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.