How can I ever change? Part 1

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” Genesis 32:24

What would you most like to change about yourself? If you could change one thing what would it be? Would you like to have more confidence? Be more relaxed? Organized? Perhaps you would like to be more outgoing, more self-controlled, more flexible, less anxious, less fearful or less controlling? One of the greatest tragedies is a person who is never willing to change. Change is a necessary part of the Christian life. If you are not changing, then you are not growing. We need to change in order to remain fresh and to keep moving forward in the Christian life. 

Most of us are interested in changing because we recognize there is always room for improvement. Many of us admit we want to change and try to change, but it doesn’t happen. We try to go on a diet, but it lasts an afternoon. We join health clubs and our excitement runs strong for a few weeks. Then we fall back into the same old rut. We go to seminars or counseling, but we keep falling back into old patterns of behavior. We want to be more positive and outgoing, and complain less, but it doesn’t work. The main reason is because we work on the exterior – our outside behavior – instead of working on the interior – our heart. Any lasting change must begin on the inside. Before we can make lasting changes to our behavior, we must first experience a change in our hearts. And this is a work of God!

During the next few days, Lord willing, we are going to look at a process that God uses in changing us – in making us more like Jesus Christ. God wants to change us and if you are a growing Christian, you will want to change as well. Turn with me to Genesis 32:24-30 where we will see how to change by looking at the life of Jacob, the father of Joseph. The incident in this passage was a turning point in Jacob’s life. It illustrates how God can change us as individuals.

Jacob was somewhat of a shifty guy. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-holder” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter”“one who takes the place of another by trickery.” (Genesis 27:1-29). His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, schemer.”    

But a wrestling match transformed Jacob into a new person (Genesis 32:24-30), and he became “Israel,” the man whom the entire nation of Israel would be named after. In this passage we see the process God uses to change us into the kind of people He wants us to become. It communicates to all of us that we don’t have to stay in the rut where we are: God will help us to change and overcome the weaknesses in our lives, if we will just let Him.

How do we let Him? After Jacob sent all his family and possessions across the river on the edge of the Promised Land (Genesis 32:22-23), Jacob had a wrestling match with an angel (Genesis 32:24-30). What does a wrestling match with an angel (Hosea 12:4) several thousand years ago have to do with changing you and me today? There are four steps in these verses that God uses to change us into the people He wants us to become.

First, we discover that GOD USES THE PROCESS OF A CRISIS (Genesis 32:24). We read, “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” (Genesis 32:24). An unidentified man assaulted Jacob, and he had to fight for his life. The “Man” was the Angel of the Lord. The Bible tells us,3 When he [Jacob] became a man, he even fought with God. 4 Yes, he wrestled with the Angel [of the Lord] and prevailed.” (Hosea 12:3-4 LB). Notice that God took the initiative in wrestling with Jacob, not vice versa. Why?

God was bringing Jacob to the end of himself. The fact that the match lasted till daybreak is significant. For the darkness symbolized Jacob’s situation. Fear and uncertainty seized him. If Jacob had perceived that he was to fight God, he would never have engaged in the fight, let alone have continued all night. On the other hand the fact that the wrestling lasted till daybreak suggests a long, decisive bout.” 1

Jacob had an all-night wrestling match with an angel, and the angel was really struggling, but it was a no-win situation for both of them. By dawn Jacob was getting tired of the struggle because he saw that he could not win. It was a situation beyond his control which was something Jacob was not used to. Jacob had been able to handle his problems using his own craftiness until now. Now Jacob is facing a crisis he cannot control with his scheming.

When God wants to change us, He begins by placing us in a frustrating situation that is totally beyond our control. We cannot win, and we just keep getting more and more tired. If we are in a crisis now, it may be because God is getting ready to change us for the better. We rarely change until we get uncomfortable and dissatisfied enough to let God do something in our lives.

The Bible tells us, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30 GNT). God loves us so much that He makes us uncomfortable if that is what it takes, to make us willing to change and grow. He will allow a crisis or problem in our lives to get our attention. He needs to do this because we won’t change until our fear of change is exceeded by the pain we are experiencing.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving us enough to allow us to face a crisis so we become willing to change and grow. We often don’t like the pain associated with it, but we realize that were it not for the pain, we would probably continue down the path of self-destruction. You understand us better than we do. You know that our fear of change must be exceeded by discomfort before we are open to change. Thank You our Lord and our God for pursuing us and giving us opportunities to grow. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 147.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 9

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ I Kings 19:15a, 18

Remember how Elijah felt in verse 14? “Lord, Your people don’t care about You and I’m the only one left who does. I’m the only one left standing for what is right! I’m the only one left trying to serve You and that’s very discouraging.” Do you ever feel like that? Alone, afraid, and angry?

Then God has to tell us what He told Elijah –15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ (I Kings 19:15a, 18). Circle the word “Go.” God is saying, “Get moving. Don’t sit in the cave of life feeling sorry for yourself. There is more to be done and I am doing things you don’t even know about that will encourage you and help you.”

This leads to our final step out of the pit of discouragement: GET MOVING, KNOWING WE DON’T HAVE THE WHOLE PICTURE (I Kings 19:15a, 18). We don’t have to have the whole picture to move out for God. God has a journey for us to take…a course for us to follow. He is inviting us to step out in faith, believing He is already at work behind the scenes to prepare the way for us.

Jesus Christ wants to lift us out of our pit of discouragement. He can help us; He can change us; He can heal us of discouragement. We don’t have to go through life being controlled by our emotions. Our emotions are controlled by our thoughts, and even though we cannot directly control our feelings, we can control what we think about with God’s help. We can choose to change our thoughts.

This is what Jesus is saying in John 8:31-32: “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. The Lord Jesus wants to change our false beliefs that can keep us enslaved to harmful habits, hurts, and hang-ups, including discouragement.

I’d like to share some lies that have contributed to discouragement in my life along with the truth that is setting me free from them:

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

Scripture: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

Lie: If somebody criticizes me, it means I’m worthless.

Truth: If somebody criticizes me, it is an opportunity for me to grow.

Scripture: “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

Lie: I  must be loved and accepted by everybody to be fulfilled in life.

Truth: It does not matter what other people say or think about me, what matters is that God always loves and accepts me.

Scripture:  “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’ ” Jeremiah 31:3

Lie: I cannot admit any area of weakness; I have to be perfect or else I’m a failure.

Truth: It is good enough to do my best for Jesus, and not be perfect.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Colossians 3:23

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Lie: I do not have what it takes.

Truth: Through Christ who strengthens me I do have what it takes.

Scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

These are the kinds of lies that cause discouragement. Jesus knew the importance of correct thinking when He said, “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). The more we “abide” or remain in Christ’s word, the more we will know the truth which can deliver us from the lies that can enslave us to discouragement.

You can change. How do you start? By beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t automatically cure all of your discouragement, but without Christ in your life you have no lasting power to change. He wants to be a part of your life, and if you will receive Him by faith, He will come into your life to help you start climbing out of the pit of discouragement.

To help us understand our need for Christ, we need to understand that the Bible makes it clear that all of us have sinned against God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our sin separates us from God Who alone is perfect and righteous. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). By sinning with our thoughts, words, and actions, we have earned death. The word “death” in the Bible means separation. This means we all deserve to die and be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). I think you will agree that is bad news.

“But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). Notice that eternal life is not through our religion, our good life, or prayers. Eternal life is “through Jesus our Lord.” God sent His Son Jesus to take our punishment on the cross and rise again so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Jesus alone (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be convinced that something is true and then trust or depend upon.

Jesus is inviting you to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life, not your good life or religion or prayers. If you are ready to believe or trust in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only trusting in Christ gets us to heaven. Praying this prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven now.

Prayer:  Dear God, I come to you as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to forgive all my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the forgiveness and everlasting life that I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through the Holy Spirit. And thank You for the assurance I now have a future home in heaven with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you trusted in Christ for everlasting life, the Bible says Jesus gave you everlasting life (John 3:16; 10:28). How long does eternal life last? 5 minutes? 5 years? 5 million years? Or forever? Eternal life is forever! It never ends. And it begins the moment you believe in Jesus. Christ now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11; Galatians 2:20). Jesus in you can enable you to say “No” to Satan’s lies and “Yes” to God’s truth as you learn to trust and obey His Word. He can empower you to climb out of the pit of discouragement and help others to do the same.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, I recommend downloading our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. This will help you grow in your relationship with Jesus and with those you love.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 1

21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’” John 21:21

Last time in John 21, we finished focusing on the feeding stage of discipleship where Peter began to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). The risen Lord Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection to reaffirm Peter’s leadership position as one of His apostles. After Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). After Peter did this, Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, and then he tells Peter to follow Him (21:18-19). Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. Jesus knew Peter was affectionately drawn to Him, but now Jesus tells Peter to be totally committed to following Him without any reservations. According to church tradition, Peter would ask for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. This is followed by the focusing stage found in John 20:20-22.

In the next scene Peter is walking along with Jesus away from the other disciples who had gathered for breakfast on the beach. “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ ” (John 21:20). Not wanting to miss any of Jesus’ teachings, John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” was following a short distance behind Jesus and Peter. John was already doing what Jesus commanded Peter to do – he was following the Lord Jesus. The relationship between Peter, John and Jesus is a most interesting dynamic. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (John 13:21-26). 

So, when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future crucifixion on the cross (John 21:18-19), Peter’s immediate reaction is what John could expect. “Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man? ‘ ” (John 21:21). Peter had just learned from Jesus that following Christ would cost him his life. Now he wondered what John could expect. “What about John, Lord? You are asking me to follow You unto death… What about him? Aren’t you going to give him the same responsibilities and perils as I?” It seems like Peter is comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus? “I always knew you liked John best, Lord, and he would have it better than me.”

Let me ask you this: Who is your John? Who is it that you present to the Lord and ask, “What about this person, Lord? Why does he or she have it so good when I have got it so bad? Their marriage is marvelous but mine is miserable. His ministry is soaring while mine is stalling. He gets all the attention, but nobody even notices me.” Or “It seems they never have any problems, but we are drowning in ours. It just isn’t fair!” we say. Do you struggle with this? You don’t like God’s will for your life, so you focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life – and on and on it goes, the games we play with the Lord.

From this we learn that the first way to follow Jesus without reservation is to AVOID COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHER FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST (JOHN 21:20-21). When Jesus instructs us to do something we are uncomfortable with, it is easy to avoid it by focusing on His will for someone else. This is what Peter was doing when he asked Jesus what John could expect. When we start comparing God’s will for us with His will for another Christian, we can easily start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Self-pity can quickly lead to failure to follow Jesus. Why? Because if we are using all our energy on self-pity, we will not have any energy left over to follow Christ. Self-pity takes all the energy that we have and more. It drains the energy right out of us. 

The great thing about Jesus is that He knows our future. He knew what Peter was going to face in his life as he followed the risen Lord Jesus. So, He told Peter about the difficulties he was going to face in advance (John 21:18-19). Although God has not told us specifically that we are going to be crucified in the future like He did with Peter, He has told us that we can expect “hatred” (John 15:18-19; 16:1-4) and “tribulation” (John 16:33) in the world. Following Christ includes pain and suffering. To think otherwise is unrealistic.

Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote when he was in prison for preaching Christ, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Suffering for Jesus’ sake is purposeful, not purposeless. God uses suffering in our lives for our good and for His glory. “As believers in Christ the Philippians could expect to suffer for Him as did Paul. Suffering for Christ matures a believer (James 1:2-4), and Christ will reward those who persevere through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17b).” 1

When Peter’s focus was directed toward Christ’s will for John, it reminds me of something significant about Peter. His problems always came when he got his eyes off Jesus. For example, when Peter and the other disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus walked on water to them, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-29). But when he took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves, he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:30). After Jesus predicted His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter gets his eyes off Jesus and onto the success the disciples are having (Matthew 16:21-22), so Jesus chastises him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Matthew 16:23). When he takes his eyes off Jesus and onto his fears, he denies Jesus three times in the courtyard (John 18:15, 25, 27). And then when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on another disciple, he is drawn away again (John 21:20-21). He is setting himself up for another failure.

Whenever we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are setting ourselves up for failure? Why? Because God doesn’t intend for us to be carbon copies. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. We are not in competition with anybody else. It can be tough for us as Christians to believe we are unique because there are two competing pressures in the world: 

First, the pressure of conforming in everything – peer pressures, advertising, pressures to conform to be alike. We are pressured to do what others do; to look like others look.

Then there is the pressure of comparing. In America, we have made comparing a science.  In this competitive environment, we compare everything – how we look, our clothes, our cars, our homes, our intelligence, our background, social and economic status – as if it really matters. You are unique and nobody can be like you so why compare?

The Bible says that since we are all unique, we should not compare ourselves. “Each person should judge his own actions and not compare himself with others. Then he can be proud for what he himself has done.” (Galatians 6:4 NCV). Don’t compare yourself to others; just be proud of what you have done by the grace of God.

Also, when we compare ourselves to others, there will always be someone worse off -which can lead us to become prideful. Or there will be someone better off – which can lead to discouragement. Either way, we become more vulnerable to failure.

None of us are responsible for another’s commitment to Christ, only our own. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said we must answer for anyone else except ourselves. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future to receive rewards from Jesus, each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). We won’t stand before Christ to give an account of other Christians. We will only speak for ourselves when Jesus asks us to tell Him what we did with what He gave us.

If you have never been tempted to look at another believer and focus on somebody else, you probably have not been a Christian more than ninety seconds. The truth is it is a temptation in all our lives. Jesus is reminding us to keep our eyes on Him, not on someone else. When our eyes are locked onto Christ, we will find unspeakable joy, peace, and life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must confess that all of us can fall into the comparison trap just like Peter did, especially when Your will for our lives is difficult for us to accept. It is easier to focus on Your will for another’s life when Your will for our lives is not what we want. Forgive us our Lord and our God, for focusing on Your will for others instead of Your will for us. Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It does not matter to us what other disciples do. It doesn’t matter to us what other Christian leaders do. We are not following them. We are following You. So, Jesus, tonight, we renew that simple commitment to follow You no matter what the cost. In Your matchless name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1081.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 2

10 Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ 11 Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:10-11

In John 19:4-42, the apostle John has recorded different pictures containing lasting lessons from the last day of Jesus’ life before the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb containing His dead body. John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. Last time we learned that like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

Today we discover that NO ONE HAS POWER IN THIS WORLD EXCEPT WHAT IS GIVEN TO THEM BY GOD (John 19:8-12). After Pilate affirmed Jesus’ innocence again before the crowd (John 19:6b), the Jews took a different approach to persuade him to put Jesus to death. The Jews told Pilate that they have a law that says Jesus ought to be put to death “because He made Himself the Son of God.’ ” (John 19:7).

John then informs us, “Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid.” (John 19:8). Although Pilate was not a religious man, like most Romans he was superstitious. Every Roman knew stories of gods or their offspring appearing in human form. Pilate was already afraid of losing control of the situation and now he feared he was involved in a trial against a god. 1

When Pilate learned that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.” (John 19:9). Pilate wants to find out if Jesus was a god. If Jesus was, Pilate did not want to mistreat Him. But Jesus had already alluded to His heavenly origin (John 18:36-37) and unbelieving Pilate would not have understood if He explained further, so He refused to answer, fulfilling yet another prophecy. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).

Pilate was agitated that Jesus ignored him and perhaps somewhat surprised that Jesus did not try to defend Himself, so he says to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” (John 19:10). Pilate reminds Jesus of his authority to put Jesus to death or to set Him free. But when someone insists on shouting, ‘Don’t you know that I’m in charge here?,’ it usually means he’s uncertain himself.” 2

But Jesus affirmed that His life was not in Pilate’s hands, but in the hands of God Himself. “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’ ” (John 19:11). Pilate’s power was delegated by God. “The authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1). All human rulership is determined by God (Daniel 4:17).

God grants authority and takes it away. Two important truths are wrapped up in Jesus’s statement. First, if a person exercises any authority on earth, ultimately that authority has been granted by God. So, will that authority be wielded for his kingdom purposes or not? How you answer that question has serious consequences because you will one day be called to give an account for your own use of authority. Second, remember to maintain a heavenly perspective: God is your ultimate authority. Anyone who seeks to rule over you illegitimately will not have the final say. He may be a boss, but he isn’t the boss.” 3

The phrase, “the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” probably refers to the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, not Judas or Satan. Although Pilate was accountable to God for his gross violation of justice in this civil trial, the one who delivered Jesus over to Pilate, Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-27:2; John 18:24), was guilty of a “greater sin” because he had the Hebrew Scriptures to point him to the truth of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah-God and yet he closed his eyes to the truth. This is consistent with what Jesus taught about greater privilege means greater accountability (cf. Matthew 11:20-24). “The greater the knowledge of God’s revelation, the greater the accountability for those who reject it.” 4

There is a significant application for Christians in this verse. For those of us who know what is right and disobey there is greater accountability than for those who disobey out of ignorance. Believers who have been privileged to read and study God’s Word will be evaluated in light of this revelation given to them. This presents a challenge to Christian leaders to pursue God’s holy calling in their lives. 5

“From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.’ ” (John 19:12). Since Jesus affirmed that He had come from God, Pilate kept trying to “release Him.” But the Jews squelched Pilate’s attempts to release Christ when they pitted Pilate against the Roman Emperor. If Pilate did not consent to their wishes to have Jesus crucified, they would accuse him of treason. Tiberias, the Roman Emperor, was suspicious and prone to violence. Pilate did not want to risk his political career or even his life for a Galilean rabbi.

This is an incredible scene! Jesus is standing alone with Pilate, His back torn open from the flogging, wearing a purple robe soaked in blood, and a crown of thorns pushed into his scalp causing blood to flow down His face. The bloodthirsty crowd is against Him.  The entire Roman government is behind Pilate and all the power that comes with it.  Pilate says to Jesus, “Why don’t You answer me? I’ve got the power in this situation to crucify You or to set You free. Talk to me.” Jesus looks Pilate right in the eye and says to him, “You are mistaken. You do not have the power or the authority. God has the power and authority to determine what happens here.”

This confrontation teaches us something we need everyday in our lives. This is a perspective you need to discover or rediscover in life. No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God. Do you believe this? Nobody has the power or authority in this world except what is given to them by God. Your employer at work who might be trying a power play on you right now. They don’t have any power over you except what was given to them by God. They may recognize that, they may not recognize it. But it is true. No human government has power except what power is given to them by God. He can give power in an instant and He can take it away in an instant. We have seen that happen several times in the last year in America. When you get a letter from the IRS, remember that the only power they possess over you is what God has given to them – nothing more and nothing less. 7

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking as long as circumstances are happening the way we want them to happen, then God must be in control. But when humanity’s temptations and sins seem to be in control, we think God has stepped off His throne. That is not true! For His own purposes God allows evil to reign and people to make sinful choices. This is especially true on this day in Jesus’ life. Christ had to face illegal trials and court proceedings, false accusations, and a gross violation of justice all for a greater cause – the salvation of the world.  

Listen to what the apostle Peter said of Jesus’ sufferings and death. 22 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” (Acts 2:22-23). When Jesus was lawlessly and unjustly delivered up to be crucified it was “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” God’s sovereign plan and purpose included the use of evil and “lawless” men to deliver up His Son to be crucified. But notice that it was Jesus “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:34). God was in control of the last day of Jesus’ life before the cross and He is in control of our lives as well to accomplish His plan and purposes.

We will never face a situation where God is not in control. That is what Jesus is telling us here. It is our responsibility to remember that God is in control of life. Jesus understood this. He was able to humbly and graciously face His accusers and enemies (I Peter 2:21-23a) because “He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Peter 2:23b). He did this asan example, that you should follow His steps.” (I Peter 2:21b).

You may be facing some very stressful circumstances right now. Things may seem out of control to you. You may have concluded that God has stepped off His throne because it seems as though your world is spiraling out of control. Would you go with me to God’s throne of grace right now? He understands what you are going through and how you feel (Hebrews 4:15). He still occupies His throne and He wants to give you the mercy and grace you need right now to rest in His love (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer: Precious Father in heaven, we are amazed at the majesty of Jesus Christ before His accusers and the one whom You gave the power to crucify Him or release Him. We are so grateful that Jesus understood You were in control of everything that led up to His death on a cross for our sins. Lord God, as we face difficult circumstances in life, please renew our minds with this truth that You are the One who gives power to those in positions of authority over us. Even though they may make evil decisions which cause pain to us and to those we love and care about, You are still in control and are in the process of fulfilling Your plan and purpose through these difficult situations. Please enable us to continue to love and serve You no matter what we face. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 339-340.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1822.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., pg. 1515.

5. Laney, pg. 340.

6. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1823.

7. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 3

“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage.Thus far we have learned we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

We can also face challenges with courage when we RECOGNIZE THAT JESUS IS IN CONTROL (John 16:28-30). Christ said to His believing disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28). Jesus plainly declares His heavenly origin (“I came forth from the Father”), His humiliation (“and have come into the world”), and His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation (Again, I leave the world and go to the Father”). He has come from heaven to earth and is going back again to heaven. Jesus’ departure will not change the fact of His incarnation and its continuing results. This is underscored with the use of the perfect tense verb (elēlytha) translated “have come,” which means that Christ came to earth as the God-Man in the past and He continues to this day to be the God-Man. 2

“His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!’ ” (John 16:29). Now the disciples thought Jesus had “plainly” answered their questions about where He was going. “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” (John 16:30). Jesus’ knowledge of the future, especially regarding His return to heaven, convinced them that He knew “all things.” They had full confidence in Christ. When they said Jesus had “no need that anyone should question” Him they were referring to His supernatural insight into their hearts which enabled Him to answer their questions before they even asked Him. His complete knowledge reconfirmed their faith in Him as having come “forth from God.”

Jesus’ infinite wisdom assures us that He has a complete grasp of the difficulties we face so we can rest assured that He will never fail us. Knowing He is in control of our future – that everything happens according to His plan – can increase our courage. The more you believe Christ is in control, the more courage you will have.

God allows difficulties in our lives to teach us that He is in control and that nothing is impossible with Him. Have you ever met people you think even God cannot change? That person you think will never become a Christian? Bring him or her to God in prayer and God can melt that heart of stone. We can lose our courage because we have lost sight of how big our God is. God knows everything. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He invites us to trust Him even when we face major challenges. And as we do, He can supply us with the courage we need to rise above our feelings and circumstances to make Him known to a lost world.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You demonstrated Your omniscience by alerting Your disciples to Your return to the Father. Your supernatural knowledge of the future and the disciples’ questioning hearts reassured them of Your identity as God and that You are in control. Knowing that You are in control of our future and that everything happens according to Your plan and purpose, increases our confidence in You. The more we believe You are in control, the more courage we will have to face these challenging times. Lord, You know the people in our lives who seem so difficult to reach with the gospel. Their hearts seem so hardened. Thank You for reminding us that no problem or person is beyond Your life-changing touch. Please use us as You deem best to share Your life-giving gospel message with all who will listen. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 671.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 296.

3. Ibid.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 5

“But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” John 16:4

As we draw closer to the time of Christ’s return for His church, we are seeing an increase in the world’s hostility toward Christians. We are learning from Jesus’instructions to His eleven believing disciples how we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world. So far we have discovered we can be effective witnesses when we…

– Realize that we will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19).

– Recall what Jesus has already taught us (John 15:20).

– Recognize that the world is not opposed to us personally, but to our relationship with Christ (John 15:21-25).

– Remain in vital contact with Christ through the Holy Spirit (John 15:26-27).        

The fifth and final way is to REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS STILL IN CONTROL (John 16:1-4). Christ said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.” (John 16:1). This message about the hatred of the world was not meant to discourage Jesus’ disciples or dissuade them from the ministry. He told them what to expect from the world so they “should not be made to stumble” or fall away from their Christian faith. The word picture here is of someone stumbling over an unexpected obstacle. 1  Jesus was warning His disciples (and us) of the obstacles ahead so they would not be taken by surprise and overcome by worldly opposition. We do a disservice by telling people that discipleship is easy. Jesus never taught that, and neither should we. He said discipleship is costly (cf. Luke 14:26-33). It will be difficult. How difficult would it be for them (and us)?

He describes specific ways that the world will hate them. “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” (John 16:2). When Jesus says, “They will put you out of the synagogues,” He is saying they will lose every privilege they had as a citizen of Israel. They would be excluded from using the temple for worship. They would be excluded from the society in which they had moved. They would lose the privilege of employment in their nation. They would be deprived of schools to which they could send their children. In effect, they would be reduced to poverty. Some would even be killed, and their killers would think they were providing a faithful “service” to God. According to church tradition, all the apostles were martyred for their faith except for John. 2

Christ is not talking about persecution by the secular government here. He is speaking of persecution by religious zealots. No persecution is more bitter than when done by religious enthusiasts like the Spanish Inquisition, set up in 1478. It sought to eliminate heretics and killed up to 5,000 people. 3

From 1095-1492, violent crusades against Muslims took place in Europe, Asia, and Palestine along with severe persecution by the Roman Church of those who differed with it. The Roman Inquisition, 1542-1858, originally sought to deal with the spread of Protestantism. Those who differed with the Roman Church were tortured until they confessed and recanted. If they did not confess and recant, they would lose their property, freedom, or be burned at the stake. 5

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) reorganized in 1915 and in addition to hating blacks, it hated Catholics, Jews, and  it opposed Jews, blacks, Catholics, and newly arriving Southern and Eastern European immigrants, many of whom were Jewish or Catholic. The Klan claimed to be explicitly Protestant. Although it appropriated some Christian teaching, hymns, and symbols, it was widely denounced by Christian denominations. 6  

It is important to understand that the persecutors mentioned above do not represent biblical Christianity. Just because someone says they are a Christian or does something in the name of Jesus does not mean they are genuine believers in Jesus.

The Bible emphasizes that eternal life is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). A person does not receive eternal life by living a good life, keeping God’s commandments, going to church, praying every day, being baptized with water, or hating their enemies. The Bible tells us that a person must come to God as a sinner (Romans 3:23), realizing that Christ died for all his sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6), and then believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 3:36; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:3-6). The moment a person trusts in Christ alone to give them everlasting life, God not only gives him or her the free gift He paid for when He died on the cross – eternal life – He also comes to live inside of that person through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; 3:2) to give them the power to live a life that pleases Him.

Many people who claim to be Christians do not understand this simple gospel message. Instead of trusting in Christ alone to get them to heaven, they are trusting in their good works or in Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, and therefore, they do not have God’s power in them to live a life that pleases Him. Many non-Christians use their religion to try to cover up their sins. So it is important to understand that not all people who say they are Christians have God’s power in them to live a different life because they are not trusting in Christ alone to save them and give them everlasting life. Instead, they are depending on their good works or religious efforts to get them to heaven, instead of on Christ and His finished work on the cross alone. 

Modern day examples of persecution by misguided zealots include militant Muslims persecuting innocent Christians in the Middle East and Africa, and militant Hindus attacking Christians in India, etc. Since the time of Christ, the most severe persecution of Christians has come from religious enthusiasts who think they are serving their god or gods.

Next Christ said to His disciples, “And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” (John 16:3). The reason the world will persecute Jesus’ followers is because it is spiritually ignorant of God the Father and God the Son. Opposition to God’s messengers really meant opposition to God Himself.

Jesus then said, “But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 16:4). Jesus warned His disciples about this coming persecution to strengthen their faith. Even on the night before His crucifixion, He is concerned for these men and their future. Jesus’ knowledge about their future would give them more confidence in His ability to control events. Christ did not tell His disciples “these things” about their coming persecution “at the beginning” of His ministry when He was with them, because He was the object of attack from the world at that time. But now that He is leaving them to go be with His Father in heaven, He forewarns them. They would know He was in control when trials would come because He had said they would.

We see in the book of Acts that Jesus’ words emboldened the apostles to continue preaching Christ in the midst of persecution. For example, when the apostles disobeyed the Sanhedrin’s order to stop preaching Jesus, they were beaten and commanded once again to speak no more in Jesus’ name. Luke reports, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). They were not taken by surprise when the Sanhedrin opposed them because Jesus forewarned them of this. Jesus really is in control.

Do you think Jesus’ control over us is total or partial? Listen to Daniel 4:35: “He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ” Accept it or not, God is in total control. He is running the show. Either He is in full control or He is off the throne. It is as foolish to say He is “almost” in control as it would be to say I am “almost” married or Trump is “almost” President, or the surgeon’s gloves are “almost” sterile. God is totally in control. The more we believe this, the more confidence we will have to be an effective witness for Christ in a hostile world.

Jesus wanted His disciples and us to be prepared for what is coming. We should not be overtaken by surprise when we experience some form of rejection or censure for our Christian beliefs and standards because Christ forewarned us of such opposition. This hostility can come from family, friends, employers, customers, coworkers, the government, and especially from religious zealots. As Paul warned Timothy, “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). But the Holy Spirit is always available to empower us in our time of need (John 15:26-27). 7

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are an amazing God! Thank You for warning me about the hostility of the world so that when I do experience it, I can be encouraged to know that You are in control and I can trust You to accomplish Your purposes in my life. Please embolden me to share Your gospel message unashamedly with this broken and hostile world. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit Who can empower me to face this opposition with grace and truth. I surrender everyone and everything to You, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1 J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 285.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 453.

3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition.

4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades.

5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Inquisition.

6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan.

7.  Adapted from Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1809.

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/.

The Providence of God or the Plots of Man? Part 1

“What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” John 11:47b-48

Life can take a turn for the worse very quickly. On the eve of Tuesday, May 23, 2017, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern region of the Philippines called Mindanao due to the fighting in Marawi City of Lanao Del Sur Province between the Philippines military and the Maute terrorist group. More recently, COVID-19 caused you to lose your job and health. The police show up at your door to tell you your son was killed by a drunk driver. Your spouse informs you he or she does not love you any longer and is filing for divorce. The doctor’s office calls you with bad news. We may wonder, “Are we merely the victims of fate? Is there any purpose for the events which are taking place in our lives? Or is this because of the sinfulness of man?”

The Bible tells us, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). This verse alludes to the plans of people and the providence of God. The providence of God is that “work of God by which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that transpires in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.” 1  Sometimes God guides the ways of men outside their consciousness of that guidance (cf. Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 10:5). He exercises control over things that seem accidental or insignificant (Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:30). Although people make their plans, the Lord determines how those plans will unfold (cf. Proverbs 16:9; 19:21; 20:24).

Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead in front of many Jews who had come from Jerusalem to console the family of Lazarus (John 11:28-44). Christ had claimed to be “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25-26). He had claimed to have the power over life and death, and now He had just backed up that claim by raising Lazarus from the dead. We will now look at the conflict over this miracle to discover how the providence of God and the plans of people work together for God’s glory. We will focus on four principles:

1. RECOGNIZE THAT PLANS TO OPPOSE CHRIST CAN ARISE FROM FEAR AND JEALOUSY (John 11:45-48) over those responding to Him in faith. “Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.” (John 11:45). Throughout John 11 the emphasis has been on Martha and it is curious that the Jews are said to have come to the less prominent sister, Mary. There may have been more concern for Mary who was weeping than for Martha who was actively seeking Jesus. Mary seems to have been expressing more grief and therefore, had a greater need for consolation. These “Jews”beheld the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus and they believed in Christ for eternal life. They didn’t need an instant replay. They saw enough evidence to persuade them that Jesus was the Messiah-God who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Him (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31).

While most of the people believed in Christ, some did not. “But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.” (John 11:46).Some of these Jews were skeptical, so they went to the Pharisees who were enemies of Jesus to tell them what Christ had done. Their motive was not to win them over, but to oppose Christ. “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs.’ ” (John 11:47). The report of this miracle came to the attention of the “chief priests”(Sadducees) and the “Pharisees.” These two groups called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members, including the presiding high priest. They could be called the Jewish Supreme Court of Palestine at that time.

The Pharisees were anti-Roman, and they loved to foster among the Israelis a dislike for the foreigner and a devotion to the hopes and ideals proper to the people of God; but they could only fear and oppose a movement that might end in allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah. The Sadducees were tolerant of Rome and they feared and obeyed her. And they dreaded nothing more than a revolt that would stir her wrath. So these two ancient rivals were united by a common hate for Jesus Christ. They met to plot against Jesus so that they could destroy Him.

From this point on, the Sadducees take the lead in opposing Jesus. “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs?” “He is active, and we are idle.” They admit the miracles are taking place, but they decide to oppose Christ instead of believe in Him. Their minds are already made up despite the evidence supporting that Jesus is the Messiah-God. “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” (John 11:48). They were fearful that if they don’t stop Jesus and He keeps on raising the dead so close to Jerusalem, then “everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place” of leadership in the temple and “our nation.” As Jesus’ popularity grows, the Romans would fear a revolution and intervene by seizing complete authority, thus destroying their Jewish government and their national identity.

The Sanhedrin misunderstood Jesus. They were typical politicians. Their personal power came before their country. They failed to recognize Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies. They failed to recognize their need for deliverance by Christ. Christ had shown no political ambitions. He had already shown this by His refusal to be made King after He fed the five thousand (John 6:15). He had no intention of organizing a revolt against Rome. But the Sanhedrin perceived Christ to be a threat. They wanted Him dead so they could get their followers back. Jesus attracted many followers because of the healing grace He offered to them. People were oppressed by the spiritual demands of the religious leaders, so they came to Jesus for healing. The Sanhedrin despised Christ and His popularity because they were losing control over the people.

If you are loyal to Jesus, people may hate Him and you for that. Legalists will especially oppose the Lord’s work in your life, and they will resent the Lord because He is in control instead of them. As you grow in your commitment to follow Christ, your family and friends may hate you and the Lord because Jesus is first in your life instead of them. They may be afraid of losing you and their influence in your life. Try not to take their opposition personally. They misunderstand who Jesus is and how He can make their lives and yours better.

Prayer: Lord Jesus,thank You for showing me why people may oppose Your work in my life. They are mostly afraid of losing me or their influence in my life. They either love me and want the best for me or they are thinking only of themselves and want to have control over me. But what either of these groups don’t realize is that You can do far more for me than any mortal human being. Thank You Lord Jesus for giving me life everlasting and a hope that never ends!!! Please use Your relationship with me to draw the people in my life to Yourself. Help me not to take their opposition to You personally, but to see that they want to help me the best way they know how, even though it often is not helpful. You are the best, my Lord and my God. Thank You for loving me and saving me. In Your hope-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine, 2nd Ed. (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Christian Liberty Press, 2003), pg. 42.