How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 1

“Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ ” John 12:21

The Lord Jesus told us to “remember Lot’s wife” in Luke 17:32. You remember the story. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in the city of Sodom with his wife, two daughters and their husbands. The people of Sodom were so wicked in the eyes of God that He planned to destroy the city. But Abraham interceded for Lot until God sent two angels to lead him out of there (Genesis 18:16-19:11). As Lot and his family were led out of Sodom, the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. The angels had warned them not to look back but to press on to the town of Zoar where they would find refuge. But when Lot’s wife thought about all the pleasurable things she had left behind in Sodom, she turned to look back and she became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:12-26).

Jesus then said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33). Lot’s wife sought to save her worldly lifestyle. She loved her earthly things so much that she could not leave them all behind. They were more valuable to her than her own life. The bottom line was she did not take God seriously! She was bent on doing her own thing rather than what the Lord wanted her to do.

The same thing can happen to us. The Lord saves us and we begin walking with Him. But as we encounter difficulties, we begin to wonder if our old life would be better. Eventually we can turn to a pillar of salt spiritually. How can we escape this worldly kind of lifestyle? How can we overcome the natural tendency to put self ahead of our Savior? Over the next few days we will discover the answers in John 12:20-33.

In our study of the gospel of John we saw a significant proof that Jesus is the Son of God when He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). As Jesus entered Jerusalem He was presented as the Son of David Who received joyful praises from the multitudes testifying that He was the King of Israel (John 12:12-15). As the Son of David, Jesus is related only to the nation of Israel, but now we see in John 12:20-33 that Jesus is portrayed as the Son of Man Whose coming Kingdom will consist of “all peoples, nations, and languages” (Daniel 7:14). 3 Christ’s love is not exclusive, it is inclusive (cf. John 3:16; 4:4-42) as we shall now see.

The first way we can overcome self-centeredness is by SEEKING JESUS (John 12:20-23). Christ’s popularity was increasing quickly as people heard that He had raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:9-11). On the Monday before the Passover feast, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on a donkey (John 12:12-19). People perceived Him to be the Messiah-God and thought He was bringing in a material triumph whereby He subjected the nations to His rule as their King. But Jesus did not come to provide an outward triumph, He came to provide an inward or spiritual triumph through the cross.

“Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.” (John 12:20). These “certain Greeks” were not Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) Jews, but authentic Greeks or Gentiles. They were God-fearing Gentiles who worshiped with Jews in the synagogues much like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2) who attended the Jewish feasts. They believed in the God of Israel but had not become full proselytes, that is, they were not circumcised or purified. They may have come from Galilee or the Decapolis (ten Gentile cities east of Galilee and the Jordan). The word “now” contrasts the religious leaders of Israel who were opposed to Jesus (John 12:11, 19) with these Gentiles who wanted to see Christ.

The Pharisees had said, “the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19), and now we see Gentiles doing that very thing. “Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ ” (John 12:21). Why did these Greeks seek out Philip? Perhaps it was because “Philip” (Philippō) is a Greek name meaning “horse-loving” 1 and he was from Bethsaida of Galilee (John 1:43-44), so they may have seen him before. Greeks had probably already “seen” Jesus pass by in the procession, but now they wished to speak with the Lord up close. It is significant that Gentiles were attending a Jewish feast seeking Christ. This symbolizes Gentiles seeking salvation from the Savior of the world (cf. John 4:4-42). 2

Being religious like these Gentile worshippers does not satisfy our inner longings or meet our deepest needs. This is why they sought Jesus. They needed more than a prophet or religious ceremony to find complete forgiveness and eternal life. They needed a Savior Who came to earth to show them what God is like since He Himself is God (John 1:1, 18; 8:58; 20:28). Their spirits needed to connect with the true God of the Bible Who is Spirit (John 4:23-24).

Some of you reading this article may identify with these Gentile worshippers. You may have religion, but your spirit longs for a relationship with the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (cf. I John 5:20). Jesus invites you to come to Him just as you are – as a sinner in need of forgiveness and eternal life. Because Jesus paid the penalty for all your sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6), He can now freely offer you everlasting life and complete forgiveness if you would believe or trust in Him alone (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). The moment you do, He comes into your life through His Spirit to enable you to experience His abundant life as you learn to abide in Him and His Word (John 15:1-8; Romans 8:1-13; Galatians 2:20).

John informs us that “Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.” (John 12:22). Philip, who was a Jew, appears to have some hesitation about bringing these Gentiles to Jesus. Perhaps he has some racial prejudice. He may have thought, “While it is true that Jesus had said something about “other sheep outside the fold (John 10:16), He has not explained that yet. Maybe Andrew knows what to do.” So, Philip seeks counsel from “Andrew” (Andrea) whose name is also Greek. Andrew was a man of wisdom for a crisis (cf. John 6:8-9), but he too had no solution so together they bring the problem, not the Greeks, to Jesus.

One of my favorite foods in the Philippines was 7/11 convenience stores’ soft ice cream. During some of my mission trips there, I intentionally set aside time and money in advance to make a run to 7/11 to buy some of their delicious ice cream. Why? Because I enjoyed the taste and texture of this ice cream. For the Greeks to seek Jesus at the Passover Feast, they had to set aside time and money to travel to Jerusalem to see the Savior. As children of God who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:2-14), how much more motivation do we have to prepare to seek Jesus!?

If we are going to overcome self-centeredness in our lives, we must make it our priority to seek Jesus; to know Him more intimately. Do we “wish to see Jesus” in every area of our lives? Or are there some dark places in our lives that we have shut Jesus out? We are too ashamed to invite Jesus into those areas. Please understand that Jesus already knows about those dark places of sin and shame in us. But He will not force His way into them. He is waiting for us to open the door to that part of our lives not so He can condemn us or shame us, but to shine the healing light of His love and grace on them. Christ is not uptight about our sin and shame. He died for them and He wants to set us free from them. He wants to walk through our sin and shame to bring us healing and hope once again. Will we let Him?

Only Jesus has the power to overcome our sinful desires. We must rely on His strength, not ours, to overcome them. But as Christians, our default setting is our sinful flesh (I John 1:8, 10). When we wake up in the morning, our natural bent is to pursue our selfish desires. Hence, we have a choice to make every day – to walk in the flesh or to walk in the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:1-13). Therefore, we must be intentional about walking in the Spirit and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. We can do this by spending time with Jesus in prayer, asking that God’s will be done instead of our own will (Matthew 26:36-44). Also consistently studying and applying God’s Word (John 15:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; James 1:21-25) and hanging out with other believers to connect with Jesus in them (Hebrews 10:24-25) will retrain our minds to yield to the Holy Spirit instead of our selfish desires.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have battled selfishness. Even after becoming a Christian, I still wrestled with my sinful flesh. The world in which we live selfishly indoctrinates people to put their own agenda above all others. Only You, Lord Jesus, can reverse this pattern in our lives and world. It begins with us making it a priority to seek You first above all else. Thank You for the beautiful picture of Gentile worshippers coming to Jerusalem to seek You. You are not only the Savior of the nation of Israel, You are also the Savior of the world which includes all countries, cultures, and colors! For me to become more humble and selfless like You, Jesus, I need to spend time with You, Your Word, and Your followers. I need to invite You into every area of my life, including the dark places where sin and shame have reigned in my life. I want to see You living in my thought life, my motives, my actions and attitudes, and in my words so I can be a life-giving vessel of Yours to a lost world. Thank You for showing me the importance of connecting with You. Please use me to introduce others to You so they also can experience Your transforming love and grace from the inside out. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Strong’s Concordance, http://biblehub.com/greek/5376.htm.

2. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 592.

3. Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973, 2:262.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 4

“Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.” John 12:17

We are learning from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (John 12:9-19), that God wants to lead His children into victory through His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14). So far we have learned that God does this…

– Through Jesus’ resurrection power (John 12:9-11).

– By providing a spiritual triumph (John 12:12-15).

– By changing the way we perceive life (John 12:16).

The fourth and final way Jesus leads us to victory is BY PROCLAIMING HIS RESURRECTION POWER TO OTHERS (John 12:17-19). This is what those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead did. The Bibles tells us, “Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.” (John 12:17). This is a different group of people from the “great multitude” (12:9, 12). Those who had witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were telling others now. When people have been impacted by the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus, it is difficult for them not to tell others about it.

This reminds us that Jesus did not save us so we could keep the good news of His resurrection power to ourselves. No, He saved us so we could proclaim this life-giving message to those who are perishing without Him. When we tell others what Jesus has done for us, Christ’s following will grow even larger just as it did soon after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The world needs this good news today especially in light of all the chaos and calamities taking place. Spread some everlasting hope by telling others what Jesus has done for you!

“For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.” (John 12:18). Other groups wanted to go meet Jesus when they heard about this miraculous “sign.”They wanted to see the One who had done the impossible and raised the dead! Hence, the people are growing in their excitement about Jesus – but not all of them.

“The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!’ ” (John 12:19). The Pharisees are unbelieving and pessimistic. They see the crowd being swept up with enthusiasm toward Jesus and blame each other for the defeat of their plots against Jesus. “Your efforts (not ours) have failed. Look, the whole world is following Him now!” Ironically, the Sadducees had advertised to “find” Jesus (cf. John 11:57). Well they can find Him now along with thousands of His followers.

We see here a human attempt to carry out their plans versus the supernatural working of God. Sometimes we are no different than the Pharisees. We may want people to follow us instead of Jesus because we are looking in the wrong place for victory. Victory is found in the resurrection power of Christ, not in popularity or the approval of others. The more we make Jesus’ resurrection power known to others with our life and lips, the more He can lead us to victory in our Christian lives. After all, we also need to hear this good news even after we have been saved for years!

Look in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: 14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” God wants to lead us to victory by having us preach the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the lost. When we preach the gospel, we are pleasing to God (“to God the fragrance of Christ”), regardless of the response of those who hear it. “From death to death” probably means from the death of Christ, that the apostles preached in the gospel, to the eternal death of those who reject it (cf. John 3:36b). “From life to life” probably means from the resurrection of Christ that they preached in the gospel, to the eternal life and future resurrection of those who believe in Jesus (cf. John 11:25-26).

Two triumphs in Christ – a spiritual triumph at His First Coming was accomplished on the Cross and established peace in heaven (Isaiah 9:6a; Luke 19:38; John 19:30; Colossians 2:15). The second triumph is material and will take place at His Second Coming (Isaiah 9:6b-7; Luke 2:14). Revelation 19:11-21 describes this second triumph:

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.’ 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

Are you prepared for this second triumph of the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation period to rescue believers and destroy His enemies? Those who have believed in Christ for eternal life are eagerly awaiting this day because of the spiritual triumph He provided at the Cross during His First Coming to earth.

However, it will be a horrific day for everyone who has rejected Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Do not be among them if you have not believed or trusted in Christ alone for eternal life yet. Simply take Him at His Word when He promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Do you believe Jesus’ promise? He guarantees that you now have everlasting life which cannot be lost (John 10:28-29). Let His Holy Spirit lead you in the triumph of Christ by changing the way you look at life.

If you now understand and believe the spiritual triumph of Christ on the Cross, and you are believing or trusting in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone does that. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

“Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner who deserves to be separated from You forever because of all the wrongs things I have thought, said, and done. I believe in Your spiritual triumph whereby You died in my place on a cross for all my sins and rose from the dead so I could have peace with God in heaven the moment I believe in You. I am now believing or trusting in You alone, Lord Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to give me everlasting life now and a future home in heaven. Thank You that Your resurrection guarantees my own in the future. Please use me now to tell others of Your death and resurrection so they also can believe in You for everlasting life and prepare for Your second triumph when You will return on the clouds in glory at the end of the Tribulation period to defeat all Your enemies and establish Your Kingdom on earth. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 3

“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” John 12:16

We are learning from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (John 12:9-19), that God wants to lead His children into victory through His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14). So far we have learned that God does this…

– Through Jesus’ resurrection power (John 12:9-11).

– By providing a spiritual triumph (John 12:12-15).

Today we see that Jesus also leads us to victory BY CHANGING THE WAY WE PERCEIVE LIFE (John 12:16). After John tells us that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey had been prophesied centuries before in Zechariah 9:9 (John 12:15), he then writes, His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” (John 12:16). The disciples did not understand all of this when it happened. They missed their opportunity to proclaim their Messiah-God. They are thinking, “Save us now, we pray?! Ha! He is riding on a donkey, not a war-horse! Where is the triumph in this?” The disciples were looking for a material triumph, not a spiritual triumph. They did not understand until after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. It is then that the Holy Spirit will make these things clear to them (cf. John 14:25-31), and through them to us. As John writes this gospel, he understands what he did not grasp when these things were taking place, and he makes sure that his readers know it as well.

Dr. Tony Evans writes that verse 16 teaches us that “fulfilled prophecies like this one testify to the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. The many Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were written hundreds of years before His birth, yet they were fulfilled in His life accurately and in detail. This should encourage all believers to trust that the Bible is indeed the authoritative Word of God.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1794). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition). God can use Bible prophecy to comfort and encourage us amidst challenging times. Knowing that God is in control of our future gives us comfort and security during turbulent times.

Jesus knew that eventually the religious leaders and the nation of Israel would reject Him and crucify Him (Luke 19:44). Don’t you think He was tempted to bypass the spiritual triumph through the cross and bring in the material triumph as the King? “Father, bring in the angels!” Wham! Bam! “Jerusalem is now the new capital of the world and we are going to conquer every nation of the world and bring them into submission to My Kingship!” Jesus wanted that but He submitted to His Father’s plan instead (cf. Matthew 26:36-44; Philippians 2:8). Christ brought us a spiritual triumph through the cross.

Jesus wants to lead us into a new way of looking at life and the circumstances of life. He wants us to have an inward triumph of gratitude no matter what we face in life (cf. I Thessalonians 5:18). We often want to remove the external circumstances in our lives and God is wanting us to look at those circumstances differently. God may change things outwardly, but His goal for us is an inward triumph.

In the book of Acts, missionaries Paul and Silas were in prison, praising and singing to God (cf. Acts 16:24-25). They yielded to God’s plan and purpose for their lives which resulted in leading the jailer and his household to faith in Christ (cf. Acts 16:27-34).

We may say, “God, you change these circumstances and then I will praise and thank You. You bring me a better job, health, or spouse, or family, or some friends, or a new car, then I will thank You.” God says, “I want you to sing now. My triumph is internal, not external.” Maybe you have been confined in your home since COVID-19 broke out and no one has visited you. Your family has not visited you. Your friends and neighbors have not visited you. They may mock you or avoid you for being a Christian. We don’t like these kinds of circumstances so we try to pray them away or wish them away and we fight them in our flesh.

Look with me at 2 Corinthians 1:8-9: “8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” The apostle Paul was depressed about difficult circumstances in Asia. He thought his problems would lead to certain death. Yet he yielded to God and God helped him trust in Him, not in himself. God resurrected Paul’s attitude.

God gives us an inward perspective that the world cannot possess. Are you angry with God? You have gone to church, given, prayed, read your Bible, helped others, but God has not changed your circumstances. You may conclude that God has not done His part. You may be looking for victory in the wrong place.

The picture accompanying this article really touched me. So often we see the dark side of life. But Jesus’ gives us a brighter perspective. He can help us discover the spiritual victory He already won when He died in our place on the cross.He can pull away our dark perspective and give us one that is much more hope-filled. Let Him resurrect your way of looking at life. He can help you find joy in life when you face difficult circumstances. His grace is sufficient to help you see obstacles as opportunities to trust Him.

Prayer: Father God, there is so much that happens in life that I do not understand. With all of the chaos from COVID-19, the upcoming political elections, and social unrest, I need You to help me see these circumstances through Your eyes. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for helping me understand the Bible so I can have an inward perspective that helps me to be grateful even during difficult times. You intend for the trials I am currently facing to encourage me to lean in toward You, my Lord and my God. My trust is in You, Father God, to comfort and lead me during these turbulent times. Thank You for helping me to see obstacles as opportunities to trust You more. In Jesus’ matchless name I pray. Amen.  

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 2

14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: 15 ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ ” John 12:14-15

God wants to lead us to victory through His Son, Jesus Christ. We saw last time that He does this through Jesus’ resurrection power (John 12:9-11). Today we see that He also does this BY PROVIDING A SPIRITUAL TRIUMPH (John 12:12-15). The following verses (John 12:12-19) are traditionally known as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. All four gospels record this event (cf. Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44).

“The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” (John 12:12). “The next day” probably refers to Monday when the Passover lamb was selected and set aside to be slain and eaten for the Passover. 1 Jesus was going to Jerusalem to be sacrificed as our Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God (John 1:29; cf. I Corinthians 5:7). To His disciples, this did not seem like a Triumphal Entry. They may have thought to themselves, “Yes, Lord there are many who have believed in You, but the religious leaders, the ones with a lot of power, do not believe in You. In fact, they want to kill You and Lazarus. How can this be a triumphal entry when there is a warrant out for Your arrest? Where is the victory in this?!”

Prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Luke tells us that Jesus, 31…took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 They will scourge Him and kill Him.’” (Luke 18:31-33). Now Jesus is saying, “Let’s go up to Jerusalem and have a Triumphal Entry!” The disciples are saying, “Wait a minute, Lord. You call this a Triumphal Entry?”

John informs us that “a great multitude… had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” (John 12:12). Ellicott describes the scene as the Lord entered Jerusalem:

“It is not hardly possible to form a just conception of the appearance which Jerusalem and its vicinity must have presented at the season of the Passover. All the open ground near the city and perhaps the sides of the very hill down which our Lord had recently passed were now, probably, being covered with the tents and temporarily erected structures of the gathering multitudes, who even thus early would have most likely found every available abode in the city completely full. We are not left without some data of the actual amount of the gathered numbers, as we have a calculation of Josephus based upon the number of lambs sacrificed (256,500), according to which it would appear that even at the very low estimate of 10 persons to each lamb the number of people assembled must have been little short of 2,700,000, without taking into consideration those who were present but incapacitated by legal impurities from being partakers in the sacrifice… There would thus have been present not much short of half of the probable population of Judea and Galilee… These observations are not without importance considered theologically. They show that our Lord’s rejection and death is not merely to be laid to the malevolence of the party of the Sanhedrin and to the wild clamors of a city mob, but may justly be considered, though done in partial ignorance (Acts 3:17), the act of the nation. When Pilate made his proposal, it was to the multitude (Mark 15:9), and that multitude we know was unanimous (John 18:40).” 2

The Passover “feast” would be followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. When this “great multitude… heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem” they were eager to see what was going to happen. Perhaps it seemed to some of them that Jesus was defying the Sanhedrin who were plotting to put Him to death (cf. 11:53). “When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ ” (John 12:12b-13).

This great crowd “took branches of palm trees,” which signified a triumph or victory. This was a way of honoring and respecting a conqueror. 4  Perhaps they were honoring Jesus because He conquered death by raising Lazarus. When the people “cried out: ‘Hosanna!’ ” (Ὡσαννά), this originally meant “Save now we pray.” 5  They wanted Jesus to deliver them from the domination of Rome! The words, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The king of Israel” are from Psalm 118:26 which speaks of the presentation of Israel’s Messiah-God. They see Jesus as their Messiah because of the manifestation of His Messianic power when He raised Lazarus from the dead.

“Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written…” (John 12:14).  John informs us that Jesus “found a young donkey.” Imagine what the disciples are thinking. “You want to find a young donkey?! I thought conquerors ride a stallion or war horse? Instead of riding a stallion, You are going to ride a young donkey? We are not sure we understand this triumph You are bringing to us. The prophet Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14) says the Messianic Son of Man will come on the clouds, not a young donkey. What kind of triumph are you bringing to Israel?”

The donkey was a symbol of peace and gentleness. In Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry, we read that the people cried out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). Christ came to bring “peace in heaven” at His First Coming by suffering on the Cross. Remember when Jesus was born, the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). Peace on earth will take place when Jesus returns to earth as King at His Second Coming. The First Coming of Christ brought spiritual peace in heaven through the cross. The Second Coming of Christ will bring peace on earth when Jesus rules as King of kings and Lord of lords! The first triumph of Christ was a spiritual or an inward triumph in the heavens. The second triumph of Christ will be on earth and it will be an outward, material triumph, subjecting the nations of the earth to His rule so that there will be universal peace among all people.

Before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He told His disciples, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here. And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’ ” (Luke19:30-31). By doing this, the Lord is letting His disciples know that He is in control. It was like the Lord already talked to these people and set the whole thing up. “I have planned this entry into Jerusalem even though I am going there to be crucified.”

John tells us that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey had been planned for centuries. “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:15). When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, He fulfilled Zechariah 9:9. God is in control. He had this planned hundreds of years earlier. He planned on bringing a spiritual triumph through His Son’s death on the cross to establish peace in heaven.

We may be looking for a material triumph instead of a spiritual triumph. That is not God’s primary concern right now. We are not going to defeat the world. Christ will do that at His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-21). He will subject the world to His rule then (Psalm 2; Revelation 20:1-6). You and I are not going to bring the entire world under the will of God. Christians may try to force a material triumph, but that will only lead to more frustration.

Two times the word for “triumph” (θριαμβεύω) is used in the New Testament. Colossians 2:15 says, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” The death of Jesus did three things to the spiritual rulers of darkness. It disarmed them, displayed them, and dethroned them. One Bible commentator says this about the verse: “The picture, quite familiar in the Roman world, is that of a triumphant general leading a parade of victory…” 7 Another commentator writes: “It is more natural to view the principalities and powers here as the defeated foes, driven in front of the triumphal chariot as involuntary and impotent witnesses to their conqueror’s superior might.” 8

The cross of Jesus Christ provided a spiritual triumph, not a material triumph. Jesus is Head of a new humanity, a new group of people called the Church, who can respond to evil differently than the rest of the world. As the Son of God, He defeated the spiritual forces of darkness. We are now “in Christ” as believers and we are meant to enjoy this triumph.

The second use of this word for “triumph” (θριαμβεύω) is found in 2 Corinthians 2:14 which says: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” God is the One who takes us and leads us into the triumph of Christ. What am I supposed to do then? Start thanking God for your spiritual triumph. As we yield to the Lord and thank Him, He is going to lead us into the triumph of Jesus which is a spiritual or inward triumph. We may want a material triumph. We tell ourselves, if I could just be released from jail or have the perfect car, job, health, spouse, family, friends, and church, then I will be fulfilled. But there is no life in that kind of existence.

Where do you think the resurrection life of Jesus is seen? It is more often seen in the things that do not go the way we want them to go. That is where God works. That is where we will see resurrection life. God resurrects that which has died, including our attitudes. His resurrection power wants to transform our negative attitudes into positive ones which emit the fragrance of Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I must admit that I am a lot like the disciples. I also can look for a material triumph instead of a spiritual triumph. I can look for victory in my external circumstances instead of in my internal attitudes. I can so easily believe the lie that says, “If you are a Christian, everything will go smoothly in life. You will have no more difficulties or trials.” Please forgive me, my Lord and my God, for looking in the wrong places for Your victory. Your First Coming provided a spiritual triumph on the cross whereby peace with God in heaven was made possible through Your shed blood. Thank You, that I now have peace with the Lord God of heaven and earth through faith in You, Jesus. You now live inside me through Your Holy Spirit Who can enable me to respond in a God-honoring manner to the evil that is flourishing in the world today. I am now trusting You to lead me into this spiritual triumph that can manifest Your fragrance or attitude in all I think, say, and do. Yes, I am looking forward to Your Second Coming which will usher in Your material triumph whereby all nations will be brought under Your rule, and there will be peace on earth among all cultures and countries forever! But until then, my focus remains on You to lead me into spiritual victory! In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 224.

2. C. J. Ellicott, Historical Lectures on the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (London: Longman’s Green, 1896) pg. 289, footnote.

3. Laney, pg. 224.

4. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V: John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 220.

5. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),  pg. 899; cf. Laney, pg. 224.

6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary [TGNTC], Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 432.

7. Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians.” In Ephesians-Philemon. Vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), pg. 202.

8. F. F. Bruce, “Colossians Problems,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 563:298-99.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 1

“But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” John 12:10-11

There are times when we think that if we could acquire something or change, we could be more at peace. Things would be better for us. We may even make promises to ourselves. If this would be different, I would be happier. Yet if we succeed in acquiring something or changing something it seems like something takes its place and we start acquiring or changing something all over again. And on it goes. If that will be different then I will be happy. When that changes, then I will have peace and things will be okay. It seems like a cycle that goes on in our lives. 

For example, we tell ourselves, when COVID-19 is over, then I will be happy. Or when I am released from jail, then I will have peace. When I get a job… get married… have children… get a house… go on vacation… get new clothes… get a new car… get a faithful group of friends, then I will be happy. We tell ourselves things like this, don’t we? We focus on these things and promise ourselves that when this happens, then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But what about the time from now until we acquire or change that something we are aiming for? What are we like during that time? What type of attitude do we have? Are we happy or at peace then? What about the great fade? Lets’ say we are achieving or acquiring something. You know, you get there and it fades on you? Like sand slipping between your fingers. You arrive there and you thought it would be so much better, but it is not. So, we go on to something else. We set up a new hope because what we came to faded on us and it did something we did not expect.

Or what if we become convinced that the situation or person will not change? I’m going to have to live with this situation in my life, these circumstances, these issues in my life that make me unhappy? Are we going to have this heavy ball and chain attached to our emotional hearts the rest of our lives? Dragging it around? Oh, I will just have to live with this. I have tried to acquire something different or change this, or remove that, but I have been defeated at every turn. At that point we may ask, where is the victory of Jesus in our lives when we face challenges? Where is that joyous victory in Jesus when things don’t go the way we had hoped? Where is the victorious Christian life when problems do not go away? If God is God, why doesn’t He change this and make it better?

The key issue here is to ask where am I looking for victory? Is it in some external event or happening? Is it possible you are looking in the wrong place? Ask the Lord, “Teach me, Lord, to look in the proper place for the triumph of Christ.” We may be expecting a type of victory that God is not primarily concerned about. We must look in the right place for victory.

The Bible is clear, God wants to lead us in to His Son’s triumph. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14). For the next few days we will look at Jesus’ triumph in John 12:9-19. How does Jesus lead us to victory?

The first way is THROUGH HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 12:9-11). In the context of this passage, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead about three weeks earlier (John 11). Six days before the Passover, Jesus had an evening meal with some dear friends – Martha, Mary, Lazarus, Simon the leper, and the Twelve disciples (John 12:1-8; cf. Mark 14:3-9). On the next Sunday, a great crowd came to Bethany of Judea to see Jesus. “Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.” (John 12:9). But the crowd did not come “for Jesus’ sake only,” but also to see the one whom Jesus “had raised from the dead.” “Was it true what they heard? Was Lazarus truly alive?” They had to see for themselves.

But not everyone was excited to see Jesus and Lazarus. “But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also.” (John 12:10). The chief priests met together and decided to put Lazarus to death because a living Lazarus was irrefutable evidence that Jesus was who He claimed to be – the Son of God. What did Lazarus do wrong? He was simply raised from the dead. The word “also”indicates that they wanted to kill both Lazarus and the One who had raised him from the dead because both of them were rapidly growing in popularity. In John 11:50, Caiaphas said one man must die for the nation. But one man was not enough. Now two men had to die. Maybe the chief priests thought if they killed both Jesus and Lazarus, Lazarus would remain dead and less people would believe in Christ.

Because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” (John 12:11). When the people saw Lazarus alive, they abandoned the religious leaders and believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Lazarus’ resurrection was an undeniable witness to the power and Person of Jesus. Christ’s resurrection power declares Him to be the Son of God, God Himself (cf. Romans 1:4). 

Wherever evangelism takes place, opposition is usually not far behind. The religious leaders did not want to see a massive movement of people turning to Jesus in faith. So, they make more plans to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

If we are to be led to victory by the Lord Jesus, we must tap into His power, the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead and got the peoples’ attention. We can do that by walking in the Spirit and obeying His leading in our lives (Romans 8:4-13).

The common people were responding to Jesus in faith, but the religious establishment was rejecting Christ. This was to be expected in a fallen world where Satan is the ruler and his kingdom is shrinking as the gospel spreads. Praise God for the message of the gospel being taught by Christ and being authenticated by His miraculous signs! The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was doing what God designed it to do – to persuade people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that believing they may have life in His name (cf. John 20:31).

How has God manifested His resurrection power in your life so that unbelievers are attracted to Jesus? The Lord is far more interested in changing our character than He is in changing our circumstances. He is far more interested in making us holy than He is in making us happy.

Has Christ transformed your anger into acceptance? Your critical attitude into one of compassion? Your emptiness into eternal life? Your greed into generosity? Your grief into gladness? Your guilt into innocence? Your hatred into love? Your haughtiness into humility? Your impatience into patience? Your promiscuity into purity? Your resentment into redemption? Your selfishness into selflessness? Jesus changes lives!!!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, the new life You gave to Lazarus persuaded many people to believe in You alone for everlasting life. I pray Your resurrection power would change me in such a way to draw many people to Your saving grace. In Your name I pray. Amen.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 4

7 But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’ ” John 12:7-8

At a special dinner for Jesus among His close friends, we are learning how to honor only Him (John 12:1-8). So far we have learned the following ways to honor only Jesus:

– Serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what He has done (John 12:1-2a).

Spend time with Christ out of joy for His gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

– Sacrifice for Christ out of love for Him (John 12:3).

The final way to honor only Jesus in this passage is to SHOW SENSITIVITY TO WHAT BLESSES JESUS ALONE (John 12:4-8). In contrast to Mary, John characterizes Judas in three ways. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said…” (John 12:4). First, his surname “Iscariot.” The name “Iscariot” is taken to refer to his origin, “from Kerioth.” 1 This could mean his father, “Simon” Iscariot (6:71; 12:4), is either from Judah (Joshua 15:25) or Moab (Jeremiah 48:24). Judas then, would be the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee.

Second, Judas was “one of His disciples.” He belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of companions for the last three years. Many unbelieving disciples had already withdrawn from following Jesus (John 6:66), but Judas, an unbelieving disciple (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), chose to stay with Christ. Why did He remain with the Lord Jesus?

This leads to the third characteristic of Judas. He remained with Christ so he could “betray” the Lord. He stuck around so he could deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Mary was devoted to Jesus, but Judas despised Him. Mary loved Jesus, but Judas seems to loathe Him.

“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas thought this anointing was a terrible waste of money – a year’s wages for a working man. Judas may have sounded compassionate toward the poor, but he was not. His criticism of Mary infected some of the other disciples according to Matthew and Mark’s account. Matthew’s writes, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’ ”(Matthew 26:8)? Those who seek to bless Jesus alone are often “misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.” 2

If you give your best to Jesus, you will be criticized and many times the loudest criticism will come from other believers who think they are only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When the Lord called our family to serve Him in the Philippines, we had some believers and unbelieving family members question our sanity. Some said our time and talents could be used better by the Lord in the USA. In their minds, we “wasted” our lives for Jesus in the Philippines!

At this point Judas does not sound like a bad guy, does he? “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6). John informs us that Judas was not being honest. He did not really care about the poor. He only cared for himself. He had been appointed treasurer of the disciples which may mean he had some accounting ability. But he was pilfering what was put in the money box and carrying it away for himself. He was a thief motivated by greed. He wanted to make money from his association with Jesus. He desired the perfume to make money for himself. When he could not get the perfume, he soon went to the chief priests and offered to betray Christ if they paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).

Some people pretend to be Christians or even disciples of Jesus to obtain money or power for themselves. But they only have their own benefit in mind. They are not sensitive to what would bless Jesus or others around Him.

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.’ ” (John 12:7). Jesus defended Mary’s act of love and devotion, “Let her alone!” He would have nothing to do with criticism brought against Mary. Anointing was usually for some festivity or celebration. But Jesus says she kept it for His burial which was just a few days away. Mary had entered into the mind of Christ more fully than the others. She knew His death was coming since He had already taught them about His suffering and eventual death many times before. Rather than wait until after He dies, she uses the perfume now when He can still enjoy it! This was a time for Jesus to relax before His sufferings and death. Mary understood this and she wanted to refresh her weary Lord and Savior.

Mary’s actions remind us that it is better to show our appreciation for someone before he or she dies rather than afterward. “Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.” 3 Is there someone in your life that the Lord may be impressing you to contact before his or her life is over? What would you regret more? Expressing your love for him or her before or after they die?

For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John 12:8). Jesus is saying, “You will always have opportunity to minister to the poor, but your opportunity to minister to Me here on earth is limited. I’m going to die soon.” The word “Me” is emphatic. The sentence literally reads, “Me, however, you do not always have”(Ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε).   Unless Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, Who was due the same honor as God His Father (John 5:23), this statement would be an expression of extreme arrogance. But these are not the words of a mere man or prophet, these in essence, are the words of God!

Christ’s comment about always having the poor was not an endorsement of poverty or an encouragement to do nothing about poverty. He is simply saying that there will “always” be opportunities to serve the poor, but their opportunity to serve Him here on earth was rapidly fading. Now was the opportunity for special service to the Lord Jesus. Now was the time to do something that would benefit Him and Him alone. Christ welcomed Mary’s gracious display of love and devotion.

In Matthew and Mark Jesus even said her gracious act would become a perpetual memorial of honor whenever the gospel is preached. What a contrast between Mary and Judas. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was interested in Jesus only as a ladder for his selfish ambitions.

Mary saw her time with the Lord prior to His death as an opportunity for special service to Him. She was sensitive to what He needed, to what would bless Him. When she anointed the Lord, it did not benefit the others or herself, it benefited Jesus and Him alone.

What made Mary so sensitive to the Lord? We are told back in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” If we would learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word, we would probably become more sensitive to what would bless our Lord Jesus and Him alone. Perhaps we would also give more to our Lord as Mary did.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee, observed in this passage that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha represent three essentials in the church today, respectively: “new life in Christ, worship and adoration, and service.” 4 If churches would focus on these three areas, think of how much the fragrance of Christ would fill our lives and communities!?!

How can we serve Jesus now in a way that serves Him alone? Spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and serve Him alone. Just you and the Lord alone. No one else there to benefit from what you give Him at that time. As You meet with Jesus, give Him…

Your complete honesty. When you really love somebody you don’t just want to spend time with them. You want to talk with them. If you want a deeper relationship with someone, you need to be completely honest with them about your faults and your feelings. Christ is not looking for perfection, but He does insist on complete honesty. What do you talk to God about if you want to draw close to Him? Anything that you would talk to your best friend about. Your hopes… fears… dreams… anxieties… things you are embarrassed about… things you are proud of… things you are ashamed of… your goals… your ambitions… your hurts… your cares… every part of your life – you come to God and you talk to God about it. The Bible says in Psalm 116:1-2:  “I love the Lord because He hears me and answers my prayer, because He bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath.” If you don’t feel close to God and some of you don’t… some of you have been believers for quite a long time and you honestly have lost your spark. Your Christian life has become routine, dull, and lifeless. There is no real joy and spark any more. There is a simple remedy for that. Start talking to God again. Choose to be completely honest with Him.

– Your listening ear as you read the Bible. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. We all want to be understood. We all want to be listened to. When you listen to someone, you are saying, “You matter to me.” When I listen to my wife or my children, I am saying, “I value what you have to say. You are important to me.” When I don’t listen to somebody I’m basically saying, “You are not important to me.” One of the ways you express love to someone and draw close to them is by listening to them.  The same is true with Jesus. Every time you listen to Christ you are saying, “Jesus, You matter to me. You are important to me.” If you want to learn to pray effectively, you must learn to listen to God through His Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). The more time you spend in Christ’s word, the more your thoughts become His thoughts. God made you with two ears and one mouth for a reason: so you will do twice as much listening as talking. So as God speaks to you through His written Word you will have more confidence when you pray because you know what you are praying is according to God’s will. Your heart will be filled with joy as He answers your prayers which are in line with His will.

– Your submission. The Bible says, 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a). Many years ago when my children were very small, I would come home from work and they would run to the door with their hands lifted high saying, “Daddy… Daddy!” By lifting their hands, what were they saying to me? “Take me, Daddy. I’m yours. I trust You.” By lifting their hands they were surrendering themselves to me and my control. They were not trying to manipulate me or control me. They were letting go and letting me take them into my hands. Your heavenly Father wants to do the same with you. He is waiting to draw near to you and hold you in His everlasting arms of love, but you must take that first step and surrender to Him. Give up your agenda and yield to His. When we worship God, lifting our hands to Him is an expression of surrender. We are saying, “I am Yours, Father God. Take my life and use it as You please.” It is time to surrender to the God of all grace. You cannot draw near to Christ without surrendering to Him.

– Your adoration and praise. Reach out to the Lord in prayer and praise Him and thank Him. Tell Him how much you love Him. Bow your heart before Him and worship Him. Surrender to Jesus all that You have. Mary gave sacrificially to the Lord because He raised her brother from the dead. But Jesus has raised us from spiritual death and given us eternal life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9)! Praise Him for that! Let Him know how grateful you are! Give Him what is most precious to you. He will never forget it.

You are as close to Jesus as you choose to be. Do you really want it more than anything else? Is it worth giving up other things and developing the habits and skills required? Start asking God to give you a passion for Him. Jeremiah 29:13 (MSG) says, “When you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me a beautiful picture of what true worship looks like through Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Her love and devotion for You were displayed when she gave to You what was most precious to her. Unlike Judas, who loathed You and thought only of himself, Mary loved You and was sensitive to what would bless You as the time of Your crucifixion rapidly approached. Like Mary, I want to be still and sit at Your feet to hear Your voice of truth so I can become more sensitive to what would bless You and You alone. For me to hear You more clearly, I must lay aside anything that would keep me from hearing Your voice, including my own selfishness, deceit, envy, hypocrisy, evil speaking, and malice (I Peter 2:1). What would You say to me at this time, Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),pp. 380-381.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), 1:339.

3. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 232.

4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:444.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 3

“Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” John 12:3

So far in our study of John 12:1-8, we have learned to honor only Jesus by serving Christ out of thanksgiving for what he has done (John 12:1-2a) and by spending time with christ out of joy for his gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

The third way to honor only Jesus is to SACRIFICE FOR CHRIST OUT OF LOVE FOR HIM (John 12:3). What happens next is an amazing expression of love toward Jesus. “Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” (John 12:3). I can picture Mary quietly arising from her couch to walk around the other couches with people reclining on them and reaching down to pour “this pound of very costly oil of spikenard” on Jesus’ feet which were propped up on the couch. The value of this ointment was equivalent to a year’s wages (12:5).

This perfume was very expensive for several reasons. First, because of the large quantity that Mary used. A “pound” was the equivalent of a Roman pound or approximately twelve ounces. Mary had enough anointment to not only anoint His feet, but His entire body. In fact, Matthew and Mark indicate that she also anoints Jesus’ head perhaps to focus on honoring Him (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3). John may have reported Mary anointing Jesus’ feet to draw attention to her humility and devotion in contrast to the pride of the Sanhedrin and disciples (cf. John 11:47-53, 57; 13:1-17). 1 It is likely then that Mary anointed both Jesus’ head and feet.

Secondly, this was costly ointment because of its quality. John reports that it is “pure spikenard” in contrast to ointment which had been diluted. 2 A third reason why this perfume was costly is because it was made from the nard plant in East India and imported from there. 3 It is normally shipped in a sealed alabaster jar and would only be broke open for very special occasions. Because this ointment was so expensive, only the wealthy could afford to buy it. It was usually reserved to be given to kings. Mary wanted to give Jesus the best ointment because of her love for Him. Nothing was too good for her Lord.

Do you treasure the Lord Jesus more than your possessions or money? Does your spending of money reflect that Jesus is first in your life? If others looked at how you spend money, would they conclude that you love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?

Mary “anointed the feet of Jesus” with this costly perfume. Normally a Rabbi’s head would be anointed with such perfume. To tend to Jesus’ feet was the task of a lowly house slave or servant. But Mary chooses to anoint His feet as an expression of her humility and devotion to Christ. To use “her hair” to wipe off the excess oil from Jesus’ feet is also significant. “Normally Jewish women never unbound their hair in public, since loose hair was a sign of loose morals.” But Mary did not seem to care what others thought at this moment. Her heart went out to her Lord and she expressed her feelings of gratitude for Him raising Lazarus from the dead.

Do you love Jesus more than your pride? Or are you more concerned about what others think of you than what Jesus thinks of you? People may think you are a religious fanatic, but what matters is what Jesus thinks about your sacrificial love for Him.

John then informs us that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”  Mary’s expression of love and gratitude for the Lord filled the entire house with a fragrant aroma. I’m reminded of a Rabbinic saying: “The scent of good oil is diffused from the bed-chamber to the dining-hall while a good name is diffused from one end of the world to the other.” 5 This may be John’s way of saying that Mary’s action would be spoken of throughout the world (cf. Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9). Her devotion and sacrifice for Christ would become a perpetual memorial of world-wide honor.

John leaves out an important detail that Mark’s account includes. Before Mary could anoint Jesus with the pure spikenard, she had to break “the flask” containing it (Mark 14:3). Christian author Watchman Nee equates the flask to our “outer man” or soul which must be broken to release “the inward man” or spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16). 6 Our outer man must be broken to allow the inward man containing the fragrance of Christ to be released.

Nee states, “God purposely used this term ‘pure’ in His Word to show that it is truly spiritual. But if the alabaster box is not broken, the pure spikenard will not flow forth. Strange to say, many are still treasuring the alabaster box, thinking that its value exceeds that of the ointment. Many think that their outward man is more precious than their inward man. This becomes the problem in the Church. One will treasure his cleverness, thinking he is quite important; another will treasure his own emotions, esteeming himself to be more advanced than other people. Others highly regard themselves, because they feel they are better than others, their eloquence surpasses that of others, or their quickness of action and exactness of judgment are superior, and so forth.

“However, we are not antique collectors; we are not ‘vase’ admirers; we should be those who desire to smell only the fragrance of the ointment. Without the breaking of the outward, the inward fragrance will not come forth. Hence, not only do we individually have no flowing out, but also the church has no living way. Why then should we hold our inner man to be so precious, especially if the outward only contains the fragrance, instead of releasing the fragrance?

“The Holy Spirit has not ceased working. He makes sure one event after another and one difficulty after another come to us. These disciplinary workings of the Holy Spirit have but one purpose – to break our outward man so that our inward man may come through. Yet here is our difficulty – we fret over trifles, we murmur at small losses, and we complain about insignificant things. The Lord is ever finding and preparing a way in order to use us. Yet when His hand slightly touches us, we begin to feel unhappy – even to the extent of quarreling with God and having a negative attitude. Since the time when we were saved, we have been touched by the Lord many times in various ways – all with the purpose of breaking our outward man. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the aim of the Lord is to break this stubborn vessel called our outward man.

“Nevertheless, the Treasure is in the earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7). But if the earthen vessel cannot be broken, who can see the Treasure within? Have we seen what is the final objective of the Lord’s working in our lives? It is to break open this earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7), to burst open our alabaster box (Mark 14:3), to crack open our shell (John 12:24). The Lord longs to find a way to bless the world through those who belong to Him. Brokenness is the way of blessing, the way of fragrance, the way of fruitfulness. But, it is also a path sprinkled with ‘blood from our wounds.’  Yes, there is blood from the many wounds we suffer. When we offer ourselves to the Lord for His service, we cannot afford to be lenient and spare ourselves. We must allow the Lord to crack open our outward man utterly so that He may find a way for His working through us.” 7

Does our devotion and sacrifice for Christ fill the place we occupy with a fragrant aroma? Does our praise please the Lord? Does our lifestyle honor the Lord (Hebrews 13:15-16) and emit the beautiful fragrance of Jesus (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)? What kind of odor does our devotion to Christ emit? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Unbearable or refreshing?

We all have reason to live for the Lord. Mary was thankful that Christ raised Lazarus from the dead physically. But Jesus has done even more for us! He has raised each of us who believe in Him from the dead spiritually. He has given us never-ending life and guarantees to resurrect us from the dead in the future (John 11:25-26)! Only Jesus could motivate a person to do what Mary did. What a wonderful Savior we have!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord Jesus, for drawing my attention to what honors You! Mary gave to You what was most precious to her as a way of thanking Your for raising her brother from the dead. But it also seems that she wanted to bless You before Your upcoming crucifixion. She seems to understand, at least in part, what you were about to face at the cross, and she wanted to minister to You while You were still with her. Lord, I must admit that my love for You is so pale compared to Your love for me. Nevertheless, I want to express my love to You by giving You what is most precious to me – my family, my dreams, and my time. You are worthy of my very best. As I look back on my life, I can see You at work breaking my outer man to release my inner man containing Your fragrance. I am beginning to understand how much You want to bless this world through my own brokenness. Help me not to resist this process, but to surrender to You so more people can enjoy Your fragrance and be drawn to You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Donald A. Carson, “Current Source Criticism of the Fourth Gospel: Some Methodological Questions.” Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978):411-29.

2. While the New King James English translation omits the word “pure,” John does include it (pistikēs) in his Greek text.

3. W.E. Shewell-Cooper, “Spikenard,” in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Marrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 5:502.

4. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 213.

5. William B. Silverman, The Sages Speak: Rabbinic Wisdom and Jewish Values (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1995), pg. 72.

6. Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit, (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 2000) pp. 12-17.

7. Ibid., pp. 14-16.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 2

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” John 12:2

About two to three weeks after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53), He retreats to the eastern slope to Bethany of Judea where He has supper with some dear friends (John 12:1-8). From these verses in John 12:1-8, we are learning how we can honor only Jesus. The first way to honor only Jesus is to serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what he has done (John 12:1-2a). Today we learn that the second way to honor only Jesus is to SPEND TIME WITH CHRIST OUT OF JOY FOR HIS GIFT OF SALVATION (John 12:2b).

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” (John 12:2). As Martha served we are told, “but Lazarus” was reclining at the table with Jesus, the disciples, Simon, and Mary. This is a wonderful picture of fellowship with the Lord and other believers. The guests were laying back on couches with their heads near the table. They leaned on cushions with one arm and ate with the other. Notice the progression in Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus. First, Christ gave him life by raising him from the dead (John 11) so that now Lazarus can enjoy fellowship with Him (John 12). This is a great picture of spiritual birth resulting in fellowship or closeness with Jesus.

Before we became Christians, the Bible says we were “dead in trespasses and sins”(Ephesians 2:1). “Death” in the Bible refers to separation from God. Our sins separated us from the Lord who is holy, perfect, and righteous. God cannot be around our sin. But when we believe in Christ for His gift of eternal life, we are joined by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through Spirit baptism (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:11, 13) so that now we can live a resurrection kind of Christian life and experience victory over sin (cf. Romans 6:4-14; Ephesians 2:4-7).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this is a picture of our conversion. All who believe in Christ for His gift of salvation are raised from the dead spiritually so that now they can walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4). After God saves us, He invites us to enjoy fellowship with Him. The apostle John, who wrote the gospel of John, also wrote First John to explain how believers can experience the joy of fellowship with the Lord. He writes, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (I John 1:3-4). God raised us from the dead spiritually when we were saved by grace through faith in Christ so we can now enjoy fellowship or closeness with Him.

I once heard someone say that “fellowship” is like two fellows on a ship. They are going the same direction together, sharing the same experience together on the ship. When believers are going the same direction as Jesus Christ, they can experience the joy of intimacy with the Lord and His children. In I John, John tells his readers that they can enjoy fellowship with God when they:

“walk in the light as He is in the light.” (1:7)

“confess” their sins. (1:9)

“keep His commandments.” (2:3)

“walk just as He walked.” (2:6)

 “love one another.” (2:10; 3:14; 4:7, 11-12)

“do not love the world or the things in the world.” (2:15)

“let that abide in… [them] which… [they] heard from the beginning.” (2:24)

“abide in Him.” (2:28)

“practice righteousness.” (2:29; 3:7)

“confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” (4:2)

“know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (4:6)

“confess that Jesus is the Son of God.” (4:15)

“keep … [themselves] from idols.” (5:21).

Lazarus could enjoy intimacy with Christ now because Jesus raised him from the dead. Likewise, we can enjoy closeness with Jesus now because He raised us from the dead spiritually the moment we believed in Him for His free gift of everlasting life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9). What a joy to spend time with our gracious Savior who loves us and accepts us no matter what we have done or what others say about us!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, before I believed in You, I was dead in my sins without the life of God. I was in the gutter of my own sin and shame. No amount of my good works or religiosity could give me life or relationship with You. Thank You so much for raising me from the dead spiritually the moment I believed in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Only You could give me life that never ends. What a privilege I now have to spend time with You every day to honor You and You alone. I am so blessed to be able to sit at Your table and feed upon Your goodness and mercy. It is there that I can listen to Your voice of truth and give You my undivided attention. In Your presence I do not have to pretend to be something I am not. You delight in my presence because I am family. I am God’s child and You totally love and accept me as I am. I don’t have to perform to prove my value to You. You have already determined my value through Your shed blood on the cross for me. I praise You for Your love which quiets my soul. Help me to hold on to Your love for me and my love for You. Show me how I can love You and Your children better, my Lord and my God. Use me to introduce others to You so they also can experience the joy of spending time with You, the true God and eternal life. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 1

“Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” John 12:1-2a

American financier George A. Kessler had a passion for unusual parties. All the wealthy guests at a “hobo dinner” were required to wear tattered clothing and eat out of cans. On another occasion, his guests sat down to dinner in an airship hovering over the Atlantic Ocean. His most extravagant party, however, was held at the Savoy Hotel in London on June 30, 1905, in honor of King Edward VII. 

This was the famous Gondola Party, held in the old courtyard of the hotel. The doorways around the courtyard were sealed with putty, and the courtyard was flooded to a depth of three feet with water dyed blue to resemble the sea. Magnificent painted scenery around the sides of the courtyard represented buildings in Venice, and a huge (stationary) silk lined boat bobbed on the “canal,” surrounded by twelve thousand carnations and an enormous number of roses. Kessler’s twenty-four guests sat inside the gondola and enjoyed a twelve-course banquet prepared by fifteen master chefs and served by waiters dressed as gondoliers.

A bridge linked the boat to the hotel and the entire scene was illuminated by four hundred hand-made paper lamps. An additional touch was three impressive lions carved out of ice bearing trays of peaches and glace fruits while a throng of Gaiety Girls drank to the health of the king with expensive Champaign.

The evening’s entertainment featured the great opera singer Enrico Caruso; he performed an aria while a baby elephant with a five-foot-high cake strapped to its back was led across a gangplank to the gondola and one hundred white doves flew overhead. Unfortunately, it turned out that the blue dye was poisonous for both fish and birds, and the dead and dying creatures had to be quickly scooped out of the water and disposed of. The entire evening was organized by the hotel’s General Manager, Henri Pruger, and the total bill, paid for by Kessler came to £3,000 or over $14,000 at that time. 1

The next few days we are going to look at a more significant dinner which took place for a much more honorable King than any human monarch. The context of this dinner was about two to three weeks after Jesus withdrew from Bethany of Judea to escape the Sanhedrin who had plotted to kill Him after He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53). While in Ephraim, Jesus ministered to His disciples (John 11:54). Christ had just finished a day of controversy in Jerusalem (Matthew 23), having completed His teaching about the Second Coming on the western slope of the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25). He now retired down the eastern slope to Bethany of Judea where He would have supper with some dear friends. From these verses in John 12:1-8, we will learn how we can honor only Jesus.  

The first way to honor only Jesus is to SERVE CHRIST OUT OF THANKSGIVING FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE (John 12:1-2a). We read, “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.” (John 12:1). John records that this event was “six days before the Passover” because the time schedule was more definite and critical now. Six days before Passover would be the Jewish Sabbath or Saturday. The location was in “Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.” Lazarus “was” because Jesus had restored him from death into life. This is a follow up visit from the Lord Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead a few weeks earlier.

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” (John 12:2a). The “they” probably refers to Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Jesus’ disciples. They prepared “a supper” for Jesus to honor Him for raising Lazarus from the dead. The word “there” likely refers to the house of Simon the leper because Matthew and Mark record the same anointing by Mary and both of them inform us that this anointing took place in Simon the leper’s house (cf. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9).

However, this is not the anointing that took place in Simon the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50. That anointing took place in Galilee, but this one at Bethany of Judea. There the host despised the woman, here her brother and sisters are the guests. There the woman was a notoriously“bad” sinner, but here it is the devoted Mary who “sat at the Lord’s feet and heard His word” months before (Luke 10:39). There the host thought it strange that Jesus allowed her to touch Him, here the disciples complain of the waste. There the Savior gave assurance of forgiveness, here He gives assurance of the perpetual and worldwide honor that would accompany the preaching of the gospel. Especially notice here that the woman who anoints Jesus is anticipating His speedy death and burial but at the earlier anointing His death and burial are not mentioned. In view of all the differences, it is absurd to suggest that the anointing here in John 12 (cf. Matthew 26; Mark 14) is the same as the anointing in Luke 7.

Of special notice are the words “Martha served” (John 12:2a). The verb “served” (diēkonei) is in the imperfect tense and tells us that Martha acted in this way throughout the dinner. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha served fewer guests and was “distracted” and overcome with worry. Here she serves many more guests and there is not a word about her being distracted or troubled. Why? Because Martha had learned not to neglect Jesus in her ministry. Earlier she was distracted by all her preparations and had lost sight of Christ. Now she was occupied with the Lord Jesus and not just for Him. She had learned to keep her eyes on the Savior and not her duties.

It can be easy for us to lose sight of Christ and become preoccupied with things to do. After all, we think to ourselves that what we are doing is a good thing for the Lord. Ministry is a good thing; but when it replaces our Master it can become a burden. Me may engage in ministry activities to elevate our value. Or we can use ministry to avoid unwanted feelings in our lives. We convince ourselves to stay busy for the Lord as a way of medicating the uncomfortable emotions inside us. I believe this may have been what Martha did earlier in Luke 10:38-42.

But Martha learned a very important lesson that all of us can learn as well. She learned to become preoccupied with Jesus and what He had done for her brother, Lazarus. Instead of working for Christ, she worked with Him. Instead of focusing on what she did to determine her value, she looked to Jesus to determine her value. Instead of turning to ministry to avoid her feelings, she turned to her Master Who raised her brother from the dead and helped her face her unwanted emotions, resulting in a renewed passion to serve Christ.

Likewise, the more we focus on the Person and work of Christ, the more eager we will be to serve Him with thanksgiving by serving those He has placed in our lives. His performance on the cross determines our value, not our performance in ministry. As we grow closer to Him, we will discover that He already knows our feelings so there is no need to try to hide them from Him. He understands what is going on inside us so we can trust Him to help us face our unwanted emotions and process them. And the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead, is the same power available to each of us to help us serve and honor only Jesus with thanksgiving.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me for the many times I have turned to ministry to avoid unwanted feelings in my heart instead of turning to You to help me process them. I have often lost sight of You by becoming preoccupied with what I do. If I am totally honest, I must confess that I have sought to elevate my value through my performance instead of resting in Your performance on the cross which provides the basis for my infinite value. Today, I give You my heart and all of its uncomfortable emotions. Please hold me in Your arms of everlasting love and mercy. Just knowing that You loved me enough to die in my place for all my sins causes me to pause and say, “Thank You, my Lord and my God. Here I am to honor only You. I am trusting Your resurrection power to enable me to serve You by serving others.” In Your precious name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Adapted from https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-champagne-king-the-playwright-and-the-savoy-hotel.html on May 29, 2017.

The Providence of God or the Plots of Man? Part 4

“Then they sought Jesus…” John 11:56a

We are learning from the conflict over the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:44-57) how the providence of God and the plans of people work together for God’s glory. So far we have learned that…

– Plans to oppose Christ can arise from fear and jealousy (John 11:45-48).

– God uses the plots of man to accomplish His purposes (John 11:49-53).

– At times we are not meant to face opposition so we can pursue more important relationships (John 11:54).

The final principle we learn from this conflict over Jesus’ miracle is that CHRIST’S CONTROL OVER HIS OWN FUTURE DEMONSTRATES HIS POWER TO CONTROL OURS (John 11:55-57). The apostle John informs us, “And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.” (John 11:55). The Passover feast “was near,”perhaps two to three weeks away. This is the fourth and final “Passover” that John mentioned in his gospel (cf. 2:13; 5:1; 6:4). The John 5:1 reference to “a feast” is considered to be one of the three pilgrim feasts – Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. I take it to refer to Passover.

The Mosaic Law required that the Jews who had become ritually unclean had “to purify themselves” for one week before participating in this feast (Num. 9:6-14). Therefore “many” of them “went…up to Jerusalem” because Jerusalem is in the mountains and most approaches would require an ascent in elevation. They went at least one week“before” the feast began to “purify themselves” ceremonially so they could participate in the Passover. According to the Mishnah (the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah”),  this cleansing was done by immersion in a ritual bath called a miqueh (Mikua’ot 4.1). 2

From the time of Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the annual slaying of the Passover lamb looked forward to the Lamb of God (John 1:29) who, by His sacrifice (John 11:50-51), would provide redemption for those in bondage to sin. “Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think—that He will not come to the feast?’ ” (John 11:56). Instead of paying attention to the rituals of purification for the Passover, the multitudes directed their attention toward the Person of Jesus Christ (“they sought Jesus”). Throngs of people were standing in the temple buzzing about whether Jesus would come to the feast. Their question expects a negative answer. 3 “No, Christ would not dare to come to the Passover feast! He is not that foolish!” is the expected response. The reason the crowd did not expect Jesus to come is given in the next verse.

What about us? Do we seek Jesus in our daily lives or do we focus on our religious traditions or rituals? Do we try to purify ourselves through acts of penance or prayers, or do we seek a love relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ Who alone can purify us from the inside out? Trying to reform ourselves through external observances will lead either to pride as we deceive ourselves into thinking we are superior to others through our own performance or it will lead to discouragement as we constantly fail to measure up to unattainable standards. Either way, religious rules and regulations fail to transform our sinful hearts. Only Jesus can transform our wounded and wicked hearts into that which is new and noble (cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 7:37-39; Hebrews 8:10; 9:11-15; 10:10-18).

“Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.” (John 11:57). The Sanhedrin had issued a command that anyone who knew of Jesus’ whereabouts should report it so “they might seize Him.”  Silence about Christ’s whereabouts meant complicity with Christ and could be punishable. The religious leaders desperately wanted Christ arrested so they would not lose their positions or their following.

Jesus was not going to be arrested before His appointed hour. Repeatedly in the gospel of John, the religious leaders had sought to arrest and kill the Lord (John 5:18; 7:6, 8, 30, 44-45; 8:20, 59; 10:31, 39), but Jesus was not to be apprehended until His appointed time. He had control of His future.

Remember I said in Part 1 that martial law had been declared all over the southern region of the Philippines called Mindanao? Was this because of God’s providence or the plans of sinful people? I believe the answer is both. Let me explain.

Before the fighting broke out on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017, one of my dear pastor friends was preaching the gospel at film showings the weekend before (May 20-21), in a province next to the province where the fighting broke out. He planned to stay in that province until Wednesday, May 24th. But while preaching the gospel to those hostile toward Jesus Christ, he became very sick. He texted me asking for prayer. So my wife and I began to pray, asking God to supernaturally heal him. But instead of getting better, his condition became worse. I asked the Lord, “Father, don’t You want him to get better so he can reach more of these people in this very dark area of the Philippines?” But my friend’s condition continued to worsen, so much so, that he had to go to his home in another province where he was admitted into the hospital for treatment. Fortunately, he recovered. My wife and I both realized that perhaps the reason he became so sick, was so the Lord could move him out of this critical area to a place of safety. God used this sickness to move our pastor friend, otherwise, he may have become a target in a very volatile area of Mindanao.

Christ continually demonstrated during His earthly ministry that He was in control of His future by not allowing the religious authorities to apprehend Him before His appointed time. Do you believe Jesus has control of your future? If not, there may be some issues that need to be resolved so you can trust Him with what lies ahead. For those who have felt out of control when growing up, it may be more difficult to believe that God is in control now. God will work with you where you are at. Maybe you have some unmet needs and you are not sure how they will be met. Christ knows how to meet them and He will take care of you if you will surrender to His control.

While writing this original message in my upstairs study on Thursday, May 25th, 2017, we were having a major thunderstorm in the Metro Manila area of the Philippines. There were huge cracks of thunder and lightning. Some made me wince as they boomed across the sky. I was interrupted by our helper who came upstairs with our dogs. The dogs were terrified by the loud booms and our helper said they were scratching at our screen door to come in, so she let them in. I told her, “It’s okay. They can stay up here in my study.” As the storm got louder, the dogs kept nudging me with their noses to get closer to me as I sat at my desk writing. So eventually I gave in and sat on the floor with them as they crawled onto my lap. I then sang a song to them that used to calm me during storms in my life. The lyrics are as follows:

“I don’t know about tomorrow; It may bring me poverty But the one who feeds the sparrow, Is the one who stands by me. And the path that is my portion, Maybe through the flame or flood; But His presence goes before me. And I’m covered with His blood.

Chorus:

“Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow And I know who holds my hand.”

After I sang this song to my dogs, they quieted down and eventually I let them back outside when the storm had passed. And then I did a little research about the songwriter of this song. His name was Ira Stanphill.

“In 1936, Ira launched his own revival campaign. It concluded in Springfield, Missouri, where he agreed to pastor a congregation. In Springfield, he met Zelma Lawson. She too had musical skills. They married in 1939. Together, they wrote the song ‘Room at the Cross for You,’ which they sang as a duet. Their voices rang out together on the chorus, ‘Tho’ millions have come, there’s still room for one. Yes, there’s room at the cross for you.

“However, Zelma began drifting away from the cross. She started attending nightclubs and seeing other men. She eventually filed for divorce. Zelma remarried and began singing in the nightclubs. Ira eventually gained custody of their son, Raymond. In 1951, a car accident took Zelma’s life.

“Between the divorce and Zelma’s death, Ira reached a personal low in his life. Some criticized him for continuing to preach after his divorce. The voices inside Ira’s head and heart were equally severe. He pondered the direction of his future.

“One day, driving to the church he served at the time, Ira poured out his feelings to God. By the time he reached the church, God had birthed a new song in his heart. The experience didn’t give Ira all the answers he wanted, but it gave him the total trust in God he needed. In the decades since, many have experienced fresh faith for the future upon singing or hearing the song, ‘I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.’ The song’s essence is in the words, ‘Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.’ ” 4

Do you have doubts about your future? Are you uncertain of where God may be leading you? Do you sometimes wonder how God can be in control when life seems so out of control? Then remember Ira’s song. “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.” Do you know who holds your hand? If not, He is waiting to take your hand if you would trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. Then He can lead you as a faithful and loving Shepherd.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, many things happen in this life – tragic things – that cause me to pause at times and question if You are truly in control. Thank You for bringing me back to You this morning. During Your earthly ministry You constantly demonstrated Your control over Your own future which guarantees Your power to control my future. When life seems out of control, the best thing I can do is to seek You and hold out my hand for You to take and lead me as my faithful and loving Shepherd. As Ira’s song says, “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand.” Here is my hand, Lord Jesus. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), pg. 59.

2. William Sanfords La Sor, “Discovering What Jewih Miqua’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism,” Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 1987): 52-59.

3. Τί δοκεῖ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ ἔλθῃ εἰς τὴν ἑορτήν?

4.   https://lights4god.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/ira-stanphill/.