Revelation 5 – Part 2

“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’” Revelation 5:9

Swindoll writes,When the incarnate Son of God took the scroll from the Father, everything changed. The rule of humanity over all creation, which has been derailed by the Fall and wrecked by the curse (Gen. 1:28; 3:17-19), will be restored through the God-Man, Jesus Christ. As a truly human descendant of Adam, Jesus Christ is qualified to fulfill the original calling of humanity to exercise dominion over the earth and to subdue it, restoring the conditions conditions of Paradise throughout the whole world. As the truly divine Son of God, Jesus Christ has the power and authority to fulfill this calling where Adam failed. Don’t miss this! In Revelation 5:8 we see the beginning of the process of God putting everything in its right place by placing everything in the right hands.

“What a reason to rejoice! In fact, as soon as Jesus took hold of the seven-sealed scroll, everything changed from weeping to worshiping. All creatures in heaven and earth burst forth in praise. Uncontainable jubilation flowed outward from God’s throne. In one wave after another, creation poured forth praise to the Lamb of God. Why? Because not only is He the Suffering Servant who took away the sins of the world by His sacrificial death (Isa. 53), but He’s also the risen, glorified Judge who will execute judgment on the wicked and bestow blessings on the righteous. All authority to judge has been given to Him alone (John 5:21-22, 27). 1

After the Lamb and Lion, Jesus Christ, takes the scroll from the hand of God the Father, we see weeping transformed into worship. “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8). Jesus took “the scroll” because He alone was found worthy to execute judgment on all of humankind and set up His Kingdom on earth. This transfer of authority to Christ triggered an outpouring of praise and worship because it signaled that Jesus would soon begin judging His enemies on the earth. 2

Ever since that day in the first century when Jesus asked His people to pray, ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10), both the believers on earth and those in heaven have been anticipating the answer.” 3

Notice the order of worship. As soon as Jesus possessed the scroll the “living creatures” or angels closest to the throne, possibly seraphim (cf. Isaiah 6:2-3), fell flat on their faces before the Lord Jesus Christ as if to obey the command, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (Hebrews 1:6). 4 This points to Jesus as God for only God is worthy to be worshiped (cf. Exodus 20:2-5). This is the declaration of Hebrews 1:8 when the Father says to His Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” God the Father calls His Son, “God.”

This is why Jesus does not refuse the worship of the four living creatures in God’s throne room in heaven. If Christ was not God, then we would expect Him to tell all the inhabitants of heaven to stop worshiping Him. But He does not do this because He is God Almighty!

Then the “twenty-four elders,” representing faithful church-age believers, the highest of God’s redeemed, also “fell down before the Lamb.” Only “each” elder, had “a harp, and golden bowls full of incense.” This is clear in the Greek text from the masculine gender of hekastos, translated “each,” which agrees with the masculine gender of “the twenty-four elders” (iekosi tessares presbuteroi), not the neuter gender of the “four living creatures” (ta tessara zōa). 5

These redeemed saints offered “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” By the way, don’t ever think your prayers are insignificant. Even if God doesn’t answer your pleas for help now, one day when Christ reverses the curse and rights all wrongs, your desperate cries for His intervention will be counted. God never tosses your prayers into a trash bin—He’s storing them up in bowls, and He will one day answer them in ways beyond your imagination. Be patient!” 6

Then the four living angelic creatures and the twenty-four elders broke out singing a new song.9 And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 and have made them kings and priests to our God; and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10). This song was probably “new” in the sense that it represented new praise for a new deliveranceabout to take place. 7

Several times God commands us to “sing a new song” to Him (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10). As God reveals new blessings to His people, they are to respond by singing a new song which praises God for those blessings. Failure to sing a new song when God is doing something new in our lives is disobedience and can lead to a loss of joy and admiration for the Lord in our worship.

But when God’s people obey the Lord and write and/or sing new songs to the Lord which reflect the new manifestations of His grace toward us, He will reveal more of Himself to us (cf. John 14:21). Also, there will be an increase in our praise to Him and “many will see it and fear and will trust in the Lord” (cf. Psalm 40:3). Being sensitive to the new manifestations of God’s grace to us in our songs to Him will increase our “fear” or admiration of Him and lead us to “trust” in Him more in our daily lives, and it can also lead the unsaved to “trust in the Lord” Jesus as their Savior. Hopefully, no Christian wants to hinder unsaved people from coming to faith in Christ because of a music style preference.

All of us have our music preferences, but as we look back at history in the Old and New Testaments (cf. Exodus 15:1-17; Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3) and in the Church Age, songs changed as the Lord revealed Himself and His workings in new and different ways. Singing a new song to the Lord enables us to experience and express the new manifestations of His grace in our lives in more meaningful ways. 

As I look back at my Christian life the last forty years, some of the most intimate times of worship with the Lord were when I learned a new song which expressed the new things God was doing in my life. I especially enjoyed it when the worship leader in our local church would write and/or lead us in a new song that reflected the new manifestations of God’s grace in and through our local church. Praise Jesus for those who capture the new things He is doing in the songs they write and/or sing! 

When is the last time you sang a new song to the Lord? Take time today to draw near to Him by singing a new song to Him that expresses something new that He is doing in your life. To find a new song, you can use google and search for “New Christian Songs.” Since God continues to create new and refreshing songs for His Church, you should have no trouble finding one to enhance your worship of Him. One of my favorites right now is “House of the Lord.”

In Revelation 4 the four living creatures and twenty-four elders praised God for His work of creation (4:11). In chapter 5 they praised Christ for His work of redemption. 8 This new song of praise to Christ focused on His worthiness to open the scrolls because of His death (“You were slain”), the redemption (purchase) of every people group by His shed “blood” (Revelation 5:9). Verse 9 is being sung only by the twenty-four elders because only humans can sing “You… have redeemed us to God.” 9 Jesus did not die to redeem angels. He died to redeem sinful human beings (cf. Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-4).

The reference to redeemed people in heaven being from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9b) portrays the ethnic, linguistic, and national diversity that will be present in eternity. This means that difference and diversity are not problems to be solved but were part of God’s plan from the very beginning. God delights in the variety and beauty of His creation. Here in this perfect, complete worship service around the throne we can see clearly that ‘red, yellow, black, and white’ are all precious in God’s sight. And this diverse community of saints is unified in their worship of the Lamb. Christian unity does not mean uniformity, but a shared focus on and worship of Christ Jesus.” 10

In God’s plan of redemption, all lives matter to the Creator of the universe. In fact, each person, no matter what their color, is worth the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:9; cf. I Corinthians 6:20). His blood was the purchase price for each of us. All people are created equal and are dearly loved by the Savior of the world. Each of us can be grateful for our diverse backgrounds and appearances because they all bring great pleasure to our Creator God!

Verse 10 has two important textual issues. The NKJV reads, “And we shall reign on the earth,” (5:10b) but the Majority Text (MT), along with the Critical Text (CT), reads, “And they (believers) shall reign on the earth.”Who then is speaking this sentence? Some say it is spoken by the twenty-four elders, who are angels. Another suggestion is that there is an antiphonal choir here, with the four living creatures singing this line (i.e., all of v 10) as they alternate lines with the twenty-four elders.

“The same is true of the first clause in the NKJV translation, ‘And [You] have made us kings and priests to our God.’ Once again, the NKJV mistakenly has ‘us,’ whereas the MT and CT have the third person plural: ‘And You have made them kings and priests.’

“The four living creatures and elders are singing joyfully to the Lamb about those who will not only be entering His eternal kingdom but will also be ruling with Him in it because of their steadfast devotion. They were faithful and godly in life; therefore, they will reign in eternity (cf. 2:26-27).” 11

After the living angelic creatures and twenty-four elders sang a new song of praise to the Lamb of God, John writes, 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:11-12). The chorus of praise did not end with the twenty-four elders. Two more groups join this worship service in God’s throne room. An innumerable host of “angels around the throne” now join “the four living creatures and twenty-four elders… with a loud voice” ascribing worth to “the Lamb who was slain” Who deserves “power… riches… wisdom… strength… honor… glory… blessing” to be given to Him at the beginning of His reign on earth (5:11-12). These seven qualities belong intrinsically to Christ. 12

“The angels use seven expressions (the perfect number is probably significant) to indicate the wonder of the Lamb.” 13

The repetition of “and” (kai) between each quality brings special emphasis to each one individually. It “produces the impression of extensiveness and abundance by means of an exhaustive summary.” 14

The final group to join this profound worship in God’s throne room includes “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13). Every creature, saved and unsaved, angelic and demonic, will join in giving God the Father(“Him who sits on the throne“) and “the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, “the blessing and honor and glory and power” they deserve.

“The creatures in view must be intelligent beings capable of worship, who can fully appreciate God and the Lamb— not the stars, planets, and animals. This probably involved a forward (proleptic) look to the end of the history of planet earth, when every creature will bow the knee to Jesus Christ (cf. 5:10; Phil. 2:8-11).” 15

Even the inhabitants of hell (“under the earth”) will bow before Jesus Christ and confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:8-11). If you have not yet concluded that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. John 20:28), the day will come when you reach such a conclusion “on the earth” during the Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19) or during Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:1-6), or “under the earth” in the future in hell if you never believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life.  

Why not come to faith in Jesus now for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16) so you can give Him the glory He deserves both now and “in heaven” in the future? Simply come to Christ as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Recognize that Christ died for all your sins on the cross and rose from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4). Take Him at His Word when He says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and He will give you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Then you can give Jesus the glory He deserves every day for the rest of your eternal life!!!

John concludes Chapter 5 with these words: “Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:14). While all creatures in every corner of creation worshiped God the Father and God the Son together for their work of creation and redemption (5:13), the four living creatures and twenty-four elders continued their unceasing worship (5:14).

Revelation 4 and 5 present heaven, God’s dwelling place, as a real place. John saw God the Father and God the Son receiving great honor there, surrounded by church-age believers and innumerable angelic worshippers. Even though John saw a vision, it was a vision of something that truly exists. We may be able to see both heaven and its inhabitants there some day depending on how we respond to Jesus Christ in this life.

The reason I am going to repeat what I said above is because some people need to hear this more than once before they understand and believe it. The Bible says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). You have a choice to make. You can refuse to believe in the Son of God and abide under God’s wrath for eternity confessing His Lordship “under the earth” in hell or you can believe in Jesus now for everlasting life and enjoy confessing His Lordship “on earth” and “in heaven” for eternity.The choice is yours.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the preview You have given us of heaven where all its inhabitants will focus on giving You and Your Son the blessing and honor and glory and power You both deserve. Thank You for reminding us that anyone and everyone can worship You. Revelation 5 shows us that every kind of creature from every level of creation has something to offer the triune God. Through new songs or old, with beautiful instruments or bold voices, by heartfelt prayers or hearty ‘Amens,’ all of us can reorient our hearts and minds toward You, Lord God. This powerful preview of worship in Your throne room gives us a rare insight into the spontaneity and variety of genuine praise. As great as it will be to see people there from every tribe, language group, and nation in Your throne room, we look forward to seeing the Lamb and Lion, Jesus Christ, the most, because He paid the price to make it possible for us to be there with Him!!! The One Who is worthy to exercise judgment and rule over the earth will accomplish His will through our lives. Even though human history is strewn with the wreckage of failed attempts to fix humanity’s problems, we can turn to Christ, Who has paid the price to bring about this glorious future. Help us to invest our lives in His coming Kingdom by proclaiming His gospel of grace to a lost world so more people can inhabit Your heaven in the future. To Jesus and to You, Father, be all the blessing, glory, honor, and power both now and forever. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 141.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 78.

3. Bob Vacendak; 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. 1520.  

4. Swindoll, pg. 142.

5. Constable, pg. 78 cites Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pp. 79-80.

6. Swindoll, pg. 142.

7. Constable, pg. 78.

8. Swindoll,pg. 142.

9. The word correctly translated “us” (hēmas) is found in the Greek Majority Text. See Vacendak, pg. 1520.

10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2380.

11. Vacendak, pp. 1520-1521.

12. Constable, pg. 80.

13. Ibid., cites Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. Reprint ed., (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 101.

14. Ibid., cites F. Blass, and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Translated and revised by Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) paragraph 460 (3).

15. Ibid.

Revelation 4 – Part 3

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” Revelation 4:8

When the apostle John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room, he saw God the Father sitting on a glorious and majestic throne surrounded by twenty-four elders representing the church (Revelation 4:1-4). After describing these elders, John returns his attention to God the Father where he depicts His power and majesty. “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” (Revelation 4:5a). The “lightnings, thunderings, and voices” proceeding “from the throne” of the Father display His majesty and judgment about to come upon the rebellious people of the earth (cf. Exodus 19:16-19; Hebrews 12:18-21). While God does sit on a throne of grace, it is also a throne of wrath. 1 

Next John writes, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Revelation 4:5b). The “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” represent the Holy Spirit (“severn Spirits of God,” cf. 1:4) and His readiness to carry out the Father’s judgments. Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe… Unlike earthly throne rooms, God’s throne room is not in the dark about anything (cf. Zechariah 4:10; Hebrews 4:13).” 2

John then observed, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Revelation 4:6a). The crystal-like “sea of glass” before the throne pictures the purity of God and the complete calmness of His throne room in heaven before His judgments begin on earth. While the “nations rage” (Psalm 2:1) on earth against the rule of God like a “troubled sea” (Isaiah 57:20), all is calm before God’s throne in heaven. 3 This reminds me of fishing at our farm ponds as a child and watching the pond waters become very still as storm clouds approached. The calm before the storm of God’s fiery judgments was evident in heaven.

6b And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” (Revelation 4:6b-7). The “four living creatures” surrounding “the throne” are angelic beings (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-11; Isaiah 6:1-3) that reflect the character and role of Christ. The phrase “full of eyes in front and back” pictures Jesus’ all-seeing knowledge. The “lion” pictures Jesus’ power, courage, majesty, and kingly role (cf. Matthew 2:2; 21:5; Revelation 5:5). The “calf” or ox pictures His faithfulness, servanthood, and self-sacrifice (cf. Matthew 12:18; 20:26-28). The “face like a man” pictures Jesus’ humanity (cf. Hebrews 4:15), and the “flying eagle” portrays His majesty and superiority over all things. 4

The appearances of these four angels may symbolize the portraits of Jesus in the four Gospels. In Matthew, Jesus is King of the Jews, represented by a regal lion. In Mark, he is a servant, represented by an ox—a beast of burden. In Luke, he is the Son of Man, represented by the face of a man. And in John, he is the Son of God who gives eternal life, represented by a majestic eagle.” 5

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8). “The four living creatures each have six wings” like the seraphim (lit. “burning ones”) of Isaiah 6:2-3. “If their wings perform the same function as the seraphim, four of the six wings cover their entire bodies and denote humility and reverence toward God Almighty. With the other two wings they fly, which points to their readiness to obey the command of God.” 6

The description of them being “full of eyes” suggests alertness, comprehensive knowledge, and constant vigilance (cf. Ezekiel 10:12). 7 The phrase “around and within” probably means that they had eyes even on the undersides of their wings, so that they could move their wings without interrupting their vision. Their movements did not undermine their constant vigilance. 8

These angelic creatures “do not rest day or night” exalting the holiness of each member of the Godhead. The phrase “holy, holy, holy” is stated three times in the Majority of Greek manuscripts, one triplet for each member of the Godhead. “Each member of the Godhead is infinitely holy in His own Person.” 9

God the Father is “holy, holy, holy.” God the Son is “holy, holy, holy.” And God the Holy Spirit is “holy, holy, holy.” To be “holy” means to be separate and distinct. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5). There is absolutely no darkness or sin in our Triune God. He is perfect, pure, and righteous.

God’s holiness is the centerpiece of His character. 10 We never see, “God is love, love, love,” or “God is grace, grace, grace” in the Bible. But we do see God is “holy, holy, holy” in the Scriptures (Revelation 4:8; cf. Isaiah 6:3) because His holiness is at the center of His being. All of His other attributes flow from His holiness. His wrath against sin, then, is a holy wrath. His sovereignty or control over the universe is a holy sovereignty. His love for the world is a holy love. If God is anything, He is holy. 11

What this means is that God the Father is just as holy as God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Likewise, God the Son is just as holy as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God the Holy Spirit possesses the same infinitely perfect holiness as God the Father and God the Son. All three Persons of the Godhead are worthy of our admiration and praise throughout eternity! Also, they are more than qualified to bring judgment against the rebellion of humankind on the earth.

In addition, these angelic creatures also exalt the power (“Lord God Almighty”) and eternality (“Who was and is and is to come”) of God. There is no one like our Triune God. All of heaven acknowledges this. Their focus is on the awesome character of the Lord. Heaven’s inhabitants are not distracted by others or by the furniture arrangements in the throne room of God. They are captivated with the holy character, power, and eternality of our Triune God.

“Our Lord God is holy in His majesty, holy in His Person, holy in His office and holy in the works of His hand and the words of His mouth. He was holy in eternity past and will be holy in eternity future and He is holy in the present time and in all the surrounding space.” 12

When you and I approach our holy God in worship, we can quickly be overwhelmed with a deep sense of our own sinfulness and lack of holiness. God has absolutely no darkness or sin in His actions, motives, thoughts, or words. But all our being is stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We all fall short of God’s glory and holiness (Romans 3:23). Each one of us has sinned against God with our actions, motives, thoughts, and words, and we, therefore, stand before Him as guilty sinners.

But thanks be to God for the Lord Jesus Christ Who makes it possible for unworthy sinners such as you and me, to approach a holy God in worship (cf. Hebrews 10:1-22). When Jesus died in our place on the cross for all our sins (I Corinthians 15:3-4a; Colossians 2:13-14), God’s holy wrath fell upon Him. Christ’s death satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins as demonstrated when the Father raised Jesus from the dead (I Corinthians 15:4b-6; cf. Romans 1:3-4; I John 2:1-2), so that whoever believes in Jesus should not be judged for his or her sins (John 5:24) but have everlasting life both now and forever (John 3:16).

Those of us who believe in Jesus are now free to enter God’s throne room in heaven through the blood of Jesus at any time to worship our holy Triune God (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Prayer: Holy Father, Son, and Spirit, You alone are worthy of all glory and praise both now and forever. We humbly bow before You, recognizing it is only by Your grace that we can approach Your holy presence and sing both now and forever, Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!In the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; 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. 1517.

2. Ibid., pp. 1496, 1518.

3. Ibid., pg. 1518.

4. Ibid.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2378.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1518.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 72.

8. Ibid.

9. Vacendak, pp. 1518-1519.

10. Evans, pg. 1112.

11. Ibid.

12. Retrieved on November 9, 2021, from Elizabeth Haworth’s Daily Verse entitled, “What does Revelation 4:8 Mean?” at www.knowing-Jesus.com.

How can I live above average? Part 3

“Oh, … that Your hand would be with me.” I Chronicles 4:10ac

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the simple, yet profound prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God gives us His blessings, He wants us to share those blessings with others. So we are to ask God to increase our territory or influence for Him (I Chronicles 4:10b) so we can pass His blessings on to other people.

But as God increases our territory or influence for Him, we may start to feel overwhelmed with all the opportunities He gives us to impact others for His glory. Perhaps the expansion of your business opportunities starts to deplete your energy and resources. Maybe the ministry opportunities God gives you seem to be more than one person can handle. If you prayed for your family to impact more people, you may start to see more teenagers gathering in your dining room than you thought possible. And you notice their negative influence seems to be greater than your positive influence. When this starts to happen, Christians can start to feel misled, inadequate, scared, frustrated, or even angry with the situation.

When this happens, we need to pray like Jabez prayed: “Oh, … that Your hand would be with me.” (I Chronicles 4:10c).As God gives us more opportunities to influence others for Him, we start to realize, “This is more than I can handle. This is beyond my abilities and resources.” This is a good place to be because it shows us our dependence upon God.

Hence, the third principle for living above average is to ASK GOD FOR POWER TO ACCOMPLISH HIS DREAM FOR YOUR LIFE (I Chronicles 4:10c). God loves to use ordinary people who trust Him. Jabez’ faith caused him to believe that God would help him with his goals and dreams. There is something more important than being talented or educated – it is faith. It is believing that God will work in and through you.

Even though Jabez’ mother named him “Painful,” his faith kept him going. He may have had some kind of handicap or disability to be given this name. But he did not let his painful past keep him from looking ahead in faith and being used by God. What is your handicap? Is it physical? Spiritual? Emotional? Is it a traumatic childhood? A frustrating job or problem in your marriage? Is it a health limitation? An illness? Whatever it may be, Jesus says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23).

When we pray, “Oh, that Your hand would be with me,” “we release God’s power to accomplish His will and bring Him glory through all those seeming impossibilities… Notice that Jabez did not begin his prayer by asking for God’s hand to be with him. At that point, he didn’t sense the need. Things were still manageable. His risks, and the fears that go with them, were minimal. But when his boundaries got moved out, and the kingdom-sized tasks of God’s agenda started coming at him, Jabez knew he needed a divine hand—and fast. He could have turned back, or he could have tried to keep going in his own strength. Instead, he prayed.” 1

In Acts 11:21 the Bible describes what happens when the hand of the Lord is with His people: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” As we surrender to God and rely on His Holy Spirit, we can receive “a fresh spiritual in-filling of God’s power” 2 that enables us to accomplish His will for His glory. God’s presence is manifested in supernatural ways as we look to Him to supply the strength that is needed to fulfill His plan for our lives.

Jesus promised in Matthew 28:19-20, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… 20 and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” No doubt Jesus’ followers felt overwhelmed when He commanded them to “make disciples of all the nations.” That was a “God-sized” task for these first century disciples and it still is for us today. But Christ guaranteed them (and us) His presence (“and lo, I am with you always”) to provide all that they needed as they made disciples of the nations.

Even today, if we need more people, Christ’s presence can provide more people. If we need courage or protection, His presence can provide them. If we need wisdom in making decisions, Jesus’ presence can give us that wisdom. If we need more resources, the presence of our risen Lord Jesus can supply them. Whatever we need to fulfill His dream for our lives, His presence is more than adequate to provide.

Can you picture God doing this where you live? Can you see His hand causing people to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of salvation and begin to experience a new life as His disciples? It all begins when we seek God’s blessings, we ask for more influence, and we rely on His presence to give us the power to accomplish His will all for His glory.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we admit we have a great need for Your presence in our lives as You pour out Your blessings to us and give us opportunities to share them with others. Without You, Lord, we can do nothing of eternal value. We cannot do what You have called us to do in our own strength. We desperately need You to supply what we lack. Thank You so much for God the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us the moment we believe in Jesus. This same Spirit Who brought Jesus back to life can give us resurrection power. Through Him we pray You will enable us to continue to share Your blessings with those You bring into our lives. Thank You for being with us, Lord God. Thank You for wanting to use us for Your glory. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 48-49.

2. Ibid., pp. 55-56.

How can l live above average? Part 2

“Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” I Chronicles 4:10ab

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned last time was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God increases the blessings in our lives, we will soon discover that He does not want us to keep them to ourselves.

This leads to our second principle for living above average: ASK GOD TO INCREASE YOUR INFLUENCE FOR HIM (I Chronicles 4:10b). After asking God to bless him a lot, Jabez prayed, “Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” (I Chronicles 4:10b).

In Jabez’s time part of Israel’s recent national history was Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and the partitioning of the Promised Land into chunks of real estate for each tribe. When Jabez cried out to God, ‘Enlarge my territory!’ he was looking at his present circumstances and concluding, ‘Surely I was born for more than this!’ As a farmer or herdsman, he looked over the spread his family had passed down to him, ran his eye down the fence lines, visited the boundary markers, calculated the potential—and made a decision: ‘Everything You’ve put under my care, O Lord—take it, and enlarge it.’ ” 1

The problem with too many of us is that we are too easily satisfied where we are. We have become complacent with our little plots of land in the kingdom when God wants to use us to expand the influence of his kingdom in history. People who are complacent aren’t motivated to ask God for anything, so they don’t receive anything from God. Jabez wanted his kingdom influence to grow, and he knew the Lord could deliver.” 2

What would it look like to ask God to enlarge your territory? If you own a business, you might pray for God to give you more business opportunities. Is that wrong? Not if you are running your business God’s way.Your business is the territory God has entrusted to you to touch more lives for His glory. 3

If you are a wife and mother, you might pray for your family to touch more lives for the Savior. Ask God to give you favor in key relationships and increase your family’s influence, so more people are changed for God’s glory.

As Christians, we would pray for God to enlarge our territory so we can impact more non-Christians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about His… plan concerning Christ.” (Colossians 4:3 NLT). When was the last time you asked the Lord to give you an opportunity to share the gospel with someone? God loves to answer this prayer request. One of the reasons we may not be sharing the gospel with the unsaved is because we are not asking the Lord to give us more influence.

Do you want to see more lives transformed by our great God and Savior (Titus 2:13), Jesus Christ? If so, then pray for God to enlarge your territory. Make this a priority. Paul writes, “Pray first that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and triumph wherever it goes, winning converts everywhere as it did when it came to you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 LB). Notice the word “first” in this verse. Does it say to pray first for those who are sick or hurting? No. Does it say to pray first for political leaders? No. Does it say to pray first for a job or money? No. We are to pray first for God’s word, the gospel, to spread. Why? Because having a personal relationship with God through believing the gospel is the most important need in peoples’ lives.

I must warn you, if you start praying this way, you may start to have people showing up in your inbox or at your doorstep. And the strange thing is, they may not even know why they are reaching out to you. But God knows. He is the One Who set up this divine appointment.

To live above average, we must pray above average. Imagine what God will do as we plead with Him to enlarge our territory? Wouldn’t it be awesome to see our neighbors and the people in our communities come to faith in Jesus Christ? Remember, all things are possible with God (Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the greatest blessing of all – knowing You through Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding me not to keep that Blessing to myself, but to share Christ with others. Please enlarge my territory by granting me opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know Him as their Savior. Increase my love for lost people and my boldness to share the gospel with them. Help me to be a good manager of the territory You have entrusted to me. I pray for greater influence to touch lives for Your glory. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 31.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

3. Wilkinson, pg. 31.

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 3

“This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” John 21:19

When studying Peter’s life, Dr. Charlie Bing identified several different stages of discipleship. First, there is the finding stage where Peter finds Jesus the Messiah-God and puts his trust in Him for the gift of eternal life (John 1:40-2:11). This is followed by the following stage which involves submitting to Jesus’ purpose of living to reach the lost (Mark 1:16-18). Third, is the forsaking stage when Jesus taught the importance of wholehearted trust and obedience to Him, especially in evangelism (Luke 5:1-11). Fourth, is the failing stage when God uses failure to equip us to strengthen others (John 13:36-38; 18:15-17, 25-27; cf. Luke 22:31-32, 61-62). Then there is the feeding stage when Peter begins to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). This is followed by the focusing stage in John 20:20-22. Currently we are looking at the feeding stage.

So far, we have learned in this feeding stage that for the the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, we must…

– Make loving Jesus our first priority (John 21:15).

– Receive His forgiving grace into our hearts for our greatest sins (John 21:16-17).

Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times when standing around “a fire of coals” in a courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). After His resurrection while standing around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:1-14), Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-17). Each time Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, Christ commanded him to feed or tend to His sheep to indicate that Peter was forgiven and restored to his position of leadership. Jesus was going to use Peter’s failure to help others grow in their love for Jesus. And He wants to do the same thing in our lives.

After restoring Peter to leadership, Jesus warns Peter of what his love and service for Jesus will cost him. After Peter told Jesus, “Lord, You know all things” (John 21:17b), Jesus demonstrated that as God, He truly did know all things when He said,  “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” (John 21:18).

Jesus contrasts Peter’s youthful freedom with the restrictions he will experience in old age. As a young man (“when you were younger”), Peter dressed himself and went wherever he wanted (“you girded yourself and walked where you wished”). But a day would come when he is old (“when you are old”) and he would no longer have control over his life and activities. He would live to an old age in which he would have to depend on others to dress him and to provide an arm on which he could lean. 2

When Jesus says, “you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you,” He is using a “euphemistic reference to crucifixion in the Roman world.” 3  “This stretching took place when the Roman soldiers fastened the condemned person’s arms to the crosspiece of his cross. This often happened before they led him to the place of crucifixion and crucified him.” 4  To be carried or led “where you do not wish” is clearly a reference to death. 5

John confirms this when he explains, This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.” (John 21:19a). Peter’s commitment to follow Jesus would ultimately mean martyrdom. Peter had formerly confessed his commitment to lay down his life for Christ (cf. 13:37). Someday he would indeed follow through on that commitment and by so doing he would glorify God.” 6

Tertullian, an early church leader (C. A.D. 212), reports that Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero (Scorpiace 15) around 64-67 A.D. Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 96) wrote that Peter died by martyrdom (1 Clement 5:4; 6:1).” 8  Another early church leader, Origen, stated that Peter was crucified with his head down because he did not feel worthy to suffer as Jesus had. 9

Jesus refers to Peter’s death as that which “would glorify God.” Peter, who had struggled with pride and prayerlessness, was learning through his failure to depend more and more on the risen Lord Jesus. Later in life, he would be so in tune with God’s will and purposes that even in death he would magnify the character and reputation of God. 10  Instead of trying to control his future as he had tried formerly to do, he would commit his future to the risen Lord’s control.

“The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.” 11  

“Peter later wrote that Christians, who follow Jesus Christ faithfully to the point of dying for Him, bring glory to God by their deaths (1 Pet. 4:14- 16). He lived with this prediction hanging over him for three decades (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14).” 12

After Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, John writes, “And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” (John 21:19b). Here again Jesus is giving Peter an invitation to follow Him. He is inviting Peter to step it up in his commitment to Christ. There is always a sense in which a disciple can grow deeper in his commitment to Christ. For Peter to fulfill his love for the Lord and provide spiritual care for other Christians, he must follow Jesus. The same is true for us. So, the final way for the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, is to RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW JESUS NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 21:18-19).

These words to follow Christ take place 2 ½ years after Jesus’ initial invitation to follow Him (Mark 1:16-18). Now these words have a lot more significance. Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. These words are much weightier than Jesus’ other invitations to follow Him. But this is the feeding stage, and it depends on our love for Christ.

The night before His crucifixion, we saw Christ’s loving service to others when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16). He then said to them, 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). When you see the purpose God has given us – to love other people, to serve them, to feed them – it is hard to go back to doing the old things we used to do. Before Jesus said, “feed My sheep,” the question He asked was, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). He didn’t ask, “Peter will you walk on water for Me?… Peter, will you fight for Me?… Peter, will you build monuments in My name?” No, He asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” 

What’s the most important qualification for ministering to God’s people? Loving the Lord Jesus. If you don’t have a love relationship with Christ, you are not going to have His love for His people. John writes in his first epistle, 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11). When Jesus died on the cross, He was shouting out to you and me: “I love you!” When we receive God’s love for us through Jesus Christ, we can then share His love with others.

The person who has this kind of love is “born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7b). The phrase “born of God” refers to a Christian. Before you can ever produce this kind of love in your life, you must first be born of God. How? The Bible says you must simply believe or trust in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Notice that you are not born of God by following Christ, keeping God’s commandments, being baptized with water, surrendering to Christ, or living a good, moral life. No, the only condition to be born of God is believing in Jesus Christ alone, not behaving.

The moment we place our trust in Jesus for eternal life, we become God’s child and God comes to live inside us and love us always. As we get to know Him and trust Him, He pours His love into our lives so we can begin to love others (cf. Romans 5:5).

But if we are going to develop loving relationships after we become Christians, we must refill ourselves with God’s love daily. The person who loves God’s way is “born of God and knows God.” Once we have begun a relationship with God by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, the key is to stay close to Jesus. Get to know Him. Staying close to God is not complicated.

This image works for me: I picture my life as a bucket. I must have my bucket filled.  And God’s love is like a fountain. The more I refill that bucket, the more I must share with others. If you have been a Christian for a while, you can probably tell when your bucket is empty. You are easily irritated or angered. It is difficult to let go of past hurts and to trust someone who has hurt you. It is tough to expect the best of him or her. Perhaps you can’t stand being in the same room with the person. All of these are indications that you need to be refilled with God’s love.

You say, “How do you do it?” Spend time with Jesus. Hang out with Him. Read what He has written in the Bible. Talk to Him about what you are reading and feeling. You may even want to write it down in a journal. Treat Jesus like a close friend, and you will become His close friend. And when you get closer to Jesus, you will discover that you are more able to love those who matter to you.

Can you see this? Is this making sense? Can you see why you need God’s love to love others? Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Okay, so God commands us to love one another, but what does God’s love look like?” Look in I John 4:9-10: 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

First, we see that God’s love is selfless. His love gives without expecting anything in return. Often, we give to get. That is not God’s love. If Jesus had been selfish, He would never have left heaven or if He had come to earth, He would have packed His bags and left at the first sign of rejection. But He didn’t. He endured incredible suffering because He came to give, not to get. If God’s love is controlling our lives, we will be givers, not getters.

Second, God’s love is sacrificial. He not only gives, but He gives sacrificially. He “sent His only begotten Son into the world.” If it were possible, would you sacrifice your only child so that a serial killer could live? “No way!” Nor would I. But that’s exactly what God did when He sent His perfect Son to die for undeserving sinners like you and me. Who else would die for you except someone who loves you that much!

Third, God’s love is unconditional“not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” God’s love was not a response to our love. He loved us even if we never loved Him. God loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes God love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If God waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that He loved you and me first. His love does not require that we love Him back. Likewise, we are to love others even if they do not love us back. Is this easy? It’s impossible without Christ. Will we trust the Lord to love those who are difficult to love through us? So, when we experience God’s love, we naturally want to share that love with the people we love. Did you follow that? To become a more loving person we need to receive God’s love and refill ourselves with God’s love.

Lastly, we must reflect God’s Love to Others. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11). In other words, if God loved us with this selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love when we were least deserving, then we ought to love each other in the same way. Maybe our love cannot be as perfect as Jesus’ love, but it can grow in that direction. This is to be our goal.

So, this feeding stage in John 21:15-19, involves God using broken people to feed His sheep. God uses the lessons we have learned from our past failures to strengthen others. We minister out of our brokenness to others. As a pastor once said, “Before God can use a man greatly, He must hurt him deeply.” That’s the lesson of this feeding stage.

It is one thing for Jesus to say, “Follow Me into joy and goodness when everything is going to be great!” But it is another thing for Christ to look at Peter and say, “Follow me and I will lead you to die in the same way that I died.” Jesus is not saying that every Christian is going to die by crucifixion. But He does demand more of us the longer we follow Him as His disciple.

Obedience to Jesus’ command, Follow Me, is the key issue in every Christian’s life. As Jesus followed the Father’s will, so His disciples should follow their Lord whether the path leads to a cross or to some other difficult experience.” 13

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It won’t be easy. You never promised that it would be. So, Jesus, right now we refresh our simple commitment to follow You. Not just to listen to You or be around You or even say to You, “I love You.” But to follow You and Your leading in our lives. Lord, we know that where You lead is where we will find lasting joy. Whether you lead us to a cross to be crucified or to some other difficult trial, where You lead us is where we will find significance. Where You lead us is where we will find life. So, Jesus, we just say these simple words to You, “I will follow You.” Please give us the grace to do this, for apart from You we can do nothing. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Charlie Bing’s articles, “The Making of A Disciple,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1992; “Are Disciples Born or Made?” GraceLife, November 2007; “Peter as a Model Disciple,” GraceNotes – no. 21 all retrieved on July 13, 2021, at www.gracelife.org.

2. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 382.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 399 cites Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John Vol. 2 (Translated by Robert W. Funk. Edited by Robert W. Funk and Ulrich Busse. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 226-27; C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed. Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1978), pg. 585.

4. Constable, pg. 399 cites G. R. Beasley-Murray, John Second ed., Word Bible Commentary series (Waco: Word Books, 1987), pp. 408-409.

5. Laney, pg. 382.

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. 569.

7. Laney, pg. 382; Constable, pg. 399 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. 304.

8. Constable, pg. 399 cites Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, 1:11.

9. Constable, pg. 399 cites The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 2:25; 3:1 and Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, pg. 304; Laney, pg. 382 also cites Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica 3:1. 

10. Laney, pg. 382.

11. Constable, pg. 399 cites Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, pg. 60. This book deals with this episode in Peter’s life most helpfully, especially for Christian leaders.

12. Ibid.

13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 704.

God uses little things to make big things happen

“But when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man… Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh.” Judges 3:15-16

After Joshua died, Israel started to compromise their commitment to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan (Judges 1:21-36). And so began the following cycle: departure from the Lord, discipline by Israel’s enemies, the Lord has pity when His people cry for help, God raises up a deliverer (judge) who defeats their enemies, their deliverer dies, and Israel returns to the false gods of the pagan inhabitants of the land (Judges 2:11-19).

One such deliverer that God raised up was a “left-handed man” named “Ehud,” who would deliver Israel from the oppressive rule of “Eglon king of Moab” (Judges 3:12, 15). We are told, “Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh” (Judges 3:16). Ehud’s “double-edged” sword was sharp on both sides and would be an effective weapon against Israel’s enemies. The fact that Ehud “fastened” this sword “under his clothes on his right thigh” would make it difficult to be detected.

When Ehud delivered “the tribute to Eglon” who “who was a very fat man,” he “sent away the people who had carried the tribute” and told the king he had “a secret message for” him (Judges 3:17-19a). This prompted the king to send “all who attended him” out of his “private chambers” so he could be alone with Ehud (Judges 3:19a-20a). After Ehud told the king, “I have a message from God for you,” he “arose from his seat” and took the king completely off guard when he “reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly” (Judges 3:20b-21). After killing king Eglon, Ehud led the tribe of Ephraim to victory over the Moabites and Israel enjoyed “rest” in “the land…for eighty years” (Judges 3:25-30).

It is important not to miss the fact that God not only providentially moves in the course of history to accomplish major events, but He also uses a string of little things like a “left-handed” man who wears his “double-edged sword… under his clothes on his right thigh” to bring about those major events.  

God uses little things to make big things happen. Like when a team of six short-term American missionaries and six Filipino evangelists went to a spiritually dark island called Dinagat in the southern Philippines in January of 2012. After arriving on the island which had a reputation for driving missionaries off the island or even poisoning them, one of the older mission team members began to preach the gospel outside a marketplace. An older woman said the Americans on the mission team fulfilled an ancient prophecy on the island which spoke of white-skinned people coming to the island and bringing many blessings.

As result, the Lord opened up many doors, including a radio/television station, for the gospel to spread throughout the island. The Lord used the skin color of a small team of American missionaries to help spread the gospel throughout the island. Let us not forget that God can string together little things (e.g. the color of your skin, your left-handedness, the size of your nose, your love for fish, etc.) to make big things happen for His glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for reminding us that You can use little things in our lives to make big things happen for Your glory. Help us to pay attention to how You fit together the little things to make major events take place. You can use our looks, mannerisms, and interests to advance Your gospel message in a world that is becoming increasingly dark without Christ. We surrender all we have to You for Your glory. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Transforming a nation and world

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower.” Matthew 13:18

Jesus explains His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2-9) to His disciples to prepare them for the different types of responses to the preaching of God’s Word (Matthew 13:18-23). Each soil in this parable represents a different response to God’s message. Some to whom we share the gospel are like “the wayside” soil (Matthew 13:4, 19) who will not receive or believe in Jesus (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12).

Others are like “the stony places” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) who “believe [the gospel] for a while” (Luke 8:13) but never really make a commitment to follow Christ as His disciple and “fall away” because of adversity (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13). They are “hearers only” of the Word like James talks about (James 1:22). They deceive themselves into thinking they can grow spiritually simply by hearing God’s Word without doing what it says. They are not willing to follow Jesus regardless of the costs.

A third type of person we will discover is like the seed that “fell among thorns” (Matthew 13:7, 22). These are those who believe in Jesus and start to follow Him, but they never bear much fruit because they are so distracted by worldliness and wealth (Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14).

So far this has been disappointing. If this is the kind of response we can expect to get from many people, why go on? Jesus tells us why! He tells us not to become discouraged because eventually we will come across the fourth kind of person, a person who bears much fruit after believing the gospel (Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:15). Unless we are willing to endure those who reject His message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, we will never discover the pure joy of finding those who are fruitful!

And notice that Jesus tells us that some of these fruitful ones will bear fruit “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). One of the blessings we will experience if we continue to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, is that we will begin discovering these amazingly productive believers. These fruitful believers are “super spreaders” because they are super at spreading the seed of God’s Word. These are the “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They will far exceed us in witnessing and planting new churches.

The way to discover these “good soil” believers, is to train everyone in discipleship who believes the gospel! The “good soil” believers will quickly emerge. They will immediately become doers of the Word of God. As these super spreaders emerge among us, we will begin to see a more significant movement take place in our country and world as well. But the whole process begins with those who are faithful to sow the seed – to preach the gospel and train in discipleship those who believe in Jesus (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the key to a transformed life and nation, not the political process. I believe more than ever, that Jesus is calling His church to return to the discipleship process in order to see our nation and world change for His glory! Christ implores us, “Hear the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18). Will we hear and obey our Lord and Master! Perhaps today is when some of us begin  to sow the seed of His Word!!! Please know that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all authority has been given to You in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Your one and only plan to reach the world for Your glory is the discipleship process whereby we preach Your gospel message to everyone in the world, and then call those who believe Your gospel to commit to follow You as a disciple through water baptism. Then we are to teach them to obey all Your commands (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). Please enable us to be faithful to spread the seed of Your gospel message to this world which is perishing without You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for explaining the different types of responses we can expect from our audiences as we proclaim Your Word. By Your grace, enable us to endure those who reject Your message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, so we may discover the pure joy of finding those who are super at spreading the seed of Your Word to others!!! Your discipleship process is what transforms individuals, nations, and the world, not a political process. Please forgive us for looking in the wrong places for transformation. I beg You to bring us back to the basics of the Bible and the discipleship process, my Lord and my God. May Your Holy Spirit give us the boldness and vision to pursue You and Your discipleship process until all hear Your gospel message!!! Thank You for the assurance that You are always with us as we make disciples for Your glory (Matthew 28:20b). In Your matchless name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lie #3: God will not understand my feelings.

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

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

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

ENDNOTE:

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

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 6

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:7

Thus far in our study of John 15:1-8, we have learned that we can become more fruitful for the Lord when we …

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

– Repent when we lose our discipleship relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

The sixth and final way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to RELY ON JESUS THROUGH PRAYER (John 15:7-8). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). What is the secret to answered prayer? “Abide in” Christ by keeping His commandments (cf. John 15:10; I John 3:24a). We cannot expect Jesus to answer our prayers if we are living in disobedience to Him.

A second condition for answered prayer is “My words abide in you.” For Jesus’ words to abide in us “requires more than merely reading or listening to them. You must internalize them. Another way to describe this is meditating on God’s Word, rolling it around in your mind to grasp what it means and how to apply it to your specific circumstances. We must chew and swallow Scripture, so to speak, so that it becomes part of us.” 1

It has been said that God has given us two ears and one mouth, so we will listen twice as much to Him as we talk to Him. The more we know and experience Jesus’ Word, the more we can pray the way Jesus would pray. Before spending time talking to God in prayer, take a few minutes to abide in His word. Read and reflect upon Scripture to align your thoughts with God’s. Then “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” because your will has aligned with God’s (cf. I John 5:14-15).

How do you know that you are relying on Jesus? Look at your prayer life. The more you pray the more you are depending on the Lord. And a life of answered prayer will produce much fruit for Christ.

Christ then said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8). The main purpose of bearing fruit is to glorify God the Father. As we remain in vital contact with Christ, much fruit is produced so that God is glorified. Why? Not because of our human effort, but because of Jesus’ work in our lives. Jesus wants His disciples to bear much fruit and in this way be His disciples. Fruit-bearing is a sign of a believing disciple, not a Christian.

When a person does not bear any visible fruit, do not assume they are not a believer in Jesus. Assume that they are not a disciple or committed follower of Christ’s. John 15 is dealing with discipleship, not salvation. Let’s stop playing God and judging who is saved and who is not saved based on how much fruit we can see in their lives. You may not see an outward transformation in a believer’s life, but God sees the inward transformation that has taken place.

God wants all Christians to produce fruit – to lead others to Christ and develop Christ-like character. How?

REALIZE that Jesus Is our Only Source of Life (John 15:1).

– RECEIVE Jesus’ Encouragement From His Word (John 15:2a).

– RECOGNIZE Jesus’ Pruning Process (John 15:2b-3).

– REMAIN In Christ By Obeying His Word (John 15:4-5).

– REPENT When We lose our Discipleship Relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

– RELY on Jesus Through Prayer (John 15:7-8).

What stage of fruit bearing are you at now? Are you at the level of “No fruit”(15:2a) because of discouragement? Your need is to be lifted up or encouraged through Christ’s promises?  Or are you at the level of bearing some “fruit”(15:2b) because of wrong priorities? Your need at this level is for pruning. Or are you at the “more fruit”(15:2c) level because of self-reliance? Your need is to trust and obey Christ. Or are you at the “No fruit” (15:6) level because of disobedience? Your need is for repentance. Or are you at the “much fruit”(15:5, 7-8) level of fruit bearing? The need at this level is for deeper intimacy with Christ through prayer and obedience.

In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven during the future Tribulation period. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). What part of that innumerable crowd in heaven will be there because of you? Because you stayed connected to Jesus Christ so He could bear much fruit through you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes it is difficult for me to pray because I am so preoccupied with trying to control situations and people. But the moment I surrender to You in prayer, there is a sudden release of the weight I am carrying. Thank You for inviting me to grow deeper in my relationship with You through prayer. You are the God Who hears my prayers. At times I can feel that no one listens to me. I can feel all alone with the weight of worry or loneliness. But You hear me when I pray according to Your will instead of my own. You are the God Who changes lives through prayer, including my own. Thank You so much for being such a good God Who answers prayer. May all the glory be to You, my Lord and my God. Please use me to help populate heaven by preaching the gospel to the lost and discipling those who believe in You. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 4

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8, how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).          

The fourth way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to REMAIN IN CHRIST BY OBEYING HIS WORD (John 15:4-5). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,2b Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit… 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:2, 5). Jesus wants us to go from bearing “more fruit” (15:2b) to bearing “much fruit” (15:5). How? By abiding in Him.

Jesus said, 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5). The word “abide” (menō) means “to remain, continue, make one’s home at.” 1  Jesus defines abiding as obeying His commandments. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10). John also defines abiding in this way, “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him.” (I John 3:24a).

A branch on a grapevine has no life in itself because it draws life from the vine. As long as there is an uninterrupted flow of life from the vine into the branch, the branch is capable of bearing fruit. But the moment the branch is severed from the life of the vine, it cannot bear fruit. What is true in the natural realm is also true in the spiritual realm (cf. John 15:4-5). Jesus is our vine or source of life and fruit. The moment we believed in Christ for eternal life, He placed us in Himself as branches so we may bear fruit. As long as we “abide in Him” we can “bear much fruit.”

It is our responsibility to “abide” in Jesus by obeying His commandments (John 15:4-5, 10; I John 3:24a). Jesus promises that He will abide in us when we abide in Him (“Abide in Me and I in you… He who abides in Me, and I in him.). When we abide in Jesus by keeping His commandments, we can enjoy close fellowship or intimacy with Him. We cannot experience Jesus’ abiding presence in our lives if we are living in disobedience to Him. We must stay connected to the Vine so Christ’s life in us can produce fruit that honors the Father. If we stop abiding in Christ, we “cannot bear fruit” because branches can only bear fruit when they are connected to the vine. 2

When Jesus says, “For without Me you can do nothing,” He means that believers cannot do anything that glorifies the Lord when they are living in disobedience to Him. Every day Christians have a choice to obey the Lord or disobey Him. When we choose to live in obedience to the Lord, He can produce “much fruit” in our lives that glorifies God the Father. Since Jesus  is the only One Who can provide the spiritual sustenance and vitality we need to be useful believers, we must spend time with Him. “You can’t avoid Jesus all week and then show up on Sunday morning expecting growth. We only produce much fruit when we remain in Him (15:5).” 3

I have discovered in my own Christian life that as I grow older in the Lord, I may have a tendency to rely on my own abilities and competency. It is common for us to struggle with self-reliance in areas of our greatest strengths. For example, in February/March 2017 on a couple of mission trips in the Philippines, I began to experience more difficulties in areas of my greatest strengths which were evangelism and teaching. God used that painful time in my life to show me how much I was relying upon my own abilities and wisdom instead of His.

Jesus Christ has commanded us to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). These commands are not content for our minds, they are commands for our will. When Jesus says to do something, do it! He is more interested in our obedience than our opinions.

In February 2018 before I went on a mission trip to the southern Philippines, I thought I was losing my zeal for evangelism. I thought if I led thousands of people to Christ on that trip, it would increase my enthusiasm for evangelism. But God had other plans. At our very first evangelistic film showing, only one person came forward to indicate she was trusting Christ for His gift of salvation. At first, I was so disappointed. “Only one person?” I thought to myself. “What am I doing wrong?”

The Lord convicted me by reminding me that it is not how many people that come to Christ that determines my fulfillment and enthusiasm in evangelism. It is not the fruit! My enthusiasm and fulfillment come from staying connected to Jesus Christ – the only Source of Life! We can be just as fulfilled leading one person to Christ as a thousand – if we stay connected to the True Vine – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I cannot do anything that glorifies and pleases God the Father apart from You. When I try to honor the Father in my own strength, life takes a turn for the worse and I have no sense of joy or fulfillment. Forgive me for focusing more on the fruit than on the Fruit Producer. Please show me how to abide in You and You in me so Your life can flow through mine and produce much fruit for the glory of the Father. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 503-504.

2. 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. 534.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.