Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 5

25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ ” John 11:25-26

As we are studying the historical record of Jesus’ seventh miraculous sign in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44), we are learning reasons why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned that the Lord does 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).

The fifth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DISCLOSE MORE OF CHRIST’S IDENTITY TO US (John 11:17-27). The scene now shifts from the region of Bethany in Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28) to the Bethany in Judea (John 11:18). Both towns became locations where people believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.” (John 11:17). When Jesus arrived in Bethany of Judea, He found that Lazarus had “already been in the tomb four days.” It was the custom of Jews in general to bury their dead on the same day that the person died because embalming was not practiced by the Jews 1 and because of the warm climate which would contribute to a rapid rate of decay. 2  The dead body would be washed, anointed with perfumes, and wrapped in a white cloth.

“Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.” (John 11:18). Jesus and His disciples traveled about forty miles from Bethany of Perea to Bethany of Judea. John informs us that Bethany of Judea was “two miles away” from Jerusalem, perhaps to explain why so “many of the Jews” from Jerusalem were there to comfort Mary and Martha (John 11:19) and  to witness Jesus’ miracle (cf. John 11:45-46).  

“And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.” (John 11:19). It was expected of Jews to console the bereaved. In the Jewish culture, the period of mourning for the dead lasted thirty days. The first three days, no work was done, only weeping took place. Dr. Tom Constable writes, “Jewish rabbis believed that the spirit of a person who had died lingered over the corpse for three days, or until decomposition of the body had begun. They believed that the spirit then abandoned the body because any hope of resuscitation was gone.” 3 The rest of the first week there was deep mourning. The remaining thirty days involved lighter mourning.

When someone dies, it is so encouraging to see an entire community show support to those who are left behind. This support make take the form of a sympathy card, a visit, a meal, a cry with the bereaved or a tender hug.

“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.” (John 11:20). Everyone deals with death differently and that is okay. The personality differences of the two sisters are seen here in their response to Lazarus’ death. Martha is active and assertive going out to meet Jesus. She seeks Christ in her grief. Mary, on the other hand, is quiet and contemplative, sitting at home. Jesus consoles each sister differently, taking into consideration their differing personalities.

“Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:21). Martha is saying, “Lord, You could have prevented this. We sent word to you before Lazarus died. You could have come immediately and prevented his death. But no! You waited two more days and Lazarus died. We needed You, Lord. Why didn’t You come?!” Notice that Martha’s faith was limited to whether Jesus was there.

But Martha did not let her anger and disappointment cut off her relationship with the Lord. She said to Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22). She still believed Jesus could meet her need.

Jesus reassures her. “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23). He is referring to what He is about to do. He does not rebuke her for expressing her anger or disappointment. Jesus understands our humanness and the need to deal with feelings when faced with a loss. He dealt with losses, too. He had already lost John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 14:10-13).

Martha responds to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24). Martha did not realize that Jesus was talking about raising Lazarus from the dead immediately. She thought He was referring to the final resurrection when the Messiah-God comes to set up His Kingdom (cf. Job 19:25-27; Daniel 2:44-45; 7:9-14, 26-27; 12:1-3).

Have you ever felt like Martha did near the grave of a loved one? You are angry with God for letting your loved one die. Maybe you prayed to God to save your spouse or child from death, and God let him or her die. Your heart was broken in two. It felt like God punched you in the gut! You were so overwhelmed with sadness and then anger. Why would God let this happen? What might Jesus say to you near your loved one’s grave? I believe He might say the same thing He said to Martha.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25). This is the fifth “I AM” statement by Jesus in the gospel of John (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 14; 11:25) whereby He claims to be the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). Jesus is the Guarantor of both resurrection and life.

As “the Resurrection” (John 11:25), Jesus guarantees a future resurrection to all who believe in Him. The person who believes in Christ “shall live” again physically through resurrection even “though he may die” physically. As “the Resurrection,” Jesus guarantees a future bodily resurrection to all who believe in Him. When Jesus comes back for His Church, all believers in Him will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will be free from sin and death (cf. I Corinthians 15:35-56; I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Next, as “the Life,” Jesus guarantees that “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26a). This phrase, “shall never die,” is extremely powerful. Christ guarantees that all who believe in Him shall “never” experience eternal death or separation from God. How long is “never”? It is forever. The moment a person believes in Jesus, he or she receives “life” from Him that can “never” be taken away from him or her.

Jesus had made similar promises in the gospel of John which include “shall never hunger,” (John 6:35), “shall never thirst” (John 4:14; 6:35), “shall never perish” (John 10:28), and “shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24). Christ guarantees that the moment a person believes in Him for everlasting life, he or she is secure forever!!! What this also means is even though Lazarus had died physically, he was still alive spiritually because he had believed in Jesus.

Jesus makes this promise to “whoever lives and believes in” Him. We may be surprised to see the words “whoever lives.” Usually Jesus says, “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:15-16; 4:14). Why does Jesus add the words “whoever lives” as a condition for this promise? Dr. Bob Wilkin explains, “Jesus only offers His life to living human beings who believe in Him. He does not extend eternal life to nonhumans (Satan, fallen angels, demons); nor does He extend eternal life to humans who die in unbelief.” 4 Christ does not offer eternal life to people after they die. The Bible says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances to get to heaven after we die. This life is the only opportunity people have to get right with God through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Reincarnation is not found in the Bible. Jesus’ promise is made to living human beings (“whoever lives”), not to those who have died.

Let’s look at Jesus’ evangelistic invitation to Martha. He said to her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Christ is asking Martha (and us), “Do you believe I guarantee a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?” This question is rarely asked of non-Christians today by Christians who practice evangelism. Instead, they ask the non-Christian questions like…

“Have you turned from your sins?”

– “Have you been baptized with water?”

– “Have you surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus?”

– “Have you given your life to Christ?”

– “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”

– “Have you confessed Jesus as your Lord?”

No mention of the word “believe” is made in these common invitations. This is not what Jesus did with Martha. If we want to become more like Jesus, we must evangelize the lost the same way that He did. He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” that I am the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?

Look at Martha’s response. “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). She did not say “I think I believe…” nor does she say, “Maybe I believe…” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” Martha was convinced that Jesus was the Christ – the One who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. Could Martha believe that Jesus was the Christ without realizing she herself had eternal life? No. To believe that Jesus was the Christ was to believe His guarantee of eternal life. To doubt His guarantee of eternal life was to doubt Jesus as the Christ. If a person does not believe he or she is eternally secure the moment he or she believes in Jesus for eternal life, then he or she has not understood Jesus’ offer.

Some people think it is not enough to believe in Christ for eternal life. They think you must also turn from your sins, confess your sins, invite Jesus into your heart, surrender to the Lord, be baptized, continue in good works, obey all of God’s commands, and the list goes on and on and on. But this is foreign to the gospel of John which was written specifically to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31). Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in his gospel. 5 If we want to become more like Jesus, we must use the word that God uses the most in evangelism – “BELIEVE”!!!  

Many people today make a distinction between head faith and heart faith. They have told us that we can miss heaven by eighteen inches because we have believed in Jesus with our head but not with our heart. But where does the Bible make this distinction? It does not. Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish head belief from heart belief. All belief is belief. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.”(John 6:47).

To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. Either I believe Christ’s promise or I do not. If I do, I have eternal life. If I do not, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one has “heart belief” instead of “head belief.” Saving faith is the conviction that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, and then believing or trusting in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but Whom your faith is in and What your faith believes. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life to every believer by Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:1-8; et al). Therefore, those who refer to “head belief” or “heart belief” are reading into the word “believe as the Bible neither does, nor provides basis for doing.

When Martha answered Jesus’ question with, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27), neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, Who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in his purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.

Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a statement? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because as long as any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.

What would Martha’s faith be like if Jesus had not delayed, and hence, had not raised Lazarus from the dead? Her understanding of Christ’s Person and power would be less. But because Jesus did not get there in time to heal Lazarus, Martha came to know that Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

One of the reasons God allows our situations to worsen after we pray about them is so He can reveal more of Himself to us. So instead of getting discouraged when God is silent, we can expect Him to reveal more of Himself to us.

The story is told of an atheist who was spending a quiet day fishing on a lake when suddenly his boat was attacked by the Loch Ness monster. With one easy flip of his tail, the beast tossed the man and his boat high into the air. Then the Loch Ness monster opened his mouth to swallow both the atheist and his boat. As the man sailed head over heels, he cried out, “Oh, my God, help me!” At once the ferocious attack scene froze in place, and as the atheist hung in midair, a booming voice came down from the clouds saying, “I thought you didn’t believe in Me?” The man pleaded, “Come on, God, give me a break. I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness monster either.”

Even when a person is facing death, God can reveal more of Himself to that person so that in the case of the atheist, he can believe in the Lord. Maybe you have been praying a long time about a situation and it seems to get worse and worse. Take heart, God may be about to reveal more of Himself to you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may be standing beside the grave of a loved one right now. And like Martha, we may be disappointed or even angry with You for allowing our loved one to die after we prayed to You to save him or her from death. Thank You for reminding me today that You know how it feels when a loved one dies. You wept when You saw the grief that was caused by Your dear friend’s death (John 11:35). You sometimes delay Your answers to our prayers to reveal Yourself to us in a deeper and more powerful way like You did with Martha. You showed Martha (and us) that You are “the Resurrection and the Life” by raising her brother from the dead so that she could know that You have the power to provide a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in You alone. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for reminding me that all I must do to receive a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life is to believe in You alone. Please help me to be clear when I share this message with non-Christians. Thank You for reminding me that I need to use the same word You used the most in evangelism – BELIEVE. In Your holy and precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 207.

2.  Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 202.

3. Ibid., pg. 201.

4. Dr. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (pg. 507). Grace Evangelical Society. Kindle Edition.

5. John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 4

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” John 10:40

When we encounter skeptics who deny that Jesus is God, we may find it necessary to CONSIDER OUR BEGINNINGS (John 10:40). This is the fourth way Jesus responded to His skeptical audience.

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him. All doors were closed to His ministry in Judea and for some time Galilee had rejected His ministry. Jesus did not stay long in resistant areas. He moved to more receptive areas and He advised His disciples to do the same (cf. Matthew 10:11-15, 23). Plus, it wasn’t time for Him to suffer and die on the Cross. So where does Jesus go?

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” (John 10:40). Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany, a small ford community on the east bank of the Jordan River where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry. 1 This was not the Bethany near Jerusalem, but the Bethany of Perea which was east of the Jordan River. Christ would spend the next three and a half months here.

This was a place that had many fond memories for the Lord. This is where He met and won His first disciples (John 1:35-51). He had success here far away from the prejudiced atmosphere of Jerusalem and He would enjoy more success here again. John tells us that it was “there He stayed” – He made His home here.

It is important for us to consider our beginnings when we are going through difficult times. If you are discouraged right now because of having to deal with skeptics or those who reject your Christian faith, relive the time when you became a child of God through faith in Christ or when you began your Christian ministry. Remember God’s faithfulness during those early days of your Christian life. This will encourage you and renew your strength in the Lord.

When my parents moved our family away from their families in Illinois to Iowa when I was seven years old, we would periodically return to Illinois to visit where we were born and relive the many fond memories we had there. This served as a way of recharging us spiritually and emotionally for the challenges we faced in Iowa.

Even now when I may be disappointed in ministry or with life in general, I like to relive the many fond memories I have of my first couple of short-term mission trips to the Philippines when I saw an incredible response to the gospel. Occasionally, I schedule mission trips to go back to areas I have visited in the past where we saw amazing receptivity among the people of the Philippines. These trips serve as a time of refreshment and renewal for us and for those to whom we minister.

There are many stressors in our world today including COVID-19, social unrest, political divisions, and opposition to Christianity. When you face difficulties in your Christian life, do you have a place where you can go to relive fond memories you have with the Lord? If not, ask the Lord to guide you to such a place where you can remember some special times you had with Him to refresh your soul.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are such a wise Counselor. Thank You for reminding me how You can use opposition to my Christian faith to redirect me to people who are more receptive to Your gospel message. I also appreciate Your example of retreating to a place where You could relive many fond memories from the beginning of Your ministry. Please lead me to such a place where I can be refreshed by memories of Your amazing grace working in my life and the lives of others whom You brought into my life. You are such a Good Shepherd to lead Your sheep beside still waters to refresh their souls. In Your name I praise You! Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) pg. 50; cf. John 1:28 – the majority of Greek manuscripts read “Bethany,” not “Bethabara.”

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 3

“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16

We can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd whenwe REALIZE HIS INCLUSIVE LOVE FOR OTHERS (John 10:16). During His earthly ministry, Jesus primarily ministered to the people of Israel. But He also loved Gentiles. Jesus said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16a). God the Father gave His one and only Son because He loved the entire world – all humankind, without exception (cf. Hebrews 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). God’s love excludes no one, including you.

Jesus said to His Jewish audience, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16). Christ has “other sheep [Gentiles] which are not of this fold [Jews].” Christ says that these other sheep (Gentiles) must be brought into the fold by Him which at the time was mostly Jews. Jesus did not come to give His life for Jews only. The “other sheep” that Jesus would save are Gentiles or non-Jews who would believe in Him so that the church (“one flock”), would consist of both Jewish and Gentile believers (cf. Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:5-7).

This is consistent with the fact that Jesus is not only the Savior of Jews and Samaritans, but of the whole world. After the Samaritans came to Jesus and heard Him teach, “They said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’ ” (John 4:42). It does not matter to Jesus how wealthy or poor you are; how much or little education you have; what your skin color is or what religious community you belong to. He loves all people the same and He wants to save all people (I Timothy 2:3-5).

In Christ’s body, everyone is important and necessary to our “one Shepherd.” There are no distinctions. Listen to Galatians 3:26-28: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It does not matter if you are black or white, Jew or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Atheist or Hindu, rich or poor, male or female – if you believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of salvation, you are God’s child and you have equal privileges and worth in God’s family!

When we started a church in central Iowa several years ago, we planned to reach white middle class Americans because church planting experts said we would be most effective reaching people like ourselves. But God had other plans. After our Grand Opening, we began to see fewer white middle class Americans coming to our new church. Instead, the Lord began to bring people from other cultures who were seeking Jesus.

I think one of the greatest testimonies to Jesus Christ, our “one Shepherd,” is when He gathers people of different cultures and colors and unites them in one body, the local church. Church planting experts may say you cannot do that. And I would partially agree with them. People cannot do that on their own, but our “one Shepherd” can. Every time a church obeys Jesus and preaches the gospel to all people and makes disciples of those who believe (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15), we are getting a preview of what heaven will be like.

Listen to what the apostle John says about heaven in Revelation 7:9-10: “9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” Jesus Christ, our “one Shepherd,” can unite all people from all nations, tribes, people groups, and language groups into one family that loves everyone equally.

When Jesus says, “they will hear My voice” (John 10:16), it brings to remembrance Christ’s words in John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” The way Gentiles will be added to God’s flock is the same way the Jews were added – by hearing and believing Christ’s promise of eternal life (cf. Acts 10:34-15:-17). There is no other way to become of a member of Jesus’ flock.

For centuries governments and educated people have failed to unite people of different cultures into one unified body. But Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, can unite people from all nations into one body because He has the power to change the human heart by His grace. Governments, educational systems, economic systems, and special interest groups like Black Lives Matter cannot change the human heart. But our “one Shepherd” can. He can change selfish hearts into serving hearts. He can change an angry heart into an accepting heart. He can transform a greedy heart into a generous one. He can make a bitter heart better. He can heal the broken heart. And all of us have broken hearts because we have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

But when we understand and experience the all-encompassing love of Jesus Christ, we will be drawn closer to Him and we will begin to love others as He does. The world could use a lot more of this kind of love. And it begins by entering a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Do you have Jesus in your life? If not, you can receive Him into your life right now. The Bible says, 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 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 5:11-13). Eternal life is a gift from God and it is found in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. You can receive this gift from God by believing in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. If you will do that, the Bible says “you may know that you have eternal life.” Knowing you have eternal life is the foundation for growing in Jesus’ love for you and others.

Prayer: Lord God, I come to You now as a broken sinner. I am very distraught by all the division and violence in the world. Hatred towards people of different color and religion is rampant. No politician or professor or pastor or priest can unite all cultures and colors of people into one body. But You, Lord Jesus, can if we will come to You on Your terms. As best I know how, I believe You loved me so much that You were willing to die in my place on a cross for all my sins and rise from the dead as You promised. I am now believing or trusting in You alone, Lord Jesus (not my religion, or good life, or prayers), to give me everlasting life and receive me into Your family forever. Thank You my Good Shepherd, for the everlasting life and forever family I now have. Please use me to love others into Your family. In Your blessed name I pray. Amen.

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 2

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” John 10:14

I can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd when I REALIZE HIS INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF ME (John 10:14-15). “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” (John 10:14). It was important for a shepherd to know his sheep. He must know their needs, weaknesses, and their problems. Without this kind of knowledge, he would not be able to adequately provide for the needs of his sheep. Christ is the Good Shepherd not only because He lays down His life for us, but because He has an intimate knowledge of us.

Jesus repeats His “I AM” statement when He says, “I am the good Shepherd.” “I AM” was the name of the Self-existing God who had revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Since Jesus is the Self-existing God, He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us. It is also important that the sheep know their shepherd. They must know his voice so they can respond when he calls them. They must learn to trust their shepherd so he can provide for their needs.

In this technological age, it is easy to begin feeling like a number on a computer instead of a person. We are identified by our Social Security number rather than by our name. We receive junk mail addressed to “Resident” instead of personalized correspondence. Such impersonal methods may cause some people to conclude, “No one cares about me. No one knows where I am or how I am feeling.” But that is not true. Jesus cares. He knows you by name (John 10:3). He knows you intimately (John 10:14).

We never need to feel like the young student who felt slighted when Edward VII, the king of England from 1901 to 1910, was visiting a city to lay the cornerstone for a new hospital. Thousands of school children were present to sing for him. Following the ceremony, the king walked past the excited youngsters. After the king was gone, a teacher saw one of her students crying. She asked her, “Why are you crying? Did you not see the king?” “Yes,” the young girl sobbed, “but the king did not see me.” King Edward could not have taken notice of each child in that throng. Jesus, however, gives individual attention to each of us. Christ knows who you are. You matter to Jesus.

You may think God has forgotten you and that He is a thousand miles away. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you. There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never. He has seen every breath you have ever taken, every thought you ever had, every word you have ever said, everything you have ever done good or bad, and He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love. 

It is hard for us to imagine that Jesus pays that much attention to us because we don’t pay that much attention to Him. We don’t notice God twenty-four hours a day. But every moment of every day God has His eye on you. Jesus said in Luke 12:6-7 “…  God never overlooks a single sparrow. And He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail – even numbering the hairs on your head!” For some of us that is not very difficult! God loves you with a love you have never imagined. He has always paid attention to you. He has never taken His eyes off you.

The more we understand how intimately Christ knows us and loves us, the more we will want to “know” our Shepherd on a more intimate level like the Son knows the Father. “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:15). The Son must know the Father to follow His will, just like the sheep must know the Shepherd to follow Him faithfully. Jesus taught that the relationship the sheep enjoy with Himself is unique, as His relationship with His Father is unique.

Jesus’ intimate relationship with His Father is what enabled Him to obey His Father even to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). He laid down His life for the sheep. When Jesus was verbally and physically abused by His enemies, He did not retaliate. Instead, “He committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously” and He “bore our sin in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” (I Peter 2:23-24). Peter explains further why Jesus bore our sins in His own body. “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (I Peter 2:25). When Christians face injustice and suffering, they can be reassured that they have a good “Shepherd” who cares for them and provides for them. This Good Shepherd is the “Overseer” of their souls who protects and watches over them.

I am reminded of a story I heard about a Christian woman who invited her unbelieving feminist female friend to church one Sunday. After the pastor finished preaching about the role of men and women in marriage from Ephesians 5:22-33, the feminist looked at her friend and said, “I could follow a man who is willing to die for me.” The Christian woman replied, “There is such a Man and His name is Jesus Christ.” Knowing the love that Christ has for us draws us closer to Him as our Good Shepherd. When you know that Someone genuinely loves you enough to die for you, you can trust Him to lead you and care for you.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, living in this time of COVID and social unrest, it can be easy to feel alone and unimportant. We may feel that You have lost our address and do not even care about us. But Your Word reminds us that this is not even close to the truth. You are our Good Shepherd and You know Your sheep intimately. Our feelings may tell us that we are all alone and unimportant to You, but Your voice of truth reminds us that You are always with us and Your eyes and ears never take their focus off of us. Your love for us is constant regardless of our past. You demonstrated this when You died for us even though we were still undeserving sinners (Romans 5:8). The more we focus on the truth of Your constant love and care for us, the more we will want to draw close to You. Your love casts out fear. Your love removes the barriers we have erected to protect ourselves. Though we were once lost sheep, we have now returned to You, Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We can now trust You to provide, protect, and guide His precious sheep so we can live to please You alone. The more we know You, the more we want to make You known. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.  

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 opposition to the truth about Jesus? Part 3

“Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” John 8:51

So far we have learned that to overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus we must analyze Christ’s opponent’s accusations with God’s Word (John 8:48-49) and aim for God the Father’s approval (John 8:50). Today we discover that we are to ASK THEM TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST’S PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE (John 8:51-53). Christ says to His unbelieving audience, “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (John 8:51). This does not mean that a person must completely obey all of God’s Word to earn eternal life because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught in the gospel of John about how to receive eternal life (cf. John 3:15-18; 4:10-14;  5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-38; 8:45-46). Nor is Jesus saying believers will never experience physical death. In the context, the word “keeps” (tēréō) means to pay careful attention to what Jesus says about receiving eternal life.

For example, in John 6:47, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” In John 11:26, Jesus promised, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” The apostle John also writes in I John 2:23, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Christ promises that those who keep His word by believing in Him for everlasting life shall never see eternal death. When a believer in Jesus dies physically, he or she (their spirit) is immediately taken into the presence of the Lord.

“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Christians can be confident that the moment they die (“be absent from the body”) their spirit will go to “be present with the Lord” while their body sleeps in the grave (cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-17). I can be assured, that “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23). Physical death for the believer in Jesus is not the end. It is actually a new beginning for Christians as they transition into eternity in the presence of our Lord where there will be no more sin or death for them (cf. I Corinthians 15:51-57; I John 3:2-3).

Non-Christians cannot understand the things of God because they do not have the Spirit of God (cf. I Corinthians 2:11b-14). Thus, the best place to start with unbelieving opponents to the truth about Jesus, is to share the gospel with them so they can be saved and receive the Holy Spirit who can enable them to understand and believe the truth about Jesus (cf. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20, 27).

Jesus’ unbelieving audience mistakenly think He is claiming that those who keep His word will never die physically. They respond to this invitation with more unbelief toward Jesus. “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.” (John  8:52). They think their previous accusation against Jesus has just been confirmed (cf. John 8:48). “Only a demon-possessed man would claim to have more power than Abraham and the prophets who all died, yet in the face of these facts Jesus claims that the one who keeps His word ‘shall never taste death’ or experience physical death? If these righteous ones to whom God gave great privileges were not delivered from physical death, such deliverance was impossible.

They continue, “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). Their question expects a negative answer and means, “Surely, Jesus, You are not greater than our founding father, Abraham, or the prophets, who are dead. If keeping Your words prevents physical death, then You are claiming to be greater than those who died.” Ironically, Jesus was greater than Abraham and the prophets as we shall see in the next few verses.

Before I became a Christian at the age of nineteen, the claims of Jesus did not make much sense to me because I did not have God the Holy Spirit inside me to help me understand the meaning of Scripture and how it applies to my life. But the moment I believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the Bible came alive for me. As I read the Bible each day, certain truths would jump off the pages of my Bible and burn in my heart. Jesus’ gift of everlasting life was my new norm and reality.

One of the most important ways we can overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus is to invite unbelievers to believe Christ’s promise of everlasting life to all who believe in Him so they can receive the best Teacher in the universe – God the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20, 27). He can remove Satan’s blinders (2 Corinthians 4:4) so they can see and embrace the truth about Jesus Christ – that He is much greater than Abraham and the prophets as we shall learn in the next few verses.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You so much for showing me that I do not need to be afraid to share the truth about Jesus with those who are hostile to the truth. For I am guaranteed never to taste eternal death the moment I believe in Him Who is greater than Abraham and the prophets! Thank You Holy Spirit for removing the blinders from my heart and my mind so I could see Jesus for Who He truly is! He is the promised Messiah-God! He is the Alpha and the Omega! The Beginning and the End! He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace! Please give me the wisdom and boldness to point people to Jesus Who alone can rescue them from sin and death the moment they believe in Him. I love You, my Lord and my God. Though I long to be in Your presence in heaven, I also know You are not finished with me yet on earth. Please use me to introduce millions to Your Son. In His everlasting name I pray. Amen.

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How can I overcome my sinful addictions – Part 5

“Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” John 8:46

The third reason why we are hindered from overcoming our addictions is because of our STUBBORN UNBELIEF (John 8: 45-47). Like their father, the devil, these unbelieving Jews lived in a world of lies and falsehood. Jesus said to them, “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.” (John 8:45). These men would rather believe a lie, rather than the truth that Jesus spoke. They had believed the devil’s lies so long that when Jesus tells them the truth, they did not believe Him because His teaching did not line up with their belief system. Here lies the battle: truth versus lies. The only way you can begin to overcome your addictions is to start believing the truth – about Christ, yourself, and your bondage to sin.

Jesus asks them, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46a). “If you can find anything that I have done wrong, anything in all my thirty-three years on earth; if there is one of you who can stand up and say, ‘You cheated me, you stole from me, you lied to me, you deceived me, you lived for your own self, you took away what belonged to another,’ that would utterly demolish My claim to have come from God.” He pauses for an answer, but no one says anything. Their silence implied that Jesus was sinless. 

So Christ asks, “And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” (John 8:46b). “If you can find no sin in Me, then I must be speaking the truth, so why do you refuse to believe in Me? A sinless Man should be believed!” Jesus has stripped away the veil that has hidden their hearts from themselves. He has revealed them, not as good and decent men who were free before God, but as slaves, bound with habits they could not break, slaves to sin, desperately needing the work of a Redeemer. Yet they stubbornly refuse to believe in Christ.

So He states the case plainly. “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (John 8:47). They rejected Christ’s message because they have no relationship with God.

This reminds me of some of the victims of hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the United States back in August of 2005. When rescuers came to their flooded homes, they shot at them instead of trusting them to save them from drowning. They refused their help. Are we any different? We can be so entrapped by sin, unable to break those sinful habits, yet when Christ offers us His help to overcome them, we shoot at Him as if we would rather die in our sin than be saved by someone else.

This brings us back to what Jesus said in John 8:31b-32: “31b If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That is the only way out. To all victims of Satan’s lies Jesus offers the priceless gift of freedom. Only Jesus Christ can deliver us from bondage to sin. We do not have the power in ourselves to overcome sin. Only Christ can free us from sin’s control. Will we think, believe and act on the truth or will we think, believe, and act on a lie? The choice is ours. Choosing the truth will lead to freedom from bondage to sin and an abundant life. Choosing a lie will lead to more bondage and destruction.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we come to You as prisoners of our own making. All of us are slaves to sin. It may be anger, lust, worry, alcohol, drugs, self-abuse, gossip, pornography, cell phones, or work. You know our addictions and only You can set us free. Empower us to know, believe, and act on Your truth so that we may be all that You intended us to be for Your glory. In Your name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome my sinful addictions? – Part 3

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

The truth is many of us are not experiencing this kind of freedom from sin that we looked at in the first two articles. Why? What prevents us from overcoming our addictions?

SELF-SUFFICIENT PRIDE (John 8:33-36). This is what hindered Jesus’ audience. Keep in mind that Jesus’ audience was comprised of believers (“many believed in Him… those Jews who believed Him” – John 8:30b-31a) and unbelievers (“you do not believe Me… why do you not believe Me?” – John 8:44-45). When Christ spoke to the Jews who believed in Him (John 8:30-32), many of the unbelieving Jews listened in and were offended by Christ’s words. Then “they answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?’ ” (John 8:33). Now this is a strange thing for them to say in light of the fact that they were currently in bondage to the Roman government. But that’s not what they mean. They are boasting of the fact that they are part of the Jewish ethnicity. They were convinced that God accepted them because they were descendants of Abraham.

This reminds me of when we lived in Dallas, Texas, in the 1980s and we would drive past Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys played. That was a unique stadium. It is not like the Kingdome or the Superdome and other great stadia where football is played, because it is not completely roofed over. It has a big hole in the roof right over the football field. Spectators are protected but the players are exposed to the elements. When I asked why I was told, So God can watch His favorite team!” That is the way the Cowboys feel about themselves: “God’s Favorite Team!” That is what these Jews felt, too: “We are God’s favorite people; God’s chosen race.”

This is the real problem. This is what most often keeps people from coming to Christ and finding the path to freedom: They assume that because they are born into a religious or Christian family, they will go to heaven when they die. After all they live in a Christian nation or their parents were devoted Christians, so that must mean they are Christians and therefore they feel they are already free. And they ignore their hurt and heartache.

This reminds me that when people take their sin lightly, they often take their need for the Savior lightly as well. Evangelist Billy Graham once said, “To you, sin may be a small thing; to God it is a great and awful thing. It is the second largest thing in the world; only the love of God is greater.” (Billy Graham – Angels: God’s Secret Agents).

But Jesus cuts through all that self-sufficient pride and says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34). Like many people in the world, these Jews were in spiritual bondage to sin and they did not even know it. When I preached this message in the provincial jail in the Philippines, I took some thread and began to wrap it around my forefinger and middle finger.

As I did this, I said, “At first, sin seems harmless. We feel guilty, but we tell ourselves, ‘everybody else does it,’ and so we justify our sin and we do it again and again. Plus, it’s fun. Sin feels good at first, doesn’t it? I’m not just talking about drinking and sex, but other pleasures such as telling somebody off when he was wrong or indulging in gossip that ruins somebody’s reputation. Those too are pleasurable sins. But what happens when we keep repeating those same sins?” I wrapped more thread around my two fingers. “They form habits within us that finally become unbreakable. No matter how hard we try, we cannot stop the sin.” I then tried to separate my fingers without success. “You finally decide to quit but you cannot. This is what happened to these Jews.”

Maybe it has happened to you and you have lost all hope of overcoming the addiction that has mastered you. Jesus says, “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.” (John 8:35). These unbelieving Jews thought they were “sons” of God’s household forever because they were descendants of Abraham, but Jesus implies that they are only “a slave,” not a member of God’s household.

On the other hand, “a son,” a believer in Christ (cf. John 12:36), “abides forever” in God’s household and is set free from sin in his position (John 8:35b). “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36). Only by believing or trusting in Christ alone as our Savior can Jesus set us free from the bondage of our sin. Christ is inviting these unbelievers to believe in Him so they can be set free from bondage to sin positionally through His atoning death on the cross! Once they have Christ in their lives through faith in Jesus alone, they can begin to experience freedom from slavery to sin experientially as they learn to “abide” in Christ’s word (cf. John 8:31-32).

When I said this at the jail, I cut the thread wrapped around my fingers. These Jews (and all unsaved people) must make a personal decision to believe or trust in Christ alone because only Christ can set them free from bondage to sin in their position. God does not have grandchildren, only children who receive Him by faith alone in Christ alone (John 1:12). When you believe in Jesus, He makes you what He is – a son who remains in the house of God forever. And in God’s family, you can enjoy unspeakable pleasures and privileges for eternity!

In January 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was declared. This legal document said that all slaves were now free. But in the state of Texas, someone kept it a secret. They didn’t tell the people of Texas that they were free. So for a couple of years after the Emancipation Proclamation, they were still living like slaves. Texans were acting like slaves because no one had told them they were free. In fact, they were so glad that someone finally told them, they made that date a holiday, and African Americans celebrate Juneteenth every year. Thank God, someone told them! If no one had ever shared the good news, then they would have stayed in slavery much longer.

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, signed our Emancipation Proclamation. He declared that we are free positionally from bondage to sin, but Satan is trying to keep it a secret from us. He is trying to keep us from coming to the realization that we do not have to stay enslaved to sin. We do not have to say, “Yes, sir,” to the devil’s control of our lives any longer. We can take the freedom that Christ has provided for us at the cross, and act on it. We can start living in the freedom that we have because we have now been made free in Christ. That is who we are, but we must choose to live like it.  

Prayer: My Lord and my God, I was once ignorant of my sin and my need for a Savior. Like Jesus’ unbelieving audience, I thought I would go to heaven because of my association with a Christian church and family. But neither my church nor my family could set me free from my bondage to sin. Only You could set me free from my sins positionally so I could become a member of Your household forever! Thank You for revealing this to me through Your Word and Your servants who shared it with me. Thank You that I am a permanent member of Your household by virtue of believing in Jesus alone, and now I have access to all the pleasures and privileges that come with it. Please help me abide in Christ’s Word so I may know the truth and be set free from the lies that enslave me to a lifestyle of sin. Please help me to see myself as You do – free from bondage to sin through Jesus’ atoning death – so I may act on this truth and experience the freedom it gives in my daily life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I overcome my sinful addictions? – Part 1

“As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him…” John 8:30-31a

Jill was sixteen and was experiencing some troubles at home. She got involved on the internet and met this seemingly neat guy in a chat room. She left home, moved in with this guy in Toronto and was provided with drugs that made her feel so good. He turned out to be a pimp and soon she was selling her body on the busy street corners of Canada’s largest city. Parents and friends pleaded for her to come back home so they could all make a new start. But, she shot back, “look, this is a free country — I can do what I want.” Was she really free or had she become a slave to a pimp and to drugs?

Barry was a forty-year old guy — married for seventeen years with three kids. He found a secretary in the office who really understood him. She was young, vivacious and seemed to be so interested in his jokes, ideas, and activities. You probably know the rest of the story — he left his wife to move in with the new love of his life. Among many others, the pastor and the district elder tried to talk some sense into him. His response was, “Look, I am free to do what I want.” Was he really free or had he become a slave to lust, to being pampered? Was he exercising his freedom or his bondage?

This is relevant to all of us because all of us are enslaved to sin to some degree. We all have sinful addictions… patterns in our lives. Jesus does not use the word “addiction,” but He describes it when He says, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34b). A sinful addiction is a repeated yielding to sinful behaviors over a period of time. Slavery is being so controlled by something that you view it as your master. This applies to all of us, doesn’t it? All of us can have patterns of thought, speech, feelings, and behaviors that are so dominant that we see them as our master.

For example, we may have patterns of thinking that are not pleasing to the Lord and we know it – but we continually go there with our minds. God has a certain way He wants us to think about trials, our enemies, our possessions, future, and our lives, but we keep drifting away from the way God wants us to think to a more self-destructive way of thinking.

As you read this article, your mind may be swirling down into distress. You are so used to doing it that you find yourself doing it even though you don’t want to do it. You may be enslaved to anger, bitterness, worry, despair, or even self-abuse where you continually beat yourself up for being human. Your life may be swallowed up in self-pity or lust, pornography, worry, and you may not be able to sleep at night because you are so consumed with fear and worry. You are enslaved to these things.

The true definition of freedom is, “being able to be all that God meant for you to be.” Don’t you long for that? To feel fulfilled, to be able to do all that is possible for you to do and be in Christ – that is freedom. That is what we will explore in this part of the gospel of John. We are going to discover how to overcome our sinful addictions; how to experience true freedom in Christ.

The first way I can overcome my sinful addictions is when I am CONVINCED THAT JESUS ALONE CAN SAVE ME (John 8:30-31a). At the end of the Feast of Tabernacles many Jews believed in Jesus. 30 As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him…” (John 8:30-31a). The first step to overcoming our addictions is coming to know Jesus Christ as our Savior.

You will never find lasting freedom from your addictions until you examine the evidence that Jesus is who He claims to be. You must believe Him first, and that means examining the evidence. Hundreds of thousands of people reject Jesus without ever examining the evidence for who He is. That is why the gospel of John was written. “But these are written that 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). The only condition for eternal life is simply believing in Christ alone for it. Obviously, then if you want to be free from addictions, to be all God wants you to be, you must trust in Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Not trust in Christ plus your good works to get you to heaven. But trust in Christ alone.

And the moment you do, the eternal Son of God comes to live inside of you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39; Galatians 2:20). If you don’t have Jesus Christ in your life, the only changes in your life will be superficial. You may read your Bible, pray, and go to church or counseling, but you are not going to experience lasting freedom from your addictions without Christ in your life! Only Christ has the power to defeat sin in your life. Next time, we will learn more about the road to freedom from our addictions.

Prayer: Father God, my life was once dominated by sin. Over and over again, I promised myself I would never go to those dark places again, but I did. I thought I could overcome sinful patterns in my life by trying harder. But I could not. I felt so guilty and ashamed. I tried to keep it a secret. But that only made things worse. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus came into my life the moment I believed in Him for His gift of everlasting life, I had hope for the first time that I could find freedom from the very things that enslaved me. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for that hope which provided the foundation for my road to freedom. In Jesus’ name. 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.