Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 7

“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” John 11:39a

As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John (11:1-44), we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

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

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

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

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

– Discover Christ’s compassion (John 11:28-37).

The seventh reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DEMONSTRATE THAT OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST ACCESSES HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 11:38-44a). “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” (John 11:38). Again, Christ felt the same angry emotion (“groaning” – cf. 11:33) as He approached the tomb. He may have been angry that the Jews who came to comfort Mary did not believe He could raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:37). They thought He could overcome sickness but not death.

Tombs were often cut into limestone making a cave in the side of a wall of rock. A large stone was placed over the entrance. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” (John 11:39a). To do so was to risk defilement according to Jewish law and customs. But Jesus is not bound by man-made laws or customs. The people standing next to Jesus may have thought, “Doesn’t He have the power to move this stone?” Yes, He does, but He did not use that power to move the stone. Why? Because their obedience was necessary for them to realize and experience Jesus’ resurrection power.

“Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ ” (John 11:39b). Lord, Lazarus already stinks. Nothing can be done. It’s hopeless!” When we see death, we see no further. But Jesus sees beyond death to life. 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ ” (John 11:40). Christ called Martha “to demonstrate her faith in Him by her action – allowing the stone to be removed. Jesus didn’t want her explanations about bodily decay; He wanted her to walk by faith, putting one foot in front of the other. Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Then, demonstrating the “glory of God” would be up to Jesus. Faith must precede sight if we want to see God’s supernatural intervention in our circumstances. We can never know what God plans to do in secret until we obey what He has clearly revealed.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), pg. 1791. All the people there would see this miracle. Only those who believed would see God’s glory revealed in the raising of Lazarus.

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ ” (John 11:41-42). Jesus had already pleaded Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ case to the Father. This is the second time He had prayed about it. He states this so those around Him can believe the Father sent Him.

Jesus’s prayer for His Father’s supernatural intervention also illustrates His current intercessory work of deliverance for believers when we respond in faith and obedience (cf. Hebrews 7:25). This is why we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. The Father responds to what the Son endorses. When we face disappointments, Christ prays for us (cf. Luke 22:31-32). He can overcome our circumstances even when there seems to be no hope.

Earlier Jesus had said that men would hear His voice and come out of their graves (John 5:28) and that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:16, 27). “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ ” (John 11:43). If Jesus had not said Lazarus’ name, all the dead would have come out of their graves. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.” (John 11:44a). The One who is the Resurrection and the Life revealed His power by summoning Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus did not come out by his own power, but by the power of the One who commanded him to come out. This is the glory of God! Only God could reverse the process of decay and restore Lazarus from death to life.

If the people with Jesus had not obeyed His command to remove the stone over the entrance to Lazarus’ grave, they would not have witnessed the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, we must obey the Lord Jesus to experience His resurrection power in our daily lives. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:11, 13: 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

As believers live “by the Spirit”through obedience to Christ (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1, 4-5; Galatians 5:16-26), they can experience Christ’s resurrection power to put to death the sinful deeds of the body. We cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless we walk in obedience to Christ. We cannot access Christ’s resurrection power unless we obey Him. When we face disappointments, we may not “feel” like obeying the Lord, but this is key to experiencing His resurrection power in our lives. Step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His power in your life.

This resurrection miracle is a beautiful picture of conversion. Lazarus was unable to raise himself from the dead. None of his friends or religious leaders could reverse his death. Likewise, before we become Christians, the Bible tells us that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) without the life of God. And our sin separates us from God (Romans 6:23). We are unable to come to God apart from His drawing (John 6:44a).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was giving us a foretaste of what is to come. One day, Lazarus would physically die again. But he would eventually participate in a future everlasting bodily resurrection whereby He would live with Jesus forever along with all who believe in Christ alone (John 11:25-26; cf. I Thessalonians 4:14-17)!  

Only Jesus Christ can give eternal life to people, and this gift is based upon His finished work on the cross, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; cf. Isaiah 64:6). We cannot save ourselves. Other people or religions cannot save us. Only Jesus can do this. We receive eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Each time God saves a sinner He reveals His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for this incredible miracle which demonstrates that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. As the Resurrection, only Jesus can guarantee a future bodily resurrection that lasts forever to all who believe in Him. And as the Life, only He can give spiritual life that that never ends to all who believe in Him alone. Father, thank You for demonstrating that my obedience is necessary to experience Your resurrection power daily in my Christian life. I cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless I walk in obedience to Jesus. When I am tempted to sin, please help me to step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His resurrection power in my life to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to You. I also ask You to use me to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection power to all who are dead in their sins and separated from You. Please persuade them to believe in Jesus alone as the Resurrection and the Life so they may have eternal life in His name. In Jesus’ powerful life-giving name I pray. Amen.

How can I experience security forever? Part 2

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27

A second way I can experience security forever is when I BELIEVE IN JESUS ALONE FOR HIS FREE GIFT (John 10:27). Jesus said to His Jewish audience, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27). What characterized those Jesus called “My sheep” was that they listened to His voice. By listening they gave the response of faith to His words and works.

This reminds me of a true story about a man in Australia who was arrested and charged with stealing a sheep. But he claimed emphatically that it was one of his own that had been missing for many days. When the case went to court, the judge was puzzled, not knowing how to decide the matter. At last, he asked that the sheep be brought into the courtroom. Then he ordered the plaintiff to step outside and call the animal. The sheep made no response except to raise its head and look frightened. The judge then instructed the defendant to go to the courtyard and call the sheep. When the accused man began to make his distinctive call, the sheep bounded toward the door. It was obvious that he recognized the familiar voice of his shepherd. “His sheep knows him,” said the judge. “Case dismissed.

Jesus’ sheep are intimately known by their Shepherd. You might have expected Jesus to go on to say, “and they know Me.” But He did not. It is the knowledge that Jesus has of His sheep that is the important thing. Because Jesus knows His sheep they are drawn to Him. They trust the One who cares enough to know them.

When Jesus says, “and they follow Me,”some insist this means if a person truly believes in Christ he perseveres in discipleship or obedience to Christ. They say that a true Christian will continue to obey Jesus the rest of His life. But the context does not support this understanding. Jesus is using the word “follow” as a figure of speech referring to belief. Just as Jesus’ reference to sheep, is a figure of speech, so His reference to following Him is the same. Christ was not talking about literal sheep which physically follow a literal shepherd in this verse. Instead He was illustrating salvation by picturing Himself as the Good Shepherd and believers as His sheep (cf. John 10:1-27).

In the context, Jesus addresses the unbelief of His Jewish audience, who questioned if He was the Messiah (John 10: 24). Jesus replied to them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.” (John 10:25-26). People who are not of His sheep do not believe. What then do His sheep do? They believe He is the Christ – the One who gives eternal life to those who believe in Him. They hear His voice and respond in faith like sheep follow a shepherd (cf. John 10:4-5). They trust Him. So in this context the unbelief of His Jewish audience (John 10:25-26) is set in contrast to His sheep following or believing in Him (John 10:27).

Bob Wilkins writes that “the picture of sheep hearing their shepherd’s voice and following him is a picture of childlike faith. In his book The Gospel Under Siege, Zane Hodges says concerning that illustration, ‘That is to say, they [the sheep] commit their safety and well-being to the Shepherd who has summoned them to do so‘ (p. 44). He goes on to say that this is clearly an act of faith, not discipleship.

“Hodges points out two other points which further prove that the figure refers to faith in Christ: the sequence of the coordinate clauses and the analogy of John 5:24.

“The verses in question have five clauses joined by the word and. A definite progression is evident. The sequence of the clauses shows that ‘following Him’ is the condition—not the consequence—of eternal life. Jesus did not say, ‘I give them eternal life and they follow Me.’ Instead He said, ‘They follow Me and I give them eternal life.’ Since faith in Christ is the sole condition of salvation in Scripture and in John’s Gospel, ‘following Him’ must be a figure for faith in Christ.

“In addition, John 5:24 is parallel to John 10:27-28. Both refer to hearing, believing, the giving of eternal life, the guarantee against eternal judgment, and the promise of the permanence of the relationship. The only difference between the two verses is that in John 10:27 believing is expressed by means of the figure of sheep following a shepherd.” 1

Throughout the gospel of John, figures of speech are used to illustrate saving faith such as receiving (1:12; 5:43; 13:20), looking (3:14-15), drinking (4:14; 7:37), hearing (5:24; 10:16, 27), coming (5:40; 6:35, 37, 44, 65; 7:37), eating bread (6:50, 51, 53, 54, 56, 58), entering (10:9), and following (10:27). Christian author Charlie Bing writes: “These pictures of faith all denote receptivity, agreement, or trust. All are essentially simple activities and essentially passive. None communicates the idea of merit, work, effort, or achievement. Neither do they communicate an exchange of one’s life or the ongoing submission of one’s life to Jesus as Master in order to obtain eternal life.” 2

However, following Christ through obedience is necessary to be a disciple of Christ (Mark 1:17-18; Luke 5:10-11; 9:23), not a possessor of Christ. For example, Jesus did not call His disciples to follow Him as His disciples (Mark 1:14-18) until about a year after they believed in Him (John 1:35-2:11).

When you examine all four gospels, it becomes clear that the disciples whom Jesus called to follow Him in Mark 1:16-18 were already believers. In the Spring of A.D. 26 Peter, John, Philip and Andrew met Jesus for the first time (John 1:35-51) and believed in Him. When Jesus invited Philip to follow Him (John 1:43), He was asking him to accompany Him to Galilee, not make a discipleship commitment. Philip trusted in Christ because of spending time with Him (1:45).

Four days after that first encounter, Jesus’ other disciples believed in Him after He turns water into wine (2:1-11). Several days later during the Passover Feast in Jerusalem, Jesus cleanses the temple (2:13-22). During the next several months, Christ instructs these new believers in the fundamental truths of salvation and assurance as He evangelizes Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the city of Sychar (John 3-4). John 4:35 mentions 4 months until harvest. The harvest takes place in the months of April or May. Four months prior would be January or February. Thus, between the mention of the first Passover (John 2:13) which is in April, and the time mentioned here (John 4:35), almost one year has passed. During these months, John the Baptist is evangelizing Judea (John 3:22-36) and baptizing. So, several things have already taken place before we come to Mark 1.

Mark 1:14 informs us that John the Baptist is now in prison.  In John 1-3, John the Baptist is still ministering publicly. Now, we see that he is in prison in Mark 1. So, these disciples have known Jesus for at least a year when Christ approaches them in Mark 1:16. Peter is a believer. He has evangelized the city of Sychar with Christ. But now he is fishing for fish.

The gospel of John distinguishes the freeness of salvation (John 4:10-14) from the costliness of discipleship (John 8:31-32). The only condition for everlasting life is belief in Jesus Christ alone for His free gift (John 3:14-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-27; 20:31), but there are many conditions for discipleship including following Christ (John 8:12; 12:24-26; 21:19-22), abiding in Jesus’ word (John 8:31-32), loving one another (John 13:34-35), and bearing fruit (John 15:1-8).  

The apostle John uses the word “believe” ninety-nine times in his gospel. 3  The word “believe” means to be convinced that something is true, and then trust in that something. Trusting in Jesus is like riding on an airplane. When you ride on an airplane, do you need to push the plane to get it off the ground? No, of course not. Do you need to flap your arms to keep the airplane in the air? Absolutely not. All you must do is trust a person, your pilot, to take you to your destination. In the same way, the gospel of John invites non-Christians to trust in Jesus Christ alone through no effort of your own for His gift of everlasting life. The moment you do, Jesus guarantees you have everlasting which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Your eternal security is not based upon your good works or your faithfulness, but upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross and His faithfulness to His promise. That is security that lasts forever!!!

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for the sheep. Like a sheep that hears the voice of its shepherd and trusts him for its safety and security, so You are my Good Shepherd. The moment I heard Your voice say to me when I was nineteen years of age, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life,” I believed or trusted in You alone to give me Your gift of everlasting life. You guaranteed then that I had everlasting life and that I would never be judged for my sins. My relationship with You is permanent because I had passed from death into life. You gave me security that can never be taken away from me! That security is not based on my faithfulness, but on Yours to keep Your promises to those who believe in You. Thank You so much my Lord and my God. I worship You for Who You are and what You have done for me. In Your name. Amen.   

ENDNOTE:

1. Dr. Bob Wilkin, “Is Following Christ a Condition of Eternal Life?” Grace in Focus (Grace Evangelical Society, April 1990).

2. Dr. Charlie Bing, “The Condition For Salvation In John’s Gospel,” Journal Of The Grace Evangelical Society, Vol. 9:16, (Spring 1996): 31.

3. John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 2

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” John 10:14

I can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I REALIZE HIS INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF ME (John 10:14-15). “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” (John 10:14). It was important for a shepherd to know his sheep. He must know their needs, weaknesses, and their problems. Without this kind of knowledge, he would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of his sheep. Christ is the Good Shepherd not only because He lays down His life for us, but because He has an intimate knowledge of us.

Jesus repeats His “I AM” statement when He says, “I am the good Shepherd.” “I AM” was the name of the Self-existing God who had revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Since Jesus is the Self-existing God, He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us. It is also important that the sheep know their shepherd. They must know his voice so they can respond when he calls them. They must learn to trust their shepherd so he can provide for their needs.

In this technological age, it is easy to begin feeling like a number on a computer instead of a person. We are identified by our Social Security number rather than by our name. We receive junk mail addressed to “Resident” instead of personalized correspondence. Such impersonal methods may cause some people to conclude, “No one cares about me. No one knows where I am or how I am feeling.” But that is not true. Jesus cares. He knows you by name (John 10:3). He knows you intimately (John 10:14).

We never need to feel like the young student who felt slighted when Edward VII, the king of England from 1901 to 1910, was visiting a city to lay the cornerstone for a new hospital. Thousands of school children were present to sing for him. Following the ceremony, the king walked past the excited youngsters. After the king was gone, a teacher saw one of her students crying. She asked her, “Why are you crying? Did you not see the king?” “Yes,” the young girl sobbed, “but the king did not see me.” King Edward could not have taken notice of each child in that throng. Jesus, however, gives individual attention to each of us. Christ knows who you are. You matter to Jesus.

You may think God has forgotten you and that He is a thousand miles away. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you. There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never. He has seen every breath you have ever taken, every thought you ever had, every word you have ever said, everything you have ever done good or bad, and He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love. 

It is hard for us to imagine that Jesus pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eye on you. Jesus said in Luke 12:6-7 “…  God never overlooks a single sparrow. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head!” For some of us that is not very difficult! God loves you with a love you have never imagined. He has always paid attention to you. He has never taken His eyes off you.

The more we understand how intimately Christ knows us and loves us, the more we will want to “know” our Shepherd on a more intimate level like the Son knows the Father. “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:15). The Son must know the Father to follow His will, just like the sheep must know the Shepherd to follow Him faithfully. Jesus taught that the relationship the sheep enjoy with Himself is unique, as His relationship with His Father is unique.

Jesus’ intimate relationship with His Father is what enabled Him to obey His Father even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). He laid down His life for the sheep. When Jesus was verbally and physically abused by His enemies, He did not retaliate. Instead, “He committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously” and He “bore our sin in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” (I Peter 2:23-24). Peter explains further why Jesus bore our sins in His own body. “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (I Peter 2:25). When Christians face injustice and suffering, they can be reassured that they have a good “Shepherd” who cares for them and provides for them. This Good Shepherd is the “Overseer” of their souls who protects and watches over them.

I am reminded of a story I heard about a Christian woman who invited her unbelieving feminist female friend to church one Sunday. After the pastor finished preaching about the role of men and women in marriage from Ephesians 5:22-33, the feminist looked at her friend and said, “I could follow a man who is willing to die for me.” The Christian woman replied, “There is such a Man and His name is Jesus Christ.” Knowing the love that Christ has for us draws us closer to Him as our Good Shepherd. When you know that Someone genuinely loves you enough to die for you, you can trust Him to lead you and care for you.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, living in this time of COVID and social unrest, it can be easy to feel alone and unimportant. We may feel that You have lost our address and do not even care about us. But Your Word reminds us that this is not even close to the truth. You are our Good Shepherd and You know Your sheep intimately. Our feelings may tell us that we are all alone and unimportant to You, but Your voice of truth reminds us that You are always with us and Your eyes and ears never take their focus off of us. Your love for us is constant regardless of our past. You demonstrated this when You died for us even though we were still undeserving sinners (Romans 5:8). The more we focus on the truth of Your constant love and care for us, the more we will want to draw close to You. Your love casts out fear. Your love removes the barriers we have erected to protect ourselves. Though we were once lost sheep, we have now returned to You, Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We can now trust You to provide, protect, and guide His precious sheep so we can live to please You alone. The more we know You, the more we want to make You known. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.  

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 2

“To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name.” John 10:3ab

A second reason why we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd is because HE HAS THE DOORKEEPER’S CONFIRMATION (John 10:3a). “To him the doorkeeper opens.”  (John 10:3a). “The doorkeeper” watches several flocks at night and then opens the door to the fold in the morning for the authorized shepherd to enter.

I believe the identity of the doorkeeper in the gospel of John is John the Baptist. He opened the door for Jesus to enter the fold of Israel as their True Shepherd. John identified himself as “‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23). He points to Jesus and says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). As Jesus’ popularity increased, John pointed his jealous disciples to Jesus and said, “He must increase [in popularity], but I must decrease [in popularity].” (John 3:30). Then He pointed to Jesus’ greatness in His origin – “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31a), in His teaching – “33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:33-34), and in His gift – “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

John did not introduce one of the Pharisees or Sadducees to the nation of Israel as a shepherd, but rather John condemned them and their legalistic systems. Nor did John introduce some other religious leader as the True Shepherd. Instead, John the Baptist introduced Jesus Christ as the True Shepherd because He came through the door of the Messianic prophecies (John 10:2). He opens the door of Israel to Jesus so He can call His sheep out of the fold.

The third reason why we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd is because HE HAS PERSONAL CONCERN FOR EACH OF US (John 10:3b). “…and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name.” (John 10:3b). There are many different flocks in the fold. When the shepherd comes to retrieve his flock in the morning, his sheep “hear his voice.” The word “hear (akouō) refers to “attentive appreciation.” The sheep are familiar with their shepherd’s tone of voice. This tone of voice makes the sheep want to follow their shepherd. Why? Because “He calls his own sheep by name.” A shepherd would give names to each of his sheep based on the sheep’s behavior or appearance. He might have a Tiger, a Blacky, a Sleepy, etc. The shepherd had a tender affection for each of his sheep.

Likewise, our true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, knows each of us intimately. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows everything about us and yet He still loves us. The fact that He knows me and still loves me answers some of the fundamental questions that I have: “Does God know me? Does He know I exist? Does He care about my problems or are they too unimportant for Him?” 

Nothing is too unimportant for God. Matthew 10:30 says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Psalm 145:8-9 instructs us, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Circle “all.” That includes everyone. God knows me and still loves me. His love for us is not based on whether we respond to it or not. God is love. His love is unconditional. No strings attached. God would love us as if there were only one of us to love. The Bible teaches that God feels for each of us and loves us. When God is loving you right now He does not stop loving you. That’s the way it works.

As a parent, when you are videotaping your kids, maybe in a school play or in a church choir,  and you zoom in just on your child? You just want to see your son or daughter. That’s what God does with each of us. He zooms in on you as an individual because you are important to Him. You may be checking this whole Christianity thing out today. You’re thinking “I’m going to come in a crowd, because I can hide in this crowd and investigate Christianity.” You can hide in this crowd but you can’t hide from God. You think you are a seeker but God is also seeking you out.

Jesus loves you. He knows you. He knows your pain. He knows your past. He knows your sin. You don’t have to hide from Jesus. You don’t have to work so hard to cover up your sins and shortcomings. Jesus knows them already and He still loves you and cares about you. When you know someone loves you deeply, you are more inclined to trust him or her.

The problem for many of us is we have been disappointed by false shepherds in the religious community who cared more about themselves than God’s people. If you have come out of a Pharisaic system, perhaps you were mistreated by religious leaders. Maybe they shamed you and placed burdens on you that were too difficult to carry. They cared more about your performance and outward appearance than they did about what was going on inside of you. Consequently, you have a difficult time trusting anyone connected with Christianity or anything religious.

Jesus, the True Shepherd, knows everything about you and He longs to be in a personal relationship with you. Jesus is calling you by your name. Can you slow down enough to hear Him? He wants to heal you of the wounds that were inflicted upon you by religious leaders who cared only about themselves. Since you were wounded in the context of relationships, your healing will also take place in the context of relationships. Only this time, Jesus will facilitate your healing in the context of loving relationships within His family. Are you willing to give Jesus a chance? He is waiting to hear from you. He will not force His way into your life. His love gives you the freedom to choose. You can choose to do life on your own or you can invite Jesus to be a part of your healing journey. I pray you will choose Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my True Shepherd, I am so glad You called me by my name after I gave up on religion. I was disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the religious establishment that I grew up in. I perceived You to be a cold and distant deity because of my experiences with religious leaders. I was taught that God is love but I was bad, and I had to try harder to follow Him if I was going to make it to heaven. The good in my life had to be much greater than the bad if I was going to be accepted by You. Even though I thought I was too bad for anyone to love me, including You, You still pursued me and called me by my name. Thank You for never giving up on me, Lord Jesus. I am so grateful that Your Word exposed the many lies that kept me from trusting You as my True Shepherd. Thank You for Your people who loved me despite my many failures and sins. Knowing how much You love me enabled me to trust You for life that never ends. Now I want You to use me to share Your love with those who have given up on religion because of the wounds inflicted upon them by religious establishments. Please help them to discover that You are the True Shepherd Who knows them intimately and wants them to know You in the same way. In Your powerful and loving name I pray. Amen.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 1

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” John 10:2

Throughout Israel’s history, false shepherds have mistreated the people of God (Ezekiel 34:2-6). These shepherds only cared about themselves and neglected to care for the people God had placed in their care. They exploited the sheep instead of meeting their needs. Instead of gathering them safely together, they scattered God’s people, making them vulnerable to the enemies of God’s flock.

In view of Israel’s false shepherds, the Lord promised a faithful Shepherd who would care for His flock. That shepherd would be God Himself. 11 For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,’ says the Lord God. 16 ‘I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick.’ ” (Ezekiel 34:11-16). These verses provide the background for John 10 where Jesus is introduced as the True Shepherd among the false shepherds of Israel called Pharisees.

Earlier in Matthew 9:36 we are told, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” The Pharisees misused their spiritual authority and demanded that the people follow them instead of the Lord. In other words, the Pharisees were the contemporary false shepherds of Jesus’ day. They were persuaded that Jesus was a false Messiah and so they tried to convince the people of Israel to reject Christ. Christ came to demonstrate to the nation of Israel that He was the true Shepherd that God promised to send to the nation to lead them in paths of righteousness and bring them into their long-awaited kingdom. 

In chapter nine of John, the healing grace of Jesus was contrasted with the spiritual pride of the Pharisees. We observed the Pharisees (false shepherds) mistreat the sheep of God’s fold, particularly the man born blind. Instead of rejoicing when the man born blind was healed, they were more concerned that Jesus had violated their religious rules on the Sabbath (9:15-16). The Pharisees disbelieved the former blind man’s testimony (9:18) and kept trying to discredit him by repeatedly asking him how he was healed (9:15, 19, 26). They used their power to keep the people in fear, threatening them with excommunication if they confessed Jesus to be the Christ (9:22). They reviled or verbally abused the man born blind when he asked if they wanted to become Jesus’ disciples (9:28). When they could not overcome the man’s logic and the evidence of his miraculous healing, with arrogance they said to him, “You were completely born in sin, and are you teaching us?” (9:34). By asserting that this man’s blindness was due to specific sins in his life they intended to shame him into silence and discredit his testimony. These Pharisees were not faithful shepherds over the Lord’s flock.

The Pharisees replaced rest in Jesus with demands for spiritual performance. People under a Pharisaic system today can develop a distorted image of God. Instead of viewing God as someone they can trust, they do not trust God because they have been mistreated by God’s representatives known as spiritual leaders. In John 10:1-10, we will learn over the next few days how to trust the True Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who is on our side and not against us in contrast to the self-centered shepherds called the Pharisees. I CAN TRUST THE LORD JESUS AS THE TRUE SHEPHERD BECAUSE…

HE HAS PROPHETIC CREDENTIALS (John 10:1-2). Jesus had come to the fold in the way God said His Shepherd would come. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1). The apostle John begins Jesus’ teaching with no indication of a different audience or location. The words “Mostly assuredly, I say to you” usually follow up some previous teaching by Christ. So, it is important to understand that the events in John 9 are closely connected to what happens here in John 10.

At night, the sheep were herded into “the sheepfold,” a walled enclosure or pen that was partially roofed or in a cave. The pen had stout walls about four to six feet in height and one gate which was guarded by a door keeper. The door keeper allowed authorized people to enter through the gate, but he would prohibit unauthorized people to enter lest they try to harm or steal the sheep. The person who climbs over the walls instead of using the proper entrance is identified by Jesus as “a thief and a robber.”

We can make a distinction between a “thief” and a “robber.” A “thief” steals subtly and in secret. They break into your house when you are gone or when you are asleep and steal without you knowing it. Robbers are more aggressive. They hold you up at knifepoint and force you to give up your valuables. In both cases, they do not care about you. They want to use you for their own gain. The false shepherds of Israel, the Pharisees, were both cunning like a thief and oppressive like a robber toward the sheep of God. They cared only for themselves and not for God’s people.

In contrast to the thief and robber is the shepherd. “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:2). Notice it says he is “the shepherd,” not “a shepherd.” The True Shepherd uses the lawful method of entry into the sheepfold. He uses the gate. “The door” or gate refers to the way God said the True Shepherd would enter the sheepfold of Israel.

Jesus came to the sheepfold in the way God predicted in the Old Testament:

– The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).  

– The Messiah would be a descendant of David (Jeremiah 33:16-17).

– The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

– The Messiah would be born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).

– The Messiah would come to Jerusalem after sixty-nine “weeks” of years  (483 years) from the time of the rebuilding of the temple in 444 B.C. (Daniel 9:24-27).

–  The Messiah would be presented to the nation of Israel through a forerunner (Malachi 3:1).

– The Messiah would give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and cause the lame to walk to authenticate His Messianic identity (Isaiah 35:5-6).

– The Messiah would be the Prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).

– The Messiah would be a light to shine on the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1-6).

There was a wealth of objective evidence which could be tested to determine if Jesus was indeed, the True Shepherd. Christ was inviting those who doubted the evidence to reconsider it. He wanted them to see if He had entered the sheepfold, the nation of Israel, the way God prophesied that He would come.

Math professor, Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, takes just eight Old Testament prophecies about Christ and asks, “What is the chance that any man might have lived from the day of these prophecies down to the present time [88 billion people later] and have fulfilled all eight?” He comes up with the answer of one in one hundred quadrillion or 10 17.

Then he helps us picture this huge number. If you take 10 17 silver dollars and spread them all over Texas, they would cover the entire state two feet deep. Mark one of the silver dollars, mix it into the whole, blindfold a man and tell him that he can go as far as he wants, but he must pick the one marked dollar. That is the same chance that Jesus could have fulfilled just eight Old Testament prophecies.” 1 The reality is that Jesus fulfilled over a hundred prophecies at His first coming!

A false shepherd could not fulfill the Old Testament Scripture to authenticate his claim to be the True Shepherd. In fact, many people have claimed to be the True Shepherd, but none of them came to the nation of Israel the way the Old Testament predicted. Only Jesus came to the nation of Israel the way God said He would come. This means that only Jesus is the True Shepherd who entered through Israel’s door as the Messiah-God!

Before you can believe that Jesus is the True Shepherd, you may need answers for your mind. The Old Testament prophesied how the True Shepherd would enter through the door of the sheepfold of Israel, and Jesus fulfilled all those prophecies. Did Mohammed, Buddha, or Confucius fulfill all of those Old Testament prophecies? Did anyone other than Jesus Christ fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the True Shepherd to Israel? No. Not even close. The evidence for Jesus coming the way God said He would is overwhelming! The question is, “Will you accept the evidence or reject it?”

The majority of Israel’s religious leaders rejected this prophetic evidence. They knew the Scriptures, but they were not willing to come to the Messiah-God of Whom the Scriptures testified (John 5:39-40). They were unwilling to admit their sinfulness and their need for the True Shepherd Who would lay down His life for His sheep. I pray you will not make the same mistake as those leaders did because the consequences are eternal (John 3:36b; Revelation 20:10, 15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for exposing the false shepherds in my past who cared only for themselves and not for the people they were entrusted to shepherd and point to You. Those hurtful religious experiences in my past distorted my view of You. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me through the Bible so I can begin to see You for Who You truly are. I am amazed by how many Old Testament prophecies You fulfilled at Your First Coming which indicates You came into the sheepfold the way God said You would! No other person in history can claim to fulfill all those Old Testament prophecies. Your prophetic credentials point to You as the True Shepherd, and therefore, I can trust You with my eternal life. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Peter Stoner, Science Speaks: An Evaluation of Certain Christian Evidences, (Moody Press, 1953), pp. 99-112.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 4

“And Jesus said to her, ‘… Go and sin no more.’ ” John 8:11c

So far we have looked at three ways to overcome condemnation:

– Rest under Christ’s gracious teachings (John 7:53-8:2)

– Redirect those who condemn me to their own sin (John 8:3-9)

– Replace my guilt with Christ’s forgiving grace (John 8:10-11b)

Today our final and most important way to overcome condemnation is to RELY ON CHRIST TO OVERCOME SIN (John 8:11c). After forgiving the woman’s adultery, Jesus said to her, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11c). Is Jesus talking about sinless perfection here? No, because that would contradict other Scriptures (cf. I John 1:8, 10). He is not referring to sin in general or to sinless perfection, but He is referring specifically to the sin of adultery. Jesus forgives and forbids in the same breath.

Christ did not condone, rationalize, or excuse her sin. He forgave her so she could live the way she was created to live… for God’s glory. This was probably the first man who was more interested in saving her than exploiting her, and in forgiving her than condemning her. Jesus provided the assurance and motivation she needed to live for Him now.

And He does the same with us. Christ did not forgive you so you could continue in your sin. He forgave you so you could live for Him now (2 Corinthians 5:15). You must rely on His Spirit and Word to resist temptation and obey His commands (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:41; John 8:31-32; 16:13-14; Romans 8:11; I Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 5:16-17).

So many of us live with negative labels. Sometimes they are not our own fault. But so many times they are of our own doing. And thus, we think that our story is one of failure and shame. But you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because our story can be a story of grace. For it is grace that heals broken hearts and restores estranged sinners.

And Jesus points us to what we are meant to be. We don’t have to live in our past. We don’t have to live with the label. We don’t have to live a life that is powerless in the face of temptation and sin. We are chosen for something more.

You know, none of us deserve to be forgiven. We haven’t earned it. Nor have we paid the price ourselves. Yet, in His grace, when Jesus forgives our sin, He forgets (Hebrews 10:17). Our past ended one second ago. Once you have experienced grace, it is now time to show it to others. We are to be gracious with others as Christ has been gracious with us (Ephesians 4:32).

What stones are you holding onto today? The Stone of unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, hatred, or prejudice? Whatever stone you are carrying, it is time to lay it down. Whether you meant to throw it at yourself or someone else, don’t you think it is time for you to lay down your stones? Why not take this opportunity to give your stones over to Jesus?

When I shared this message at the provincial jail near our home in the Philippines a few years ago, some musicians played a song while several inmates came forward to drop their stone that was given to them at the beginning of the chapel service into a bucket labeled “Grace.” I then challenged them to trust Christ to build something beautiful with what their stone represented. It was wonderful to watch each person drop his or her stone into the bucket of grace and then look up with a huge smile on their face as if to say, “I’m free! I’m free from condemnation because of Jesus’ grace!”

I got goosebumps watching this unfold. After they were finished surrendering their stone of condemnation to the Lord, we prayed this prayer:

“Lord Jesus, we confess that nothing we do makes us deserving of Your magnificent grace. Lord, some of us have been carrying these stones around… stones that were weighing us down. Stones that were keeping us from experiencing Your grace. But today, we are giving You those stones. Take them, Lord, and use them to build something beautiful in our lives. We are so glad that when You forgive us, You forget. And You are not only willing but pleased to use any vessel – just as long as it is clean today – at this moment. It may be cracked or chipped. It may be worn or it may have never been used before. But we can count on this – because of Your grace – our past ended one second ago. From this point on we can be clean and filled with Your Spirit. Use us for Your glory, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

How do I follow God’s Plan? Part 2

“For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” John 7:5

A second way to follow God’s plan in addition to attending to those who are receptive (John 7:1), is to AVOID PRESUMPTUOUS RISKS (John 7:2-5). Why would the all-powerful Son of God, the Creator of the universe, stay away from Jerusalem to protect Himself from those who were seeking to kill Him (John 7:1)? Why doesn’t He just zap them and turn them into a heap of dust so everybody can know He is the Son of God? For Jesus to go to Jerusalem without the Father’s leading would have been an act of presumption, not faith.

There is a fine line between faith and presumption. One meets with God’s approval and the other prompts His judgment. The word “presumption” conveys the idea of running ahead and taking over. When we move by our own initiative – when we are not living in true submission and dependence upon the Lord – but simply following our own will or inclinations, we will not have the same protection and authority that is ours when we are walking in simple obedience to God.

“Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.” (John 7:2). This great feast of Israel occurred in early October and it was a big deal. Originally it was seven days in length, but later one more day was added (called in this chapter “the great day of the feast”). During this time, the inhabitants of Jerusalem built booths out of tree limbs which they thatched over, and families actually moved out of their houses and lived in them. This was to remind them that for forty years their ancestors wandered as pilgrims in the wilderness and lived in tents. The Feast of Tabernacles also looks ahead prophetically to Israel’s kingdom joy when the nation is regathered in the land (Zechariah 14:16).

Think about how we celebrate Christmas in America. For months we prepare. We buy gifts. We make travel plans. We gather food for the big Christmas day meal. We live in anticipation of the time off from work and the quality time with family and friends. Just as we prepare for Christmas, these first century Jews lived for the annual Feast of Tabernacles.

That’s why Jesus’ half-brothers come to Him with some advice: “His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.’ ” (John 7:3). On the surface, it looks like they want Jesus to capitalize on the large number of people at the feast and acquire some publicity. “Get out of the sticks, Brother! Head south to where all Your disciples are who left You. Maybe You can win them back with Your miracles!”

His brothers continue, For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly.” (John 7:4a). “Jesus, You are being unrealistic. If you want to be recognized as the Messiah, You have got to move out into the open where people can see what You are doing. You need to change your plan if You want to reach the nation.” If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” (John 7:4b). “Don’t waste Your gifts, Jesus. You need to show Your miraculous powers to the whole world! So go down to Jerusalem and strut Your stuff.”

At first, this sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? There is almost a systematic, businesslike way to it. But the problem is: this was their plan, not God’s plan. John lets us in on the truth here. “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” (John 7:5). Isn’t this amazing!? Jesus’ brothers lived with Him all those years and yet, they did not realize His uniqueness. They did not believe He was the promised Messiah-God.

A comic once said there are three ways you can tell that Jesus was Jewish: First, because He worked for His father. Second, because He stayed home until He was thirty. And, third, because His mother thought he was God!

That may have been true of His mother, but it was not true of His brothers. They did not see Him as any different than themselves. While His miraculous powers must have amazed and astonished them, and they could not figure Him out, yet they did not believe His claims to be the Messiah. Why? To show the readers of John and us that family connections don’t save. Being born or raised in a Christian home does not make you a Christian any more than being born in a soccer stadium makes you a soccer player. Your grandparents’ good works cannot save you because they are all stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Family traditions do not get us to heaven.

Only Jesus Christ can get us to heaven (Acts 4:10-12). Every person on earth is invited to make the decision to believe or trust in Christ alone to save himor her for an eternity in hell (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). This may offend your family, but what is better – to offend your family who can only destroy your physical body or to offend your God “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” forever (cf. Matthew 10:28)!?!

So this ends up being a real challenge for Jesus. His brothers’ advice was rooted in rejection and unbelief. Jesus’ brothers knew He would go to the feast – all Jewish males were required to do so. The Jews were plotting to kill Christ and His brothers supported this. But God had not told Jesus to go to Jerusalem, so Jesus didn’t take it upon Himself to go.

As Christians, we need to be very careful about the advice we receive from non-Christians. The non-believer does not have a biblical framework from which to guide their decision-making.  They are not sensitive to what pleases God, so it is very important that we examine their advice in light of what God’s Word says.

Jesus’ half-brothers were religious people. Their presumption sounded so spiritual. Likewise, religious people today can talk the talk. But in reality, they are not walking the walk. The devil was very religious when he was tempting Jesus. He talked the talk – he quoted scripture. But his suggestion was marked by two qualities: pride and self-interest. Anytime a person is motivated by pride and self-interest there’s a good chance he or she is operating in the realm of presumption, not faith.

If God tells you to go to the dark side of the city and share the gospel, then go. But get His authorization before you go. Don’t just go on your own initiative. We are called to go but we still need to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit as to exactly how, where, and when we are to do that.

In 1912 the “unsinkable” Titanic was launched in Liverpool, England. On board was a family, which was unexpectedly transferred to the Titanic for its maiden voyage. The god-fearing mother of seven-year-old Eva Hart saw the pride and disregard for normal safety measures exercised by the ship’s captain. After reading the shipbuilders’ claims, Mrs. Hart believed – and so stated – “This is flying in the face of God!”

Because of Mrs. Hart’s spiritual convictions and concern for the presumption of the ship’s leadership, throughout the voyage she stayed awake at night aware of the pending disaster. Because of her sensitivity to God’s warning she was able to move her family to an upper deck almost immediately after the ship collided with the unseen iceberg. Her family did not join the 1,500 others who died that night.

Jesus stayed in Galilee because it would have been presumptuous to go to Jerusalem without the Father’s leading. Likewise, we are to follow God’s plan by avoiding presumptuous risks. Seek the Holy Spirit’s leading before making a final decision.

Prayer: Father God, how desperately I need to depend on You for guidance and wisdom.The world advises me to make decisions based on what is popular and best for me without paying attention to what pleases You. Forgive me for the many presumptuous decisions I have made out of pride and self-interest. Lord God, I want to submit to Your leading, not my own or my family’s or my friends’. Thank You for reminding me that family relations are not what save me from my sins and give me everlasting life. Only You are able to rescue me from hell and give me everlasting life the moment I believe in You alone. Please empower me to boldly share this message of hope to a lost and dying world. In the name of my Lord and my God, Jesus Christ. Amen.