A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 4

16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” 2 Timothy 4:16-17 

In 2 Timothy 4, we have been looking at some of the most basic causes and cures for loneliness based on the apostle Paul’s communication with a young pastor named Timothy. So far, we have learned that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8), separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21), and opposition from others (2 Timothy 4:14). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13), recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a), and releasing the hurt (2 Timothy 4:16) to God. 

The last basic cause for loneliness is probably the most serious one that can cause the most pain. It is REJECTION (2 Timothy 4:16a). Rejection is when you feel as though you have been betrayed and abandoned in your time of need by those closest to you. Paul felt this way. He felt deserted. He says of his trial before Nero, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” (2 Timothy 4:16a).

Paul’s first defense evidently refers, not to his first Roman imprisonment, about which Timothy would have already known, but to a preliminary hearing leading up to his present trial. At such trials it was common to hear advocates for the accused, but in Paul’s case no one came to his support, but everyone deserted him. The widespread desertion of the apostle may be explained by the fact that, unlike the period of his first imprisonment, it had now become dangerous to be a Christian in Rome. As early as A.D. 59-60 Roman Jews had informed Paul ‘that people everywhere are talking against this sect’ (Acts 28:22). But the situation had gotten far worse after the fire of Rome in July of A.D. 64. Nero made the Christians scapegoats, and many were tortured and died. The intensity of the anti-Christian pressure must have eased somewhat by A.D. 67, but the thought of identifying themselves with the fearless and outspoken apostle must have been more than the Roman Christians and even Paul’s companions could face. In fact, Paul was understanding toward their unfaithfulness, and he expressed the hope that it not be held against them (cf. Christ’s words on the cross, Luke 23:34).” 1

You can almost hear the pain in Paul’s voice: “When things got tough, everybody left me. When the trial got heated up, nobody was there to support me.” No one spoke up in his defense; everybody abandoned him.

Has that ever happened to you? You were going through a very difficult circumstance, and no one was there to support you? You were perfectly healthy, but your friends treated you like you had the plague? You felt abandoned and forsaken. God says that every human being has an emotional need for acceptance, and when that need is violated, it is a serious sin which can cause deep emotional pain.

Let’s understand that it is not just non-Christians who may reject us. Christians can also reject one another. And this can be the most painful form of rejection of all because we have higher expectations of other believers in Jesus. After all, we are both children of God and we are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34-35), right?

But Christians are just as capable of rejecting one another as a non-Christian is, maybe even more. Even though believers have more resources than a non-Christian to live in unity (e.g., the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s Word, etc.), they also have an adversary, the Devil, who seeks to devour them and destroy (I Peter 5:8) the unity Christ prayed for (John 17:20-23), provided (Ephesians 2:14-18), and commands Christians to preserve (Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-32). Satan knows that when Christians live together in unity, they reflect the image of God in a very powerful way. This is why he seeks to divide believers, so the image of God is distorted, and God is not glorified, and non-Christians are not as likely to be drawn to Christ.

If you are struggling to forgive someone who has rejected you, I recommend going back to our previous article (Part 3) where you can prayerfully read and apply that forgiveness exercise to your situation.

After forgiving those who have rejected us, we can then focus on the fourth and final way to deal with loneliness: EMPATHIZE WITH OTHER PEOPLES’ NEEDS (2 Timothy 4:17b). Instead of focusing inward on our own needs, focus outward on other people. Instead of looking inwardly at ourselves, we are to look out to other people. Begin helping other lonely people. That is what Paul did: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” (2 Timothy 4:17). Paul’s aim at his trial was to preach the gospel so “all” his unsaved listeners might hear it and be saved.

Paul was lonely at the end of his life, yet he never forgot his life’s goal – to help other people by sharing the good news of Jesus with the loneliest people in the world – those who do not know Christ. We need to stop building walls between us and others and start building bridges. We need to stop complaining, “God, I am lonely,” and start praying, “God, help me be a friend to somebody today who needs You today. Help me build a bridge instead of a wall.”

Love is the antidote to loneliness. Instead of waiting to be loved, we need to give love, and then love will be given back to us abundantly. The greatest expression of love we can give to a non-Christian is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her.

What does God have to say to you about your loneliness? First, He would say, “I understand. I really do understand.” The Son of God knows what it is like to be lonely. In Christ’s darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified on the cross, His followers fell asleep (Matthew 26:40-45).When the soldiers came and took Him to trial, all His disciples fled the scene (Matthew 26:56b). Soon after that, Peter publicly denied knowing Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75). When Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself as He hung on the cross, His own Father in heaven abandoned Him (Matthew 27:46). Why?

Because God is holy and perfect and demands that sin be punished. So, when your sins and my sins, and the entire sins of the world were placed on God the Son, Jesus was separated from His Father for the first and only time. Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b). Why did Jesus say those words? So that you and I would never have to. God rejected Jesus so He would never reject us after we believe in Christ (John 6:37-40; 10:28-29). God turned His back on His Son, so that He would never have to turn His back on us.  

Do you have Jesus in your life? If not, listen to what Jesus said to a woman who tried to overcome her loneliness through her romantic relationships with men: 10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water… 14 whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10, 14).

When we come to Christ on His terms and believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life, we never have to be lonely again. Because the moment we believe in Jesus, He digs a spiritual well in our hearts that gushes up into everlasting life, and never becomes dry. Christ lives in us forever through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). We will never be alone again because He promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Then He can help us to overcome our loneliness as we connect to Him through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. As we stay connected to Jesus and other Christians, Christ can empower us to reach out in love to lonely people around us who need Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have felt alone and unloved. I did not know how to connect with other people. Nor did I have any love to give to them. Thank You so much for coming to me today to show me that You love me and want a personal relationship with me. Right now, as best I know how, I believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through Your Holy Spirit. Please teach me how to know You more intimately and how to make You known to others. I look forward to meeting with You as often as I can. In Your precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A. Duane, Litfin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 436.

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.

Thank God for His highlight reel of Jesus

“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” John 21:25

When we were living in the Philippines, I was not able to watch my favorite sports teams in America play their games live on TV because of the time difference. But I always tried to watch the highlight reels of their games so I could see the most significant plays.

The apostle John has given us a highlight reel of Jesus Christ in his book. He did not include all that Jesus said and did, but he included the most significant things we need to know to fulfill his evangelistic purpose (John 20:31).

As we come to the end of the gospel of John, the apostle John concludes with an afterthought of his book that affirms the truthfulness of his gospel. He writes, This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24). The author of this gospel is none other than “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). 1 The phrase “these things” refers to the entire gospel. 2 John is testifying that what he “wrote” is “true.” All that we read in the gospel of John is based on his eyewitness testimony.

Some believe that the phrase “we know that his testimony is true” was written by someone other than John. There are scholars who view the “we” as the elders of the Ephesian church where John traditionally served late in his life. 3  Others think that they were influential men in John’s church, though not necessarily in Ephesus. 4  Another view states this is an indefinite reference similar to “as is well known.” 5

It is better to see this phrase referring to John as he uses the editorial “we” to affirm the accuracy of what he has written. The editorial “we” is a rhetorical device used to refer to the author’s self. Using the first person plural, as authoritative people sometimes do, is something the apostle John does with regularity (cf. John 1:14; 3:2, 11; 20:2; 1 John 1:2, 4, 5, 6, 7; 3 John 1:12). 7  In favor of this view is also the use of the first person singular in the next verse (“I suppose…”).

Before we look at the last verse of this incredible book, let’s glance at the prologue of this gospel (John 1:1-18). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“ (John 1:1). John began his gospel with “the Word,” Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14-17), Who is “God.” He informs us that all things were made through Him” (John 1:3; cf. Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). The Person of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in this world because He is its Creator God. As God, He is independent of creation. He is not dependent on anyone or anything to sustain Him.

But John also wants us to know that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a human being without ceasing to be God (John 1:1; 14; Philippians 2:6-8). This is why John refers to Jesus as “the only begotten Son” (John 1:18). The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents, as many false religions teach today. The compound Greek word translated “only begotten” is monogenḗs, which literally means “one (monos) of a kind (genos)” or “unique kind.” 8Jesus Christ is the only one of His kind. He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14). This is the message of the gospel of John.

The writer of this gospel, the apostle John, goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ deity (John 1:1, 34, 49; 5:16-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 10:30-33; 11:27; 20:28; et. al). Jesus was unlike any other Person who has walked on this earth. In the Old Testament, the phrase “I AM” is how Jehovah God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). “I AM” is also how Jesus identified Himself to the people of Israel. He makes several “I AM” statements in the gospel of John: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the door” (John 10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), “I am the true vine” (15:1). Each one of these staggering statements attested to the fact that Jesus was and is God.

Jesus also claimed to be equal with God and to be God Himself (John 5:17-18; John 10:10-33). This is why His enemies wanted to kill Jesus for blasphemy (Leviticus 20:10; cf. John 5:18; 8:59; 10:31-33; 11:8). For example, when Jesus said, “He and the Father are one” (John 10:30), the Jews understood Him to claim to be God. They said, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33).

Did Muhammed, the founder of Islam, orBuddha, the founder of Buddhism, or Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, or Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, or Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Jehovah Witnesses, or Ellen G. White, the co-founder of Seventh Day Adventist, claim to be equal with God? No!Jesus Christ not only claimed to be God, He proved He was God through His works (John 1-12), the greatest of which was His resurrection from the dead (John 20:1-18; cf. Romans 1:3-4)!

John also goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ humanity (John 1:14; 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; et. al). Jesus had brothers and sisters like you and me (John 2:12; 7:3, 5; cf. Mark 6:3). Christ ate food and got thirsty just like you and me (John 19:28; 21:12, 15; cf. Matthew 9:11; 11:19; Mark 2:16; Luke 7:34). He experienced physical fatigue and even slept (John 4:6; cf. Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23). Why? He became a man without ceasing to be God so He could understand what it is like for you and me to have family, food, and fatigue. The God of the Bible is not some distant uncaring deity like the religions of the world. He understands our needs and He came to earth to meet our most fundamental needs to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure.

When John says that Jesus was “is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18b), he is referring to Christ’s very close and intimate relationship with God the Father. The word “bosom” (kolpos) refers to the upper part of the chest where a garment naturally folded to form a pocket. The picture here is that of a son resting his head on the chest of his father, experiencing a very close and intimate relationship with him. Jesus had the closest and most intimate relationship with God the Father. He knows the heart of God the Father better than anyone because His head often rested upon His Father’s chest in eternity past.

Who better to tell others what a Person is like than the One who is closest to that Person and has known Him the longest in an intimate relationship!?! There is no one more qualified to tell us what God is like than the only begotten Son of God who has known God the Father forever in the closest of relationships with Him.

This is why John then says, “He has declared Him” (John 1:18c). The word “declared” (eksēgéomai) is where we get our English words, “exegete” and “exegesis” from. It means “to set forth in great detail, expound.” 10  In seminary, we learned to “exegete” or explain God’s Word, the Bible. We were taught to “read out” of the Bible God’s intended meaning through a grammatical, historical, and literal interpretation instead of “reading into” the Bible our own biases and assumptions.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, has “exegeted” or “explained, interpreted, or narrated” what God the Father is like. Jesus is more qualified than anyone else to explain what God the Father is like because He, being God, knows God the Father longer and more intimately than anyone else.

Understanding the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, will help us understand why John concludes his book with the following words: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:25). John is telling us that he did not record everything “Jesus did.” He wrote selectively about the life and ministry of Jesus on earth. 11In other words, John gave us “a highlight reel” of Jesus!12  This highlight reel makes all others look pale in comparison.

Take for example a highlight reel of the greatest sports figures in history. None of them – whether it be Mohammed Ali, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Jim Brown, Tom Brady, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Pele’, Florence Griffith Joyner, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, or Ronda Rausey – can come close to what Jesus Christ has done.

The Lord Jesus has loved people perfectly, giving His life for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16; Romans 5:8). By His grace He has forgiven people perfectly no matter how badly or often they have sinned (John 4:1-29; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; I Timothy 1:14-16). He has given eternal life freely to all who believe in Him (John 3:16). He has granted a forever relationship to the religious (John 3:1-18). Christ has saved from hell forever all who have trusted in Him (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). He has transformed sinners into saints the moment they believed in Him (I Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:1, 13-14). Jesus has given hopeless people a purpose for living (Romans 8:28). He has granted contentment to those who could not find satisfaction (Philippians 4:11-13). He has given those who have greatly failed a second chance (John 21:15-17). He has bestowed peace upon the troubled (John 14:27; 16:33; Ephesians 2:14-15). And Christ Jesus has never lost one person He has saved, and He never will (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29).

No sports figure, politician, Hollywood celebrity, or philanthropist can do what Jesus Christ has done and continues to do. His life and ministry make Him unique. His highlight reel is superior to all others even though it does not include all that Jesus ever did.

“But God providentially determined that what we have in Scripture is enough. You don’t need to know everything that Jesus did and said. But, John says, you do need to ‘believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31). Amen.” 13  

But John did say if all that Jesus did on earth “were written one by one… the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” To date, countless books have been written on what little was actually recorded in the gospels about Jesus Christ. “Jesus is surely the most written-about person of all time—and rightly so!” 14 When you consider the thousands of historical books, theological books, religious books, scholarly books on the gospels, testimonial books, and articles about Jesus Christ, the numbers are endless! Isn’t that what we would expect from Someone Who is uniquely God and Man!?!

There is no end to the books written about Jesus Christ because He is still working in peoples’ lives today – giving them His life freely through believing in Him (John 3:16; 10:10b) so they can experience His life abundantly as they learn to follow Him as a disciple (John 10:10c; cf. 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8; 21:15-23).  

For me, the gospel of John is one of the greatest books of the Bible because it repeatedly shows God’s grace and truth through the Person of Jesus Christ. It also tells us over and over again what one must do to have eternal life now (John 3:16; 17:3) and a future home in heaven (John 14:2-3). It tells us to simply believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of eternal life (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 9:35-38; 10:24-29; 11:25-27; 14:1; 20:31; et al.). Jesus did not say, “whoever behaves.” He said, “whoever believes…” (John 3:16). Believe in Him alone and He will give you His never-ending life so you can experience it abundantly in your daily life.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the gospel of John which gives us all we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing we may have life in His name. There is no one like You, Lord Jesus. There is no one who forgives and loves us like You do. Thank You for revealing Yourself to us through the gospel of John. Please enable us to share this life-changing book with a lost world so they may discover the radical love you have for them and come to believe in You alone for Your gift of eternal life. Getting right with You, Father God, is based upon believing, not behaving. May Your Holy Spirit convict people of this profound and simple life-changing truth. And may those of us who have eternal life through Jesus, experience His abundant life as we learn to follow Him as His disciple. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78628-78629).

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 705.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 402 cites Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Authorised Version with Introduction and Notes 1880 (London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958), pg. 306. .

4. Ibid., cites Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Translated by G. R. Beasley- Murray, R. W. N. Hoare, and J. K. Riches. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), pp. 717-718.

5. Ibid., cites C. H. Dodd, “Note on John 21, 24,” Journal of Theological Studies NS4 (1953):212-13.

6. 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. 570.

7. Constable, pg. 402.

8. 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. 658.

9. Ibid., pp. 556-557.

10. Ibid., pg. 349.

11. Wilkin, pg. 570.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1834.

13. Ibid.

14. Wilkin, pg. 570.

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.

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 1

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” John 21:15

On October 25, 1964, the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League were playing the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, CA. Carl Eller of the Vikings had just scooped up a 49er fumble and turned it into a touchdown.

Working hard to get back the touchdown, 49er quarterback, George Mira, threw a short pass into the secondary to halfback Bill Kilmer. Jim Marshall of the Vikings quickly diagnosed the play and headed for Kilmer. Marshall got there quickly when someone hit Kilmer and the 49er halfback fumbled. Reacting instinctively, Marshall hurdled a player in front of him and, on the run, picked up the loose ball. Without hesitation he began sprinting for the goal line – the Minnesota goal line sixty-six yards away.

Marshall had simply gotten mixed up. And the roar of the crowd drowned out his teammate’s shouts to turn around. Marshall ran into the end zone without opposition and then threw the football away in celebration. He began to realize something was wrong when San Francisco’s Bruce Bosely threw his arms around him, thanking him for the safety. The Viking quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, ran up and said, “Jim, you went the wrong way, the wrong way!” Marshall buried his head in his hands for a few agonizing moments and then jogged back to the bench.

Viking’s coach Norm Van Brocklin, a man with a notoriously short temper, realized that the situation was not one that called for angry words. He smacked Marshall on the backside and said, “Forget about it, Jim. Go back in there and make the fans forget.” For the rest of the game Marshall played excellent football. Minnesota went on to win 27-22. No doubt Marshall expected the coach to bench him for his blunder. But he didn’t. He gave him a second chance. He told him “To forget it. Go back in there and make the fans forget.”

Have you ever run the wrong way in your Christian life, not listening to God or to others who are trying to tell you to turn around? It happens to all of us. And we may then feel God wants to bench us and not let us back into the game. We feel like a failure and tell ourselves, “God cannot use failures.”

If you have ever felt that way, it would profit you to take a look at how the risen Lord Jesus responded to Peter in John 21:15-19 after Peter had failed the Lord in a big way. 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 over three years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11; cf. 6:69). 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.”

In John 21, seven of Jesus’ disciples were sitting around “a fire of coals” on a beach along the Sea of Galilee with Jesus after He rose from the dead (John 21:1-14). It was dawn; quiet and cool. Smoke drifted lazily from the fire as well as the aroma of freshly toasted bread and smoked fish. No doubt small talk and a few laughs occurred as they ate breakfast. Surely someone commented on how good it was to miraculously catch over one-hundred fifty large fish so quickly after Jesus instructed these fishermen to cast their net on the other side of their boat.

Suddenly the conversation stopped, and Jesus turned to Simon Peter. Their eyes met. “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ ” (John 21:15). When the disciples had finished eating breakfast with the risen Lord Jesus, Christ asked Peter three questions in front of his companions. These questions would probe the depths of Peter’s heart and would stand in contrast to Peter’s three denials.

You may recall the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, during our Lord’s trial, Peter had vehemently denied three times that he was associated with Jesus (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). Now the risen Lord Jesus was giving Peter a chance to redeem himself. Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times he would say he loved the Lord. Peter’s failure took place while standing around “a fire of coals” (John 18:18) in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:15-16), and now his restoration would take place while around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:9).

I believe Peter knew what was coming. He may have returned to fishing because of his three public denials of Jesus. He may have had doubts about his future considering his failure. He stood around this fire like a condemned man before his Judge. There was no need for a trial; the evidence was indisputable – it shouted of his conviction! Then Jesus did something amazing, so amazing that few people grasp the magnitude of the question, instead they read an accusation into Jesus’ words. 1

Jesus addresses Peter with an air of seriousness when He says, “Simon, son of Jonah.” In the Gospels, Jesus addressed Peter this way on only the most important occasions. These were: Peter’s call to follow Jesus (1:42), his confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 16:17), and as he slept in Gethsemane (Mark 14:37). When Jesus addressed Peter this way here, Peter probably realized that what Jesus was about to say to him was extremely important.” 2

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he is going to deny Him again.  Nor does Christ ask Peter if he was sorry for what he had done. He didn’t interrogate Peter to find out if he was going to try harder the next time he is in a similar situation. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him. 3

Much discussion has revolved around the use of the words for “love” used by Jesus (agapaō) andPeter (phileō). Before we look at that, I want to point out something that is often overlooked in this passage. Jesus made Himself vulnerable by asking Peter if he loved Him. Haven’t all of us, at some point in time, asked someone if he or she really loves us? If we are married, we certainly have. I know I have asked my wife many times if she loved me, especially after I had offended her or deeply hurt her. I felt so vulnerable during those times. We all do in a situation like that.

Jesus made Himself vulnerable in this conversation with Peter. Peter was probably expecting Jesus do reprimand him for his public denials knowing he deserved a painful rebuke. But he hears the risen Lord Jesus ask if he loved Him. When we ask a question like that, we all put our heart right out there on the line. Even God does this with Peter!

Jesus Christ was not only vulnerable when He came to earth and lay in a manger as a Baby, or when He was faced with the failures and humanness of His disciples, knowing one of them would eventually betray Him. Nor was the cross, where He made Himself extremely vulnerable to everyone’s sin and suffering, the only place of His vulnerability. Christ’s entire life on earth was one of unguarded servanthood to humanity. “Do you love Me?” is a constant expression of Jesus’ heart.

That simple question can transform a broken heart that is overtaken by failure. It certainly changed Peter’s relationship with his Savior. And it can change ours. When Jesus asked Peter this question, He was looking beyond Peter’s behavior to his heart. Christ is focusing on Peter’s heart, not his past failure. Why? Because a person cannot change their behavior until their heart has been changed.

All too often the Christian church is preoccupied with the behaviors of its members instead of their hearts. They can be quick to condemn believers who have failed. They may constantly remind fallen Christians of their sinful behavior, while failing to offer hope and healing to them by focusing on their hearts.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart with His questions. Peter had been preoccupied with himself earlier when he claimed to have more commitment than the other disciples (Matthew 26:31-33; John 13:37). He was focused on himself when he failed Jesus in the courtyard and began to curse and swear and weep bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75). But Jesus’ question was bringing Peter’s focus back to Him.

The truth is all of us can be like Peter. I know I can and have many times. We can get so full of ourselves, that we cannot see Jesus. We get so focused on whether we are okay and appreciated by others, that we lose sight of our love for Jesus.

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, I can just picture Peter looking at the ground, probably moving some dirt around with his water-logged sandals and then saying, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Peter seems to be saying, “Lord, when I get my head on straight and my heart isn’t so polluted, I really do love You. And I want to love You – at times more than anything else in my life. But, Lord, I really don’t know the truth about my heart most of the time. Yet You do, and that’s why Your name is Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.” 4

Jesus’ full question was, “Do you love Me more than these?” This was not a performance question. This was a heart question. Jesus uses the Greek word agapaō for unconditional love. This word is often used of God’s sacrificial love to do what is best for another (cf. John 3:16; I John 4:9-10).

Peter knew what Jesus meant by “these” (toutōn), but it is not as clear to us. Some suggest that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Christ more than the fishing vocation he has returned to. I don’t take it this way.

I believe Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you unconditionally love Me more than the other disciples love Me?” Why would Jesus ask this? Because when he had predicted that the disciples would fall away, Peter had vowed, ‘Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away’ (Matt 26:31-33). Peter had wanted Jesus to know that though the devotion of the other disciples might waver, he could count on Peter remaining steadfast. He would be the one disciple that Jesus could trust. But here, after Peter had shamefully denied Jesus three times, Jesus basically asked Peter, ‘Are you still the most committed disciple?’ ” 5  Jesus is asking Peter, “Can you still affirm that you love Me more than these other disciples do?”

So, Jesus is taking Peter back to the worst failure of his life, not to condemn him, but to give him hope and to develop a new depth of intimacy with Him. 6  

Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Notice that Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Peter uses the Greek word phileō for “love” here. This word means “to have a special interest in someone or something …  with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” 8 This is the kind of love that exists between good friends. 9

Some Bible students believe that the word Peter used for love (phileō) is inferior to the word Jesus used for love (agapaō). 10  So, when Peter responded to Jesus, they believe his failures had humbled him. Peter had claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the others. But after his failure and denial, he wasn’t willing to arrogantly say that he loved Jesus with a sacrificial love.” 11

Other Bible students believe the use of agapaō and phileō are used interchangeably in the gospel of John and do not see any actual difference in meaning. 12 “The word phileō does not represent an inferior type of love. John, for example, uses phileō, to refer to the Father’s love for Jesus (5:20). Surely the Father’s love for Jesus is not some lesser love! In addition, Jesus’ love for John and for Lazarus is expressed by phileō (11:3, 36; 20:2), as is the Father’s love for the disciples and the disciples’ love for Jesus (16:27). The change was merely for stylistic considerations—much like the change from ‘Feed My lambs’ to ‘Tend My sheep’ to ‘Feed My sheep.’” 13

In the context, I prefer the former view, that Peter uses a word for love (phileō) that is not as strong because he doesn’t feel worthy of unconditional love. Peter doesn’t have enough confidence to say he loves Jesus unconditionally more than his fellow disciples do because he had just failed the Lord miserably.

How does Jesus respond to His discouraged disciple? “He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” The word for “feed” (boskō) is used of herdsmen who feed or “tend to the needs of animals” 14 or their herds(Matthew 8:30; Mark 5:14; Luke 8:34; 15:15). The verb means “to take care of,” not merely “feed.” 15

The “lambs” (arnia) refer to Christ’s followers, especially the young ones in the faith who may be prone to wander. 16  When Jesus said this, what kind of look do you think was on His face? Was he frowning or doubting? I am convinced that Jesus was smiling from ear to ear.

Jesus wasn’t done with Peter yet. Earlier he told Peter he would fish for men (Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10), which was more of an evangelistic ministry. But now Christ is telling him to “Feed My lambs” which is more of a pastoral ministry. “Previously Jesus had referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd (10:14). Now He was committing the care of His flock to this disciple who had failed Him miserably in the past.” 17  

How does Jesus restore us after we fail? The first way is HE INVITES US TO MAKE LOVING HIM OUR FIRST PRIORITY (John 21:15). What motivates our lives or ministries? What motivates us to serve others? Is it the promise of a payment or reward? I’m not just talking about money, but also appreciation or approval from others. Is it the prestige of being in leadership? Is it the sense of power or control over others that motivates us?

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Peter’s answer is, “Lord, You know that I love you.”  Not “more than,” just “You know that I love You.” And Jesus says, “Feed My lambs.”

So, Jesus says if you really want to feed people, the first question is do you love Him? If God is going to use us to make a difference in the lives of other people after we fail Him miserably, we must make loving Jesus our number one priority.

Jesus is giving Peter (and us) an entirely new set of priorities for living. He uses our failures to establish new priorities in our Christian lives. It was one thing for Peter to be excited about an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. It was quite another thing to let the truth of the resurrection change the way he lived his life. It is one thing for us to come to church on a Sunday and be excited and give a standing ovation to a great song or an “Amen” to a great sermon. We may feel close to the Lord during those times. But it is quite another thing for us to let that truth change the way I treat my wife or my kids at home or the way I act at work the next day. If we are honest with ourselves, it is very difficult to make the leap between Sunday’s experience and Monday’s reality.

Jesus is helping us learn how to do this. First, He is telling us, “Make loving Me the top priority in your life. If you want to love other people, first love Me. Take time to connect with Me. That’s where the strength comes from to love others.” Take time every day to get to know Jesus. Get alone and talk to Him in prayer and listen to Him speak to you as you read and obey the Bible. We cannot get to know and love Jesus if we don’t spend time with Him.

And if we are not taking the time to know and love Jesus, we are not going to last in ministering to others. We will get burned out and dry up spiritually. Other people cannot love us the way Jesus can. Other people cannot strengthen us the way Jesus can. Make loving Christ your number one priority in life, and He will use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of other people.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that we are a lot like Peter. We can start out relying on ourselves to remain committed to You even unto death. We get so focused on ourselves that we do not even see You. But we soon find out, like Peter did, that that is a recipe for failure. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us the grace we need so that our failures are not final. Thank You for focusing more on our hearts than on our behaviors. By Your grace, we want to make loving You our top priority in life. Lord Jesus, there is no one who loves us more than You do. There is no one who forgives us more than You do. Please use us to make a difference in someone’s life today. Would You use us to do that, Lord Jesus? Would You love that person through us, our Lord and our God? Thank You for hearing our prayer. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999), pg. 246.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 394.

3. Adapted from Ted Robert’s discussion in his book, Pure Desire, pp. 246-247.

4. Ibid., pp. 248-249.

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

6. Roberts, pg. 249.

7. Constable, pg. 395.

8. 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. 1056.  

9. Evans, pg. 1832.

10. Constable, pg. 395 cites K. L. McKay, “Style and Significance in the Language of John 21:15-17,” Novum Testamentum 27 (1985):319-33; Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 4: “Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament” (by the author, 1940; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 60-63; and Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, The New Versus the Old (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2002), pg. 227; See also J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 379 who cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953-54), 2:494-500; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1942), pp. 1418-20; A. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. John (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1899), pg. 372; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), pg. 303.

11. Evans, pg. 1832.

12. Laney, pg. 380 cites C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (London: SPCK, 1962), pg. 486; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 404-405; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 873; Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 293-318.

13. 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; and see Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 395 where he writes, “For example, John used both agapao and phileo to describe the Father’s love for the Son (3:35; 10:17; 5:20), Jesus’ love for Lazarus (11:5, 3, 36), and Jesus’ love for the beloved disciple (13:23; 20:2). Also, he used three different Greek words to describe ‘fish’ in this passage: prosphagion, ichthus, and opsarion.”

14. Bauer, pg. 181.

15. Laney, pg. 380.

16. Ibid.

17. Constable, pg. 396.

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.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 8 (Video)

This is the eighth video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the eighth and greatest miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead (John 19:1-20:31).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from www.GoodSalt.com, Brooklyn Museum / FreeBibleimages.org, www.fishnetbiblestories.com, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

How can I overcome my fears? Part 5

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:23

Since coming to faith in Jesus in 1979, the Lord has enabled me to share the gospel of Christ with many people. For the past ten years, God has also given me the opportunity to train believers in evangelism and discipleship. I have found that it is very normal to experience fear when sharing the gospel with non-Christians. The goal is not to not have fear in evangelism, but to overcome that fear with God’s boldness.

The Lord has taught me that one of the reasons Christians experience fear in evangelism is that they do not know what to say to an unsaved person. So the obvious solution is to teach fearful believers what to say to a non-believer. This leads us to our next verse about overcoming our fears.

We are learning how to overcome our fears by looking at how Jesus enabled His disciples to overcome their fears when He encountered them the evening of His resurrection day hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.From this encounter we have learned to overcome our fears when we …

– Rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19).

– Redirect our focus to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to convince our doubting hearts (John 20:20).

– Renew our sense of purpose (John 20:21).

– Relate to the Person of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).

After breathing the Holy Spirit upon His ten disciples to prepare them physically and visually for the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (John 20:22; cf. Acts 2:1-21; 11:15-16), Jesus then says to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23).

What does this verse mean? Is Jesus giving His disciples the ability to forgive and retain sins? Does this verse provide the biblical basis for Roman Catholic priests to forgive the sins of their parishioners?

To properly understand this verse, it is important to know that the Bible teaches that God is the only One who has the power and authority to forgive sins committed against Him. The Lord God said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25). Mark 2:7 points out that only God can forgive sins. “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus demonstrated that He was God when He demonstrated the divine authority to both forgive the paralytic’s sins (an invisible healing) and enable him to walk (a visible healing). Jesus said to the scribes who thought He committed blasphemy by claiming to forgive sins, “ ’But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’ ” (Mark 2:10-12).

When we look at the Greek grammar of John 20:23, we learn that the first verbs in the two clauses (“forgive” and “retain”)are an aorist (aphēte) and present tense (kratēte), whereas the second verbs in each clause (“are forgiven” and “are retained”) are perfect tense verbs in the passive voice (apheōntai,  kekratēntai). “The perfect tense portrays past action and affirms an existing result.” This implies that the abiding state of the second verbs in each clause began before the action of the first verbs.

The passive voice indicates that someone has already done the forgiving or retaining. That Person must be God, since He alone has the authority to do that (Matt. 9:2-3; Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21). This means that God’s action of forgiveness (“they are forgiven them”) took place prior to the announcement of forgiveness by Jesus’ disciples (“If you forgive the sins of any”). It also means that God’s action of withholding forgiveness (“they are retained”) also took place prior to the announcement of the withholding of forgiveness by Christ’s disciples (“If you retain the sins of any”). “The grammar used by Jesus did not provide the disciples with the personal authority to forgive sin.” 3

Robertson states, What he commits to the disciples and to us is the power and privilege of giving assurance of the forgiveness of sins by God by correctly announcing the terms of forgiveness. There is no proof that he actually transferred to the apostles or their successors the power in and of themselves to forgive sins.” 4

God does not forgive peoples’ sins because we decide to do so nor does He withhold forgiveness because we will not grant it. We simply announce the previous forgiveness of God. We don’t create it. God has given Christians the privilege of proclaiming His terms on how a person can receive forgiveness of sins. 

The basis for forgiveness is not that God likes us or even that He loves us. It is that Christ laid down His life to pay the penalty for all our sins. “The Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13b-14). Forgiveness is based upon the cross of Christ, not our performance or good works.

Some people think forgiveness is like a man saying to the child down the block who threw a baseball through his window. “It is okay kid. I like you. Forget it.” No, God is love, but He is also righteous and just. Biblical forgiveness is like a child throwing a baseball through a window and the owner’s son paying for the broken glass. Then the man says, “It is okay. My son paid for it.”

What God wants Christians to proclaim to people is that they can obtain His complete forgiveness freely by believing in Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter told a Gentile named Cornelius, “All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:43 NIV).

What this means is when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the unsaved, which includes His death and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:3-6), we can say to them, “If you believe or trust in Christ alone, I can say on the authority of the New Testament, that you are forgiven.” Or we can say, “You are entitled to your opinion, but I must warn you that according to the New Testament, unless you believe or trust in Christ alone, your sin remains unforgiven.” The Holy Spirit enables us to  authoritatively declare that God has indeed forgiven the sins of any who believe in Jesus Christ. 5

Jesus did something similar when He said to the Pharisees who overheard Christ’s conversation with the former blind man, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:41). Christ is saying to these self-righteous religious leaders, “If you recognized your spiritual blindness and acknowledged your sin and guilt, you would have believed in Me for forgiveness. And I would have forgiven you so ‘you would have no sin.’ But because you claim to have spiritual sight and deny your own sin, and refuse to come to Me for forgiveness, ‘your sin remains.’ ”

Now Jesus’ disciples (including you and me) would continue His ministry relative to the forgiveness of sins. When we share the gospel, care must be taken to make sure they understand that only God forgives. But the messenger does state it. What a high privilege we have in announcing the forgiveness of sins to those who believe in Jesus Christ alone.

This leads to our final principle for overcoming our fears. REVIEW CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF FORGIVENESS AS YOU PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL TO THE LOST (John 20:23). If you are afraid to share the gospel with the unsaved because you are not sure what to say, review the message of the gospel with another Christian before going out to share with non-believers. You can role play with that believer. Have the other person assume the role of the non-Christians while you assume the role of the Christian and share the gospel with him or her. And remember, the gospel by which we are saved is that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Then invite the non-Christian to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of all his or her sins (Acts 10:43).

When we share the good news of God’s forgiveness with non-believers, we not only bless those who hear the message, but we are also blessed to be reminded of the unlimited forgiveness we have in Christ. One of the greatest blessings we can receive is the joy of knowing that all our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ! Every time we share the gospel with a lost person, we are blessed to review this incredible truth. Any doubts or fears we may have about being totally forgiven are quickly dispelled as we proclaim God’s free and unlimited forgiveness through Jesus Christ to a lost world.

But it is also true that one of the greatest fears a person can have is knowing your sins are not forgiven before you face a holy God. This is one of the main reasons why people are afraid of dying. They are not prepared to face their Maker without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

As we saw earlier, the Lord God said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25; cf. Hebrews 10:16-18). God chooses to remember our sins no more when He forgives us.

If you are a Christian and you know God has forgiven you, but you are struggling to forgive yourself, listen to what Larry Moyer says about such a dilemma. “This is a beautiful way to explain God’s forgiveness: if what we have done is no longer on His mind, it doesn’t have to be on ours either.” 6

The more we focus on Christ’s forgiveness of all our sins, the less fear we will have about our future and the more joy we will have today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for entrusting us with Your gospel message. Even though we are often afraid before sharing this life-giving message with the unsaved, we are also excited to watch what You will do in the listeners’ hearts. What a high privilege You have given us in announcing the forgiveness of sins to those who believe in You, and Your death and resurrection. Please provide other Christians we can practice sharing the gospel with to overcome our fears of not knowing what to say to a non-Christian. We are realizing that the more we share the gospel with the unsaved, the more we are reminded of the complete forgiveness we received the moment we believed in Jesus. Please let Your forgiveness ring throughout our communities and world. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 367 cites H.E. Dana and Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1927), pp. 200-201.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John (2017 Edition), pg. 380.

3. Laney, pg. 367 cites Julius R. Mantey, “Evidence That the Perfect Tense in John 20:23 and Matthew 16:19 Is Mistranslated,” JETS 16 (1973): 129-138.

4. Archibald Thomas, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strongs Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (The Ephesians Four Group: 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 77918-77920.

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

6. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pg. 288.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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