Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 4

14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.’ ” John 11:14-15

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. We have learned that the Lord does this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

The fourth reason the Lord may delay His answers to our prayers is to DEVELOP OUR FAITH IN HIM (John 11:11-16). “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ ” (John 11:11). The Lord Jesus views Lazarus’ death as “sleep” because from His divine perspective, death is harmless and hopeful. When Jesus said, “I may wake him up,” He was referring to when He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Since the coming of Christ, the death of a believer is regularly called “sleep” (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Dead Christians are asleep not in the sense of an unconscious “soul sleep,” but in the sense that their bodies appear to be sleeping.

But the disciples did not understand Jesus. “Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ ” (John 11:12). The disciples misunderstand Christ and think He is speaking of natural sleep. “Why risk Your life, Lord, to arouse a man from a night’s sleep especially if he is on his way to recovery?!”

“However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:13). Death is not a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep” as some teach. When believers in Jesus die, they go directly and consciously into the presence of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24). Their physical bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).

This is why Paul writes, 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Paul refers to death as his spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body or present with the Lord.

In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22) as are all believers in Jesus who have died (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24).

“Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” (John 11:14). The Lord “plainly tells His disciples that “Lazarus is dead. But then Jesus says something that is very shocking. “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:15). Christ says He was glad He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death! What is there to be glad about in Lazarus’ death or anyone’s death for that matter?!

When Jesus said he was glad for the disciples’ sake that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death, “that you may believe,” He was not talking about their salvation. His disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (cf. John 1:35-51; 2:11; 6:69). Jesus’ joy is for the disciples’ faith which would be strengthened when they would behold Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What would the disciples’ faith have been like if they did not witness the raising of Lazarus? Their faith would lack content. And they would have less courage when they would face life-threatening situations.

God allows disappointment in our lives to strengthen our faith. We look at other people and think, Lord, how can You do this with this type of person? How can You do the impossible? Death is final! How about people we do not think God can change? We may have doubts about God changing a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. We may even doubt that the Lord can change us! But God can make a difference!

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with Him.’ ” (John 11:16). Thomas looked death in the face and chose death with Jesus rather than life without Him! This is not the kind of commitment or courage we may have expected from this doubting disciple. Thomas’ comment, “that we may die with Him,” is intriguing because history tells us that eventually all but one of Jesus’ disciples would die a martyr’s death for their Lord.

Even though Thomas expressed great courage and confidence now, he would express doubt over Jesus’s resurrection later (cf. John 20:24-29). But for now, he was ready to die with Jesus! This tells us that those who are spiritually confident today may find themselves in the depths of despair and doubt tomorrow.

What about you? Are you willing to face death with Jesus rather than life without Him? Are you willing to follow Christ no matter what the cost? When people ridicule you or mistreat you, or even threaten to kill you, will you still follow Jesus? Thomas expressed this kind of commitment now even though he did not know for sure how safe or unsafe he would be going up to Judea again. When non-Christians encounter this kind of courage among believers, it can cause them to consider their own eternal destiny.

Paul alludes to this in Philippians 1:27-28: “27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” This kind of boldness in the presence of one’s enemies assures the believer that his message his true and proves to his opponents that their defeat is certain.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when You delayed Your coming to Martha and Mary, You were wanting to strengthen the faith of Your disciples and all who would witness what You were going to do at Lazarus’ grave. It may be difficult for us to understand this at the time of our own disappointment and loss. But You do not waste our fears and pain. You want to transform our anger into acceptance, our fear into faith, our grief into gladness, and our despair into hope through Your resurrection power. The more convinced we are of this resurrection power, the more courage we will have to face those who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. This boldness before our enemies assures us that Your message is true and it proves to our enemies that their defeat is certain. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for this assurance You give us when our trust is in You. In Your powerful name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 3

“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.’ ” John 11:9

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned the Lord does this to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4) and to declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6). Today we learn the Lord also delays His answers to our prayers to DEEPEN OUR SENSITIVITY TO HIS WILL (John 11:7-10).

John tells us, after waiting two days, Jesus wanted to return to Bethany of Judea where His life would be in danger. “The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ ” (John 11:8). The disciples are saying, “Are you serious, Lord?! You were just there and they attempted to kill you! It would be suicide to go back there now!”

While we can understand their concern for the Lord, the disciples apparently had not noticed that a lot of people were having difficulty seizing Jesus (cf. John 7:30-32, 44-46; 8:20; 10:39). The Son of God – not the angry religious leaders—was in control over His ministry timetable. In all honesty, the disciples were not as concerned about Jesus’ safety as they were their own.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We are no different than the disciples when the Lord’s way is not our way. Especially when He asks us to do something risky. We try to rationalize and avoid what He is asking us to do. How many of us have had God ask us to do something risky and immediately we complain or try to convince ourselves that we cannot do it? “It is not logical or realistic!” we tell ourselves. But God asks us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10). Jesus told His disciples that “the day” – the time of His public ministry on earth – was the opportunity for action. While Jesus, “the light of this world,” was with them, they could walk and “not stumble” (John 11:9). Later, they would have the light of the Holy Spirit’s presence (John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15). But to function apart from Jesus is like walking around at night (John 11:10). Operating without His guidance and illumination will cause us to trip and fall on our face.

If you walk during the day while the sun is shining you won’t stumble because you can see the obstacles and avoid running into them. If you walk at night, you are more likely to stumble because you cannot see the obstacles. If you walk in the light of God’s will, you will not stumble. But if you walk in the darkness against God’s will, you will trip yourself up.

Jesus was saying He could safely return to Judea if He was walking in the light of His Father’s will. No harm would come to Him until the Father’s appointed hour. And if His disciples go with Him, who is the Light, they will not be in any danger either.

The Lord may delay His answers to our prayers to teach us to be more sensitive to His will. Jesus was teaching His fearful disciples a lesson about walking in the light of God’s will. When they follow Jesus, Who is the Light, they will be safe in the Father’s will and love. But to turn away from the Father’s will and love, invites all kinds of trouble. Likewise, when we walk in darkness and do things our way instead of God’s way, we get into all kinds of problems. But if we walk in the light of God’s Word and love, we will grow closer to Him and He will reveal His glory to us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for allowing situations to get worse after I pray about them to nudge me closer to You and Your love. When I feel out of control, I often try to be in control to give myself a sense of feeling safe. I seek to do things my way as if that gives me a greater sense of control. Yet this often leads to isolation and more pain. Lord, I want to learn to yield to Your control when I feel out of control because it is then that I am most safe. Thank You for helping me to recognize this so I can turn this area of my life over to You. Walking in the light of Your love dispels the darkness that can so easily overwhelm me when I feel out of control. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 2

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign recorded in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44) why the Lord allows a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? The first reason is to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4). Raising Lazarus from the dead would bring more glory to Jesus than raising him from his sickbed. We see today that the second reason for Jesus’ delayed response to our prayers is to DECLARE HIS LOVE TOWARD US (John 11:5-6). This may sound strange to us at first, but let’s listen to what the Bible says in these verses. John reminds his readers that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5). The word “loved” (agapáō) means to choose to do what is best for another person. Christ wanted to do what was best for this family. This may seem hard to believe when we look at what Jesus does next.

“So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:6). If Jesus loved this family, why would He wait two more days before going to help them? We must keep verses five and six together. Christ delayed His going to them because He did love them and wanted to do what was best for them in God’s eyes. From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Jesus needed to move faster – “Hurry up, Lord, our brother may die!” But Jesus says, “Slow down and do this My way.”

From this we learn that God’s love may delay His answers to our prayers in ways that we cannot understand at that time. Mary and Martha had no idea what Jesus was going to do when He would come to them later. I’m sure it did not feel like Jesus loved them or Lazarus when He delayed His coming. Perhaps Mary and Martha’s distress over Lazarus’ suffering caused them to forget that death was no obstacle for Jesus. Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead with no more effort than it would take Him to raise Lazarus from his sickbed. Christ delayed His coming because He did love this family. Waiting until Lazarus was dead for a few days would enable Jesus to reveal His love in a deeper and more powerful way to them. While Jesus’ absence caused Lazarus’ death, his death caused his resurrection, and the glory of God was manifested and many people believed in Jesus (cf. John 11:43-45)!

When the Lord does not answer our prayers right away, remember that this does not mean He loves us less. It means He loves you more and knows what is best for you. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, including our feelings. Just because I do not “feel” the Lord’s love during difficult times, does not change His love for me.

For example, when I am standing in our living room at night amidst our furniture which my wife has beautifully arranged, I then turn off the light so I cannot see the furniture. Does that mean the furniture is not there? Of course not. Just because my eyes and feelings tell me there is no furniture in front of me does not change the truth of the furniture’s existence. God’s inseparable love for us is the same way. Our senses do not always detect what is true. They can be fooled. This is why God calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith enables us to experience God’s love when our senses tell us the opposite.

Sometimes we can misinterpret difficulties in our lives as God’s attempt to punish us. Some of us may be running from God right now because of this assumption. For example, “some time back, newspapers carried the story of a young fellow named William who was a fugitive from the police. The teenager had run away with his girlfriend because the parents had been trying to break them up. What William did not know was that an ailment he had been seeing the doctor about was diagnosed just after his disappearance. It was cancer.

“Here was William, doing his best to elude the police, lest he lose his love, while they were doing their best to find him, lest he lose his life. He thought they were after him to punish him; they were really after him to save him.” (Howard Hendricks, Don’t Fake It, Say It with Love).

God is not out to punish us when He permits a situation to get worse after we pray to Him. He loves us and He wants to show Himself to us in deeper and more powerful ways. Don’t run from the Person Who loves you and wants to rescue you. Let Him find you and hold you in His arms.

Prayer: Father God, it is easy for us to quickly assume that You do not love us when bad things happen to us or to those we care about. Thank You for reminding us today that You allow those You love to suffer. After all, You allowed Your only begotten Son Whom You have always loved, to suffer in our place on a cross. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family led Him to delay His coming to them so they could discover His love in deeper and more powerful ways. Christ’s absence caused Lazarus’ death, but his death caused his resurrection which would manifest God’s glory so many would believe in Him. Father, when You are absent, we can seek You by faith. Please help us to walk this life on earth by faith and not by sight so we can experience Your love even when it is contrary to our senses. Hold us in Your arms of everlasting mercy when this life does not make sense to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 1

“When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” John 11:4

In recent months all of us have been reminded that life is short. As of today (September 21, 2020), there have been over 961,000 confirmed COVID-related deaths in the world with over 31 million cases. 1  Since January 1, 2020, there have been over 30,826,000 unborn babies murdered in the world through abortion procedures. 2 These statistics alone are alarming.

On a more personal note, when we were living in the Philippines, fifteen college students died in a bus crash in Tanay, Rizal in February 2017. A few months after that, a Korean pastor was murdered near our subdivision when he confronted a thief breaking into his home.

It is normal for us as human beings to ask “Why?” Why has God allowed so many lives to be lost through the global pandemic? Why does He permit innocent babies to be killed before they begin to live outside the womb? How can He allow such young people to suddenly die in a bus crash? Why does He permit someone who accomplishes so much good to be murdered by a thief? I believe it is okay to ask these kinds of questions. God is not disturbed by such questioning because He knows it will foster growth.

Another question that comes to my mind as I ponder these deaths is, “Why does God sometimes allow situations to get worse after we pray about them?” Why does our spouse or child who is sick, become sicker after we ask the Lord for their healing? Why does our job situation become worse after we plead with the Lord to make it better? Why does that unresolved conflict worsen after we beg the Lord to help us resolve it? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hear us?

These kinds of thoughts probably raced through the minds of two of Christ’s dear friends when Jesus allowed the situation they faced to become worse after they asked for His help. From these verses in John 11, we will discover several reasons why the Lord sometimes allows a situation to become worse after we pray about it. Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it?

The first reason is to DISPLAY MORE OF HIS GLORY (John 11:1-4). Because the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus in Judea, He went beyond the Jordan to Bethany of Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28). During this time, a tragedy fell on a household at Bethany, a small village located about two miles southeast of Jerusalem. This is not the same Bethany where Jesus was currently staying on the east side of the Jordan River. This household had often given Jesus hospitality when He was in Judea.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1). John records just how close Jesus was to this family in the next verse. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:2). These were not casual acquaintances. They knew and loved each other very much. This is why the sisters sent for Jesus. “Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ ” (John 11:3). This sickness must have been very serious since they called for Jesus to return to the area. The sisters assume Jesus would come right away when He heard that their brother, Lazarus, was sick because Jesus loved him.

When a godly Christian became seriously ill, several friends gathered around his bedside to ask God to restore him. The last one to pray spoke of the faithful service of this man, and concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord, You know how he loves You.” After a moment of silence the sick believer said to him, “I know you meant well, but please don’t plead for my recovery on that basis. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but their request was not based on his affection for Christ. They said, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ It’s not my weak and faltering allegiance to Him that calls forth His attention, but His perfect love for me that is my constant strength and hope.” 3

Mary and Martha’s plea for Jesus to come heal their brother was based upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, not Lazarus’ love for Christ. From the perspective of the two sisters, “If you love someone, you will drop what you are doing and come to his aid.” But look at Jesus’ response. “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4). Jesus did not view Lazarus’ sickness as a crisis. He did not see the final outcome of Lazarus’ illness to be death. Instead, He saw it as an opportunity to display God’s glory. Lazarus’ illness was not because of a specific sin in his life or a lack of faith, but because it was going to be used to reveal God’s glory as the “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

If someone thinks that a Christian walking with the Lord cannot become ill or contract a disease, that person is either ignorant of the truth or just downright wrong! Lazarus’ sickness was not a means of punishment nor a sign of rebellion. Instead, his illness had a higher purpose.

Think about it. What would bring God more glory – to heal Lazarus or to resurrect him? What would lead more people to believe in Jesus – to raise a living person from his sickbed or a dead person from his grave? One of the reasons God may allow a situation to get worse in our lives is to bring Him more glory when He answers our prayers. Sometimes God makes us wait until it seems that the answers to our prayers are impossible so that He gets more glory!

Our tendency is to think that God does not care about us when He does not answer our prayers immediately. But the truth is we do not often understand His timing and purpose because His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What He asks of us during these times is that we trust Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ways and Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. I cannot understand Your timing and purposes much of the time. But this does not mean I cannot trust You when I face difficult times. I truly believe that You allow situations to grow worse even after we pray about it so You can display Your glory in greater ways. You demonstrated this by permitting Lazarus’ situation to grow worse so You could reveal Your Person and Power in a greater and more meaningful way. Even now, as more people die of COVID or other causes, more people will begin to think about their need for You and fall on their knees begging You for mercy. Lord, the Scriptures clearly tell me that You are still on Your throne when bad things happen on earth. Your purposes are still being fulfilled. The Bible is still true when it says with God all things are possible. Please continue to use the bad things in the world to get peoples’ attention so they can believe You are the Resurrection and the Life, Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths#what-is-the-total-number-of-confirmed-deaths

2. https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

3. Dave Branon, Hymns: 90 Devotions From Our Daily Bread, “His Love Not Ours.”

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 5

41 Then many came to Him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.’ 42 And many believed in Him there.” John 10:41-42

We have learned from Jesus’ response to His Jewish audience, several ways to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God in John 10:32-42:

– Confront them with questions (John 10:32-33)

– Communicate biblical truths with relevance to them (John 10:34-36).

– Call them to believe in Christ because of the evidence of His miracles (John 10:37-39).

Consider our beginnings (John 10:40).

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him (John 7:30, 44; 8:59; 10:31, 39). So He crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany of Perea where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry (John 10:40; cf. 1:28).

From Jesus’ time in Bethany of Perea we learn the final way to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God – CONVEY THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS TO OTHERS WITH YOUR LIFE AND LIPS (John 10:41-42). While John the Baptist had already died by this time (cf. Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:9), his ministry had not died. “Then many came to Him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.’ ’’ (John 10:41). Many people were now seeking Jesus. Why? Because the witness of John the Baptist earlier had prepared the people of Bethany to seek out Jesus. While John had performed no miraculous “sign” at Bethany, he did bear witness to Jesus and his witness was “true.” What had John said? Let’s look back in John 1:15-18, 29-34:

15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him…’ 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.’ 32 And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’ ”

John spoke the truth about the greatness of Jesus Christ. He drew an accurate picture of Jesus Christ through his witness. Then when Jesus came, the people recognized the original truth John had given to them. John had been dead for some time now, but his influence continued. His words were still treasured by others. John had prepared the people to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself.

“And many believed in Him there.” (John 10:42). After realizing that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, many of the people believed in Christ there. Remember, it was John the Baptist who said to the people of Bethany a few years earlier, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). These people now believed or trusted in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life! John’s influence led people to seek Jesus out, but their faith in Christ was because of their contact with the Lord Jesus Himself.

Notice the contrast between the Jews back in Jerusalem who had miraculous signs, and the people of Bethany here who had no miraculous signs. The Jews refused to believe even though they had sufficient evidence through Christ’s words and works that He was their promised Messiah-God. But the people of Bethany did believe the word of Jesus without any miraculous signs. What made the difference between the receptivity of these two groups? The witness of John the Baptist.

One big difference between growing churches and stagnant churches is that growing churches who are winning the lost to Christ are sowing the seed of God’s Word in the lives of unbelievers, but stagnant churches are not.

When I was a young believer working in an orthopedic trauma unit as a nurse’s assistant in a hospital in Iowa, I loved to share the gospel with all my patients. One of my patients was a retired doctor who simply did not like me because of my Christian faith. He claimed to be an atheist and did not want to hear about Jesus. He would greet me with a scowl when I entered his room and start complaining about my work. But the Lord gave me favor with his wife who sat by his bedside every day. She would say to him, “Be nice to this young man. He is here to help you. He has been so good to you, the least you could do is show him some respect.”

Every work day the Lord enabled me to show His love to this grumpy, unbelieving doctor. With a smile and with gentleness, I would daily give him his bath and change his bedding. I would clean his wounds and help him use the commode on his bed. Gradually, this hard-hearted doctor began to change. After a few weeks of caring for him, he would crack a smile as soon as I entered his room because he knew I was there to care for him. God used acts of kindness to open this doctor’s heart so that he was prepared to hear the gospel. Eventually, both the doctor and his wife discovered the truth about Jesus Christ and said they believed in Him for His gift of eternal life!

Many of you are preparing others, including skeptics, to believe in Christ by the truth you convey about Jesus to them through your words and works. What kind of picture are you drawing of Jesus with your life? Will people recognize Jesus when they see Him in the Word because of the picture you have drawn of Him with your life and lips? God is not looking for perfection in us. But He is looking for us to share Christ’s faithfulness to us with unbelievers in our lives.

There are many hurting people in the world today and God wants to use you to extend His healing grace to them. You may not see them come to faith in Christ just like John the Baptist did not see these people of Bethany come to faith in Jesus during his lifetime. But one day at the Judgment Seat of Christ, you will know who does believe in Jesus because of your influence while you were on earth. That day will make all the sacrifice and suffering you invested in that person’s life worth it all! Christ will faithfully reward you for your faithfulness to Him (Revelation 22:12)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I can be so impatient when I do not see instant results! I want to see people believe in Jesus now, not later! Forgive me for being so demanding and proud. Right now I want to surrender to You to use my life and lips to prepare people to believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. Like John the Baptist, I may not see those people come to You in faith during my lifetime, but what matters is that they do come to You before it is too late for them. Please use me to sow the seed of Your Word in peoples’ lives now so You can reap an abundant harvest of souls. I claim Your promise which says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11). To You my Lord and my God be all the glory! In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 4

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” John 10:40

When we encounter skeptics who deny that Jesus is God, we may find it necessary to CONSIDER OUR BEGINNINGS (John 10:40). This is the fourth way Jesus responded to His skeptical audience.

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him. All doors were closed to His ministry in Judea and for some time Galilee had rejected His ministry. Jesus did not stay long in resistant areas. He moved to more receptive areas and He advised His disciples to do the same (cf. Matthew 10:11-15, 23). Plus, it wasn’t time for Him to suffer and die on the Cross. So where does Jesus go?

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” (John 10:40). Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany, a small ford community on the east bank of the Jordan River where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry. 1 This was not the Bethany near Jerusalem, but the Bethany of Perea which was east of the Jordan River. Christ would spend the next three and a half months here.

This was a place that had many fond memories for the Lord. This is where He met and won His first disciples (John 1:35-51). He had success here far away from the prejudiced atmosphere of Jerusalem and He would enjoy more success here again. John tells us that it was “there He stayed” – He made His home here.

It is important for us to consider our beginnings when we are going through difficult times. If you are discouraged right now because of having to deal with skeptics or those who reject your Christian faith, relive the time when you became a child of God through faith in Christ or when you began your Christian ministry. Remember God’s faithfulness during those early days of your Christian life. This will encourage you and renew your strength in the Lord.

When my parents moved our family away from their families in Illinois to Iowa when I was seven years old, we would periodically return to Illinois to visit where we were born and relive the many fond memories we had there. This served as a way of recharging us spiritually and emotionally for the challenges we faced in Iowa.

Even now when I may be disappointed in ministry or with life in general, I like to relive the many fond memories I have of my first couple of short-term mission trips to the Philippines when I saw an incredible response to the gospel. Occasionally, I schedule mission trips to go back to areas I have visited in the past where we saw amazing receptivity among the people of the Philippines. These trips serve as a time of refreshment and renewal for us and for those to whom we minister.

There are many stressors in our world today including COVID-19, social unrest, political divisions, and opposition to Christianity. When you face difficulties in your Christian life, do you have a place where you can go to relive fond memories you have with the Lord? If not, ask the Lord to guide you to such a place where you can remember some special times you had with Him to refresh your soul.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are such a wise Counselor. Thank You for reminding me how You can use opposition to my Christian faith to redirect me to people who are more receptive to Your gospel message. I also appreciate Your example of retreating to a place where You could relive many fond memories from the beginning of Your ministry. Please lead me to such a place where I can be refreshed by memories of Your amazing grace working in my life and the lives of others whom You brought into my life. You are such a Good Shepherd to lead Your sheep beside still waters to refresh their souls. In Your name I praise You! Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) pg. 50; cf. John 1:28 – the majority of Greek manuscripts read “Bethany,” not “Bethabara.”

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 3

37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” John 10:37-38

We have learned from Jesus’ response to His skeptical audience that the way to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God is to confront them with questions (John 10:32-33) and communicate biblical truths with relevance to them (John 10:34-36). Today we will learn that the third way to respond to these skeptics is to CALL THEM TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST BECAUSE OF THE EVIDENCE OF HIS MIRACLES (John 10:37-39). Although the Jews refused to believe Jesus’ words, Christ says to believe in Him on the basis of His works because His works show the reality of who He is. They reveal His supernatural character. Only God could do what Jesus did.

Jesus said to His skeptical audience,37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:37-38). Christ is encouraging them not to believe in Him if He does not do the works of His Father. Only God’s eternal Son could do the works of God the Father. And if Jesus does the works of the Father, this will show that “the Father is in” Him and that He is “in the Father.” Christ is saying, “If you are not ready to believe in Me because of My words, believe in Me because of what I do.” Why? “So you may know and believe My oneness with the Father as His Son.” The prophets of old could say the first part, “The Father is in Me,” but they could not say the second part, “And I in the Father.” Only Jesus’ likeness could be found in the Father as His works demonstrated. Christ’s miracles reflected the same character and power as God the Father.

No other person in history has manifested the same character and power as Jesus Christ. For example, let’s compare the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, with the Founder of Christianity, the Lord Jesus Christ. Both the Quran and the Bible testify that Jesus was sinless. In the nearly one hundred references to Jesus in the Quran, never once does it refer to Him as committing a sin. When announcing Jesus’ virgin birth, He is referred to as a “holy Son”(Surah 19:19). Indeed, He is called a “righteous” prophet (Surah 6:85). His sinlessness can be inferred from His virgin birth which the Quran affirms (Surah 3:45-47; 19:19-21) as does His title of “Christ” or “Messiah” [Surah 3:45; 4:157, 171; 5:72, 75; 9:30, 31; cf. Isaiah 53:5, 9; John 20:31). Further, the “Book” (law) or Bible to which Muhammad referred his antagonist (see Surah 4:171; 5:46), speaks of Jesus Christ as sinless (John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19;  3:18; 1 John 3:3).

In contrast to the sinlessness of Jesus, the Quran testifies that Muhammad repeatedly sinned. In Surah 47, Muhammad is told to ask God to forgive his faults. We read, “Know, therefore, that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for thy fault, and for the men and women who believe: for God knows how ye move about and how ye dwell in your homes” (Surah 47:19; cf. 40:55). Again, we read of God saying to Muhammad: “That God may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow; fulfil His favour to thee; and guide thee on the Straight Way” (Surah 48:2). In fact, Muhammad is rebuked by God for his sin in Surah 33 which affirms, “It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Apostle to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys God and His Apostle, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.” But “thou didst hide in thy heart that which God was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear God… And God’s command must be fulfilled” (Surah 33:36-38).

Both the Quran (Surah 3:49; 61:6) and the Bible testify that Jesus did many supernatural miracles (Matthew 4:23-24; John 2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-15; 6:1–21; 9:1-41; 11:1-45), the greatest of which was Jesus’ own resurrection which He predicted (Surah 19:33; cf. Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 28:1-20; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 23-24; John 2:18-22; 20:1-29). Even the Quran infers that Jesus rose from the dead when it says, “Behold! God said: ‘O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection’” (Surah 3:55; cf. 4:157-158). Muslims think this refers only to Jesus’ ascension to heaven because they believe that Jesus did not really die. But listen to what Jesus (Isa) said in Surah 19:33: “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again).” So the Quran also testifies to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While the Quran says the miraculous “signs” of Jesus included everything from creating life to raising the dead, the Quran also says Muhammad did no miracles (Surah 29:50). In fact, the Quran says Muhammad refused to do miracles (Surah 3:183-184; cf. 4:153; 6:8-9; 17:90-93), but he told people his sign was the Quran itself (Surah 17:102-108). Nor was Muhammad resurrected from the dead nor did he permanently ascend to heaven like Jesus. Instead he was buried in Medina, Saudi Arabia (al-Tabari 9:208) where he remains entombed. And faithful Muslims make their life-time pilgrimage there to pay homage to him.

Both the Quran and the Bible teach that Jesus is the Word of God (Surah 3:45; 4:171; cf. John 1:1, 14, 17; Revelation 19:13), whereas the Quran was considered the Word of Allah, and Muhammad was only a messenger (Surah 3:144).

When we compare Jesus Christ with Muhammad, by far Jesus is superior to the prophet of Islam in His character, His power, and His position. Why? Jesus tells us it is because “the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:38b). Christ is equal to God the Father because He is also God!

The Jews understood Jesus was claiming to be equal with God the Father, so “they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.” (John 10:39). The Jews were furious! But Jesus “escaped out of their hand” because it was not the Father’s time for the Son to be glorified. The Bible does not tell us how Jesus did this. Perhaps Jesus moved without walking. It was some kind of supernatural phenomenon.

You would think that by this point the Jews would realize that seizing Jesus is not going to happen on their time (cf. John 7:30-32, 44-46; 8:20). No one could take His life from Him (cf. John 10:18). But soon He would voluntarily lay it down. Jesus was in control of His own death. He would not be overpowered and crucified by the Jews and Romans. He would submit to His Father’s will and voluntarily lay down His life in our place.

Christ’s invitation to believe in Him based upon His works shows that saving faith is reasonable. It is not done in the absence of persuasive evidence as some teach today. Belief in Christ is based upon powerful witnesses, including His miraculous works, the greatest of which is His resurrection (Romans 1:4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)! Christ’s resurrection is based upon historical evidence, not the superstitions or fantasies of people.

Historical records testify that Jesus truly rose from the dead as He predicted (see Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 28:1-20; Acts 2:22-36; 3:14-15; 4:8-10; 5:29-31; 10:34-40; 13:23-35; 17:2-3; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Even the Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ when he writes, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he … wrought surprising feats…. He was the Christ. When Pilate… condemned him to be crucified, those who had…  come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared …  restored to life…  And the tribe of Christians … has … not disappeared.” (Josephus, Antiquities 18.63-64, cited in Yamauchi, “Jesus Outside the New Testament”, 21).

When John records the purpose for writing his gospel, he says, “But these [signs John has recorded] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). John states that He has recorded miraculous signs by Jesus (changing water to wine, 2:1-11; healing of the nobleman’s son, 4:46-54; healing of the lame man, 5:1-15; feeding the five thousand, 6:1-14; walking on water, 6:15-21; healing the man born blind, 9:1-41; raising Lazarus from the dead, 11:1-45; and Jesus’ resurrection, John 2:18-22; 20:1-29) that his readers “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they may have life in His name.” Miraculous signs by Jesus are a powerful incentive to believe in Him alone for everlasting life and a future home in heaven.

By the way, Jesus has not stopped doing miracles today. He still heals. He still changes lives. He still transforms sinners into saints. He still touches people supernaturally. Are you willing to let Him touch you? He invites you to come to Him just as you are for His free gift of eternal life if you have never done that before. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). No one is more qualified to make this promise and keep it than Jesus Christ. Will you take Him at His word? Let’s pray.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am amazed how loving and patient You are toward us. Even when we harden our hearts toward Your Word which points to You as the Savior of the world, You still pursue us and provide miraculous works to reveal Your supernatural character and power to us. There may be some of us today who shake our fist at You in anger and rebellion. But You do not retaliate. You show Your love to us in unexpected ways. It may be in the form of a bird singing in the morning or a beautiful sunset at night. It may be a smile from a stranger or a kind deed from a neighbor. The illness we once had is suddenly gone or our marriage which was headed for disaster is now on the mend. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for never giving up on me even when I was at my worst. Thank You for dying in my place and rising from the dead nearly two thousand years ago. As best I know how, Lord Jesus, I am now trusting in You alone now (not my religion, my prayers, or good life) to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have. In Your name I pray. Amen.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please download our digital discipleship materials (see https://www.seeyouinheaven.life/english-pressing-on/) and go through them with those you care about. If you found this article helpful, please share it with those you want to see in heaven. Thank You and may Jesus richly bless you!

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 2

“Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ”? John 10:36

We are living in a world where many people deny that Jesus is God or that He claimed to be God. For example, Muslims say Jesus never claimed to be God. Why do they say this? A former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi, explains why in his book, “No God but One: Allah or Jesus?” Qureshi writes, “The Quran informs Muslims that Jesus never claimed to be divine. Rather, people began to believe this after Jesus left the earth (5.116–117). So we believed that later Christians were responsible for corrupting the true Christianity. Learned men at our mosque told me that Roman paganism influenced Christian thought, as Roman gods often had sons who were demigods. Other Muslims argued that the Council of Nicaea was responsible for Jesus’ apotheosis, while yet others accused Paul of this blasphemy. Regardless of the exact model, most of us believed that the Bible did not even depict Jesus as God, and certainly Jesus never claimed to be God himself” (pg. 213).

How do we respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God or claimed to be God? We learn how Jesus responded to skeptics when He was on earth. In John 10:1-30, Jesus has shown that He is God by referring to Himself as “the [Messianic] shepherd” who “enters by the door” or sheepfold of Israel in the way God predicted in the Old Testament (John 10:2). Jesus had claimed to be “the Good Shepherd”(John 10:11, 14) who had the “power to lay down” His life and “the power to take it [up] again” in resurrection (John 10:18). This is what separates Jesus Christ from all other religious leaders and founders. All other religious leaders and founders in history are still dead in the grave. But Jesus Christ is the only One who had the authority to take up His life in resurrection proving that He is God (Romans 1:4). Christ also referred to God as “My Father” (John 10:18c). Jesus said He had the power to give eternal life to those who believe in Him (John 10:28a) and the power to guarantee security forever (John 10:28b). That is something that only God can do! Finally, Christ claimed, “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:30). “One” is neuter in Greek (hen), not masculine (heis), indicating that Jesus and His Father are not one Person, but are one in essence. Both Jesus and His Father are God!

The Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be God, so they took up stones to throw at Jesus (John 10:31). Why? Because the Old Testament Law said to sentence blasphemers to death by stoning (Leviticus 24:13-16). Jesus courageously responded to this hostile crowd by confronting them with a question. Today we will learn that the second way to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God is to COMMUNICATE BIBLICAL TRUTHS WITH RELEVANCE (John 10:34-36). Jesus refers to the Old Testament to argue from the lesser to the greater.

Jesus says to His Jewish audience, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods’ ”? (John 10:34). Jesus asks these religious skeptics, “Is it not written in your law…?” He refers to the Law in the Old Testament as that which has authority over them. Christ is being relevant to the religious culture of His audience. He is sensitive to their needs and beliefs so He refers to Psalm 82:6 where God refers to unjust and unfaithful judges or leaders as “gods” in contrast to their faithful and just Leader, Yahweh. These judges abused their positions and yet God calls them “gods” because they are His representatives. God-appointed leaders were called “gods.” For example, Moses was as God to Aaron (Exodus 4:16) and as God to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1) because he brought God’s message to them.

Jesus continues, 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’ “? (John 10:35-36). If the term “gods” can be used of unfaithful human judges (the lesser) who received God’s Word, then surely “Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world” is not “blaspheming” when He says, “I am the Son of God” (the greater). The phrase “Son of God” points to Jesus as God. “Son of” means He partakes of the same essence or nature as His Father. Jesus’ point is this: If God said of imperfect judges in the Psalms, “You are gods,” then Jesus, the One and only perfect Man, is reasonably called the Son of God or God Himself!

For example, when I say, “this is the son of …,” I am saying this person has the same human essence or nature as his father. Likewise, as the Son of God, Jesus has the same divine nature as God the Father. He is everything God the Father is in essence.

Jesus’ point was that it was inconsistent for the Jews to claim the Old Testament as their authority (10:34), and then to disregard something that it said because they did not agree with it. It was inconsistent for them, specifically, to stone Jesus for claiming to be God and the “Son of God,” when the Old Testament spoke of humans as “gods.” If it is not blasphemous to call imperfect human judges “gods,” what is the objection to Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of God? The Jews had to accept this line of argument because the Old Testament “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Clearly Jesus affirms that the “Scripture” is without error. They could not evade the force of this argument by saying Psalm 82:6 contains an error which should read “God” instead of “gods” to invalidate Jesus’ claim to be a Man and at the same time God. Christ claimed to be more than a recipient of God’s Word or a representative of God. Jesus claimed to be God in the fullest sense. 

What difference does it make that Jesus is God and not just a mere man considering John 10:28? No one can snatch them out of His hand. If Christ were a mere man, He could not keep that promise since other stronger men could overpower Him and take the believer out of His hand.

But Jesus is not a mere man or prophet. He is God the Son Who was “sanctified” or set apart by His Father and “sent” (John 10:36) to earth from heaven to voluntarily lay down His life for the sins of the world. Although many of the people He created have arrogantly rejected Jesus as their God and Savior (Titus 2:13), Christ still loves them and seeks to save them.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for sanctifying and sending Your eternal Son to earth despite our arrogant refusal to acknowledge Him as both Lord and God. If Jesus were a mere man, He could never give us eternal life nor guarantee our security forever. But He is much more than a man. He is the eternal God Who voluntarily laid down His life for our sins and rose from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. I want to know Your Son more and make Him more widely known so more people may have life in His name. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

How can I respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God? Part 1

“Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ ” John 10:32

The question, “Who is the greatest?” is often asked in the sports world. Many would agree with Muhammed Ali who claimed to be “The Greatest” in the prime of his boxing career. However, many Filipinos would say Manny Pacquiao is the greatest. Others would say Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan were the greatest sports figures ever. Some people, like Muhammed Ali, claim to be the greatest in their particular field of endeavor. Others make even more exalted claims. They think they are the greatest people living, period. But all those who think they are the greatest fall short in their claims when compared with Jesus Christ.

Jesus claimed to be God and you can tell that He is by what He said and the way He acted. In the context of our passage today, Jesus had claimed to be “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14) who had the “power to lay down” His life and “the power to take it [up] again” (John 10:18). Anyone can lay his or her life down in death sacrificially, but only Jesus Christ could “lay it down” and then “take it [up] again” in resurrection! This is what separates Jesus Christ from all other religious leaders and founders. All other religious leaders and founders in history are still dead in the grave. But Jesus Christ is the only One who had the authority to take up His life in resurrection proving that He is God (Romans 1:4). Christ also referred to God as “My Father”(John 10:18c). Jesus said He had the power to give eternal life to those who believe in Him (John 10:28a) and the power to guarantee security forever (John 10:28b). Finally, He claimed oneness with His Father in the sense that He and the Father both provide the sheep with security forever (John 10:30). That is something only God can do. Hence, He is saying that both He and the Father are God.

That Jesus claimed to be God can be seen in the Jews’ response to Him. “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him.” (John 10:31). The word translated “took up” (bastazō) probably means “to carry” in this verse since there would not have been many loose stones in Solomon’s porch in the temple. But not far away was the temple in the process of being built. Surely many stones could be found there. Hence, the Jews picked up stones to throw at Jesus because they understood Him to claim to be equal with God. The Law sentenced a blasphemer to death by stoning (Leviticus 24:13-16). The crowd was hostile and unwilling to permit due process of the law to take its course. Jesus gave these people more than enough evidence that He was the promised Messiah-God, but they were determined not to believe in Him.

Likewise, there are many skeptics today who ignore the sufficient evidence concerning Jesus’ identity as the Messiah-God. How does God want you and I to respond to those who deny the evidence concerning the fact that Jesus Christ is God? The same way Jesus did. We will look at several principles the next few days from these remaining verses about how to respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God.

The first way God wants us to respond to skeptics is to CONFRONT THEM WITH QUESTIONS (John 10:32-33). In other words, take the offensive, not the defensive. These Jews had their stones in their hands stretched back to hurl at Christ, and Jesus calmly and courageously says, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” (John 10:32). Jesus spoke before they could act because He was not willing to let them kill Him before His time. Besides, it was the Father’s will that He should die by crucifixion, not by stoning. Christ had healed both the lame man and the man born blind on the Sabbath. He had healed many different people and He wants to know for which of these miracles did they want to kill Him. What miracle ever called for the death penalty? This question confronted them with the absurdity of executing a man for restoring people who had suffered from afflictions.

Look at the Jews’ answer to this question. Their response demonstrated that Jesus claimed to be God. “The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’ ” (John 10:33).  They did not think this through. They were not going to kill Jesus because of His works, but because of His Words! Because He, “being a Man, makes” Himself to be “God.” Please note that this would only be blasphemy if Jesus was not God. But nowhere does Jesus correct their understanding of His claim to be God as if they had misunderstood Him. A man was not making himself out to be God – God had made Himself into a Man (cf. John 1:1, 14, 18)! Jesus was the God-Man!

These religious leaders could not accept Jesus’ claim to be God. They would not accept that He was telling the truth. Our Creator is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:1; Matthew 28:19). And Jesus Christ is one Person with two natures – divine and human (John 1:1, 14). John is urging his readers to be like Jesus and take the offensive, not the defensive when dealing with skeptics.

For example, if someone says to you that they do not believe Jesus claimed to be God, then ask them why these “religious experts” were incited to pick up stones to throw at Jesus? What did they understand Jesus to claim in verse 33? These prominent Jews understood Jesus’ claim to be God. Then ask the skeptic, “If Jesus’ enemies understood Him to claim to be equal with God, why won’t you understand this? Why do you refuse to understand what the scribes and Pharisees understood? If Jesus was not really claiming to be God, He could have easily corrected the Jews’ misunderstanding here. Why didn’t He correct their understanding here if He was not claiming to be God?” It is obvious that He did not correct their understanding that He claimed to be God because they were correct to understand He was in fact claiming to be God. Only a clear claim by Christ to be God would have incited these professional religious experts to take such drastic action.

If a skeptic tells you he does not believe the Bible, ask him, “What part of the Bible don’t you believe?” Some skeptics have never even read the Bible. All they are doing is repeating something they heard someone else say. The same is true of those who deny that Jesus is God. Rather than study the words and works of Jesus for themselves, they simply repeat what others have told them about Christ. 

Prayer: Father God, You have given us the privilege of proclaiming Your gospel message to a lost world. Many in the world have been taught that Jesus Christ never claimed to be God. Yet we have seen in the historical record today that Jesus’ Jewish audience understood Christ to claim to be equal with God the Father. Lord, please give us the wisdom and the courage to take the offensive with skeptics by confronting them with questions about their rejection of Christ as God. Let us not allow Satan to deceive others with our silence. Use our voices to boldly proclaim that Jesus is God Who freely offers eternal life to all who believe in Him. And only God can guarantee that those who possess eternal life can never be snatched out of His hand. Hallelujah my great God and Savior. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Since eternal life is free and can never be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord?

In John 10:28-29, we discovered that believers in Jesus are secure forever because eternal life is a gift which can never be lost. But someone may say, “Since eternal life is free through believing in Jesus and cannot be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord? What is to keep me from living like the devil since I know I will go to heaven after believing in Jesus? There are several incentives for living a godly life after believing in Jesus for the gift of eternal life. We will look at four of them:

1. GRATITUDE: When a sinner believes in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of eternal life, the most natural response is a heart full of thanksgiving.  The Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). When you are convinced God loves you no matter what and that His arms of grace are always open for you no matter how badly you fail or fall, you will want to do what He tells you to do out of gratitude and because you know He wants the best for you (2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20).

For example, let’s say you are drowning in the ocean, and a man on the seashore hears your cries for help and swims out to save you from certain death. After he brings you safely back to shore, you ask him, “How can I ever thank you for saving me?” He replies, “You would have done the same thing for me,” and then he drives off on his motorcycle. Two weeks later you are driving your car down the highway and you notice the same man standing beside the road next to his motorcycle which has two flat tires. The man is frantically waving his hands to get you to stop, but you just wave at him and keep going. That, my friends, is no way to thank the man who saved you from drowning. Likewise, when we fail to live for the Lord, we are still saved, but that is no way to thank our Savior who saved us from an eternity burning in the lake of fire.

2. GOD’S DISCIPLINE: Just as an earthly father disciplines his wayward children, so God will discipline His disobedient child (Hebrews 12:5-11). It is possible for a believer to be more miserable living outside of God’s will than it would have been to remain a non-Christian. If a believer continues in sin long enough, God may even take his or her physical life (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-32). Knowing the price of sin in a Christian’s life ought to be a strong motivation for godly living. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

3. YOUR NEW IDENTITY: When a person believes or trusts in Christ for the gift of eternal life, God’s grace gives him a new identity or capacity to overcome sin and live for the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20; I John 3:1-9). Romans 6:14-18 says, 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

When we become Christians, we are under a new authority. We are now under God’s grace, not the law. When we realize and submit to Christ’s rule over us, regardless of our feelings, our sinful flesh progressively loses its domination over us, and the grace of God is activated in our lives. We then obey because of our relationship with Jesus. Some immature Christians might think that living under grace means they can go on sinning. But Paul refutes this thinking. If you are living under grace, you will actually keep the law. And if you don’t keep the law, it only proves you’re not operating under the grace of God. Christians obey the standard, but the motivation isn’t the standard. The motivation is God’s grace. The more believers experience the grace of Jesus, the more he or she wants to live in way that is consistent with his or her new identity in Christ.

At this juncture, I believe it is important to talk about sanctification. Sanctification is being “set apart” or made holy to God. The Bible alludes to pre-conversion sanctification whereby the Lord sets apart the unbeliever for salvation and/or service (Jeremiah 1:5; Acts 9:15; Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 7:14; Galatians 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2).

For the Christian, sanctification is realized in three ways. All believers are positionally sanctified when they first believe by virtue of being in Christ (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:10, 14).  That is, they are completely and permanently set apart from their sin and shame, and placed into the body of Christ. God totally accepts the believer at the moment of faith in Jesus regardless of how much or little they manifest His holiness.

Christians are personally or progressively sanctified as they allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives, and begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Luke 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 15:1-8; 17:17; Romans 6:12-23; 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 5:13-14; I Peter 1:15- 16; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18).  Therefore, obedience to the Word of God, while not necessary for obtaining everlasting life, is the essential responsibility of each Christian to grow in the Christian life (Romans 6:12-23; Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4). However, the Bible does not teach that this obedience will be manifested in all believers. If a believer does not yield to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his experience, failure will result, evidenced by sinful acts or even prolonged disobedience (1 Corinthians 3:1-15; 10:1-13; Galatians 5:16-21).

Christians will be ultimately sanctified when they become completely conformed to the image of Christ in His presence (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; I John 3:2-3; Jude 24- 25).  There will be no more sin in their words, thoughts, actions, or motives.

For example, the apostle Paul in writing to the church at Corinth, says, “To those who are sanctified (hagiazō) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (hagios).” (I Corinthians 1:2). Paul calls them “saints” which means, “set-apart ones” (I Corinthians 1:2). He was not referring to their behavior because they were acting very immature and disobedient (I Corinthians 1:11-6:20; 11:17-32; et al.). He was obviously talking about their identity or their position in Christ, which was sourced in their spiritual birth. Paul calls them “saints”(positional sanctification) in chapter 1 and then challenges them to act like the saints they really are (progressive sanctification) in the remaining chapters of the book.

When the Corinthians were committing sexual immorality with prostitutes he questions their knowledge about their new identity in Christ, not their salvation (I Corinthians 6:13-20). Paul describes believers’ future resurrection bodies which will be “raised in incorruption” and “put on incorruption” (ultimate sanctification) to encourage Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in the present (I Corinthians 15:42, 53). Because Christians will receive future resurrection bodies that no longer yield to sin, they are to abound in the work of the Lord now knowing He will reward them for their faithfulness in the future (I Corinthians 15:58; cf. 3:8-15; 9:24-27).

4. ETERNAL REWARDS AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST: The last book of the Bible (Revelation) provides an outline of future events (see picture) beginning with the current church age to the eternal state…

1. We are living in the Church Age which began at Pentecost (Acts2) and will end with the rapture or removal of the Church from the earth which could take place at any moment (John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4-5). Knowing that Christ could come for us at any moment motivates Christians to live faithfully for Him so they are prepared to face Him as their Judge.

2. Soon after the Church is taken in the Rapture, seven years of Tribulation begin on the earth.  This period begins when the Beast of Revelation makes a covenant with the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:26-27). This will be an awful time of death, disease, hunger, famine, earthquakes as never seen, warfare, entire seas turned to blood, darkness, scorching of the sun and multiple other judgments (Revelation 6-19). It will end when Jesus returns to earth with His Church and Christ will destroy His enemies (Revelation 17:12-14; Revelation 19:11-21). At that time, the Antichrist and False Prophet will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20) and the Devil will be bound for a 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-3).

3.  Then Jesus will reign as King over the entire earth for a thousand years from the city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14; Revelation 20:4-6). This period is called the Millennium which means “one thousand.”

4. At the end of the Millennium God will destroy the entire creation (2 Peter 3:10). Every person who did not believe or trust in Christ alone for the gift of salvation will stand before God as He sits on the Great White Throne to judge each unbeliever according to their works to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Satan will receive his final judgment in the Lake of Fire at this time.

5.  Then a New Heaven (Universe) and New Earth are created which are perfect and beautiful (Revelation 21-22). This will be the eternal home of believers in Jesus.

Knowing the future should motivate Christians to live for what is eternal and not what is temporary. Why? Because there is another Judgment. During the Tribulation, in heaven, Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ. While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21).  This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12). Every Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” things he has done since becoming a Christian. The word “bad” (kakon) means “worthless, wicked, and evil.”

Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient  motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Knowing that we can earn eternal rewards should motivate believers to live for Christ now. Christians can earn heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21) by giving a cup of cold water to God’s servant (Matthew 10:42), doing a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3- 4), praying in private (Matthew 6:6), and fasting in private (Matthew 6:17-18).

Christians who remain faithful in their service to Christ to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing special white garments (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).

Christians can also earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the appearing of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).

By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.

Knowing we have eternal life which can never be lost does not give Christians a license to sin or live like the devil. God did not save us to live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose from the dead on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15). We have looked at several motivations to live for Jesus untill we go to be with Him in heaven.

I will close with some thoughts from Dave Breese in Living for Eternity said, The child of God is a creature of eternal destiny. For him no day is without consequence, and no fleeting moment can be called incidental or unimportant. The hours he spends and the decisions he makes have implications that carry on into eternity. What he does today will matter a thousand years from today.” (Larry Moyer, Free And Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997], pg. 145).