AUSTIN: Pastor John, this is, I don’t know the number. No one knows the number. You have operated in innumerable Q&As in your ministry.
JOHN: That’s true.
AUSTIN: You did one at the college the other day. We’ve done this before. You’ve sat with Phil Johnson more times than you can count getting grilled. You’ve had questions and answers at Shepherds’ Conferences, at the Ligonier Conference. Have you always done this? Do people just come up to you asking questions your whole life? Is this something you did on purpose at the church to just help people? Give us a little background of the Q&A.
JOHN: Well, I guess you always have the fear that you’re saying what no one wants to know.
JOHN: I prepare, I come up, and I preach a sermon whether you want to know it or not. I don’t even ask. So, in order to sort of move away from the reality that I may be saying things that nobody cares to hear, early in the ministry at Grace Church, I started setting aside Sunday nights pretty frequently to just hear from the congregation because I wanted to know what they were thinking. I wanted to know what was on their heart. I wanted to know trends. I wanted to know issues, things that they were concerned about.
So, yes, we started that very early. I came in 1969. So I don’t know if we did one in 1969, but if not, we did one soon after that. Through the years, we’ve done question and answer sessions. I think the vulnerability is important. I think it was important in the early years when I didn’t know all the answers to find out what the questions were so I could find the answers. So I would maybe often say, “I’m not prepared necessarily to give you a complete answer on that, but that’s an important question. If it’s important to you, as a part of the flock God has given me, I’m going to find the answer to that.”
So through the years, that has grown and developed. And then as the world has become kind of a media world, and the only thing that people do tend to know about you is what is pre-recorded, I think it’s important for me to be more than a pre-recorded sermon for the same reason so people can tap a little bit into my heart, and again hear the answers to things that on their hearts.
So, yes, I’ve always done this. I’ve always wanted to do it. I always felt it was part of my shepherding of my own congregation and a part of helping anybody. So, I’ve done them all over the planet, all over the world. I think of some pretty amazing Q&As in Moscow, in Russia with some Russian pastors trying to figure out the world and figure out God and figure out the Bible when they had had such limited resources. I’ve done them everywhere I’ve gone through all the years, and I hope they’re helpful. I want them to be helpful, and I want them to be as personal as you can get when you have so many people to deal with.
AUSTIN: Yeah, and I think they are helpful, and I think that’s the feedback that we get when we asked for questions this morning, with no preparation, no forewarning. We had hundreds of questions come in just from this morning. So it’s something that people appreciate. It’s something that’s helpful and practical, so we’re grateful that you do this for us. Before I ever came to Grace Church, I remember wearing my headphones and listening to Q&As. They were one of my favorite things. It was before the age of the download to spin.
We would listen to those, and just the equipping that takes place from getting so many different questions answered. Showing people that you’ll answer their questions not from some deep well of personal knowledge, but from the Bible is a testimony to –
JOHN: Yeah, I think there’s something else that’s at work here too. Effective biblical preaching raises as many questions as it answers.
AUSTIN: Hmm, what do you mean by that?
JOHN: I mean that when you’re dealing with a text, the people can see what you’re saying, but they can also immediately discover that that leads to something else that they want to know. It’s an inexhaustible source of truth. People were commenting on the message this morning that so much more could have been said about every single point, and that’s absolutely true, so much more.
I was reading a biography today of George Whitefield, and he was talking about his friend by the name of Harris who preached four-hour sermons and sometimes preached all night. I felt this morning like I could preach all night, like I was raising as many questions as I was answering. So biblical preaching that drives people into the Scripture answers questions, but it also raises questions. So I think anybody who is going to be an expositor has to respond to that. Typically, even after I preach a sermon, people come up to me and have had questions raised by that very sermon at that very time. So I think that’s part of completing the shepherding process.
AUSTIN: This morning is a prime example of that, and I think everyone would be in agreement that this morning we heard a phenomenal sermon from John 12. I don’t think I can look at John 12 in the same way again because of the way that you explained that to us. I think that’s a good illustration of just what you’re saying. All the questions that are answered in an expositional approach to Scripture, but all of the questions that are raised. You are exploring the depths of theology there. This was not the kiddie pool. This was big boy stuff, right? [laughter]
JOHN: Well, yeah. It was important though because just exposition itself is a series of questions. You know this because you do it. What I do with a text, every text I ever preach, I just keep asking questions. I ask questions of what does this word mean? What does this phrase mean? What does it imply? How does it connect with the previous? How does it connect with what’s coming later? How does it connect with other passages? How does it connect with the Old Testament? How does it connect with systematic theology? How does it connect with biblical theology?
All I do in preparation for every sermon I preach is go to a text and ask a myriad of questions. Questions and questions and questions. And I can’t finish until all of the questions that I’ve asked are satisfied. Now, I know there are more questions, but it’s enough to give you a grasp of the text. But even for me, Bible study is a series of questions that I have to find the answer to. The questions are raised by the text, and they’re answered somewhere in the text.
AUSTIN: Yeah, what we saw this morning were those three enigmas.
AUSTIN: Massive looks into complexities of the incarnation and of justification, deep theological truths that you answered according to this passage. You showed us the connections in passages we’ve seen and will see in the book of John, but it leaves people with more questions about, well, how did this work practically in Jesus’s life? What was it like for His omniscience to function in that way?
JOHN: Yeah, those were –
AUSTIN: What He thought about His suffering.
JOHN: Those were enigmatic because they were, in reality, the opposite of what they appeared. The first one, anguish, that’s enigmatic because it appears as if He is God, so why is He troubled? The answer from the Father is enigmatic because you would think if He was going to be bearing sin, it couldn’t glorify God, but it did. The cross is enigmatic because the people think they’re judging Christ, Satan is judging Christ, and this is the end; when, in fact, He’s judging the world, judging Satan, and this is the beginning of Him gathering all men.
So it just seemed to me an enigmatic – I mean you know that. That’s something you have to sort of craft as you’re working through a text to try to pull something together that leads people systematically through what you’re covering.
AUSTIN: Sure, and it’s helpful and it’s insightful. I think we all could have handled one of those all night sermons this morning.
AUSTIN: I actually had I think visible —
JOHN: Yeah, everybody but the people in the nursery. [laughter]
AUSTIN: Yeah, I mean, yeah.
JOHN: I mean you’ve got a bunch over there that don’t want to –
AUSTIN: Yeah, we fill the place.
JOHN: Yeah. [laughter]
AUSTIN: But, yeah, it’s just one of those sermons where you could keep listening and keep being provoked by the truth, and just a really helpful, clear exposition. It’s in my top five.
JOHN: But you see, that in itself is a testimony to the divine authorship of Scripture.
JOHN: Because when you’ve heard what I’ve said about it, it still feels transcendent. It still feels inexhaustible because it is. That is the Scripture giving testimony to itself. I was reading a book by an atheist. This guy Reza Aslan has written this book Denouncing Christianity, and saying that the four writers of the gospels contradict each other because one writer says Jesus was born in 6 A.D., and the other writer says Jesus was born in 4 A.D. So we know these books are not inspired because those writers are wrong.
No writer says He was born in 6 or 4, so the guy hasn’t even read the Bible. So he’s writing a book debunking the Bible and saying things that aren’t even in the Bible. If he were to read the Bible honestly, he would find the same thing that you all find, that it’s divine character is just overwhelmingly clear.
AUSTIN: It’s the perspicuity. It’s the clarity. It’s the obvious inerrancy –
AUSTIN: – of Scripture when it comes through in a way that’s so understandable as God reveals Himself to us through the Word preached. It’s a great ministry. We’re grateful for you and particularly grateful for this sermon this morning.
JOHN: Well, I’m grateful to have the privilege to do this because I get the most out of it. I have to listen to every word I say. [laughter] And I get the joy of processing all that hours and hours into one hour for all of you.
AUSTIN: Yeah, well, we’re grateful and well-fed. On November 5th, you dusted off your Twitter account, whatever that is, and –
JOHN: By the way, until November 5th –
JOHN: I had never, ever done anything with a Twitter account, whatever it is.
AUSTIN: No, you had it. It wasn’t under your control though. I think the folks at Grace to You were Tweeting on your behalf.
JOHN: Yeah, they would put on there a coming series or radio program or something, but I never said anything.
AUSTIN: No, we connected you personally to Twitter on November 5th, and we went live. I saw it with my own two eyes. It happened in your office upstairs. The Twitterverse, as they call it, will never be the same. [laughter] It’s a social media site that talks about followers. They use something called a hashtag. I looked up a definition of hashtag because, for the life of me, I couldn’t explain it. It’s a word or phrase preceded by a pound sign used to identify messages on a specific topic. Hopefully, that’s helpful.
Our hashtag was #askjmac. And when we put this out there, we talked about it maybe a week in advance that we’re going to have a Q&A live on the internet with JMac, #askjmac. We thought there would be a good response. There was an overwhelming response. We had far more questions than we could ever answer that were coming at you live, firing from a couple of laptops in the room at you at once. It was like watching someone box. It was really quite an experience.
So #askjmac, the hashtag, was fifth in the United States. It was the fifth most popular topic in the United States during this Q&A hour. People were just really grateful for the opportunity to interact with you personally. That’s just another example of what these Q&As are. Get to know you a little bit more, the man behind the pulpit, and how you would apply these things to real-life situations. The limitation –
JOHN: The challenge for me is to give an answer in 140 characters.
AUSTIN: Exactly, exactly. [laughter] You said it, 140 characters is the limit. So getting these answers down to a sentence required you to say things like – somebody asked a complicated question about finances and missions and how to go to seminary for a young man without going into debt. You answered concisely, “Have a rich uncle or marry up.” [laughter] He’s not wrong. So there was some of that fun stuff in there, just interacting with folks.
Then there was some profound things like, “Do you ever deal with spiritual lethargy, and if so, what do you do about it?” Your answer in less than 140 characters was, “The best way is to get your eyes off yourself and pour yourself into others for the sake of the gospel.” That’s profound, and we got a lot of questions like that from the church.
So I think what we should do is rather than have you expand all of these 140 character answers is we just launch into the church’s questions, and let you – we’re not going to count your characters. We wouldn’t ask that of you, but I say we try to cover as many of these questions as we can. We have questions from every avenue and every category: Bible questions, ministry questions, personal questions about you, theological questions. We got a dozen questions, more than a dozen questions on eschatology. We have questions about the church and a lot of questions about personal evangelism. So I say we just dive in.
JOHN: Let’s go.
AUSTIN: All right, let’s go. Let’s talk about some current issues. This is under the pastoral category. One of the issues is this, “In light of the Michael Brown verdict, is protesting wrong for a Christian? Are we to exercise our freedom of speech?” And then this, “How can we share Christ and glorify God in this situation?”
JOHN: Yeah, I think clearly Scripture says we are to be subject to the powers that be because they’re ordained of God. We are to honor the king, all those in authority over us. We are subject to them. This is how we demonstrate that we have been transformed by the gospel. This is Romans 13. This is what Peter says in 1 Peter. We are to live quiet, peaceable lives. That’s what Scripture says.
We don’t foment protests. We don’t foment rebellion. We don’t start revolutions as believers. We understand that God in His providence is in charge. He’s in charge of what happens in America. He’s in charge of what happens in Ferguson, Missouri. He is in charge of everything. We have the right to take a position against sin, but not to violate law, and not to try to overthrow government, and not to do damage to anything.
We have a right to speak of the need for justice and equity and fairness and honesty and integrity. Those are virtues that bring honor to God. We want to uphold truth. We don’t know what the machinations are working in a situation like that. We don’t know the details of what happened. We don’t know what went on in a grand jury room and all the discussion and the 70 hours of testimony and 60 eye witnesses supposedly going on in all of that. But we do know this: that God has ordained government, and we’re called to be subjected to government.
There’s no place for rebellion. There’s no place for reaction that does destructive things. There’s no place, I don’t think, for collectively coming together to denounce government even in what you would call a peaceful protest. That is a denunciation of government. You don’t have to do that.
I just probably need to say I understand the terrible, terrible things that have happened in urban areas to black people. I understand the frightening demise of that culture. I understand the horrors of 75 percent of the kids being born without a mother and a father in a home, born illegitimately. I understand that. I understand all the issues there; social issues, political issues. It’s a horrible situation. I understand that they may suffer because of it. Inequities, I understand that. I’ve been in the middle of that.
When I was back at Southern Seminary, it was really interesting. I was back there three weeks ago, and I was doing a series there. When I came in to do my opening message in this series at Southern in Louisville, there I saw in the front row, John Perkins. John Perkins is a black man and John Perkins is 86 or something like that now. John had been there the day before, and he stayed because he wanted to see me. He wanted to see me. So when I walked in to take a place in the front row waiting to preach, he came out of the second pew.
The place was full of people. He walked up to me, and I walked up to him. I threw my arms around him, and I just held onto him for a long time, and he held onto me. We just kind of talked in each other’s ears. There was so much emotion, so much love and affection that we had for each other because we go back so far. People were stunned by that because they don’t necessarily know that part of my life.
So we had a lunch afterwards with the leadership of Southern Seminary, and they were all in there. John said, “Let me tell you about my experience with John MacArthur,” he calls me in his Mississippi drawl, John MacArthur. When I was a student, when I was a kid in seminary, I went back there and I worked with him in Mendenhall, Mississippi, before the civil rights movement had really changed America. It was at the heart of the civil rights movement. It was a devastating time.
There was a pastor there who had a Bible study. He was a white pastor in a Southern Baptist church. He had a Bible study with a black man who was a custodian. The leaders of his church said, “You can’t have a Bible study with a black person.” That’s how intense that separation was. So he said, “I’m going to do that.” So he couldn’t buy gas; he couldn’t buy groceries. He had a nervous breakdown, went to the hospital in Jackson, dove out of the third floor the third or fourth day and killed himself. That was the pressure that was on in those days. It was really intense.
But anyway, I happened to be in Jackson with all the black leaders when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was in the room with all of them. I was the only white guy, but I was there preaching in all the black schools everywhere and living in John and Vera’s house with their family. It was so interesting because John reminded me at the table of something I’d forgotten. He said, “When Martin Luther King was killed, we had to go preach the next two days. We had to go preach in black high schools.” He said, “While the world was trying to figure out what was happening, the black kids were weeping. Every high school we went to,” he said, “the black kids were weeping because of the death of Martin Luther King.”
And he said, “You had to conduct a memorial service in all those high schools for Martin Luther King.” Well, I look back on that and my heart was to reach those people, so I’ve got a lot invested through the years in that kind of thing. I understand some of the feelings, the residual things that are there, but as Christians, we bring Christ to every issue. Christ is the only thing, the only reality that can change anything. So I would never engage in any kind of assault on government, either a peaceful one or a violent one. I would rather trust God as the sovereign over everything and believe in His providence to accomplish His purpose, and be known only for preaching the gospel.
AUSTIN: Hmm, and you’ll speak, as you just said, God’s Word. You’ll speak Christ to both racism and because racism is a terrible sin.
AUSTIN: And you’ll speak Christ to those who need to understand their obligation to submit to the government because of Romans 13.
JOHN: Yeah, well, the first places I preached; when I was a young preacher, I preached on weekends in the black churches in the South. I loved it. I absolutely loved the feedback, instant feedback, instant feedback. [laughter] I loved it. I loved it. I would preach sometimes a sermon, and they would say, “Preach another one,” and I would preach. Sometimes two, three hours, I would preach. Then we’d eat. I mean we’d really eat, all that good southern stuff.
So I really started my preaching in black schools in the South, black churches all over the South in the country, little country churches. I have a great burden that we train men who can go back into those churches and have an impact on those communities through the gospel. We can’t mix the message. We can’t get caught up in the politics. We’ve got to be singularly the voice for the gospel and the Word of God.
AUSTIN: So good, and I think that’s why your ministry has had an impact in inner city locations from here in L.A. to in the South. I think that’s probably not a well-known fact that famous evangelical pastor, John MacArthur, is friends with famous evangelical civil rights movement leader, John Perkins and lived in his house.
JOHN: Yeah. Somebody said to John, “When did you enter the civil rights movement?” He said, “That is a stupid question. I didn’t enter the civil rights movement; it happened to me. It happened to me.” And I was there, and it happened to me. We were caught in it. I was arrested. I was taken down to the local jail. They took all my money, the sheriff. I couldn’t eat in a restaurant in that town. I mean we were in it up to our eyeballs, and we were trying to figure out what do we do here because so much of this is wrong, but what is the answer?
John, his brother was killed in front of his eyes in the street. So just embracing him again, and it was really a wonderful moment just to kind of pull those years together. I just want to bring Christ to that whole community. It’s my burden.
AUSTIN: That’s good, and it reminds us why so many of the questions that came in were about personal evangelism because that is the accent. You’ve said that’s why God left us here is to win the world for Christ and to reach the lost with the gospel. A lot of the questions folks had were about – even that question about Ferguson was about, “How do I minister the gospel in this situation?”
Let me give you a few of these, and you can react to them. “How can I evangelize my close friend who is a Catholic? My desire is to help her see the truth of the gospel. What are some key points seen in Scripture that show Catholicism to be false? Any good resources to point me to? Is this even a primary matter to focus on with all of the attention given to the pope these days?” So those were some very thoughtful questions about Catholicism. Are our Roman Catholic neighbors and friends to be won to Christ or is that unnecessary?
JOHN: I think the way you approach a Roman Catholic is not to attack Catholicism because you immediately make them defensive. They’re going to defend that. Why? It isn’t even the personal aspect of it. It’s the generational aspect of it. Very few people are converted to Catholicism as a first generation Catholic, right? I mean the Catholic Church, they’re not in a very strong position to be making converts. They’ve got scandal after scandal after scandal after scandal. They’ve got a pope who sounds more like a pagan, who believes nothing, who is a fraud in every sense. Just listen to what he says and you would know it. They’re not doing very well at promoting their system.
The nations of the world that have been historically Roman Catholic are abandoning Catholicism with a fury. France, Italy, parts of Europe that were Roman Catholic are virtually secular to the core. It has proven to be an invalid system, and where it has failed is on the personal level. It hasn’t changed the world. It hasn’t changed society, but more importantly, it hasn’t changed their lives. So you don’t need to attack the system. The corruption of the system is legendary at this point. It always was.
I was talking to a young man whose parents are Catholic. He said he was raised Catholic. I said, “What do your parents think of the Catholic Church?” He said, “They deeply resent the Catholic Church. They’ve been in it their whole lives. They deeply resent it. That’s the only way I could define it.” It isn’t just the corruption of the system. It isn’t just that it keeps everybody in poverty, and that it demands money. It is that it doesn’t give anything to the individual. So when you’re dealing with a Catholic, what you want to do is find out whether that individual has confidence in their eternal life.
The question that you need to probe is the same question that was on the heart of Nicodemus: “What do I do to inherit eternal life?” or the rich young ruler. That’s where you go. Well, you don’t go to the system. They already know the system doesn’t deliver. They live in that. They don’t have any hope of heaven. They don’t have any security. They live in fear, a kind of mortal fear. They try to do a few good deeds, go to mass or whatever to buy their way into the system to secure their future.
So you probe them on the issue of, “Are you sure that if you were to die, you would enter into heaven?” Of course, the Catholic Church demands that if you ask that question, the person say, “No, no,” because that’s presumption. That in itself could be a sin. So leave the system alone. I mean you can give them – I’ve done studies on the priesthood, the pope, Mary, the mass. We’ve got all of that kind of material available, but that is more useful I think. I mean somebody might be willing to listen to that. But that’s more useful for somebody who has come to Christ from the Catholic Church and needs to understand how to get disentangled from all of that, but I think you go at the heart of the individual.
Jesus didn’t specifically assault Judaism. In the Sermon on the Mount, He attacked its superficiality; phony prayers, phony giving, and all of that. With Catholicism, you can talk about the fact that the giving is superficial, the ceremonies are superficial, the mass is superficial, it’s all externals.
But what about your heart? What about your heart? Do you have confidence that you know God, that you have eternal life, that your sins are forgiven, you’re on your way to heaven? If that confidence isn’t there, then you’re not accepting a gift that God has already promised. “These things are written that you might know that you have eternal life.” That you might know. Do you want to know that you have eternal life? If you’re a Catholic, you’re a Catholic because you want eternal life, right? Right? Otherwise, you’d be a pagan.
Why are people Catholics? Catholics because they think that’s the way to heaven, and they want that. But do you have the assurance that you have that? So I think you go at the individual, and you don’t necessarily assault the system. You can talk about its externals like Jesus did. You’ve heard it said, “Don’t commit adultery,” but I’m telling you what about your heart? You’ve heard it said that you’re not to kill somebody, but what about your anger? So what’s your life like?
You’re doing all this stuff on the outside, but do you have victory over sin? The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. Do you love God? Do you love His Word? Are there manifestations of transformation there? If there are not, then you’ve got religion, but you’re not on your way to heaven.
Then Matthew 7, “Many will say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and I will say, ‘I don’t know you.’” Again, this is what Whitefield said and just literally fried the leadership of the Anglican Church in the 1700s. Whitefield was going around and saying, “Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian if you haven’t been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.” He was vilified. He was attacked. He was assaulted. It’s always a fight throughout every age in any formal religious context to come to true personal conversion. So that’s what we work on.
AUSTIN: Yeah. How many folks here tonight – and I know our church is full of people like this – how many folks here tonight came out of the Roman Catholic church? That’s probably a majority maybe.
AUSTIN: I mean that’s a lot of folks.
JOHN: Yeah. Well, you know, the good part is they know about the trinity. They know about the cross. They know about the resurrection. So the facts are there, but the application of those facts is completely misrepresented.
AUSTIN: What you’re saying I think applies to a lot of these other evangelism questions. People asked, “How do I evangelize my Jewish friend? How do I evangelize my Jehovah witness neighbor? How do I deal with my Mormon co-worker, and how do I best present the gospel to them?” I think what you’re saying right now is a transcendent answer about evangelism. What Whitefield said is we’re calling men, women, all, no matter what background, whatever they have, whatever religious system. Whether they grew up in this church, we’re calling them all to be born again.
JOHN: Yeah, and I think if I was dealing with a Jewish person, I would say, “Who can enter the holy hill of God?” Psalm 15, “He that has clean hands and a pure heart.” So let me ask you about your heart. You’re Jewish, you go to the synagogue. Do you have a pure heart? Do you have a pure heart? Do you have holy longings, holy aspirations, holy desires? Do you have the confidence that you have eternal life? Do you have the confidence that your sins have been forgiven? You’re not going to find any of them who will say that unless they are literally buried in sort of hypocritical idea.
So I think you have to go for that anyway. If someone says, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m good. I’m okay,” that’s not a candidate for conversion. You want to expose their desperation. Of course, when you’re dealing with people in Judaism, you’re dealing with essentially Pharisees. So you can follow how Jesus dealt with Pharisees. He basically unmasked the superficiality of their religion, and He got very clear and unequivocal in Matthew 23 when He said, outside you’re clean. Inside you’re full of dead man’s bones. You’re always going with people in the cults to the inside.
You’re talking to a Mormon? Okay, you do this. You don’t do this. You behave this way – or talking to a Jehovah’s Witness or whatever it is – but what about your heart? Do you have holy longings, holy desires? Do you love God? Can you sense that there’s some power in you that causes you to want to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do you have a longing to hear from Him, to hear His Word? Do you love His Word? Do you desire obedience to Him? When that’s not there, now you’ve got to expose the fact that whatever your religion is, your heart is not changed. Your heart is not changed.
Until a person desires a transformation on the inside, you’re not going to be able to lead them to the truth. The other unequivocal reality is they have to have a true view of Jesus Christ. Jews don’t. Mormons don’t. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t. The only ones who do, I guess you could say, would be other forms of Christianity like Catholicism who would have a true view of the nature of Christ. So those are just some – you don’t want to get caught up in a formula. I know a lot of people use formulas. Formulas sound good to the guy that uses them, but one size fits all is never a New Testament model for evangelism.
You don’t have Jesus running around using the same model on everybody. You don’t have Him presenting the gospel in exactly the same way with the same questions and the same answers with everybody. In fact, it shifts and moves throughout His whole ministry. When you come into the epistles of the New Testament or follow through the book of Acts, the apostles, they don’t use a formula.
Paul even says, “I became all things to all men.” I meet them where they are. He doesn’t mean I shift and alter the truth. He simply means I find the entrée. I find a way in. So it’s just knowing the truth about Christ, knowing the truth about the gospel. And not necessarily reducing everybody to some kind of a pin on a bowling alley; you knock them over with the same ball. There’s going to be different approaches, but always you’re going toward Christ and toward the heart. If the person has no sense of holiness, love of virtue, forgiveness of sin, secure hope of heaven, you have to expose that in evangelism.
AUSTIN: I think this could be enormously helpful and freeing for people, who potentially are intimidated by the details of other religious systems. I think one of the things you’re saying is you don’t necessarily have to be an expert on how many arms the Hindu god has to lead a Hindu to Christ. Instead, you’re telling us that the gospel is what’s applicable in every one of these situations, the speech about Christ.
JOHN: Yeah. Two things happen: one, you shatter their confidence in their religion, and you don’t do that by attacking the religion. You do that by attacking their personal condition. You go at them and let them disclose what their heart is like. The parable of the soils is as good an illustration of that as there is. You can sow the gospel seed, but the condition of the heart is what produces the fruit. God has to do the heart work. You can’t do the heart work, but you can be used by God to do that heart work. So then it becomes presenting Christ.
You know enough about Christ, all of you know enough about Christ to present the fact that He died on the cross for our sins and provided an atonement to satisfy the justice of God. By His substitutionary death, God is then free, having punished your sins in Christ to forgive you of all your sins. You can give the gospel. You don’t have to be clever. It can be that simple, but what is necessary prior to the truth about the gospel is to break into the person’s hidden place; to get past their religion. In fact, that would be the last thing I would ever attack in talking if I met a guy who was a Mormon.
I told a story years ago about meeting a Muslim on a plane and having a long conversation with a Muslim. I didn’t attack Islam. I went right into Islam for their view of sin and then their view of judgment, their view of hell. Then I went right to the issue of what’s going to happen to you? If sin produces divine judgment from Allah and Allah sends people to hell, how are you going to avoid hell? Do you have any hope of heaven? “No. How could I have a hope of heaven?” So that’s what you’re after.
AUSTIN: That’s the simplicity of the gospel message.
AUSTIN: I think that’s what’s so freeing about hearing this is I think we’re greatly helped by apologetics. We’re greatly helped by those who have become experts in the cults, but an ordinary person in a Christian church knows the gospel and trusts Christ, has what they need to evangelize their neighbors and their family and their friends.
JOHN: Let me just take it a step further. If you go for the heart, and the person says, “Yeah, I am a Mormon, but I don’t have any peace. I don’t have any hope. I don’t have any security. I don’t have any sense that I’m going to heaven or that my sin is forgiven. I fight sin all of the time. I battle evil desires. I don’t know what to do about it.” Now you’re prepared to say, “Let me give you the gospel.” Then you begin to overturn the error of their system by presenting a true Christ and a true gospel of grace rather than a system of works. So you don’t even get to that point of taking them from their error to the truth until you’ve exposed some kind of a need.
That’s the richer young ruler. The guy comes and says, “What do I do to have eternal life?” Jesus went right to his sense of self and said, “Well, you know. Keep the law.” “Well, I’ve done all that. I’ve done all that.” End of discussion. Jesus never went any further. The guy turned and walked away, and there’s no remedy for that because you don’t need a savior unless you know you need a savior.
AUSTIN: That’s good. In the same vein, one young lady asked this question, and I think she’s thinking about evangelism here. How do I explain God’s sovereignty to an unbeliever?
JOHN: I think it’s good to explain God’s sovereignty to an unbeliever. I think it’s really good. I think it’s extremely helpful to explain it to an unbeliever for this reason: who wants a savior who is not in control? Do you understand that? If I say to somebody who is not a believer, let’s say this is somebody who is, I don’t know, in a false religion. Most people are. “I want to invite you to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, but oh by the way, the world is out of control under the power of Satan.” I think I would say, “You know, I think I’ll look around further and see if I can find a savior who is in control.” Because how secure am I or how secure is anything if He’s not in charge?
So, I want to say to the unbeliever, I want to introduce you to the God who is sovereign over every molecule in the universe, the God who not only gives life, but sustains it forever, the God who keeps His people forever, the God who fulfills His word, fulfills His promises, the God who is over Satan and all demons and all people, and who orders and ordains all history. I want to introduce you to that God, that absolutely sovereign God. Oh, by the way, I want to introduce you to the God who is sovereign over your salvation. And if you desire the salvation that He has provided, you can plead to Him. You can ask Him. It is His decision, but I can say this to you, if you come to Him, He will not turn you away.
I think telling people about the sovereignty of God is exactly what Jesus did in John 3 when He’s talking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus says, “What am I going to do to be born again?” He says, “Well, the Holy Spirit blows where He will like the wind. You hear the sound of it, yet you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going. You’re born from above.” I think you say to a sinner, “This gift is a gift. It isn’t earned. You can’t even earn it by your repentance. You can’t even earn it by your desire. You can ask for this gift. It is sovereignly given by God. It is given on His terms in His time from heaven. But, oh by the way, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Call on Me and I will answer you.’”
So I think telling sinners that God is absolutely the sovereign of the universe is so powerful in attraction. Man, the whole world is flying to bits. It’s chaos out there. Even unregenerate people know that, and what kind of savior do they want? A truncated, superficial kind of evangelism gets truncated superficial kind of responses.
JOHN: I think the more you say about God as sovereign, the more attractive He becomes. Don’t you?
JOHN: The more powerful the invitation becomes.
AUSTIN: To know that even the unbelief of an unbeliever is under the auspices of a sovereign God, I think that would fuel a person’s confidence in evangelism, just knowing that God is in control of the outcome of this conversation. It’s not all up to me, but I can share the gospel with my coworkers, with my relatives, knowing that the Lord is able to change their hearts. It’s not up to my persuasiveness.
JOHN: No. Look at the Luke 18 passage, which always jumps into my mind. You have this tax collector, outcast, un-synagogued social pariah pounding his chest. He knows God is sovereign. He knows he’s unworthy. So what is he saying? “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He’s pleading with a sovereign God. That is the clearest or simplest, I guess, illustration of a conversion, and Old Testament conversion. Jesus hadn’t died and risen again, so he’s not trusting in that, but he knows God gives salvation sovereignly, and he knows he doesn’t deserve it. So he’s pounding his chest as a symbol of his contrition and repentance and agony over his sin. He’s pleading with God to show him mercy. “Be merciful to me.” You find that with the blind Bartimaeus. “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
So the Jews knew God was sovereign, and they were pleading for His sovereign mercy and grace on their behalf. I think in evangelism, that’s what you’re after. You’re after repentance and a pleading with a sovereign God to give salvation. Then you say, “And if you pray that prayer, He will hear, right? He will hear.”
AUSTIN: And the publican and Bartimaeus go home justified because they had been humbled in their sin.
JOHN: Yeah, right, right.
AUSTIN: Yeah, amen. What about this question, keeping in the same vein. What about sharing the gospel at work? This person asks, “Is it okay to share the gospel at work? Is it stealing from an employer if you share the gospel on the clock?”
JOHN: No. No, it’s not stealing from the employer. You’re going to be talking about something. What better subject? If you stop working and pin somebody against the wall, and take a half hour to drag them through some kind of formula, you don’t want to do that. But I mean you’re smart enough to know what you can do and what’s acceptable. I don’t think anybody is cracking a whip over your head, hopefully not. But if you’re on an assembly line, you don’t want to stop the line to do evangelism. You don’t want to interrupt the class if you’re a teacher in a school.
But I think in the normal, casual conversation that happens, I think the first kind of breakthrough is going to be your life, your joy, your peace, your contentment, the facility and the ease with which you talk about the Lord and talk about Scripture and talk about life in the church and things that you love. And this becomes apparently your life and your love, and I think out of that, your conversation is filled with things about how thankful you are to the Lord and how grateful you are that your sins are forgiven, how grateful you are that you have the hope of heaven. You have no fear of death.
I’ve had that conversation on an airplane. You can try this question. This is one that a friend of mine used. “What would happen to you if this plane crashed?” [laughter] That’s a little bold, but just to make the point. My friend would say, when somebody panicked, “Sounds like it would be a serious event.” “Uh yeah, it would be very.” Well, he would say, “It might be a serious event for you, but it would be a glorious experience for me.” “What?” [laughter] That’s because you view death so differently.
I mean there are a lot of ways to probe in and rather than trying to drag somebody through some kind of system at first, and then when you get a little time at the lunch hour or on the break time, you can be a little more specific.
JOHN: But you’re here for that. That’s why you’re here. That’s why you’re here.
AUSTIN: On the planet.
JOHN: On the planet.
AUSTIN: Amen. So evangelism transitions well to new believers, and we have lots of new believers in our church.
AUSTIN: Some of them wrote questions, and we’re glad they’re here. We want to be helpful to them. How about a question like this one? “I’m a new Christian. Where do I start?”
JOHN: Where do you start? You mean like, you start here at Grace Community Church, and you don’t leave. [laughter] You just stay here. Yeah, it’s pretty simple. Start praying, and start reading your Bible. Come hear the apostles’ doctrine. Read the Word, pray, fellowship, come to the Lord’s Table. That’s what the early church did. What did they do when they started? They met together every single day for the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread, which is the Lord’s Table. Worship, prayer, fellowship, study. Those are the simple basics of the Christian life.
I did a series many, many years ago on the basics of the Christian life. I forget even what the name of it was because I don’t always name those things, but it covered prayer, fellowship, Bible study, those kinds of things. There are a lot of good basic books. There’s a little book I did years ago called, Keys to Spiritual Growth, which is a great launching point for the foundational aspects of glorifying God, which is now what you’re able to do called, Keys to Spiritual Growth. It came to mind because I just got a copy of it in Portuguese or something. Somebody had translated it, and I was reminded of it again.
AUSTIN: Back to Basics: The ABCs of Christian Living.
JOHN: There you go.
AUSTIN: That’s what it was called.
JOHN: Thank you.
AUSTIN: Google. [laughter]
AUSTIN: Credit where credit is due.
AUSTIN: Other new believers are asking questions about how to grow, how to increase their love for Christ. Would you give these same answers? Pray, read your Bible?
AUSTIN: Why are those essential? Is that something just for new Christians or are they entering into a whole lifetime of these four things?
JOHN: Yeah, so it’s a whole lifetime with increasing delight. Yeah, those are the things that I would again say the book The Keys to Spiritual Growth lays out a foundation of the basics. That series “Back to the Basics” would be really good just to tell you what Bible study is like, what prayer is like, what fellowship means, and all of those basics. That would be a really good starting point. But listen, let me tell you this; you’re in a great place for all of that to take place because we provide all of that for you all the time. We get it. We don’t entertain you. As Clayton was saying tonight, we’re here to worship. We’re here to honor Christ. That’s what we do. Here you are having fellowship tonight. You’re hearing truth from the Word of God. We pray when we come together. Those are the things that we as a church do.
The Reformers used to talk about the formal principle. Those things that the church has to do because they are laid out in Scripture. It’s not complicated. You do what the early church did. We talked about that, didn’t we, a few months ago on the ordinary church. We’re just can ordinary church. This is what we provide for you. You don’t have to search the world for this. You don’t have to search the internet for this. This is what we are as a church. We provide that basic pattern for your growth.
Yeah, I think obviously hear from some of the older people, but when you begin to desire the Word of God, that desire doesn’t diminish. It should increase and increase and increase. You go from being a spiritual child to a spiritual young man to a spiritual father. The delights of Scripture continued to expand and the joys of the Christian experience continue to develop and fellowship becomes richer if you’re in the right place. Just talk to Christians who aren’t in a place like this who are starving for the very things that are essential to their life and growth. So that’s why we’re here to provide that.
AUSTIN: So this is a good church for a new believer to grow?
JOHN: Yeah. It has to be. It has to be or we’re not faithful.
AUSTIN: Because the things that are for every Christian to grow are what we’re about each Lord’s Day and trying to emphasize those basic things.
JOHN: Yeah. You come on a Sunday morning, and you hear the apostles’ doctrine, which is just a reference to divine revelation. You hear the Word of God expounded. You engage in fellowship. We have fellowship groups and you meet people, and you stimulate one another to love and good works. We lead you in prayer. I try to lift you up before God in the pastoral prayer. We have the Lord’s Table last Sunday night. We bring you to the point of confession. We provide resources for you through the Internet, through the book store, through classes, seminars, conferences. All of it is basically geared to fulfill what we see as the biblical model.
AUSTIN: Another question from a new believer, “Why do I have to be baptized to join the church?”
JOHN: Well, it’s a question of obedience. You don’t have to be obedient, but the Bible says, “Repent and be baptized.” It’s not hard to understand. Repent and be baptized. So when the church was born on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 people repented, put their trust in Christ, and were immediately baptized that day. That’s the pattern, and that’s a visible demonstration of your union with Christ, public demonstration. Jesus said, “If you confess Me before men, I’ll confess you before my Father who is in heaven.” I kind of think that obedience can be a little bit mystical. Obedience can be a little bit sort of private. Maybe we’re not sure if you’re a believer because we don’t see into your life. You’re here, but we don’t know what your heart’s longings are. We don’t know how obedient you are in your personal life. So you have a very simple starting point to demonstrate your willingness to be obedient, and that we can see. That’s when you step into the water and you say, “This is an act of obedience. It is a simple act. It’s an uncomplicated act, but it is required as a starting point for my obedience, a public confession.”
It sort of parallels. There’s an interesting parallel back in Exodus 24 where God had given His law to the people, and the people said, “We will obey. We will obey. We will obey.” They all said, “We will obey. We will obey.” Now, that sounds really good. Well, let’s see if we can’t demonstrate that. So they had a sacrifice, and they got blood, and they filled these big basins with it, and then they sloshed all the people. Peter even refers to that. They were sanctified with blood. At the time, that was the people saying, “We will obey. We are making a public demonstration, public covenant.” The demonstration of a heart of obedience and that open covenant, that symbol of that open covenant with God to be obedient to Him, and to be identified with Him, and to step out of the world into the church is baptism.
AUSTIN: That’s helpful because for a new believer, if you didn’t grow up in the church seeing this Christian ritual of baptism, it’s quite strange pushing each other under water after all, in front of all these people. Why is it like that? Why did God choose baptism as this sign? Is it because it’s to public? Is it because it’s so obvious?
JOHN: Well, yeah, but a lot of things could be public.
JOHN: You could do a lot of things publicly. Why that? Because water has always been since the creation, a cleaning agent, a washing. We all know that. Water washes everything, and it’s the symbol of cleansing. The Old Testament had all kinds of washings, so we understand the idea of being washed and being cleansed. Baptism pictures the washing of the soul in a more full way, not just the washing, but the washing that comes by union with Christ, being buried with Him and rising with Him. It’s a beautiful symbol.
The church, we’re not full of symbols, right? People aren’t walking around with incense doing this, and nobody is doing the sign of the cross, and we don’t wear weird stuff. We’re not into symbols. The further you get away from the truth, the more symbols. Note that. The more symbols, the less truth. The more symbols, the less reality. The less symbols, the more reality. We’re not into symbols, but we are obedient to the one public covenantal affirmation that symbolizes the washing of the heart. Then with the Lord’s Table, that too is again a public identification ongoing. Baptism comes once, but the Lord’s Table comes continually, which then carries our testimony on in a regular way saying, “I stand at the foot of the cross again and acknowledge that Christ has paid the price for my sin.” This is a form of worship and a renewal of my covenant.
AUSTIN: Baptism is saying something. When a new believer gets in the water, this act in and of itself symbolizes and represents something. What’s a baptized person saying?
JOHN: He’s saying, “I publicly identify with Jesus Christ, dying with Him, rising with Him to newness of life. I confess to Jesus.” I told you that when you guys were talking about heaven. What should we ask people? I said the great Christian confession has always been, “Jesus is Lord.” I am confessing Jesus is Lord. Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” So you’re making that public confession. Someone who is unwilling to make that public confession is content with a level of disobedience. That’s not a good way to start the Christian life. The Lord has given us that kind of simple act of obedience so that you can have a point of assurance and the church can have a point of assurance.
AUSTIN: To identify it’s that initiatory right or symbol that identifies that this person has identified themselves with Christ.
AUSTIN: So when they’ve done that, then we admit them into membership in the church.
AUSTIN: On Sunday night, they line up here, and we have questions about that.
JOHN: Yeah. We want you to be obedient because that’s the path of blessing, right? So we don’t want to say, “Oh, we don’t care whether you’re obedient to baptism. We’ll make you a member of the church.” Well, how could you do that? That doesn’t make sense. We already know you’re not obedient, so why would we want to make you a member of the church in good standing? We need to talk to you first about baptism. We don’t want to make it impossible. It’s not a big deal. People say, “Oh, I don’t know if I can get up in front of people.” I would think that for a new believer, it would be a stampede to the water because of all that the Lord Jesus Christ has given.
AUSTIN: Amen, good. Here’s a follow up question that someone asked, “Is it a sin not to be a formal member in a local church?”
JOHN: Well, I don’t know what a formal member is, but it helps to wear a tie, but it’s not necessary. [laughter]
AUSTIN: Sure, yep.
JOHN: Yes, yeah. It’s not right to not identify with a church.
AUSTIN: I think that’s what they probably mean by formal is that identification. Why do I have to go through a process? Can’t I just come here every week? Doesn’t that count?
JOHN: For what?
AUSTIN: For – [laughter]
JOHN: I don’t think God’s counting the attendance.
AUSTIN: I don’t have this question. It’s this person. [laughter]
JOHN: No, I know you didn’t.
AUSTIN: I’m a formal member of this church, and I’m wearing a tie. [laughter]
JOHN: The New Testament knows nothing of someone who is just a floating entity. Don’t knowanything about a person like that. There were added to the church daily those that were being saved. They were added to the church. They weren’t just added. How did they know there were 3,000? How did they know there were 5,000 men in chapter 4? How did they know that when a believer went from one city to the next, he was going to take a letter to introduce him to the church at the city that he arrived at? They tracked all of that. Hebrews 13 says that the elders are over you in the Lord. They’re over you in the Lord, and they have to give an account. They’re the shepherds of your soul. They’re your overseers. So you can find membership. Membership simply means, I submit to the leadership of this church, and I offer myself to serve in this church.
Again, persons who flee baptism and hesitate in membership may have a reason to hold back, and it may not be a good reason. There isn’t a good reason. There could be some bad reasons. I know this is a time when people don’t want scrutiny. They don’t want accountability, but the church offers that accountability. The church, we want to shepherd you, not so that we can find out what’s wrong with you. But so that we can meet your needs and see you grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ. When you say, “I’m a member of the church,” all you mean by that – it isn’t really formal. I mean you don’t get a mark on your wrist. You don’t get some special benefits or reduced insurance policy. [laughter]
What you’re saying is, shepherd me, and I will serve. That’s what you’re saying. If you don’t want to say that, then why don’t you want to be cared for, shepherded, and why aren’t you willing to serve? There’s no real positive reason for not wanting those things.
AUSTIN: The nature of membership is that it’s a benefit and a blessing to the member and to the congregation.
JOHN: Yeah, but it never was intended to somehow accrue to your financial benefit or any other temporal benefit. It is to your spiritual benefit to be shepherded, and it is to your spiritual benefit to come into a congregation of people who will love you and care for you and be mutually loved by and cared for by you. It is to your spiritual benefit. It is not to your spiritual benefit to isolate yourself and to be free-floating and to go wherever you want, and wherever may attract you for the moment. That’s the old story of you remove a coal from the fire and it dies. You keep it in the fire and it stays warm. A person removed from the fire from the communion grows cold. Sin wants to isolate you. It wants you alone. It wants you outside accountability. That’s not to your benefit.
JOHN: I think those of you at Grace Church, this isn’t oppressive. We’re not legalistic. We’re not chasing you around trying to look into every aspect of your life. There are churches like that. There are churches like that where the leaders of the church know how much you have in your bank account, and they want to look at your checkbook once a month. Crazy things. See where you’re spending your money so they can look at your life. We’re not doing that. We want to care for your souls and shepherd your souls, and we want you to serve with us. If you find another place where the Lord wants you, go there, but you want to be sure that they’re fulfilling that function, that it’s not an event you’re attending. But they’re shepherds caring for your spiritual life and a place where you can serve and flourish because all of the necessary elements of church life are provided.
AUSTIN: So good, not an event you’re attending. This person asks, “How do I respond to people who claim to be believers, but who don’t go to church because they say it’s full of hypocrites or legalistic Christians?” I wonder if those churches are events that are being attended?
JOHN: Yeah, yeah. There are a lot of weekend events that happen every weekend in the same place led by the same people, but they’re not churches. They’re entertainment events. It’s kind of a Christianized entertainment. It’s been all convoluted by the complete importing of pop music. Pop music is a tremendously powerful force. You add that to the light show and all the shtick that goes with it; you can create an event, but an event is not a church. A weekend event repeated every weekend is not a church, but it appeals to people because of its anonymity. There are churches by design that do not ever want people to give up their anonymity. They don’t want anybody to ask you any question, to confront you. They don’t want you to stand up. They don’t ask visitors to identify themselves because they think that they need to be comfortable there.
Well, that is a complete rouse. That is a complete con because if an unbeliever is comfortable in a church, then it’s not a church. If it’s a worshipping group of people, unbelievers should feel alien to that environment. Somebody who doesn’t go to church, doesn’t attend church, and criticizes the church as full of hypocrites is most likely not a Christian.
AUSTIN: And they need that admonishment to be a part of a congregation because in that association they’re going to see what real Christianity looks like.
JOHN: Yeah, with all its strengths and weaknesses.
AUSTIN: It is a congregation of imperfect people.
AUSTIN: But we’re here, and we’re here for each other. We’re here for the glory of God.
JOHN: But we also know the only hope we have is imperfect people, is in the resources that the Lord has given to His church. We want to make sure that they’re all working.
AUSTIN: That’s helpful. Pastor John, we’re out of time.
AUSTIN: Yeah, it blew by, didn’t it? You know, you’re fun to talk to. [laughter] We’ve talked about evangelism. We’ve talked about ecclesiology a little bit. We’ve given some discussion and helpful stuff for new believers. This is a fruitful time. We’re grateful that you’d make this time for us.
JOHN: You don’t have one more compelling question in your list there?
AUSTIN: Yeah, I can ask another compelling question. [laughter]
JOHN: Okay. [applause]
AUSTIN: Yeah, no.
FEMALE: One more hour.
AUSTIN: One more hour? It’s not like anybody can go home with the traffic and the rain. [laughter]
AUSTIN: But I just landed the plane, so now I’m having to pull it back up, so I don’t want anybody to get airsick here. Want to do some rapid fire?
JOHN: You said there were some questions about eschatology.
AUSTIN: Big time.
JOHN: Well, we had a lot of questions about eschatology, the end of the age?
AUSTIN: A lot of theological questions, biblical questions, and questions on eschatology. You want me to touch one?
JOHN: Well, let me just kind of generally say that this is another thing, and I guess maybe I really wanted to say this. I just gave you the option, but – [laughter] a church without a solid biblical eschatology, meaning understanding of the end of history has got a huge loose end. It’s huge. I said something about that this morning when I was kind of wrapping up. I said, the Jews wanted to force all the prophesies regarding the Messiah into His first coming. We have Christians who want to take all the prophesies concerning Christ and push them back into His first coming. They’re called pretrerists, amillenialists. So they have this theology with this totally open end. It just has no closure. They don’t seem to care particularly. It’s almost like a badge of Reformed loyalty to be unsure about how everything ends.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t work well with me. First of all, I don’t think God gave a clear beginning and just kind of lost Himself at the end. I don’t think if Genesis 1 says that God created in six days and there’s no question about it, and He lays out exactly how He did it; and you get to the book of Revelation and you hear about periods of certain weeks and certain months and certain years and a thousand year millennium, and then an eternal state. I don’t think God lost His way at the end. I don’t think He was confused at the end. I think the end is as precise as the beginning. To be honest with you, I am far more concerned about the end than I am the beginning. The beginning is over. I’m glad it was what it was, and it explains why things are the way they are.
But I don’t think you can over estimate the value of a church with a clear ecclesiologyand a clear eschatology. Clear understanding of the church, and a clear understanding of what the Bible says about how things are going to end. It does say something. It doesn’t say everything, and it doesn’t say whatever you want it to say. It doesn’t have ten views or five views or four views. There’s just one view.
I’ve been all over this world. I remember flying 35 hours to Kazakhstan one time, getting off a plane, talking to 1,600 people from central Asia, who had never had a pastor’s conference. After Russia had seen its freedoms, these people came together, 1,600 of them. It was an unbelievable event. It was raining the whole time, and they were trying to feed 1,600 people. The way they did it, they had these huge pots, the kind you boil a missionary in. [laughter]
They were outside in the rain rained in the pots, and they kept throwing potatoes in all week. That was what – the rain made the soup. We were there for a whole week, and they asked me if I would explain the end of the age. I had never met any of these people. I got off the plane at Almaty at 7:00 in the morning, and I was teaching at 8:00, and I taught for about eight hours for seven days in a row, six days in a row. They wanted to know about the end. I laid out; I went through the book of Revelation systematically and showed them the end. They said to me after that – I took a day to do that. The end of that day they said, “You believe what we believe.” I said, “I believe what you believe?” Same Bible. Guess what? It’s so clear that people with no training, no seminary, and no commentaries could understand what the book of Revelation said.
I think it matters how it all ends. I think God is glorified when we acknowledge Him as the Creator, the beginning; and I think He is glorified when we acknowledge Him as the consummator, the end. I think that’s a huge benefit for Christians looking at the world and wondering where is this going? Where is this going?
In talking to Al Mohler when I was back there a few weeks ago, he said he’s more eschatological than he’s ever been. He’s almost apocalyptic because he sees a world that just there is no way to reverse this. This thing is in a massive free fall, and there is no way to stop this. He’s pretty well-attuned to the way things are, and he says, “I’ve never felt so eschatological, so apocalyptic about the way the world is going.” Well, if you want to understand where the world is going, you can as a believer. That gives us such a powerful confidence that all that is coming is laid out for us on the pages of Scripture. I think that’s a treasure that a church can’t underestimate.
There are a lot of resources on that. I’ve preached all that, preached through Revelation several times, through Daniel, through Zachariah, through the Olivet Discourse in Matthew and Luke and Mark. We’ve covered all of that. There are books Because the Time is Near, commentaries on Revelation. All of that perspective on the end has stood the test of scrutiny, and it’s the conviction of every professor at The Master’s Seminary, and these guys are incredible scholars. I just think that’s a treasure this church has that is underestimated. We know where the world is going because Scripture lays it out.
AUSTIN: That’s really helpful, and I think that’s why what you’re saying about what Dr. Mohler observed that it’s just the world seems to be falling apart around us. Maybe that’s why there’s so many eschatological questions.
AUSTIN: So when people are asking, “Explain the mark of the beast. Will there be a new heaven and a new earth? Why didn’t the church fathers write about the rapture very much? Which isn’t true. What about Revelation 20? When Jesus ascended, did He know what day He’ll come back? What is the next sign of Christ’s coming? How do I know my name is in the Book of Life? These questions go on and on.
AUSTIN: You’re saying these are good questions.
JOHN: Yeah. They’re good questions and the reason I wanted to end on that, I wanted to end at the end, because I get it. I’m seeing this world unravel. There doesn’t seem to be any way back. I mean this is totally out of control. This is a free fall down a black hole. So, you can’t just say, “Well, eschatology doesn’t matter.” That is not helpful. People want answers. Where is this thing going? It’s not fair to God, it’s a dishonor to God to say, “Well, the Bible is not clear.” It is clear. It is absolutely clear. I did a single message, a jet tour through Revelation. That was one Sunday night I did preach an hour and a half. Then we turned it into a booklet. You can get it from Grace to You. That was one message through the whole book of Revelation, so coherent, so consistent.
Then two volumes through the book of Revelation, and then another book, Because the Time is Near, through Revelation. All the studies on the Olivet Discourse in the gospels, the whole book of Daniel. You want a fascinating study, listen to Daniel or listen through Zechariah. What I’ve found through the years is that this is absolutely consistent with Scripture. You don’t have to tweak anything. You don’t have to do headline exegesis. You’re not playing off the world and what’s happening, but inexorably, the world is going down the path that’s charted in Scripture. I think that makes us very valuable to the society in which we live.
I just wish that the church was unified on what the Bible says. I don’t like it that there are Christians who don’t believe in Creation, but believe in some form of evolution. I think that dishonors God and confuses people. I don’t like it that there are Christians who don’t accept what the Bible says about the end either. But I think it’s wonderful that we do, and the answers are there.
The reason I gave you the illustration about Kazakhstan is because that is as alien a place as you could ever be. Thirty-five hours to get there. You step off the plane. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what’s going on. I teach them a whole day on the end times, and they tell me that’s exactly what they believe. How did they come to that? They don’t have seminaries. They don’t have books. They don’t have anything. That’s what the Bible says. You have to go to school and listen to somebody who deceives you to undo that because that’s what’s there.
I’m glad we’ve gotten some traction helping people understand that, but I think that’s a great thing for you to know. God is in total control of this thing. Read the book of Revelation, and you know how it’s going to end. That makes you a pretty valuable person in the world because that’s an answer people want to hear.
AUSTIN: Eschatology matters and your questions, we have so many resources in this church to answer those questions, and they’re available. Because the Time is Near is a book he’s mentioned several times. It’s a paperback, one volume, fast commentary through the whole book of Revelation. Very helpful resource. You’re saying eschatology matters.
JOHN: By the way, eschatology means the study of the eschaton, which is Greek for the last things.
AUSTIN: Last things matter because what is the chief end? What’s the goal of the study of the end?
JOHN: Glory of God.
AUSTIN: The glory of God. What’s the benefit to the believer?
JOHN: To glorify God for what is coming, just like we glorify God for what is passed. He gets glory for the creation. He gets glory for the consummation.
AUSTIN: I think that’s why you’re hopeful and not morose because you know how this story ends, and that’s our great hope.
JOHN: I’m not looking for the anti-Christ. I’m looking for Christ.
JOHN: I think I just want to be faithful to Scripture. He that has this hope in himself purifies him. So it’s a purifying hope. He’s coming. We know that. It’s also a glorious hope, a comforting hope, an encouraging hope, a hope of reunion, a hope of glory, a hope that He will right all of the injustices in the world in His glorious kingdom when He sets up His throne in Jerusalem and reins over the earth. All of the injustices will be reversed. Righteousness will reign over this planet, and Christ will take His throne. That’s how history ends. He will be honored by that.
AUSTIN: Come quickly, amen. Pastor, thank you for your faithful teaching and your shepherding of this congregation. We love you. All the notes said, “We love you, Pastor John,” smiley face. “We love you Pastor John,” smiley face. [laughter] I just thought it’d be weird to add that a bunch of times, but know that that’s what people wrote on the cards because that’s how this church feels about you.
JOHN: You know, that reminds me of a guy who was preaching in a pulpit that was a precipice. He had memorized his sermon. He was a young guy. He came to the end of his sermon. He was preaching on the Second Coming, and he said, “Behold, I come quickly. The Lord said, ‘Behold, I come quickly.’” He went blank, and he couldn’t think of what the next line was in his sermon. So he thought, “I’ll say it again. ‘Behold, I come quickly.’” Nothing. Third time, “Behold, I come quickly.” He hit the pulpit so hard, it fell, and he landed in a lady’s lap. He said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She said, “Why are you sorry? You warned me three times.” [laughter] So on that, we ought to end.
AUSTIN: I think so, yeah. [applause] Thank you. Will you close us in prayer?
JOHN: Sure. We thank you, Lord, for the wonderful time together tonight. Thank you for your mercy and your grace to us in Christ. Thank you for your Word. So astounding that we can hold in our hand your entire revelation, and we can read it and understand it. You give us the faith to believe it, the wisdom to grasp it, what a treasure. The world by wisdom can’t know you, but we as simple and humble as we are, know the mind of Christ, understand the deep things of heaven. What a blessing. Thank you for your mercy to us in Christ and for our wonderful fellowship tonight. We give you praise in our Savior’s name, Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.