Preparing to Receive Christ: Willing to Do the Will of God
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it, saying, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
The question we are asking in these advent messages is: How is the heart prepared to receive Christ? What must happen to our heart so that we will receive Christ for who he really is?
Last week our text was Matthew 16:17. When Peter had recognized Jesus for who he really was, Jesus said, "Blessed are you Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." So we learned that in order to recognize and receive Christ for who he really is, we need something more than flesh and blood, something more than our ordinary, natural human powers. We need a revelation from God the Father. "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."
But we stressed that this personal revelation from God concerning the Son is not a message telling us things about the Son that we can't see in him through his Word. Jesus is not honored if he is "received" because of external constraints that do not come from his own irresistible glory. So the revelation that the Father gives is not of that kind. It is the opening of the eyes of the heart to see Jesus for who he really is so that we freely and truly receive him for who he really is.
It is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Today we add another piece in answer to the question, How is the heart prepared to receive Christ? The text is taken from the gospel of John. Before we get into the text itself, it may be helpful to show that this talk of "receiving Christ" is in fact a biblical way of talking about conversion, especially in the gospel of John, and that it is something quite radical. Let's look at just two examples:
He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Here it seems that receiving Jesus is essentially the same as believing on his name. His name is his whole identity. So receiving him is to believe in all that he is.
Tozer put it like this: "To 'accept Christ' . . . we accept His friends as our friends, His enemies as our enemies, His ways as our ways, His rejection as our rejection, His cross as our cross, His life as our life and His future as our future" (Gems from Tozer, p. 51).
It is very harmful to people to create an atmosphere in which people think that they are saved by "receiving Jesus as Savior" when they reject him in many other ways. "Receiving Jesus" means receiving Jesus for who he really is—Savior, Lord, Marriage Counselor, Vocational Counselor, Therapist, Financial Planner, Nutritional Specialist, Wardrobe Consultant, etc. To try to pick and choose the things about Jesus you find convenient to receive, rejecting the rest, is not to receive Jesus as he really is.
He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
Here receiving or rejecting Jesus is directly connected with receiving or rejecting his sayings. From the biblical standpoint it is simply unthinkable that a person could claim to have "received Jesus" and yet have no desire to learn and obey his sayings.
If the option were open to receive Jesus as Savior and not receive his teachings as our daily norm, then Satan would be the first person in line to receive Jesus as Savior, so that he could stay evil but escape suffering.
These two examples will suffice I think simply to make the point that when we speak of "receiving Jesus" we are using good biblical language about conversion and we are talking about something radical, something that revolutionizes a person's life and never lets him go back.
What Jesus Says in John 7:17
Now what must happen to a person's heart to prepare it to receive Christ like that? Jesus gives another part of the answer in John 7. Let's get the context in view first.
The Enthusiasm of Jesus' Brothers
According to verse 2 it is time for the Feast of Tabernacles. This would be a great opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his miraculous powers and win a big following—so his brothers thought. Verse 3:
So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world."
This sounds at first like the sentiment of a true believer. But John says in verse 5 that the reason Jesus' brothers said this was that they did NOT believe in him. "For even his brothers did not believe in him." Evidently you can be confident in Jesus as a great miracle worker and be full of desire that many people see his greatness, and yet not have saving faith in Jesus. What was wrong with their enthusiasm? We will see in a moment.
Jesus answers their suggestion to go up to the feast in verse 6, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil." So Jesus has no intention to use his miraculous power to make himself popular. He has no intention to fill churches with enthusiastic unchanged people like his brothers. He tells people that their works are evil and so he does not get popular, he gets crucified.
What Jesus' Brothers Are Missing
What his brothers appear to be missing is the moral basis of genuine saving faith. They don't see that to receive Jesus for who he really is requires a change of heart about popularity. When John says in verse 5 that even his brothers did not believe on Jesus, he alerts us to a deep work that needs to happen in our hearts to prepare us to receive Christ for who he really is.
When Jesus finally goes up to Jerusalem in the middle of the feast (v. 10), he goes privately, not ostentatiously as his brothers had hoped. And instead of doing dazzling miracles, he goes into the temple and begins to teach. And in his teaching he reveals to his own brothers and to us what preparation has to precede the receiving of Christ for who he really is.
How Can Jesus Teach Like a Rabbi?
In verse 15 the Jews are amazed at his teaching, and they say, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" We know from verse 19 that these are Jews who are seeking to kill Jesus. So their amazement in verse 15 is not an appreciative amazement at Jesus' insight. It is a scoffing amazement at Jesus' presumption: How can he dare to assume the role of an authoritative rabbi when he has not received the ordinary training!
So the question is on the table: How can Jesus teach like this and stand in the place of a rabbi?
His answer in verse 16 is this: "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me." So Jesus denies that his taking the role of a teacher in the temple is presumption because he is not speaking words that merely originate with him. He is a mouthpiece of the One who sent him, namely, God. Rabbis get their authority by being faithful to the teachers of the law who have gone before. Jesus gets his authority by being faithful to the Lawgiver himself who speaks directly through him—more directly than they ever dreamed. "My teaching is not mine but his who sent me."
How Can We Know That Jesus Is God's Spokesman?
Now a new question is on the table: How can the Jews know that this claim to speak for God is true? How can they—and how can we—know whether Jesus' teaching is from God or merely from himself? If we are going to receive Jesus for who he really is, we must know whether he is God's true spokesman. How can we know?
Jesus goes on in verse 17 to give the answer:
If any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority [literally: from myself].
Let's look at this very carefully. How shall someone know if Jesus' teaching is of God? A person shall know (according to a literal rendering) "if one is willing to do his (that is, God's) will." The condition of knowing is willing.
A Will That Wills What God Wills
Now if we must know whether the teaching of Jesus is of God before we can receive him as he is—and surely we must—then the way the heart is prepared to receive Jesus is by getting a certain kind of will, namely, a will that wills what God wills.
This is very crucial for understanding how we come to receive Christ. To receive Christ you must recognize him for who he really is, namely, One whose teaching is God's teaching and not merely man's. But, Jesus says in John 7:17, you will never know this about him (and thus never receive him for who he is) unless you have a will that inclines to do the will of God.
He is not merely saying that a certain kind of willing (or wanting or desiring or inclining or preferring) must precede our receiving Christ. He is saying that a certain kind of willing must precede our knowing, our recognizing, that Christ is worthy of being received. He is not merely saying you have to want Jesus in order to receive Jesus. He is saying you have to want your whole life to be shaped by the will of God in order to even recognize Jesus. To paraphrase the verse: "If anyone wills (wants, prefers, desires) to do the will of God, then and only then will that person be able to know the divine authority of Jesus—that his teaching is God's."
So Jesus is saying that the basic reason why people do not own up to the truth of what he teaches is not that they lack sufficient evidence, but that their wills—or we could say their hearts—are against God. The fundamental problem is not intellectual but moral. The great obstacle to recognizing the truth of Christ is not deficient resources but deep rebellion against God. People cannot see and recognize the truth of Christ's teaching because the prevailing tendency of their will is insubordination against the authority of God.
What Jesus Says in John 8:44
There is only one close parallel to John 7:17 in this gospel. It is a text that says exactly the reverse of what 7:17 says, but it sheds much light on the meaning of our text. John 7:17 speaks of one whose will is to do the will of God. John 8:44 speaks of those whose will is to do the will of the devil.
Willing What the Devil Wills
In John 8:43 Jesus asks the question, "Why do you not understand what I say?" He answers in the next sentence, "It is because you cannot bear to hear my word." (Literally: Because you cannot hear my word.) But why can't they hear his word? They are hearing him with their physical ears. What does he mean that they cannot hear? And if they can't hear, why are they responsible to hear? Why are they guilty for not hearing?
Jesus answers those questions in verse 44. The reason they can't hear his word is that they are of their father the devil, and their will is to do their father's desires. "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires."
The Opposite of John 7:17
This is the closest parallel in the gospel of John to John 7:17. There Jesus says that if our will is to do the will of God, we will recognize that his teaching is divine. Here he says that if our will is to do the will of the devil, we will not be able to hear or know his teaching.
The same truth lies behind both texts: before we can hear the word of Christ and recognize it as sent from God and worthy of being received, our will must be brought into alignment with the will of God. Something has to happen deep down in the root of our will to remove the rebellion against God that we all have by nature. Something has to happen to take away our antagonism against the authority of God.
Romans 8:7–8 and John 7:17
Last week we compared 1 Corinthians 2:14 ("the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit") with Matthew 16:17 ("flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven"). Today I want us to compare Romans 8:7–8 with John 7:17. Paul says,
The mind of the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
In other words, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (v. 9), our wills are deeply, often unknowingly, antagonistic toward God and resistant to his authority, insubordinate to his law, and so unable to please him.
Rebellious Wills and Blind Eyes
Now Jesus adds in John 7:17 that unless this rebellious bent of our wills is changed, we will never be able to even recognize the divine beauty of his teaching and know that it is from God. When he says, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority," he means that our hard, fallen, rebellious will must become soft and docile and compliant to the will of God if we are ever going to be able to assess the teaching of Jesus accurately. A rebellious will toward God produces a blind eye toward Jesus.
Why Is a Rebellious Will Blind to Jesus?
But will the text let us be any more specific? What is it about the teaching of Jesus that makes it so hard for a rebellious will to see? Or, reversing the question, what is it about a rebellious will that makes it so blind to the teaching of Jesus? This is the question I think John 7:18 was intended to answer. Jesus goes on to say,
He who speaks on his own authority [or: from himself] seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
Here Jesus gives an objective criterion for assessing his truth. If his life is devoted to enjoying and magnifying the glory of God, and not his own private glory, then he is true.
But now put verses 17 and 18 together and see what you come up with. Verse 17 says that in order to recognize the divine truth of Jesus' teaching the rebellion of your will must be overcome so that it wills what God wills. Verse 18 says that in order to recognize the truth of Jesus you need to see that his life is devoted to the glory of God.
Two Facts and Two Conclusions
When I look at these two verses together I see two facts and I draw two conclusions:
Fact # 1: the truth of Jesus is shown by his commitment to enjoy and magnify the glory of God rather than seeking his own private glory (v. 18).
Fact # 2: the rebellion of our fallen will makes us blind to the truth of Jesus. (If we willed what God willed, we would see the truth (v.17).)
Conclusion # 1: therefore the specific thing that our wills rebel against in the will of God is that his glory not ours should be the quest and passion of our lives.
Conclusion # 2: therefore the reason we can't see the truth of Jesus is because he embodies the will of God which we hate, namely, that God's glory and not ours should be the quest and passion of our lives.
Confirmed by John 5:41–44
I close with by directing your attention to John 5:41–44 where this interpretation is confirmed. Jesus says to those who are rejecting him,
I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
In other words you can't believe if your will is bent on relishing the glory that comes from men and not the glory that comes from God. Which is just another way of saying, We will never recognize the truth of Jesus until our will is to do God's will, namely, to love the glory of God above our own.
When we come to will what God wills, namely, the enjoyment and magnification of his glory, then we shall know concerning the teaching of Jesus, whether it is of God. And we will receive him for who he really is—the way, the truth, and the life.
Prepare Your Hearts to Receive the Lord
Prepare your hearts this advent season to receive the Lord for who he really is. Cultivate a love for the glory of God.
If you wanted to develop a love for the glory of classical music, you would study it and spend time talking with people who love it, and you would listen and listen and listen.
If you wanted to develop a love for the glory of visual art, you would study it and go to museums and spend time with those who love it, and you would look and look and look.
If you wanted to develop a love for the glory of the sky, you would get a telescope and you would read astronomy and you would spend time with people who love the stars, and night by night you would gaze and gaze and gaze.
And if you want to love the glory of God above all other glories, then you will study God and spend time with lovers of God, and listen to God and look at God and gaze and gaze and gaze at the revelation of the glory of God.