How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 3

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” John 13:38

We are learning how to impact our hate-filled world for Christ. So far we have discovered we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33) and commit to loving others as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). The final way to impact a hate-filled world for Christ, is to CLING TO JESUS SO HE CAN LOVE OTHERS THROUGH US (John 13:36-38).

Jesus’s announcement of His departure and consequent separation from His disciples raised concerns in their minds (John 13:33). Peter spoke up first. “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’ ” (John 13:36). Peter loved the Lord so much he wanted to go with Him. Jesus gently tells Peter it would not be possible for him to be with Jesus right then, but He did encourage Peter when He said, “you shall follow Me afterward.” Perhaps Christ was referring to when Peter would die and go to heaven to be with Him.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ ” (John 13:37). Peter was perplexed about the Lord’s destination. Because of the opposition of the religious leaders on previous visits, Jesus had departed from Jerusalem. Peter supposed on this occasion that Jesus would depart to another region outside of Jerusalem.  The disciples had accompanied Jesus on other departures from Jerusalem, why couldn’t Peter accompany Him this time? Peter concludes that Jesus was departing alone because it was too dangerous for the Eleven to follow Him. On this occasion Peter was not afraid to go with Jesus in the face of danger. He would be loyal to Christ even unto death! Notice Peter’s self-reliance: “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” He does not say, “By God’s grace or with God’s help I will lay down my life for Your sake.”

Peter had good intentions, but it is much easier to express them in a secure room after good food than in a darkened garden with a hostile mob. We can be a lot like Peter. In our minds we envision ourselves as better followers of Jesus than we actually are. Pride can cause us to think too highly of ourselves and then we fall flat on our faces.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” (John 13:38). The Lord knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew Peter would disown Him when his life was threatened. Peter needed to learn to rely on the Lord to remain loyal to Him. Jesus would lay down His life for Peter, but Peter in no way would lay down his life for the Lord at this time.

How do you think Peter felt when he heard Jesus predict his three denials of knowing Christ? Confused? Shocked? Peter was certain he would be faithful to Christ even when threatened with death. “I’ll show You, Lord, how loyal I am to You!” Peter thought he could remain faithful to Jesus in his own strength. Perhaps he thought he could love the other disciples like Jesus loved him by using his own abilities. “Lord, I love these guys so much, I will even lay down my life for them!” “No Peter,” Jesus says, “You must learn to rely on Me to do this in your life.”

We cannot love one another as Christ has loved us unless we trust Him to love others through us. It is not a natural desire to wash dirty feet, especially when those dirty feet belong to someone else. Nor is it natural for us to want to cleanse the dirt in our own spiritual lives. God must work in our hearts to enable us to do this.

Jesus is calling us to let Him live a supernatural life through us so we can love the undeserving as He has loved us. This coming week, you will probably have opportunities to love other believers with dirty feet. You may learn that someone has gossiped about you and said some very hurtful things about you. You may be tempted to do the same to him or her. Someone at your work or school may push your buttons and test your patience. You will be tempted to get angry and retaliate.

Like Peter, John is reminding us that we cannot love Jesus’ way in our own strength. We must rely on Christ who can give us the power to love others selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally as He has loved us. Today will you make a commitment to obey Jesus’ new commandment and love one another as He has loved you? You won’t regret it and it may encourage an unbeliever to investigate this Person by the name of Jesus Christ. The world desperately needs disciples of Jesus who love like Jesus loves.

Prayer: Lord God, I cannot give to others what I do not have. This is why it is so important to spend time with You so I may receive Your love for me. Like a water bucket under a faucet, I need You to refill my love bucket under the fountain of Your love when I am running on empty. I can tell when I need to be refilled. I tend to be easily irritated or angered, and it is difficult to let go of past hurts and be available to love others. Thank You for reminding me that I cannot love others in my own strength. I need to spend time with You, talking to You in prayer and listening to You as I read and study the Bible. The more time I spend with You, the more You enable me to love those who matter to me. I give myself to You, my Lord and my God, to be a channel of Your love to others. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 3

“His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’ ” John 9:22-23

As we continue to look at the man born blind whom Jesus healed (John 9:1-12), we will discover a third symptom of spiritual blindness. After the parents of this healed man testified that this was their son who was born blind (John 9:20), they would not tell the Pharisees how their blind son gained his sight. They said, “But by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” (John 9:21). They said nothing about how or by whom he received his sight because they were afraid of being excommunicated from the synagogue. They evade this issue by saying their son was an adult capable of answering for himself.

22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’ ” (John 9:22-23). The parents say nothing of Jesus. If these parents allowed their son to beg, then it was unthinkable for them to confess Christ before the Pharisees. Because no one could conduct business with a person who was excommunicated from the synagogue.

The Jews had three types of excommunication:

1. The Nezifah (“reproof”), the mildest formwas applied “when someone had insulted a prominent or learned person. It lasted seven days and the offender could not appear before the one he displeased. He had to retire to his house, speak little, refrain from business and pleasure, and manifest his remorse.” 1

2. The Niddui (“separation), was imposed when “the offender was first publicly warned three times at the regular service in the synagogue. During the period of discipline … (30 days according to the Jerusalem Talmud) no one except the members of his immediate household were permitted to associate with the offender, or sit within four cubits of him, or eat in his company. He had to observe all the laws that pertained to a mourner and could not be counted among the number necessary for the performance of a public religious function.” 2

3. The Barem (“ban”), “was the most rigorous form of excommunication. This extended for an indefinite period during which no one was permitted to teach the offender, work for him, or benefit him in any way. It meant exclusion from the religious community and intercourse with Jewish society.” 3

Whatever form of excommunication was enforced then, the threat was serious enough to keep the parents quiet about the identity of their son’s Healer. This is the third symptom of spiritual blindness – DESIRE THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TRUTH (John 9:21-23). The parents of the former blind man withheld the truth about Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue and lose the opportunity to do business with others. In other words, they wanted the approval of the religious leaders but not the approval of God.

How many people have avoided the truth to please others? Maybe you come from a strong religious background and if you embraced the truth about Jesus Christ, you would suffer persecution from your family and religious community. Believing in a generic God is safe, but confessing Jesus Christ as the Messiah-God will bring opposition ranging from ridicule and mockery, to possible torture and death.

The sad part of this is people can end up in hell because they sought to preserve their own lives and livelihood like the parents of the man born blind instead of seeking the truth about Jesus Christ. Let’s put this in perspective. Would you rather avoid temporary sufferings on earth by rejecting Jesus Christ and then experience eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire after you die or would you rather endure temporary sufferings on earth now by believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life to possess eternal bliss and joy in heaven with Jesus after you die? Is your comfort now more important than your comfort in eternity? Many people will be separated from God forever in the lake of fire because they sought the approval of people instead of seeking the truth about Jesus Christ. What will you choose?

The Bible says, “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). Heaven and hell are in the balance my friends. If you do not believe or trust in Christ alone as your only hope of heaven simply to avoid suffering on earth now, you will regret this forever as you suffer torment in the lake of fire. On the other hand, if you will transfer all your trust onto Jesus Christ, Who died for your sins and rose from the dead, for His gift of everlasting life now, you will enjoy Jesus’ presence forever in a perfect and problem-free place called heaven.

If you are a believer in Jesus, it is possible to have a reluctance to express that faith publicly for fear of persecution. For example, many of the ruling Pharisees had saving faith but were afraid to express that faith to others because they loved the approval of people more than God’s approval: 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43).

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (I John 1:7; 2:22-23; 4:15). When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (I John 4:15).

It is important to understand that confessing Christ before others is not a condition for receiving eternal life. Only believing in Jesus is necessary for salvation from hell (John 3:14-16, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). God can see our faith in Christ alone apart from any good works or outward manifestation (Romans 3:21-4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7). But confessing Christ before others is necessary to grow in our Christian lives.

Romans 10:9-10 is referring to believing in your heart “unto righteousness” which is justification before God (Romans 3:21-5:9a) and confessing with your mouth for salvation from the present-day wrath of God (Rom. 1:16-32; 5:9-10) which is sanctification or growing in the Christian life (Rom. 5:9b-8:39). Failure to confess Christ before others now, will result in the loss of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, particularly, the loss of ruling with Christ in the world to come (Matthew 10:32-42; 2 Corinthians 5:8-11; 2 Timothy 2:12). 

Let’s make every day count for eternity. As a Christian, live for the audience of One, Jesus Christ, and He will make your life eternally worthwhile (Colossians 3:23-24; Revelation 22:12).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding me that my choices now will determine what my eternity will be like. The most important decision anyone can make is what they will do with You, Lord Jesus. Will they believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life and enjoy eternity with You in heaven or will they choose not to believe in You and suffer torment forever separated from You in the lake of fire!?! I beg of You, my Lord and my God, to remove the blinders from those who are more concerned about their comfort on earth than about their comfort for eternity. Help them to believe that You, Jesus, are the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have eternal life in Your name alone. For those of us who believe in You, Jesus, please enable us to live for Your approval and not the approval of people. In Your everlasting name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 177-178.

2. Ibid, p. 178.

3. Ibid.

Why do some disciples or followers of Christ remain devoted to Him? Part 2

“Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  John 6:69

The second reason why some disciples remain devoted to Jesus is because THEY REACH A FULLER UNDERSTANDING OF WHO JESUS IS (John 6:68-69). After the majority of people in the crowd withdrew from Jesus to walk with Him no more (John 6:66), Jesus asked His twelve remaining disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67). Peter then replied to Jesus,68 Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68-69). This doesn’t mean the Eleven were unsure of their eternal destiny or the identity of Jesus up to this point. It simply means that Peter recognized that Jesus was giving them a fuller understanding of eternal life and His own identity. His words had filled their empty lives with eternal life and their lives would never be the same.

But eternal life included much more than going to heaven. It also included a bodily resurrection (John 11:25-26; I Corinthians 15:1-58; I Thessalonians 4:16), future events like the Tribulation and Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 6:1-20:6), eternal rewards for godly living (Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 10:35; Revelation 2:7, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7; 22:12, 14), and the importance of witnessing to those who are lost (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 8:11-13; 24:46-49; John 4:34-38; 20:21; Acts 1:8; et al.). And Jesus was so much more than they perceived Him to be when they first believed in Him (John 1-2). He had never done or said anything wrong (John 18:38; 19:4, 6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). He was the Sinless One, the Christ, the Messiah Who had performed miracles that only God could do (John 2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-15; 6:1-21; 9:1-41; 11:1-45; John 20:1-29; et al.). He had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (Matthew 1:21-23; 2:14-17, 23; 4:13-16; 8:16-17; 12:16-21; 13:34-35; 21:2-5; 26:47-56; 27:35; Mark 14:49; 15:27-28; Luke 4:16-21; 24:44-48; John 12:37-41; 15:24-25; 19:23-24, 28, 36-37; et al.). Their understanding of eternal life and the identity of Jesus had deepened as a result of obeying His commands and following Him (cf. John 14:21).

Even though the twelve disciples watched thousands of people abandon Jesus, they were going to stay with Him because no one else could meet their needs like Christ. Jesus’s words had penetrated their hearts and changed their lives (except for Judas).     

What about you? Have Jesus’s words penetrated your heart? Have you come to understand that you are a sinner and that nothing you do makes you deserving of heaven? Do you realize that Jesus died for your sins and rose again, proving that He is God? And have you trusted in Jesus as your only hope of heaven? If not, why not? What is keeping you from trusting Christ alone for eternal life?

And if you have trusted Christ alone for everlasting life, are you growing deeper in your relationship with Him? Is your understanding of eternal life and the Person of Jesus growing deeper or do you think you have learned all there is to learn about our Lord? If you are growing, you know your own failures and weaknesses, and that despite the many times you don’t understand what is happening to you, you simply cannot leave Jesus. In Christ, we have a love that never fails, a life that never ends, a peace that can never be understood, a rest that can never be disturbed, a joy that can never be diminished, a hope that never disappoints, a light that can never be darkened, a strength that cannot be depleted, a purity that can never be defiled, a security that can never be shaken, a wisdom that can never be baffled, and resources that can never be exhausted.

If you have found Jesus to be like that, where else can you go? Who else can measure up to that? You may be a new Christian or an older believer – maybe you are feeling defeated and discouraged. You may be saying to yourself, “I can’t continue as a disciple. It’s too hard. I blow it all the time. I’m going to hang it up.” My question for you is this: “Who else can you go to? Where can you find the answers and resources that you have drawn from our Lord Jesus?” This is what Peter is saying to Christ. There was nowhere else for them to go. Christ was all they had and He was all they needed!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when much of the world walks away from You shaking their heads, there are some who are not disturbed by this because they are growing in their understanding of eternal life and who You are as a Person. When I look back at all You have shown me and done for me, the thought of leaving You now is foolishness to me. Who else could I go to because You alone have words of eternal life? No other person on earth can guarantee everlasting life to those who believe in him or her because none of them are qualified. They are broken sinners like the rest of humanity. No religion can give eternal life to its followers because they are all man-made attempts to get to God. And they all fall short of that objective. But You my Lord and my God are the REAL DEAL. You claimed to be God and You backed it up with Your miraculous works. You are alive today at the right hand of God the Father. You have conquered sin, death, and the devil and You are seated in a position of great authority and victory! I cling to Your words because they give life and hope and purpose. You have met my deepest needs and now I bow my heart before You because You are worthy of all I have. I love You, Lord Jesus. Thank You for being You! Thank You for Your amazing grace and truth. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Why do some disciples or followers of Christ remain devoted to Him? Part 1

“Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ ”John 6:67

The majority of Jesus’s disciples withdrew from Him for various reasons after His Bread of Life teaching (John 6:60-66). But what about those who remained with Him? Why did they remain devoted to Jesus? Why do some followers remain faithful to Christ? BECAUSE THEY HAVE RESOLVED TO STAY CLOSE TO JESUS (John 6:67).

As Jesus watches the multitude around Him leave, He looks at the Twelve. Can’t you see the hurt in Jesus’ eyes as He looks at them. “Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ ”(John 6:67).  Jesus frames this question to expect a negative answer. “You don’t want to go away, too, do you? Are you committed? Let me hear you say so.” Jesus’s words imply that it is not impossible for His twelve disciples to leave, but the way He states it shows that His intent is to encourage them. “What do you really want, my friends? Do you want the process or the product?” The people that had left loved the product. People were being healed and fed an all-you-can-eat buffet. Life was good. But Jesus was pointing to a process of knowing and following Him. The twelve disciples could have left with the rest of the crowd, but they did not. Why? Because they resolved to stay close to Jesus. Have you resolved to follow Jesus regardless of the cost? Are you unreservedly committed to Him?

When Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez landed at Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1519, he was intent on conquest.  To assure the devotion of his men, Cortez set fire to his fleet of eleven ships! With no means of retreat, Cortez’s army had only one direction to move, into the Mexican interior. Cortez understood the price of commitment—and he paid it. We must burn our ships and move forward in our commitment to Jesus. Some of us may need to burn the following ships:

Selfishness“I’ll follow You as long as things go my way.”

Comfort“I’ll follow… if I don’t get hurt too bad”

Convenience“I’ll follow …if it doesn’t take a lot of my time or energy.”

But Jesus is calling us to surrender completely to Him. After all, it is not our life, it is His.

Notice that Jesus did not go after the multitudes when they left. He did not try to talk them out of leaving because He knew you cannot make someone do something against their will. Our Lord works with those who are willing, not unwilling. He invests His time and energy in those who are F.A.T. – Faithful, Available, and Teachable and we are to do the same.

Are we willing to remain devoted to Jesus even if the majority of people stop following Him or listening to Him? Have we burned our ships so that there is no turning back from following Jesus? Or do we have certain conditions that if met, will justify abandoning Jesus? Today is the day to burn those ship and resolve to stay close to Jesus no matter what the cost!

Prayer: Father God, many people may come to Jesus initially for what He can give to them. But as they listen to Him, they realize He is calling them to deeper commitments which go beyond their level of devotion to Him. Lord, I do not want to be like that, but my sinful flesh often wants the easy road instead of the road that requires endurance. Lord God, please show me  any ships in my life that need to be burned so I will remain devoted to You no matter what the costs. I believe in the days and months ahead, Christians are going to be deeply tested in their commitment to You. Lord Jesus, You are worthy of my complete devotion. This I know intellectually, but I also need to know this more in my heart and even in the depths of my unconscious mind. Please download the truth of Your Word into my heart or limbic system of my brain where many lies govern my decisions. May Your Holy Spirit replace those lies with Your truth so I will not be hindered as much from following You. Lord Jesus, I want to be unreservedly committed to You more than to anyone or anything else. Thank You for hearing my prayer my Lord and my God. In Jesus’s name. Amen.