How can we find peace under pressure? Part 4

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ ” John 14:6

We live in a world today that teaches there are many different ways to God. Many people insist that all religions lead to the same God (Universalism). Is this true? The God of the Bible has told us Himself  that “besides Me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). If God had said there are many ways to Himself, then, yes, there are many ways to Him. But He has not said that. He says that He alone is the “savior.” 

In our verses today, the Lord Jesus Christ makes it very clear that He is the only way to God the Father in heaven. This is essential for us to understand if we are going to find peace under pressure. So far we have learned that we can find peace under pressure by focusing on Jesus’ promises of peace of heart, a prepared place in heaven, and His presence in heaven. The fourth and final way is to focuson Jesus’ PROMISE OF A PREPARED PATH TO HEAVEN (John 14:4-6) for those who believe in Him.

Christ makes it clear in response to Thomas’ question that for anyone to enjoy the prepared place in heaven, he must know the prepared path to heaven. “And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:4). Jesus affirms that the disciples “know” both “where” Jesus is going and “the way” to get there. Throughout His ministry Jesus had taught His disciples the way to heaven.

Now Peter had an answer to his question, “Lord, where are You going?” (John 13:36a). Christ was going to His Father’s house. Even though He must first go alone, He would return and take them to His Father’s House where they would be with Him forever. This seems to have satisfied Peter as he asked no further questions. But Thomas did not fully understand what Jesus was saying.

“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’ ” (John 14:5). Thomas did not understand Jesus’ reference to His Father’s House. Thomas renews the doubt about Jesus’ destination including the path that would take one there. Thomas was honest and uninhibited as he expresses his confusion. Jesus had said they could not come with Him at this time (John 13:33, 36b). How then can they know the way?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ ” (John 14:6). Since Jesus is going to the Father’s House, He now makes it clear that He is “the way” to His Father’s home. Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his lack of understanding and we must not either. We are to be gracious with those who may not see things as we do.

The Lord explains to Thomas, “I am the way” to My Father’s House. Jesus did not say He was “a way” to heaven, leaving open the possibility of other ways to heaven which is commonly taught today. There is only one “way” to heaven and that is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (John 3:5, 15-16; 10:9; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-5).

Many people today think there is more than one way to God. They are placing their trust in people or religions that will only lead to eternal destruction (cf. Matthew 7:13-23). Jesus warned His disciples that there are many “false prophets” (Matthew 7:15) who stand in front of the “broad… way” that “leads into destruction” (Matthew 7:13). These false prophets are dressed in “sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) and appear to be Christians.

But Jesus will refuse to let them into heaven because they were trusting in their confession of Jesus’ lordship (“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ ”Matthew 7:21) and their works that they did in Jesus’ name for His glory (“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’” – Matthew 7:22). They were not permitted entrance into “the kingdom of heaven” because they failed to do “the will of” the “Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21) which is believing in Christ alone for everlasting life: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40; cf. Matthew 18:3; 21:31-32).

Jesus said you may know these false prophets by “their fruits” (Matthew 7:16-20) which are their “words,” not their works (Matthew 12:33-37). Any teacher who says you can go to heaven through some other way than faith alone in Christ alone, is a false prophet and must be avoided (cf. I Timothy 6:3-5).

When Jesus said, “I am the truth,” He is referring to the truth about the Father. Even though the disciples may have felt strange going to His Father’s House because they had not met the Father, yet since they knew Jesus, they did know the Father as well because Jesus and the Father “are one” (John 10:30). To see and know Jesus was to know and see the Father because Jesus is the perfect reflection of the Father as God the Son (John 14:7-11; cf. 1:1; 12:44-45).

As “the truth,” we can believe in Christ’s promise of everlasting life to those who believe in Him (John 3:15-16; 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26) because He never tells a lie. He is always faithful to keep His promises.

When Jesus said,“I am the life,” He was saying that He is the only Person who can provide “the life” or relationship (John 1:4, 12; 5:21; 17:3) that is needed to come to the Father’s House. Jesus claims that He is the exclusive way to the Father, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The path to heaven is a Person – Jesus Christ Himself. You can begin a personal relationship with Him simply by believing in Him alone for His free gift (John 3:15-16; 17:3).

Jesus’ claims in this verse are very personal. Jesus did not merely claim to know “the way, the truth, or the life” as if it is some formula to give to the ignorant. He claims to be “the way, the truth, and the life.”

One continuing concern about American tax structure is the problem of loopholes. Some people spend more time looking for loopholes than they do figuring how much tax they owe. Corporations hire experts to look for legal ways to avoid taxes – and they find them. The result for the U.S. government is the loss of millions of dollars – all because of loopholes.

Some people develop a “loophole mentality” in their relationship to God. For example, when comedian W. C. Fields (1880-1946) was on his deathbed, a visitor found him reading the Bible. Asked what he was doing, he replied, “Looking for loopholes, my friend. Looking for loopholes.” 1

The Bible says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and that we must believe in Him alone as our Savior (John 3:15-16; 10:9; 14:6). But some people secretly feel that when they die and stand before the judgment seat they will find some other way to get in. They refuse to believe the Bible’s teaching that salvation is through Christ alone (John 3:5, 15-16; 14:6; Acts 4:12) and that eternal punishment awaits those who reject Christ (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15). They have convinced themselves that they will somehow escape the final judgment and its terrible consequences.

But they are wrong. Jesus is the only “way” to heaven. According to Jesus Christ, there are no other ways to God the Father. You may ask, “What right does Jesus have to make such an exclusive claim?” The Bible affirms that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power… by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The proof that Jesus rose from the dead was that He was seen alive after His death by over five hundred eyewitnesses (I Corinthians 15:5-8).

The resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of history. Thomas Arnold authored a three-volume history of Rome and was appointed to Oxford’s Chair of Modern History. Concerning the evidence behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he said, “I have been used for years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than that Christ died and rose from the dead.”  2 

The early followers of Jesus made it clear that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) other than Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:10-11). The Bible, God Himself, and His followers teach that there is only one way to God and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ. To believe or teach something else means you must deal with the authority of the Bible and the credibility of Jesus Christ. 3

If you have never understood and believed this, listen to what God says in Isaiah 45:22: “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” God the Son, Jesus Christ, now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone to save you from eternal death and give you His free gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). When you believed in Jesus, the Bible says you can “know” you have eternal life. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13).

When you believe in Christ, He comes to live inside of you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39; Romans 5:5; 8:9-11; I Corinthians 6:19; 12:13; Galatians 3:2; 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14). Then you can begin to experience His promise of peace of heart and look forward to a prepared place in heaven where you can enjoy His presence forever unhindered by sin and shame. But it all begins when you realize and accept that the only way to heaven is through a Person – Jesus Christ Himself.

If you have never made the decision to believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, you can do so right now because there are no loopholes. You can simply tell God through prayer that you are now believing in His Son, Jesus Christ, as your only hope of heaven.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I come to You now as a sinner who deserves to be separated from You forever. I now realize that You are the only way to heaven. You proved this through Your words and works, the greatest of which was when You died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead. Lord Jesus, I am now believing or trusting in You alone (not my religion, my prayers, or my good life) to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and the future home I will have in heaven. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.

If you just believed in Jesus as your only hope of heaven, we would love to hear from you. Simply send a message to us through the “Contact Us” page. To grow in your new relationship with Jesus Christ, please explore this website or www.knowing-jesus.com. Thank you, and may Jesus richly bless you.

ENDNOTES:

1. See Our Daily Bread, October 5, 2002 – https://odb.org/2002/10/05/looking-for-loopholes/.

2. Arnold Thomas, Sermons on the Christian Life – Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed. (London: T. Fellowes, 1859), pg. 324.

3. See EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 776.

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/.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 6

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that every verse is God-breathed or from God’s mouth. Every verse is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John, we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

The sixth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is so we may DISCOVER CHRIST’S COMPASSION (John 11:28-37). Jesus has arrived at the grave side of Lazarus. He has already spoken with one of Lazarus’ grieving sisters, Martha, and now He converses with the other sister, Mary. In His conversation with Mary, Jesus shows sensitivity to her specific need. Whereas Martha needed instruction to cope with her loss, Mary needed an understanding friend to weep with her.

Martha secretly informs Mary that Jesus had arrived and was calling for her. “And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, ‘The Teacher has come and is calling for you.’ ” (John 11:28). Jesus was reaching out to her. This message was given in secret so Jesus could have a private conversation with Mary to comfort and instruct her. Martha refers to Jesus as “the Teacher,”not “a Teacher.” Christ is the only teacher of His kind. His three years of ministry had accomplished more than the combined one hundred thirty years of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Only Christ can save a soul from hell. Philosophy… art… literature… music and science cannot accomplish that! Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can give eternal life to those who are spiritually dead. He alone can grant everlasting peace to the human heart.

Jesus wanted to teach Mary about what He could do in her situation. He wanted to show her that she could trust Him while she dealt with her pain. The Lord uses disappointments in our lives to teach us.

29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.” (John 11:29-30). Jesus waited outside the village because He wanted privacy with Mary. Perhaps He also wanted to be closer to Lazarus’ tomb. “Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, ‘She is going to the tomb to weep there.’ ” (John 11:31). The secrecy of Martha was of no avail as these Jews followed Mary thinking that she was going to the tomb to grieve.

“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:32). Nothing is said of Martha falling at Jesus’ feet, but Mary does. Like Martha, Mary expresses her anger and disappointment to Jesus. She is hurting because Lazarus’ life ended too soon. Mary blames Jesus for this. “You could have prevented this from happening, Lord!” She says no more than this and then weeps.

“Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:33). Unlike the Greek gods who were apathetic and lacking emotion, we see Jesus is quite the opposite. Jesus connected with the emotions of others. Christ’s own emotions swelled up inside of Him as He observes the pain and sorrow of death. The word “groaned” (enebrimēsato) is used to describe an angry or indignant attitude. Perhaps Jesus was angry with the consequences of sin (death is the penalty of sin – Romans 6:23). He may have been agitated with the misery that Lazarus’ death had caused His friends. Or maybe He was irritated by the unbelief of Mary and the Jewish mourners who did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection power.           

Christ was not apathetic or indifferent to the grief of others. He was sensitive to the feelings of those around Him. “And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ ” (John 11:34). Christ wanted directions to the tomb because He knew what He was about to do.

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). Martha had testified that Jesus is fully God (John 11:27; cf. 1:1), and now Jesus’ tears testified that is also fully human (John 1:14). Two natures in one Person, unmixed forever. Even though Christ knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, He grieved with the pain and sorrow as well as the death-dealing effects of sin on those He loves. The Bible tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). 

Jesus did not hide His emotions. He was spontaneous with them. This word “wept” (edakrysen), is a quiet form of weeping compared to the loud form of weeping by Mary and the mourners surrounding her. Jesus knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He is sad that Mary and the mourners were so distressed. He has compassion for those who are hurting.

One of the best things we can do for those who are grieving is to cry with them. No speeches. No exhortation or Bible study. Just being there for them speaks volumes to the person who is grieving. Jesus understood how Mary and the mourners felt. He had lost John the Baptist by this time. And Jesus understands how we feel today when we lose someone close to us. He weeps with those who weep. He does not say, “You should not cry when you hurt.” Instead He says, “I understand Lazarus was very important to you and it hurts to see him pass away.” Jesus does not want us to deny our humanness.

God sometimes delays His answers to our prayers so we may experience His comforting presence in the midst of loss. He permits us to go through painful times so we may know the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our pain and trials can never exceed God’s comfort (“comforts us in all our tribulation”). He uses our losses to equip us to comfort others who go through a similar difficulty with the comfort we received from the Lord in our loss. If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave.

In December 2016, one of the pastors I enjoyed serving with in the Philippines was tragically murdered while driving his wife to a public school where she serves as a teacher. This deeply impacted my soul. I wept over this unfortunate death for days. During this time of grieving, Matthew 12:20 leaped off the page of my Bible as I read it: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.”Jesus will not pour salt into our wounds. He will not treat those who are “bruised” with grief and pain harshly. He comes along side of us to strengthen us with His presence rather than step on us to advance His own plans. He will not “quench” what little flame for the Lord or life (“smoking flax”) we have left inside of us. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28).

Many Christian leaders can add to the pain of the broken and bruised by being harsh and demanding. But not Jesus. He is always available to empathize with us and understand us when we are hurting. He knows exactly what to say and do when we are vulnerable so He can lift us up and set us in a broad place. He is on our side. He is not against us (cf. Psalm 118:5-9; Romans 8:31-39).

I am impressed with the emotional health of Jesus in verses 33 and 35. Christ experienced emotions of anger (11:33; cf. 11:38) and sadness (11:35). He did not deny them nor stuff them down. When we experience losses, God wants us also to pay attention to our emotions, including anger and sadness, as part of growing in the discipleship process. God made people in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) which includes emotions. God has feelings of anger (cf. Exodus 4:14; Number 11:10; Deuteronomy 7:4; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-16; 3:36; 11:33, 38; Romans 1:18; 12:19) and sadness (Genesis 6:6; I Samuel 15:11; Isaiah 63:10; Mark 3:5; Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Ephesians 4:30), so emotions in themselves are not sinful. Denying our emotions is denying our humanity given to us by our Creator. But acknowledging and processing our emotions with the Lord leads to healing and a greater capacity to love the Lord and other people.

Some Christians have been taught to be ashamed of their emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, so they stuff those feelings instead of processing them. Often times, the result is those emotions “leak” through in indirect ways such as passive aggressive behavior (e.g. showing up late, etc.), sarcasm, a spiteful tone of voice, withdrawing from others, and giving them the silent treatment.

“Two-thirds of the psalms are laments, complaints to God.” 1  Several Psalms are imprecatory Psalms (cf. Psalm 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 109; 137) whereby the writer curses God’s enemies. Is it wrong to ask God to punish our enemies since Jesus taught His followers to bless their enemies and not curse them (Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27-28)? Why would God inspire the writers of Psalms to record these kinds of prayers if it was wrong to pray in this way? I personally believe God has included these Psalms to help us pray honestly to God about our own feelings. Grieving our losses God’s way includes paying attention to our emotions, so we can process them and release them to the Lord.

“Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’ ” (John 11:36). According to this group, Jesus’ tears showed how much He loved Lazarus. Evidence of sincere love for others can have a powerful impact on those who witness it. As believers show compassion to those who are broken and hurting, God can give them opportunities to share the gospel with the lost.

“And some of them said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’ ” (John 11:37). Others near Lazarus’ grave were not impressed with Jesus’ tears. They were angry. They thought Jesus should have prevented Lazarus death. “He had healed the blind so it is obvious He could have healed Lazarus to prevent all of this sadness and blubbering.”

If Jesus healed Lazarus before he died, Mary would not have experienced the tender compassion of Christ near Lazarus’ grave. Likewise, if Christ did not allow situations to worsen in our lives after we pray, many of us would be unable to know what His compassion is like for us. 

What is your response to Jesus today? Can you relate to Mary and Martha who were angry and disappointed with Jesus? Have you asked Jesus where He was when your loved one died? Or perhaps you wondered where Christ was when you were abandoned or abused as a child?

Christ wants you to know that He was there when you went through your loss or your trauma. And the look on His face was not one of apathy or anger. The look on His face was the same look that Mary saw that day when Jesus came to her brother’s grave. His was the look of compassion with tears streaming down His face.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your humanity which enables You to be an understanding Friend Who weeps with me when I lose a loved one or have to process a painful memory. Knowing that You understand how I feel gives me hope that You know what to do to help me heal. My trust is in You to meet my deepest needs at this time. Your tears demonstrate that You truly do care about my pain. Thank You for helping me to face that pain so I can heal and move forward with You. In Your name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), pg. 126.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 2

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign recorded in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44) why the Lord allows a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? The first reason is to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4). Raising Lazarus from the dead would bring more glory to Jesus than raising him from his sickbed. We see today that the second reason for Jesus’ delayed response to our prayers is to DECLARE HIS LOVE TOWARD US (John 11:5-6). This may sound strange to us at first, but let’s listen to what the Bible says in these verses. John reminds his readers that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5). The word “loved” (agapáō) means to choose to do what is best for another person. Christ wanted to do what was best for this family. This may seem hard to believe when we look at what Jesus does next.

“So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.” (John 11:6). If Jesus loved this family, why would He wait two more days before going to help them? We must keep verses five and six together. Christ delayed His going to them because He did love them and wanted to do what was best for them in God’s eyes. From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Jesus needed to move faster – “Hurry up, Lord, our brother may die!” But Jesus says, “Slow down and do this My way.”

From this we learn that God’s love may delay His answers to our prayers in ways that we cannot understand at that time. Mary and Martha had no idea what Jesus was going to do when He would come to them later. I’m sure it did not feel like Jesus loved them or Lazarus when He delayed His coming. Perhaps Mary and Martha’s distress over Lazarus’ suffering caused them to forget that death was no obstacle for Jesus. Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead with no more effort than it would take Him to raise Lazarus from his sickbed. Christ delayed His coming because He did love this family. Waiting until Lazarus was dead for a few days would enable Jesus to reveal His love in a deeper and more powerful way to them. While Jesus’ absence caused Lazarus’ death, his death caused his resurrection, and the glory of God was manifested and many people believed in Jesus (cf. John 11:43-45)!

When the Lord does not answer our prayers right away, remember that this does not mean He loves us less. It means He loves you more and knows what is best for you. The apostle Paul reminds us, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, including our feelings. Just because I do not “feel” the Lord’s love during difficult times, does not change His love for me.

For example, when I am standing in our living room at night amidst our furniture which my wife has beautifully arranged, I then turn off the light so I cannot see the furniture. Does that mean the furniture is not there? Of course not. Just because my eyes and feelings tell me there is no furniture in front of me does not change the truth of the furniture’s existence. God’s inseparable love for us is the same way. Our senses do not always detect what is true. They can be fooled. This is why God calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith enables us to experience God’s love when our senses tell us the opposite.

Sometimes we can misinterpret difficulties in our lives as God’s attempt to punish us. Some of us may be running from God right now because of this assumption. For example, “some time back, newspapers carried the story of a young fellow named William who was a fugitive from the police. The teenager had run away with his girlfriend because the parents had been trying to break them up. What William did not know was that an ailment he had been seeing the doctor about was diagnosed just after his disappearance. It was cancer.

“Here was William, doing his best to elude the police, lest he lose his love, while they were doing their best to find him, lest he lose his life. He thought they were after him to punish him; they were really after him to save him.” (Howard Hendricks, Don’t Fake It, Say It with Love).

God is not out to punish us when He permits a situation to get worse after we pray to Him. He loves us and He wants to show Himself to us in deeper and more powerful ways. Don’t run from the Person Who loves you and wants to rescue you. Let Him find you and hold you in His arms.

Prayer: Father God, it is easy for us to quickly assume that You do not love us when bad things happen to us or to those we care about. Thank You for reminding us today that You allow those You love to suffer. After all, You allowed Your only begotten Son Whom You have always loved, to suffer in our place on a cross. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his family led Him to delay His coming to them so they could discover His love in deeper and more powerful ways. Christ’s absence caused Lazarus’ death, but his death caused his resurrection which would manifest God’s glory so many would believe in Him. Father, when You are absent, we can seek You by faith. Please help us to walk this life on earth by faith and not by sight so we can experience Your love even when it is contrary to our senses. Hold us in Your arms of everlasting mercy when this life does not make sense to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to get worse after we pray about it? Part 1

“When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” John 11:4

In recent months all of us have been reminded that life is short. As of today (September 21, 2020), there have been over 961,000 confirmed COVID-related deaths in the world with over 31 million cases. 1  Since January 1, 2020, there have been over 30,826,000 unborn babies murdered in the world through abortion procedures. 2 These statistics alone are alarming.

On a more personal note, when we were living in the Philippines, fifteen college students died in a bus crash in Tanay, Rizal in February 2017. A few months after that, a Korean pastor was murdered near our subdivision when he confronted a thief breaking into his home.

It is normal for us as human beings to ask “Why?” Why has God allowed so many lives to be lost through the global pandemic? Why does He permit innocent babies to be killed before they begin to live outside the womb? How can He allow such young people to suddenly die in a bus crash? Why does He permit someone who accomplishes so much good to be murdered by a thief? I believe it is okay to ask these kinds of questions. God is not disturbed by such questioning because He knows it will foster growth.

Another question that comes to my mind as I ponder these deaths is, “Why does God sometimes allow situations to get worse after we pray about them?” Why does our spouse or child who is sick, become sicker after we ask the Lord for their healing? Why does our job situation become worse after we plead with the Lord to make it better? Why does that unresolved conflict worsen after we beg the Lord to help us resolve it? Doesn’t God care? Doesn’t He hear us?

These kinds of thoughts probably raced through the minds of two of Christ’s dear friends when Jesus allowed the situation they faced to become worse after they asked for His help. From these verses in John 11, we will discover several reasons why the Lord sometimes allows a situation to become worse after we pray about it. Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it?

The first reason is to DISPLAY MORE OF HIS GLORY (John 11:1-4). Because the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus in Judea, He went beyond the Jordan to Bethany of Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28). During this time, a tragedy fell on a household at Bethany, a small village located about two miles southeast of Jerusalem. This is not the same Bethany where Jesus was currently staying on the east side of the Jordan River. This household had often given Jesus hospitality when He was in Judea.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1). John records just how close Jesus was to this family in the next verse. “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” (John 11:2). These were not casual acquaintances. They knew and loved each other very much. This is why the sisters sent for Jesus. “Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ ” (John 11:3). This sickness must have been very serious since they called for Jesus to return to the area. The sisters assume Jesus would come right away when He heard that their brother, Lazarus, was sick because Jesus loved him.

When a godly Christian became seriously ill, several friends gathered around his bedside to ask God to restore him. The last one to pray spoke of the faithful service of this man, and concluded his prayer by saying, “Lord, You know how he loves You.” After a moment of silence the sick believer said to him, “I know you meant well, but please don’t plead for my recovery on that basis. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but their request was not based on his affection for Christ. They said, ‘Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.’ It’s not my weak and faltering allegiance to Him that calls forth His attention, but His perfect love for me that is my constant strength and hope.” 3

Mary and Martha’s plea for Jesus to come heal their brother was based upon Jesus’ love for Lazarus, not Lazarus’ love for Christ. From the perspective of the two sisters, “If you love someone, you will drop what you are doing and come to his aid.” But look at Jesus’ response. “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4). Jesus did not view Lazarus’ sickness as a crisis. He did not see the final outcome of Lazarus’ illness to be death. Instead, He saw it as an opportunity to display God’s glory. Lazarus’ illness was not because of a specific sin in his life or a lack of faith, but because it was going to be used to reveal God’s glory as the “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).

If someone thinks that a Christian walking with the Lord cannot become ill or contract a disease, that person is either ignorant of the truth or just downright wrong! Lazarus’ sickness was not a means of punishment nor a sign of rebellion. Instead, his illness had a higher purpose.

Think about it. What would bring God more glory – to heal Lazarus or to resurrect him? What would lead more people to believe in Jesus – to raise a living person from his sickbed or a dead person from his grave? One of the reasons God may allow a situation to get worse in our lives is to bring Him more glory when He answers our prayers. Sometimes God makes us wait until it seems that the answers to our prayers are impossible so that He gets more glory!

Our tendency is to think that God does not care about us when He does not answer our prayers immediately. But the truth is we do not often understand His timing and purpose because His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What He asks of us during these times is that we trust Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your ways and Your thoughts are so much higher than mine. I cannot understand Your timing and purposes much of the time. But this does not mean I cannot trust You when I face difficult times. I truly believe that You allow situations to grow worse even after we pray about it so You can display Your glory in greater ways. You demonstrated this by permitting Lazarus’ situation to grow worse so You could reveal Your Person and Power in a greater and more meaningful way. Even now, as more people die of COVID or other causes, more people will begin to think about their need for You and fall on their knees begging You for mercy. Lord, the Scriptures clearly tell me that You are still on Your throne when bad things happen on earth. Your purposes are still being fulfilled. The Bible is still true when it says with God all things are possible. Please continue to use the bad things in the world to get peoples’ attention so they can believe You are the Resurrection and the Life, Who guarantees a future resurrection and never ending life to all who believe in You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths#what-is-the-total-number-of-confirmed-deaths

2. https://www.worldometers.info/abortions/

3. Dave Branon, Hymns: 90 Devotions From Our Daily Bread, “His Love Not Ours.”

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 5

“Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:38

Unable to overcome the former blind man’s logic and the evidence of a miracle, the Pharisees answered and said to him, ‘You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?’ And they cast him out.” (John 9:34). They were saying that this man’s blindness was due to specific sins in his life to shame him into silence and discredit his testimony. He could not teach them because he was a sinner and they were righteous. This is the fifth symptom of spiritual blindness – DISTORT THE TRUTH ABOUT THEMSELVES (John 9:34) – they perceived themselves to be superior to this former blind man and to Jesus for that matter. These educated religious leaders were unwilling to learn from a beggar. They continued in their stubborn rejection of Christ despite the overwhelming reasons to believe in Him.

“They cast him out” of the synagogue to silence him and limit his influence of others. This also served as a warning to others who are tempted to confess that Jesus is from God. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to the former blind man because now he would not have to listen to the works-salvation message of the Pharisees. He was now more prepared for his next encounter with Jesus. God can use the rejection of others to make non-Christians more open to hearing the gospel.

Perhaps you have experienced rejection from your spiritual leaders or religious community because of your interest in Jesus Christ. You have interacted with Christians and they have shown you love instead of hatred. In fact, they have shown you more love than the people of your own religion. And this increases your interest in Jesus.

The Bible then tells us that “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him…” (John 9:35a). Hearing of his excommunication, Jesus sought the former blind man out. Jesus did the seeking since the man had not yet seen Jesus.

Whatever opposition you have experienced for confessing Christ publicly, please know that this is not the last word. Jesus was aware of the former blind’s man’s excommunication, and He sought Him out. Jesus is also aware of your situation, and He seeks you out to reveal more of Himself to you. Your religious community or family may reject you for speaking the truth about Jesus, but Jesus will never reject you when you diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6b).

Now, for the first time, the former blind man could look at the One who restored his sight. Jesus is very direct with the man. “He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ ” (John 9:35b). This is the purpose for John’s gospel. John recorded these miracles of Jesus so you “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). This personal response is necessary for receiving the gift of eternal life.

Many people today believe that Jesus exists and died for them on the Cross and even rose from the dead, but they are not trusting in Him alone for this free gift. They are still depending on their own religious efforts to get them to heaven.

The former blind man “answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ ” (John 9:36). The beggar is willing and ready to believe, but he is ignorant. He wants the Son of God to be identified so he may believe in Him. Jesus identifies Himself as the Messiah-God when He says, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” (John 9:37). The words “seen Him” must have meant a lot to the man who up until that day, had never seen anything.

As soon as the man knew the identity of the Son of God he immediately responds in faith. “Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” (John 9:38). Jesus used the physical healing of this blind man to prepare him for his spiritual healing. Jesus had once again mixed His own divine DNA (His Word) with humanity (the former blind man) so that an even greater healing could take place. Out of gratitude for his physical healing, the man believed in Christ as the Messiah-God, which meant he now had eternal life (John 20:31)! This is the climax for the man in a process that has been taking place throughout the whole chapter. His insight into the Person of Jesus has been growing:

“The man who is called Jesus” (John 9:11).

“I do not know” (John 9:12).

“He is a prophet” (John 9:17).

“Whether He is a sinner, I do not know” (John 9:25).

The Man who has “disciples” (John 9:27).

“He has opened my eyes” (John 9:30).

“If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:33).

“Lord, I believe” (John 9:38a).

“He worshiped Him” (John 9:38b).

The man has been moving from darkness to the Light. After believing in Jesus, “he worshiped Him.” The word translated “worshiped” (proskunéō) is a compound Greek word meaning “towards (pros) to kiss (kunéō),” which refers “to kissing the ground as you prostrate yourself before a superior, to fall down on your knees to adore someone of superior rank.” The former blind man was honoring Jesus as God by worshiping Him (cf. John 5:23).

There is only one Person in the universe who is worthy of worship (Exodus 20:3-5), and Jesus did not stop this man from worshiping Him. If Jesus is not God, why would He permit the man to worship Him? God told Moses on Mount Sinai, “You shall have no other gods before Me… You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3, 5). The healed man was bowing down before Jesus to worship Him. When Jesus accepted the man’s worship, He was making a statement that He was God! This confirms what the apostle John said in John 1:1, “And the Word was God.” If Jesus was not God, then He was endorsing idolatry.

The former blind man could no longer worship God in the synagogue, but now he could worship  God to His face. And Jesus will never “cast out” of His family those who come to Him in faith (John 6:37). This is the fourth way to overcome spiritual blindness. DEPEND ON CHRIST ALONE FOR ETERNAL LIFE (John 9:35-38). Only Jesus can meet our deepest spiritual needs.

When we believe in Him, He gives us everlasting life which can never be lost (John 3:16; 10:28-29) and places us in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37)! We now have brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the world! And we can begin to see Jesus in a more intimate way as we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Christ is our only source of life and acceptance. Let’s enjoy Him!

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I praise You for seeking me out when I experienced exclusion from my former religious community. Thank You for revealing my own sinfulness to me at that time so I could see my need for You and Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for accepting me into Your family the moment I believed in You for eternal life. Thank You for the new brothers and sisters I gained from all around the world at that moment of faith. What a privilege I now have to approach You in worship! The more I focus on You, the more the cares and concerns of this world fade away. Your light dispels the darkness in my own heart and gives me a hope that never ends. With You at the center of my life, I have joy beyond my own understanding! You are more than enough for me!!! Please use me to share Your light with those who are in darkness so they, too, may obtain everlasting hope and life in You. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 3

“When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.” John 9:6

A third reason why God allows pain and suffering is TO DISCLOSE HIS PITY OR COMPASSION  (John 9:6-12). After Jesus reaffirmed His identity as the Light of the world (John 9:5), we read, “When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.“ (John 9:6). As He did with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:6b, 8), Jesus stooped down to the dirt. But instead of writing in it, “He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva.” Why did Jesus heal the blind man in this way? Why didn’t He just say the word like He did with the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8-9) or with Lazarus at his grave (John 11:43-44)?

Saliva was a well-known Jewish remedy for eye trouble. Clay was the same substance from which man was created (Genesis 2:7). “Thus the word of God (i.e., spit from Jesus’s mouth) mixed with humanity (i.e., dirt from which man was created) provided the basis for the miracle. By using His saliva, Jesus was imparting divine DNA to the human defect in order to bring about a supernatural transformation of his humanity. This was to serve as a physical illustration of the supernatural spiritual transformation Jesus came to bring (see Isa 35:4-5).” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, p. 1782).

This was a creation miracle since this man’s blindness was congenital. Jesus used the clay as a tool to develop the blind man’s faith. The touch of a friendly hand would be reassuring to this man who had known darkness all his life. While the disciples showed insensitivity toward the blind man when they asked Jesus within earshot “Who sinned?” Jesus showed great compassion or pity toward this blind man by providing a gentle and soothing touch.

When Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath with clay He had made, He broke two man-made laws of the Jewish people. Making clay and healing were both forbidden by the Pharisees on the Sabbath. This would cause more tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.

“And He said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:7). After anointing the blind man’s eyes, Jesus instructs him to go wash at the pool of Siloam. The man’s healing required an act of faith on his part. “The pool of Siloam” was originally built by King Hezekiah to provide a reservoir for water flowing through the Siloam tunnel from the Gihon Spring (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:2-4). Rabbinic teaching associated this free-flowing fountain with God’s fountain during the Messianic kingdom. John informs his readers that the word “Siloam” is translated “sent.” The blind man was “sent” by the One “sent” by the Father.

Jesus did not promise he would be healed. He just told him to go wash. Christ did not give a speech about accepting your lot in life or taking the medicine that God has given you. Jesus was especially sensitive to the groans of suffering people. He cared more about His relationships with hurting people than He did about the rules and regulations of the religious establishment. The Bible says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18). The prophet Isaiah reminds us concerning the Messiah, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3). The Messiah would not deal harshly with those who are already hurting nor would He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He uses His supernatural power to heal, not to punish. Jesus spent much of His ministry fighting disease and despair, not asking “Why?” or condemning with “Who sinned?”

When you hear about another’s misfortune, how do you react? Like the disciples – questioning and condemning? Or like Jesus with compassion to treat the problem?

John tells us that the blind man “went and washed and came back seeing.” His obedience to Christ’s command to wash in the “Sent” Pool enabled him to experience supernatural healing and gain his sight physically. This is a beautiful picture of salvation. When a spiritually blind person obeys the command to believe in the Son of God (I John 3:23), he or she is WASHED by the One “sent” by God, the Holy Spirit, who washes us clean with the waters of regeneration so we can SEE spiritually (John 7:37-39; Titus 3:5).

There is also an important lesson here for Christians. The blind man’s obedience to Christ enabled him to experience the blessing of physical sight. Likewise, OBEDIENCE to Christ is necessary for believers to see Jesus more FULLY. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” The pursuit of holiness is the prerequisite for seeing the Lord. Without holiness, no one can see God now or in the future.

Jesus said something similar in Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity of heart is necessary to see or perceive God. If a Christian is not pursuing holiness, there is a sense in which he or she cannot see God (I John 3:6). But when a believer’s eyes are enlightened, he can see many different facets of God (cf. Ephesians 1:17-21; 3:17-19; Colossians 3:9-11). Since all Christians will be without sin when they stand in God’s presence (I John 3:2), they should pursue holiness here and now. As we already learned in John 2:23-25 (cf. John 14:21; 15:14), Jesus will reveal Himself in a more intimate way to believers who obey Him.

This miracle raised the question about the man’s identity. 8 Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, ‘Is not this he who sat and begged?’ 9 Some said, ‘This is he.’ Others said, ‘He is like him.’” (John 9:8-9a). But the former blind man said something that Jesus often said, “He said, ‘I am he.’ ” (John 9:9b). This healing of the blind man was another proof that Jesus was the Messiah-God. Those who knew this blind man best, his “neighbors,” were amazed at the remarkable change they saw in him. To see this man, whom they knew so well, walk with normal sight was so incredible they thought it must be a case of mistaken identity.

“Therefore they said to him, ‘How were your eyes opened?’ ” (John 9:10). To deny the miracle, certain ones raised the question of how this miracle took place. “He answered and said, ‘A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.’ ” (John 9:11). The man’s matter of fact report explains what happened. There is no exaggeration in his personal testimony. His reply indicates his faith – he accepted the miracle as fact. At this point he does not know who Jesus is – “A Man called Jesus.” “Then they said to him, ‘Where is He?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’ ” (John 9:12). Since he was blind at the time of the miracle, he had no idea where Jesus went. What is disturbing, however, is that no one celebrates with this formerly blind man regarding his restoration of sight. They can only ask, “Where is He?”

Jesus did not perform this miracle because of this man’s faith in Him to heal since the man did not know Jesus’ identity yet. This miracle was an incredible expression of God’s grace toward him. Supernatural healing does not take a special kind of FAITH. It requires the GRACE of God to intervene and heal.

Why is there pain and suffering in the world? We learn from Jesus’ encounter with a man born blind that God allows pain and suffering…

1. To demonstrate His power. He may not perform a dramatic miracle as with the man born blind. But He may transform our attitude or heal a broken relationship. He may lift burdens of guilt and legalism off our shoulders so we can serve Him.

2. To display His promise. God allows pain and suffering to display His promise of hope and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Christ can bring light to the spiritually blind. He offers the promise of eternal life to those without hope.

3. To disclose His pity or compassion. In the midst of much pain and suffering, Jesus’ reveals His gentle and healing touch in order to bring glory back to God. He is a gentle Savior with an abundance of grace for those in need of His healing touch.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are far more concerned about relationships with people than You are about keeping man-made rules and regulations. Thank You for pursuing me when I was spiritually blind and under the burden of religious rules and regulations. Thank You for using Your supernatural power to heal instead of to punish. I am very grateful that You gently touched me with Your Word when I was spiritually blind and without hope so I could see You for Who You truly are – the Christ, the Son of God –  Who gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him! Forgive me for the many times I have been insensitive to others who are in need of Your life-giving touch. Help me to see other people as You do – as broken and blind sinners who need the gentle and loving touch of the Savior. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Why is there pain and suffering? Part 2

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:4-5

A second reason why God allows suffering and pain is TO DISPLAY HIS PROMISE (John 9:4-5). Jesus continued His response to His disciples’ question about whose sin caused the man to be born blind, his parents or his own. “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4). The words, “I must,” reveal the sense of urgency Jesus possesses to do His Father’s work while it is “day” – the time to do God’s work. When Jesus says, “the night is coming when no one can work,” He is acknowledging that the opportunity to work ends as night arrives. For Christ, this would refer to His death, but for believers it can refer to physical death or the sudden removal of the Church at any time (cf. I Thess. 4:13-18). In either case, the opportunity to do God’s “works” is limited by time. Since Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11), God continues Jesus’ works through His body, the Church (John 14:12; 20:21; Acts 1:1ff; cf. Ephes. 1:22-23; 3:10).

Then Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5). “As long as” Jesus is “in the world” He will manifest Himself as “the light of the world” by exposing sin and providing hope for healing and eternal life. As the Light of the world, Jesus would bring light to the one who had been in darkness from birth, both physically and spiritually.

God allows pain and suffering to display His promise of hope and eternal life through Jesus Christ. The world is full of examples of people with learning disabilities, broken relationships, illness, the fear of rejection, guilt, and shame that Jesus has turned into an opportunity to display His promise of hope and eternal life (John 1:4-5). Christ uses the limitations or afflictions of people to bring them to faith in Him.

One such person was a nineteen-year-old college student who aspired to be a professional football player. But after a knee injury during the fourth football game of his first year of college, he lost all hope of playing professional football. As he sank into a depression, he kept asking himself, “What is my purpose in life if I cannot play football? Why am I here? A few months later, a professional football player named Archie Griffin came to his school to share a message of hope through Jesus Christ at an evening assembly. As this student listened to Archie talk about his personal relationship with Christ, God removed his spiritual blindness with the light of the gospel so that he believed in Jesus for everlasting life that evening. That student was yours truly. God used my football injury to prepare me to hear and believe Jesus’ promise of hope and everlasting life (John 3:16).

While serving the Lord in the Philippines for nearly six years, God enabled me to teach at a nearby provincial jail. One of the inmates who came to our weekly chapel service had a master’s degree in engineering. Since coming to faith in Christ, he is thankful for his incarceration because God used it to reveal the light of Jesus Christ to him. He told me he did not think he would have come to faith in Jesus if he had not been arrested. Even though he has more education than most Filipinos, his education could not give him spiritual sight. Only Jesus could do that and give him eternal life. Thank God for his arrest which provided the opportunity for him to learn this life-changing truth behind bars.

God uses pain and suffering to display His hope and promise of everlasting life to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. During this season of pandemic, social unrest, and political and economic hardship, God may be nudging you to draw near to Him. Are you overwhelmed with your circumstances and/or your pain? Come to Jesus Christ for everlasting relief.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I am so glad You approached the man born blind even though he was considered unclean by the religious community. No doubt that blind man heard many insensitive comments about the reason for his blindness. But You, Lord, showed Him compassion and gently restored his sight physically and spiritually. You truly are the Light of the world who brought hope to a man who had been in spiritual and physical darkness since birth. As the Light of the world You continue to expose sin and offer hope and everlasting life through Your promises today. Thank You for seeking me out when I was spiritually blind and without hope. Thank You for the pain that began my search for something more. Thank You for extending Your grace and forgiveness to me when I was still Your enemy. And thank You for the precious gift of everlasting life I received the moment I believed in You. My Lord and my God, please shine the light of Your love and grace into the hearts of people that are shrouded in darkness so they may experience Your everlasting hope and life. In Your name I pray. Amen.  

The Light of the World

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ ” John 8:12

The setting of John 8:12 is back in chapter 7. It is the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the very special events during this feast was the “Illumination of the Temple.” This ceremony took place each evening in one of the courts of the Temple – the Court of the Women. In the center of this court four giant candelabra were set up (the many-branched candlesticks used by the Jews). Some accounts say that these golden candelabra were as high as seventy-five feet. At night, they were lit and they brought light to the whole temple area and most of Jerusalem. It was spectacular, and people would celebrate all night.

The reason they did this was to remember another wilderness experience. It was the pillar of fire. During the exodus from Egypt, God protected and guided the people of Israel through the wilderness with the pillar of fire. God was with them.

At the end of the feast, the lights were purposely put out. Why? Because the Messiah had not come yet.

It is in the same temple area where the lights were put out the night before that I believe Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12a). It is as though Jesus is saying, “Do you remember the pillar of fire that came between the Israelites and the Egyptians near the Red Sea, the pillar that protected them and led them on their wanderings in the wilderness? That was My presence with them. I was God with them and I am God with you! It was I who protected them. It was I who guided them through the wilderness. I am the light of the WORLD – not just the light for the nation of Israel, but the light for the entire world. I offer hope to every one of every country, culture, and color.” What a statement! Jesus is claiming to be God.

The phrase “I Am” is how God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). “I Am” is also how Jesus will continue to state His own identity to the people of Israel. Jesus has already stated, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). Later on, He will identify Himself with more “I am” statements: “I am the door” (10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (14:6), “I am the true Vine” (15:1). Each one of these staggering statements attested to the fact that He was and is God.

Because Jesus is God (cf. I John 5:20), there is no darkness or sin in Him. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). Since Jesus is “the light of the world,” He can offer hope and life to every person of every country, culture, and color. Christ does not favor one particular culture or color of people over another. He loves every person equally and longs to have a personal relationship with each one.

So much emphasis is placed upon the color of a person’s skin today which leads to much hatred toward those who look differently. This is not from the Lord (cf. I John 2:9-11). God created all people of all colors and we are to praise Him for this. The real problem in the world today is not skin, it is sin. All people of all colors have a problem called sin (Romans 3:23). This is why some people think they are superior to others. This is why some people allow their own prejudices to mistreat others. This is why there is racism in the world. Until we stop focusing on skin and start dealing with our sin, there will be no lasting reconciliation among the different cultures and colors of people in the world today.

God has provided the solution to our sin problem by giving His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world (John 3:16a; 4:42). Christ loved us so much He died in our place on a cross to pay the full penalty for our sin, and three days later He rose from the dead and He is alive today (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus invites us to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life. When we do, we become “sons of light.” Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36).

Notice that Christ says we can become “sons of light” simply by believing or trusting in Him alone for His gift of salvation. This verse does not say we become “sons of light” by going to church, being baptized, confessing our sins, praying five times a day, living a good life, or by keeping the sacraments. The only condition is to believe in the Light which is Jesus Christ.

After believing in Christ, we are no longer defined by our sin and shame. We are defined by the Light of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8). How do we live as children of light?

Jesus explains, “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12b). This is such a wonderful promise. There is nothing we need more in this world than light on our path. Many people are walking in the darkness of sins today. They don’t know where they are going. They have no idea of what is ahead; they are running into disaster and they cannot even see it coming. But how does a person break loose from the bondage of sin? How can we come out of the domain of darkness and its influence into the domain of God and the influence of His light and purity? Simple. By following Jesus!  “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” That tells me two things: 

1. Jesus will never lead me into darkness. He will never lead me into sin. So if I will just follow Him like a sheep follows a shepherd, I will not find myself in darkness but in “light” (holiness and hope) and “life” (relationship with God). On the other hand…

2. If I am living in sin, if I am walking in darkness, I must not be following Jesus—because that’s not where He is going. I can never blame Jesus for my sinful lifestyle or hopelessness. Because He is the antithesis of both! If I am letting Him lead me, I will have holiness and hope in my life.

I have had those who are opposed to Christianity try to justify their rejection of Christ by referring to all the horrific things done in the name of Jesus Christ, such as The Crusades or the atrocities of Adolph Hitler. I assure them, that those who have done terrible things in the name of Jesus Christ are not representing biblical Christianity. When people murder or mistreat other people because of their different skin color or religion, they are not following the example of their Leader, Jesus Christ, Who taught us to love our neighbors and our enemies by blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 10:27-37). Jesus Christ is not responsible for those who misuse His name to justify their own sinful choices. Those people will answer to Christ for the wrongs they have done.

Notice how positive the solution is in John 8:12. It is not that I fight off my horrible lust, prejudices, selfishness, and greed so I can follow Jesus. That would be impossible for me to do. But if I will choose to follow Christ and obey His Word, and continue in that choice no matter how imperfect or how weak I may feel my walk with Him is — that choice lived out day by day will take me where I need to go. Can you say with firm conviction, “I have decided to follow Jesus”? Peter didn’t follow Jesus perfectly, but he followed Him as a choice of life. James and John and the other disciples were slow learners like some of us are. But they were followers of Jesus and that journey led them out of darkness into light.

What the world needs today is the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can transform the sinful human heart so that hatred is replaced with love. Until people find peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5:1), they will not be able to live peacefully with themselves or others (Ephesians 2:13-18). Governments and politicians cannot do this for us. Only Jesus Christ can and does when we come to Him on His terms.

I read a story about a grandfather who took his little grandson for a walk in the woods. As they were walking along they stopped for a moment and the grandfather asked, “Do you know where we are?” The little boy said, “No!” The grandfather asked, “Do you know where we’re going?” And the little boy again said, “No!” The grandfather chuckled and said, “Well, I guess you’re lost then.” The boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “No, I’m not lost. I’m with you.” When you are with Jesus, when you are following Him, you will never be lost and you will arrive where you need to be.

Prayer: Father God, as I look at the world today, I see people wandering in the darkness without any lasting hope. They don’t know where they are going. They have no idea of what is ahead; they are running into disaster and they cannot even see it coming. I was once one of those people. But when You removed the blinders from my mind, I was able to see the light of Jesus’ glory so I could believe in Him (2 Corinthians 4:4). And at that moment, You transferred me from the domain of darkness into the marvelous light of Your Son’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13; I Peter 2:9). I am no longer defined by my sin and shame, but by the Light of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:8). I now have a choice. I can choose to follow Jesus, the Light of the world, and no longer abide in the darkness of sin, or I can follow my own sinful flesh and the course of this world which leads to the darkness of sin, hate, and death (John 8:12; 12:35; I John 2:9-11; 3:11-15). Thank You, Lord Jesus, for never leading me into darkness when I follow You. Forgive me for the many times I have blamed You for my own sinful choices. How foolish I was to do such a thing! But even then, You did not stop loving me nor did You give up on me. You still loved me and patiently waited for me to turn back to You. Thank You so much for the hope I have when my eyes are fixed upon You. Please lead me to those who are abiding in darkness that I may share the Light of the world with them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 2

“And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. ” John 8:8b-9

The second way I can overcome condemnation is when I… REDIRECT THOSE WHO CONDEMN ME TO THEIR OWN SIN (John 8:3-9). This is what Jesus did when His gracious teaching was rudely interrupted by the religious leaders. Satan loves to keep people from hearing God’s grace. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.’ ” (John 8:3-4). During the feast of Tabernacles many people lived in close quarters. The religious leaders caught a woman in the act of adultery.

Have you ever been caught in the act? I love Bill Cosby’s story of his son and the cookie jar. He tells of the time his son was caught up on a stool with his hand in the cookie jar. Bill, said, “Did I not tell you that you could not have a cookie?” “Yes”, his little son replies, “but I was getting the cookie for you”. “I don’t want a cookie” Bill tells him. “Well, can I have it then?” his son asks. That was a very smart answer when your hand is caught in the cookie jar.

Have you ever been caught red-handed? You were guilty and everyone knew it. Like your humming along on the highway, and a policeman gets behind you and puts on his lights. I mean, isn’t that a wonderful feeling? And you have nothing to say, because you know that you were going way too fast. Whenever you are caught in the act, there is no point in arguing. The guilt is yours, and you must deal with the consequences. This woman was caught in the act. She was guilty of the crime. Her accusers were right. She didn’t put up any defense. This woman had just committed the act of adultery. The sin that she committed was a serious crime. It was one of many crimes that carried with it the death penalty. It was ranked right along with murder, kidnapping, witchcraft, and offering human sacrifice.

For this woman to have been caught in adultery, the leaders must have set it up. They now set her in the middle of a crowd where everyone could see her and what Jesus would do with such a case. This was unlawful because they had a court to try such cases. But where was the man? The leaders set this whole thing up so the man could escape. They seemed to have a personal vendetta against this woman. The leaders then say, “’ 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” (John 8:5-6a). The law of Moses said to stone an adulteress and adulterer (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24)). But the leaders weren’t concerned with justice, but with trapping Jesus. If Jesus says not to stone her, He is in conflict with the Mosaic law. If He says to stone her, He is in conflict with the Roman Law – for only the Romans had the right of capital punishment, not the Jews. So Christ is confronted with a situation in which He could offer no acceptable response.

Why did these men want to throw stones? The same reason that we want to throw them. We throw stones because we… harbor hatred, hold on to bitterness, are entangled in anger, want to have revenge, will not let go of the things that upset us or because it is easier to throw stones at others rather than ourselves.

Stones can be valuable as well, for you use stones to build something. You can use stones to cover something up or you can even decorate with stones. When you hold a stone in your hand, what do you feel? There is a hardness. There is a heaviness. There is a coarseness. There is sometimes a feeling that you just want to throw that stone, isn’t there?

Although we would never think of actually throwing stones at other people, far too often we throw emotional or spiritual stones at others, don’t we? Hurtful comments, generalizations, gossip, judgmental statements, or harshness with the truth. What is it that makes people want to throw stones?

Frustration: When we become frustrated it distorts our ability to see things clearly.

Fatigue: Everything always looks worse when we are tired.

Failure: When others fail, we are quick to judge their actions. When we fail others, we are quick to justify our actions.

False Assumptions: When we get only bits and pieces of the truth, we create assumptions based on faulty logic.

Feelings: If we make the choice to follow our feelings we make the choice to be shallow.

How does Jesus respond to this attempt to condemn Him? “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.” (John 8:6b). Much speculation has centered around what Jesus wrote. But the Bible is silent on this point! The act of writing – not what was written – is what is most important. When Jesus is tested about the Law of Moses, He writes on the ground “with His finger.” The two times in the Bible when God is mentioned writing with His finger are here and on Mount Sinai.  

Jesus was more than a Teacher of the Law (John 8:4). He was also the Giver of the law. He was the Son of God (John 20:31), God in human flesh (John 1:1,14), the Creator of all things (John 1:3). The same finger that wrote the law on the tablet of stone on Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:18), is the same finger that wrote on the ground. If Jesus was the Law-Giver, then He could forgive this woman like He had forgiven Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:12-34:9).

“So when they continued asking Him…” (John 8:7a). The leaders thought Christ was stalling so they persistently questioned Him. “He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ ” (John 8:7b). Is Jesus referring to sinlessness when He says,“He who is without sin among you”? No. In the original language, this verse literally says, “He who is without the sin [of adultery] …”  Christ is referring to a specific area of sin.

As the truth began to sink in, we read, “And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:8). The fact that Jesus wrote on the ground twice reminds us that God also wrote on the tablets of stone two times on Mount Sinai. Moses broke the first tablets when he came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf and the revelry of the people (Exodus 32:19; cf. 31;18; 32:15-16). So God wrote them a second time with His finger (Exodus 34:1).

Some writers have suggested that Jesus may have wrote on the ground the names of the women whom the Pharisees slept with. The Law required the man and woman be stoned. Where was the man? Was he one of the leaders or a friend of the leaders? There would have been ample opportunities for the leaders to commit adultery during the feast.

“Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (John 8:9). As the sun was rising, the leaders were leaving. The older ones left first because they had more guilt since they had been committing adultery longer. Instead of focusing on the woman’s sin or on trapping Jesus, the leaders were now forced to look at their own sin.

When people are quick to condemn you or criticize you, set a boundary with them. Ask them, “Have you ever committed a similar sin? How did you feel? Would you have wanted others to remind you of that or put you down in front of other people?” When you are being attacked, it is better to take the offensive rather than be defensive. This is what Jesus did with those who sought to accuse Him at the expense of a broken woman. He defended this woman, and her accusers retreated when faced with their own sin.

I believe many Christians remain silent in their shame because they are afraid of condemnation from other believers in the church. Some of my most hurtful moments have come from misunderstandings with other Christians or shame-based preaching and teaching. Those were situations where I felt condemnation not compassion. Sure, I was taught that God loved me, but I was still a worthless sinner who needed to try harder.

God is showing me that people who are hurting often hurt other people. Instead of facing our own pain, we have a tendency to act out our pain with others. It is much easier to focus on the shortcomings of another person than to face our own.

If you are afraid to seek help from other Christians, please understand that Jesus Christ is not in the business of condemnation. The Bible says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). Christ wants to cleanse you, not condemn you. It is important for you to ask Jesus to lead you to believers who will love and care for you regardless of your past or present problems. A Christian cannot offer you the compassion of Christ as you deal with your brokenness, if he or she has not walked through their own brokenness with the Lord.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I needed to hear this message this morning. Much of my life I have lived under self-condemnation simply because of who I am. I did not love myself growing up. I perceived myself to be unlovable and worthless. But as I listen to Your Word, Your truth is helping me to see that You are a kind and gentle Savior Who loves me and wants to set me free from condemnation and shame. Lord, please teach me to see myself as You do – as a lovable child of God whose primary purpose is to be, not do. My value comes from what You say, not what I do or what other people think, say, or do. Please show me how to respond to broken people who want to tear me down rather than build me up. Just as You set boundaries with the woman’s accusers to protect her, please teach me how to do the same with my accusers so that Your truth protects me from the lies of the enemy. Help me dismiss the lies that keep me under condemnation and replace them with the truth that empowers me to live a life filled with Your purpose and hope. As I heal and become the man You created me to be, please help me pay it forward to other sons and daughters of Yours who are living under condemnation. In Your name I pray. Amen.