Revelation 1 – Part 2

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7

In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, the apostle John explains that the message of this book is from and about Jesus Christ, especially as it relates to end-time events (1:1-2). The promise of a special blessing is given to encourage readers to prepare for what is going to take place in the future (1:3).

John then addresses his readers. 4 John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 1:4-5). John sent this letter (all of Revelation) “to the seven churches” which are addressed in chapters 2 and 3. The number “seven” signifies completion or fullness in the Bible which can be taken to mean this message is for the “whole” church throughout history, including all of us today. These seven churches were in the Roman province of “Asia” Minor or western modern Turkey.

Notice that John extends “grace” before “peace” to his readers (1:4b). Why does he do this? Before undeserving sinners can experience “peace” with God, they must be saved by God’s “grace” or undeserved favor. “God doesn’t save us because of any good thing we have done, will do, or even promise to do. God saves us solely by His grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is God’s gift to undeserving sinners—we must never forget that! The result of this precious grace is a relationship that offers us true peace that overcomes any trials and tribulations the world can bring. What a reassuring greeting to the members of the persecuted church! Though John will later describe judgment and distress that will overtake wicked unbelievers in the future, God’s own people receive grace and peace.” 2

What about you, my friend? Have you found peace with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? The Bible says, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved from hell “through faith.” Not through religion or regulations. Not through our good works or morality. It is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Too many churches are saying we are saved through faith plus… I believe this must break God’s heart. Because when we say it takes more than faith in Jesus to save us from hell, we are saying to God, “Your Son’s death was disappointing. Jesus paid for some of my sins, but I must pay for the rest of my sins.” In other words, we are telling God that Jesus did not get the job done, so we have to help Him. But listen: Jesus does not need our help to save us from our sins. He did not make a down payment for our sins when He died on the cross. He made the full payment for our sins. That is why He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He finished paying the penalty for all our sins when He died in our place. He simply asks us to humbly accept His free gift by faith. And when we do, we are saved forever!

This wonderful salvation is “the gift of God.” Do you ever have to pay to receive a gift? No. Why? Because a gift is already paid for. Salvation is free to you and me because Jesus Christ already paid for it all when He died for our sins and rose from the dead. The hand that receives the gift of salvation is our faith in Jesus Christ. The moment we believe in Jesus for His gift of salvation, “we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1).

John tells us that “grace” and “peace” are from the Triune God. First, he refers to God the Father when he writes, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4c; cf. Revelation 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). This brings to remembrance the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14-15. God the Father transcends all of time – past, present, and future. He was in control of our past. He is in control of our present. And He will be in control of our future no matter what we face. This is important to remember when we read through the series of judgments in the book of Revelation. God’s abiding presence in our lives enables us to experience His peace which surpasses human understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Next, we see that “grace” and “peace” are also from God the Holy Spirit. John writes, “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne” (1:4d). Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. In Revelation 4:5, we read, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (cf. Zechariah 4:2-7; Isaiah 11:2-3). The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe. The imagery of God’s throne is used throughout the rest of the book (the word throne is used forty-two times). The believers of the seven churches undoubtedly received great encouragement from this greeting as it emphasizes that God is at work in their lives with complete awareness as well as perfect insight.” 3

We may think that God is distant or doesn’t care about us when we face difficult times. God wants to remind us that He is fully aware of our needs and circumstances, and He is at work in our lives. In fact, the Bible tells us that when are in so much pain that we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit will intercede for us to God the Father (Romans 8:26-27). He fights for us before the throne of God.

John introduces God the Son last in this acknowledgment perhaps to emphasize His importance: “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth” (1:5a). The Lord Jesus is described as “the faithful witness.” Throughout His entire earthly ministry, Jesus was faithful to share the truth He had received from His Father in heaven (John 3:11, 32; 4:44; 7:7; 8:14-18; 18:37). This would be especially true concerning the future events He would disclose in this letter. As “the firstborn from the dead,” Jesus was the first to rise from the dead and remain alive forever, making Him superior to all others. When John says that Jesus is “the ruler over the kings of the earth,” he is looking ahead to Christ’s future ministry after His Second Coming to earth (see Revelation 11:15; 19:15-20:6). 

John is so overtaken with joy at the mention of the glorious and majestic Lord Jesus Christ, that he breaks forth into praise: 5 To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and He made us into a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5b-6 NKJV NASB). John gives glory to God the Son since this is the primary purpose of the book of Revelation. John ascribes “glory and…  dominion” to Jesus who has always “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” In giving glory to Jesus, John first “draws our attention back to the cross where he had once stood as an eyewitness to the sufferings of his Savior (John 19:26-27, 35). By the shedding of His blood, Christ paid the debt in full for the sins of the world and thereby released believers from the guilt and penalty of their sins. On our behalf, He conquered death and gave new life to all who believe.” 5

No one loves us as much as Jesus. How do I know this? Because He “washed us from our sins in His own blood” the moment we believed in Him. Another evidence of His love for us is that “He made us into a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” The moment you and I believe in Jesus for His gift of salvation, we are placed in His “kingdom” (corporately) as “priests” (individually) “to His God and Father.” This emphasis on God’s love at the beginning of this book would be a great source of comfort for his readers considering the following revelation of much judgment to come on humanity (Revelation 6-19). Everything God does is because He loves His people. 6

The first prophetic utterance in the book of Revelation is given in the next verse: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7). In verses 5 and 6 John focused on how worthy Jesus is of eternal “glory” and “dominion.” But now he sees Christ coming back to earth to obtain this “glory” and “dominion.” This verse announces the climactic event in Revelation, namely, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth at His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-16).  All that takes place between this verse and Revelation 19:11-16 leads up to that event.

The word “Behold” (Idou) draws attention to what follows. 7  To put it in our own vernacular – “Stop whatever you are doing and pay attention to what I am about to say! You don’t want to miss this!”

This Jesus Who washed us from our sins in His own blood at His First Coming is coming back to earth again this time “with clouds.” Just as Jesus ascended physically and visibly to heaven with a cloud (Acts 1:9-11), so He will return from heaven to earth physically and visibly with clouds. As Christ gradually descends out of the sky to destroy His enemies at the end of the Tribulation (Revelation 19:11-21), “every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.” “All mankind will have the opportunity to witness the return of Christ to earth, including Jews, Who will mourn their crucifixion and prolonged rejection of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:37). The phrase ‘all the tribes of the earth (gēs)’ is a reference to every nation on the planet (the same Greek phrase is used in the LXX in Genesis 12:3; 28:14; Psalm 72:17; and Zechariah 14:17 in reference to the entire earth). John is elated that both Jews and Gentiles will believe in Christ and mourn over their mistreatment of Him. Thus, he proclaims, ‘Even so, Amen. (Emphasis added)’ ” 8

This Second Coming of Christ to earth (Revelation 1:7) is in in contrast to the future Rapture or sudden removal of the Church which will probably not be visible to everyone (I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 4:1-4) because it will take place suddenly. Only those who are “in Christ” (believers in Jesus) will hear “the trumpet of God” sound (I Thessalonians 4:16) when the Rapture takes place.

Other contrasts in the Bible between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ to earth include the following:

a. The Rapture is imminent – it could happen at any moment (Matthew 24:36-51; I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), whereas the Second Coming is preceded by numerous signs (outpouring of Spirit, prophesy, dreams, visions, blood, fire, columns of smoke, warfare, darkening of sun and moon, unprecedented suffering, etc. (Matthew 24:4-35; Joel 2:28-32; Revelation 6-18).

b. The Rapture removes believers (Matthew 24:40-41; I Thessalonians 4:13-18) whereas in the Second Coming, Christ returns with believers to the earth (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:8, 14).

c. The Rapture results in the removal of the church and the start of the Tribulation (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), whereas the Second Coming results in the return of the church to earth and the start of the 1000-year-rule of Christ on earth (Revelation 19:8, 11-20:6).

d. The Rapture brings a message of hope and comfort (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), whereas the Second Coming brings a message of judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:3-9; Revelation 19:11-21).

e. The Rapture of the church was previously unknown (“mystery,” I Corinthians 15:51-58) to the Old Testament writers, whereas the Second Coming is predicted in both Old and New Testaments (Joel 2:28-32; Zechariah 14; Matthew 24:4-30; Mark 13:24-26).

f. At the Rapture, the Lord takes believers from earth to heaven “to the Father’s house” (John 14:3); at the Second Coming, believers return from heaven to the earth (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19:8, 11-21).

g. At the Rapture, Christians are judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 4:4), but at the Second Coming, Gentile nations are judged (Matthew 25:31-46).

h. The Rapture is before the day of wrath (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), but the Second Coming concludes the day of wrath (Revelation 11:15-18; 19:11-20).  

i. At the Rapture, Christ comes in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), but at the Second Coming Christ comes to the earth (Zechariah 14:4).

j. At the Rapture, Christ claims His bride (John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-18), at the Second Coming, Christ comes with His bride (Revelation 19:8, 14).

k. At the Rapture, Christ gathers His own (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), but at the Second Coming, angels gather the elect (Matthew 24:31).

l. At the Rapture, Christ comes to reward (I Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 22:12), at the Second Coming, Christ comes to judge (Matthew 25:31-46).

m. At the Rapture, Christ comes as the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), but at the Second Coming, Christ comes as the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2).

Next Jesus confirms the preceding prophetic forecast of His return to earth (Revelation 1:7) with a solemn affirmation of His eternality and omnipotence: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8). “The Alpha and Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and signify here, Jesus’ comprehensive control over all things—including time (cf. Revelation 21:6; 22:13). He is in control of the past (“who was”), the present (“who is”), and the future (“who is to come”). Christ is the Creator of all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and He will bring history to its conclusion. Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow because he exists eternally. 9

Jesus is “the Almighty.” The Greek word for “Almighty” is pantokratōr, “the all-powerful One.” It is used ten times in the New Testament, nine of them in Revelation (2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). 10  Because Jesus is the all-powerful God, He has the ability to bring to pass the promise of His Second Coming to earth. 11

In conclusion, the fulfillment of Jesus’ visible and bodily return to earth to defeat His enemies (Revelation 19:11-21), is based upon the Triune God’s power to fulfill His promises and plans (Revelation 1:4-8). Since God has the power to bring His prophetic predictions to pass, He also has the power to fulfill His individual plans for each of us. His power cannot only save us from an eternity separated from Him, but it can also give us peace which surpasses human understanding during times of distress. Therefore, we can trust Him to take care of us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for giving us Your grace which saves underserved sinners from hell forever the moment we put our faith in Christ alone. This same grace can also give us peace as we face tribulation and distress in our modern world. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for washing us clean of all our sins with Your shed blood the moment we believed in You. No one loves us like You do, Lord. Because You are in control of our past, present, and future, we can trust You to take care of us during these uncertain times. Nothing is too hard for You, Lord God Almighty. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), g. 2368.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 35.

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. 1496-1497.

4. Ibid., pg. 1497.

5. Swindoll, pg. 36.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 16.

7. 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. 468.

8. Vacendak, pp. 1497-1498.

9. Evans, pg. 2369.

10. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1498.

How can I live above average? Part 1

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed.’ ” I Chronicles 4:10a

Do you ever feel invisible and unimportant, like no one notices you or cares about you? Everybody wants to be recognized. Not only do we want to be recognized, we need recognition for the sake of our own mental health. When my daughters were much younger, they would say to me, “Watch me, Daddy, watch me!” before they would shoot a basketball or do a tumbling maneuver. They wanted to be recognized. They wanted to stand out from the crowd.

As adults, we do the same thing, except we are not as blatant about it. We do it by the kind of clothes we wear, by the kinds of cars we drive, by the way we fix up our houses, decorate our lawns, or by the way that we talk or style our hair. “Watch me!” we cry out. We have a deep need to be different, to be excellent, to stand out from everybody else.

God never meant for us to live a mediocre, average life. He designed us for excellence. He created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, I want to introduce you to four principles found in the life of a man named Jabez. There are only two verses in the Bible about this man, but they are two verses that can transform our mediocre lives into lives that bring honor to God. These two verses are found in I Chronicles 4. The first nine chapters of I Chronicles consist of genealogies listing over six hundred names. Forty-four names into chapter 4, God singles out one man for special recognition and his name is “Jabez.” Even though there are just two verses about this man, he is given honorable mention above six hundred other people.

“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers…” (I Chronicles 4:9a). In other words, Jabez was special. But what did Jabez do that caused his name to be given more honor than his brothers? Why did God say this man lived above average?

Before we answer that question, it is important to look at the kind of start Jabez got in life. He had a very painful beginning. And his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ ” (I Chronicles 4:9b). In Hebrew, the name “Jabez” (יַעְבֵּ֔ץ) means “Pain.” 1 A literal rendering could read, “He causes (or will cause) pain.” 2

How would you like to go through childhood as “Pain”? “Here comes Pain.” “This is my friend, Pain.” No doubt Jabez received a lot of bullying and harassment because of his name. Why did his mother name him Jabez? Perhaps it was a difficult pregnancy or delivery. It could have been because of emotional pain in the mother’s life – the father left during the pregnancy or died. Maybe the family was going through a financial crunch during this time, and one more mouth to feed seemed unbearable to her. Whatever her reason – this was not a good start for this boy.

One of the things we learn from Jabez is we don’t have to let our past determine our present or even our future. Maybe your parents told you, “You would never amount to anything. You can’t do anything right. You are nothing but a pain.” Don’t listen to those lies. Jabez did not. He chose to live above average. He turned his pain into gain. How?

Jabez was not singled out because of some great feat he did for God or because he had overcome great obstacles. Rather, he was honored above his brothers because of his simple, powerful prayer of faith that moved God to respond. 3 He handled his problems by handing them over to God. He chose to live a life that was honorable to God despite his painful beginning. He prayed to the God of the universe. It is as if he was saying, “God, You know me. You know my mom called me a pain, and at times I have been. But now I want to break out of that rut, and I know the only way I can do that is if You will bless me. I want to live a life, God, that is more honorable to You.”

Do you want to live above average for the glory of God? Then you need to pray like Jabez. The first thing Jabez prayed was, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed.” (I Chronicles 4:10a).  What does the word “bless” mean? It does not mean “have a nice day.” Nor is it connected to sneezing. The Hebrew word for “bless” (בָרַךְ) means “to impart supernatural favor.” 4 To ask for God’s blessing means to ask for His supernatural favor and kindness to be poured out into our lives. “Oh, God pour out Your goodness into my life.” 

When Jabez asked God to bless him “indeed” (תְּבָרֲכֵ֜נִי),this was like adding five exclamation points! 5 “Bless me not just a little, but a whole lot! Pour it on, God!” While all his friends were content with being average and mediocre, Jabez said, “God, I want you to bless the sandals off me! I want you to do something big with my life!” Jabez did not want to be average or ordinary. He deeply wanted God’s blessing on his life. So, our first principle is to SEEK GOD’S BLESSING IN OUR LIVES (I Chronicle 4:9-10a).

Notice that Jabez did not specify how God should bless him. He did not pray, “Oh God, please bless me with a new BMW or a million-dollar salary.” No,Jabez trusted in the goodness and mercy of God to determine how he would be blessed. This is such a powerful reminder for us to want what God wants for us.

The beautiful thing about just throwing yourself on the mercy of God is that he decides what’s in your best interest. Jabez brought God an empty cup and asked him to fill it as he saw fit. That’s a prayer of faith. Let God decide what to fill your cup with and how high to fill it.” 6

Jesus taught, 7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). God has decided that He will not do certain things for His children until they “ask.” So, we are to “ask… seek… and… knock” for what we need. How long are we to ask God? Until He answers. If He has not said, “Yes” or “No,” then we are to keep asking Him. Why?

Jesus explains, 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). Children will often ask their parents persistently for things until they receive a reply. And like a loving father who would not give anything harmful to his kids when they ask, so God will not give harmful things to His children when they pray to Him.  Jesus’ point is if sinful dads know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our perfect Father in heaven give what is “good” to us when we ask? 7 The more we believein the goodness and generosity of our heavenly Father, the more we will persist in asking Him to bless us.

On the other hand, if we don’t ask the Father for His blessing, we will miss out on His gifts that only come to those who ask Him. In the same way that a father is honored to have a child beg for his blessing, your Father is delighted to respond generously when His blessing is what you covet most.” 8

Christians can just drift through life today. They have no goals and no ambition. As a result, they never accomplish much for the Lord. They are merely existing. Everyone of us needs a dream from God. If we are not dreaming, we are drifting. When we stop dreaming, we start dying. When we stop setting goals, we stop growing. God made us for growth. He wants us to stretch and develop. God never created us to go through life with a half-hearted attitude, wondering what we are doing and where we are going. God wants us to have great ambition.

He invites us to ask for big requests. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3). The apostle Paul says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). This means you cannot “out-ask” God. You cannot “out-dream” God. If you could stretch your imagination to the greatest limits of what you think could possibly happen, God can go far beyond even that. He can go beyond your imagination. God says, “Trust Me. Ask for things. Get a big dream.”

There are three misconceptions that keep us from seeking God’s blessing on our lives and dreaming big for Him:

1. We confuse humility with fear. We say, “Oh, I could never do that,” and we think we are being humble. But that is not true humility. That is fear; that is a lack of faith. A humble person would say, “With God’s help I can do that. With God’s blessing I will do it. I cannot do it on my own, but with God’s help I will do it.” That is true humility.

2. We confuse contentment with laziness. It is true that the apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11). But this does not mean he did not set any goals. Paul isn’t saying, “I have learned not to set any goals or have any ambition in life.” He was saying, “Even though my goals may not be reached yet, I have learned to enjoy today to the fullest because I am confident God will take care of me.” If contentment was used as an excuse for laziness, who would ever feed the poor or take the gospel to other nations? How would anyone ever get an education? A third grader would say, “I have learned to be content with the third grade,” and he would never go beyond that. We don’t want to confuse contentment with laziness.

3. We confuse small thinking with spirituality. Do you ever hear people say, “I serve God in my own little way”? My reply would be, “Why don’t you start serving God in a bigger way? Why not let God use you more?” Others may say, “Well that’s just the way I am. That’s the way God made me.” But it is wrong to blame God for your lack of growth. Don’t confuse small thinking with spirituality.

When Jesus said, “your Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:11), we are reminded of a very important truth. Before we can pray the way Jabez did, we must know God as our heavenly Father. It is not knowing about God. It is knowing Him personally. How? The Bible says, 21 If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin…” (Galatians 3:21-22a NLT]. We cannot become God’s child by obeying God’s laws. God’s laws reveal our sinfulness and that we are slaves of sin. No matter how much good we have done, we are still sinners. We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection and deserve to be punished (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). When we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin, then we will be more open to receiving the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ alone Who died for all our sins.

22b So we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ… 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:22b, 26 NLT). To know God as our Father requires faith in Jesus Christ. Just as we trust a chair to hold us up through no effort of our own, so we must trust Christ through no effort of our own to give us everlasting life. Once we do, it does not matter when Jesus returns, we will have a home in heaven with Him. We won’t have to panic when some preacher or prophet starts predicting the end of the world, because we have the assurance we will live with Jesus forever because of our faith in His promise to give eternal life to whoever who believes in Him (John 3:16).

Child of God, if you are not asking God to give you good things, you are living below average! But when you ask God for more and more blessings, you are asking Him to engage in one of His favorite activities. After all, God loves to give and He has a store- house full of blessings to give you, but You must ask Him for them. When we ask God to bless us, we step forward into another life. And as God blesses us, He wants us to share those blessings with others, which leads to what Jabez prayed next.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for reminding us through Jabez, that pain does not have to be the last word in our lives. You created us to live above average. We can begin to do that by seeking Your blessing in our daily lives. Please help us believein Your goodness and generosity, Father. In the same way that a loving father is honored to have a child beg for his blessings, You are also eager to respond generously when Your blessing is what we seek the most. Please remove the misconceptions that keep us from seeking Your blessing on our lives and dreaming big for You, so we can honor You more by living above average. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 20.

3. Evans, pg. 710.

4. Wilkinson, pg. 23.

5. Ibid., pg. 22.

6. Evans, pg. 710.

7. Ibid., pg. 1503.

8. Wilkinson, pg. 27.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 7

“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

    ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

    ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

   ~ Praying for their presence with Him in His coming kingdom where they will see His glory displayed before them (John 17:24-25).

The third thing Jesus prayed for future believers is for them TO EXPERIENCE THE FATHER’S ETERNAL LOVE FOR JESUS (17:26). Finally, Jesus prayed, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26). Jesus “declared to” the disciples His Father’s character (“name”). When Jesus said He “will declare” the Father’s name, He is referring to doing this “through the Word of God, and especially through the Fourth Gospel.” 1 Christ then prayed that the same “love” with which the Father “loved” Jesus “may be in” future believers and Christ “in them.”

“The essence of God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus made the Father and His love known to the world by His death. And the Father made known His love for the Son by raising Him to glory. Jesus’ purpose in revealing the Father was that Christians would continue to grow in that love (that the Father’s love for the Son may be in them) and to enjoy the personal presence of Jesus in their lives (that I Myself may be in them).” 2

Christ longs for believers to experience the Father’s love for Him through fellowship. We have two eternal Persons who are loving us and wanting the best for us. The more we spend time with God the Father and God the Son, the more we will experience their outrageous love for us which will cast out our fears and deepen our love for one another (I John 4:7-21).

What an incredible prayer in John 17! Christ prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), His believing disciples (John 17:6-19), and then for future believers, including us (John 17:20-26). Not by name of course, but He asked that all “who believe in Me” would “be one.” This final request for all believers shows the importance of widening the circle of our prayer concerns. Not only are we to pray for ourselves, and our close friends, but we also need to remember to pray for those who will believe in Christ in the future. Remember, prayer moves the Hand that moves the world. 3

Take time today to thank Jesus for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise Christ for all of eternity as we discover the prayers He prayed for us that we did not hear. Prayers that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that You would cause our lives and our churches to be an answer to this prayer that You prayed. Lord, the rest of this week whether we see it or know it or not, would You use us to bring You glory? Would You help us to pray like You prayed? We pray that very humbly. But we pray it because we know that is what You want to do. We pray, Lord, that our lives would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your security and not in fear. Jesus, we pray for a real sense of growth and maturity in our lives to be happening as we keep abiding in Your Word. Help us to see some ways that we are growing. And Lord, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that the world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. We pray that Your love would make the difference in our relationships with others. Jesus, thank You for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise You all the more because we will have eternity to look at the prayers that You prayed for us that we did not hear, that are not written down, but that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. We thank You for this. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. 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. 549.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.

3. See John Wallace’s Poem, “Prayer Moves the Hand that Moves the World,” at https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/prayer-moves-hand-moves-world.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 5

20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21

This past year has been filled with many challenges, one of which is the increasing division in the USA. Animosity has been on the rise between people of differing political persuasions, worldviews, and skin color. As one of my mentors said to me recently, we know who is responsible for this. He was referring to the devil or “evil one” as Jesus refers to him in John 17:15. Satan is an expert at dividing people, especially God’s people. His primary targets are Christian marriages and Christian churches because both of these institutions reflect the image of God more than any other institution on the planet. If he can divide the people in these institutions, he can greatly reduce the impact of God’s power and presence in society today. And right now I would say Satan is quite successful in doing this. But God is still at work despite the devil’s advances.  

With that said, we are going to resume looking at Jesus’ prayer to His Father in heaven in John 17 which teaches us to pray like Christ prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

  ~ Praying their purification through God’s Word (john 17:16-19).

Jesus now widens His prayer circle to include all future believers. From this we see that LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO BROADEN OUR PRAYERS TO INCLUDE ALL FUTURE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST (John 17:20-26). Christ prays for three things for these future believers. From Jesus’ example, we learn first to pray for THEIR UNITY, SO THE WORLD CAN BELIEVE IN JESUS (John 17:20-23). Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:20). Christ did “not pray for these [Eleven disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.”

It is about two thousand years later, and Jesus says, “My prayer is for you.” You and I are some of those future generations who have believed in Him because of the disciples’ message. “The disciples / apostles with him that night would proclaim the gospel through their preaching and through their Holy-Spirit-inspired writings, which would become the New Testament.” 1

We still read the apostles’ message today. We are reading the gospel of John, the message of one of those He was praying for earlier (John 17:6-19). It is mind boggling to think that Jesus prayed for us at that time. Think of the millions of lives and circumstances that this one sentence spans from the first century to the twenty-first century!?! Think of the numbers of people, the numbers of situations and circumstances this includes. Think of your own life. Jesus is praying for you. That is how much He cares about you!

Jesus “prayed” for us and Jesus “prays” for us. Not only did He pray for us two thousand years ago, but He still prays for us today. His prayer for us today is not written down, but it is promised. Jesus Christ Who died and was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and He is interceding for us today (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Christ is praying for you and me right now. That’s incredible! Jesus did not have to pray for us. God the Father will hear us without Jesus carrying a message. But that doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t pray for us. God loves us enough to hear our voice. The Father hears us directly. Jesus is saying, by the way, I’m praying for you. I’m talking to God for you.

Romans 8 tells us that not only is the Father listening to us (Romans 8:15-16), and the Spirit is praying within us with words that we don’t even understand (Romans 8:26-27); but the Son is also praying for us (Romans 8:34). So we have the Father and Son and Holy Spirit involved in our prayer life. We have a better prayer life than we may have first thought! The Holy Spirit has been praying and Jesus has been praying. When we add our prayers to their prayers that’s a pretty good chance of getting an answer. Somebody may ask, “Does that mean I don’t have to pray again. Can I cut that out of my life?” No. God says we are to add that to our prayers. That’s an incredible prayer life that we have, isn’t it?!

As Jesus prays for all who will believe in Him from the first century to the twenty-first century, He prays: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21).  Christ prayed for these future believers to “be one” and experience the same unity as He and the Father have in their relationship. This is a fundamental unity of purpose, love, and doctrine. 2

“The Father and the Son were one and shared the same eternal life. Christ saw believers as one because they shared the same eternal life.” With the addition of new believers there is an increase in diversity – personalities, backgrounds, interests, talents – and a greater potential for disunity. This oneness that Jesus prays for is found in knowing God through faith alone in Christ alone, not in the doctrines created by people.

This unity Jesus prays for has two purposes: “that they also may be one in Us.” The first purpose for this unity is to promote the believers’ fellowship with the Triune God. When believers are experiencing unity with one another, it also enables them to share a unity with the Father and the Son.

The second purpose for this unity is “that the world may believe that You sent Me.” When believers are united in purpose, love and doctrine, this persuades “the world [to] believe that [the Father] sent” Jesus. When non-Christians observe Christians fighting with one another, they are not going to want to have anything to do with Christianity. Too often bitterness and unforgiveness among Christians keep non-believers from believing in Christ for His gift of eternal life.

Some people think this verse means that unity should be sought at the expense of truth. They fail to realize that the basis of this unity that Jesus prayed for is “the truth” (John 17:17-19) which says people must “believe” in Christ to have “eternal life” (John 17:3, 8, 20-21; cf. 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 10:25-29; 11:25-26; 20:31) and be rightly related to God.

When Christian leaders say that believing in Jesus is not enough to be saved, they are undermining the basis of Christian unity that Jesus gave to His followers. Until believers can agree with what Jesus taught about the means of salvation and the basis of Christian unity (“believe in Christ”), they are not going to experience this oneness that Jesus prayed for in John 17. Let’s not yield to the lie that emphasizes unity at the expense of truth. Satan wants to remove God’s truth from the focus of Christians because he knows that God’s truth is what unifies believers. Those who refuse to accept Jesus’ truth about the means of salvation are being divisive, not those who stand on His truth as the basis of our unity.

Tony Evans shares a helpful illustration: “A football team consists of different players filling different positions with different roles. But the entire team has one purpose: reaching the goal line. Their unity consists of pursuing that one goal according to the rules of the game. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of people from every race, ethnicity, gender, and walk of life. But we have the common purpose of proclaiming the gospel and pursuing God’s kingdom agenda. Our effectiveness is determined by our unity. That’s why Satan works so hard at causing division among Christians and within churches. Unity in truth is critical to experiencing the presence and power of God (see Acts 2:1-2, 43-44; 4:24-31). Illegitimate disunity disconnects us from God and causes us to be ineffective in our lives and in our prayers (see 1 Pet 3:7).” 5

Next Jesus prayed, “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:22). In what sense do all believers share God’s “glory”? This probably refers to “the glory” Christ would display on the cross and in the resurrection (cf. 17:1-5). This glory they received from the Lord would have a unifying influence on their relations with one another – “that they may be one just as We are one.” The risen Christ in me is not going to fight with the risen Christ in you. As we grow closer to Christ, we will grow closer to one another.

Then Jesus prayed, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” (John 17:23a). Christ saw oneness between believers as possible because it is Christ and the Father in them that unites them with one another. This oneness shows the world that God loved His people, so they could love one another.

Christ adds, “And that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23b). As Jesus prayed for those who will believe in Him through the word of His disciples, He asked that “the world may know that” the Father “loved them as” He “loved” Jesus. The word “as” is fascinating here. Jesus is saying that the Father loves us “as” to the same degree or equally as He does His Son, Jesus Christ. This means there is no one and nothing, including Jesus Christ, that God the Father loves more than those of us who believe in Jesus! God loves all believers the same with a beyond what we can ask or imagine kind of love (cf. Ephesians 3:17-20). What is the Father’s love toward His only Son like?

IT IS FOREVER – “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24b). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. After spending billions of years working together in perfect harmony, Jesus tells us that His Father loves us exactly as much as He loves Him! People may stop loving us and may even abandon us, but God the Father will never stop loving us. He loves us the same as His only begotten Son.

IT IS INTIMATE – “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26b). The Father’s love for His Son goes deep and is very intimate. He continues to work with us to make us more like His Son. He develops in us the skills to relate peacefully with one another, so we can experience the same oneness that characterizes His relationship with His Son (John 17:11, 21-23). All of us long to be loved and to love. Only God’s love can meet our deepest needs. 

“Our involvement in the church is not trivial, then. We are caught up in something much bigger than us. We are called to serve the Lord in unity so that the love and glory of our Trinitarian God is visibly and powerfully manifested to a watching world.” 6

Do we have the same vision for future believers that Jesus had when He prayed? Do we see ourselves sharing the gospel with people who do not have Christ in their lives? Are we praying for those future believers to come to faith in Christ alone so they can experience the same oneness that our Trinitarian God experiences? Do our prayers also concentrate on future believers serving the Lord in unity so the love and glory of our magnificent Trinitarian God is powerfully displayed to a watching world? Are we teaching the people we disciple to pray in this way? If not, we can begin praying like this today.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for preserving Jesus’ prayer for all of us who believed in Him after He ascended to You! Only heaven will disclose the billions of lives and circumstances impacted by this one prayer back in the first century. We are so touched by the fact that this prayer is also for us. Jesus prayed for His apostles’ gospel message to bring us to faith in Him! Hallelujah! What an amazing prayer this was and is!!! Please teach us and those we disciple to pray this way for those who have not yet believed in Jesus for eternal life. We pray that billions more will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can unite the world with His life-changing grace and love!!! And Father God, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that this divided world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. Lord, we cannot forgive each other or live with each other or put up with each other without Your love inside of us. I pray that Your love would make the difference. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 460.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 450.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 309.

5. Tony Evans, pg. 1816.

6. Ibid.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 3

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15

We are learning from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, how to pray like He prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

   ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

Today we also discover that praying for those we disciples includes PRAYING FOR THEIR PROTECTION FROM THE WORLD AND THE EVIL ONE (John 17:9-15). Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven, 9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:9-10).Jesus did not “pray for the world” the night before His death, He prayed for the disciples whom the Father gave Him because they belong to the Father (“they are Yours”) and to Jesus (“Yours are Mine”), and Jesus will be departing from them soon. This is another affirmation of Jesus’ equality with the Father. The disciples belong to both the Father and the Son. Only God in human flesh could make such a claim of reciprocal ownership with God the Father! 1  

It is not that Jesus did not care about the world – He does! But the night before His crucifixion, He needed to focus on His disciples because their needs were great. When Jesus says, “I am glorified in them,” He is referring to the disciples who now believe that Jesus is from the Father (cf. John 17:8). Every time a person comes to faith in Christ as the One sent by the Father, Jesus is glorified in them!

Christ would no longer be with His disciples when He would ascend to heaven, so He prayed: “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11).Christ prays to His “Holy Father” to “keep” them “through” or “in” His Father’s “name.” The word “name” refers to the character of God. 2  Jesus is asking the Father to keep the disciples loyal to His Father’s character while they are “in the world.”

Sometimes Christians miss what Jesus just said. He does not say His disciples should live out of the world or as far away from the world as possible. He says, “these are in the world.” Some people think that to live a holy life you must live as far away from the world as possible. So you have a whole movement of people called monks who live far away from people in monasteries. You have churches that think they must live as far away from non-Christians as possible to live holy lives. But that is not what Jesus is praying here.

Christ is praying that His disciples would live distinctly holy lives “in the world,” not distant lives from the world. Because if we are the light of the world, and we are (Matthew 5:16), how is the world going to see it unless we live among them? If we are the salt of the earth, and we are (Matthew 5:13), how is the world going to taste it unless we live among them? So when Jesus prayed for us, He doesn’t pray for us to be taken out of the world. He prays that we would be kept loyal to the Father’s character while we live in this world.

This is the only time in the gospel of John that God is addressed as “holy Father.” The use of this title of God prepares the way for Jesus’ prayer to “sanctify” His disciples through the Father’s “truth” (cf. John 17:17-19). The purpose of praying for the Father to keep them loyal to His character was so they “may be one as We are one.” Christ wants us to live in unity with one another like He and the Father do, so the world can see what God is like. But Satan and the world want to divide the body of Christ, so our witness is less effective in the world.

Next Jesus prays, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12). Two different words are used for the word “kept” in this verse. The first word for “kept” is the same word used in verse 11 (etēroun) and has the idea of “to keep, hold, or preserve.” Christ said He had kept or preserved their loyalty to the Father’s name or character.

The second word for “kept” (ephylaxa) means “to guard, protectand focuses on Christ keeping them secure from being spiritually “lost” or perishing after they believed in Him (John 10:28-29). Not one believer has ever been lost by Christ nor ever will be lost by Him (John 6:35-40). Judas, “the son of perdition” (NIV – “one doomed to destruction”), never believed in Jesus in the first place (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11). Judas’ unbelief does not mean Jesus failed, but that Judas fulfilled Scripture in Psalm 41:9 which spoke of David’s friend betraying him. Judas “destroyed” himself by refusing to believe in Christ and thus fulfilled Scripture and God’s purpose.

“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13). Christ had kept the disciples loyal to God’s character while “in the world,” but now He was returning to the Father (“now I come to You”) and so He prays “these things I speak” in My prayer about keeping My disciples loyal to God’s character and guarding them from perishing is so “they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” If the disciples remained faithful to God, which is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, they would have a “full measure” of the joy that He had (and will have – Hebrews 12:2) in obeying His Father (cf. 15:10-11; 16:20-22, 24).

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14). What did Jesus give the disciples that caused the world to hate them? The Father’s word about His Son and eternal life. The disciples were “not of the world” in their position because of their faith in Christ just as Jesus was “not of the world.” What makes the world hate believers is the truth of God’s Word. One way to get the world to love us is to let go of what makes them hate us – God’s Word and its truth.

Comedian, Bill Cosby, used to do a comedy routine about the time he was an American football running back. He was this 120-pound scrawny little kid playing against these 300-pound linemen on the other side. The quarterback said, “Cosby, you’re going to get the ball,” and they handed him the ball and these 300-pound defensive linemen are charging at him and they look like they are going to kill him. But then all of a sudden, Cosby realizes that they didn’t really want him. They wanted the ball. So he gave the other team the ball.

It us easy for us to do that as believers. We realize that the world doesn’t really hate us personally, it hates the truth that we live by and for. So we let go of the truth. But then there is no light and no salt. Jesus says, “I have given you something that’s very powerful and very dangerous. Be aware of it. I have given you God’s Word. And because it is truth that cannot be denied, it makes people love you, but it also makes people hate you. Your friends may hate you. Your family or neighbors may hate you. You need to be aware of this,” Jesus says. So Christ was very honest with His disciples (and us) about this.

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). If the disciples were taken “out of the world” they would have no witness to the world. Hence, Jesus prayed that the Father “should keep them from the evil one” while they are in the world. The word “keep” is the same word used in verses 11 and 12a, and it refers to them being kept safe from Satan and the world which he rules through deception, so that they remain faithful to the Father.

Too many Christians either withdraw from a worldly environment or they live like the world wants them to live to protect themselves. Christ wants neither response from His followers. Jesus wants us to remain faithful to God while living in a hostile world, looking to the Lord to protect us. We are to live for Christ “in this world – in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, marketplaces, and civic arenas. Yet, we are not to adopt the world’s perspective or let it dictate our values. We must operate on earth from a heavenly perspective, God’s perspective. God’s Word is to determine our understanding of right and wrong. Though we are in the world, we must not be of it.” 5

Prayer: Father God, we pray that our lives and the lives of those we disciple would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your protection and security, not in fear. Deliver us from fear if we are facing it. Father, we pray You would keep us and the people we disciple loyal to Your character while we are in this world so the full measure of Jesus’ joy will be in us. Thank You for giving us Your Word which can cause people to either love us or hate us. Regardless of how people respond to us, help us to hold fast to Your truth so that our lives will be transformed into Your likeness and more people can come to know Jesus as the Giver of everlasting life. Holy Father, please protect us from the evil one in this world whose deceit and rebellion take many different forms. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 545).

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 459; J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 305.

3. 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. 814-815.

4. Ibid., pg. 868.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 1

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.’ ” John 17:1

In 1952, a brilliant guest lecturer was asked, “What is there left in all the world that has not been done for a doctoral dissertation?” The lecturer replied, “Find out about prayer.”  The lecturer happened to be Albert Einstein.

It has been said that, “Prayer is conversation with God that arises out of communion with God.” The closer we grow to the Lord, the more intimate our prayer life will be with Him.

Do you believe in prayer? Honestly, do you believe God hears us when we talk to Him? Can He be trusted with our deepest longings and most troubling fears? I would like to think that the majority of people in the world today may consider praying to a Supreme Being more than ever before during this global pandemic. But there are probably some people who want nothing to do with a Higher Power because of the suffering that is taking place in the world today.  

Jesus Christ frequently turned to His heavenly Father in prayer (cf. Luke 5:16; 22:39). After warning His disciples of tribulation and comforting them with the promise of His victory (John 16:25-33), Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. It is the longest in length and it is also the longest in span of time. It includes the time of Jesus’ day and reaches all the way to our lives today.

John 17 is like the holy of holies of the book of John. Remember the holy of holies in the temple where once a year the high priest could go in and make the sacrifice for the people and pray for the people (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:7)? It was such a holy place because it was God’s presence. John 17 is a chapter like that. Dr. David Anderson understands the outline of John’s gospel to be parallel to the temple (see diagram 1). 1

Diagram 1

The first twelve chapters are about evangelism whereby John presents seven miraculous signs so non-Christians might believe in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). When we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift from evangelism to intimacy or fellowship with God. This truth is not for unbelievers.

Anderson writes, “That is why in John 13:1-30, Judas must be sent out of the room as one of the two steps to prepare Jesus’ disciples for the intimate truth He wishes to share. The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believers. Judas had no place in this setting because he was not a believer. Unbelievers had to come into the temple/ tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truth Jesus wished to share in the Upper Room was for the ears of believers only. But even these believers needed to be cleansed of their daily sins in order to be in fellowship with the Lord. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they would not be able to comprehend the truth He wished to share.” 2

“It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and the believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believe through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than intercede in prayer. He actually became our mercy seat (Rom 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Then leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21) to complete the mission.” 3

So John 17 is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for us. As we study this chapter of John, I hope we will embrace the fact that we are with Jesus entering into God’s presence. It is an incredible privilege. Just like the high priest used to enter into the temple where God’s presence was, Jesus Himself entered into God’s presence and prayed for us. The sense of this prayer is we are in a very holy place where we listen to Jesus pray.

This prayer is commonly known as the High-Priestly prayer of Christ or the Prayer of Intercession. Intercession refers to praying to God on behalf of others. This prayer is a picture of Jesus’ current ministry of intercession in heaven as our High Priest (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus prays this prayer in front of His Eleven disciples to summarize His relationship with the Father and the relationship He wants them to have with Him and the Father. Repeatedly Jesus had connected His going to the Father with their new life of prayer (John 14:12-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). The power of prayer in Jesus’ name would be connected to His intercession for us in heaven. This prayer will teach us what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It will also show us Jesus’ love and concern for His disciples, including you and me.

From John 17,  we will answer the question, how can we pray more like Jesus prays? After Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), He prepared for the cross by turning to His Father in prayer. Notice that He taught His disciples first, and then He prayed for them to internalize what He had just taught them. We would be wise to do the same. Peoples’ lives will not be transformed through the preaching of God’s Word alone. We must pray for those people to apply what they have heard from God’s Word.

Diagram 2

We see in this prayer that Christ first prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), then His followers (John 17:6-19), and finally for future believers (John 17:20-26). His prayer is like circles that grow wider and wider (see diagram 2).  He starts with Himself, then He widens the circle beyond Himself to pray for His Eleven believing disciples. Then He widens the circle a lot more by praying for all future believers that His disciples (and others) would reach. So He begins with His own need, then prays for the needs of the disciples, then He prays for the world that they would reach.

As Jesus prays this prayer, we will learn what is really important to Him – desperately important. Here Jesus is. He is about to die. He knows that these disciples are going to have tremendous needs in their lives. He loves them, so He prays for them. How can we pray more like Jesus prays?

LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO PRAY FOR GOD TO BE GLORIFIED WHEN WE FACE TRIALS (John 17:1-5). We might think this is selfish to begin by praying for Himself, but when we look at the content of this part of His prayer, we will realize this is not selfish because Christ’s motivation was to glorify His Father. Jesus prays for two things in this first part of His prayer: His resurrection (John 17:1-3) and His glorification (John 17:4-5).

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1a). The word for “eyes” (ophthalmous) is where our English word ophthalmologist is derived from. 4  Christ does not bow His head or close His eyes as we are accustomed to doing in our western culture. There is more than one posture to take when we pray. You can pray while you are walking or driving( just make sure to keep your eyes open). You can pray when you are standing or kneeling with your hands raised, or you can pray sitting or laying down. There is no one way you have to pray. If you are in the habit of taking only one posture when you pray, you may want to change that up from time to time. It could revolutionize your prayer life.

Christ prayed aloud so His disciples could hear what He prayed to His Father. Likewise, as we disciple new believers in Jesus, it is important to pray aloud with them because God can use that to teach them how and what to pray. I am not exactly sure where Jesus prayed this prayer. It may have been in the Upper Room (cf. John 18:1) or on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31).

We are told that Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven.” He was not discouraged or downcast as He approached the cross, He was hopeful and expectant as He looked up to His Father in prayer. He had just announced that He had “overcome the world” (John 16:33), and now He engages in a prayer of victory!

The first thing Jesus prays is, Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” (John 17:1b). Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come…” By addressing God as “Father,” He expresses His childlike relationship to His Father and His submission to Him. His long-anticipated “hour has come” for His death, resurrection, and ascension to His Father in heaven (cf. John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27-28, 31-33; 13:1, 31).

Jesus is not being selfish here when He prays for the Father to “Glorify Your Son,” because it serves a higher purpose –  “that Your Son also may glorify You.” The word “glorify” (doxason) is derived from the word “glory” (doxa) which “refers to the estimation or opinion in which one is held. Here Jesus prays regarding His own reputation and attributes. His words ‘Glorify Your Son’ petition the Father to bring into full display Jesus’ divine character and attributes through His impending death and resurrection.” 5  Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension would also “glorify” the Father by enhancing His reputation and attributes through Jesus, since Jesus is a perfect reflection of the Father (John 12:44-45; 14:9-11) and was sent by Him (John 4:34; 7:16; 8:18; 14:24; 17:8, 18).

We see in this verse how much “the Father and Son love one another and desire to make much of one another before a watching world. Those who come to God through Jesus Christ are called to participate in this intra-Trinitarian love, bringing glory to God through our faith in and obedience to the Son.” 6

Jesus’ words remind us that suffering precedes glory (Matthew 16:21-27; 20:19; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-10; 12:2). 7  Through His suffering and death, Jesus brought glory to Himself and to His Father. Likewise, when we suffer for Christ’s sake, we bring glory to Him and He promises that God will give glory and honor to us in the form of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (John 12:26; cf. Matthew 16:21-27; Romans 8:17; I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; I Peter 1:3-11; 2:11-25; 4:12-5:4; Revelation 2:10, 25-29; 22:12).

We may ask, “How did the Father glorify Jesus?” Jesus prayed, “As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (John 17:2). The Father glorified Christ by giving “Him authority over all flesh” so Jesus would “give eternal life” to those the Father had “given Him.” Only God can give life that never ends to people which means Jesus must be God! Notice Christ has authority to give eternal life to “all flesh”! There is no such thing in the Bible of only a select group of people that are savable. All people are savable because Christ is drawing all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32), He desires all people to be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4), and He died for all people (cf. I Timothy 2:3-6; I John 2:2).

Five times in this prayer, Christ refers to believers as those whom the Father had given Him (John 17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24). Does this refer to the elect from the foundation of the world? Does it mean a person cannot believe in Christ if the Father has not given him or her to Jesus? No, this is a reference to the Father giving Old Testament believers in the Dispensation of Law over to Jesus at the beginning of the dispensation of Grace (see John 6:37 for discussion). 8  The Eleven disciples were believing Jews who belonged to the Father, but now the Father transfers them into the Son’s hands for His use and safe keeping at the beginning of the Church Age (cf. John 17:6-12). Now they belonged to Jesus. 9

Someone may ask, “What is eternal life?” Jesus explains. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). “Eternal life” is knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom” the Father “sent.” The word “know” (ginōskō) refers to an intimate knowledge of God, not just an awareness of certain facts. 9  Notice that the primary focus is on one’s relationship with God (“life”),not the duration (“eternal”).This is not just a future promise, it is a present reality for all believers in Jesus.  Eternal life is knowing the true God personally in one’s experience forever. Eternal life is not static or unchanging. It can be experienced at deeper and deeper levels as we grow closer to the Father and His Son.

In fact, when we examine the uses of “eternal life” in the New Testament, we discover that when eternal life is referred to as a present acquisition, it is received as a free gift by believing in Jesus (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:13; Revelation 22:17), but when eternal is referred to as a future acquisition, it is received as a reward for sacrificial service to Christ (cf. Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; John 12:25-26; Galatians 6:8). 

Some have argued that John 17:3 shows Jesus is not God because Jesus distinguished God the Father as “the only true God” from “Jesus Christ whom” the Father sent. But Jesus did NOT say, “I am not God” in this verse. You will not find that anywhere in the Bible. Jesus was not denying He was the “only true God,” but was praising the Father as such. The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was.

But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says,  “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another? Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father in heaven. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the True God. In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” like idols. Jesus had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.

This understanding is substantiated by the same writer of John 17:3 when he writes in his epistle, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.

Also the Greek word for “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).

To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God. The burden of proof rests upon those who deny Jesus is God. John calls them “antichrists” in his first epistle who reject that “the Christ,” the Messiah-God,has come in human “flesh” (I John 2:18, 21-22; 4:1-3). They willingly reject the historical record of the Bible which clearly and consistently proclaims that Jesus is fully God (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; 44:6; John 1:1, 14-18, 34, 49, 5:6-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 9:35-38; 10:30-39; 11:27; 14:7-9; 17:5; 20:28, 31; Acts 16:31, 34; 20:28; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; Philippians 2:6, 9-11; Colossians 1:15-20; I Timothy 3:16; 4:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 4:2-3; 5:20; Revelation 1:17; 22:13; et al.) and fully Man (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6-7; 7:14; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 8:24; 9:11; Mark 6:3; John 1:14; 2:12; 4:6; 7:3, 5; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; 21:12; Philippians 2:7-8; I Timothy 2:5; I John 4:2-3; et al.)!!!

Our privilege is to know God personally now and forever through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). If this is true, and it is, then the one thing that will last beyond this life and the one thing that deserves our utmost attention is our daily life and fellowship with God. Many of us have known the Lord for a long time, but has our knowledge of the Lord grown deeper as a result of spending time with Him and obeying Him (cf. John 14:21, 23)? What are we doing today to know God more intimately?

Next Jesus prayed, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4). As Jesus faces the cross, He has no sense of failure, but rather fullness of attainment. He had “glorified” His Father “on the earth” and “finished the work which” the Father had given Him to do – revealing the Father by His words and works (cf. John 1:18).

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Christ does not pray for new glory. He prays, “Glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” The words, “the glory which I had with You before the world was,” affirm the eternality of Jesus Christ and His preexistence as God before He became a human being on earth. Notice that Jesus clearly affirmed his pre-existence. “Before the incarnation, before Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, before the creation week even began, God the Son eternally existed in the glorious presence of God the Father. And to this glory He would soon return.” 10

These words also affirm Jesus’ equality with the Father, because in the Old Testament, God said He would not share His glory with anyone: “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8; cf. 48:11). Since the Father and the Son share their glory, they must both be God.

Christ’s human flesh had veiled this glory He shared with the Father in eternity past during His earthly life (Philippians 2:6-8), and now He prays that that same glory may be restored in His Father’s presence. As Jesus had glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4), now He prayed to be restored to His heavenly glory with His Father (John 17:5).

Like Jesus, we are to pray for God to be glorified when we face trials. Christ faced His sufferings and death with the desire to glorify His Father in heaven. He submitted to His Father’s timetable and agenda. This takes humility. Jesus went through terrible pain and suffering to honor His Father. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to submit to God’s timetable for us? If not, pray for that willingness. When we are struggling and in pain, it is easy to obsess on ourselves and it is especially difficult to focus on others and on what God wants. Through prayer, we can obtain the power to focus on God’s will for us and glorify Him even though we may be in pain. The best way to face calvary (suffering), is to spend time Gethsemane (prayer).

Keep in mind that Jesus is praying for us now in heaven (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He is praying for us to glorify our Father in heaven as we face difficulties. Sometimes when we face difficult situations, we do not know how to pray, so the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and prays according to God’s will on our behalf. “26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). So we have both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit praying for us, especially when we face trials in life. What an encouragement this is for us as we seek to glorify the Father during these challenging times!

Prayer: Precious Father in heaven, thank You so much for Jesus’ prayer in front of His eleven believing disciples. We are given an incredible glimpse into the intimate relationship Jesus had with You during His earthly ministry. And just as He prayed for You to be glorified when He faced His hour of suffering and death, help us to yield ourselves to You in prayer so You are  glorified when we face difficult times. And like Christ Who submitted to Your timetable and agenda, may we humbly submit to Your timetable and will for our lives. Please make us willing when we are unwilling to do this. We can so easily focus on ourselves when we are hurting or in pain, instead of focusing on others and what You want to do in our lives. But praying to You gives us hope because as we talk to You, You can give us the power to focus on Your will for our lives and glorify You in the midst of our struggles. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also praying for us in addition to You. Knowing this greatly encourages our hearts. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2005), pp. 16-17.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 300.

5. Ibid.

6.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1813.

7.  Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 457.

8. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 185-186.

9. Ibid., pp. 116, 186.

10. Tony Evans, pg. 1814.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 2

“For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” John 16:27

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage. Yesterday we discovered we can do this when we resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26). Today we learn we can also face challenges with courage when we RECEIVE THE FATHER’S SPECIAL LOVE FOR US (John 16:27).

Jesus explains why the disciples are to go directly to the Father in prayer after He goes to the Father following His resurrection and ascension. “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” (John 16:27). The disciples could go directly to the Father because of His special “love” (philéō) for them. This word for “love” refers to a warm, affectionate, friendly kind of love. This special love for them was based on their relationship with Christ.

Jesus said that the Father’s love for them was, “because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from God.” The words “loved” (pephilēkate) and “believed” (pepisteukate) are in the perfect tense which means they loved Jesus warmly in the past and still love Him warmly in the present, and they believed Jesus was from the Father in the past and still believe He is from the Father now.

Christ is referring to discipleship or fellowship with God here, not  salvation from hell. This special kind of love from the Father is based upon our obedience to Christ which follows belief in Him (cf. John 14:21, 23). We saw in John 14:21 that when a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest” or reveal more of Himself to them.

God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special or more intimate way (John 16:27; cf. 13:23; 14:21, 23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with God the Father and God the Son. It can also be said that unloving and unbelieving Christians will not experience this special kind of love from the Father.

Wilkin writes, “For a believer to abide experientially in the love of God, he must hold fast to the faith both doctrinally and morally (cf. 14:15; 15:14; cf. Jude 21).” 2 We cannot do this in our own strength. We must rely on God the Father through prayer to remain faithful to the Christian faith (cf. John 16:23-26).

God often uses troubling times to deepen our experience of His love for us. This was what happened to missionaries, Charlie and Frauke Schaefer, who were serving the Lord in Germany. One morning, when Frauke was getting ready to leave for a conference and Charlie was out on a run, Charlie did not return home. Frauke became alarmed and went looking for him in likely places, but he was not to be found in any of them. After she called the police, she learned that Charlie had been taken to the hospital after collapsing during his run. There was bleeding of an unknown cause inside his skull.

“After Charlie’s collapse, Frauke felt distant from God and was evading His presence. Although communication between her and God was good, she had gnawing questions when she slowed down. Why did this happen when we were doing what we believed God wanted us to do? How could Charlie’s collapse fit into God’s plan. Why were we unable to lead the retreat that was so diligently prepared and prayed for? After a while, Frauke gained courage to direct these questions to God. An immediate response came through the peace of realizing God was assuring her, ‘I am with you and I know.’ God also seemed to be saying that deepening our love and trust in Him was more important than ministering to others at the moment.” 3

Instead of doubting God’s love for us when we face challenges, we are to embrace the truth that God may allow personal suffering in our lives to take us where He knows we must go to experience the fullness of His love for us. God does not just want to tell us that He loves us. He wants to show us that He loves us and this often takes place in the context of pain and suffering. Knowing we are warmly loved by the Father, can give us courage during those difficult times.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for not just telling me that You love me, but for permitting me to go through challenging times to deepen my experience of Your unfailing love for me. Much of my Christian life I have known intellectually that You love me, but in recent years You are showing me how much You love me as I go through various difficulties in life. The more I experience the warmth of Your love, Father, the more I can face opposition and painful trials with courage. Thank You for fighting the battles I could never fight or win on my own. Thank You for being my best Friend. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament, Vol. V, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 271-272.

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. 542. 

3. Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., Trauma & Resilience: A Handbook, (Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., 2012) pp. iv-v.

4. Ibid., pg. 1.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 1

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” John 16:26

Do you know what Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Barack Obama all have in common? The answer is quite simple: They are all orphans. This is the conclusion of a study done by Dr. Pierre Rentchnick in a book entitled, “Do Orphans Lead the World?” 1

After surveying the lives of three hundred leaders who have had a great impact on world history, he discovered that all these leaders had grown up as orphans – either actually, through the death or separation from parents, or emotionally, as a result of severe childhood deprivation. “He concluded that what many would consider emotional deprivation may arouse an exceptional willpower which can be turned to either good or evil.” 2

Today psychologists are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards their child, and we find this study which shows that some of the most influential people in world history never had healthy relations with their parents.

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, who was also an orphan, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study, and so he took up the study and realized that many of the most influential religious leaders were also virtual orphans. 3  In his book, Creative Suffering, Tournier states that circumstances are morally neutral, whether fortunate or unfortunate. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. 4

Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but they always reside in persons. Rarely are we in control of events which cause suffering. But we can control how we respond to suffering. By God’s grace, we can respond positively, creatively, and see suffering as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can respond negatively and stunt our growth.

When we face challenges or difficulties in life, how will we respond? Will we respond with faith or with fear? The circumstances do not determine how we respond. How we view those circumstances determines how we respond. This is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in John 16:25-33.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus used the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach how He could transform the disciples’ grief over His death into gladness at His resurrection (John 16:16-24). In John 16:25-33, Jesus wants to teach us how to face challenges with courage.

First, we are to RESOLVE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (16:25-26). Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25). The phrase “these things” refers back to what Jesus just said about a woman being in labor (John 16:16-24). When Christ says He spoke to His disciples in “figurative language,” He is referring to dark sayings which conceal some truth. He admits that He has not given direct answers to His disciples’ questions. But He assures them that “the time is coming” after His resurrection when He will no longer speak to them in figurative language. For forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), Christ would speak “plainly about the Father” and that would be reflected in the apostles’ teaching.

Evans writes, “There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.” 5

Next Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” (John 16:26). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. It would not be necessary for Jesus to “pray the Father for” the disciples as He had done during His earthly ministry, because now they would be able to ask the Father for themselves.

This does not mean Jesus would never intercede in heaven for His disciples because the Bible tells us that Christ intercedes for all believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). What He probably means is that they are not to look to Jesus only to meet their needs, but to the Father also. 6 The verb “ask” (aitēsesthe) is in the middle voice and means to ask for one’s self a favor from God. It is not wrong to ask God to meet your own needs. The disciples could pray directly to the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross which provided direct access into the presence of God in heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).

All believers can pray directly to God the Father. This is not a privilege limited to pastors or other church leaders. It is a privilege for all Christians. The Bible tells us, “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

In Acts 4, the believers of the Jerusalem Church were experiencing opposition to the gospel, so they prayed the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26) which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). Do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”

This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. The father knows the boundaries of power possessed by his son. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is courage. If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among all the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid among those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of courage to give us.

Among those who served in the court of Alexander the Great was a famous philosopher who had outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told he could draw whatever cash he needed from the imperial treasury. When he submitted to the treasurer a request for an amount equal to $50,000, he was promptly refused. The treasurer had to verify that such a large sum was indeed authorized. But when he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request, he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”

Believers who exercise great faith by asking God to provide for their needs demonstrate a similar understanding of His vast wealth and generosity. That kind of asking honors God the Father. If we are going to have courage when facing challenges in life, we must learn to go directly to the Father in prayer, knowing that He has an infinite supply of courage and He is eager to give it to those who ask.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to have direct access into Your throne room in heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You about anything at any time, knowing that You understand and want to bless me as Your child. I honor You when I ask You to meet my needs abundantly because it reflects that You are a good and generous Father Who delights in blessing His children. Lord God, I ask that You supply Your children with an abundance of boldness to proclaim Christ crucified to a lost and dying world. The world may mock or oppose those of us who proclaim Your gospel message, but we are so thankful to have the honor of serving You as Your ambassadors here on earth. Please use us as You deem best to magnify Your Son. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David M. Atkinson, Leadership – By the Book, (Dyer, IN: Grace and Glory Publishers, 2007), pg. 84.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, pp. 84-85.

4. Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 143-144.

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

6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentar, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 456.

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 overcome fear in evangelism? Part 3

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” John 16:13

After Jesus forewarned His disciples of the world’s coming hostility and persecution of them (15:18-16:4), He began to encourage them with the Holy Spirit’s ministry that would take place while He was gone (John 16:5-15). From Christ’s instruction, we are learning how to overcome fear in evangelism. We can do this when we…

– Grasp that we are not alone when we witness (John 16:5-7).

– Give unbelievers the truth of the gospel and let the Holy Spirit convince them it is true (John 16:8-11).

The third and final way to overcome fear in evangelism is when we GET GOD’S GUIDANCE THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 16:12-15). Jesus now focuses on the Holy Spirit’s ministry to His disciples. He says to His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12). Christ had more to teach them, but they were not ready to understand or apply the remaining teaching that Jesus had for them apart from the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, the Lord does not reveal all His truth to us at once. He reveals things to us gradually. He knows what we can handle better than we do.

Then Jesus said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13). Jesus would eventually tell them things through the ministry of Holy Spirit Who “will guide” them “into all truth.” The word “guide” (hodēgēsei) consists of two words, “to lead” (hēgeomai) and “way” (hodos). This word conveys the idea that “the Holy Spirit, who is a source of truth, will lead the way into truth as a guide.” His guidance is into “all truth.” There are no errors or mistakes in the truth the Spirit communicates.

This truth is without error because the Spirit “will not speak on His own authority” and teach something contrary to what Jesus taught. Instead, “whatever He hears” from the Father and Son, “He will speak.” “This points to the interdependence of the Persons in the Trinity. The Father would tell the Spirit what to teach the apostles about the Son.” 2  

Specifically, the Spirit “will tell them things to come” in the future. This future revelation from the Spirit is what the apostles would record in the New Testament canon. This is why the Bible is without error in the original manuscripts. “The Spirit would ensure that the apostles’ writings were true, guaranteeing that they wrote Scripture, the very words of God.” 3  In a similar way today, the Holy Spirit continues to enable believers to understand the meaning of the biblical text (cf. I John 2:27).

Next Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14). The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to “glorify” Christ by “taking what is” Christ’s from the word of truth. The Holy Spirit wants the spotlight to be on Jesus Christ, not on Himself, His spiritual gifts, or other people. The Holy Spirit wants the focus to be on the Person and work of Jesus Christ and nothing else. This verse provides insight on discerning what ministries are genuinely of the Holy Spirit. If a ministry is not glorifying the Person and work of Jesus Christ, we must be cautious about supporting such a work because the Holy Spirit does not glorify someone or something other than Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

Most people have a special item which they place on the top shelf or on a prominent wall in their house for everyone to see. It may be a picture of your family or a favorite Bible verse. It is placed on the shelf all by itself so that nothing else will challenge its prominence. In the same way, we are to put Christ on the shelf of our lives to show Him off. We are not to place anything else there, including ourselves so that all people may see any or all of Jesus’ attributes.

The reason the Holy Spirit finds Christ worthy to be glorified is seen in the next verse. “All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:15). Christ is worthy of being glorified because “all things that the Father has” are His. This would include the Father’s glory. Hence, the glory that belongs to the Father also belongs to the Son. The last part of this verse implies that “all things” of the Father and Son are also the apostles’ (and ours today) in that they will be disclosed to them through the Holy Spirit. 

“Once again we see the Trinity in action in that the Son took revelation from the Father and would declare it to His disciples through the Holy Spirit (16:15).” Clearly the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all involved in the writing of the Old and New Testaments (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:15-16). 5

Evans writes, “Though the Spirit provided the apostles with perfect revelation in order that they might write Scripture, this does not mean that we are excluded from His ministry. This text applies to us in two ways. First, we are recipients of the Scriptural revelation that the apostles received. Second, the Holy Spirit provides us with personal illumination, enabling us to understand Scripture and to see how it applies in the details of our lives. This work of the Spirit in the life of the believer is called “the anointing” (see 1 John 2:20, 27).” 6

These truths about the Holy Spirit in John 16:13-15 also apply to us today especially as we focus on evangelism. Knowing that we have an ever-present Teacher in the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth about the Person and work of Jesus Christ can give us boldness as we share the gospel with the unsaved. Instead of being afraid of not knowing what to say, we can be confident that God’s Spirit will guide our conversations with unbelievers.

For example, a few years ago, when my wife and I were shopping for pearls in Metro Manila, we met a Muslim vendor who showed us her pearls. During our conversation with her, the Holy Spirit led us to share Matthew 13:45-46 where Jesus said,  45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” We explained to her that Jesus Christ was the merchant who found one pearl of great price. When it says He sold everything to buy the pearl, we told her that Jesus sees her as a precious pearl. She said, “That is true.” After we explained to her the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection with her, we invited her to believe or trust in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life. She then told us she was now trusting Jesus alone for His free gift.

The Holy Spirit knew what this woman needed to hear. He will guide us as we seek His leading in our lives when we tell others the good news of Jesus Christ. Remember, however, if we are not witnessing about Christ, the Holy Spirit cannot be convicting. I believe the gospel of John is the primary source of truth that the Holy Spirit wants to use to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11) since it was written to persuade non-Christians to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have life in His name (John 20:31). The Holy Spirit uses the spoken word to convict people about their need for the Savior.

Prayer: Father God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, thank You so much for bringing to the apostles’ remembrance all that Christ taught and did during His earthly ministry so we now have an accurate record of all that Jesus said and did. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for continuing to give us understanding with regard to the Bible and how it applies to our daily lives. Thank You for bringing it to life so that we are transformed from the inside out into the likeness of Christ. Thank You for the boldness and guidance You give to us in our conversations with non-Christians. You know their hearts better than anyone and You can lead us to share what they need to hear so they can be persuaded to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, so they may have everlasting life in His name. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are truly amazing! Thank You for never abandoning us. I praise You for giving us all we need to represent You on earth. May all the glory go to You.  I pray this in Your Triune name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 291.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 668.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1810.

4. Ibid.

5. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 540.

6. Evans, pg. 1810.