’s most difficult passages. This introduction to the Gospel of John is packed with insights and exhortations that will draw the reader closer to the Savior and encourage him or her to a greater depth of love and devotion to Him.
“‘R. C. Sproul,’ someone said to me in the 1970s, ‘is the finest communicator in the Reformed world.’ Now, three decades later, his skills honed by long practice, his understanding deepened by years of prayer, meditation, and testing (as Martin Luther counseled), R. C. shares the fruit of what has become perhaps his greatest love: feeding and nourishing his own congregation at St. Andrew’s from the Word of God and building them up in faith and fellowship and in Christian living and serving. The St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary will be welcomed throughout the world. It promises to have all R. C.’s hallmarks: clarity and liveliness, humor and pathos, always expressed in application to the mind, will, and affections. R. C.’s ability to focus on ‘the big picture,’ his genius of never saying too much, leaving his hearers satisfied yet wanting more, never making the Word dull, are all present in these expositions. They are his gift to the wider church. May they nourish God’s people well and serve as models of the kind of ministry for which we continue to hunger.”
—Sinclair B. Ferguson, Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina
“R. C. Sproul, well-known as a master theologian and extraordinary communicator, now shows that he is a powerful, insightful, helpful expository preacher. This collection of sermons is of great value for churches and Christians everywhere.”
—W. Robert Godfrey, President, Westminster Seminary California
“I tell my students again and again, ‘You need to buy good commentaries and do so with some discernment.’ Among them there must be preacher’s commentaries, for not all commentaries are the same. Some may tell you what the text means but provide little help in answering the question, ‘How do I preach this text?’ R. C. Sproul is a legend in our time. His preaching has held us in awe for half a century, and these pages represent the fruit of his latest exposition, coming as they do at the very peak of his abilities and insights. I am ecstatic at the prospect of reading the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series. It represents Reformed theology on fire, delivered from a pastor’s heart in a vibrant congregation of our time. Essential reading.”
—Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas, John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi
Series Preface—Very early in my tenure with St. Andrew’s, I determined that I should adopt the ancient Christian practice of lectio continua, “continuous expositions,” in my preaching. This method of preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible (rather than choosing a new topic each week) has been attested throughout church history as the one approach that ensures believers hear the full counsel of God. Therefore, I began preaching lengthy series of messages at St. Andrew’s, eventually working my way through several biblical books in a practice that continues to the present day.
Previously, I had taught through books of the Bible in various settings, including Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and audio and video teaching series for Ligonier Ministries. But now I found myself appealing not so much to the minds of my hearers as to both their minds and their hearts. I knew that I was responsible as a preacher to clearly explain God’s Word and to show how we ought to live in light of it. I sought to fulfill both tasks as I ascended the St. Andrew’s pulpit each week.
What you hold in your hand, then, is a written record of my preaching labors amid my beloved Sanford congregation. The dear saints who sit under my preaching encouraged me to give my sermons a broader hearing. To that end, the chapters that follow were adapted from a sermon series I preached at St. Andrew’s.
Pages 11-12—John’s Right to Baptize
The Jewish leaders’ questions didn’t stop once they knew John’s identity. They remained troubled by the baptism issue, so they asked, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (v. 25). John replied: “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (vv. 26–27).
John’s mention of Jesus’ sandal strap was an idiom, an expression of the Jews. A disciple of a rabbi, such as Jesus’ disciples, not only attended the lectures of the rabbi and learned the lessons that he taught, he took on the role of a servant. The disciple actually functioned as the personal slave of the rabbi and took care of all of his needs—making his housing arrangements, getting his food, and so forth. We see examples of this in the ministry of Jesus, such as the occasion when He sent His disciples into Jerusalem to make sure that a room was reserved where He could celebrate the Passover. But the one thing that differentiated a disciple in a rabbinical school from an actual bondslave was that the disciple was never required to take care of the shoes or the sandals of his teacher. A slave could be reduced to that humiliating task, but not a disciple. Therefore, when John said, “I’m not even worthy to unstrap His sandals,” he was saying: “Don’t look at me. I’m lower than a disciple. I’m even lower than a slave. I’m not even worthy to untie His shoes, to take off His sandals, to clean His feet. Don’t look to me. Look to Him.”
I believe John put this incident right at the beginning of his Gospel to help focus his readers’ attention on the One whom John’s Gospel announces.
Pages 16-17—Tracing the Theme of the Lamb
This idea of the Lamb of God is a strand that runs throughout the history of redemption. It can be traced all the way back to Genesis 22, when God called Abraham to go to Mount Moriah and offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham, in obedience to God, was prepared to do just that, but at the last possible moment, after Abraham had tied Isaac to the altar and was preparing to plunge the knife into his heart, God stopped him, saying, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (v. 12). Then there was a ruckus behind Abraham, and he turned to see a ram that was caught in the thicket by its horns. God provided a lamb as a sacrificial substitute for Abraham’s son. Of course, it is never stated in Genesis 22 that the ram Abraham caught and offered in the place of Isaac was an expiatory sacrifice. Nevertheless, it was a substitutionary sacrifice, and that is the idea that underlies the atonement of Christ. Jesus acts as our substitute, and God pours out His wrath on account of our sin onto Him instead of us. God, then, provides a Lamb of His own and accepts the life of that substitute.
Page 34—During my maiden reading of the New Testament when I was a new Christian, I was astonished that Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. I said to myself: “I know exactly what Jesus is talking about because that’s what has happened to me. I’ve experienced a new birth; I’ve come alive to the things of God. Why can’t this teacher of the Jews understand it?”
The next year, as a college student, I signed up for a course on the Gospel of John. At the end of the course, the professor gave an examination that included a question on John 3. When I saw that question, I said to myself: “Oh boy! I know what this is all about!” To my surprise, I got a “C” on that paper. It was then that I found that I didn’t really understand what Jesus was talking about.
To tell the truth, I still struggle with John 3 because there’s so much to be found in it. I now believe it is one of the most difficult texts in all of the New Testament to deal with adequately.
I think it is important for us to see there is a carryover between the last verse of John 2 and the introduction of Chapter 3. Chapter 2 ends with these words: “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (vv. 24–25). There follows in John’s narrative a series of encounters between Jesus and various people, such as Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others. In these meetings, Jesus pierced the hearts of those with whom He spoke and indicated that He knew what was going on in their lives.
Page 72—Sought for His Power and Gifts
We see an example of this in the passage before us. A nobleman came to Jesus, seeking Him out for His power and His gifts. This was not an isolated incident in Jesus’ ministry; in fact, it continues to happen in our day. People rush to hear the gospel for what they can get out of it. I’ve talked with people who have gone to faith healers even though they had no desire to learn the things of God. They say, “Look, when you have a disease that’s chronic or incurable, you’ll try anything.” There were people like that in Jesus’ day, people who were desperate with their afflictions, and when the word got around that He was a miraculous healer, these people unabashedly sought Him out. They pursued Him for the benefit they could derive from Him without any sense of repentance for their sins, without any intent to bow to Him as Lord, and without any willingness to receive Him as the Savior.
Page 76—I mentioned in Chapter 1 that the Gospel of John is different from the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These books are called the Synoptic Gospels because they each provide a biographical synopsis of the life and ministry of Jesus. Even though John, like the other Gospel writers, recorded many events and teachings of Jesus, it was not his goal to provide a complete synopsis of the Lord’s life and work. About two-thirds of the material in the Gospel of John covers the last week of Jesus’ life. John’s Gospel is more of a theological reflection on Jesus’ life, an overview of the redemptive-historical acts that Jesus performed during His stay on earth.
In our study thus far, John has presented a series of encounters between Jesus and other people—Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the nobleman whose son was ill. As Chapter 5 opens, Jesus has yet another encounter, this time with a man who has an infirmity. But the mood and the editorial structure of the beginning of this chapter show us that John’s focus is not on the sick man himself. Rather, John is introducing the winds of hostility that are starting to blow from the hierarchy of the Jewish establishment against Jesus. Here we begin to get some insight as to why so much fury broke out against Christ from the Jewish leaders of His day.
Page 122—From time to time in the Scriptures we encounter what theologians call “hard sayings.” This term is employed for two reasons. On the one hand, such sayings are difficult for us to penetrate in our understanding, so they are hard in that sense. On the other hand, such sayings seem harsh to our ears; that is, they are difficult to accept. But because we encounter these hard sayings so frequently in Scripture, and because many of them come to us from the lips of Jesus, we need to approach them with a posture of humility, that we may be instructed by our Lord.
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About the Author
Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder, chairman and president of Ligonier Ministries,an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.