Category Archives: Grace

Thank God for His highlight reel of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

6. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 570.

7. Constable, pg. 402.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 658.

9. Ibid., pp. 556-557.

10. Ibid., pg. 349.

11. Wilkin, pg. 570.

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

13. Ibid.

14. Wilkin, pg. 570.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 842.

4. Laney, pg. 381.

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

6. Bauer, pg. 604.

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

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

9. Ibid.

10. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569.

11. Ibid., pg. 1430.

12. Ibid.

13. Evans, pg. 1832.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have ever felt that way, it would profit you to take a look at how the risen Lord Jesus responded to Peter in John 21:15-19 after Peter had failed the Lord in a big way. Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38).

Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life over three years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11; cf. 6:69). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

4. Ibid., pp. 248-249.

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

6. Roberts, pg. 249.

7. Constable, pg. 395.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 1056.  

9. Evans, pg. 1832.

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

11. Evans, pg. 1832.

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

13. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569; and see Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 395 where he writes, “For example, John used both agapao and phileo to describe the Father’s love for the Son (3:35; 10:17; 5:20), Jesus’ love for Lazarus (11:5, 3, 36), and Jesus’ love for the beloved disciple (13:23; 20:2). Also, he used three different Greek words to describe ‘fish’ in this passage: prosphagion, ichthus, and opsarion.”

14. Bauer, pg. 181.

15. Laney, pg. 380.

16. Ibid.

17. Constable, pg. 396.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 5

“Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” John 21:9

When Jesus appeared for the fourth time after His resurrection in the gospel of John, He reminds us of several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

Now we are ready for the fifth lesson from Jesus. After Christ miraculously enabled His seven disciples to catch more fish than they could haul into their boat, John identifies that this Stranger is Jesus and then Peter eagerly dives into the sea to swim over to Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:6-7). When the other disciples arrived on the shore with a net full of fish (John 21:8), John writes, “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” (John 21:9). The disciples discovered that the Creator of the universe had fixed them breakfast on the beach. This must have smelled great to these tired and hungry fishermen who had been fishing all night.

John included an interesting detail in this verse that can easily be missed. The Greek word that is translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used two times in John’s gospel: here and in John 18:18 when Peter was in the courtyard warming himself around the fire and he denied knowing Jesus three times. The risen Lord Jesus was reminding Peter of his recent past. We can be sure of this because of the conversation Jesus will have with Peter in John 21:15-17. Peter would never forget this life-changing meal as he would even mention it in his preaching (see Acts 10:41). 1

What was going on here? If Peter was going to get over his past failures he needed to face the truth about himself. He had to stop hiding in his fishing expeditions and face up to what he had done earlier.

Peter isn’t the only one in the Bible who tried to hide from his failures. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, hid behind fig leaves after they sinned against God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-10).

You and I can be a lot like Peter, and the first man and woman. We can easily go into hiding after we have failed our Lord. And we can hide in so many ways. We may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion.

Recently I read a true story about a man who shoved his way to the head of the ticket line at the airport after his flight had been canceled. “I have to get on the next flight, and it has to be first class,” he bellowed to the agent. “I’ll be happy to help you, sir,” she replied, “as soon as I serve these folks in front of you.” The passenger was irate. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he shouted at her. Without replying, the agent picked up the airport intercom and announced to the whole terminal, “May I have your attention, please. We have a passenger who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone can help him reclaim his identity, please see the agent at gate six.” 2

Most of us probably would not do something as selfish as that man did in a public setting, but we have probably thought about it under similar circumstances. Like that man, we have demanded our own way in a more indirect manner while hiding from God’s work in our lives. But the amazing thing is that our risen Lord, unlike that ticket agent, lets us get away with it at least for now. But the day is coming when we will all stand before Him, unable to hide anything from Him (I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 4:12-13). But God does not force us to stand openly before Him now.

As a result, some of us have been hiding areas of our lives for a long time, and that is what causes bondage. Hell always grow stronger when there is secrecy. Some of us carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame; others of us hide behind the fig leaves of anger, or our business or careers or even our ministries.

No matter how long we have been hiding, sooner or later, we are going to have to trust the Lord and admit the truth about ourselves. This is what Peter needed to do and Jesus built this fire of coals to help him do just that. As Peter stood before the fire where his risen Lord had cooked him breakfast, he was remembering his greatest failure of his life. Now Peter had many failures, but none were as great as when he denied knowing his Lord, especially after vowing to be faithful to Him even unto death (cf. John 13:37; 18:17-18, 25-27).

At some point all of us have had such a failure. And it seems unforgivable. Peter remembered standing before the fire and not just once, but three times – openly and blatantly – he denied the One Who loved him more than anyone else ever had or ever would.

Have you ever done that? We end up denying our risen Lord Jesus Who loves us more than anyone else. We end up betraying our best Friend by doing the very thing we vowed never to do.

Yet what does Jesus do? He cooks breakfast which included “fish” and “bread.” Why did He choose those foods? Just as the “fire of coals” would remind Peter of his past failure, so too the “fish” and “bread” would remind these seven disciples of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13). Notice that He had already provided fish for them, in addition to cooking it for them – flame-broiled – even before the disciples got out of their boat and hauled the fish they had caught to shore. Before His crucifixion, Jesus had served His disciples by washing their dirty feet (John 13:1-17). Now He continues to serve them as their risen Lord by providing them with a warm fire and a delicious breakfast.

Both the fire of coals, and the fish and bread would be reminders of Jesus’ faithfulness to His disciples. Christ faithfully predicted Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38) and he did around the coals of fire (John 18:17-18, 25-27). This would assure the disciples that Jesus would be faithful to fulfill other predictions such as His promises about preparing a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27). Jesus was also faithful to supernaturally feed over five thousand people with fish and bread (John 6:1-13), and He would continue to faithfully provide for His followers in the future. Perhaps the disciples feared that the Lord’s death would bring an end to His care for them. But this breakfast was a timely reminder He would continue to faithfully provide for all their needs.

This leads us to our fifth lesson: OUR RISEN LORD JESUS GIVES US REMINDERS OF HIS FAITHFULNESS TO CARE FOR US (John 21:9). In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to observe different festivals to celebrate His provision for the nation in various ways (cf. Leviticus 23). 4 Each time God’s people observed these festivals, they would be reminded of God’s provision in the past so they may continue to trust Him to provide for them in the future.

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself established the Lord’s Supper to be observed in remembrance of Him, His death and shedding of blood for our sins (Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30; I Corinthians 11:23-26). Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, it helps us to think and thank God for His great grace toward us through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9).

I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 where He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). When we see the “birds of the air” we are reminded of how our heavenly Father takes care of them. Have you ever seen a bird get an ulcer from worrying? They don’t get anxious about their next meal because our “heavenly Father feeds them.” And since we are far more valuable to our Father in heaven than a bird, how much more will He take care of you and me!?!

Jesus also said, 28So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30). Flowers don’t worry about looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation. If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t He do much more for you and me? You and I are much more valuable to Jesus than a bird or a flower, so there is no need for us to worry about Him taking care of our needs.

As you read this article you may be realizing that you needed these reminders from the risen Lord Jesus. We are prone to forget what is most important in life. Jesus knows this and He addresses it with daily reminders of His faithfulness to provide for all our needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Peter, we can hide from our past failures in a variety of ways. And like Adam and Eve who hid behind fig leaves after they sinned, we may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion. Thank You for reminding us of our past unresolved failures so we can face them and bring them to You and be restored. Lord Jesus, we can be so prone to worry about many things, especially our unmet needs. Thank You for the many reminders You give us each day that tell us we are important to You and that You will be faithful to take care of all our needs. Please renew our trust in You to do what You promise. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Ed Kittrell, Funny Business (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Publishing House, October 1977), pg. 6.

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

4. Evans, pg. 294.

5. Ibid., pg. 1501.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 4

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

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

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

3. Blum, pg. 702.

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

5. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 208.

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

7. The phrase, “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (εἴπερ ἐγεύσασθε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος) is a first-class conditional clause that assumes the truth of what is said. See Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1379.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 8 (Video)

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

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

How do I overcome doubt? Part 5

“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ ” John 20:29

We are learning from John 20:24-29 how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

– Renew our confession of faith (John 20:28).

Today we will look at the final way to overcome doubt. RECEIVE JESUS’ BLESSING (John 20:29). After Thomas said to Jesus,  “my Lord and my God,” (John 20:28), Jesus did not correct him for addressing Him as “my Lord and my God.” No, Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship because Christ is Lord and God. Jesus then told Thomas, Because you have seen Me, you have believed.” (John 20:29a). But then Jesus has something to say to you and me two thousand years later, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b).

The risen Lord Jesus is saying to His doubting disciple, “Thomas, I did something special for you. I came and showed you the nail prints in My hands. I showed you the scar in My side where the spear pierced Me. I want you to know the blessing on the lives of those millions of people who are going to believe in Me even though they have not had this experience.”  1

Jesus gave only a small number of people (about 500, 1 Cor 15:6) the privilege of seeing Him bodily after His resurrection. Most who believe do so without benefit of such direct revelation. Thomas and the others saw and heard, and thus their eyewitness testimonies have benefitted many people since then (John 20:30; 21:24-25; 1 John 1:1-3).” 2

Jesus wants you to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life even though He has not personally appeared to you. He wants you to trust in Him alone to give you never-ending life before you see Him work in your life. This is why He said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With these words, Jesus is broadening the object of faith from His resurrection to His promise to give eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. That is the transition John makes in the next two verses (John 20:30-31). 3

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Do you believe this? If you do, Christ guarantees you now have His life which never ends (John 11:25-26). You now have a personal relationship with Him that lasts forever (John 17:3). And Jesus wants to bless you with His remarkable gifts (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus before Christ appeared to him (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Even after you believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the risen Lord Jesus Christ wants to bless your life and work in your life. However, you are going to be filled with doubt if you think, “I’m not a good enough person for Him to bless my life. I will just let Christ give His blessings to somebody else.” Did Thomas deserve what Jesus gave him? Not at all. Thomas had received the eyewitness reports from the women and other disciples who had seen Jesus alive, yet he refused to believe them (Mark 16:10-11, 13-14; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18, 24-25). Even so, Christ graciously appears to him and gives him the evidence he needed to believe Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s blessings are not something we earn. They are gifts He wants to bless you with.

His blessings are part of what builds our faith and keeps our faith growing. Receive His blessing. The result of faith is blessedness. The Bible says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). God rewards those who exercise faith and diligently seek Him.

Jesus is teaching us that those who believe in Him are blessed. Not only are they blessed the moment they believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, but they can continue to be blessed as they learn to live a life of faith. People who believe live a blessed life. This is not a perfect life, nor a life without problems; but a blessed life. The satisfaction and fulfillment that the world longs for can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Later John reminds us that the result of faith is life (John 20:31). When people believed Jesus then and when they believe Jesus now, lives are transformed. There is a new quality of life for us to experience. He says there is “life in His name” (John 20:31b). The kind of life that has the name of Jesus stamped all over it. Every blessing that comes into your life has Jesus’ name on it. The decisions that you make – Jesus’ name is stamped all over them. Your family has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Your job has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Everything about your life is to be lived in His name.  His power, His blessing, His purpose, His character is to be manifested in your life. 

Do you want to overcome doubt and have faith? I will not tell you to just have faith. Instead, I will say here is how to have faith. Here is how to overcome doubt. These are some practical suggestions. You don’t have to do all of them. Just start with one of them this week and see where the Lord leads you.

1. Intentionally connect with other Christians this week. One of the reasons we struggle with doubts is because we are isolating ourselves from other like-minded believers in Jesus. God wants us to connect with one another to receive love and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). Schedule a time this week to get together with a trusted friend who knows Jesus and can offer a listening ear.

2. Write down your doubts on a sheet of paper. You might even be really brave and show your list to someone else. Not to an enemy, but to a trusted friend. Then at the bottom of the sheet of paper write, “Jesus, I ask You to give me Your answers to these doubts.” He wants to do this for you just like He did for Thomas.

3. Then you may need to redirect your will. This week or even tonight, decide to have faith in an area of your life where you have been struggling with doubts. You have been waiting for your emotions to catch up with your faith. Perhaps you have been studying this for months and you think you cannot learn any more. But now is the time to decide to move toward believing. You know what God wants you to do. You know what His Word says to do. It is time to act.

4. For some of us, we may need to renew our confession. Let me encourage you to do this this week if you are struggling with doubts. Start each day with a confession of faith. Use Thomas’ confession every day if you want to – “My Lord and my God.”  Or pick up your Bible and open it to the book of Psalms. Start reading any psalm. You will find two or three confessions of faith in any psalm – “Lord, You are my rock. Lord, You are my fortress. Lord, You are my hiding place.” (Psalm 31; 32; 119). The book of Psalms is just filled with confessions of faith. Find some confessions of faith there and use them to start each day. 

5. Perhaps you need to receive His blessing this week. You might be afraid to think about all the blessings that come from the Lord. You may feel guilty to recognize that God is doing something special in your life. There are times when we may look at our past and conclude that we are not deserving. The truth is, none of us are deserving. I do not deserve God’s blessings and neither do you. We admit that together. We come as undeserving people to God, but because of His grace – His undeserved favor – He gives to us abundantly. This week take twenty minutes and sit down and start to make a list of blessings from God on a piece of paper or on your computer. Since Jesus is in your life now, focus on His life which is stamped all over yours. Write down the different ways He is blessing you.

These are some practical ways that you and I can begin to overcome our doubts and build our faith.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may feel that we do not deserve to be blessed by You. We have been conditioned to believe that blessings must be earned. But Your encounter with Thomas reminds us that none of us are deserving of Your goodness. It is because of Your magnificent grace that we can be in a position to receive Your many blessings. Thank You especially for the gift of everlasting life that is ours forever the moment we believe in You. Please teach us to live a life of faith; A blessed life whereby we diligently seek You because we know that You are a Rewarder of those who do. In Your hope-filled name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

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. 566.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How do I overcome doubt? Part 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

5. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

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. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

9. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How Can I overcome my fears? Part 2

“When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” John 20:20

We are learning from Jesus’ interaction with His ten disciples in the evening of His resurrection day how to overcome our fears. Last time we discovered that we must rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19). Today we will see that our fears can be overcome when we REDIRECT OUR FOCUS TO THE EVIDENCE OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION TO CONVINCE OUR DOUBTING HEARTS (John 20:20).

We see in Luke’s account that the disciples themselves did not believe the testimony of others that Christ had risen from the dead. When the women reported it, “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Even when some of the disciples saw Christ themselves they were “slow of heart to believe “ (Luke 24:25). Indeed, when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples, 37 they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?’ ” (Luke 24:37-38). Their fears were mixed with doubts.

But how could they doubt the Lord was risen? The Old Testament had predicted His resurrection (Psalm 16:10; 22:21b; cf. Acts 2:30-32), and Jesus had proclaimed it several times prior to His death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; John 2:19, 21; 10:18). It is possible they were looking for Jesus to establish a literal kingdom on earth. So even though Christ had told them He was about to die and be raised from the dead, they did not hear Him because they were so convinced He was going to usher in a political kingdom. Then when Jesus died they were dumbfounded. The crucifixion left them confused because of their own preconceived ideas. Now they didn’t know what to believe. Doubt and fear overwhelmed the disciples.

Consequently, they were not shouting the gospel from the housetops; they were sitting silently behind locked doors. When believers doubt and fear, they are incapable of speaking up for the Lord. This explains why the church has failed to obey Christ’s command to preach the gospel to everyone since the time of Christ (Mark 16:15). It is centered around the church’s doubts and fears.

How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ doubts and fears? Does He rebuke them? Does He shame them for allowing their doubts and fears to overtake them? After all they had abandoned Him in His hour of suffering (Matthew 26:56). No. After graciously speaking “peace be with you” (John 20:19), Christ convinces them of His resurrection through a personal display of His wounds. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20a). The disciples had no concept of the nature of a resurrection body and supposed that they were seeing a “spirit” or ghost (Luke 24:37). 1  

Christ reassured them by displaying His hands which had been pierced by the nails and His side which had been pierced by the spear (John 19:34). Although Jesus now possessed a transformed glorified body, the presence of the wounds showed that He did not have a different body, but the same body.

Those scars had not been removed from his resurrection body. One day, then, all believers will see them. They will serve as eternal reminders of the cost of our redemption, and they will forever give us reason to praise him. Jesus will be the only scarred person in eternity, a perpetual reminder of the price paid for our redemption.” 2

In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus invited the disciples to touch Him showing that His resurrection body was a material body. He also asked for food to demonstrate that He was not a disembodied spirit appearing in human form. They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb and He ate it in their presence. There was no mistaking Him! It was really Jesus!

The results were something Jesus promised three nights before (John 16:22): 3  “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20b). Their fear turned into faith which was expressed through their testimony of joy. The disciples were overjoyed as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection penetrated their minds. 4

Although the disciples were afraid and filled with doubt, Jesus dealt gently with their struggles. His presence brought them peace and the personal display of His wounds convinced them He was their risen Lord.

Are you troubled or doubting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? Have you tried to shut Jesus out of your life because you are afraid or you doubt His love for you? Jesus can pass through our locked doors and give us peace. He can provide the evidence we need to overcome our doubts and fears.

The scars on Jesus’ hands and side are proof that He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead. He truly does love us and His scars serve as eternal reminders of this. I can think of no greater power to remove our fears than the perfect love of Jesus Christ. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18).

Therefore, we can boldly proclaim the love of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of His death and resurrection. Eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion. Christ gave them the evidence they needed to overcome their doubts and fears. And He can do the same for you and me. Are you willing to let Him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I must confess that I struggle with doubts and fears at times just like the ten disciples did the evening after You rose from the dead. It is easier for me to admit this struggle now after seeing how gracious You were with Your disciples that night. You did not condemn them nor scold them for having their doubts and fears. Instead, You met them where they were at (behind locked doors) and You gave them what they needed (a display of Your wounds) so they would know that it was their risen Lord. I am convinced that You still come to people when they are afraid or doubting today. And You come to them not to condemn them or scold them, but to give them the evidence that they need to know that You love them. For the disciples they needed evidence that it was really You Who rose from the dead. And the scars on Your hands and side, will serve as eternal reminders of the great cost of our salvation, and they will forever give us cause to praise You throughout eternity! Thank You, my Lord and my God, for giving us the evidence we needed to convince our doubting and fearful hearts. Please enable us to boldly proclaim Your death and resurrection to a very broken and lost world that needs to know You love them far more than what they do or don’t do. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 505.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1828.

3. 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. 565.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 365.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 10

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” John 19:30

From the beginning of human history, people have tried to remedy their sin problem through their own efforts. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they tried to remedy their sense of fear and shame by covering themselves with “fig leaves” (Genesis 3:7). But this covering did not remove the effects of their sin. Since that first attempt to remove the consequences of sin through human effort, people have been trying to remove their own guilt and shame through their own accomplishments. Various religions have been created by people trying to remedy their sin problem. But all man-made religions fall short of God’s solution to our sin problem. 

In Genesis 3:21, God graciously provided the proper covering for Adam and Eve. He “made tunics of skin” through the death of an innocent animal. Blood must be shed. Imagine how Adam must have felt to see one of the animals he had named and cared for being killed on his account! Never had Adam and Eve known death. This was serious business and this was to be God’s way of dealing with sin throughout the ages. By providing a covering with animal skins, God provided forgiveness through the “shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22). God later provided forgiveness through the Old Testament sacrificial system. 

Those animals were shadows of the Babe who was born on that first Christmas morning. He would be called “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Like that first animal that was sacrificed for Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ would also be innocent and without sin because He was and is God (John 1:1, 14, 17; 18:38; 19:4, 6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). And like that first sacrificial animal, Jesus was born to die for the sins of others (John 1:29; Romans 5:8; I John 4:9), that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Like Adam and Eve, our human efforts or works cannot remove our sin and shame (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). Religion cannot take away our sins. Only Jesus Christ can take away our sins (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Why? We will discover the answer in the next verse of our study about lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life.

In this picture that John presents we learn that WE CANNOT WORK OUR WAY TO HEAVEN BECAUSE WE CANNOT PAY A DEBT THAT IS ALREADY PAID (John 19:30). The apostle John writes, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ ” (John 19:30a). As we saw in our last lesson, Jesus’ throat and lips had become parched from the extreme loss of bodily fluids. He shouted out in agony, “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28) to fulfillthe prophecy in Psalm 69:21 (cf. John 19:28-29) and to save us from an eternal thirst (Ecclesiastes 3:11; John 4:10, 14; 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17). John then tells us Jesus “received the sour wine” which would moisten His throat and lips to proclaim the most triumphant declaration ever made: “It is finished!” He did not say, “I am finished!” as some might think. “That would mean He died defeated. No, this was not the end for Him but the beginning of a new chapter in His eternal existence.” 1

When John writes, “And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30), he is connecting us back to something Jesus said earlier. “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18). The Jews or Romans did not take Jesus’ life from Him. Christ voluntarily laid down His life for the sins of the world. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

What did Jesus mean when He said “It is finished”? The Greek word that is translated “finished” is tetelestai. Receipts in New Testament times were stamped with this word which meant that the debt had been paid in full. Jesus was saying that our sin debt was paid in full! Past, present, and future sins have all been paid for by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ (John 1:29; Revelation 1:5; 12:11).

The Bible tells us that all people have sinned against God with their thoughts, words, and actions (Romans 3:9-23). All sin incurs a debt which the sinner owes to God (Romans 6:23a). If you and I were to pay our own sin debt to God, we would have to suffer forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). But God loves us so much that He sent His only perfect Son to die in our place on the cross. “Jesus did in six hours what no human being can do in all of eternity.” 3  When Christ died on that cross, He gathered to Himself the accumulated debt of a sinful human race and offered to God the full payment for our sins – past, present, and future. Having made the payment, Jesus could say, “It is finished!” – the debt is paid in full. Jesus “paid the very last cent of the wages of our sin.” 4

Christ did not make a down payment for our sin when He died on the cross so that we must pay the remainder of our sin debt to God. God does not accept us on the basis of our good life, our keeping His commandments, our water baptism, our daily prayers, or the sacraments we have taken. We are accepted by God on the basis of the full payment for our sin debt to God when Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf. God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for our sin (I John 2:2). 

Soon after Jesus said, “It is finished!” and died, we read, “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51). “The way to God was now open. Instead of entry being restricted to the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on only one day in the year, entrance into God’s presence was now available to all who came through Christ. With the barrier of our sin taken away, we can now “draw near … through the blood of Christ” (Hebrews 10:22 with Ephesians 2:13).” 5

The verb tetelestai is in the perfect tense. This means Christ made the full payment for our sin debt when He died on the cross and it remains paid in full to the present. There is nothing a Christian can do, say, or think that can change the fact that their sin debt is paid in full today.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has forgiven all your sins – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14). The sin debt you owed to God has been “canceled.” If you struggle to believe this let me suggest an exercise for you to do. Grab a pen and paper and write down a list of your worst sins on the left side of the paper and then write “Paid in Full” next to each one. Your list may include:

Abandoning Responsibilities: Paid in Full.

Abortion: Paid in Full.

Adultery: Paid in Full.

Angry outbursts: Paid in Full.

Blasphemy: Paid in Full.

Cheating: Paid in Full.

Failure to love God above all else: Paid in Full.

Gossip: Paid in Full.

Greed: Paid in Full.

Money Laundering: Paid in Full.

Murder: Paid in Full.

Pride: Paid in Full.

Selfishness: Paid in Full.

Sex Trafficking: Paid in Full.

Theft: Paid in Full.

Unforgiveness: Paid in Full. 6

Some of you reading this may be tempted to add your own goodness to the finished work of Christ. You think that if the good in your life outweighs the bad, then you will go to heaven in the future. “After all, God only helps those who help themselves,” you say to yourself. But that saying is not found in the Bible.

Jesus anticipated you might think this way when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult [confined] is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). The way to heaven is “narrow” because it is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, not Jesus plus your good works (cf. John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus says, “there are few who find it.” The majority of people have a propensity to trust in themselves to gain acceptance before God. That is why Jesus said “there are many who go in by” the wide gate that leads to destruction. The “wide gate” is any teaching that denies faith alone in Christ alone as the only hope of heaven. Those teachings reject the full payment of all sin through Jesus Christ.

For those of us who are Christians, this has major implications in evangelism. When we communicate the gospel with non-Christians, we must be clear that all people have sinned against God and deserve to die forever in the Lake of Fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). No amount of our good thoughts, words, or actions can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).

Because Jesus finished paying the penalty for all our sins when He died in our place, that means we do not have to work for our salvation (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). All God asks of us is to believe in Jesus and His finished work on the cross as sufficient payment for our sins (John 3:14-15; 19:30). When we do, He gives us everlasting life and forgives all our sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

Those who are trusting in their good works or in Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, are telling God the Father that Jesus’ death on the cross failed to pay their sin debt in full. However, since God was forever satisfied with His perfect Son’s payment for the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:2), we must also be satisfied with what satisfies God. God cannot accept anything we do as payment for our sins because He has already accepted His Son’s payment for all of our sins when He died in our place on the cross.

We can reflect this truth in evangelism by inviting non-Christians to believe or trust in Christ alone, not Christ plus their good works, to give them a right standing before God (Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16) and everlasting life (John 3:15-16; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).

This is called grace. Grace is receiving what we do not deserve. We do not deserve forgiveness or everlasting life. But because of God’s grace, He offers us His forgiveness and everlasting life freely through Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice. Will you trust in Jesus alone to do for you what you could never do on your own? He is waiting for you to come to Him in faith just as You are and then He will forgive all your sins and give you life that never ends (Acts 10:43; John 3:15-16; 11:25-26). And then you can have the assurance that “It is finished!” Your sin debt is paid in full.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You so much for sending Your only perfect Son to pay my sin debt in full when He died on the cross. Your acceptance of His sacrifice was clearly seen when You tore the temple veil from top to bottom, signifying entrance into Your presence for those who believe in Jesus. What an amazing Savior I have. What an amazing Father I have in heaven. Thank You for the blessed assurance that my sin debt is paid in full by my great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please use me now to proclaim this incredible message to those for whom Jesus died and wants to save. To You be all the glory and praise, Father. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross: A Journey Into the Heart of Jesus (Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2002), pp. 122-123.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 350 cites J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930), pg. 630.

3. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 127.

4. Ibid., pg. 136.

5. Ibid., pg. 134.

6. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 132.