How can we endure difficult times? Part 5

“…That the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.’ ” John 18:9

In a world that seems to be increasingly filled with evil, it is important for us to seek God’s wisdom and protection. We are reminded of this today in John 18:9-11. In the first twelve verses of John 18, we are learning how to endure difficult times. So far we have discovered we can do this when we…

– Learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a).

– Look to the Lord in prayer (John 18:1b).

– Lean on the power of Christ (John 18:2-8a). 

– Listen to the command of Christ (John 18:8b).      

After Jesus commanded the well-armed army that came to arrest Him to let His disciples go their way (John 18:8b), John informs us that this fulfilled what Jesus spoke earlier in John 17:12: “that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.’ ” (John 18:9). In John 17:12, Jesus affirmed that none of His disciples were spiritually lost, except Judas, but here Christ is talking about not having lost any of His disciples physically. 1  Jesus wants to make sure His disciples would be safe before His captors lead Him away. Some suggest that this is a preview of Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross. 2  Christ preserved the lives of His disciples as He laid down His own life on their behalf.

Christ’s ability to keep His disciples physically safe in this dangerous situation validates His promise to keep them spiritually safe for eternity. If Jesus had failed to keep His disciples physically safe, His promise in John 10:28-29 would be empty and unfulfilled. 3  If Christ could not protect His disciples against the Roman soldiers and temple guards, how could He protect them from greater spiritual forces who would threaten to snatch them out of His hands eternally!?! Knowing that Christ has the ability to protect us physically in this life and eternally in the life to come, teaches us the fifth way to endure difficult times – LET CHRIST PROTECT US NOW (John 18:9-11).

Christ’s protection in this circumstance is even more amazing when we look at what happens next. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.” (John 18:10). Peter had promised He would die for the Lord earlier (John 13:37), and now he senses Jesus is in danger and he courageously comes to His defense. Peter draws “a sword” (machairan), which is a ceremonial dagger used to prepare the Passover lambs earlier 4  and strikes the high priest’s servant, cutting “off his right ear.” John is the only gospel writer who mentions the names of “Peter” and “Malchus” in this circumstance, which underscores the nature of his eyewitness account.

Peter’s actions show that he did not understand that it was necessary for Jesus to die in their place. Peter and the other ten disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (John 2:11; 13:10-11; 17:12), but they did not understand how Jesus could give them eternal life (John 2:11; 13:10-11; 17:12). They did not realize He had to pay for their sin debt in full by dying in their place on the cross and rising from the dead in order to freely give them eternal life.

It must have been a very tense moment when Malchus’ ear dropped to the ground and Peter, the fisherman, stood there facing this army with a bloody knife. Somebody needed to stop Peter before he gets himself and the other disciples killed. But it is not the army nor the army’s commander who stops Peter. It is Jesus. “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?’ ” (John 18:11). Jesus stopped Peter from attacking the rest of the army by telling him to put his “sword into the sheath.” Jesus reminds Peter and the other disciples that His arrest, trials, and death were all part of “the cup” of wrath and judgment His “Father has given” Him to drink. One writer puts it this way, “Peter had a sword in his hand, but our Lord had a cup in His hand. Peter was resisting God’s will but the Savior was accepting God’s will.” 5

Luke tells us that not only did Jesus command Peter to put the sword away, but He also picked up the ear and put it back on the servant’s head and healed him (Luke 22:51). In His moment of greatest need, Jesus has compassion for one of His enemies and heals his ear. This shows us Who Jesus really is. Even in His arrest Christ is thinking of others. Healing the servant’s ear probably saved Peter’s life. Have you ever cut off somebody’s ear trying to do what’s right for the Lord? I have. We all have. We may resist God’s will thinking that we have a better plan to deal with things than the Lord has. We can so easily try to do what we think is right and in our zeal, we do the wrong thing. Yet Jesus is there to heal and protect. Do we deserve this? No, of course not. None of us deserve His grace. But that is why it is grace – undeserved favor from our Lord.

From these verses we learn the following – Who do we look to for protection? Why not look to the Lord of lords? There are so many places in this world that we could look to for protection that we need. I’m not saying we don’t need to have locks on our doors and those practical things. But the protection most of us need is inside where we struggle. Who saves us from worry? Is it only when the circumstances get better? Jesus Christ wants to protect us from worry. Who saves us from fear? Who saves us from doubts? Jesus Christ wants to protect us from these things that rob us of the joy and peace He wants us to have. Who saves us from temptation? Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray to the Father, “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13a). Christ wants to protect us from temptation. He wants to use His power to do that.

Think of how different our lives would be if we turned to the Lord for the protection we need instead of to substitutes which always seem to disappoint us. Only the Lord can protect us at all times. Let’s look to Him for protection twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us in the Garden of Gethsemane how able You are to not only keep us safe from physical dangers in this world that is filled with evil, but spiritually safe for eternity after we believe in You alone for Your gift of everlasting life. Like Peter, we can try to take things into our own hands thinking that we have a better plan than You do, only to make matters worse. Thank You for giving us grace during those times which is often manifested by bringing healing and restoration to relationships that we have damaged. Thank You for the many times You have intervened in our lives to save us from ourselves and the foolish decisions we have made. Lord, only You can protect us at all times. Help us to turn to You for the protection we need instead of to substitutes which in the end always seem to disappoint us. Please enable us to make wise decisions that lead us down the path You want us to take. Thank You in advance for hearing our prayers. In Your safekeeping name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary [TGNTC], Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 463.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 325; Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 335.

3. Wilkin, TGNTC, pg. 463.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 319.

5. Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1., (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books), 1989, pg. 374.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 1

“Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?’ ” John 16:19

Did your parents ever tell you about your birth experience? What it was like for them? My mother informed me when I was an adult that she was in labor during her pregnancy with me for twenty-four hours and then the contractions suddenly stopped. To try to get the contractions to resume, the nurse gave her caster oil (which tastes awful) to start the labor again, but it did not work. Eventually they gave her a drug to start the contractions again, and it caused much discomfort because it was administered too fast. Since my birth was a week before Christmas, many hospital workers were gone on vacation, including my mother’s doctor. My mother said she was given an old army nurse whose bedside manner was less than to be desired. To make matters worse, my Mom said my Dad, who was a dairy farmer at that time, joked about having babies as easy as cows having calves. Such comments can be dangerous to a husband’s health!

When it was time for me to be delivered, the delivery room doctor discovered that my foot was caught in my mother’s womb, preventing me from entering the birth canal. So he had to give my mother ether before going in to pull my foot down and deliver me feet first. They had to pack my mother’s insides with gauze afterwards because she was bleeding heavily. Because of the bleeding, she had to stay in the hospital five days. Mom was in labor a total of about twenty-eight hours with me. She was very glad when I was born. She said, “The Lord erases the delivery room woes until the next time. You forget the anguish because the joy of a newborn baby overshadows the pain.

Jesus will use the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach us to endure pain so that He can transform it into joy. After all, Christians will experience pain and suffering this side of heaven. The disciples experienced sadness after Jesus announced His departure (John 16:5-6).

For believers today, our sadness may involve the many losses we experience because of COVID-19. These losses may include the death of a loved one, the loss of our own health, the loss of a job or financial security, the loss of social connections, or even the loss of a sense of control. Our sadness may be related to a broken relationship or a rebellious child. We will face circumstances in life that are painful, but Jesus offers us lasting joy amidst those painful times.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus is going to prepare His disciples for the overwhelming sorrow they are going to experience in the next few hours when they watch Him be arrested, mocked, scourged, and crucified on a cross. From Jesus’ interactions with His disciples, we will discover how He can transform our grief into gladness. How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness?

The first way is for us to ASK CHRIST TO HELP US PROPERLY UNDERSTAND HIS WORD AS IT RELATES TO OUR SITUATION (John 16:16-19). In the context, Jesus had just spoken to His disciples about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit during His absence (John 16:7-11). Christ would depart to go to His Father in heaven after His death and resurrection, and then send the Holy Spirit to them to guide them into all truth and glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14).

Then Jesus said to them, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” (John 16:16). The phrase “a little while” refers to the time interval between Jesus’ death and burial (“you will not see Me”), and His resurrection (“you will see Me”). Christ was trying to console them that He would not be gone long after His death. Three days later He would appear to them alive after His crucifixion. This last phrase, “you will see Me,” also seems to include the sending of the Holy Spirit since Jesus said, “because I go to the Father” (cf. John 14:28-29; 16:7). Jesus’ resurrection must take place first before He could go to the Father. The disciples would also see Jesus spiritually when He returned to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in them and reveal Christ to them (cf. John 14:18-21; 15:26; 16:7, 13-14).

“Then some of His disciples said among themselves, ‘What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” (John 16:17). The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant. They were confused about the time interval and seeing Jesus again because He goes to the Father.

“They said therefore, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.’ ” (John 16:18). The words “They said,” translate a verb (elegon) that is in the imperfect tense, meaning,  “They kept saying….” The disciples had a lengthy dialogue with each other about what Jesus meant by “a little while.” The disciples confess their complete ignorance to one another, but they do not confess it to the Lord Jesus. Perhaps they were too embarrassed to ask Jesus what He meant since they had recently inquired four other times (cf. John 13:36-37; 14:5, 8, 22).

“Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” (John 16:19). The Lord Jesus, being God, already “knew that they desired to ask Him” about what He meant even though they had not voiced it to Him, so He takes the initiative. He does not seek to embarrass them further.

Christ could have scolded His disciples for not understanding what He was saying. After all, He had repeatedly told them earlier that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die (Matthew 16:21; 17:12; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Luke 9:12, 22; 17:25; 22:15), yet they still did not grasp this. It was difficult for them to conceive of a Messiah who would suffer and die (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53) instead of rule over Israel’s enemies in His kingdom (Psalm 2:6-9; 68:18; 110:1; Zechariah 14:1-15). Likewise, we do not understand the totality of God’s plans recorded in the Bible. We need Jesus to help us understand the Scriptures when we are confused about something.

During my elementary and high school years, I learned the most from teachers who did not embarrass students for asking questions or misunderstanding their teaching. Their approachability encouraged me to seek a better understanding of the material they were presenting to us in class. I wanted to learn what they were teaching us because I sensed that they cared more about us than their materials. A good teacher understands that their students need them more than they need their information in class.

Jesus is a “gentle” and humble Teacher (Matthew 11:29) Who welcomes questions from His students. He cares more about His followers than any human teacher ever could. Knowing how much Jesus cares for us and loves us, motivates us to go to Him with our questions and confusion (cf. I Peter 2:2-3).

We can be a lot like the disciples who talked to one another about their confusion instead of going directly to Jesus about what He said. When we fail to understand God’s Word, how easy it is for us to  go to others first, instead of to the Lord? We may go first to a pastor, a teacher, or to commentaries and other books before we turn to the Lord for understanding. If we are going to let Christ transform our grief into gladness, we must acknowledge our pain and confusion to Him. We cannot hide our private conversations and thoughts from Jesus, because He already knows them since He is God.  As we open our hearts to Him, Christ can give us insight from His Word through His Holy Spirit to help us process our grief and confusion.

For example, in the summer of 2018 when I was seeking direction from the Lord and His answer did not come to me right away, I thought there must be some sin in my life that kept me from hearing from God. But the Lord then revealed to me why His answer was delayed.

We were visiting a church in Omaha, Nebraska, one Sunday, and the pastor was talking about spiritual warfare. In Daniel 10, when the prophet Daniel had been praying and fasting to God for three weeks, an angel of God finally came to Daniel with God’s answer (Daniel 10:1-10). The angel explained that God received Daniel’s prayer the moment he began to pray and fast (Daniel 10:11-12). But the reason why God’s answer did not come to Daniel from the angel until three weeks later was because of the battle taking place in the spiritual realm between the angels of God and the fallen angels of Satan (Daniel 10:13-14). God comforted my heart when I gained this insight from the book of Daniel. It helped me process the ache in my heart and wait on the Lord for His leading. 

It is important for us not to be be upset when we don’t understand what Jesus is doing in our lives. After all, Jesus’s first disciples were confused, and they had Jesus right there with them! Instead of avoiding Christ, choose to pursue Him in the midst of your grief and confusion. 2

The Bible tells us in Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” We can share the deep pain in our hearts with the Lord Jesus because He “is a refuge for us.” Our secrets are safe with Him. Christ will not shame us or share our burdens with others. He will walk with us through the pain so He can transform our grief into gladness once again.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how often I am so much like the disciples who talked with one another about their burdens and confusion instead of turning to You for insight. How prone I can be to wander from You when I need Your counsel. Thank You for pursuing me even when I do not pursue You. I am so appreciative that my private struggles and burdens are safe with You. Please bring to my awareness any deceptions in my heart that keep me from handing the burdens of my grief and pain over to You. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for hearing my prayers. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 329.

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

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 3

“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” John 15:21

As Christ anticipates His departure to be with His Father in heaven, He directs His eleven believing disciples to their relationship with the world (John 15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. From His instruction, we are learning how we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world.  

So far we have discovered we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world when we…

– Realize that we will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19).

– Recall what Jesus has already taught us (John 15:20).

Another way to be an effective witness for Christ is to RECOGNIZE THAT THE WORLD IS NOT OPPOSED TO YOU PERSONALLY, BUT TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST (John 15:21-25). Christ gives another reason why the world will persecute His followers. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (John 15:21). Referring to the world’s persecution of His followers, Jesus says, “All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake,” on My account, Jesus says, because you are My followers. Christ does not want His disciples to take the world’s hostility personally because the world is actually opposed to Him and His message. The world will not receive Christ in us because they did not receive Him.

How the world responds to us is more often connected to who Jesus is, not who His witnesses are, unless we are behaving carnally. The reason people rejected Christ is because “they do not know” the Father “who sent” Jesus. They were ignorant of Christ’s origin and relationship with God the Father because they were spiritually blind.

Next Jesus said,22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.” (John 15:22-24). As the Light, Jesus came into the world and exposed their sin of hating and rejecting Him. His words and works revealed His true identity as the Christ, the Son of God (cf. 5:36; 10:38; 14:11; 20:31). The miracles Jesus performed had never been done by anyone before (“works which no one else did…”).

These miraculous works unmistakably revealed that Christ was equal with the Father as God. If Christ had not come, “they would have no sin” (John 15:22, 24) or guilt for the sin of refusing to believe in Him. Refusing to believe in Jesus is the ultimate rebellion against God the Father. People cannot talk about how much they love God while simultaneously rejecting His Son. 1 To reject One is to reject the other since they are both equally God.

Their hatred of Jesus reflects their hatred toward His Father in heaven because Jesus is a perfect reflection of the Father as God. To reject Jesus is to reject God the Father because Jesus is equally God. The Jews knew they were born into sin, but the Pharisees thought they were now without sin by obeying the minute details of the law. So the world hated Christ because He exposed their sin. Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).

The world’s hatred toward Christ also fulfilled what king David wrote in Psalm 69:4 hundreds of years before Christ came to earth. “But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ ” (John 15:25). As the wicked showed their hatred for King David, so they showed hatred for the promised Son of David. 2

Jesus did not depreciate the Law, He fulfilled it. There is no reasonable basis to reject Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, because both His words and His works provide sufficient evidence to believe in His Person. Jesus is the only sinless Person to ever live because He is God (John 1:1, 14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). However, there is a touch of irony here. The men who were champions of the Law, who supposedly knew the Old Testament very well, these experts of the Law fulfilled prophecy concerning the enemies of God’s Messiah. The purpose of God was fulfilled by these religious men. 

To be an effective witness for Christ, we must accept that the world does not hate us, it hates Christ in us. Some of us may have a difficult time when hatred is directed toward us because we want people to like us. We may feel responsible for their hatred toward us. Often times if we have unresolved trauma from our past, we tend to take things more personally. It is difficult for us to separate our past trauma from our present circumstances. But as we invite Jesus to heal those past wounds, He can enable us to become more whole so we can live more in the present instead of in the past.

People in our communities may dislike us for being vocal about Jesus Christ. Religious people are often the most hateful people toward those who preach Christ crucified. This is true in America, North Korea, the Middle East, Africa, and India. Why? Because the message of the cross exposes their sinfulness and they are too proud to admit they need a Savior.

When asked, “What is keeping you from trusting Christ alone as your only way to heaven?” religious people often respond the same way another woman did when asked to write down five reasons why she couldn’t trust Christ as her only way to heaven. She wrote this:

1. Me

2. Me.

3. Me

4. Me.

5. Me.

Don’t let “me” stand in the way of coming to faith in Christ. Remember when Jesus took your place on the cross, “you” were foremost on His mind. He died for YOU! Do not let your pride keep you from trusting in the Only One who can save you from an eternity separated from God!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for opportunities to grow in my relationship with You. When I experience rejection from people, it often triggers an overwhelming emotional response inside of me. Thank You for revealing to me that much of that emotional reaction is connected to painful experiences in my past. Right now, I want to invite You to walk with me through those dark painful memories so Your healing grace can set me free from my past. I am grateful that You are showing me that people do not reject me personally, but You and Your message, when I share the gospel with them. Please help me to remember this when I encounter opposition from the world. Lord, I also want to lift up those You are drawing to Yourself. Please show them that You are equal with God the Father and that to reject You is to reject the Father. May Your Holy Spirit persuade them to believe in You alone for Your free gift of everlasting life. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1808.

2. Ibid.

3. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pp. 127-128.

How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 2

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

We are learning from John 13:31-38 how we can impact our hate-filled world for Christ. Last time we saw that we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33). The second way to impact our hate-filled world for Christ is to COMMIT TO LOVING OTHERS AS CHRIST LOVED US (John 13:34-35). In “a little while” after His death and resurrection, Jesus would be gone and ascend to His Father in heaven (John 13:33; cf. Acts 1:9). In view of His departure, Jesus’ eleven disciples may have asked themselves, “What will we do while He is gone?” Jesus now tells them.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34). The believing disciples would survive in His absence by keeping “a new commandment.” This commandment is “new” in kind. It implies freshness, the opposite of being worn out. The command to love others was not new. God instructed His people in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:39). The measure of love is what is new. Instead of loving others “as yourself,” Jesus says we are to “love one another; as I have loved you.”

Under the old commandment the standard for loving others was one’s love for self. Under the new commandment, the standard for loving others was as Christ had loved them. Jesus had just demonstrated His love by washing the disciples’ dirty feet (John 13:1-20). He did what no one else wanted to do. He put aside His own needs to minister to them. His love took the initiative. The word “love” (agapaō) refers to a commitment to do what is best for another person. This kind of love is not a feeling, it is a decision.

Do not wait for the feeling to reach out to others. Do not wait for people to reach out to you first. Take the initiative and reach out to them. This means getting involved in one another’s lives. This won’t always be fun because we will encounter dirt in ourselves and others. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He cleansed them by removing their dirt in a gracious way. He was not condemning or critical of them. He did not say, “Why did you walk in the mud or in the dirt?” He was understanding toward His followers. We also are to encourage one another to confess our sins (and we all have them – I John 1:8, 10) so we can experience God’s cleansing and healing forgiveness (James 5:16; I John 1:9). If we are to love one another as Christ loved us, we must be accepting, not accusing; compassionate, not condemning; helpful, not hateful; and loving, not loathing.

Christ’s love had brought Him from heaven’s glory to this fallen earth and made Him a servant. If we want to be leaders for God, our love for one another must lead us to be servants of one another. If we obey Jesus’ commandment to love one another, we will provide for one another what He had provided for others while He was on earth. As we love one another, Jesus’ presence will be manifested among us.

Each movement in Israel’s history had its peculiar identifying sign. “The sign that one was related to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision. The sign that one was related to Moses and the Mosaic Law was the observance of the Sabbath. The sign that one was related to John the Baptist and his message concerning the coming of the Messiah was water baptism. The sign that one was a Pharisee was that he wore a phylactery either on his forehead or upper arm. These external signs all indicated a relationship to a particular movement in Israel.” Jesus now gives His disciples a new kind of sign.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). This was not merely an external sign that could easily be imposed, but rather it was a sign that would require an inner transformation. This kind of love would be a sign to “all” people, saved and unsaved, that the Eleven were Jesus’ “disciples.” Jesus is not saying we must love one another to possess eternal life and go to heaven. We must love one another to be a disciple – a committed follower of Christ. The only condition for being a Christian is simple belief in Jesus for eternal life (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; cf. Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). Our love for one another will be the strongest evidence that we are Christ’s disciples. Jesus can be made real to a hate-filled world through our love for one another.

Notice that Jesus did NOT say that all will know we are His disciples by how much of the Bible we know. Knowing the Bible is essential, but knowledge without love means nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-3). An unloving Christian undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because “God is love” (I John 4:8). How can unsaved people come to know God Who is love – both within the Trinity and to humanity – if His followers do not love one another!?! 2

Let’s face it, immature Christians can be just as hateful as non-Christians or worse. Why would a non-Christian want to be a part of a church where Christians are attacking one another and fighting with each other? Why would they want to go to a church where they are treated as “less than” by unloving church members. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus is teaching us here. One of the reasons unbelievers are not interested in going to church is because they do not want more stress and conflict with unloving Christians.

I am convinced that one of the major reasons the church is not impacting our hate-filled world very much is because the church has not applied what Jesus is teaching us here. We have not learned to love one another as Jesus has loved us. The disciples did not deserve for Jesus to wash their dirty feet. Nor do we deserve for Jesus to cleanse us of all our sins. Many of us know in our heads that Jesus loves us unconditionally, but we have not experienced His radical love for us in the secret places of our hearts and minds where we are deeply ashamed and broken. And until we allow Jesus’ love to heal those wounded areas of our lives we will not be able to love ourselves or others in the way Christ loves us.

Take some time to be alone with the Lord Jesus. Take some deep breaths and pay attention to your soul. What are you feeling right now? Talk to the Lord about it. Is there someone in your life that you are choosing not to love? You know who I am talking about. That person you avoid like the plague because everything about him or her repulses you? Did you ever think about why they repulse you? What about them triggers you? Do they remind you of someone who has deeply hurt you? Do they remind you of something about yourself that you dislike? Invite the Lord Jesus to speak to you about this. What would He say to you? You may be pleasantly surprised when You take time to listen to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am continually amazed by Your wisdom that is revealed in the Bible. Thank You for revealing to me where You want to work in my life so I may become more loving like You. One of my weaknesses is to focus on the faults of others to avoid areas in my own life where You want me to grow. I think I do this because of fear. I am afraid of being exposed or not measuring up. Deep down inside of me I feel so unloved and unworthy. Yet You already know this and still You keep accepting me and loving me. Thank You for never giving up on me! Thank You for accepting me instead of condemning me where I struggle. Lord Jesus, I need You to show me how to love myself with Your love so I can love others as You have loved me. Our world is filled with broken and wounded people who desperately need Your radical love. Please help me to show Your love to all people, Christian or non-Christian. Thank You in advance for hearing my prayers. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 435.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1800). B & H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

How can we recover from rejection? Part 5

“Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.” John 13:26

Before we address the next way to overcome rejection, it is important to understand the cultural situation. “In first-century Palestine the triclinium was coming into use. A triclinium was a low, rectangular dining table around which couches were arranged on three of the four sides. The fourth side, the ‘foot’ of the table, was left open so that food could be served. Guests would eat in a reclining position around the table. A cushion would be provided for the left arm. The right arm would then be free to reach for food on the low table. Of the three positions around the table, the middle position (opposite the ‘foot’ of the table) was regarded as the most honorable. It was here at the ‘head’ of the table that the principal guests would recline.” 1  Laney writes, “It is safe to assume that Jesus would be situated at the head of the table as the principal guest. To His right and left were the principal places of honor (cf. Mark 10:35-37). To His right, in the place of special honor reclined the apostle John (John 13:23) On His left, in the next highest place, was Judas, the betrayer (13:26).” 2

With this in mind, we are prepared to look at the fifth way to recover from rejection: LEAN ON JESUS FOR HIS POWER TO FORGIVE (John 13:22-26). After Jesus announced to His disciples that one of them would betray Him (John 13:21), we read, “Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.” (John 13:22). Jesus’ announcement about His betrayer took the disciples by surprise. They could not imagine any of them betraying the Lord. No one suspected Judas. He had covered his tracks very well.

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23). John informs us that “one of His disciples whom Jesus loved” is described as “leaning on Jesus bosom.” This disciple “whom Jesus loved,” is identified in John 21:20, 24, as the author of the gospel of John, the apostle John.

John experienced an intimacy with Christ that arose through his obedience to Christ. He writes later that those who are closer to the Lord through obedience, receive a special intimate love from Him: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). There is a sense in which John is closer to Jesus through obedience and this can be seen in his writings. When we obey the Lord Jesus, He discloses more of Himself to us, including His love.

“Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.” (John 13:24). Peter was overcome with curiosity to know the identity of Jesus’ betrayer. Maybe Peter’s loyalty to Christ was coming out now and he wanted to take preventive measures. Luke 22:38 says Peter had access to two swords. John and Judas were reclining next to Jesus, but Peter’s position at the table was not close enough to Jesus to ask Him privately, so he asked John to ask Jesus to identify the traitor.

“Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ ” (John 13:25). John was relining next to Jesus on His right so all he had to do was lean back on Jesus’ chest and ask Him, “Lord, who is it?” By leaning back in this way, he could speak very quietly and still be heard by Jesus. Both Peter and John are concerned for Jesus’ well-being.

“Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.” (John 13:26). Christ tells John that He will identify His betrayer by giving him “a piece of bread”that He has “dipped.” “The dipping of a piece of bread was a significant part of the Passover ritual. In the course of the paschal meal, the master of the feast would pick up some unleavened bread, which was a flat cake. He would put bits of lamb on the piece of bread, sprinkle some bitter herbs on it, and then roll it. Then he would dip the bread containing the meat and herbs into a bitter sauce. This bread would then be handed to a guest. The ritual would be repeated until a piece of bread had been provided for each guest…

“The lamb anticipated God’s Lamb, who would provide God’s salvation for sinners. In preparing the bread with the meat and herbs dipped in sauce, the master of the feast was reminding the participants of God’s promise to provide salvation. In receiving the piece of bread, each participant acknowledged his sin. Each also reaffirmed his faith in God’s promises that He would send a Messiah to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and each professed his willingness to receive salvation which Messiah would offer…

“It is significant that Christ gave the first piece of bread to Judas Iscariot (John 13:26). It was customary to offer the first piece to the most honored guest at the feast… This was an evidence of the love and the grace of the Lord, who knew what was in Judas’ heart before the seats were assigned around the table. Further it is to be noted that since the giving of the bread was in effect an offer of salvation, Christ was offering forgiveness to Judas if he would accept the offered salvation and put his faith in Him. This was grace exemplified. Perhaps no greater demonstration of the love and the grace of Christ can be found anywhere in Scripture than in this scene, for the One who would be betrayed was offering the betrayer forgiveness of sin if he would accept it.” 3

Even though Jesus had been deeply hurt knowing that Judas would betray Him, He still lovingly offered Judas His forgiveness. Similarly, if we are to recover from rejection by others, we too must offer forgiveness to those who have rejected us. Refusal to forgive others hurts us more than those who reject us. Refusal to forgive our offenders leads to bitterness. And bitterness builds a wall around our lives because no one likes to be around a cynic – someone who is always resentful and complaining.

Jesus wants to teach us to be a better person, not a bitter person. Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to those who reject us. We can choose to focus on our feelings or we can choose to focus on the truth. The truth is we are to be “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave” us (Ephesian 4:32). Forgiveness keeps our hearts tender and sensitive to the Lord and others. We cannot do this in our own strength. We must lean on Jesus’ power to enable us to forgive those who have deeply hurt us. The moment we choose to obey God and forgive our betrayers, God will supply us with the power to do exactly that. Remember, we also have caused hurt to others by rejecting them. We also have sinned against others, especially God. The more we realize our own need for forgiveness, the more forgiving of others we will become.

It is important to understand that forgiving someone does not mean you trust him or her. You can forgive someone in a moment based upon Christ’s positional forgiveness of you (Ephesians 1:7; 4:32), but trusting that person will take time. Trust must be earned from the person who betrayed or rejected you. For example, a Christian wife is commanded to respect her wayward husband, but she is not commanded to trust him (I Peter 3:1-6). He must earn her trust.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my heart was deeply touched by Your final offer of grace and forgiveness to Judas the night before Your death on the cross! Even though You knew his actions in advance, You did not stop loving him. I am reminded that all of us are like Judas in that we have betrayed You with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. And all of us, like Judas, desperately need Your forgiveness for all the times we have betrayed you. Thank You for extending Your forgiving grace to me. Please help me to extend this forgiveness to others who have rejected me. I pray Your Spirit will also enable others to forgive me for the wounds I have caused them. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody, 1987), pg. 247; J. Robert Teringo, The Land and People Jesus Knew (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985), pg. 53.

2.   J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 246.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pp. 430-431.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 3 (Video)

This is the third 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 third miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the healing of a lame man (John 5:1-9).

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 John Paul Stanley/ www.YoPlace.com/ www.FreeBibleimages.org, and www.GoodSalt.com. 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/.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 2 (Video)

This is the second 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 second miracle Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee involving a nobleman’s son who was near death.

All Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from David Padfield/ www.FreeBibleimages.org,  www.GoodSalt.com, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.FreeBibleimages.org. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 2

“To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name.” John 10:3ab

A second reason why we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd is because HE HAS THE DOORKEEPER’S CONFIRMATION (John 10:3a). “To him the doorkeeper opens.”  (John 10:3a). “The doorkeeper” watches several flocks at night and then opens the door to the fold in the morning for the authorized shepherd to enter.

I believe the identity of the doorkeeper in the gospel of John is John the Baptist. He opened the door for Jesus to enter the fold of Israel as their True Shepherd. John identified himself as “‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23). He points to Jesus and says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). As Jesus’ popularity increased, John pointed his jealous disciples to Jesus and said, “He must increase [in popularity], but I must decrease [in popularity].” (John 3:30). Then He pointed to Jesus’ greatness in His origin – “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31a), in His teaching – “33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:33-34), and in His gift – “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

John did not introduce one of the Pharisees or Sadducees to the nation of Israel as a shepherd, but rather John condemned them and their legalistic systems. Nor did John introduce some other religious leader as the True Shepherd. Instead, John the Baptist introduced Jesus Christ as the True Shepherd because He came through the door of the Messianic prophecies (John 10:2). He opens the door of Israel to Jesus so He can call His sheep out of the fold.

The third reason why we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd is because HE HAS PERSONAL CONCERN FOR EACH OF US (John 10:3b). “…and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name.” (John 10:3b). There are many different flocks in the fold. When the shepherd comes to retrieve his flock in the morning, his sheep “hear his voice.” The word “hear (akouō) refers to “attentive appreciation.” The sheep are familiar with their shepherd’s tone of voice. This tone of voice makes the sheep want to follow their shepherd. Why? Because “He calls his own sheep by name.” A shepherd would give names to each of his sheep based on the sheep’s behavior or appearance. He might have a Tiger, a Blacky, a Sleepy, etc. The shepherd had a tender affection for each of his sheep.

Likewise, our true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, knows each of us intimately. He knows our likes and dislikes. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows everything about us and yet He still loves us. The fact that He knows me and still loves me answers some of the fundamental questions that I have: “Does God know me? Does He know I exist? Does He care about my problems or are they too unimportant for Him?” 

Nothing is too unimportant for God. Matthew 10:30 says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Psalm 145:8-9 instructs us, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Circle “all.” That includes everyone. God knows me and still loves me. His love for us is not based on whether we respond to it or not. God is love. His love is unconditional. No strings attached. God would love us as if there were only one of us to love. The Bible teaches that God feels for each of us and loves us. When God is loving you right now He does not stop loving you. That’s the way it works.

As a parent, when you are videotaping your kids, maybe in a school play or in a church choir,  and you zoom in just on your child? You just want to see your son or daughter. That’s what God does with each of us. He zooms in on you as an individual because you are important to Him. You may be checking this whole Christianity thing out today. You’re thinking “I’m going to come in a crowd, because I can hide in this crowd and investigate Christianity.” You can hide in this crowd but you can’t hide from God. You think you are a seeker but God is also seeking you out.

Jesus loves you. He knows you. He knows your pain. He knows your past. He knows your sin. You don’t have to hide from Jesus. You don’t have to work so hard to cover up your sins and shortcomings. Jesus knows them already and He still loves you and cares about you. When you know someone loves you deeply, you are more inclined to trust him or her.

The problem for many of us is we have been disappointed by false shepherds in the religious community who cared more about themselves than God’s people. If you have come out of a Pharisaic system, perhaps you were mistreated by religious leaders. Maybe they shamed you and placed burdens on you that were too difficult to carry. They cared more about your performance and outward appearance than they did about what was going on inside of you. Consequently, you have a difficult time trusting anyone connected with Christianity or anything religious.

Jesus, the True Shepherd, knows everything about you and He longs to be in a personal relationship with you. Jesus is calling you by your name. Can you slow down enough to hear Him? He wants to heal you of the wounds that were inflicted upon you by religious leaders who cared only about themselves. Since you were wounded in the context of relationships, your healing will also take place in the context of relationships. Only this time, Jesus will facilitate your healing in the context of loving relationships within His family. Are you willing to give Jesus a chance? He is waiting to hear from you. He will not force His way into your life. His love gives you the freedom to choose. You can choose to do life on your own or you can invite Jesus to be a part of your healing journey. I pray you will choose Jesus.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my True Shepherd, I am so glad You called me by my name after I gave up on religion. I was disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the religious establishment that I grew up in. I perceived You to be a cold and distant deity because of my experiences with religious leaders. I was taught that God is love but I was bad, and I had to try harder to follow Him if I was going to make it to heaven. The good in my life had to be much greater than the bad if I was going to be accepted by You. Even though I thought I was too bad for anyone to love me, including You, You still pursued me and called me by my name. Thank You for never giving up on me, Lord Jesus. I am so grateful that Your Word exposed the many lies that kept me from trusting You as my True Shepherd. Thank You for Your people who loved me despite my many failures and sins. Knowing how much You love me enabled me to trust You for life that never ends. Now I want You to use me to share Your love with those who have given up on religion because of the wounds inflicted upon them by religious establishments. Please help them to discover that You are the True Shepherd Who knows them intimately and wants them to know You in the same way. In Your powerful and loving name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 2

They said to the blind man again, ‘What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ ” John 9:17

In our study of the man born blind, we are learning how to overcome spiritual blindness. Last time we discovered the first symptom of spiritual blindness is to deny your own sinfulness by focusing on man-made traditions (John 9:13-16a). The first solution is to digest the facts about Jesus (John 9:16b-17). Today we learn the second way to overcome spiritual blindness is to DEVELOP A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF JESUS’ IDENTITY (John 9:17).

The blind man’s neighbors question him further to help resolve the dispute among the Pharisees. “They said to the blind man again, ‘What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ ” (John 9:17). They would not normally question an illiterate beggar but because he did know what happened they want to know what the former blind man concluded about Jesus. He boldly said, “He is a prophet.” Apparently, his gratitude for Jesus’ healing was greater than any fear he had toward the Pharisees. This is more than what he said earlier when he referred to his healer as “a Man called Jesus” (John 9:11). The former blind man places Jesus in the highest position he knew – that of a “prophet.” Christ performed an extraordinary miracle like that of a prophet of God. Like some of the Pharisees, the former blind man honestly assessed the facts about Christ and concluded that He was much more than a sinner. Jesus was an agent of God empowered by God.

Many non-Christians need more than one exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The number of times they need to hear the gospel is often proportional to their starting point. For example, a Roman Catholic may only need to hear the gospel once because Catholicism already believes that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose from the dead. But they do not understand that all a person must do to receive everlasting life is to believe in Jesus alone. They have been taught they must also do good works to get to heaven.

On the other hand, a Muslim may need to hear the gospel several times and in different ways because they have been taught that Jesus is merely a prophet who did not die on a cross nor rise from the dead. They also believe the Bible is corrupt and cannot be trusted, so they may need to investigate the historical evidence of Christianity before they are ready to believe in Jesus alone as their only hope of heaven. Both Christians and Muslims believe God is one, but the Muslim will need to decide is He Allah or Jesus? You cannot believe what you do not know.

We see throughout John chapter 9 that the man born blind continues to grow in his knowledge about Jesus. We must be patient with non-Christians and help them progress in their thinking until they see Christ as the Giver of eternal life (John 9:35-38; cf. 4:10-26; 20:31).

The second symptom of  spiritual blindness is to DISBELIEVE THE FACTS ABOUT JESUS (John 9:18-20). When the bind man said Jesus was a prophet (John 9:17), the Pharisees were unwilling to accept this praise of Christ, so they tried to obtain evidence to deny that the miracle even happened. John writes, “But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight.” (John 9:18). The spiritually blind Pharisees refused to believe that the man had been blind and was now cured until they spoke with the man’s parents.

If this man had been blind and could now see, then a miracle had taken place and they would not be able to deny that Jesus was from God. To deny this miracle, they summon the former blind man’s parents. “And they asked them, saying, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ ” (John 9:19). Either this man was blind and now he sees or they assert that this man cannot be their blind son because this man can see. If he is the man born blind, the Pharisees want to know “How then does he now see?”

The Pharisees do not believe the identity of the man until the parents tell them. “His parents answered them and said, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind.’ ” (John 9:20). Sometimes we may need to hear the truth from more than one person. Jesus will be more than glad to provide us with additional witnesses to the truth about Him.  

When I was a young believer in a “Christian” college, I had a New Testament professor who tried to deny the miracles of Jesus Christ by offering rationalistic explanations. For example, when the Bible says Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two sardine-sized fish (John 6:1-13), my professor said when the young lad donated his meal for Jesus to use, the rest of the people pulled out their lunches so that after everyone was done eating, there were many baskets full of leftovers. When the Bible said Jesus walked on water (John 6:15-21), my professor said Christ walked on a sandbar just underneath the water so that it “appeared” as though He was walking on water. In both accounts where the Bible clearly describes a supernatural miracle by Jesus, my professor disbelieved the biblical data to deny the supernatural power of Jesus Christ. Why do people do this? Perhaps it is because they don’t want to be accountable to God and accept His assessment of their sinful lives. If Jesus is God, then they must humbly admit their sinfulness and then believe or trust in Christ alone to save them.

What about you? Do you refuse to believe Jesus is God simply because someone told you He is not God? It may have been a professor or imam or monk or priest or parent or peer. But is that sufficient grounds for rejecting the Person Who claimed to be the Eternal I AM? Have you taken time to investigate the historical evidence about Jesus Christ before you come to a decision about His identity? If not, why? What keeps you from discovering more about Jesus?

The man born blind did not know all the facts about the One Who restored his sight, but what he did know was he was once blind, but now he sees. What about you? What do you know about Jesus Christ? What do you need from Him to believe He is Who He said He was – the Messiah, the Son of God, Who gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him (John 4:25-26; 9:35-38; 11:25-27; 20:31)? Jesus will gladly meet you where you are at to reveal Himself to you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, before I believed You are the Christ, the Son of God, Who gives everlasting life to all who believe in You, I thought You were a good moral teacher who lived a life worth imitating. Gradually, however, You revealed more and more of Yourself to me through the Bible, my circumstances, and other people so I could no longer conclude You were simply a good moral teacher. Your words and Your works led me to one conclusion – You are the Messiah-God, and You alone could save me from my sins forever and give me everlasting life the moment I believed in You. No one else compares to You. Precious Lord, there are millions of people who do not know or believe the truth about You yet. They were born spiritually blind and they remain that way because they refuse to believe the facts about You. Their hearts are blinded by the father of lies. I pray in Your name that God the Holy Spirit will persuade them to believe in You as the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have life in Your name alone. There may be some in the world who have made this decision to believe in You, but because of their fear of family or their religious community, they have kept that decision a secret. Lord, You know who those people are and You can be their Provider, Teacher, and their Guide. Please bless, teach, and provide for them so they can become all You created them to be. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.   

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 1

“Therefore some of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ ” John 9:16

A woman named Rose Crawford had been blind for 50 years. “I just can’t believe it!” she gasped as the doctor lifted the bandages from her eyes after her recovery from delicate surgery in an Ontario hospital. She wept for joy when for the first time in her life a dazzling and beautiful world of form and color greeted eyes that now were able to see. The amazing thing about the story, however, is that twenty years of her blindness had been unnecessary. She didn’t know that surgical techniques had been developed, and that an operation could have restored her vision at the age of thirty. The doctor said, “She just figured there was nothing that could be done about her condition. Much of her life could have been different.” 1

Why did she continue to assume that her situation was hopeless? Had no one told her about the wonderful advances in eye surgery? Then I thought of the plight of those unreached by the gospel. How many will go on living in spiritual blindness unless we bring them to the Savior? Millions will never know anything but spiritual darkness because no one has shared with them the Light that has come into the world.

All people are born spiritually blind to Jesus Christ because the devil has blinded them to their need for Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). The next few days we will see how spiritual blindness expresses itself and how one can overcome spiritual blindness. We will look at the symptoms of spiritual blindness and the solutions to spiritual blindness. 

In John 9:1-12, when Jesus, as “the Light of the world,” gave physical sight to the man born blind, it caused many mixed reactions. “They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees.” (John 9:13). “They” refers to the blind man’s neighbors – those who were close to him (cf. John 9:8). The neighbors of the blind man brought him to the religious experts, “the Pharisees,” hoping they could explain what happened. The problem with this decision to go to the Pharisees is that these men were spiritually blind.

“Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” (John 9:14). John points out that Jesus healed the blind man on the “Sabbath,” a troublesome issue to those who are spiritually blind. “Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.’ ” (John 9:15). The Pharisees again asked the man born blind “how” Jesus had healed him to discredit Christ’s healing grace.

When the man born blind told them the facts, some of the Pharisees concluded “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” (John 9:16a). They concluded that Jesus is not from God” because He did not keep the Sabbath according to their understanding of keeping the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus did not live up to their spiritual standards. The Pharisees strictly followed Jewish traditions about the Law, not just the Law Itself. Jewish tradition developed a long list of things that could not be done on the Sabbath in an attempt to keep the Law’s command not to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).

The first symptom of spiritual blindness is to DENY YOUR OWN SINFULNESS BY FOCUSING ON MAN-MADE TRADITIONS (John 9:13-16a). The Pharisees concluded that Jesus could not be from God because He did not obey their man-made Sabbath laws which forbid mixing saliva with clay. That was considered work. Their adherence to legalistic traditions blinded them to the miracle of the blind man’s healing. But Jesus focused on meeting this man’s “real” need rather than focus on keeping their rules and formulas.

Those who are spiritually blind do not want to admit their own sinfulness and need for a Savior. So, they focus on the performance of others because it will make them look good and help them avoid their own sense of guilt and shame. By focusing on the performance of others, they can avoid the performance of Jesus Christ when He died for their sins on the Cross (I Corinthians 15:3-4). This preoccupation with man-made traditions enables them to avoid the scrutiny of the Cross which reveals the only way to obtain acceptance before a holy God. Today, following religious traditions keeps many people from understanding the simplicity and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is the solution to this aspect of spiritual blindness? Look in the next part of verse 16. “Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.’ ” (John 9:16b). Others among the Pharisees knew that a sinner could not perform such a miraculous sign. Only someone from God could conduct such a supernatural healing. Perhaps Nicodemus was among this group of learners (cf. 3:2). The first solution to spiritual blindness, then, is to DIGEST THE FACTS ABOUT JESUS (John 9:16b-17). These observers realized that an ordinary person (“a sinner”) was not capable of performing such a creation miracle as this. This man was born blind and needed God to intervene to create the physical sight that he had never possessed. Only God can create something out of nothing.

To overcome spiritual blindness, an individual must honestly assess the facts about Jesus Christ. His life and miracles point to His origin as being from God. Only God could give physical sight to a man born blind. People who are dishonest with the facts about Jesus are seeking to avoid concluding that He is God. For if Jesus is not God, then they do not need to admit their sin against Him and believe or trust in Him alone for their salvation.

The blind man’s neighbors question him further to help resolve the dispute among the Pharisees. “They said to the blind man again, ‘What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ ” (John 9:17). They would not normally question an illiterate beggar but because he did know what happened they want to know what the former blind man concluded about Jesus. He boldly said, “He is a prophet.” Apparently, his gratitude for Jesus’ healing was greater than any fear he had toward the Pharisees. This is more than what he said earlier when he referred to his healer as “a Man called Jesus” (John 9:11). His understanding of Jesus is growing. Eventually the man born blind would believe that Jesus was “the Son of God” (John 9:35-38).

Some of you reading this article may be spiritually blind and you do not even know it. Perhaps you have been focusing on the performance of others who do not measure up to your religious standards. You are quick to say they are sinners or infidels because they do not dress, pray, eat, or worship like you do, and you conclude that they are unclean or evil. Have you ever considered why you do this? Is it possible that by focusing on the religious performance of others you are able to avoid your own shortcomings and sinfulness? And more importantly, you are able to avoid what Jesus Christ did on the Cross?

For you see, if you were to focus on what Jesus Christ did for you on the Cross, you would be confronted with your own sinfulness. The Bible tells us that the gospel by which we are saved is “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3). Jesus did not die because He did something wrong. He died in our place as our Substitute for our sins “according to the Scriptures.” The prophet Isaiah prophesied this hundreds of years before the Romans invented crucifixion when he wrote, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Why did Jesus die on a Cross? The Bible tell us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). All of us deserve to die or be separated from God forever. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). The penalty for our sin is death or separation from God. Jesus took what was causing us to die – our sin – and He died in our place on a Cross so we could live.

Let me explain with an illustration I was taught by evangelist Larry Moyer who founded EvanTell, a wonderful evangelistic ministry dedicated to keeping the gospel clear and simple (see www.evantell.org). Suppose you are in a hospital dying of cancer. I come to you and say, “Let’s take the cancer cells from your body and put them into my body.” If that were possible, what would happen to me? Yes, I would die. But what would happen to you? Yes, you would live. I would die in your place.

The Bible is telling us that Jesus Christ took what was causing us to die – our sin – and placed it on Himself and died in our place so we could live. Three days later, Jesus came back to life to prove that sin and death had been defeated and that Christ’s claims to be God were true. In order for us to live eternally, we must simply believe or trust in Jesus alone Who died in our place and rose from the dead, to give us everlasting life. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15).

Instead of focusing on the religious performance of others to avoid your own sinfulness or to avoid the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross for you, take a moment before God in prayer to admit your need for Him.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you right now admitting that I have been running from You by focusing on the shortcomings of others. I was afraid to admit my own sinfulness to You for fear that You would punish me. For years I believed that You were merely a prophet and a good moral teacher. I hated You and Your followers. But now I am realizing that Your miracles and teachings point to You as Someone Who is far more than a prophet or teacher. You are God in human flesh because only God could do and say the things You did. As much as I know how, Lord Jesus, I believe You took my punishment for my sins when You died on the Cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone (not my religion, my prayers, or my good life), to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You Jesus for the forgiveness and everlasting life I now have. Thank You for hearing my prayer. In Your name. Amen.

To learn more about your new relationship with Jesus, please visit www.seeyouinheaven.life or www.knowing-Jesus.com.

ENDNOTE

1. http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/illustrations/spiritual-blindness-11544395.html on 1-3-2017).