Who is Jesus Christ?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’. He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’. And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 16:13–17).
There is no question more important in the whole Bible than the question the Lord Christ puts to His disciples in the district of Caesarea Philippi: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (v.15). Who is the Lord Jesus Christ? Who is the Son of Man? This question is an ultimate question – it is a question of eternal and cosmic significance. To know Him, the Scriptures say, is ‘life eternal’ (John 17:3). There can be nothing more important than the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You are confronted with this great question: ‘who do you say that I am?’ The New Testament provides us with a remarkable picture of Jesus Christ. It’s not merely satisfied to describe Jesus as a teacher, or a philosopher, or a revolutionary. And though He was all of those things, yet He was so much more. He is the highest reality. He is not simply a philosopher – He is Philosophy itself. He is the Wisdom of God manifest in the flesh. He is the Logos, the Reason, the Word, the Sermon of God. He is not simply a teacher; He is the Omniscient God – He is the Answer; He is the Meaning of Life. He is not merely a revolutionary – He is the Saviour of lost humanity. He is the absolute revelation of God Himself in the flesh. We are not dealing with a reality or a being somehow different from God Himself, but with the Man who by His eternal nature is God – very God of very God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of all things visible and invisible, the one and only Son of God. ‘This Jesus of Nazareth, who passes through the cities and villages of Galilee and wanders into Jerusalem, who is accused and condemned and crucified, this man is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, [He] is the Creator, [He] is God Himself [manifest in the flesh]’ (Karl Barth).

    I put to you that this is the teaching of the New Testament – this is the Christ of History. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who was with the Father and the Spirit before all worlds were made – God of God, Light of Light, infinite, eternal, unchanging, and uncreated, being of one substance with the Father, equal in power and in glory, the One by whom all things were made, in whom all things hold together. And who for our sake came down from heaven, assumed our nature, took a body like our own, and dwelt among us, our life to live, our death to die. He was crucified, dead, and buried – yet death could not hold Him. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High. And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; and His Kingdom shall have no end. This is the Jesus of the Bible. Peter’s declaration encapsulates all of these glorious truths in single line – ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (v.16). His confession is the ‘epitome of all Christianity’ (Johannes Brentius). It is a systematic theology in miniature. It is a complete body of divinity – the marrow and essence of Christianity theology. Who is Jesus? He is the Christ – the Messiah, the Saviour, the Son of the Living God.

‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
The disciples are with the Lord Christ in Caesarea Philippi – originally knowns as Paneas in honour of the Pagan deity known as Pan. It is said that sacred waters sprung from a stream hidden within a cave, believed to be the birthplace of this deity. You can see even today the remains of Pan’s temple and the cave where he was worshiped. Paneas was renamed as Caesarea after the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, and a new temple, built in brilliant white, was established there in his honour. It is important to understand these things. The Christ of Scripture is the Christ of History – He came into the reality of space and time. He came down into geography, to a real place called Caesarea Philippi, which had been devoted to pagan worship and then to the imperial cult of Rome. The Lord Christ came to a particular place, at a particular time, within a particular culture, to put this profound question to His disciples: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is? He was challenging both the imperial cult of Rome, the old pagan gods, and the pluralistic syncretism of His day. This is what Jesus Christ does – He reveals Himself to be the Son of God and the Saviour of lost mankind. His claim to divinity is absolutely exclusive. He alone is God. Not Pan, not some Roman Emperor, but Christ! He alone is the Saviour. He eclipses the other gods. They pale into nothingness beside Him. These local pagan deities, and humanized gods, and deified men are nothing – nothing at all – compared with the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    The Lord Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi and was He recognised by Simon Peter and His disciples to be the Messiah, even the Son of God. So, we are confronted once again with this question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ You believe that Jesus was an historical person, you believe that He was a good man, a prophet, a teacher, an activist perhaps, you nod your head to the facts history. You have an historical faith – ‘Yes, I believe that Jesus was a real person’, you say. Why then, my friend, do you deny the theology of His person? The two are inseparable in Scripture – the history and the theology are flip sides of the same coin. You are confronted with this profound reality – Jesus Christ is theologically declared to be God at Caesarea Philippi at a particular place and a particular time within the reality of human history. So, what are you going to do about it? You can’t sit on the fence. Your mind has been confronted with this great dichotomy. You must either deny the reality of history and descend into irrationality, or you must surely come to your senses and embrace Him your Lord and your God, and confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

‘Some say …’
Perhaps you are not yet convinced by this argument. You feel that it’s not a simple dichotomy between belief and unbelief because you are unsure as to the identity of Jesus Christ. ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ There was confusion about this at the time of Christ – ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’. Is he John the Baptist raised from the dead? Is he one of the prophets reincarnate – a second Elijah, a Jeremiah reborn? Who is He? Who is Jesus? There were all sorts of fantastical speculations and theories about Him. Jesus Christ was an enigma to them – a puzzle, a paradox, a question mark. Who is this man who heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, and life to the dead? Who is this preacher with such wisdom and authority? Is he a great teacher? Is he a prophet? Has he come to herald the beginning of a theocratic millennium? Is he the King of the Jews? Will he overthrow the Roman oppressors? Who is this Jesus? People still puzzle about Him like this today – is he a revolutionary? A great teacher? A philosopher? A moralist? A hero? A superman? A man of God-consciousness? A man of enlightenment? The example of a godly life? Who is He?
    We must seriously consider the claims of Christ and of the New Testament if we are to have any clarity in this matter. If we believe that Jesus was a real man, then we must surely be willing to take up and read the Gospels and the New Testament to learn more about Him. You say you have an open mind. You say that you are willing to learn new ideas, to explore new thoughts – then, my friend, consider the claims of Christ. In our text, He claims to be ‘the Son of Man’. That’s a Messianic title from the prophecy of Daniel: ‘I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came before the Ancient of Days, and was presented before Him. And to Him was give dominion, glory and a Kingdom – that all the peoples, of every nation, and every language might serve Him’ (Daniel 7:13–14). This is an interaction between the Father and the Son – a vision of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. Here is a covenant between them wherein the Kingdom of the Ancient of Days is entrusted to the Son of Man, and wherein the redemption of lost humanity from every tribe, and tongue, and nation is entrusted to the Messiah. This is speaking of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus in our passage freely and openly claims to be ‘the Son of Man’ – the One who had stood in the presence of the Ancient of Days as the representative and mediator of lost mankind, the One who would truly come in the flesh as a real man to redeem lost mankind – not only the people of Israel, but all peoples, of every nation, and every language as Daniel says. His Kingdom is not a physical thing. It’s not a place. It’s not only something coming in the apocalyptic future. What did Jesus preach at first? ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2). It’s here. It’s present right now. It’s come. I am the King, says Jesus, and my Kingdom is here. It’s even in this place today – ‘For,’ as Jesus says, ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst’ (Matthew 18:20). The Kingdom of Heaven is made up of the people who turn away from sin and follow Christ – those, and only those, who by faith have been washed in His blood and clothed in His righteousness, and who will be presented faultless before the presence of His Father, the Ancient of Days, with exceeding joy – that’s the Kingdom of the Son of Man – a Kingdom not for time, but for eternity.
    His claim to be the ‘Son of Man’ is but one of many extraordinary claims in the Bible. The New Testament ascribes to Him nothing less than equality with God. We are presented plainly and clearly with a Christology from above. Peter says in Matthew’s Gospel and Mark’s Gospel, ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16:16; Mark 18:27–30). Luke’s Gospel says that He is ‘Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11). Matthew’s Gospel, drawing upon Isaiah, says that Jesus is ‘Immanuel – God with us’ (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). The apostle John spoke of Jesus as the everlasting Word – the Logos – the One who makes the Father known (John 1:1–18). The apostle Paul describes the Lord Christ as the ‘image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,’ and as the Creator of ‘heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible’ (Colossians 1:15–16). The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus ‘is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power’ (Hebrews 1:1–3). The Lord Christ Himself makes startling claims to be coequal with His Father in Heaven: ‘I and my Father are one’ (John 10:30), ‘He that has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9), ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58). He claims the sacred Name of God’s self-disclosure to Moses as His very own (Exodus 3:14). He is the great I AM of ancient Israel – ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11:25), ‘I am the Light of the World’ (John 8:12), ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ (John 14:6). The people were amazed at His teaching because He ‘spoke as one who had authority’ (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32). My friends, He spoke with the authority of God Himself. He walked upon the water of Galilee. He fed the five-thousand. He preached the Sermon on the Mount. He opened the eyes of the blind. He healed the sick. He cured the leper. He turned water into wine. He raised the dead. He broke the chains of death itself. His tomb is empty. The one who had been crucified, dead, and buried appeared in the flesh to doubting Thomas in the upper room with the disciples. He showed Thomas the wounds in His hands, and feet, and side. And Thomas, who had absolutely refused to believe, fell upon his face and cried, ‘My Lord, my God’ (John 20:28).
    We are confronted once again with the great question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The foolish thing that people often say about Him is, ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, as a philosopher, as a good man, an enlightened man, but I don’t accept His claim to be God’. But, my friend, you cannot say that in the light of the New Testament. A man who said and did the sort of things that Jesus said and did would not merely be a great moral teacher. As C. S. Lewis said, ‘He would either be a lunatic – on the same level as a man who claims to be poached egg – or else he would be as evil as the devil himself’. ‘He either deceived mankind as a conscious fraud, or was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was and is the Son of the living God’ (‘Rabbi’ John Duncan). You accept that He was a real man, a good man, a kind man, a wise man, then why don’t you accept the Man He Himself claimed to be? He is not merely claiming to the best man, but the God-man. You say that He was good, and wise, and moral, but no good, wise, moral man would claim to be God unless it were true. So, what are you going to do with the Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God?

‘Who do you say that I am?’
The question our Lord puts to His disciples is emphatic: ‘But you, who do you say that I am?’ The Lord Jesus is catechising His disciples. He wants to tease out their understanding of His person and work. It is easy for preachers to lecture their congregations on the great doctrines of the Bible, but it is a far greater challenge to encourage believers to think for themselves – to reflect upon the teachings of Scripture and formulate doctrine in their own words. Ministers of the Gospel are not only called to preach, but to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship takes time and patience. Developing an understanding of Bible Doctrine is a process similar to sanctification. Few of us were born into the Christian faith as systematic theologians. We’ve had to learn – to study, to read, to engage our minds, to revise our ideas, to correct and reform our understanding in accordance with the Scriptures. Far too often, we come to Church as consumers – ‘feed me preacher’. We’ve become so passive in the Christian faith that our minds have grown lazy and sluggish in the things of God. Systematic theology, catechisms, confessions, creeds, doctrines – ‘No thank you,’ we say, ‘That’s dead orthodoxy. It’s as dry as dust’. But the Bible says that we are to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all of our mind’ (Matthew 22:37). Your mind matters. The apostle Paul says that we are to ‘take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is why the Lord Jesus challenges His disciples to think deep thoughts about His person – ‘Who do you say that I am?’

    In the original, the emphasis is placed upon the personal pronoun ‘You’ – the second person plural, as Jesus is addressing His disciples as a group. There are all of these ideas and speculations concerning the Lord Jesus floating around – ‘But you, who do you say that I am?’ What do we think of Jesus Christ? Whom do we understand Him to be? We are his disciples. We profess to follow Him. We call ourselves Christians. Do we know Him? Do we know who He is? Do we understand why He has come into this world? It’s not enough for us to say that we follow Jesus if we don’t know what that means. There is nothing more lamentable than a professing Christian who knows very little of Christ. Our desire should be to know more about Jesus – to study the Gospels and the New Testament, to trace the shadows and types of Christ under the Old Covenant, to formulate a coherent doctrine of Christ. It’s was Paul’s foremost concern – ‘to preach Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul says, ‘I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection, and participation in His sufferings, to become like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3:10–11). Is this our desire – to know Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’
You can imagine the disciples in a group hug – discussing the question. The stakes are high. Jesus is listening. Who is He? Who is this Jesus? Peter draws the short straw and they push him to the front – ‘You answer’, they say. Peter’s sweating. He’s shaking inside. He’s thinking on what Jesus has taught in the past and wishing he’d done more revision. He clears His throat nervously and says, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’. It’s a remarkable answer. Here is a simple fisherman who has struck gold. He’s nailed it. ‘Blessed are you Simon-Bar-Jonah’, says Jesus! He’s got it! The eureka moment has come. His eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God. He sees that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It’s a revolution in His worldview. It’s a doctrine that has driven the history of the Church for 2,000 years. Jesus is the Messiah – the Christ. It means the ‘anointed one’. It is a reference to the anointed offices within ancient Israel. Moses, for example, was instructed by God to make priestly garments for his brother Aaron and his sons with him, and to ‘anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them’ for the service of God as priests (Exodus 28:41). The prophet Samuel was instructed to anoint a king over Israel – He anoints Saul and then David as kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13). The prophet Elijah was called to anoint his successor Elisha to become a prophet in his place (1 Kings 19:16). Those anointed with oil under the Old Covenant were prophets, priests, and kings. The Lord Jesus Christ is the embodiment of all three offices. The prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Covenant were shadows and types anticipating the coming Messiah who would fulfil all three offices. The Lord Jesus is the real deal – He is Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the ‘anointed one’.

    The anointing itself was a symbol of the Spirit of God upon the office bearer – when Samuel, for example, ‘took the horn of oil, and anointed David in the midst of his brothers, the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward’ (1 Samuel 16:13). In the same manner, the Lord Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God at His baptism – the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove and His Father spoke audibly from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16–17). You remember that the Lord Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up after moving there from Bethlehem, and one Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He said to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (See Luke 4:14–20). The Lord Jesus Christ was self-aware concerning His own identity. He understood, as Peter says, that He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One – the Prophet, Priest, and King of God’s people.

    The Lord Christ as our Redeemer carries out the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King for us, both in the state of humiliation as He suffered in this world, was crucified, dead, and buried, and now in the state of exaltation as He has sat down at the right hand of God:

    1] As our Prophet, He reveals to us by His Word and Spirit the will of God for our salvation. He went about teaching and preaching. He made known the Gospel – the Good News of redemption in Him. A prophet under the Old Covenant would face the people of God and say, ‘This is what the Lord says’. He would make known the will of God for salvation. The same is true of Christ. He came to proclaim good news to the poor. He came to show us the way of salvation through faith in Him – and now He instructs us through His holy and infallible Word by the illumination of the Spirit.

    2] As our Priest, He offered Himself up once for all as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice to reconcile us to God by His death. He died that we might have life. He died in our place as our substitute bearing the wrath and condemnation that was due to us for our sins upon the Cross. In Christ crucified, the God-man ‘substituted Himself for us and bore our sins, dying in our place the death we deserved to die, in order that we might be restored to His favour and adopted into His family’ (John Stott). Even as the High Priest would offer up sacrifices for the sins of ancient Israel, so the Lord Christ – our great High Priest – offered up Himself as sacrifice for sin. Theirs had to be repeated ad nauseam because they were imperfect shadows of the Real Sacrifice – even the death of our Lord, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). He says, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). No more sacrifices. No more temple. No more death. No more blood to be shed. It is finished. ‘With His own blood – not the blood of goats and calves – He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever’ (Hebrews 9:12). Now that the work of atonement is complete, now that He has risen, and ascended, and sat down at the right hand of God, He ever lives to make continual intercession for the people of God. He prays for us before the throne of mercy – the God of heaven and earth upon His knees beseeching the Father with tears in His eyes for sinners of lost mankind. Just like the priests of the Old Covenant would offer prayers and incense in the Temple of God, so our Lord Jesus Christ prays and enables our prayers go up to the Father in Heaven like a sweet-smelling aroma. He makes our prayers effectual before the Throne of Heaven. 

    3] As our King, He subdues us to Himself, He rules over and defends us, and He conquers all our foes. He treads sin, death, hell, the world, the flesh, the devil in the winepress of His wrath. He is King Jesus. He is the Victor Christ. He has conquered the great enemies of mankind. The kings of the Old Covenant – even the greatest of them, even David – pale into nothingness when compared with King Jesus, who rules over Heaven and Earth as the sovereign Lord of all.

He is the Christ – our prophet, priest, and king – the anointed Saviour of lost mankind.

    He is not only the Christ; He is the Son of the Living God. He’s not merely a great man. He’s not merely a prophet, or a priest, or a king. He is the Son of God. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is God the Son manifest in the flesh. In Christ eternity steps into time, sovereign immensity into space, infinity into a finite world, the unchanging into a world of passing seasons, absolute being into a temporal universe that grasps at becoming for but a moment as stars and galaxies plummet onwards through the fabric of space and time. It’s incredible – veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity – our God contracted to a span, ineffably made man. The Lord Jesus Christ is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable body of soul; consubstantial with us according to the humanity; in all things like unto us as the Son of Man, yet without sin; and co-equal with God as the eternal Son of the Father, who existed before all world were made. And these two natures – divine and human – are perfectly united without confusion, without change, without division, without separation in one remarkable person – even the God-man, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. On this union depends all of our salvation. As the Son of Man, He represents lost humanity as the Mediator between God and Man. As the Son of God, He is mighty to save and all His works are infinitely efficacious.

    There is no-one beyond redemption. You may feel that your sorry case is an impossible one – that you cannot be saved from your sins. You think too much of yourself. He is able and He is willing to reach out in power to save you from yourself, from this world, from your sorrows, from sin, from death, from hell itself – for He is the Son of God and so omnipotent to save. There is more power in Him than sin in yourself. There is more life in Him than death in you. He is the Son of the living God. He came into this world to bring us life – eternal life, the life of God in the soul of man, the whole and complete living power of absolute being to dwell within your heart by faith. ‘In Him is Life’ (John 1:4), says the apostle John. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

    The existentialists and the humanists say that the end of all being is death. That’s all they have – so let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. That’s it. There’s no purpose. There’s no meaning. There is only death – eternal death. But my friend, there is surely more to life than death – for there is promised in Scripture eternal life for those united by living faith to the Son of the Living God. There is life in Him – life to the full, the abundant life, the eternal life, the best life – the life of a new heaven and new earth wherein righteousness dwells. Will you die and face oblivion? Will you die and face everlasting death? Will you die and face the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? Or will you have life? Will you have Jesus? Will you confess Him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God? Will you lay hold of Him and His promise of life abundant? If all being is tending towards death, are you ready to die? There is but a string of life between you and a lost eternity. Should that string of life break, and death come sweeping upon you while you are outside of Christ, then you shall know that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. To quote Dylan Thomas, but perhaps not in a way he would have expected:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

My friend, don’t be without Christ in death. Don’t be without Him in life. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the appointed time. Today His mercy is freely offered to you in the Gospel – so come to Him while His mercy may be had and find in Him everlasting life.

References & Recommended Reading
Barth, Karl, Dogmatics in Outline (London, 1949).
Green, Michael, The Message of Matthew (Nottingham, 1988).
Hendriksen, William, The Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh, 1974).
Jones, Mark, Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology (Fearn, 2012).
Jones, Mark, Knowing Christ (Edinburgh, 2015).
Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity (London, 1952).
Stott, John, The Cross of Christ (Nottingham, 1986).


The Lord’s My Shepherd

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want:
He makes me down to lie,
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by (Psalm 23)
The Psalms are truly wonderful. Calvin describes them as the ‘anatomy of the human soul’. The cover the full range of Christian experience – all the sorrows, every tear, every happiness, every smile, every doubt, ever fear may be found within the Book of Psalms. The Psalms are the expression of ‘holy feeling’. They are concerned with the affections and the emotional life of the Christian. God is very much concerned about our feelings. He desires that we love Him and that we love His people, that we are zealous for His glory, and excited and captivated by the glory His Son. It is not enough to simply have an intellectual understanding of the truths of Christianity. We must know them by experience. In the words of Jonathan Edwards,

True religion, in great part, consists in the affections … The religion God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us a little above the state of indifference. God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, fervent in spirit, and [that] our hearts [be] vigorously engaged in religion … The Spirit of God, in those who have a sound and solid religion, is a Spirit of powerful holy affection … He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculations only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion … The Scriptures place true religion very much in the affection of love; love God, and love to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The relationship we have with God is to be one of love and holy affection. The Psalms remind us of the importance of holy feeling and godly emotion. In the words of Saint Augustine:

Form thy spirit by the affection of the Psalm … if the Psalm breathes the spirit of prayer … do you pray; if it is filled with groanings, groan also thyself; if it is gladsome, do thou rejoice also; if it encourages hope, then hope thou in God; if it calls to godly fear, then tremble thou before the divine majesty, for all things herein contained are mirrors to reflect our own real characters … Let the heart do what the words signify.

Can we do that with this Psalm? Can we say with David, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’? This is personal. It’s intimate. He is my Shepherd. He is mine and I am His. It is incredible for little sheep to say such things! God is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth famously said that God is ‘wholly other’. He is transcendent. He is different. He is divine. He is incomprehensible to the human mind. Paul says to Timothy that God dwells in ‘light inaccessible’ (1 Timothy 6:16). And yet David says, ‘The Lord (Yahweh) is my Shepherd’. He has this personal love-relationship with the living God. The Lord, Yahweh, is the King of the universe. He is high and lifted up. He is exalted above the heavens. He alone is God and there is none like Him. Yet we can say with David, if we are truly converted, ‘The King of glory is my Shepherd’. He is my God and my portion forever. He is my brother and my friend.

    I’m sure many of you know that the name used for God as ‘the Lord’ in this Psalm is Yahweh or Jehovah. Orthodox Jews won’t use this name for God aloud. It’s such a holy name for them. They won’t even write it down. They very often leave blanks in the text for Yahweh or they’ll omit the vowels (YHWH). Yet here we find King David saying, ‘Yahweh is my Shepherd’. The God of the universe, he says, is my God – He’s my Shepherd, my very own. David has no fear to say the name of God because He knows God personally. There are many who know this Psalm by memory, but they don’t know the Shepherd of the Psalm. They know about Him, but they don’t know Him as their own God and Saviour. They are religious, but they are not converted. They cannot say from the heart, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. They don’t have this personal communion and fellowship with God himself. My heart breaks for those who know the words of Psalm and even the meaning of the Psalm, but not the Shepherd of the Psalm. We are told in the Gospels that the Lord Jesus would look upon the crowds of lost mankind and that His heart would melt with compassion for them because ‘they were like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). I want you to know that if you are lost in the darkness of sin this day, then you need not be so anymore. There is a Good Shepherd – one who has come to seek and to save the lost.

    In the Old Testament, the Shepherd of Israel is God Himself. He is the Lord Jehovah. When Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons he says, ‘May the God … who has been my Shepherd all my life … bless these lads’ (Genesis 48:15–16). The name used for God here is Elohim which means the God of power, of might, and strength. And the God of power, according to Jacob, is the ‘Shepherd of Israel’ (Genesis 49:24). The Psalmist reflecting upon the work that God has done in redeeming Israel from bondage in Egypt says, ‘He [that is, the Lord] led forth His own people like sheep and He guided them in the wilderness like a flock’ (Psalm 78:52). Again the Psalmist calling upon God for salvation pictures the Lord as a Shepherd:
Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock …
Stir up your might
And come to save us (Psalm 80:1–2).

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Sovereign Lord as a Shepherd coming to rescue His people: ‘He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart, and gently leads those that are with young’ (Isaiah 40:11). The Old Testament speaks very clearly of the Lord God as the Shepherd to His people. ‘God often takes to Himself the lowly picture of a caring shepherd, inviting us with tender gentleness to rest safely in His care’ (John Calvin).

    So, we ask, who is the Shepherd of Psalm twenty-three? He is the Lord Jehovah. He is the eternal God. ‘Yahweh is my Shepherd’. It’s absolutely essential to understand this great truth. For when in the New Testament we find the Lord Jesus being spoken of as the Shepherd, we learn that He is indeed very God – the Lord of heaven and earth. The Christian can say, ‘The Lord Jesus is my Shepherd’. He is Jehovah Jesus. He is my Lord and my God. In order to understand this Psalm, I would like us to consider three passages from the New Testament where the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed to be our Shepherd.

    1] Firstly, the Lord Christ claims to be the Good Shepherd. In the Gospel of John, He says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). I remind you that the Lord Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience who were very familiar with the picture of the Lord God as the Shepherd of Israel. Their worldview was shaped by the Old Testament and Jesus stands before them and says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. It’s an audacious claim. It’s outrageous. It’s radical. These words would have shocked his Jewish audience as Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, was claiming to be the living God.

    The words ‘I AM’ (egō eimi) would remind those listening of the time when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and made Himself known as the great I AM. There are several similar claims in the Gospel of John. Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35), ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12), ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9)’, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25), ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1). The Lord Christ unveils a consciousness of eternal being and deity. He speaks with the authority of God Himself. He says, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58). Abraham came into existence at a definite point in time, but the Lord Christ, with respect to His deity, is eternal. ‘He speaks as One on whom time has no effect, and for whom it has no meaning. He is the I AM of ancient Israel; He knows no past, as He knows no future … He is the eternal “Now”’ (H. P. Liddon). With regard to His humanity, we know that the Lord Jesus Christ assumed a human nature and was born of a virgin into this temporal world at a particular point in human history, but with respect His Godhead the Lord Jesus Christ is the one true and living God – He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being, the same yesterday, today, and forever. What the Lord Jesus says is remarkable. The very same God who spoke to Moses at the burning bush now speaks to the people of Israel and says, ‘I AM the Good Shepherd’.

    To the Jewish mind, this could only mean one thing: this Jesus was claiming to be God. This is reinforced by His claim to be the Good Shepherd. He doesn’t claim to be a good shepherd – one good shepherd among many. He claims to be the Good Shepherd. He uses the definite article. The Lord Jesus is saying, ‘I am the one and only true Shepherd of Israel. When the prophets spoke of God as a Shepherd, they were speaking of me’. This is a claim to absolute deity. Jesus of Nazareth is saying ‘I am one with the living God. I am the Lord of glory’. There are theologians and preachers who will say that Jesus never claimed to be God. But they stand in clear defiance of Scripture and the words of Jesus himself. He says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’.

    The Jews understood very clearly what the Lord Christ meant by these words and charge Him with the sin of blasphemy. They take up stones and they are ready to hurl them at the Lord Jesus to end his life. They say to Him: ‘It is not for any good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God’ (John 10:33). They understood the significance of these claims, though they didn’t believe them. Do you believe His words? The Lord Christ once said to His disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mark 8:29). It is a question that we must all face. We cannot sit on the fence concerning this matter. We are confronted with a great claim. ‘The Lord Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine’ (John Duncan). As we read the Gospels, we find that the Lord Jesus is an honest man, a good man, a kind man, and that He is a man of truth, integrity, and great wisdom, this is the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount, and yet this real man claims to be true almighty God. It seems obvious to me that He was neither a lunatic nor a liar, and so I must swallow my pride, fall at His feet, and confess Him to be my Lord and my God, to be my Shepherd and my King.

    He claims not only to be the great I AM and the Shepherd of Israel, but to be the Good Shepherd. The word used for good (kalos) could be translated as beautiful or worthy. Why is the Lord Jesus beautiful? Why is He worthy of our love and adoration? Why is He good? He tells us, ‘the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep’. Here is a noble man. Here is a good man. He loves us so much that He is willing to lay down His life for us. The Lord Jesus was not a victim of death. We have to be careful with some of our hymns as they suggest such things. The Scripture says that He lays down His life. It is voluntary. He dies by His own free choice. ‘Death was not His fate; it was His deed’ (John Murray). The Lord Christ goes on to say, ‘I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father’ (John 10:17–18). The Lord Christ goes to Calvary, He goes to the Cross, with this great purpose in mind to lay down His life for the sheep. It is a voluntary sacrifice to bring about the redemption of God’s elect.

    The Lord Christ had been commissioned by the Father to redeem a chosen people by laying down His life for them. This is the doctrine of particular redemption. He dies for the elect. He dies for the sheep. It’s personal redemption. Paul says to the Galatians that the Son of God ‘loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). It is particular. It is personal. It’s substitutionary. The Lord Christ dies for the sheep. He dies for my sake. He dies for my sin. He faces the great enemy of death in my stead. A good shepherd in the first century would be willing to give his life for the sheep of his pasture. If a ferocious lion came to devour the sheep, the shepherd would risk his life by facing the lion for them. He would be prepared to lay down his life for the sheep. The same is true of the Lord Jesus Christ. He faces our enemies upon the Cross – sin, death, hell, the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are the great enemies of mankind, but we have a Hero, a Shepherd King, who has faced them for us by laying down His life in our stead. He has defeated all our and his enemies and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross – and He is able to save to the uttermost those who drawn near to God through Him.  

    2] Secondly, the New Testament teaches that the Lord Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. There is a wonderful benediction in the letter the Hebrews: ‘Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen’ (Hebrews 13:20–21). It’s a wonderful benediction. There’s something thrilling about it. The writer to the Hebrews says that our God is ‘the God of peace’. How can this be? Our God is a consuming fire. He is holy. He is righteousness. He is just. And we are not. We are rebels by nature. We inherit the guilt and corruption of Adam. We are defiant in our trespasses and sins. We have all, each one of us, stood before the Holy Law of God, turned away, and said, ‘I’ll do it my way. I’ll live how I please’.

    The Scriptures very often say that there is enmity between man and God. Yet here we find the writer to the Hebrews saying that our God is the God of peace. How can this be? I’m reminded of the great question they ask at the National Eisteddfod every year: ‘Is there peace? A oes heddwch?’ And we must a great question: how can there be peace between God and man? The writer to the Hebrews tells us: ‘Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant’. The peace between God and man has been bought with ‘the blood of the eternal covenant’. He has made peace through the blood of the Great Shepherd. Before the foundation of the world, the Father and the Son made a covenant together to reconcile fallen humanity to God – a covenant that would be sealed in the blood of His one and only Son. We call it the ‘eternal covenant’ because it was made in eternity and lasts for eternity. It is a covenant of redemption (a covenant of salvation). The Lord Christ is faithful in keeping this covenant for, as the apostle Paul says, He was obedient unto death, even death upon a cross (Philippians 2:8). He came into this world of time to bring lost sinners back to God. Paul says to the Corinthians that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The death of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross brings reconciliation. It is because the Great Shepherd shed His own blood that we have peace with God. Our sins are odious in the sight of a holy God, but the Lord Christ came into this world to bear our sins in His own body, to suffer the penalty that was due to us for our sins, and thereby satisfy the justice of God. The wrath of the Lord God is appeased by the blood of the eternal covenant. The blood speaks to us of the death of Christ. He died for us. He died for our sins. He laid down His own life and shed His own blood for the sheep. Paul says to the Corinthians that ‘God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for our sakes, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is a great transaction involved in the work of reconciliation. Our sins were imputed to Christ, they were considered as belonging to Him, and His righteousness is imputed to us and received by faith. The cause of enmity between God and man is now removed because our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ.

    Not only does this reconciliation come to us by the blood of the eternal covenant, but by the resurrection of the Great Shepherd from the dead. He’s not simply called the Shepherd of the sheep, but the Great Shepherd. Death could not hold the Lord of glory. The hymn writer says, ‘He tore the bars of death away’. This is what the writer to the Hebrews says: ‘Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep’. The Lord God brought Him back. Death was not the end for the Great Shepherd. There is something tremendously powerful about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul says to the Romans, ‘For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life?’ (Romans 5:10). There is tremendous logic here. At the Cross we see the Lord Christ suffering, we see Him in weakness, in humility, and lowliness. It would appear that His enemies had won and triumphed over Him – the Lord of Glory had been crucified. This is why the apostle Paul says that ‘the word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is by this death, this weak, humiliating state, that God in Christ brought about the redemption of lost humanity. If in this state, weak, humble, despised, rejected, forsaken, suffering, dying, death, Jesus had the power to reconcile us to God, how much more, now that He lives, having risen from the dead, will He be able to save us by His life! Do you see the argument? The Great Shepherd of the sheep has come back from the dead. He has risen and ascended. He has sat down at the right of God the Father in glory. And if in death He had such power to save, how great indeed must His power now be as the exalted, risen, living Redeemer!

    Douglas MacMillan in his sermons on this Psalm at the Aberystwyth Conference told the story of a visit to London with his wife and children. They were taken on a tour around one of the Churches in the city and at the end of the Church was great Cross and upon it a horrible picture of the Lord Christ suffering and dying. One of his daughters said, ‘Daddy, look at that! Isn’t that awful?’ He asked them, ‘Why is it awful?’ And the youngest replied, ‘Well, He’s not dead now, is He?’ He’s not dead. We don’t have a dead Shepherd. We have a Great Shepherd who has risen from the dead.

    3] Thirdly, the New Testament teaches that the Lord Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. When Peter gives instructions to the elders as under-shepherds of God’s flock, he says ‘When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5:4). The elders, of course, are shepherds appointed by the local Church and accountable to the local congregation. They are responsible for the preaching ministry, for the work of the Gospel, and the pastoral care of the congregation. Their great example and role model is the Chief Shepherd – the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘To speak of the Chief Shepherd is to remind elders that they are only under-shepherds. Their authority is not original: they minister only in Christ’s name, and according to His word’ (Edmund Clowney). They themselves are sheep under the care of the Chief Shepherd – who sits at the right hand of God, enthroned in glory. One day, Peter says, He will appear. In other words, He will come back to this world. We’ve seen that the Good Shepherd gave His life for the Sheep, and that as the Great Shepherd He has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, and now we learn that the Chief Shepherd is coming back again. He shall appear, not in weakness, but in power and majesty. ‘He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; and His Kingdom shall have no end’ (Nicene Creed). We look forward to His return. The elders of the Church have this great hope – they look forward with the eyes of faith for the return of the King, for the coming of the great Shepherd of the Sheep.

    The promise, according to the apostle Peter, is that Chief Shepherd will bring glory. We believe in the doctrine of glorification. Paul says in his letter to the Romans: ‘And those whom He [that is God] predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified’ (Romans 8:30). It’s a golden chain of blessings. The Lord God chose a people from before the foundation of the world, He calls them in time effectually by the Holy Spirit, drawing them with the chords of love and mercy into the arms of the Saviour, and He justifies His chosen people with the righteousness of Christ, and one day He will crown us with glory. The apostle John says, ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is’ (1 John 3:2). When the Lord Christ appears we shall be transformed to be like Him in every way – free from sin, beautiful in holiness, clothed in gladness, full of joy, and happy forever. Paul connects this doctrine of glorification with the resurrection of the body at the last day. He says to the Corinthians:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).

Paul is saying that when the Lord Christ returns, we shall not all be asleep. In other words, there will be living Christians upon the earth when the Lord Jesus returns. That’s a great encouragement. God will always have His people upon earth – witnesses to the Gospel even to the very end of time. We don’t know when the Lord Christ will return, not even the Lord Christ during His earthly ministry knew the time or the hour, but we know that He will return and we shall all be changed. If we have died, our bodies will be raised and our souls kept in heaven will be restored to us. We will not be raised in weakness and corruption, but in glory, in beauty, and in holiness. Those believers who are still alive upon earth will be changed as well. They will be beautified. We shall all be transformed, perfectly conformed, to the image of Christ. We shall be resplendent and glorious, more beautiful than the angels of heaven, as glorious even as the Son of Man.

    The apostle Peter says that the elders of God’s church, the faithful ministers of the Gospel, shall receive crowns of glory. That’s a lovely thought. The Chief Shepherd will crown them with glory and honour. The word used for crown could also be translated as garland or circlet. Interestingly, the Greek term seems to suggest a garland of flowers. Flowers that will never lose their scent. Flowers that will never wither or perish. They’ll never fade away. It will always be springtime and summer in the new heaven and earth. The darkness will have passed. There’ll be no more winter. The dark nights of the soul will be a faint memory. The new heaven and earth ‘shall a place where the unveiled glories of God shall shine fully upon us, and we shall forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God’ (Ezekiel Hopkins).

    Isaiah says that the crown of Glory is the Lord Almighty,

In that day the Lord Almighty
Will be a glorious crown,
A beautiful wreath,
For the remnant of His people (Isaiah 28:5).

I don’t think we can ever really grasp the magnitude of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. On that Day, He will crown our heads with His own beauty. We are sinners of lost mankind, yet such is His love for us that He takes His own crown and puts upon our heads. It’s a remarkable thought! The apostle John tells us in Revelation that the twenty-four elders before the throne will fall upon their faces and cast down their crowns in worship and adoration (Revelation 4:10). Why do they do that? They do because they know they’re not worthy of such honour. Who of us can say that we deserve salvation? Not one. We are all by nature unworthy of such kindness and yet the Good Shepherd loves us with an everlasting love. ‘The faithful elders who receive their crowns of blessing from the Lord will cast their crowns before the throne of Him who wore the crown of thorns for them’ (Edmund Clowney). Will we not cast down our crowns today? Will we not cast down our pride and fall at the feet of the Great Shepherd of the sheep who so loved us that gave Himself for us and put His own crown upon our heads? How can we not love Him? How can our hearts not be moved to worship Him?

Who is the Shepherd of Psalm twenty-three? He is the Lord Jehovah, even our Lord Jesus Christ – the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the Sheep, the Great Shepherd who has risen from the dead, and the Chief Shepherd who is coming back to crown His flock with His own glory. Can say with David, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd?’ Can we say, ‘The Lord Jesus is my Shepherd?’ Those outside of Christ have no such confidence. If you do not know the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, then the Scriptures say that you are like a sheep without a Shepherd. So why not come to the Good Shepherd this day and find in Him a friend who sticks closer than a brother? He came into this work to seek and save the lost. I hope and pray that one day you’ll be able to say:

I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.

References & Recommend Reading
Beeke, Joel, The Lord Shepherding His Sheep (Watchmead, 2015).
Brown, Raymond, The Message of Hebrews (Nottingham, 1982).
Calvin, John, Commentary on the Psalms, ed. David Searle (Edinburgh, 2009).  
Clowney, Edmund, The Message of 1 Peter (Nottingham, 1988).
Hendriksen, William, The Gospel of John (Edinburgh, 1959).
MacMillan, J. Douglas, The Lord Our Shepherd, 2nd edition (Bridgend, 2003).
Plumer, William S., Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Edinburgh, 1975). 


The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language (Acts 2:1–6).

It’s the fiftieth day – the Pentecost – after the Passover Sabbath. It’s also the Festival of Weeks in the Jewish calendar – a time when Jews remember both the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and the gathering of the wheat harvest in Israel. God’s timing is perfect. He sends the Spirit at just the right moment in time. Pentecost is the day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement under the Law of God, and also a time when we remember the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit to save sinners of lost mankind from the curse of a broken Law and bring into the Kingdom of God a full harvest of souls. The Law of God prepares us by humbling us and reminding us of the seriousness of our sin; then the Gospel comes, to console us, to bind up our wounds, and stir up faith in our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit who puts such thoughts in our hearts. He convicts us of our sin and then He shows us the grace, the mercy, and majesty of Christ. He pierces our conscience with the needle of the Law and the pulls through silken thread of the Gospel of peace.
    The disciples of Jesus, one hundred and twenty of them, were together with one accord in one place on the day of Pentecost (v.1). They had gathered together to wait upon the Lord and to inquire in his temple. They would have been using one of the many spaces in the temple to worship – to remember the Passover, the death of Christ, and His resurrection. His promise to send the Holy Spirit would have been burning within their hearts and minds. The Lord Christ had said to them before He ascended into heaven, ‘Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). The Lord Christ sends the Holy Spirit on this great mission to clothe the Church of God with power for the task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There is a Trinitarian dynamic here: the Spirit of God is promised by the Father and commissioned by the Son to be our Helper and our Comforter. He is the gift of the Father’s love and the purchase of the blood of Christ. God doesn’t send an angel or a saint, but His own beloved Holy Spirit to empower the Church of Jesus Christ. The Lord Christ, having fulfilled the Law of God, having made atonement for sin, and having sat down at the right hand of God, sends His own Spirit to sanctify the elect, to convert them to God, and restore their communion and fellowship with the Father. The work of the Spirit is of utmost importance within the economy of salvation. The Spirit of God comes to regenerate, to indwell, to sanctify, and to save. He comes to apply the work of redemption. He unstops deaf ears and opens blind eyes, He softens hard hearts, and makes known to us the love, and the mercy, and the glory of Christ. There is a sweetness about the work of the Holy Spirit. He comes not only to conquer our unbelieving hearts, but to console us with tender mercies and to assure believers that they are indeed the children of God. 
    It’s a great crime for the Church to neglect the work of the Spirit of God. ‘There is a general omission in the saints of God, in their not giving the Holy Spirit the glory that is due to His person … The work He does for us in its kinds is as great as those of the Father and the Son’ (Thomas Goodwin). The Holy Spirit is divine and His work of regeneration is as important as the Father’s work of election and the Son’s work of redemption. Without the Holy Spirit, there would be no Church – no conversions, no holiness, no sanctification, no salvation. ‘As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead’ (John Stott). Without an outpouring of the personal and empowering presence of the Spirit of God, there is no true Christianity. ‘Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless. And as an offering without the sacrificial flame, we are unaccepted’ (Charles Spurgeon). From the fall of man to this very day, the application of redemption has been the special work of the Holy Spirit. He alone breathes new life and salvation into sinners of lost mankind.

    Pentecost represents the first great revival of the New Covenant, and the Church ever since that day has spread all around the world by remarkable outpourings of the Spirit of God at special seasons of mercy. As we look upon the valley of dry bones today, do we not see the great need for an outpouring of the Spirit of God in our land? Do we not very much need a second Pentecost? My friends, revival is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. It’s His work. It’s His special prerogative. Pentecost reminds us of this. Those in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost were confronted with an extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s account in the passage before us draws our attention to three supernatural signs: the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the sight of tongues of fire, and the speech of the disciples in many languages to publish the Gospel abroad. While wind, fire, and languages are natural phenomena, their origin at Pentecost was wholly divine – they signify the presence and activity of the Spirit of God. We are dealing with the supernatural. There is something uncanny and strange about the events of Pentecost. This is no ordinary work. There is a power here – a mighty wind, flames of fire, and many languages. I would like us to think about the meaning of each of these signs respectively and to reflect upon what they teach us about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

    1] Firstly, I would like us to consider the sound of a mighty rushing wind. The text says that ‘suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting’ (v.2). This is a public announcement that the Spirit of God is present. It’s likely that the house to which Luke refers is the temple in Jerusalem – everyone in and around the temple would have heard this majestic sound of rushing wind. It comes suddenly upon the temple and arrests the attention of all present. This is no ordinary sound. This is no ordinary wind. This is the breath of God – powerful, majestic, divine. The sound of a mighty rushing wind comes from above this world of time – it comes from heaven, from the presence of the living God. The significance of a mighty rushing wind is often missed by modern readers. To the Hebrew mind, the wind signified the Spirit of God. The Hebrew word for Spirit (ruach) is very same word used for breath or wind in Scripture. In Greek the word is pneuma and that’s the same word used by Paul in his letter to Timothy where he says, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God’. Both those words in Hebrew and in Greek are breathed out words. They are aspirate words – they are exhaled. You must say them with the exhalation of breath. We often miss the significance of this as we read the passage before us. This mighty rushing wind from heaven is not a natural phenomenon – it is the very breath of the Spirit of God. It is as if God breathes from heaven upon His Church. The hymn writer captures the significance of this:

O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
Revive Thy church with life and power,
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
And fit Thy Church to meet this hour.

The breath of God is the Holy Spirit. He is the bringer of life, and energy, and creativity. In the beginning, the Holy Spirit according to the Book of Genesis was hovering above the surface of the deep. ‘The Holy Spirit is here portrayed as God’s breath – as the creative, moving, dynamic breath of God. This breath – this divine life-giving wind – is what is blowing across the waters at the beginning’ (James Montgomery Boice). We begin to capture a picture of the infinite power of the Spirit of God – it is by His omnipotence, by His breath, by His mighty rushing wind that this vast universe came into being. God speaks – he exhales and the universe is formed by the power of His voice. This vast cosmos, every star, ever galaxy, every atom, every quark came to be by the Breath of God. Does this give us some indication of grandeur, magnificence, and power of the Spirit of God?

    Not only was the universe brought into being by the breath of God, but conscious human life. Genesis tells us that God formed man out of the dust of the earth. For all our self-confidence and feelings of superiority in this world, we are but dust and to dust we shall return. God formed the human body out of pre-existing material – some carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, a dash of calcium, a touch of sulphur, some very ordinary elements, a small amount of iron. That’s what we are made of! If you take all the atoms our body apart one at a time, you would have a pile of atomic dust. Atoms are lifeless. They have no mind, no awareness. Your atoms don’t care about you, they don’t even know that you are there – and yet you have life, you have breath, you have awareness. Genesis tells us that God took the lifeless form of Adam’s body and ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature’. The breath of God is life giving. It didn’t simply give Adam the ability to inhale and exhale, but to become a conscious mind, a soul, a living, thinking, rational being. Such is the power and the creativity of the Holy Spirit that He is able to create consciousness. Are we getting a sense of the power of the Spirit of God?  

    Consider the time when the hand of the Lord came upon Ezekiel and led him to the valley of dry bones. The Lord says to Ezekiel, ‘Can these dry bones live?’ And Ezekiel gives a shrewd answer, ‘Lord, you know’. And God commands Ezekiel to prophesy over the dry dead bones and by the power of the Lord the bones begin to fit together and flesh appears upon the bones, yet they have no life, no breath. Then the Lord says through the prophet, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live’ (Ezekiel 37:9). And the Spirit of God comes upon dead, the power of the breath of God gives life and vitality to the valley, and before the prophet Ezekiel stands a great living army. ‘Can these dry bones live?’ The Spirit who comes to the valley of dry bones is very same Spirit at Pentecost – the same power, the same majesty, the same authority. The Scriptures say that humanity, by nature, is dead in sin. The whole earth is like a valley of dry bones. The problem of society is not apathy, it’s not impotence, it’s not weakness – it’s death. Sinners of lost mankind are dead in trespasses and sins. ‘Can these dry bones live?’ No, they can’t. There is no natural means for bringing the dead to life. If I may speak crudely, when you are dead, you’re dead. The idea that man-made religion, or good works, or free will, or self-help can remedy the human situation is nonsense. The only solution to the deadness of man in sin is the supernatural power of the Spirit of God. Do we not very much need the breath of God to breathe upon lost mankind? My friends, this is the very breath that came at Pentecost and swept thousands into the Kingdom of heaven. It is Spirit of God who alone may speak with the voice that wakes the dead.

    The Lord Jesus Christ takes up this great teaching and says to Nicodemus, the most religious man on earth, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again”. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit’ (John 3:5–8). None but the Spirit of God can impart newness of life into dead and unbelieving hearts. We call this the doctrine of regeneration, but we might very well call it the doctrine of revival. What is revival? Revival is nothing less that the Spirit of God descending in power, as a mighty rushing wind, to impart new life into dead souls and to fill the people of God anew with heavenly power to carry out the great work of making Christ known through the preaching of the Gospel. Notice, however, that the Spirit is completely sovereign in the work of salvation. You cannot say to the wind, ‘Blow here or blow there’. You can’t do that. And so it is with the Spirit of God. There is no special formula or programme for creating a move of the Spirit. You cannot manufacture revivals. You cannot force conversions. The wind blows, the Lord Christ says, wherever it pleases and so it is with everyone born of the Spirit of God. You are not a Christian because at one time you prayed a prayer or put your hand up in a meeting, you are a Christian only if the Spirit of God has chosen of His own sovereign freedom to come and dwell within you, to regenerate your dead and lifeless heart, and to conform you to the image of Christ. Of course, this is not an excuse for apathy on our part. We know that the Spirit of God uses the means of Gospel preaching and witnessing to bring men and women to Christ, even as He used Ezekiel to prophesy over the dead bones. Be that as it may, we cannot save the lost. We can show them the way of salvation, but we cannot change their hearts. We cannot do God’s work. Ezekiel could prophesy over the bones, but only the breath of God could change them. Regeneration is a secret and supernatural work of the Spirit of God, whereby He awakens the sinner to the reality of divine justice and then draws him with chords of everlasting love and irresistible grace to Jesus Christ – to find in Him full salvation, pardon, peace, and life eternal.

    We are told that this mighty rushing wind, the Holy Spirit in all His power and glory, came and filled the temple at Pentecost. Oh for such a move of God’s Spirit today! Oh that He would fill the wide earth with full salvation! Oh that He would breathe new life into sleeping Christians and regenerate and save lost sinners! This is the greatest need of the Church in our generation. We need to the Spirit of God to breathe upon us – to sanctify His people and to convert the lost through the preaching of the Gospel. The Psalmist cries out to God, ‘Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?’ (Psalm 85:6). Is this our desire? Will we not cry out with Habakkuk, ‘O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years … in wrath remember mercy’. Duncan Campbell once said, ‘Show me a people on their faces before God – gripped in the unction of prayer and I show you a people ready for revival’.

    2] Secondly, I would like to consider the tongues of fire. Luke says that ‘divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them’ (v.3). The second sign of the presence of the Spirit of God is fire. It is a powerful image for the Holy Spirit. Fire is dangerous. It can consume and destroy. When God appeared on Mount Sinai, there was fire, and thunder, and lightning. Fire is a reminder of God’s purity and holiness. When David had been delivered from the hand of Saul and his enemies he sang of God’s terrible presence:

Smoke rose from His nostrils,
Consuming fire came from His mouth,
Burning coals blazed out of it.
He parted the heavens and came down
(2 Samuel 22:9).

There is a very real sense in which God is a consuming fire. The writer to the Hebrews says, 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Hebrews 10:31). We live in a moral universe and we are responsible to a Holy God for our words and deeds. O sinner! consider the great danger you are in! ‘There is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of divine wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked against you … you hang by a slender thread as thin as a spider’s web, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to …. burn it asunder’ (Jonathan Edwards). Yet the flames which rest upon the 120 disciples at Pentecost do not consume them, they do not condemn, they do not bring down divine judgement. The fire of Pentecost is the fire of grace and mercy. I am reminded of the three young men in Babylon who were thrown into the flaming furnace – a furnace so bright it consumed those who stoked the flames – yet the three men were not consumed for the Lord Christ was with them. When the fire comes down at Pentecost, the Spirit of Christ is there. This is the fire of blessing. The fire of mercy.

    The greatest dilemma facing mankind is the question of how sinful man can approach a holy God. How can a sinner, condemned, unclean, approach the One who is infinitely holy and righteousness in every way – the One who is of purer eyes than to look upon sin? How could Moses approach the burning bush? How could Isaiah stand in the presence of a holy God? How could John behold the vision of the Lord Christ upon a white horse clothed in majesty? They were hidden in Christ. Their faith was found in Him. Moses approached the holiness of God hidden in the cleft of the rock. These disciples are not consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit because they belong to Jesus Christ – they’ve been washed in His blood and clothed in His righteousness. The power from on high does not destroy the disciples, but gives them a spirit of clarity and of boldness to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The flames are said to be shaped like tongues of fire – the whole design behind this blessing is to make these disciples burning and shining lights for the Lord Jesus. These flaming tongues are saying, ‘Speak up for Jesus Christ. Tell out the greatness of the Lord’. Even though it is only the Spirit of God who can save sinners of lost mankind, yet we are called to be His witnesses in the world – to know Christ and to make Him known, to use our tongues and our lips to sing His praises and to proclaim His Gospel.

    We know that fire has two main uses: it provides light and heat. The fire of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost brings illumination – it throws light upon the Scriptures to reveal the beauty and the glory of Christ. Wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ goes into this world, it brings enlightenment. Not the humanistic self-enlightenment of man, but the illumination of the Spirit of God. It opens up the mind to understand the things of God. You get this in John Newton’s great hymn. He says, ‘I once was blind, but now I see’. The fire of the Holy Spirit had opened His eyes to see the glory of God’s grace. He saw that salvation did not depend upon human merits, and human efforts, and human works, but upon Christ – upon His merits and His obedience. The Bible depicts fallen mankind as being lost in the darkness of sin. But this fire, this Pentecostal fire, brings light into the darkness of a fallen world.

    If fire brings light, it also brings warmth. The Bible speaks of hell as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Lost humanity will be cast into that darkness – out into the cold and the dark for all eternity. There’s nothing worse than being cold. I remember going on a geography trip with the school to some sand dunes we were studying at the time. It was a freezing day and the wind was bitter and the rain was so cold that it was painful. It was a miserable day. That’s what it means to be without Christ in this world. The man without Christ is the most pitiful creature on the face of the planet. He’s miserable. He’s out in the cold without God and without hope in the world. The Spirit of Christ shows us a better way. He shows us the Saviour and the fire of His love. He draws us into the warmth of fellowship and communion with God. He takes out of the cold, out of the darkness, into God’s house and He sits us beside the fire of His heavenly love, He wipes away every tear from our eyes, and embraces with arms of love and mercy.

    In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, the children of Adam who come to Narnia must approach the Lion Aslan and they ask, ‘Is he safe?’ ‘Safe’, comes the reply, ‘No, he is not safe, but he is good’. Our God is a consuming fire, He is infinitely holy and righteousness in every way, He is not safe, but He is good. He is gentle. He is compassionate. He is kind. As the beloved disciple John says, ‘God is love’. He has such a heart of compassion for sinners of mankind lost. He so loved the world that gave His Son to make atonement for sin by His death, to justify by His righteousness, to bring life by His resurrection. And He sent His Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and to present us faultless before the throne of grace. The Lord Jesus faced the fires of divine wrath in our stead and He calls us now to receive the Holy Spirit and the fire of holiness, and to stand up as witness for His glory – as lights, as shining stars, as flaming tongues of fire in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation.

    3] Thirdly, I would like us to consider the speech of the disciples in many languages. The text says, ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance’ (v.4). We are told that the disciples were ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. Even though the Spirit of God indwells true believers at all times, there are special seasons of mercy when the Spirit of God comes upon his people in an extraordinary way. He makes His presence known and felt in a remarkable manner. This is a part of the Spirit’s work in revival – to strengthen us inwardly, and to make known the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to fill us with all the fullness of God. Revival is not only about Spirit of God regenerating lost sinners, it’s also about the people of God receiving new life and power from on high. It must be wonderful to witness a move of the Spirit of God – to see how affections are raised with love for Jesus Christ and love for His people. A work of the Spirit of God is always distinguished by holy love and affection for the Lord Jesus Christ and His precious word. When the Spirit of God comes upon these disciples, they cannot but help to tell out the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ. Revival is not about great excitement, crowded churches, tears of repentance, and shouts of ‘glory hallelujah’ – though such things often happen in revivals. The external excitement can be thrilling, but what matters is the heart. True revival consists in the affections. Revival is a work of the Spirit of God in your heart – the Spirit creates within you a delight and an inward sense of the loveliness and the preciousness of Jesus Christ and His holy infallible word. That’s what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God.

    The presence and outpouring of the Spirit of God causes the disciples to speak in other languages. This is a distinctive feature of Pentecost. We don’t expect to see such miracles today. They are not the norm, though God in His providence can still do remarkable things. It seems that this particular gift was a special gift for laying the foundation of the Church. The message of the Gospel needed to extend beyond Israel to other cultures and places where people spoke different languages. The text says that ‘there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven’. Jews from all over the known world had come to celebrate the grain harvest and to remember the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. They were amazed that day to hear the sound of the mighty rushing wind in the temple and they ran to find out what had happened. To their amazement, they found the disciples of Jesus with tongues of fire above the heads speaking to them in their own languages and dialects. The text says, ‘And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language’. This gift of languages (glossolalia) was given on the Day of Pentecost as a supernatural ability to speak in recognisable languages in order to make know the mystery of the Gospel. These languages no doubt would have included Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, but also various dialects and languages from the many regions listed by Luke in our text: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabians. This great barrier of language was brought down at Pentecost. The Gospel would no longer be confined to Israel only. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the whole world of lost mankind.

    Christianity is truly multi-cultural and multi-lingual. It transcends the barriers of language and ethnicity. The great vision that John has of the Church in Revelation makes this clear: 'Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages … crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”' (Revelation 7:9 – 10). There is no place for racism in the Church of Jesus Christ. The way that our society treats people of colour and refugees is appalling. We mustn’t be like that. Even under the Old Covenant, the people of God were commanded by the Law to welcome the stranger and to show them love and hospitality:

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:34).

Show your love for the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19).

The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked (Psalm 146:9).

I find it deeply troubling when I hear Christians saying unkind things about foreigners, refugees, immigrants, people who speak other languages, and people of colour. The people of God must be above such hatred. We were once strangers to grace and God, and yet the Lord God in His infinite mercy and kindness sent His Beloved Son to rescues us from eternal danger. The Lord God commands us to love our neighbours. We are to be a people of love. We are to be the most hospitable, the most generous, the most loving, the most gracious people in the world.

    There were visitors at the temple from all over the known world – people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, from Rome and beyond. They were reached with the light of the Gospel for the first time at Pentecost, and from there the message of Christ and Him crucified spread all over the world. When you drop a stone into the centre of a still lake, the ripples spread from the centre outwards to every corner of the lake. So it is with the Gospel of Christ. ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:46–47). The Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost has spiralled explosively even to the ends of the earth. We have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. They may speak different languages, they may have different ways and manners, but they united to us because we are united to Jesus Christ. ‘For in Christ Jesus’, Paul says, ‘you are all sons of God through faith ... [So] there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise’ (Galatians 3:26–29).

References & Recommended Reading 
James Montgomery Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI, 2006).

Jonathan Edwards, The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741). This work is available freely on-line at The Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University 

John Stott, The Message of Acts (Nottingham, 1990) 

Geoffrey Thomas, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI, 2011).