How can I overcome loneliness? Part 3

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16

In 2 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul is writing to his dear friend named Timothy. Paul was a dying old man as he wrote from prison in Rome to Timothy. He urged the younger man to visit him because he was lonely. We are learning from Paul some different causes and cures for loneliness. So far we have discovered that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8) and separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13) and recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a).

The third cause of loneliness is OPPOSITION (2 Timothy 4:14a). Although Demas had merely abandoned Paul (2 Timothy 4:10), Paul writes that “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.” (2 Timothy 4:14a).It’s likely that this is the same Alexander in Ephesus who was a false teacher and whom Paul ‘delivered to Satan’ (1 Tim 1:19-20) because Paul warns Timothy, who was ministering in Ephesus, to watch out for him and his opposition to sound teaching (2 Tim 4:15).” 1

Paul is saying, “Not only am I getting old and sitting here alone in prison separated from my dear friends, but I have also been attacked.” We don’t know exactly what Alexander did. He may have vigorously opposed Paul at his trial. Maybe he slandered Paul’s name or attacked his reputation. Maybe he was turning people against Paul – we don’t know for sure. But to be vigorously opposed creates a very lonely feeling inside of us.

Remember when you were a little kid on the playground at school and everybody ganged up on you? “You are not our friend anymore!” they said.You felt opposed and you felt all alone, didn’t you? It is a painful experience to face opposition when everyone else is having fun. It is lonely to be misunderstood, to be embarrassed, and humiliated. The temptation is to build walls of protection around ourselves. But doing that only makes us lonelier.

We may harbor resentment toward those who have opposed us. We may want to get back at them and make them pay for the hurt they have caused us. The way Paul responds to the opposition in his life provides the third way to deal with loneliness: RELEASE THE HURT (2 Timothy 4:16). Don’t exaggerate your loneliness and don’t rehearse it over and over: “I’m so alone. I’m so alone.” Also, don’t allow the loneliness to make you bitter and resentful.

Paul said, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul’s words are reminiscent of Jesus’ and Stephen’s words toward their enemies before they died (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).

Paul had a lot of time on his hands, but he did not have any time to become bitter and resentful. He chose to forgive those who wounded him. Paul knew that bitterness only makes you lonelier and builds a wall around your life because no one likes to be around a cynic – someone who is always resentful and complaining.

Paul is saying, “I want to be a better person, not a bitter person, so I will utilize my time, recognize God’s presence, and release my hurt.” Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances. We can choose to focus on our feelings, or we can choose to focus on the truth. The truth is forgiveness frees us from past hurts.

All of us have been hurt and wounded by others, especially those we trusted. From beginning to end, the Bible emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. God even commands us to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Therefore Jesus taught us to pray, 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. 2 God invites us to release the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

I am learning that there are three things that can hinder me from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. 3 When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. We may judge their motives and try to read their minds. We tell ourselves, “He or she is evil, selfish, and does not care about me or love me.” Christ warns us about making such judgments (Matthew 7:1-2). These judgments can cause heart wounds that keep us from healing and growing. When we refuse to forgive that person, we can bind ourselves to the person we are judging and become more like that person.It is important to repent of our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. 4

Not only do judgments about our offenders hinder us from forgiving them, but so do the vows we make. Jesus opposed the practice of distorting vows so they could convey or conceal a lie (Matthew 5:33-35). We can make inner vows to survive the hurts we have suffered. For example, when a person I trusted hurts me, I may make an inner vow that says, “I will never trust anyone again!” Or “If I need others they will take advantage of me!” These types of vows can become self-curses that result in isolation and loneliness, which cause us even more pain. These inner vows can often become subconscious and do not disappear with time. They are like a contract that must be renounced or broken.  It is important to ask God to forgive us and break these vows we have made. 5

False beliefs or lies can also prevent us from forgiving others. We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just (Romans 12:19). Or “If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.” The truth is that just because you forgive them does not mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

If you are struggling with loneliness because of unforgiveness, take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. 6 You may want to start with those closest to you (e.g., a parent, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, etc.). What wound did he or she cause to you? (e.g., abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, neglected, rejected, etc.).

What are the judgments or things you believe about them? (e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matthew 7:1-2).

What vows did you tell yourself to survive the wound? (e.g., “I don’t need or trust anyone,” or “whatever I do, it won’t be enough,” or “all men/women are ______,” etc.). Renounce and repent of these vows, asking God to forgive you and to break them.

What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? (e.g., anger, addiction, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.).

What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? (e.g., apologize, change their behavior, justice, make restitution, money, repent or seek your forgiveness, etc.). Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt.

What false belief or lie is keeping you from forgiving them? Say the following false beliefs below to yourself to see if they feel true. If they do, then focus on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true.

False belief: If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.

True belief: Only God know what is just (Romans 12:19).

False belief: Forgiveness means I must pretend that nothing ever happened.

True belief: Forgiveness is not denial. You must tell yourself the truth about what they did and how it affected you to really be able to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35; John 8:32).

False belief: If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.

True belief: Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

False belief: My unforgiveness punishes them and is justified because I am right; they will never see their wrong and repent if I let go.

True belief: The truth is, it is God’s mercy and kindness that leads us to repentance. Only He knows what will change them (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:24-32).

If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness:

Father God, Your Word says that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And so, I come to You in the name of Jesus, in obedience and love, and I bring (name) _____ before You. I cancel _____ debt to me (e.g., apology, change of behavior, humiliation, repentance, suffering, etc.). I choose to forgive this hurt against me, and I ask that You would not hold these sins against _____ on my account. I release _____ from any desire on my part to see _____ punished. In fact, as You have told me to do, I bless _____ in Your Son’s name, Jesus. You know _____ desires, needs, and hurts. You know what would bless _____. And so, I ask that You would pour out Your love and healing to _____ and bring _____ Your highest good, because Your name is Good and Love, and You are not willing that any should perish. Now also, Father, please heal my heart and set me free to love _____ as You do. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2220-2221.

2. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124.

3. Ibid., pp. 126-131.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. The following steps are adapted from Ibid., pp. 129-132.

7. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 132.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 5

“So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” I Kings 19:8

We are learning from the prophet Elijah, how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. For this to happen, we must …

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Not compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

– Take care of our physical needs (I Kings 19:5-7a).

– Accept God is not done with us yet (I Kings 19:7b). 

After the angel of the Lord awakened Elijah again and informed him that God had a “journey” for him to take,he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” (I Kings 19:8). Just as Elijah needed food and rest, he also needed time in God’s presence.

Moses and the Israelites had traveled in that wilderness for 40 years, sustained by the manna God had provided for them and learned lessons of His faithful care and provision. Now Elijah would traverse the same desert for 40 days and … nights, sustained by the bread God provided and would learn the same lessons. A direct trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb (the ancient name for Mount Sinai; cf. Ex. 3:1; 17:6; 33:6; Deut. 5:2; 1 Kings 8:9; Ps. 106:19; Mal. 4:4) would have taken Elijah only about 14 days on foot (a distance of ca. 200 miles). God was reminding him and teaching him during those 40 days and nights. Finally He went to the mountain of God, the very place where God had revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites and where He had entered into a covenant with His Chosen People.” 1

Remember Elijah’s attitude in verse 4? He was ready to die, but now we see him doing what God wants him to do. He moves toward God. This is the fifth step to take to climb out of the pit of discouragement – PURSUE THE LORD (I Kings 19:8). Pursuing the Lord is one of the hardest things to do when we are overwhelmed with discouragement, but it is an important part of climbing out of this pit.

The Bible tells us, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). We must take the first step. God will not force His way into our lives without an invitation. We must open our hearts to Him. People are opening their hearts to all kinds of false hopes instead of to the Lord, our true source of hope.

We can draw near to God through prayer, praise, and obedience. The key is to be open and honest with the Lord. The apostle John writes, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7). Notice that this verse says, “If we walk in the light.” Only God is light (I John 1:5); but we are called to walk “in” the light. We must be willing to let God expose the sin in our lives. And when He does, we are to agree with Him by confessing our sin to Him (I John 1:9). Believers who “walk in the light” are not sinless, but the light reveals their sin to them so they can confess it to the Lord. When that happens “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

When holy people see themselves in God’s light, they see their dirt. And when they see the dirt, they want God to deal with it—something he is delighted to do. Only as we live fully exposed to the truth of God is the ongoing cleansing work of the blood of Christ activated to reveal, cleanse, and empower us to address the sin that has been exposed. Then fellowship with God is maintained and expanded.” 2

God has pursued us all our lives, but He also wants us to pursue Him. Let’s take some time to do that, especially when we are discouraged. It may not feel comfortable at first, but the Lord will not disappoint if we will take that first step toward Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when I think about Elijah’s decision to move toward You by taking his journey to Mt. Horeb, I wonder what lessons You taught him as he traveled 40 days and nights? Did Elijah take time to observe the birds of the air in the wilderness? Was he reminded by those birds that You care far more for him than the birds You daily feed (Matthew 6:26)? Was he refreshed by the cool breeze under the shade of the trees? Did he feel the warmth of Your presence along the way? You gave Your prophet the strength he needed to make this trip. Giving Elijah this journey must have renewed his sense of purpose and usefulness. Perhaps his sense of anticipation of good from You increased with each step he took along the way toward Mt. Horeb. Lord God, please help each of us to take that first step toward You; to open our hearts and minds to You knowing that You are the God of second chance Who delights in spending time with His children no matter how discouraged they have been. Our discouragement is no surprise to You. You love us regardless of our emotional condition. And like You did with Elijah, You also give us the strength to pursue You when we choose to do so. Thank You, Father, for being so good and gracious to us. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary History, Editors John F. Walvoordand Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Locations 6218-6223.  

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2334.

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 2

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” John 21:17

Twelve-year-old Kurt never missed a game of his Little League team, but he didn’t get to play much because of his small size and lack of coordination. The coach never let him play more than the two innings a game required by league rules. Even with Kurt’s participation, the team won many games and qualified for the playoffs. After the last practice before the playoff game, the coach drew Kurt aside and said, “Kurt, just don’t show up on Saturday for the game. It will be better for the team if you are not there.” A dejected twelve-year-old left the field that day.

Peter also felt the sting of despair. He had denied the Lord three times and swore that he was not one of His followers while in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17, 25, 27). After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter may have thought Christ no longer wanted him on His team, so he returned to fishing. Because of his failure, Peter may have felt unworthy to serve as a leader any longer. Perhaps he thought his public denials of Jesus disqualified him as a follower of Christ.

All of us can probably relate to this. We, too, have failed Christ and we feel unworthy to be on His team. We might think our sin is unforgivable or unredeemable. We fear that Jesus would not want us on His team. But please understand that Jesus never says to a repentant child of God, “Don’t show up.” Christ always gives a second chance to those who seek His forgiveness.

We are learning from John 21:15-19 how the risen Lord Jesus can use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail. Last time we discovered He can do this when we make loving Him our first priority (John 21:15). Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times after breakfast, he would say he loved the Lord. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?” (John 21:15a). When Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You,” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15b).

The word Jesus used for “love” is agapaō and is often used of God’s unconditional sacrificial love. But the word Peter used for “love” is phileō and refers to a brotherly and affectionate love that is between close friends. But Christ does not stop with this one question.

“He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (John 21:16). Again, Jesus begins with “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the importance of what He was about to say to Peter. Jesus uses the same word for “love” (agapaō) to ask Peter a second time, only He drops off the “more than these” to encourage a more positive response. 1  “In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all.” 2

Peter replied using the same words as the first time, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Again,Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had proudly claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33, 35; Luke 22:33; John 13:37). But after his failure and denials, Peter now exhibits more humility.

Seeing Peter’s humility, Jesus says, “Tend My sheep.” The word for “tend” (poimaínō) in the original Greek language means to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters … in the sense of lead, guide, or rule.” 3  This word means “to be a shepherd” or “take care of” flocks. Both Paul and Peter use this word to speak of the spiritual responsibilities of church leaders (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). 4 The word for “sheep” (probata) is a diminutive form of the more common word for sheep, probaton, and means “little sheep.” 5  It is quite possible Jesus is referring to believers who are not yet fully mature in their faith.

John then tells us, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” (John 21:17). For a third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the extreme importance of what He was about to say. When Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” He uses the same word for “love” (phileō) that Peter used.

John notes that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ” The word for “grieved” is lupeō which means “to become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” Was Peter hurt because Jesus used the same word for love (phileō) that Peter had used or was he hurt because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved Him? I believe Peter was hurt because when Jesus asked him a third time, it reminded Peter of his three denials. Peter had denied knowing Jesus early in the morning when standing around “coals of fire” (John 18:15-18, 25-27), and now Jesus was asking him three times if he loved Him early in the morning while being around “coals of fire” (John 21:1-17).

“Seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: ‘Do you love me?’ It broke Peter’s heart.” 8  

All Peter could do is say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” This time Peter appeals to Jesus’ omniscience (“You know all things”). “When Peter was proudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.” 9  

It may have also grieved Peter that Jesus was asking him questions that He already knew the answers to. 10  But these questions from Jesus were for Peter’s benefit, not the Lord’s benefit.

After Peter told Jesus a third time that he loved Him, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Here Jesus uses the word boskō (“feed”) from verse 15, and the word probaton (“sheep”) from verse 16. Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus. And now three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus and three times Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His lambs or sheep. This whole scene was intended to show Peter that he is completely forgiven and restored to his position of leadership! Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned him to feed or shepherd His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven, and he would serve Christ until his dying day!

Peter reminds us, that no matter how great a Christian is, he or she may fall away from the Lord. And when they do, they need to know that Christ always gives a second chance to His humble followers.

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to say “I love you” to erase the three-fold denial that had happened in the courtyard the night before Christ’s crucifixion. The truth is Simon Peter failed Jesus miserably. But Jesus Christ forgave him magnificently! 

Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me. Failure is overcome by forgiveness. There is no other way. If we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, we must learn this important lesson. Sometimes we try to overcome our failures by trying harder or being “better” Christians. But trying harder or trying to be “better” Christians only makes things worse. Our failures are always overcome by the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him because He wanted him to take His forgiveness into his heart where it really mattered. It is one thing to know about the forgiveness of Christ. But it is another thing to take it to heart. 

There may be many of us, if the truth were known, who know about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We know in our heads that He died on the cross for all our sins, and on this basis, He is willing to forgive all our sins. We even know that when we trusted Christ for His gift of eternal life, Jesus promised to forgive all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

But when it comes to the worst sin in our lives that we can look back on, the truth is many of us have not taken Jesus’ forgiveness to heart yet. Oh, we know we have eternal life by virtue of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13). But we have not heard Jesus say, “I forgive you” yet in that area of our greatest sin. Maybe that is the reason God brought you to this page, to hear Him say, “I forgive you,” so you can take it into the depths of your heart and soul.   

Keep in mind that Peter had believed in Jesus three years before Christ’s crucifixion (John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). And when Peter came to faith in Christ, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, which means a stone or rock (John 1:42). Why did Jesus change his name? Because Jesus knew the leadership role that Peter would play when He saw Peter in rough form. Peter would become a rock-solid leader among leaders.

Prior to Peter’s denial of Jesus, he had been walking with the Lord over three years. But Peter failed the Lord miserably when He denied knowing Jesus three times. He was probably uncertain about having a future ministry for his Lord and Savior after his great failure. He probably felt unworthy to be Jesus’ disciple. Therefore Jesus took special time with Peter to make sure he took Christ’s forgiveness into his heart so he would not carry that burden of guilt or shame into the future.

If the risen Lord Jesus is going to be able to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, WE MUST RECEIVE HIS FORGIVING GRACE INTO OUR HEARTS FOR OUR GREATEST SINS (JOHN 21:16-17). If we want to take to heart the forgiveness of Christ, we need to do it the same way Peter did. We look at Jesus’ word and we let His word come into our hearts and give us the assurance that His forgiveness has restored our fellowship or closeness with God.  

What does God say a Christian is to do after he or she sins? John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). To “confess” (homologeō), means “to agree, admit, acknowledge.” 11  When we confess our sins to God we are agreeing with what God says about our sin. It is not merely a mistake or weakness. It is an offense against our holy God.

And the moment we confess our sin to God, He is “faithful and just” to forgive the sin we confessed and cleanse us of all our unknown sins (“all unrighteousness”) as well. God restores us to a harmonious relationship with Himself. The word “just” (dikaios) means “righteous.“Because of the shed blood of Christ (v 7), there is no compromise of God’s righteousness when He forgives.” 12 Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s “just” demand to punish all our sin. When we confess our sins, God’s cleansing is total.

It is possible that even when God forgives us after we confess our sins, we stubbornly refuse to forgive ourselves. How long does it take us to forgive ourselves? Since God is ready and willing to forgive us when we seek His forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), what gives us the right not to forgive ourselves? If you are struggling to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you, take some time to write I John 1:9 down on a piece of paper. Then insert your greatest sins for the word “sins” in that verse. Draw a picture representing this truth so it can be installed into your right (limbic) brain. Review this verse and drawing every night before you go to sleep so God the Holy Spirit can massage it down into the depths of your heart and soul as you sleep. Choose to forget what God has already forgiven.

As stated earlier, Jesus used the word phileō the third time to meet Peter where he was at. Jesus was saying to Peter (and to us), “I want to meet you where you are at and walk with you on this journey called discipleship. I want to help you grow in your love for Me. I want to give you a vision of what you can become as My grace works in and through you to feed others spiritually.”

We are not on this journey alone. We have a great and sympathetic high priest who understands our struggles and longs to come alongside us to give us the grace and mercy we need (Hebrews 4:15-16). There is probably not one of us reading this article that feels like we love Jesus Christ the way He deserves. We love Him the best we know how, yet we know there is a lot of room for growth. I hope that all of us want to grow in our love for Jesus.

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me with everything you have every moment of your life?” If we are honest with ourselves, we would say to the Lord, “Jesus, I want to love You more in the way You deserve, but I fall way short of that. I need Your help.” That is sort of what Peter was saying to Jesus. So, Jesus came the third time and said, “Peter, I know you are trying to grow in Your love for Me. I want to come alongside you and help you do that.” This is what Jesus wants to do for you and me. He takes us where we are and helps us grow in the love we have for Him. 

Interestingly, each time Jesus commands Peter to “tend” or “feed” His sheep, He uses present tense verbs (boske… poimaine… boske). This indicates that the feeding process is to be repeated and regular. A meal or two now and then will not develop strong sheep. Nor will a sermon now and then build strong disciples of Jesus. We need to be fed repeatedly, regularly, and often.

Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, ‘Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).” 13

Although Peter failed the risen Lord Jesus greatly, Jesus did not take Him off His team. To the risen Lord Jesus, winning men and women, and boys and girls is more important than winning games. Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven and restored. And he served Christ until his dying day. Jesus wants us to know and experience that we are forgiven so we can serve Him until He says it is time to come home to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, many of us needed to hear this message from You. We have felt disqualified from serving You because of our past failures. We know in our heads that we are completely forgiven the moment we believed in You for eternal salvation, but our feelings keep lying to us. We have let them convince us that we are unworthy to be on Your team. Thank You so much for reminding us that our failures are not final because of Your forgiving grace. And when You forgive, You choose to forget. Teach us O Lord God to forget our past failures and to embrace Your amazing grace so we may forgive ourselves and help others to grow in their love for You. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 381.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 396 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 324.

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. 842.

4. Laney, pg. 381.

5. Ibid.; See also Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78494-78496.

6. Bauer, pg. 604.

7. A. T. Roberston, Kindle Locations 78509-78510.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1832.

9. Ibid.

10. 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. 569.

11. Ibid., pg. 1430.

12. Ibid.

13. Evans, pg. 1832.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 6

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” John 21:10

After Jesus miraculously enabled the disciples to catch a net full of fish, John recognized it was the Lord on the shore, so Peter dove into the sea to swim over to Jesus and the other disciples rode on their little boat to shore (John 21:6-8). When they arrived on shore, they saw Jesus cooking fish and bread over a fire of coals (John 21:9). John then informs us, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” (John 21:10). Even though there was already one “fish” 1 on the fire (John 21:9), Jesus instructed the disciples to “bring some of the fish” 2  that they had “caught” (John 21:10). Why doesn’t the Lord miraculously multiply the one fish to feed these disciples? Why does He invite them to bring some of their own fish?

There are several attempts to explain this invitation. Some suggest Jesus did this because He wanted His disciples “to feel they had contributed in some way to the meal. Most dinner guests like to contribute a dish to the meal, and Jesus may have simply been sensitive to this need.” 3  Others say “this was all symbolic of how Jesus would carry out His mission through His disciples in the future, compared with how He had done it during His pre-cross ministry.” 4 Another says, “I believe our Lord’s object was to show the disciples that the secret of success was to work at His command, and to act with implicit obedience to His word.” 5  The explanation I like the best is that Jesus simply wanted them to enjoy His company so He invites them to bring some of their fish and have a meal with Him. 6  

Some people think the resurrected Lord Jesus is a phantom or a figment of their imagination. But John is telling us in this last chapter of his gospel that the resurrected Lord Jesus is real. He has built a fire for His disciples who are tired and hungry. He is cooking some fish and bread and invites them to join Him. He is sitting around the fire with His close friends to enjoy a delicious meal while they fellowship with one another. I can just imagine them talking with Jesus about their all-night fishing expedition with nothing to show for it and then suddenly, after they cast their net on the other side of their boat, they catch so many fish they cannot even haul it into their boat. This is a real relationship with the resurrected Christ. And this is what Jesus invites us to enjoy. So our sixth lesson is this: ACCEPT JESUS’ INVITATION TO ENJOY HIS COMPANY (JOHN 21:10).

There are people who think their relationship with the resurrected Christ is so spiritual, it is not real. It does not fit into their everyday life. They can experience the resurrected Lord Jesus at church when they are singing with other believers, but it is extremely difficult for them to experience Him on Monday morning. But these verses in John 21 are telling us how we can have breakfast with Jesus on a beach in the real daily experiences of our lives. We can experience a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord Jesus.  

These seven disciples returned to fishing while they waited for Jesus to meet them in Galilee. But Jesus was there on the shore. He knew they had been fishing all night without catching anything. He knew where the fish were so He instructed them to cast their net on the other side of their boat and they caught so many fish they could not haul them all into their boat. When they arrived on the shore, He invites them to bring some of their fish to enjoy with Him.

What I believe God is saying to us is that through His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us no matter where we go or what we do (cf. John 14:16-18). And He wants to be part of our daily lives. He wants us to experience His presence whether we are up in the mountains or out on a lake. He wants us to experience His presence in the city or out on a farm. When we realize that Jesus’ presence is everywhere we don’t have to fit Him into certain places at certain times. He can be part of every moment of our lives.

Christ wants to hang out with His disciples. He wants to spend time with His best friends. He wanted to eat a meal with them and He had some things to share with them. And He wants to do the same with you and me.

When is the last time you hung out with the risen Lord Jesus just to hang out? Unfortunately for many of us, we are so focused on our growth and ministry for Christ and making an eternal difference for Him in the world, that we don’t just hang out with Him. Every time we relate to Him we talk about some big problem or some issue that is so huge that it tires us out spiritually.

But when is the last time we simply hung out with the risen Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, I am so glad You are here!” If you are like me, you don’t do that often enough. It feels so calming just to enjoy the company of the risen Lord Jesus. He delights in us. He celebrates us. We do not have to perform or try to be someone or something we are not.

Some of us may think that sounds really strange. After all, Jesus is up in heaven and we are down here on earth. What exactly are you talking about? But that is not completely true. Remember, since Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), His presence is everywhere through God the Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus lives in each of us who believe in Him (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-47; Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus is here. He wants to say something to our hearts and minds. Have we learned to relax in the presence of our risen Lord Jesus Christ? If not, it is one of the key lessons of the Christian life – to relax in His presence. Have you learned to let Him “cook breakfast” for you? To provide for your needs?

All of us get invitations in our email inbox. With some of those invitations, when we open them up, we say, “No way am I going to that event! That is the last place in the world I want to be!” A second kind of email invitation is when we open it up, we think, “If nothing else is going on, maybe I will go to that. If I’m not too tired from work that day, I may go to that event.” Then there is a category three kind of email. When you open it up and look at it, you say, “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am going to be at that event for sure! I am really looking forward to this!”

Every invitation from the risen Lord Jesus needs to be in category three. “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am pumped to hang out with Jesus!”

We are not talking about an email invitation from Jesus or a Facebook invite. Jesus invited His disciples when He said, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” How do we hear invitations from the risen Lord Jesus now? And if we have heard them, how will we recognize them as being from Him? How do we know if Christ is inviting us? He is not going to show up physically on a seashore and speak audibly to us so it must be an invitation that takes place in our hearts and minds. How do we know if the risen Lord Jesus Christ is saying something to our hearts and minds?

First of all, when Jesus speaks to us it is always consistent with His Word. God the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Jesus identified Himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Hence, the Holy Spirit communicates “truth” about Jesus. Jesus identifies the truth as the Father’s “word” in John 17:17. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth about Jesus through God’s Word (John 15:26; 16:13). It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit tells us what to do. He does not speak audibly to us, He speaks through the truth of the Bible. He will always “testify of” Jesus (John 15:26) and teach us what He “hears” Jesus say (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit is not going to teach something contrary to what Jesus has already taught. He will give us the ability to do what the Word says as we depend upon Him. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep Jesus’ commands (John 14:15).

Here are some ideas about how this works. Any time you have a desire to worship God, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus. It is consistent with His Word (Psalm 22:27; 29:2; 95:1, 6, 9; John 4:23-24; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:2-5:14; 7:11; 14:7; 15:4; 22:9), so accept it.

Whenever you have a desire to pray about something, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:44; 6:5-7, 9; 9:38; 26:41; Luke 11:1-2; 18:1; Colossians 4:2-3; I Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Accept it.

When a thought pops in your mind and you want to do something good for another person, that may be an invitation from Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16, 44; Galatians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; 6:5-9; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:22-24). Accept it.

Or when your heart is burdened to share the gospel with someone, it is probably from the risen Lord Jesus (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 8:26-39; 2 Timothy 4:2). Accept it.

Maybe some of you are naturally good and you always think of prayer, worship, doing good things for others or sharing the gospel with them because you are such a “good” person. But I am not that way. The truth is, without the risen Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would not do those things. It is only when Jesus says, “Why don’t you worship or pray, and why don’t you do something good or share the gospel with that person?” that I have learned to do those things. Those types of thoughts are not from my “good” human nature. I have learned when those thoughts come into my mind they are from the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we have these thoughts, accept them. Accept invitations from Jesus Christ any time they come. That will be the greatest thing you have ever done. It will be the greatest party that you have ever attended. Have a real relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us that You are not some phantom or figment of the imagination. You are a real historical Person Who is alive today and wants to have a real personal relationship with each of us. Thank You for speaking to our hearts and minds through the Bible and Your Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Your voice of truth and rely upon Your Spirit to accept Your invitations whenever they come to us. Saying, “Yes,” to You, Lord Jesus, is the greatest decision we could ever make! Thank You for this adventure with You called the Christian life. I look forward to hanging out with You today. Being in Your presence is so much better than life itself. I love You, my Lord and my God. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Greek word for “fish” is opsarion which is singular.

2. The Greek word for “fish” is opsariōn which is plural.

3. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 376-377.

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

5. Ibid., pg. 392 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 313.

6. The next several paragraphs are adapted from Tom Holladay’s September 4, 1996 message entitled, “Resurrected Purpose: John 21:1-24.”

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 4

“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.” John 21:7

We are learning in John 21:1-14 how to relate to the risen Lord Jesus Christ in our daily lives. So far we have discovered…

– 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).

After the disciples stayed up all night trying to catch fish without any success, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and advised them to cast their net on the right side of their boat (John 21:3-6a). At this time, the disciples did not realize that this Stranger on the shore was Jesus. When they did what Christ said, they caught so many fish they were not able to haul them all into their boat (John 21:6b).

Then the apostle John writes, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.” (John 21:7). This miraculous catch of fish opened the eyes of John (“that disciple whom Jesus loved”) so he could identify this Stranger to be the risen Lord Jesus (“It is the Lord!”). John was the first to discern that this was the risen Lord Jesus and he “had also been first to discern the significance of the grave clothes (John 20:8).” 1  

This is an important lesson for those of us who proclaim the gospel to a lost world. When our risen Lord Jesus grants success to our labors, especially “when the gospel-net in our hands gathers fishes, let us not forget to own ‘It is the Lord!’” 2  The risen Lord Jesus is the One responsible for people coming to salvation. He is the One Who gets the glory. We are merely His instruments.

But we also see that Peter was the first to take action after Jesus was identified by John. Peter responded by wrapping his “outer garment” around himself and “plunged into the sea.” His quick reaction reveals his true feelings toward Jesus. He was so eager to be in Jesus’ presence, that he couldn’t wait for the boat to come to shore. Peter’s action contrasts strikingly with the time he started to sink in the water (Matt. 14:30).” 3

“True to the pictures we have of them in the New Testament, John exhibited quick insight and Peter quick action… Peter had learned that John’s instincts about these things were better than his. He accepted John’s conclusion and jumped into the water…  Apparently he wanted to get to Jesus faster than his boat and net, now full of fish, would allow. He showed no concern for the fish; he willingly let them go. His only desire was to get to Jesus. That his action was thoughtful, rather than impulsive, is clear from the fact that ‘he put his outer garment on’ before jumping overboard.” 4

Peter’s actions may seem strange to us. Why would he put on his “outer garments” before swimming? Normally people take off unnecessary clothing before swimming. The Greek word that is used to describe Peter is translated “for he had removed it.” This word is gumnos and can mean “naked, stripped bare, poorly dressed” or to “be lightly clad without an outer garment.” 5  In this context, Peter most likely had dressed lightly down to his loincloth for work as a fisherman, but he wanted to be dressed appropriately when he reached shore to greet Jesus.Modesty even had its place in the life of a Galilean fisherman. 6

But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.” (John 21:8). While Peter swam the hundred yards (“two hundred cubits”) to shore, the “other disciples”  followed in the boat towing the net full of fish.

I am really drawn to Peter’s actions. Remember fishing was Peter’s profession. He had left his fishing business to follow Jesus a few years earlier (cf. Luke 5:11). But while waiting to meet Jesus in Galilee after Christ’s resurrection, Peter returns to fishing with six other disciples of Christ. They throw in the fishing net where Jesus said, and Peter and the other disciples catch so many fish that they cannot even haul them all in. And then when Peter realizes it is the risen Lord Jesus on the shore, he jumps in the water to go over and greet Jesus. Only those of you who are fishermen can appreciate the significance of this. Why would a fisherman leave behind one of the greatest catches he ever had? Because he discovered what his real purpose was. It wasn’t in the boat. It wasn’t with those fish. He realizes immediately that it is the risen Lord Jesus on the shore. And He is the One Peter needs to be with. Peter was reminded of his purpose, and it was not fishing.

What about you and me? Do we realize our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ? To know Him more intimately and to make Him known to others? This leads to our fourth valuable lesson. OUR PRIMARY PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO BE WITH THE RISEN LORD JESUS CHRIST WHO IS GRACIOUS (John 21:7-8).

You may ask,“But isn’t Jesus in heaven now with God the Father? How can I be with Him here on earth?” Great question! Jesus anticipated this question when He said to His disciples, 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18). Christ promises that He will not leave His disciples as “orphans” who are deprived of their parents. Jesus had been like a father to the disciples – protecting, providing, guiding, and instructing them as His own children. And now He was leaving them. But He would not leave them as “orphans.” He says, “I will come to you” through the Holy Spirit (“another Helper… the Spirit of truth”). The Holy Spirit would fill the void left by Jesus’ departure. The Holy Spirit would protect, provide, guide, and instruct them. He would function as their Divine Parent and “abide with [and “in”] you forever” (John 14:16-17). There would never be a time when this coming Helper would be taken away from them (or us) in the way Christ was now being taken from them through His death and eventual ascension to heaven. 

The risen Lord Jesus is reminding us that our primary purpose is not in the number of fish or people we catch with our gospel nets. It is not in our job successes or failures. It is not in the number of people who like us or dislike us. Nor is our primary purpose found in how much money we make or don’t make. Or how much education we have or don’t have. Our primary purpose revolves around being with the risen Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit. Are we willing to put spending time with the risen Lord Jesus ahead of our achievements, our families, our hobbies, our jobs, our peers or anything else in life? Peter came to this realization on that “little boat.” He was so eager to be with Jesus that he turned his back on one of the greatest catches of fish he had ever seen.

What about us? How does our eagerness to be with Jesus compare to Peter’s? Peter and the other disciples went fishing without Jesus and caught nothing. But Jesus was so good and gracious to give them advice that led them to catch a large amount of fish. Christ’s goodness and grace toward them had a lot to do with Peter’s eagerness to swim over to Jesus. The more we experience the goodness and grace of our risen Lord Jesus, the more eager we will be to spend time with Him.

Peter spoke of this in his epistle when he wrote, 2As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (I Peter 2:2-3). Just as newborn babies desperately desire their mother’s milk, so believers are to desire time with the Lord in His Word so they “may grow thereby.”  The word “if” 7  assumes that Peter’s readers had “tasted” or experienced “that the Lord is gracious” and good in new birth (cf. I Peter 1:3, 23-25).

Our spiritual appetite for God’s Word is heightened by the graciousness and goodness of our risen Lord Jesus. If we have lost our eagerness to spend time with Jesus it is probably because we have lost sight of the goodness and graciousness of our risen Lord. God’s graciousness can be seen in His sacrifice on the cross. He gave Himself for us so He could have a love relationship with us. God is so gracious, He died for you and me. He is full of grace. Grace means giving your absolute best to someone who deserves your absolute worst. And this is what God did through Jesus Christ.

God is also patient and kind. If He were not, you and I would drop dead because God is so holy that He has to punish every sin. He has been waiting for years for some of us to come through on our promises to Him. The only reason we are still hanging around and He is still listening to those promises is that He is patient. We would give up on other people a lot sooner than God does. But Jesus Christ is also merciful which means removing our misery. He is truthful. He is the only One who will give us the straight story all the time. He forgives us of things that other people will hold against us until they go to their graves. That is God’s goodness and that is grace!

Our desire to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus hinges on our taste of His grace to us. If we perceive Jesus to be a harsh, critical, and angry God, we are not going to want to hear what He has to say. We are not going to want to be open to His Word.

It is easy for Christians to see God as an unkind Person when they experience suffering. But God is not to blame for the bad things that happen to us. We live in a world that is contaminated by sin. Because of sin, we live in a very painful world of cancer, COVID, personality conflicts, attitude battles, and political strife. We live in a world where if a sinner decides to pick up a gun, a Christian could be in trouble. Much of our world is not good, but it is not because God is not good. It is because people are not good.

All of creation was completely good when it came from God’s hand (Genesis 1:31), but it was contaminated by sin (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12). Therefore, we live in a world where many bad things happen.

But the goodness of God can be seen when He takes the bad things that happen to us and brings eternal good out of them. Like the Christian who knew he was dying and knew there was no medical hope. He looked up and said, “This is my crowning day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” But those who loved him and were looking on wanted to know, “Why did God let him die?”

Peter is telling us in his epistle and in his example in John 21 that our desire to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus hinges on our experience of His goodness and grace in our lives. Have you lost your eagerness to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus? If so, you can activate it by focusing on the richness of His grace toward you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Peter’s example of eagerness to meet with You. Honestly, it hurts me to think about the number of times I have been a lot more eager to focus on the things of this world instead of You. I have put people and ministry ahead of You so much of the time. Yet You patiently wait on the shore for me to come to You. You even intervene to help me when I am struggling to do things without You. Lord, Your goodness and grace humble me. Yet the more I experience Your grace, the more eager I am to be with You. Lord Jesus I want to be with You. I want to sense You with me always. Please enable me to be as eager as Peter, and to dive in to those opportunities and places where I anticipate You will show up. Thank You my Lord and my God. In Your gracious name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 702.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 390 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 317.

3. Blum, pg. 702.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 390.

5. 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. 208.

6. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 376.

7. The phrase, “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (εἴπερ ἐγεύσασθε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος) is a first-class conditional clause that assumes the truth of what is said. See 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. 1379.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 1

“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:24

When we are in the midst of doubts, one of the hardest things to hear is, “Just have faith.” For example, when you are having doubts about your finances and someone comes up to you and says, “Just have faith,” does it help you to have faith? No, it discourages you. Or if you are facing difficulties in your marriage or you are having health problems, and you stay up late at night worrying about them. You have never had to face these problems before in your life. And a friend comes up to you the next day and pats you on the back and says, “Just have faith.” That is like going up to someone who just broke their arm and they are laying on the street, and you bend down and say to them, “Just don’t hurt.” It does not help that person. That is not what they need.

When I am struggling with doubts I do not need someone to come up to me and say, “Just have faith.” I need someone who can come alongside me and show me how to have faith. Here is how to have faith when you are struggling with your finances or in your marriage. Here is how to have faith when you are facing a serious health problem. Here is how to have faith when God seems so distant. Here is how to have faith when you feel like giving up. 1

One of Jesus’ close disciples named, Thomas, struggled with doubt. He struggled with having faith. In our last series of lessons, when Jesus appeared to His ten fearful disciples in the evening of His resurrection day (John 20:19-23), Thomas was not there with them. We do not know for sure why Thomas was absent. Perhaps he was discouraged so he sought isolation instead of fellowship with the other disciples. Hence, He missed Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the other disciples. From these verses in John 20:24-29, we are going to learn how to overcome doubt.

The first way to overcome our doubts, is to RESTORE OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS (John 20:24). Eight days after Jesus had appeared to His ten fearful disciples behind locked doors (John 20:19-23), He comes to them a second time with Thomas present with them this time (John 20:24-29). John tells us, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24) the first time. This is very significant.

If Thomas had been with the other disciples that first time Jesus appeared to them, he would not have struggled with doubts about Jesus’ resurrection that past week. If he had been around the other disciples when Jesus appeared the first time, he would not be burdened with lingering doubts. He would have the faith he needed.

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus for everlasting life (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, Thomas was willing to go into hostile territory and die with Jesus (John 11:7-8, 16). But a week after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas still did not believe Jesus had come back to life as He promised. So it is clear from the Bible that you can be a spiritually strong believer one moment, and be a spiritually weak believer the next. 2

John informs us that Thomas was “called the Twin” (didumos). Figuratively speaking, Thomas has a lot of twins – believers who doubt. When we remove ourselves from fellowship with other Christians like Thomas did, it can strengthen our doubts and weaken our faith. But if I am going to overcome my doubts, especially during difficult times, I need to be with other believers in Jesus.

The Bible tells us, “24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25). God wants us to know that it is vital for Christians to encourage one another and motivate each other toward love and good works. The word “consider” means to carefully focus on another person in such a way as to “stir up” or stimulate one another to love God and each other so they can live a godly life (“good works”). Worshiping together is a key part of this calling. But Sunday gatherings are not the only time this is to take place. We should be encouraging one another and building each other up in the Lord throughout the week.

Why does God say this? Because we need each other. It is not just what you hear and learn at church, it is the relationships that you develop in those gatherings. Hebrews 10:24-25 is telling us that as we see the Day of Christ’s return drawing near, we are to meet with one another all the more to encourage one another to love others and do good works.

Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith.

What is one of the first things we do when we start to struggle with doubts? We withdraw from other Christians, don’t we? Perhaps we do this because we have been wounded by believers who tell us, “Just have faith,” when we are struggling with doubts. Or perhaps our pride gets in the way and we don’t want other Christians to see us struggle. Or if we do gather with them, we hide our doubts because we don’t want them to see us in a vulnerable position and think less of us.

But the first thing we need when we start to experience doubt is to draw near to other believers who love and support us. A smile or a kind word from our Christian friends can turn our doubts into faith. Listening to their struggles with doubts can also validate our own struggles and remind us that we are not alone. Such interactions with one another can dispel our doubts and strengthen our faith.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the body of Christ which offers us encouragement and hope in the midst of our doubts. Thank You for reminding us of the importance of gathering with other believers in Jesus to motivate us to love and good works. Help us to move toward other Christians when we are struggling so we can share our doubts with them and receive their encouragement. You never intended for us to live the Christian life in isolation. You created us for relationships with You and one another.  Please give us the courage to pursue healthy relationships so our doubts will be transformed into faith. Guide us to other believers who are also struggling with doubts so we can encourage one another. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1829.

Lesson 1 Part 4 – Three principles to guide discipleship training (Video)

This is the fourth video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It addresses important truths for growing in the Christians life. It also looks at three essential principles that will guide the remainder of this discipleship training.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 4

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

The fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).

This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”  (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.

When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1  So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).

The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.

It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26). 

The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5

John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6

The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began. 

Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.

The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as. 

The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.

So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.

When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.

The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.

The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.

They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome. 

Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross.  Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime. 

As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.

John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….

“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?

“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?

“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partially true. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.8

The Bible tells us, 13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).

Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…

“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9

Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11  Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.” 12

The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.” You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.

What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).

Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.

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

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.

5. 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. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.

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

7. Ibid.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.

9. Ibid., pg. 34.

10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.  

11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.

12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 2

“Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ” John 18:17

We are learning from John 18:13-27 how to overcome failure and religious hatred. First we saw that we can overcome religious hatred when we REALIZE LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR, BUT GOD ALWAYS IS (John 18:13-14). Today we discover how to overcome failure. To do this, we will transfer our attention to stage two in the gospel of John involving Peter’s failure as a disciple of Christ (John 18:15-18). From these verses we learn how to overcome failure.

Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “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). Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life about 3 ½ years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples fled (Matthew 26:56) except Peter and another disciple, who followed at a distance as Jesus was led to the house of Annas. “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.” (John 18:15). The phrase “another disciple” implies that Peter was also a disciple even though he was following Jesus from a distance (Matthew 26:58). “This unnamed disciple was John, the author of the Gospel. John never identifies himself by name but typically calls himself ‘the disciple Jesus loved.’ (see 13:23; 19:26; 20:2).” Since John “was known to the high priest,” he was able to gain access to the courtyard in front of Annas’ house.

“But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.” (John 18:16). Because of John’s acquaintance with the high priest, he was able to secure Peter’s entrance into the courtyard. “Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ” (John 18:17). The servant girl on duty at the door of the courtyard may have known John was a follower of Jesus and suspected Peter was also. Or perhaps it was Peter’s hesitance that gave him away. Regardless, her question expects a negative answer and made it easy for Peter to say no. Peter was afraid to identify himself as a disciple of Jesus because of unfamiliar surroundings and the presence of the temple guards and religious leaders. So he said, “I am not!” The negative particle (ouk) is in a place of emphasis. Peter was saying, “No, not me!” 2

What has happened to this man who vowed to die for Jesus’ sake earlier (John 13:38) and courageously tried to defend Jesus when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10)? We can tend to be hard on Peter for his denials of Jesus, but who has not had a similar failing? Peter was facing a dangerous situation. He had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant and no doubt feared being seen by him or by the temple officers who accompanied him. So he panicked and lied. Many of us have lied rather than be embarrassed or discovered. Are we still disciples when we fail the Lord like this?

I believe the apostle John would say, “Yes!” Here is why. In these verses John writes “Peter followed… and so did another disciple” (John 18:15) – this means Peter is a disciple even though he is following Jesus from a distance. When John refers to himself as “the other disciple” (John 18:16), he is implying that both he and Peter are disciples. And when John records the servant girl’s question, “…are you one of this Man’s disciples?” he is suggesting that the girl is identifying Peter as Christ’s disciple. Even when Peter denied Jesus Christ, he is still following Him, albeit from a distance.

“Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.” (John 18:18). Jerusalem is located in the Judean mountains, two thousand feet above sea level, and spring nights, especially without cloud cover, can be quite cool. To take off the chill, a fire was burning in the courtyard. Peter joined the servants of the high priest and other officials, and warmed himself by the fire. When John says “it was cold,” he may be referring to more than the air temperature. Peter’s heart was cold, too. 

It is also worth noting that the same Greek word translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used one other time in the gospel of John. When it shows up again in John 21:9, Peter’s life will be dramatically changed by the restoring love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so might yours.

I believe there are two reasons why Peter failed to publicly identify with Jesus in these verses. One was because he was following Christ from a distance (John 18:15-16; cf. Matthew 26:58). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter was close to Jesus’ side and felt confident next to Christ. But in the courtyard, distance separated him from Jesus and his faith faltered due to this separation. Self-reliance had distanced Peter from his Lord. Remember how Peter vowed to lay down his life for Jesus in the Upper Room? He did not say, “By Your grace or with Your help, I will lay down my life for You, Jesus.” No, Peter said, “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” (John 13:36). Instead of relying on Jesus for the courage he needed to identify with Him, Peter was relying on himself and he failed his Lord when given the opportunity to publicly confess that He knew Him. 

Another reason why Peter refused to publicly identify with Jesus is because he sat down in the company of Jesus’ enemies (John 18:18). Instead of warming up against Jesus, Peter warmed up against Christ’s enemies around the fire in the courtyard. When we closely associate with those who are against a crucified Christ, we will lose our spiritual vitality over time. If we spend all our time listening to people undermine the Lord Jesus or the reliability of the Bible, we will become prone to doubt our Christian faith.

Sometimes we set out to follow Jesus and we may run into hard times and publicly deny our discipleship relationship with Christ because we are relying on ourselves instead of the Lord or we are spending more time with Jesus’ enemies instead of with Jesus Himself. This leads to our second principle: We can overcome failure when we  REMAIN CLOSE TO CHRIST AND OTHER COMMITTED DISCIPLES (John 18:15-18). If we are spending more time with Jesus’ enemies than we are with Christ or His followers, we are going to be less prepared to speak up for Christ when religious hatred is directed at us. Only Jesus can give us the courage to face His enemies.

If we neglect to meet with other believers in Jesus we will be less prepared to publicly identify with Christ when faced with opposition. Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith (Hebrews 10:24-25). After all, the Bible warns us, “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits.” (I Corinthians 15:33). We cannot make unbelievers our constant, intimate companions and think we will remain unscathed. If we constantly and closely associate with those who deny the Person and work of Christ or the reliability of the Bible, we are going to begin to doubt our faith and be less prepared to stand up for Jesus in the face of persecution.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is a part of Peter in all of us who are Your disciples. We can make promises to You and fail to keep them because we are relying on ourselves instead of You or because we are spending more time with Your enemies instead of with Your followers. Thank You for showing us that even if we follow You from a distance and fail to publicly identify with You, we can still be Your disciples. May we never become so proud that we conclude we could never fail You like Peter did. Help us to learn from his mistake and stay close to You and those who follow You. We are living in a world that is trying to keep Christians from gathering together to encourage one another in their pursuit and worship of You. Please make a way for us to connect with one another as often as possible. We need You, Jesus, and we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You, for always being with us and never abandoning us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1818.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 322.

Lesson 1 Part 3 – Assurance and Eternal Security (Video)

This is the third video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It addresses the foundational truths of assurance of salvation and eternal security. Assurance of salvation is the certainty that you have eternal life based solely on the promise of everlasting life Jesus Christ makes to all who believe in Him. Eternal security is possessing Jesus’ gift of everlasting life which can never be lost. The believer in Jesus is secure forever.