Remaining confident when facing extreme chaos

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

When we returned to the USA from southeast Asia in February 2020, we were blindsided by “the deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse…  a society-wide reckoning over racism,” followed by “an election in which voter suppression, foreign interference, online disinformation and a bitterly contested supreme court vacancy” all offered a recipe for chaos. 1

Christians are facing challenging times. Jordan Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Executive Director writes in a recent email, “our freedoms to worship and pray and live our faith out loud are under attack, especially under a new Administration and an increasingly hostile radical Left.

“From our workplaces to our taxpayer-funded public schools, our military, and now inside our houses of worship – as government officials banned churches from singing during the pandemic – our constitutionally protected rights as believers are being challenged…

“Internationally, Christians are being persecuted at an alarming rate. Churches are being shuttered. Believers are being harassed. Pastors are being arrested and imprisoned…” 2

In another recent email, Jay Sekulow states, “President Biden is emboldening and empowering the Biden Deep State. It’s becoming more dangerous.

“… From national security leaks and cover-ups to major corruption, we’ve been cautioning you just how bad it was going to get.

“Withholding information on a Chinese communist spy’s connection to a senior far-Left Member of Congress, hiding terrorists crossing our southern border, funding abortion experimentation, covering up Biden’s Press Secretary’s ‘shut . . . down’ email on the Obama-Biden Iran deal lie – which we just unearthed in federal court – and deleting details about Palestinian terror from a congressionally mandated report.” 3

With corruption and chaos increasing in our country and world, where do we turn to renew our confidence? Where do we look to renew our sense of hope and strength?

I believe we would be wise to turn to a prophetic promise found in the book of Isaiah. When the prophet, Isaiah, wrote Isaiah 41, his readers were not yet in captivity in Babylon. But he addresses questions that his readers would have about this coming captivity. Could God deliver them? Would God save them from the coming disaster? God reminds His people in chapter 41 that because He is a great and gracious God Who will deliver His people from disaster, they can still trust in Him.

The Lord, through His prophet, Isaiah, assured the fearful nation of Israel that it did not need to fear the nations of the world (Isaiah 41:1-7) because God remained committed to His people and would use them to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 41:8-20). What really caught my attention in this section was verse 10 where the Lord says to His people, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). This verse is filled with encouragement for us during these chaotic and uncertain times.

“Fear not, for I am with you” – We are often afraid when we perceive ourselves to be alone amid chaotic times. As we deal with the effects of COVID, an increase in corruption, and unrest in our society, we may think we are all alone with our fears. But God assures us that there is no need to fear because HE IS WITH US. God’s presence in our lives replaces our fears with His peace. Because no one and nothing is greater than our God, we can be free of fear even when life seems to be out of control.

“Be not dismayed, for I am your God” – God says not to be dismayed or discouraged because He is our God. As Christians, we are not immune to trials and difficulties (cf. John 16:33). We can experience confusion as we face major challenges. We don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. You may lose your job or your health. A loved one may die. You may be falsely accused of wrongdoing. When faced with confusing situations, God says not to “be dismayed.” Why? Because He is our God! The God Who created the universe with His spoken Word is in charge (Genesis 1). Nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:17). God does not always give us answers to our “Why” questions. Instead, He gives us something much better. He gives us Himself.

“I will strengthen you” – Do we feel our strength slipping away during these chaotic times? WE may feel as though we cannot hold on much longer. When we are weak, we are more susceptible to fear and discouragement. Don’t give up. Give in to God. He says to us, “I will strengthen you.” It is God who strengthens us to face each day. When we don’t have the energy needed to live above our circumstances and insecurities, God does. He invites us to wait upon Him to renew our strength (cf. Isaiah 40:31). He is there for us.

“Yes, I will help you” – Have we been let down by others? Are we the recipient of broken promises from those who said they would be there for us? God says to us, “I will help you.” He does not say, “I might help you.” Nor does He say, “I will try to help you.” He says, “I WILL help you.” This help from God is an absolute certainty! Our confidence does not need to be shaken when we see society collapsing around us because God has not changed. He still helps us amidst the chaos and social unrest.

“I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” – Are we growing weary listening to our society call wrong right and right wrong? Do we sometimes feel like we are drowning under an avalanche of change? Does it seem like we have been treading water for months and we can no longer stay afloat? God wants us to know that there is no way He is going to let us drown. He guarantees to “uphold” or support us with His “righteous right hand” that does what is right when others constantly do wrong. The same fingers that placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky (Psalm 8:3) will not let go of us. Our confidence can remain strong when we face chaos because God’s grip on us remains firm (John 10:28-29).

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, thank You for encouraging us with Your unchanging promises. We don’t like to admit it, but our faith can easily be overrun with many fears especially when we take our eyes off You and focus on the chaos all around us. When we feel overwhelmed with loneliness and fear, please redirect us to the fact that You are with us. Nothing and no one can separate us from Your love. When our lives are filled with confusion and unanswered questions, You don’t always give us answers. You give us something much better. You give us Yourself. Thank You for the strength Your presence gives us as we face our fears and insecurities. When others break their promises to us, You keep Yours. We can always count on You to deliver on what You have said. We appreciate the constant support You give to us. Your righteous right hand continues to do what is right when others constantly do what is wrong. Thank You for the never-ending strength and support that You give to us. Our confidence can remain unshaken because Your grip on us remains firm. In the mighty name of Jesus, we praise You and thank You. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David Smith’s article “Recipe for chaos: 2020 election threatens to snap a US already pushed to the limit,” The Guardian, September 27, 2020.

2. Jordan Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director in an ACLJ July 14, 2021, email update.

3. Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel in an ACLJ July 12, 2021, email update.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 5

“Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” John 21:9

When Jesus appeared for the fourth time after His resurrection in the gospel of John, He reminds us of several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

Now we are ready for the fifth lesson from Jesus. After Christ miraculously enabled His seven disciples to catch more fish than they could haul into their boat, John identifies that this Stranger is Jesus and then Peter eagerly dives into the sea to swim over to Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:6-7). When the other disciples arrived on the shore with a net full of fish (John 21:8), John writes, “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” (John 21:9). The disciples discovered that the Creator of the universe had fixed them breakfast on the beach. This must have smelled great to these tired and hungry fishermen who had been fishing all night.

John included an interesting detail in this verse that can easily be missed. The Greek word that is translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used two times in John’s gospel: here and in John 18:18 when Peter was in the courtyard warming himself around the fire and he denied knowing Jesus three times. The risen Lord Jesus was reminding Peter of his recent past. We can be sure of this because of the conversation Jesus will have with Peter in John 21:15-17. Peter would never forget this life-changing meal as he would even mention it in his preaching (see Acts 10:41). 1

What was going on here? If Peter was going to get over his past failures he needed to face the truth about himself. He had to stop hiding in his fishing expeditions and face up to what he had done earlier.

Peter isn’t the only one in the Bible who tried to hide from his failures. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, hid behind fig leaves after they sinned against God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-10).

You and I can be a lot like Peter, and the first man and woman. We can easily go into hiding after we have failed our Lord. And we can hide in so many ways. We may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion.

Recently I read a true story about a man who shoved his way to the head of the ticket line at the airport after his flight had been canceled. “I have to get on the next flight, and it has to be first class,” he bellowed to the agent. “I’ll be happy to help you, sir,” she replied, “as soon as I serve these folks in front of you.” The passenger was irate. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he shouted at her. Without replying, the agent picked up the airport intercom and announced to the whole terminal, “May I have your attention, please. We have a passenger who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone can help him reclaim his identity, please see the agent at gate six.” 2

Most of us probably would not do something as selfish as that man did in a public setting, but we have probably thought about it under similar circumstances. Like that man, we have demanded our own way in a more indirect manner while hiding from God’s work in our lives. But the amazing thing is that our risen Lord, unlike that ticket agent, lets us get away with it at least for now. But the day is coming when we will all stand before Him, unable to hide anything from Him (I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 4:12-13). But God does not force us to stand openly before Him now.

As a result, some of us have been hiding areas of our lives for a long time, and that is what causes bondage. Hell always grow stronger when there is secrecy. Some of us carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame; others of us hide behind the fig leaves of anger, or our business or careers or even our ministries.

No matter how long we have been hiding, sooner or later, we are going to have to trust the Lord and admit the truth about ourselves. This is what Peter needed to do and Jesus built this fire of coals to help him do just that. As Peter stood before the fire where his risen Lord had cooked him breakfast, he was remembering his greatest failure of his life. Now Peter had many failures, but none were as great as when he denied knowing his Lord, especially after vowing to be faithful to Him even unto death (cf. John 13:37; 18:17-18, 25-27).

At some point all of us have had such a failure. And it seems unforgivable. Peter remembered standing before the fire and not just once, but three times – openly and blatantly – he denied the One Who loved him more than anyone else ever had or ever would.

Have you ever done that? We end up denying our risen Lord Jesus Who loves us more than anyone else. We end up betraying our best Friend by doing the very thing we vowed never to do.

Yet what does Jesus do? He cooks breakfast which included “fish” and “bread.” Why did He choose those foods? Just as the “fire of coals” would remind Peter of his past failure, so too the “fish” and “bread” would remind these seven disciples of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13). Notice that He had already provided fish for them, in addition to cooking it for them – flame-broiled – even before the disciples got out of their boat and hauled the fish they had caught to shore. Before His crucifixion, Jesus had served His disciples by washing their dirty feet (John 13:1-17). Now He continues to serve them as their risen Lord by providing them with a warm fire and a delicious breakfast.

Both the fire of coals, and the fish and bread would be reminders of Jesus’ faithfulness to His disciples. Christ faithfully predicted Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38) and he did around the coals of fire (John 18:17-18, 25-27). This would assure the disciples that Jesus would be faithful to fulfill other predictions such as His promises about preparing a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27). Jesus was also faithful to supernaturally feed over five thousand people with fish and bread (John 6:1-13), and He would continue to faithfully provide for His followers in the future. Perhaps the disciples feared that the Lord’s death would bring an end to His care for them. But this breakfast was a timely reminder He would continue to faithfully provide for all their needs.

This leads us to our fifth lesson: OUR RISEN LORD JESUS GIVES US REMINDERS OF HIS FAITHFULNESS TO CARE FOR US (John 21:9). In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to observe different festivals to celebrate His provision for the nation in various ways (cf. Leviticus 23). 4 Each time God’s people observed these festivals, they would be reminded of God’s provision in the past so they may continue to trust Him to provide for them in the future.

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself established the Lord’s Supper to be observed in remembrance of Him, His death and shedding of blood for our sins (Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30; I Corinthians 11:23-26). Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, it helps us to think and thank God for His great grace toward us through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9).

I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 where He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). When we see the “birds of the air” we are reminded of how our heavenly Father takes care of them. Have you ever seen a bird get an ulcer from worrying? They don’t get anxious about their next meal because our “heavenly Father feeds them.” And since we are far more valuable to our Father in heaven than a bird, how much more will He take care of you and me!?!

Jesus also said, 28So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30). Flowers don’t worry about looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation. If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t He do much more for you and me? You and I are much more valuable to Jesus than a bird or a flower, so there is no need for us to worry about Him taking care of our needs.

As you read this article you may be realizing that you needed these reminders from the risen Lord Jesus. We are prone to forget what is most important in life. Jesus knows this and He addresses it with daily reminders of His faithfulness to provide for all our needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Peter, we can hide from our past failures in a variety of ways. And like Adam and Eve who hid behind fig leaves after they sinned, we may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion. Thank You for reminding us of our past unresolved failures so we can face them and bring them to You and be restored. Lord Jesus, we can be so prone to worry about many things, especially our unmet needs. Thank You for the many reminders You give us each day that tell us we are important to You and that You will be faithful to take care of all our needs. Please renew our trust in You to do what You promise. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

2. Ed Kittrell, Funny Business (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Publishing House, October 1977), pg. 6.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.

4. Evans, pg. 294.

5. Ibid., pg. 1501.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 2

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ ” John 21:5

We are learning some valuable lessons from the risen Lord Jesus Christ in John 21:1-14. Yesterday we learned that failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3). While waiting for Jesus to meet them in Galilee, Peter and six other disciples decided to go fishing as they waited. John tells us that they fished all night and “caught nothing” (John 21:3b). God uses our failures and discouragement to accomplish His purpose in our lives. Jesus used the disciples’ failure to catch fish during their all-night expedition to prepare them for what He was going to do next.

We then read, But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4). The dawn had now come when Jesus appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. John notes that, like Mary Magdalene (John 20:14), the disciples did not realize it was Jesus at first perhaps because they were preoccupied with their failure to catch any fish or they could not see Him clearly because of the distance between them or the morning mist hanging over the water.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ “ (John 21:5). Jesus addresses the disciples as “children” (paidia) which refers to those who are treasured in the way a parent treasures a child. This is an affectionate fatherly term toward spiritual children (cf. I John 2:13, 18; 3:7). Like a loving father, Jesus was very fond of His disciples and He wants to bless them. So He asks them, “Have you any food?” The form of Jesus’ question in the Greek text assumes a negative answer; Christ expected, based on the fact that He knew, that they had not caught any fish. Why does Jesus ask them a question to which He already knew the answer? Most likely He did this to elicit a confession of failure from them so they would see their own inadequacy and their need for Jesus’ help. 2

Since the disciples did not realize this was Jesus yet, they may have thought His question was from someone who wanted to buy some fish. Jesus’ question serves to heighten the disciples’ frustration and sense of need before the miracle occurs.” 3  We can sense the disciples’ discouragement and mild embarrassment in their “No” answer. Unsuccessful fishermen never like to be asked this kind of question.

We learn from this exchange that SUCCESS IN OUR RISEN LORD’S EYES IS NOT IN TRYING HARDER (John 21:4-5).  The disciples had been casting their nets again and again all night long. They are thinking the way a lot of us think: “I am going to keep trying the same thing until it works. I am deeply committed to this. I know if I try hard enough and I try long enough eventually I am going to be successful.” Isn’t that the American way? Isn’t that how most of us feel in America? We may get some limited, tiny success that way. 

But there is a big problem with this approach. What if we are trying hard at the wrong thing? What if we are using all our energy and all our efforts to do the wrong thing? No matter how successful we are, there is no lasting joy in it. The secret is not trying harder. We could be working for the wrong thing or for the wrong motive. I think a lot of times we think there are only two options of something we really want in life. We think it is either option number one, “Try Harder,” or option number two, “Give Up.”

Some of us have been trying so hard at some things in life that it is wearing us out. We may be trying hard to get a job or to get married. We may be trying hard to get people to like us. We may be trying hard to make a difference in our spouse’s life or in our children’s lives. Perhaps some of us are trying to overcome a bad habit or a past hurt without success. We may be trying hard to grow in our spiritual lives. We are trying to pray more and read the Bible more and go to church more often. But the harder we try the worse it gets.

Then we suddenly realize Jesus is patiently standing on the shore asking us, “How is that working for you, My child?” We hang our heads down and reluctantly say to our risen Lord, “Not so well.” Jesus permits us to try hard for a season. He lets us come to the end of ourselves so we are more prepared to listen to His advice.

God has given us a special gift that makes us open to change. It is called pain. The Lord will let our pain increase until it exceeds our resistance to change. We call this “hitting bottom.” When we hit bottom we are ready to listen to what our risen Lord has to say to us. Next time, Lord willing, we will discover a better option for success that has nothing to do with “trying harder” or “giving up.” 

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, many of us have been up all night casting our nets again and again and again without anything to show for it. We think that the key to success is trying harder. We have been working hard to overcome our habits, hurts, and hang ups. We are doing everything we can to get people to like us. We are striving to grow spiritually by praying more, reading the Bible more, or going to a place of worship more often. And it seems that the harder we try, the worse things get. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for asking us how this “trying harder” option is working. You already know the answer, but we need to discover it for ourselves. We need to come clean with You and admit that our way does not work. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for caring enough to ask us this question. Thank You for showing us our need for You. We are ready to receive Your advice now, Lord. We are listening. In Your gracious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 749.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 389.

3. 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. 567.

4. Constable, pg. 389.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 1

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” John 21:3

We are now in the last chapter of the gospel of John. In the first half of this chapter we are going to learn how to relate to the risen Lord Jesus in our daily lives. The disciples are in a much different place than the upper room when they were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19-29). This chapter begins with the disciples back in Galilee. Jesus had commanded the disciples through the women to leave Jerusalem for Galilee where He promised to appear to them (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28; 16:7). While waiting for Jesus to come to them, the disciples decided to return to their previous employment.

The apostle John 1 writes, “After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself.” (John 21:1). This is the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus in John’s gospel. “The Sea of Tiberias” is another name for the Sea of Galilee. The name “Tiberias” was associated with the Sea because of the prominent capital city of Galilee by that name on the southwestern shore. 2

John identifies five of the seven disciples who witnessed this resurrection appearance. They included “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee [James and John], and two others of His disciples were together.” (John 21:2). We could refer to the “two others” as UFOC’s – unidentified followers of Christ. John notes that “Nathanael” was from the Galilean village of “Cana” where Jesus changed water into wine. Cana was located about nine miles north of Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. 3

Keep in mind that the disciples had gone to Jerusalem and had experienced a tumultuous series of events: the Triumphal Entry, the expectation of a new kingdom, a betrayal by a trusted friend, near arrest, denial of Jesus by their leader Peter, the agonizing crucifixion of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the manifestations of the risen Lord. Understandably they were confused and unsure of the future.” 4

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:3). Peter was probably feeling badly at this point because of his three denials of Jesus (cf. John 18:17, 25-27). He probably had a lot of doubts about his future as a follower of Christ. So he goes back to what is most familiar to him – fishing. It is also possible Peter had grown tired of waiting for Jesus to arrive in Galilee. Maybe the sight of fishing boats and the smell of wet fishing nets drying in the sun reminded him of what he left to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 5:11).

So Peter breaks the monotony and takes the lead, saying, “I am going fishing.” His proposal to go fishing was met with an unanimous response from the other disciples, “We are going with you also.”

I believe Peter has been unfairly criticized for returning to his former employment. He and the disciples had done what Jesus commanded by going to Galilee. We know they had to wait for the Lord since He did not meet them directly as they entered Galilee. Peter knew Jesus was coming but he did not want to waste time. Besides, he also had a family to provide for. Peter wasn’t abandoning Jesus, he was just making good use of his time. It was quite a natural and normal thing for these men to do. They were fishermen. Here is a sea, a boat, a net, and the time. What’s the logical thing for fishermen to do? Go out and fish! This was not a sin.

In support of this is the fact that the apostle John usually points out the failures of Peter, but in this case he is silent. Also, Jesus did not condemn or correct them for fishing when He arrived. They were unable to catch fish until Jesus was with them. They didn’t recognize the risen Lord until He performed the miracle. So it was God’s plan for them to fish. God used this fishing experience to enable these disciples to recognize their risen Lord and their mission to be fishers of men.

John tells us, “they went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” The disciples fished at night when the fish are actively feeding near the surface. And although the Sea of Galilee was noted for its fishing industry in the time of Jesus, 5  the disciples’ all-night fishing expedition went unrewarded. John reports probably with a smidgeon of painful memory that “they caught nothing.” Any fisherman can relate to the disappointment Peter and the other disciples must have felt that night. They probably started out with a lot of excitement, but all that faded by morning. “Whose idea was this?” they may have grumbled. “It must not be God’s will for us to be out here! Are the fish biting? If they are they must be biting each other!”

The story is told of a psychopath peeping over an asylum wall. He observed a man fishing nearby. He yelled, “Caught anything?” The fisherman replied, “No!” “How long have you been waiting?” “Three hours!” came the fisherman’s reply. “Come inside,” the psychopath said, assuming he must have been crazy to wait three hours without catching any fish. Well, the disciples had waited more than three hours without catching any fish. They were out all night and they must have felt crazy to stay out that long without anything to show for it.

I wonder how many of us feel something similar? We know exactly how the disciples felt. We feel like we are not catching any fish right now. When that starts to happen, life becomes a rut. Frustration starts to set in. When you keep trying to go back to the same thing and make it work, instead of looking ahead to God’s plan, life gets deeper and deeper in this rut. Ruts can be very frustrating places. But the only good thing about a rut is it is very easy to steer once you get into one. You cannot veer one way or the other. You can only go the way the rut goes. But the problem is you lose your sense of purpose. You don’t have to think about what you are doing nor do you have to put any effort into what you are doing. There is no purpose or joy.

All night these seven disciples had to feel the disappointment of being expert fishermen who were unable to catch a thing. No doubt they felt like failures. They were discouraged. If we had asked them at that moment what their purpose was for living, they may have said, “We don’t know right now!” But Jesus still had a purpose for their lives. Jesus had commanded them to go to Galilee and He would meet them there. Even though the disciples were discouraged and feeling like failures, Jesus had not lost sight of His purpose for them.

Like the disciples, when we have failed miserably in an area of strength, we can easily become discouraged and feel like God must not have a purpose for our lives. When this happens, it is important to understand that our feelings are wrong.  God’s Word tells us that He has a constant purpose for our lives and we can trust it more than our feelings. Romans 8:28-29a says, 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” God uses “all things,” including our failures and discouragement, to “work together for good.” What “good” is this referring to? Being “conformed to the image of His Son.”

This leads to our first principle: We all need to learn that FAILURE AND DISCOURAGEMENT ARE OFTEN CONNECTED TO THE RISEN LORD JESUS’ PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES (John 21:1-3). When it comes to failure and discouragement, they are almost always a part of God’s purpose. We would like to hear that God’s purpose means we will never be discouraged or fail again. But if I told you that, I would be lying.

When we look at the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, we see they all had failures and times of discouragement. For example, after the worldwide flood, Noah got drunk and his son saw his nakedness. Abraham grew tired of waiting for God to give him a son, so he took matters into his own hands. Sarah was unable to bear children, and when God announced that she would have a son, she laughed in unbelief. Jacob was a deceiver, yet God used him and his lineage to bring the Messiah into the world.  Moses kept making up excuses to avoid going back to Pharaoh, but God was still able to use Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Even though Rahab had a problem with her past, she was used by God to protect the spies. Both Samson and David had a problem with lust, and yet they fulfilled God’s purpose for their lives. All these heroes of the faith tell us not to give up even though we fail and get discouraged.

The Bible compares living the Christian life to running a long distance race in Hebrews 12:1-2. This race requires endurance to finish well for the Lord. God’s purpose for your life is not found in the short sprints of life. His purpose is found in running a marathon. If we are going to run a marathon, it is going to require endurance. There will be ups and downs along the way. That is part of God’s purpose.  

The apostle Paul writes again and again in 2 Corinthians about the discouragement that he faced in the midst of God’s purpose for his life. God used Paul’s discouragement to deepen his dependency upon the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:8-10) and to eternalize his perspective (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The Lord used Paul’s discouragement and difficulties to magnify God’s grace in his life (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). If you feel discouraged while you are trying to live out God’s purpose and you think there is something wrong with you, there is not. Don’t let discouragement say to you that God’s purpose is gone. It is not. His purpose for your life is unfolding in His way and in His time.  

Christ used the disciples’ failure to catch fish all night to prepare them for what He was about to do. Their discouragement would soon be transformed into unspeakable joy. And Jesus wants to do the same in our lives.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us are very tired because we have been casting our nets again and again and again with nothing to show for it. We are discouraged and feel like failures. We have lost sight of Your purpose for our lives. Help us not to give up, but to keep pressing on by faith in Your Word which tells us Your purpose has not been lost. You are working behind the scenes in our lives to accomplish Your good will for our lives all for Your glory. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Some critics claim that the apostle John concluded his gospel in John 20:31 and an anonymous writer wrote chapter 21. But the linguistic evidence does not support this notion. In addition, other great books of Scripture have appendixes after reaching a grand climax (cf., e.g., Rom. 16 following Rom. 15:33). Thus John 21 is neither without value nor out of harmony with other Bible books.” (Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 701; see also J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 373 cites Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John (London: United Bible Societies, 1980), pg. 623; Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pp. 665-668. Constable writes, “The structure of this chapter is similar to the rest of the Gospel’s. John first narrated an event (vv. 1-14), and then related Jesus’ teaching based on that event (vv. 15-23). Finally he concluded his Gospel (vv. 24-25).” Tom Constable, Notes on John (2017 Edition), pg. 387.

2. Laney, pg. 374.

3. Ibid.

4. Blum, pp. 701-702.

5. Laney, pg. 374 cites Michael Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), pp. 205-206. “Fish were salted at Taricheae or Migdal Nunay (‘Tower of the Fisher’) for export.”

How can Jesus’ resurrection make a difference in our daily lives? Part 3

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ ” John 20:15a

We are learning how the empty tomb of Jesus challenged the life of Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18) and provides ways to make a difference in our daily lives. So far we have discovered that Jesus’ resurrection can make a difference in our daily lives by…

– Dispelling the darkness in our lives with the light of His resurrection (John 20:1).

– Providing evidence of His resurrection for our minds (John 20:2-9).

Today we see that Christ’s interaction with Mary Magdalene PROVIDES ANSWERS FOR OUR HEARTS (John 20:10-15a).  John may have been the first to believe Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:8), but Mary was the first to see the resurrected Lord (John 20:10-15a). Some students of the Bible refer to this as the greatest recognition scene in all of literature – Mary seeing Jesus unexpectedly. The incredible thing about this scene is Mary does not recognize Jesus at first.

“Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.” (John 20:10-11). After Peter and John returned to their homes, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb. She was weeping outside the tomb, stricken with grief over the death of Jesus and the confusion about His missing body. As she wept, she looked into the tomb.

“And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” (John 20:12). Even though angels had announced to Mary on a previous visit that Jesus had risen (cf. Luke 24:5-6), Mary still did not understand because grief had overtaken her.

“Then they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’ ” (John 20:13). These angels do not announce the resurrection of Jesus, instead they express amazement at her sorrow. “Woman, why are you weeping?” Christ’s resurrection was the least appropriate time for tears. But Mary did not understand that Jesus was alive!If she had believed the previous announcement of the angels that Jesus had risen, she would not be weeping. But overcome with grief, Mary wants to know where Jesus’ body has been taken. She had come to the tomb to complete the burial of Jesus, but even that had been taken away from her.

Look at what happens next. “Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 20:14). “The fact that He appeared to Mary rather than to Pilate or Caiaphas or to one of His disciples is significant. That a woman would be the first to see Him is an evidence of Jesus’ electing love as well as a mark of the narrative’s historicity. No Jewish author in the ancient world would have invented a story with a woman as the first witness to this most important event. Furthermore, Jesus may have introduced Himself to Mary first because she had so earnestly sought Him. She was at the cross while He was dying (John 19:25), and she went to His tomb early on Sunday morning (20:1).” 2

Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus? Two possible reasons why Mary could not see the risen Jesus:

Her TEARS. She couldn’t see Jesus through her tears. When the Bible says she was “weeping” [klaíō, κλαίω] (20:11, 13), it is not talking about a little tear making its way slowly down her cheek. It is a word for wailing or “weeping vehemently.” The tears were streaming down her face and had blurred her vision. We see in Mary someone with a broken heart after all she had been through. Because of those tears she couldn’t see Jesus. The second reason she did not recognized Jesus was…

Her FOCUS. It all has to do with her sight. She couldn’t see Jesus because she was focused more on the empty tomb in front of her than the resurrected Lord who was right behind her. She is peering into this empty tomb trying to find the resurrected Lord when He is standing right there ready to give her hope.

Some erroneously conclude that Mary did not recognize the risen Lord Jesus because it was a different person than Jesus. There is nothing in the biblical text to substantiate this. The same Jesus Who died is the same Jesus Who rose from the dead (see I Corinthians 15:1-8). Over five hundred eyewitnesses attest to this fact.

The empty tomb is a great thing, but it is the resurrected Lord we really worship. We don’t worship a tomb. We don’t worship a place. We worship the living Lord Jesus. Anytime we allow ourselves to focus more on some tradition, some place, some ritual and we get our eyes off the resurrected Lord, we start to lose hope. So Mary did not see the risen Lord at first because of her tears and her focus.

What happened to Mary can also happen to us. There are times in our lives when the resurrected Lord Jesus is right there in front of us and He wants to give us hope, but we don’t see Him because our emotions have blinded us or we have lost focus. It is easy today to loose focus on the Person of our risen Lord Jesus because of the impact the coronavirus is having on our lives. Large portions of the world’s population are confined within their homes and apartments, hoping they won’t be added to the statistics that are tracking this deadly pandemic. As I am writing this, there have been over 161.5 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 3.3 million people have died so far. There will undoubtedly be tens of thousands of additional deaths before it is all over.

Mary is asked two questions by Jesus to help her find the answers her heart needed. The first question is “Why are you weeping? (John 20:15a). Mary’s heart is broken after all she has been through. She sees the cross and Jesus taken to the cross. She sees Him taken to the tomb and buried. Now three days later, she comes back to the tomb and thinks His body has been stolen. Because of this, she is deeply hurt. She is crying.

Some of us may feel like Mary did. Your dreams are at a dead end like Mary’s were. Or maybe our expectations take a total U-turn from what we thought was going to happen. Or the support that we have been depending on in our lives crumbles from beneath us. We know exactly the kind of feelings Mary felt at the tomb. Jesus is asking us, “What is making you hurt?” That is what Jesus was asking Mary and now He is asking us. “What is it that is making you hurt?”

Mary is so much like us. She reminds us so much of what we need when we hurt so deeply – to listen and realize that Jesus cares about the fact that we hurt, that He cares about the struggles we have been going through in our lives. For Mary, her hurt was keeping her from seeing God’s hand at work in her life. That can happen to me and to you. God does not want our hurt to keep us from seeing that He is at work in our lives. Jesus Christ is alive.

Martin Luther who started the Lutheran Church and pioneered the reformation, was obviously not a perfect person any more than the rest of us. But he had quite a wife. One day he was in a deep depression over something that had gone wrong. On the third day of his depression, his wife came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. He asked her “Who’s dead?” Luther’s wife said, “God is dead.” He said, “What do you mean God’s dead? God can’t die!” His wife says to him, “I just thought He had died considering the way you’ve been acting the last three days.” 5

We can sometimes act like Martin Luther. Sometimes we act like Jesus isn’t alive. Yes, our world has drastically changed because of COVID-19. We are more restricted than ever before. But what is more important? That, or the fact that Jesus is alive and guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Him (John 11:25-26)? Maybe some person offended you at work. What’s more real? That or the fact that Jesus is alive? Maybe you did not get something that you wanted to get. What’s more real? The fact you didn’t get something you wanted to get or that Jesus has a life for me in eternity? 

But Mary is just like us. The little things hurt us not to mention the big things. Those little things grow into bigger things. For Mary this was the biggest hurt she had ever faced. Jesus came to her and said, “Why are you weeping?” He asks us that question too. He wants to know because the resurrected Jesus Christ has an answer for our hurt. He has a hope. That’s what the resurrection is all about.

Then He asks her a second question: “Whom are you seeking?”  (John 20:15b). It is significant that Jesus asked Mary “whom” (tina) rather than “what” (ti) she was looking for. As one commentator says, “She was looking for a corpse whereas she should have been seeking a person.” 7

Jesus’ questions had to do with her tears and her focus. Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? As I read the Bible, I have noticed that God has the habit of asking great questions. The first question that God asks in the Bible, back in the book of Genesis, after Adam sinned. Adam is hiding behind the bushes in the Garden of Eden and God comes into the garden and asks, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). That’s a great question. God knew that Adam was behind the bushes. That wasn’t what the question was all about. “Where are you, Adam, in relation to Me? How come you are not having fellowship with Me? How come you’re not close to Me?”

God asks great questions. Jesus Christ was in the habit of asking great questions. At the feeding of the four thousand He looked at the disciples and asked, “How many loaves do you have?” (Matthew 15:34). He says, “Just give Me what you have, and I will take care of the rest.” He asked His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). Then He asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20a). One of the greatest questions Jesus ever asked and He asked this one several times, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32).

Sometimes we need to stop asking God questions and let Him ask us questions. Take time to be quiet and listen to the risen Lord Jesus. Maybe He wants to ask, “Why are you hurting? Whom are you seeking? Where are you in relation to Me? What can you give to Me? What do you want Me to do for you?” Mary listened to these questions and her life started to turn around. Will we listen to God?

Some of you reading this article are restless and seeking answers for your fearful and hopeless heart. You may be seeking the Lord Jesus and not even know it. Jesus is inviting you to come to Him just as you are. Listen to His voice: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). When you come to Jesus just as you are, He will give you spiritual rest. The rest Jesus offers here refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn or work for their salvation (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross alone (John 3:14-15; 19:30). Christ can give you everlasting life as a free gift because He paid for it through His death and resurrection (Romans 6:23b; I Corinthians 15:1-8).

If you came to Christ in faith just now, Jesus gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). God became your Father and you became His child forever (John 1:12). Jesus now lives inside of you through His Holy Spirit who will comfort, guide, and teach you so your life will magnify Jesus (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14). Jesus wants to be your best Friend. You can get to know Him better by spending time with Him, talking to Him through prayer anywhere, anytime about anything (John 15:7; Philippians 4:6-7). Learn to listen to His voice as you read and study the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I recommend you begin with the fourth book of the New Testament, the gospel of John, because it is all about Jesus and how you can have everlasting life in His name. It will also reveal to you God’s plan and purpose for your life.

Prayer: My risen Savior and Lord, please forgive me for losing focus on You and Your resurrection. I have allowed so many things to distract me from what is really important. Thank You for coming to me with questions just like You did with Mary Magdalene that first Sunday after Your death and burial. Your questions show me that You really do care about me. You care especially about my heart. You care about my disappointments, my hurts, my needs, and my worries. Your presence in my life calms my troubled heart and assures me that there is hope for today and tomorrow, and all the tomorrows You graciously give to me. Thank You for helping me refocus on what is eternal. As I quiet my soul in Your presence, what would You say to me right now Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 369 cites William Barclay, The Gospel of John: The Daily Study Bible series, 2nd ed., Vol. 2 (Edinbugh: Saint Andrew Press, 1963), pg. 312.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 697.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 545.

4. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website on May 15, 2021 at https://covid19.who.int/.

5. Adapted from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/201414/.

6. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 362.

7. Ibid., cites Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 838.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

How can Jesus’ resurrection make a difference in our daily lives? Part 1

“Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” John 20:1

The apostle John wrote the gospel of John to non-Christians so they “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). In chapters 1-12, John records seven miraculous signs of Jesus to persuade non-Christians to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God so they may have eternal life in His name. Then in John 20 he records the eighth and greatest miraculous sign – the resurrection of Jesus! The entire book of John has been leading up to this exciting event! What makes it even more exciting is that John was there to watch it all happen as an eyewitness.

Some people think Jesus was in His resurrected body for a short time on earth and was seen by only a few people. But the truth is He was in His resurrected body on earth for over a month and He was seen by over 500 people (Acts 1:1-3; I Corinthians 15:3-8). This is an incredible event and for the next few days we are going to see how Jesus’ resurrection can make a difference in our daily lives.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to a lot of different people at different times. Today we are going to see that He first appeared to Mary Magdalene. The resurrected Jesus is alive. He makes Himself known in peoples’ lives. The exciting thing about each of these appearances is the difference it made in people’s lives when they saw Him alive after His death and burial.

As we take a look at how the empty tomb challenged the life of Mary Magdalene, we are going to see how He can make a difference in our daily lives. The first way the risen Lord Jesus can make a difference is to DISPEL THE DARKNESS IN OUR LIVES WITH THE LIGHT OF HIS RESURRECTION (John 20:1). The apostle John writes, “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). Let’s look at some important details in this one verse.

The first detail is that it was “on the first day of the week.” What is the first day of the week? Sunday. Interestingly, “for the Jews, Sunday (the day after the first Sabbath following Passover cf. Leviticus 23:11) would be the Feast of First Fruits. On this day the Jews would present the first sheaf of the barley harvest to the Lord in the Temple. This offering was both an expression of gratitude and an expression of faith that a full harvest was about to follow. It is significant that Jesus rose from the grave on the Feast of First Fruits. And so Paul presents Christ as the ‘first fruits’ of the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-23).“ 1

In the Old Testament, believers worshiped God on the Sabbath which was Saturday. But in the New Testament believers got together on Sunday because that was the day of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Acts 20:7). This is why believers around the world worship the Lord together on Sunday. It is resurrection day! Some believers insist that you must worship the Lord on Saturday to be a true believer. But the Bible tells us in Romans 14:5-6a that it doesn’t matter what day or night of the week you worship because we are no longer under the regulations of the Old Testament Law anymore (cf. Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24; 4:5). So you could worship the Lord together on a Wednesday night if you wanted to. What matters is that your observance shows your commitment “to the Lord” (Romans 14:6).

The second detail is the word “early.” The Greek word [prōi, πρωί] refers to “the watch that is between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.” 2  It is very early in the morning while it is still dark. The reason Mary and other women [note plural “we” in verse 2, cf. Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1,10) got up early to go to the tomb was because it was a tradition of the Jews to go to the tomb for at least three days after the person was buried to take care of the body and make sure all the spices were in the right places. They couldn’t go on the Sabbath day, so they had to wait until Sunday. I also believe Mary was eager to go to the tomb so early because of her love and devotion for Jesus, living and dead, which was based on her gratitude for His delivering her from bondage to Satan (cf. Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She had been an observer at the cross and now was the first person at the grave. 3

So as early as she could get up on Sunday while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went down to the tomb. She, being a agile young woman, ran ahead of the other women and came to the tomb first, and discovered that the tomb had already been opened. 4

The third detail to observe is that “it was still dark.” This reference to it being “dark” may refer to both the physical darkness of the morning and the emotional and spiritual darkness that Mary was probably experiencing.Mary no doubt was stricken with grief by Jesus’ sufferings and death. After all, this was the Messiah-God who had healed her from demon possession (cf. Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). He wasn’t supposed to die like this! Mary had no idea what had already happened that Sunday morning. So this was a very dark morning for her emotionally and spiritually.

What about you? Is this a dark day for you? Is your life filled with doubt and uncertainty in light of the coronavirus? Are you struggling with negative attitudes this week? You may not admit it to anyone else, but you may be thinking, “I wouldn’t be around me this week if I were honest about it.” Some of you may be struggling with your faith. You think, “I hear other people talk about faith and how great faith can be and how it makes a difference in their lives but if I was really being honest, I’d have a lot of question marks about it. I’m not a very trusting person.”  

The fourth detail to notice is that John says, “the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” The word for “taken away” [ērmenon, ἠρμένον] means “to lift up and carry away.” It conveys the idea of being “tossed aside.” It was not slowly rolled away. It was thrown aside by the angel of God when he arrived (cf. Matthew 28:2). The power of God tossed this stone aside! This is probably why Matthew tells us the Roman guards shook with fear and became like dead men (cf. Matthew 28:4). I would have done the same!

When the stone was thrown aside, it was not so Jesus could come out of the tomb. Jesus in His resurrected body went through the grave clothes that surrounded Him. Jesus in His resurrected body had the power to go through doors and into rooms without the doors being opened. So I’m suggesting that Jesus had already come out of the tomb before the stone was thrown aside. The stone was removed so the disciples could come into the tomb and see that it was empty. This is what makes Christianity distinct from all other religions. The founders of all other religions are still dead in their graves, but Christians worship a Jesus Christ that left an empty tomb behind Him! We worship a Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and remains alive today! Hallelujah!

If you are struggling in the dark with bad attitudes, doubts, or your faith, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ can change all of that. The same power that brought Jesus back to life can also resurrect a joyful attitude in you and replace your doubts with an unwavering confidence in Jesus and His promises. His resurrection power can revitalize your faith so that all fear is gone and His joy can overflow in your life.

If part of your struggle in the dark is with sin and shame, please know that Jesus’ resurrection power guarantees unlimited forgiveness in Christ to all who believe in Him. You may think your sin is too great for God to forgive. You may believe shame-based lies that say no one could accept or love you as you are. This is not true. Listen to God’s voice of truth: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loved you so much He sent His Son to die in your place when you were still an ungodly sinner. God loved you at your worst. He did not wait for you to clean up your life. He loved you just as you are. God loves you regardless of what you have done or what others say or think of you.

The risen Lord Jesus now invites you to come to Him just as you are to receive His forgiveness. The Bible says, “Everyone who puts his trust in Christ will have his sins forgiven through His name” (Acts 10:43). The word “everyone” includes the worst and the best of people. It includes people of all faiths. It does not matter if you are a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Universalist, Jesus invites you to believe or trust in Him alone to receive His unlimited forgiveness.

The Bible says the moment we believed in Jesus alone, “He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). No one can successfully condemn you now because Christ was condemned to death for your sins, removing your guilt ( Romans 8:34b). Jesus was raised to life, satisfying God’s demand to punish your sins (Romans 8:34c). Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father defending you against all accusations (Romans 8:34d). And Jesus intercedes for you that your faith won’t fail, you won’t give up, so that you can encourage others (Romans 8:34e; cf. Luke 22:32).

Hallelujah! Jesus is alive, and we who believe in Him are forgiven of all our sins – past, present, and future! The darkness is gone because the Son is risen! Oh let us worship our risen Savior together!!!

Prayer: My risen Lord Jesus, I worship You this day because You have conquered sin, death, and the devil through Your death and resurrection. The darkness is gone because the Son is risen! You alone are my risen Savior, Lord Jesus! There is none like You. Even when I have dark days filled with doubt, fear, and shame, You are still alive and You are with me and love me more than I could ask or imagine. Thank You for dispelling the darkness on that first Sunday after Your death and burial. And thank You for continuing to dispel the darkness in this world through Your gospel of grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.  J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 358.

2. Walter Bauer,A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 892.

3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 695-696.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 496 cites J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), pp. 611-612; cf. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 358.

5. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition, pg. 28.

Our Pain Can Bring Gain To Many

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20

After Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died, his brothers fear that the only thing that has kept Joseph from taking revenge on them has been his respect for his father. So, they come to Joseph begging for forgiveness – even though he gave them that forgiveness many years earlier. How does Joseph respond? Does he avenge the wrongs that they did to him?

He said, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20a). Joseph doesn’t try to rewrite history saying, “Oh, I know you guys didn’t mean it.” He’s honest – “You guys tried to harm me – but God intended your harm for good.” Romans 8:28 says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” This “all things” means “all things” – including people’s evil intentions, their desire to cause harm, and sin. This is an absolutely amazing promise from God! Nobody can do anything to you that God cannot bring good from.

We see it clearly in Joseph’s life – sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned – which was exactly where, in the strangest kind of way, Pharoah would be able to hear about him. Then Joseph says, “God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20b). Joseph experienced tremendous pain – heartache, difficulty, problems – but God used all of that for incredible good – the saving of many lives. And as it turned out, not just the people of Egypt, but also his own family – including the very men who did him wrong – his brothers.

I have experienced this personally. God has used the most painful experiences of my life to help and bless others. He has used my weaknesses and failures much more than He has used my “so-called” strengths.

It is important for us to see God’s ability to do far more through our trials than through our successes. God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. That means that many can gain through our pain!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for reminding us that we can face the wrongs done to us by others knowing that nobody can do anything to us that You cannot bring good from. When people do wrong to us, we can be encouraged to trust the One Who can bring gain to many through our pain. In the transforming name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 4

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. Christ can do this when we…

– Ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).

– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).       

The fourth way the Lord can transform our grief into gladness is to ALLOW OUR GRIEF TO DIRECT US TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (John 16:23-24). Christ’s resurrection would change relations. Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 16:23). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would not be with His disciples physically and so they would not be able to ask Him questions. But the Holy Spirit would teach them and answer their questions (John 16:13-15).

We also see that Christ’s resurrection and ascension provided unlimited access to the Father in prayer. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples had often asked the Lord to meet their needs while they were with Him, but they had not asked the Father in heaven for anything in His name. Christ promises that after His ascension to heaven, the “Father …will give” them “whatever” they ask in Jesus’ name.

Praying in Jesus’ name is not a magical formula that we add at the end of our prayers. To pray in Jesus’ name means we pray what Jesus would pray to accomplish God’s will and bring Him maximum glory. When we pray according to God’s will, He will hear and answer our prayers to magnify the name of Jesus (cf. I John 5:14-15).

Next Christ says, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). “Now,” because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. The word “ask” (aiteite) is a present imperative verb and conveys the idea of asking God continually and persistently. Christ assures them that the Father would “give” them whatever they prayed in Jesus’ name to accomplish His will. The purpose of all of this was so that their “joy may be full” or complete. 

No matter what pain or sorrow we experience, it is essential that we stay connected to Jesus because God the Father is still in the prayer-answering business when we love and seek to honor His Son. 1 A disciple of Christ centers his or her life around Jesus (cf. Philippians 1:21), so when Jesus is glorified, his or her joy will “be full” or complete. Nothing is more enjoyable or satisfying for a follower of Christ than to see his or her Lord magnified.

When we go through painful times as did Jesus and His disciples, we have a choice to make. Will we turn away from the Father and pout or will we turn to the Father and pray? If we turn to the Father in prayer, He can fill our hearts with joy that the world cannot take from us. Our joy is connected to prayer. It cannot be made complete in any other way. Isn’t this exciting!?! God desires to make us glad by working in and through us as we pray to Him.

How do you respond to trials? Do you allow pain in your life to turn you to God or away from Him? Many of us want to take matters into our own hands when we experience pain. We may try to medicate our pain with different behaviors, feelings, people, or substances (e.g. alcohol, anger, anxiety, cell phones, depression, drugs, friends, gossip, lust, ministry, music, pornography, rage, romantic relationships, shopping, sports, TV, video games, work, or worry, et al.). But the Lord  wants us to turn to Him as we face painful times. He is waiting to hear from us, so He can fill our hearts with gladness.

What keeps believers from turning to the Lord in the midst of their pain? I believe much of it has to do with the lies we believe.  Let’s look at some common lies and the corresponding truth with which to overcome them:

Lie #1: God must not love me to allow all this pain in my life.

Truth #1: No one and nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Lie #2:  God is against me, not for me.

Truth #2: God is for me and He proved it when He gave His only Son for me (Romans 8:31-32).

Lie #3: God will not understand my feelings.

Truth #3: Christ experienced the same feelings as you, so He could understand your feelings and help you process them (Hebrews 4:15).

Let’s lean into the Lord especially during these uncertain times. He longs to fill us with His joy that cannot be taken from us.  

Prayer: Father God, I come to You now through the Lord Jesus Christ Who loved me and gave Himself to die in my place on a cross for all my sins and then rose from the dead. Please forgive me for embracing lies that lead me away from You instead of the truth that brings me closer to You. I am so thankful that I now have direct access into Your presence because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You at any time about anything knowing that You understand and are listening. Right now my Lord and my God, I give everyone and everything to You. I surrender everyone and everything to You, Lord. You are a good, good Father Who wants to bless His children. Thank You for the safety and security that I find in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold me, Lord. Hold me…. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” John 16:20a

As technology advances at exceedingly high rates, we may come to the conclusion that life should be easy. After all, we have all of these gadgets that are intended to make life easier for us. Things like automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens, central air-conditioning, garage door openers, GPS, cell phones, etc. Once we obtain these gadgets, we think we cannot live without them.

There is nothing wrong about finding ways to make life easier. But when we do, we can often shift this attitude into a demand that life must be easier. And when life does not comply with this thought, we can easily become angry or even bitter. Our grief over the problems in life can turn into depression.   

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. We discovered in John 16:16-19 that Christ can do this when we ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation. Today we see that our grief can be transformed into gladness when we ACCEPT THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE PART OF LIFE (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20a). Jesus assures His disciples (“most assuredly, I say to you”) that they “will weep and lament” over His departure when He dies on the cross. These words combine the thoughts of deep grief and the outward expression of that grief. Watching their Lord endure false accusations, beatings, mocking, and the shameful, humiliating death of crucifixion, would be extremely difficult for the disciples. Yet while they would experience great anguish at the crucifixion of Christ, the unbelieving “world will rejoice.” The religious leaders especially rejoiced over Christ’s sufferings and death because they had removed the One Who threatened their power.

When we see evil appear to triumph over good, we will experience grief and sadness. For example, when militant Muslims murder innocent Christians and boast about it on TV, Christians will feel deep sorrow over this. Believers must realize that being a Christian does not insulate us from grief and sorrow. Christ never promised believers that life would be easy. It is not sinful to experience grief and sadness since both Jesus and His disciples did (cf. Matthew 17:23; 26:22, 37-38; Mark 14:19, 34; Luke 22:45; John 11:33-35; 16:6, 20, 22). In fact, the prophet, Isaiah, describes Jesus as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). So feeling grief and sadness is not ungodly. It is Christ-like.

There is some teaching in Christian circles today that says life should be easy if you are a Christian. If life is not easy for you, then you must be the problem because God wants all His children to have it easy. Is this true? No. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (16:33). He did not say “you might have” tribulation. He said you “will have” tribulation. The word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; it is an internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). Christ uses this word to refer to “persecution, affliction, and distress.” 1

Jesus also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34b). Most people would agree with this. On Monday, your electric bill arrives, and it’s three times as much as you have left in your bank account. On Tuesday, your car won’t start. On Wednesday, your child is exposed to COVID and your entire family must quarantine. On Thursday, your spouse tells you they don’t love you any more. On Friday, you find out you have lost thousands of dollars in a poor investment. And the list goes on and on. Jesus did not say Christians would have it easy. He said life would be difficult. He wasn’t being pessimistic in these verses, He was simply being honest.

Life can also be internally difficult for us as Christians because there is this internal battle going on between our sinful flesh and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). All people are born with a sinful flesh that has a bent toward selfishness, laziness, immaturity, distorting reality, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, the pride of life, etc. (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 7:18; Galatians 5:19-21; I John 2:16). 2

The apostle Paul describes this battle when he says, 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” (Romans 7:15-21).

Paul is very clear in these verses that a battle raged inside of him between his sinful nature that operated in the flesh and the new person he was in Christ that operated in the Spirit. We may agree intellectually that life is difficult both externally and internally, but deep down inside the recesses of our minds we believe the lie that says life should be easy. So when life does take a turn for the worse, we can throw an emotional tantrum.

Christian counselor, Dr. Chris Thurman, shares how many of his clients come into his office believing this lie that life should be easy, and when life proves otherwise, they have a lot of intense anger that can turn into bitterness and resentment. They refuse to accept that their problems or disappointments are a part of life. 3

Accepting that life is difficult does not mean we must like the problem or be glad it happened. But you can choose to hurt over it and accept it. Thurman writes, “Accepting it means you have faced the fact that it happened (versus refusing to), understand why it occurred (versus being in the dark about why it did), have let it hurt (versus feel numb about it), and have come to a place of peace about it (versus still in turmoil over it).” 4

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to face my problems or run from them?” Satan “wants us to run from our problems, both foreign (external) and domestic (internal), because he knows our problems get worse and we end up suffering at a greater level when we do. God wants us to face our problems because He knows doing so resolves them and the suffering we experience helps us mature in Christ.” 5

If we tell ourselves that life should be easy, we are going to experience bitterness because our expectations are not realistic or biblical. We will either become very angry or discouraged and depressed when life does not match our expectations. The truth is life is difficult and the more we accept this truth, then the more we can move on from our past problems and experience the joy Jesus wants us to have, even when life is difficult.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this message really convicts me about my bad attitude. It is so easy for me to complain about problems in life and develop a lot of anger and even bitterness. Much of my anger is connected to believing the lie that life should be easy. Thank You for making it so clear that life is not always going to be easy. It can be very difficult. Even if I am living for You, Lord Jesus, You said I “will have tribulation” (John 16:33) because the world hates You and those who follow You (John 15:18-21). I pray You will help me replace this lie that life should be easy with the truth that life is difficult so I may accept that pain and suffering is a part of life. I want to invite You to walk with me as I face the pain and process it so I may move on and experience Your joy no matter what happens in life. Thank You for hearing my prayers, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. see https://biblehub.com/greek/2347.htm.

2. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 201.

3. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., pg. 165.

5. Thurman, The Lies We believe (2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 209.