Revelation 2 – Part 1

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

John now records “the things which are” (1:19b), consisting of the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century. 1

There has been substantial debate about the meaning of “overcomers” in the book of Revelation. Two major interpretations are at the core of this debate. The perseverance understanding holds that all genuine Christians are overcomers. 2 This view argues that every believer is an overcomer (I John 5:4-5) who inherits eternal bliss (Revelation 21:7) and, therefore, proves his salvation with his works (Revelation 2:26). According to this position all true Christians will persevere in good works to the end of their lives.

The second interpretation understands the “overcomer” to be an obedient Christian who receives rewards for his faithfulness to God. 3 This view understands I John 5:4-5 to be true for all Christians. There is a sense in which all Christians are overcomers when they believe in Christ for new birth. This single act of faith at the moment of salvation is “the victory that has overcome the world” which is antagonistic toward this saving act of faith (I John 5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this interpretation understands that I John’s statements about overcomers is not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers as we shall now observe.

The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word nikaō which means to “be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.” 4 John uses this word in Revelation to refer to victorious Christians who persevere in a life of faith.

It is important to understand that Revelation 2-3 is addressing Christians because the term “church” refers to believers. 5 The issue is not salvation, but discipleship or Christian growth because the focus is on persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and not a single act of faith for salvation from hell (cf. John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37-39; 10:28-29; I John 5:1-5, 13). For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands (Revelation 22:14). Revelation is talking about Christians being overcomers through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

Also, in Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29: 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

With this understanding, let’s look at the first church Jesus addresses. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1). Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of the first century. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was a leading center of Greek culture as well as idol worship. Being a city of wealth and commerce, it contained the amazingly ornate temple of the goddess Diana (cf. Acts 19), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a city that had been effectively evangelized by Paul over the course of several years (cf. Acts 19:10, 20) and had become a gathering place of believers earnestly devoted to the Lord and His work. Unfortunately, over time these dedicated believers ‘left their first love.’ Therefore, with great concern the Lord speaks lovingly yet directly to His Bride in Ephesus to woo her back to her original devotion and zeal.” 6

Jesus describes Himself as the One “who holds [authoritatively with power] the seven stars [angels of the churches] in His right hand” and “walks in the midst of the seven lampstands [churches]in that He is involved in these local churches (2:1). Jesus was active among local churches in the first century and He remains active in churches today. Christ knows what is going on in our churches and He first offers encouragement.

2 I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). Christ commends this church for their hard work, perseverance (“patience”), and discernment of false teaching and teachers (2:2-3). “They tested everything by the Scriptures and rightly found that some so-called apostles did not teach pure doctrine.” 7 “In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.” 8

Next, Christ Jesus rebukes this church. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). The order of words is emphatic in the original language; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left” (τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας). 9

While this church had excelled in their service for Christ and their orthodoxy, they had left their “first love.” This refers to their original love and devotion to Jesus. They were doing the right things now, but not with the same love and devotion they had in the beginning.

“They had correct doctrine, but not a correct heart. The key word here is first, not love. As with romantic love between a man and a woman, first love always involves passion. Yet there was not passionate pursuit of an intimate relationship with Christ in the church. They were merely following a program. Duty had replaced devotion.” 10

This can happen to any church or individual Christian. We start out passionate in our love for Jesus considering all He did for us in saving us from our sins. But as the years pass by, we can easily shift from passionate love for our Savior to more of a program mentality whereby we function out of duty instead of devotion to Christ. We go through the motions, but our heart is not connecting to the Lord like it was in the beginning of our Christian lives. We can become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible that we become less sensitive to what God is saying to us. Familiarity can produce apathy in our Christian lives.

How can we regain our first love for Jesus? How can we restore that original devotion and passion we had for our Savior? The Lord gives us three commands in this one verse: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5).

REMEMBER. We can regain our first love for Jesus if we “remember” our original love and devotion for Him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian. Remember how the Bible came alive for you? It was so new and life-giving. The beauty of Jesus’ love and grace for us captured our hearts. Talking to the Lord was such a joy. It is important to remember those early days in our Christian life to rekindle that original love for Christ.

– REPENT. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means a “change of mind.” Jesus was calling the church to change their thinking about their love for Him. Jesus was not a program; He was a Person Who loved them infinitely. As their thinking about Christ changed, so would their affections. The more they could see Jesus as Someone Who loved them and enjoyed their presence, the more passion they would have about connecting with Him and serving Him. The same is true for us today.

– RETURN. Jesus was also inviting them to return to “the first works” that increased their love for Him. As a new believer in college, I remember memorizing the book of I John. I worked at the University of Iowa Hospital until 11 pm at night, so when I walked home it was very dark outside. I would recite my I John verses aloud as I walked home. Those were some of the most intimate times I ever had with the Lord Jesus. God is inviting His church to return to those works we did early in our relationship with Christ that brought us closer to Him.

Should the church at Ephesus (or any church) refuse to “repent,” the Lord would “remove” their “lampstand” or witness and close their doors which eventually happened in the fifth century. 11 In fact none of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 exist today because each one failed to maintain a repentant attitude toward the Lord. Such will be the fate of any church whose activity is about them rather than about the Lord Jesus. Failure to prioritize intimacy with God will result in the removal of one’s influence for Christ. As one commentator notes, The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.” 12

Following this warning, the Lord Jesus added one more commendation. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The Greek word for Nicolaitans means “to conquer the people.” 13 Little is known of the Nicolaitans, but their name typifies any system that focuses on dominating people rather than serving them. 14

Jesus then says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7). Jesus is addressing the whole Ephesus church consisting of believers (Revelation 2:1), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.” Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ till the end of their lives on earth and receive Christ’s promised reward.

Thus, the overcomers spoken of here in chaps. 2–3 are those people who not only believe in Christ for eternal life, but also walk in godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11) and remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives (cf. Matthew 25:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26).” 15

Jesus promises to reward the overcomer for his or her faithfulness by giving them the privilege “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” “There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).” 16 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14).

This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1– 2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.” 17

People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (Revelation 2:7; cf. 22:2, 14). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:25-27).

Imagine standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive your rewards from King Jesus (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He tells you that because you were not faithful to Him till the end of your Christian life, you will forfeit certain rewards which include ruling with Him and eating from the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 3:21; 22:2, 14). Think of the regret, sadness, or shame you will have at this time (cf. Matthew 25:18-19, 22-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26; I John 2:28). If only you had remained faithful to Christ, such rewards could have been yours.

Now fast forward to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). You are sitting at a table in the New Jerusalem with your friends or family, and one of them receives a call from the office of King Jesus, informing them that they have a special meeting with the King in an hour. At this meeting, fruit from the tree of life will be served for all to enjoy who are invited to this gathering. Because you were not faithful to Jesus till the end of your Christian life, you will not receive such a call nor have access to this special fruit.

Even though there “shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…” and “no more pain” on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4), you will not be able to experience as much closeness and enjoyment with King Jesus as those who were faithful to Him to the very end. Only those believers who hear the call and appropriate the promise (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says”) will be able to live a victorious life for Christ (Revelation 2:7). All believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will experience the same degree of rewards in heaven. Specifically for the church at Ephesus and those like it, those who do not lose passion for Christ in this life will experience a special place of intimacy with the Lord” 18 in heaven. Knowing this now is intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ with an undying love and devotion for Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we listened to Your message to the church of Ephesus, our hearts have been stirred. We know that we have lost the love and devotion we once had for You. Instead of prioritizing intimacy with You, we have focused on programs and performance. We have done things for You, but not with You. Thank You for loving us enough to confront us and woo us back to our original love and devotion for You. Lord, we want to regain our first love for You. Help us to remember the beauty of Your love and grace for us at the beginning of our relationship with You. Grant us a change of attitude toward You so we are not so careless to put ourselves ahead of You. Enable us to return to those things we did when we were passionately in love with You. May our love for You in some small way reflect Your incredible love for us. Thank You for promising us access to the tree of life if we will remain faithful to You to the end of our lives on earth. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1501.

2. James Rosscup, “The Overcome of the Apocalypse,” Grace Theological Journal, 3:2 (1982): pp. 261-286; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), pp. 123-133, 134-148, 164-172, 188-194, 252-254.

3. Harlan D. Betz, “The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), pp. 36-45; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 97-111; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 37, 470, 474; Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986), pg. 48.

4. pg. 673.

5. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pg. 108.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2371.

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

9. Ibid.

10. Evans, pg. 2371.

11. Walvoord, pg. 164.

12. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 31 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 572.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

14. Constable, pg. 31.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1504.

16. Constable, pg. 33.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1504. 18. Evans, pg. 2372.

How much you matter to God – Part 4

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ ” Luke 19:5

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. So far we have discovered…

– No matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a).

– No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:5ab).

Zacchaeus’ appearance made him feel lonely and insecure. His accusers made him feel bitter and resentful. But it was Zacchaeus’ sins, his own lifestyle, his own choices, that made him feel guilty and ashamed. So Jesus Christ did something even more shocking. He didn’t just walk up to the tree and look up and notice Zacchaeus. And He didn’t just call him by name and affirm him as a pure one in front of everybody else who hated him. 

Jesus then said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. This is truly amazing!

Think about this. The Son of God, walked all the way through town to find the biggest scoundrel in town and says, “I’m going to go to your house. I’m going to be your guest. Out of all these thousands of people, I choose you, Zacchaeus.”

This leads us to our third profound truth: NO MATTER WHAT I’VE DONE, JESUS ACCEPTS ME (Luke 19:5c-6) and He wants a relationship with me. This is the biggest mind blower of all. Jesus knew that there was no way that Zacchaeus would ever invite Him to his house because Zacchaeus was carrying a lot of hidden guilt, perhaps like some of us today. Because in his mind, Zacchaeus was thinking, “I’m not good enough to have Jesus Christ at my house. I’m not good enough to have God as my guest. You don’t know the things that I have done. I am not good enough to have a relationship with Him.”

And many of us have felt that way. We say to ourselves, “I’m not good enough. If you knew all the shameful things I have done You could never love me or want to spend time with me.” But we are wrong. Spending time with Jesus is not based on our goodness. It is based on God’s incredible love and grace for us. Regardless of all we have done wrong, Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with us.

So Jesus takes the initiative and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Notice, that Jesus did not say, “I would like to stay at your house.” No, He said “I must stay at your house.” This was a divine appointment. It was a necessary visit. 1  Since Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He obviously knew Zacchaeus. He knew everything about him, but that did not deter Jesus from taking the initiative and inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

The truth is, like Zacchaeus, we have done a lot of things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people with our own brand of selfishness. Sometimes it is out in the open. Sometimes it is in secret. But we have hurt a lot of other people in our lives by the things we have said and done. Our choices have deeply wounded people. But Jesus wants to change us more than condemn us. Jesus said, “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 came into the world to cleanse us, not condemn us. So He looks at you and me, and He says, “I know you, I love you, and I accept you in spite of all that you have done. And I want you to know and love Me and have a relationship with Me.”

Some of us may think, “If I come to Jesus Christ with all the dirt in my life, He is going to condemn me!” If this is how we think, then we don’t understand how much we matter to Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ in faith, no matter what we have done, Jesus still accepts us. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37b). Christ guarantees that when you come to Him in faith, He will never reject you. This may be difficult for us to understand if we have experienced a lot of rejection in our lives.

But there is a big difference between people and God when it comes to forgetting our past. When we sin, people have a tendency to remind us of our past sins. But God forgets! The Bible says, “ ‘16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ 17 then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ ” (Hebrews 10:16-17). God was not teasing when He said He will remember our sins no more. God has a forgetful nature. “Just as it’s against your nature to eat tree or grow wings, it’s against God’s nature to remember forgiven sins.” 2

“You see, God is either the God of perfect grace… or He is not God. Grace forgets. Period. Grace does not judge! He who is perfect love cannot hold grudges. If He does, then He isn’t perfect love.” 3 Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us what we need instead of what we deserve. None of us deserve to be forgiven. None of us deserve to have our sins remembered no more. But God’s grace forgives and forgets!

Think about this. If God did not forget, how could we pray? How could we sing to Him? How could we dare enter into His presence if the moment He saw us He remembered all our sinful past? 4

Let me illustrate this with a $100 bill. If I took a $100 bill and crumpled it up in my hand, would you still want it? Yes. But what if I stomped on that $100 bill with my dirty shoes on? Would you still want it? Yes, of course you would. But why? Because it has not lost any of its value. Yes, your life may be crumpled and stained by sin. It may be a total mess. But your life has not lost any value to God! And, yes, you have blown it but Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with you. 

When we come to Jesus, He accepts us and He will never reject us. No matter what we have done, Jesus wants a relationship with us. Knowing that Jesus notices everything in our lives, He affirms us regardless of what anyone else says about us, and He still wants a relationship with us in spite of the fact that we have rejected Him in the past, how should you respond to Him?

The way Zacchaeus did. The Bible says, “So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:6). I think Zacchaeus was saved before he hit the ground. He thought, “This is a deal I am not going to get anywhere else. I am going to take advantage of it right now.” Zacchaeus didn’t just receive Jesus joyfully into his house that day, he joyfully received Jesus into his heart. His heart was filled with joy because no one had ever showed him such love and grace as Jesus just did!

With the God who notices… affirms… and accepts you and is waiting with open arms, give me one logical reason why you should refuse to receive him as your Savior. There is none. It is so simple. The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Believe and receive. Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him. God became His Father in heaven and Zacchaeus became God’s child forever at that moment of faith.

Today I want to invite you, like Zacchaeus, to jump out of the tree you are in or get off the limb you are out on or get out of the dark hole and receive Jesus Christ into your life. How can you do that? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Jesus is the promised Christ, the Messiah-God (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1, 14, 41; 20:31). When you believe this, you are born of God. You are placed in God’s family forever and He will never cast you out (John 6:37).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have done, separate us from God (Romans 6:23a). But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by dying on the cross for all our sins (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again. The Lord Jesus is alive today and He now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

Just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Your good life, religion, or prayers will not save you. Only Jesus can save you. The Bible says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Did you catch that? “No other name under heaven” can save us from eternal separation from God outside of Jesus Christ. Your monk, parent, pastor, peers, politician, priest, prophet, or imam, cannot save you from your sins. You and I cannot save ourselves. But Jesus Christ can.

And the moment you place your trust in Jesus for eternal life, you become God’s child and God comes to live inside you through His Spirit. He can change the way you see yourself.

If you just believed or trusted Christ alone today for His gift of salvation, I would like to give you a chance to tell God what you have done. You can pray this prayer in your heart, keeping in mind that prayer does not save, trusting Christ saves.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for noticing every detail of my life… for seeing my potential in spite of my sin… for wanting a relationship with me in spite of all that I have done wrong. Today I realize there is nothing I can do to deserve heaven. So right now as best I know how, I am trusting You alone, Jesus, to forgive all my sins and to give me eternal life. Thank You for the assurance that I will now be with you in heaven when I die. Thank You for not being ashamed of me. I do not want to be ashamed of You, Lord Jesus. Please help me to see myself as You see me – forgiven, redeemed, and saved forever. Help me to tell others what You have done for me. In Your mighty name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He placed you in God’s family forever (John 1:12; 6:37). All of your sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:13-14). God has forgotten all your sins so you can approach Him with boldness now through prayer (Hebrews 10:16-22). God is now Your Father in heaven and you are His child forever (Matthew 6:9). You now have many brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. And at that moment of faith in Jesus, everything changed in your life just as it did in Zacchaeus’ life. Lord willing, we will discover next time just how dramatically Zacchaeus’ life changed and how Jesus can change our lives too.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. Retrieved from Steve Siemen’s communion meditation at NewLife Church in Pleasant Hill, Iowa on August 8, 2021.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Ibid.

How much you matter to God – Part 3

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab

During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.

Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.

All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.

But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”

From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” Pure or just one!?!  Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him. 

Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.” Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down. 

Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.”  God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.

It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things. 

Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”

We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.

When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).

The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).

Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.

When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).

Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.

We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2;  2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).  

Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.

How much you matter to God – Part 2

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him.” Luke 19:5a

We are looking at Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus to discover how much we matter to God. When we begin to see ourselves through God’s eyes, God can make the greatest changes in our lives.

Last time we saw that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man living in the city of Jericho who was probably quite miserable. His misery was connected to his appearance and his actions. He was a “short” or small man who probably received a lot of teasing all his life for the way he looked (Luke 19:3). He was also a “chief tax collector” which meant he got rich by stealing from people (Luke 19:2). So he was not liked by others because of his profession. It is likely that Zacchaeus did not even like himself because of his guilty conscience. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful and dishonest. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life. Most likely he felt all alone and unwanted.

Can you identify with Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your actions? Do you feel all alone and unwanted? Or do you know someone who does? If so, then I think you will be very interested in what happens next in this account of Zacchaeus. We are going to look at three profound truths the next few days which can change our lives forever.

The first truth is NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS NOTICES ME (Luke 19:4-5a). When you transition to a new phase in life – graduate from high school and go to college, start a new job, move to a new community, or retire – you may feel lonely and insignificant, like no one notices you. But know this, Jesus Christ notices you.

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus had come to the city of Jericho he did two things that no wealthy Middle Eastern man would do. “So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:4). One, he “ran” through a crowd, and two, he “climbed” a tree. These were things that little boys do in crowds, not wealthy well-known government officials. But Zacchaeus wanted to get ahead of the crowd and he found “a sycamore tree” where he hoped that Jesus would pass by and then he climbed up in that tree. 

His desperation caused him to do something a bit below his dignity. But Zacchaeus was willing to endure some public scorn to see the one everyone had been talking about.” 1

Luke may have been presenting Zacchaeus’ actions as a commentary on Jesus’ words that unless people become like little children they cannot enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:17).” 2 Constable also draws attention to this when he writes, “It is interesting that Zacchaeus did some childlike things, namely, running to see Jesus and climbing a tree, unusual activities for an adult government official. Jesus had formerly commended the tax collector in His parable for childlike faith (18:13). He had also taught the importance of childlike faith (cf. 18:16-17).” 3

Another commentator notes, “The crowd as [a] physical barrier and Zacchaeus’ strange position up in a tree can serve as spatial symbols of his isolation from his community.” 4

What Zacchaeus did was shocking, but what Jesus did was even more shocking. Jesus walks straight through the city past thousands of people packed in that crowd, and He walks right up to that tree and He stops. “And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him” (Luke 19:5a). In a packed out crowd, Jesus notices Zacchaeus. Christ looks up into that tree and fixes his gaze on this miserable man.  

I can just imagine Zacchaeus’ heart starting to pound or more probably, feel like it was going to explode! Adrenaline was flowing through his body. His throat was all constricted. Zacchaeus may have turned around to see if someone was behind him up in the tree because he can’t believe Jesus would stop this parade just to look up at him. Then Zacchaeus realizes, “Jesus is looking at me! Out of all the people in Jericho, He is looking at me! Why did He stop here? Why did He look up? Why is the Son of God looking directly at me!” At that point in time I imagine Zacchaeus was in shock. 

Why did Jesus do this? Why did Jesus stop right at that tree and look up? Because He knew Zacchaeus’ heart and He knew exactly where Zacchaeus was. Luke presents Jesus as the Savior who has come into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus was isolated and lost. Jesus knew this. So He took action.

And you know what? God knows exactly where you are today. You may be up in a tree. You may be out on a limb. You may be in a dark hole. You may think God has forgotten you and that He is thousands of miles away from you. But He is not. He has got His eyes on you (Psalm 17:8). There has never been a moment when God took His eyes off you. Never! He has seen every breath you have ever taken and every thought you have ever had. He has heard every word you have ever said and seen everything you have ever done – good or bad (cf. Psalm 139:1-18). And He has constantly looked at you with eyes of love.

It is may be difficult for us to imagine that God 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 eyes on us. Jesus said, “… But 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!” (Luke 12:6-7  MSG). For some of us, it is not very difficult to number all the hairs on our heads! God loves us with a love we have never imagined. He has always paid attention to us. He has never taken His eyes off of us.

When our daughters were much younger shooting baskets behind our house, they would constantly say, “Watch me Daddy! Watch me!” All of us have a deep need to be noticed. We want to be seen. So we say, “Watch me Daddy!”

Adults do this all the time. We are constantly saying, “Watch me! Watch me!” We don’t say it that openly. We do it by the kind of clothes or makeup we wear; by the way we fix up our houses or decorate our lawns. We may also do this by the way we talk or style our hair. We try to accomplish big things so people will pay attention to us. Deep down inside we are saying, “Watch me! Pay attention to me!” We do this because we have a deep need to be noticed. And only God can meet this need all the time.

Most of us – even those of us who have been Christians for a long time, have not fathomed how awesome the love of God is. It is like an ant trying to figure out a human being. Our brain is not big enough to figure out how much God loves us or how much He pays attention to us. God is teaching us that NO MATTER HOW INSIGNIFICANT I FEEL, JESUS CHRIST NOTICES ME. May God the Holy Spirit massage this truth into the depths of our souls so we can stop striving to get attention and rest in the loving gaze of our heavenly Father.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for this wonderful encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus did nothing to deserve Jesus’ loving gaze. If anything, he deserved a look of judgment and wrath. But instead, the Lord Jesus gave Zacchaeus something he had probably never received before – a look of compassion and understanding. Yet are any of us really any different than Zacchaeus? We also have a deep need to be noticed and understood. We too have felt ignored and unwanted. Perhaps our sin and shame has left us isolated and all alone. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for noticing every detail in our lives. Thank You for never taking Your loving eyes off of us. Others may have ignored or neglected us, but You have always noticed us. Our value comes from Your constant loving gaze which could never be earned. Thank You for knowing where we are and what we need. We love You, Lord Jesus. Please help us keep our eyes on You. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1717.

2. John A. Martin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 506.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pp. 271-272.

4. Ibid., cites Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. 1: The Gospel according to Luke, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), pg. 123.

How much you matter to God – Part 1

“And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.” Luke 19:3

One of our greatest needs in life is to feel valuable or important. Because of this, we are constantly looking around and in our minds we are evaluating other people and comparing ourselves to them. In our society we tend to base our importance or self-worth on four things.

First, we judge our worth by our appearance, asking ourselves, “How do I look?” If I look good then I think I must be good or valuable. People invest all kinds of time and money to improve their looks because this is how they measure their worth.

Second, we judge our worth by our achievements, asking ourselves, “What have I accomplished? How successful am I?” We invest many of our resources to accomplish big things because we think our importance is based upon our achievements.

Third, we judge our worth on approval, asking ourselves, “How well am I liked?” If a lot of people like me I must be important. We want people to like us so we concentrate on doing everything we can to win their approval.

Finally, we judge our worth on our affluence, asking ourselves, “What do I own? How many possessions do I have?” Deep down we believe that the more possessions we have, the more importance we possess.

The problem with these four standards is that none of them are stable. They can all change. For instance, can your appearance change? Absolutely! Beauty fades doesn’t it? Our successes are surpassed by other people, our records are broken, our possessions wear out and people we think love us, die or abandon us or sometimes even reject us. So if we want to build our self-worth on something that lasts, we must build it on something that cannot change. And there is only one thing that won’t change – what God thinks about you. The greatest changes in our lives take place when we see ourselves as God sees us.

A wonderful example of this principle is a man in the Bible we are going to look at the next few days. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a man who lived in the city of Jericho. One day Jesus came to Jericho and Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life. 

We see this in the Bible in Luke 19. 1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4). Zacchaeus didn’t want to talk to Jesus. He just wanted a glimpse of Christ. And if there was ever a man who needed his self-image built up, it was Zacchaeus. Because in the four ways we evaluate our worth, Zacchaeus struck out on the first three. But he was wealthy. He had a lot of money.   

In the first place, Zacchaeus didn’t like his appearance. The Bible tells us that he was “of short stature” (Luke 19:3). The Greek word for “short” (mikros) literally means “small.” Zacchaeus had the body of an undeveloped child. He wasn’t just short. He was a little person. His body had not developed fully into adulthood. He was probably ridiculed and teased all of his life about how he looked. You know how kids can be ruthless on the playgrounds. They can make fun of you and give you hurtful names. And all Zacchaeus’ life he had probably lived not liking the way he looked. 

Not only that, but this guy was hated by everyone in the city of Jericho. It says he was “a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). Tax collectors are never popular but in Roman days it was even worse. The Roman system of collecting taxes was absolutely corrupt. In the first place, you had to bribe an official for the privilege of becoming a tax collector. Second, you could collect and keep as many taxes as you wanted to keep as long as you paid Rome its due. For instance, maybe a family owed Rome $100, and you could say, “You owe Rome $1,000.” They would pay you the $1,000. And then you could give Rome $100 and keep $900 for yourself. So you could collect as much as you want.

This is how Zacchaeus became so wealthy. He got rich by stealing from other people. So he was hated by everybody not only because he was a tax collector, but because he was the “chief” tax collector which means he was in charge of the whole scam. So he probably didn’t like the way he looked. Plus people made fun of him and nobody liked what he did either. So as a result, Zacchaeus probably hated himself. How do I know that? Because you cannot have a guilty conscience and feel good about yourself at the same time. There is no way. He knew that he was ripping people off. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful, dishonest, and a lying scoundrel. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life.

What we have here is a guy who has a lot of money but doesn’t like himself. A man who is lonely and miserable. But one day everything changed. In one moment, he met Jesus and discovered how much he mattered to God. When you learn that, you will never be the same. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates three profound truths. If you will allow God to imprint these truths in your heart and mind, your life will never be the same.

Can you relate to Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your achievements? Do you feel all alone and unwanted like Zacchaeus? Or do you know someone who does? If so, it is time you join me next time as we look in on Jesus’ encounter with this miserable man.

Prayer: Father God, the world teaches us that our importance is based on our appearance, achievements, approval, and affluence. Most of us fall short in at least one or more of these areas. Some of us may have no respect for ourselves because we are not living the way You want us to live. We have taken advantage of others to build ourselves up. And now we find ourselves all alone and unwanted. Lord God, please speak truth to us. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Endnotes:

1.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 651.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 9

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ I Kings 19:15a, 18

Remember how Elijah felt in verse 14? “Lord, Your people don’t care about You and I’m the only one left who does. I’m the only one left standing for what is right! I’m the only one left trying to serve You and that’s very discouraging.” Do you ever feel like that? Alone, afraid, and angry?

Then God has to tell us what He told Elijah –15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ (I Kings 19:15a, 18). Circle the word “Go.” God is saying, “Get moving. Don’t sit in the cave of life feeling sorry for yourself. There is more to be done and I am doing things you don’t even know about that will encourage you and help you.”

This leads to our final step out of the pit of discouragement: GET MOVING, KNOWING WE DON’T HAVE THE WHOLE PICTURE (I Kings 19:15a, 18). We don’t have to have the whole picture to move out for God. God has a journey for us to take…a course for us to follow. He is inviting us to step out in faith, believing He is already at work behind the scenes to prepare the way for us.

Jesus Christ wants to lift us out of our pit of discouragement. He can help us; He can change us; He can heal us of discouragement. We don’t have to go through life being controlled by our emotions. Our emotions are controlled by our thoughts, and even though we cannot directly control our feelings, we can control what we think about with God’s help. We can choose to change our thoughts.

This is what Jesus is saying in John 8:31-32: “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ 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.’”The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. The Lord Jesus wants to change our false beliefs that can keep us enslaved to harmful habits, hurts, and hang-ups, including discouragement.

I’d like to share some lies that have contributed to discouragement in my life along with the truth that is setting me free from them:

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

Scripture: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

Lie: If somebody criticizes me, it means I’m worthless.

Truth: If somebody criticizes me, it is an opportunity for me to grow.

Scripture: “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

Lie: I  must be loved and accepted by everybody to be fulfilled in life.

Truth: It does not matter what other people say or think about me, what matters is that God always loves and accepts me.

Scripture:  “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’ ” Jeremiah 31:3

Lie: I cannot admit any area of weakness; I have to be perfect or else I’m a failure.

Truth: It is good enough to do my best for Jesus, and not be perfect.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Colossians 3:23

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Lie: I do not have what it takes.

Truth: Through Christ who strengthens me I do have what it takes.

Scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

These are the kinds of lies that cause discouragement. Jesus knew the importance of correct thinking when He said, “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ 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.’ ” (John 8:31-32). The more we “abide” or remain in Christ’s word, the more we will know the truth which can deliver us from the lies that can enslave us to discouragement.

You can change. How do you start? By beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t automatically cure all of your discouragement, but without Christ in your life you have no lasting power to change. He wants to be a part of your life, and if you will receive Him by faith, He will come into your life to help you start climbing out of the pit of discouragement.

To help us understand our need for Christ, we need to understand that the Bible makes it clear that all of us have sinned against God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our sin separates us from God Who alone is perfect and righteous. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). By sinning with our thoughts, words, and actions, we have earned death. The word “death” in the Bible means separation. This means we all deserve to die and be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). I think you will agree that is bad news.

“But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). Notice that eternal life is not through our religion, our good life, or prayers. Eternal life is “through Jesus our Lord.” God sent His Son Jesus to take our punishment on the cross and rise again so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Jesus alone (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be convinced that something is true and then trust or depend upon.

Jesus is inviting you to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life, not your good life or religion or prayers. If you are ready to believe or trust in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only trusting in Christ gets us to heaven. Praying this prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven now.

Prayer:  Dear God, I come to you as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to forgive all my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the forgiveness and everlasting life that I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through the Holy Spirit. And thank You for the assurance I now have a future home in heaven with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you trusted in Christ for everlasting life, the Bible says Jesus gave you everlasting life (John 3:16; 10:28). How long does eternal life last? 5 minutes? 5 years? 5 million years? Or forever? Eternal life is forever! It never ends. And it begins the moment you believe in Jesus. Christ now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11; Galatians 2:20). Jesus in you can enable you to say “No” to Satan’s lies and “Yes” to God’s truth as you learn to trust and obey His Word. He can empower you to climb out of the pit of discouragement and help others to do the same.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, I recommend downloading our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. This will help you grow in your relationship with Jesus and with those you love.

Finding Completeness in Christ

“And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:10

The apostle Paul was writing to Christians in Colossae to encourage them to continue to embrace God’s Word and the Lord Jesus Christ so they would not be led away from Christ through the instruction of false teachers. Paul told these believers to beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). The teachings of these false teachers were not “according to Christ” in God’s Word, but were rooted in “philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men.”

If any philosophy, religion, or science contradicts the clear teachings of Scripture, then it is wrong. The false teachers in Colossae were contradicting God’s Word with their teachings on spirituality, angels, self-abasement, and Christ. They were leading believers astray because their perverse teachings were not according to Christ. Many false teachings abound today on how to become ‘spiritual,’ and the best remedy has always been to rely on God’s Word alone to learn what is pleasing to God.” 1

Next Paul explains how to remain strong in Christ against the false teachings of others. He writes, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9). This is an amazing statement about Jesus Christ. What Christians have in Jesus Christ is completely adequate because “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Jesus was not a spirit-form as some erroneously teach. He was fully God (“fullness of the Godhead”)and fully human (“bodily”). The word “fullness” (plḗrōma)means “that which is brought to fullness or completion, full number… sum total, fullness, even (super) abundance… the full measure of deity.” 2  Christ did not cease to be God when He became a man. Everything that God is Jesus Christ is. Nor did Jesus give up His humanity at His resurrection. He remains fully God and fully human in His resurrection body.

There is no “fullness”in the philosophies of this world or in the traditions of men (Colossians 2:8). The only fullness is found in Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ there is no fullness. Only emptiness. 3

When Satan—the once glorious angel—rebelled, God judged him (see Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:12-16). Then God created man, a creature made ‘lower than the angels’ and ‘subjected everything under his feet’ (Heb 2:7-8). Man was to rule over creation on God’s behalf (Gen 1:26-28). God planned to show what he could do with ‘less’ (when less was devoted to him) in contrast to ‘more’ (when more was in rebellion against him). But Adam abdicated his role as manager of creation (Gen 3:1-19), turning rule over to Satan—’the god of this age’ (2 Cor 4:4) and ‘the ruler of the power of the air’ (Eph 2:2). But the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor 15:45), Jesus Christ, succeeded where the first Adam failed. He came to solve the problem. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he possesses ‘the entire fullness of God’s nature’ (Col 2:9). But he also became a man, because God the Father intended that man would rule over his kingdom on earth and defeat Satan. Through his sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan’s legal authority and reclaimed the earthly kingdom.” 4

This is why Paul then writes, “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:10). Since Christ is fully God and fully Man (Colossians 2:9), believers in Jesus are “complete in Him.” The word “complete” (plēróō) means “to make full, fill… persons with powers, qualities.” 5  A Christian’s fullness or completeness is found in Christ “who is the head of all principality and power.” Jesus has all authority (“is the head of”) over Satan and his followers (“all principality and power”), including false teachers who try to mislead believers away from Jesus Christ and His Word. Christians partake of Christ’s “fullness,” not in His deity. Believers are not gods.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive God’s righteousness so we are “complete in Him.” (cf. Romans 4:5). All our essential needs are met in Christ. Therefore as a believer in Jesus, I can know I am “complete” in Him, lacking nothing. False teachers were telling Paul’s readers that they needed more than Christ to be complete. They told these Christians to practice asceticism or self-abasement, and adhere to their secret knowledge (Colossians 2:8, 18, 20b-23) and legalism or self-made religion (Colossians 2:16-17) to find their fullness.  

Satan wants to deceive us into believing that we are not complete in Christ. He wants to lead us away from Christ because he knows when he does, he can control us. He may use philosophy, religion, science, technology, or a compassionate teacher to accomplish his purpose. He may use infatuation or a TV program to lead us away from Jesus. Satan has been around for thousands of years and he knows how to deceive people. The Devil is an expert at twisting the truth to lead someone away from Jesus who is “the truth” (John 14:6).

But apart from Christ, we cannot find fulfillment or completeness. We may try to find it in the things of this world or in the traditions of people, but all of these things fail to satisfy the longings of our souls.

Only Jesus can meet our deepest needs. Only in Christ can we find the fullness and completeness that satisfies our souls. Because in Christ we are complete, we do not need to seek something more to complete us. We can be content with what we have in Jesus. This is foundational to growing in our Christian lives.  

Prayer: Lord Jesus, because You are fully God and fully Man, I can find completeness in You. Only You can satisfy my deepest needs. Forgive me for looking outside of You to find that completeness that only You can provide. Right now, I ask You to restore my union with You, Lord. I give everything in me for union with You. I need more of You, God. Please fill me with more of You, Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Shawn Leach, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1104.

2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 829.

3. Norm Geisler,  The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, Kindle Edition, 2018), pg. 436.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2146-2147.

5. Walter Bauer, pg. 828.

Responding to Rejection

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

I am returning to some of my favorite verses right now to find encouragement and refreshment from the Lord. Psalm 27:10 has lifted my spirits numerous times during some of the most challenging seasons in my adult life. And why shouldn’t it? This verse was written by someone who was also facing an extremely difficult circumstance.

When King David wrote Psalm 27, some Bible students think he was fleeing from his son, Absalom (cf. 2 Samuel 15:1-37; 17:15-29). 1 Imagine having to run for your life to avoid being killed by your own rebellious adult child? This may have been David’s challenge when he wrote this Psalm.

Instead of choosing to respond with fear, David chose to respond with faith in the One Who is the source of his hope (“light”), deliverance (“salvation”), and “strength” (Psalm 27:1). Notice the personal pronoun “my” in this verse. The Lord was not just “a” source of hope and deliverance to David. He was HIS source of hope and deliverance. David’s relationship with God was personal and dynamic.

It is possible David was not getting the help he needed at this time, even from those closest to him. But David’s trust was in the Lord to take care of him. “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10). The Hebrew word translated “take care of” (asaph) means “to gather or remove.” In this context it refers to gathering an individual into the company of another – which in this case would be the Lord. Even if his parents abandoned him, David was confident God still loved him and valued him.

Notice that David said, “When…”, not “if…” If you were fatherless or motherless growing up, you can easily relate to this verse. If you were brought up in a broken or abusive home, and were physically or emotionally abandoned, you can also easily identify with this verse. There is no doubt that you were forsaken. However, it may be much more difficult for you to relate to this verse if you grew up in a “normal family” with “loving parents.” But even in those cases, your parents were not perfect. All of us had imperfect parents to some degree who were not able to love us unconditionally twenty-four hours a day. Many people grew up in homes where love was given on the bases of performance and achievements. You may have felt rejected because you failed to live up to your parent’s expectations.

No matter how greatly we have experienced rejection from those closest to us, God wants to fill in the gap. Yes, others have rejected us, but God never will after we believe in Jesus (John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).

God saw us as a child and He loved us then, and He sees us and loves us now. God wants to take care of us and bring healing to our souls. Because God loves us and sees our worth, we no longer need to work so hard for the approval and love of others. Since God keeps us safe and secure, we no longer need to try so hard to protect ourselves. We can present out true selves to the Lord and to others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding us that we are not alone and unloved. We are loved and cherished by the God of the universe. Please massage this truth down into the depths of our souls. And although those closest to us may have failed to love and protect us as we needed as a child, You have never failed us. Because You always see us and value us as persons, we no longer need to work so hard to gain the approval and love of others. Nor do we need to work so hard to protect ourselves or hide our vulnerabilities because You will take care of us and meet our deepest needs. Thank You Lord Jesus for Your unlimited love and care for us. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Psalms, 2015 Edition, pg. 79.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” Jesus 21:12

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. So far we have discovered that…

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

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

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

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

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

– The power of the risen Lord Jesus is capable of catching multitudes of people in His gospel-net (John 20:11).

Today we are ready for our final lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. Following their miraculous catch of fish, the seven disciples were now on the shore with Jesus having brought their net full of fish with them (John 21:6-11). “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” (John 21:12).

All of us have had special moments in life that are held forever in our memory. What a wonderful memory Jesus made for John and the six other disciples as He invited them to breakfast on the beach. The aroma of hot bread and and sizzling fish must have stirred the appetites of the disciples. John notes that none of the disciples, knowing it was the risen Lord, ventured to ask Jesus, “Who are You?” We usually don’t ask those we know well who they are. 1

The fact that both Mary Magdalene (John 20:14) and the Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-35) did not immediately identify the Lord may indicate some difference in the Lord’s resurrection appearance here. “Yet the identification was so certain that all the disciples knew it was Jesus. Their meal together stamped an indelible impression on their minds. Years later in his preaching Peter spoke of himself as a reliable witness who ate and drank with Jesus after His resurrection (Acts 10:41).” 2

The fact that John mentions the disciples dared not ask the Lord His identity may suggest “these disciples longed to ask Jesus if the Person standing with them was truly He, but they did not dare do so. This tension within them helps us understand that Jesus’ resurrection was a challenge to the faith of even those who knew Him best. Had the beatings and His crucifixion so marred His form that He scarcely resembled the Jesus they had known, or was His resurrection body so different that He looked like a stranger? Probably we shall have to wait to see Him for ourselves to get answers to these questions. In spite of everything, the disciples, ‘knowing that it was the Lord’ from the undeniable evidence, could only conclude that the One who stood among them really was Jesus.” 3

Constable writes, “Jesus, as the host, invited the disciples to dine with Him. Perhaps He was reminding them of their last meal together in the upper room, just before His arrest. In the ancient Near East, a host who extended hospitality to others and provided food for them, was implying that He would defend them from then on. Consequently, Jesus’ invitation may have been a promise of commitment to them like the kind offered at the oriental covenant meal. Such a meal involved acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual commitment. By accepting His invitation, the disciples were implying that they were committing themselves to Jesus afresh.” 4

Wiersbe insightfully writes, “Three ‘invitations’ stand out in John’s Gospel: ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39); ‘Come and drink’ (John 7:37); and ‘Come and dine’ (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly, the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize ‘the soul’ that He neglects the body.” 5

John then informs us, “Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:14). As often happens with guests, the disciples may have appeared hesitant to begin serving themselves the meal, so Christ went over, took the bread, and gave it to the disciples. In the same way, He also served the roasted fish. The definite article used with “the bread” (ton arton) and “the fish” (to opsarion) indicates that Jesus distributed the bread and fish that were cooking over the fire of coals when the disciples arrived on the shore (John 21:9). The disciples’ fish could be cooked later (cf. John 21:10), but this was Christ’s provision for them. 6

When Jesus gave them “the bread” and “the fish” to His disciples, this must have reminded them of when He miraculously fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). The breaking of the bread and distributing it to them also had to remind these seven followers of what happened just a few days before when Jesus had broken the bread in the upper room during the Last Supper.

The fact of this meal substantiated Jesus’ promise to meet all their needs. The disciples may have thought that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eventual ascension would end His care for them; but now they had a demonstration of His continuing care. They may have feared His death and eventual ascension would end their fellowship with Him, but now this meal which He had provided assured them they would still enjoy sweet fellowship with their risen Lord. And His eating some of the food (cf. Luke 24:40-43), gives additional proof of His bodily resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither a fairytale nor a hallucination. He ‘presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs… over a period of forty days’ (Acts 1:3). As Jesus himself told them, ‘It is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see, I have’” (Luke 24:39). 8

John notes, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John 21:14). John attests that this is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples in his gospel account (cf. John 20:19-20, 24-29). While a comparison of all four Gospels shows that this is the seventh appearance (counting His appearances to Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus), this was indeed only his third appearance specifically to” a gathering of more than two of His disciples.

From these verses we learn that WE NEED TIMES WITH JESUS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS OUTSIDE TO REFRESH OUR SOULS (John 21:12-14). Jesus’ appearance on the beach seems to be a more casual occasion than His appearances in Jerusalem. This gave more of an extended opportunity to renew their fellowship after the separation that came from their fleeing at His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56).

Do you ever feel like you are on an uninhabited island in your Christian life? You are all alone? No one to share your fears, joys, and sorrows with? Several coals burn brightly together but put one aside and its fire goes out. So, it is with other Christians. We will not last long in the Christian life if we do not have fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus and other believers.

While reading John Eldredge’s book, Get Your Life Back, I was impressed with the chapter entitled, “GET OUTSIDE.” He writes, “The average person now spends 93 percent of their life indoors (this includes your transportation time in car, bus, or metro).” 10  

Eldredge continues, “Ninety-three percent – such a staggering piece of information. We should pause for a moment and let the tragedy sink in.

“That means if you live to be 100, you will have spent 93 of those years in a little compartment and only 7 outside in the dazzling, living world. If we live to the more usual 75, we will spend 69 and three-fourths of our years indoors, and only 5 and one-fourth outside. This includes our childhood; how does a child be a child when they only venture outside a few months of their entire childhood?

“This is a catastrophe, the final nail in the coffin for the human soul. You live nearly all your life in a fake world: artificial lighting instead of the warmth of sunlight or the cool of moonlight or the darkness of night itself. Artificial climate rather than the wild beauty of real weather; your world is always 68 degrees. All the surfaces you touch are like plastic, nylon, and faux leather instead of meadow, wood, and stream. Fake fireplaces; wax fruit. The atmosphere you inhabit is now asphyxiating with artificial smells – mostly chemicals and ‘air fresheners’ – instead of cut grass, wood smoke, and salt air (is anyone weeping yet?). In place of the cry of the hawk, the thunder of a waterfall, and the comfort of crickets, your world spews out artificial sounds – all the clicks and beeps and whir of technology, the hum of the HVAC. Dear God, even the plants in your little bubble are fake. They give no oxygen; instead, the plastic off-gases toxins, and if that isn’t a signal fire I don’t know what is.

“This is a life for people in a science fiction novel. This would be understandable, acceptable, if we’d colonized Mars and by necessity you lived in a bubble. But this is not the life God ordained for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, whose habitat is this sumptuous earth. It’s like putting wild roses in a Styrofoam box for the rest of their lives.

“You live a bodily existence. The physical life, with all the glories of senses, appetites, and passions – this is the life God meant for us. It’s through our senses we learn most every important lesson. Even in spiritual acts of worship and prayer we are standing or kneeling, engaging bodily. God put your soul in this amazing body and then put you in a world perfectly designed for that experience.

“Which is why the rescue of the soul takes place through our engagement with the real world…

“…Living in an artificial world is like spending your life wrapped in plastic wrap. You wonder why you feel tired, numb, a little depressed, when the simple answer is you have a vitamin D deficiency; there’s no sunlight in your life, literally and figuratively.

“Our body, soul, and spirit atrophy because we were made to inhabit a real world, drawing life, joy, and strength from it. To be shaped by it, to relish in it. Living your days in an artificial world is like living your whole life with gloves on, a filtered experience, never really feeling anything. Then you wonder why your soul feels numb.” 11 

God really got my attention when Eldredge writes, “We are looking for more of God. You’re far more likely to find him in a walk through an orchard or a sit by a pond than you are in a subway terminal. Of course, God is with us and for us wherever we are, but in terms of refreshment, renewal, restoration, in terms of finding God in ways we can drink deeply of his wonderful being, you’d do better to look for him in the cry of the gull than the scream of the siren. God inhabits the world he made: his vibrance permeates all creation:

“The whole earth is filled with his glory! (Isaiah 6:3 NLT)

“Christ… ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10 NLT)

“In the most beloved of Psalms, perhaps the most beloved of all Scripture, David wrote a poem to celebrate the restoration of his soul. Notice that God took him into nature to accomplish that:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3).

“Be careful you don’t dismiss this as something belonging to an agrarian age. God could have taken David into the palace to renew him; he could have taken him into the home of a friend or family member; he could have chosen the bustling markets of Jerusalem. In other words, there were plenty of indoor options for God to employ. But his choice for David’s resuscitation was nature, his greenhouse, filled with his own life, pulsing with his glory, unique in its ability to restore and renew his children…”

“…There’s nothing better for a fried soul than to get in the woods or walk in the park. Lie on your back in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Sit on the beach and watch the breakers.

“…Nature heals; nature restores. Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging in front of Narcos or Fear the Walking Dead. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour of HALO. Video games offer relief, nature offers restoration.

“This is why David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, ‘He renews my strength’ (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David spoke of.” 12

My most refreshing times with our risen Lord Jesus, our Creator of the universe, has been outside amongst His creation. Going for a walk in the woods and listening to the birds of the air which our heavenly Father feeds has often refreshed and restored my spiritual union with the Lord.

Jesus understands this. He provided a delicious breakfast for His disciples outside on a beach along the Sea of Galilee. Remember, Jesus was the Creator of this beach and this Sea. The waves rolling into the shore at sunrise that day could be seen and heard by the disciples. The smell of salt water filled the air. There was probably a cool breeze blowing in from the sea. The disciples may have heard seagulls crying out above them. They could smell the smoke rising from the fire of coals along with the aroma of the cooking fish and bread. All these outdoor experiences would have been healing and restoring to the disciples’ bodies and souls.

As Eldredge writes, “Nature heals, teaches, strengthens, soothes; it brings us the presence of God, for ‘the whole earth is filled with his glory’ (Isaiah 6:3 NLT). Go let it restore your soul – daily, whenever possible.” 13

More importantly, it is the risen Lord Jesus Who heals, teaches, strengthens, and soothes. What better environment for this to take place than outdoors in the physical world which He created for the sons and daughters of God to enjoy!

In his book, The Golden Milestone, Frank W. Boreham talks about a tombstone in a small English churchyard that marked the final resting place of two sisters. It bore the words from John 21:4, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore.”

Although this referred to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His disciples, it reminded Boreham of the Christian’s prospect of seeing Christ waiting on heaven’s shore. Envisioning his own impending death when he would be welcomed by the risen Lord Jesus, Boreham wrote, One of these days I shall set out on my own great voyage of exploration. I shall see my last sun sinking and shall set out for the land that is mantled with the flush of morning. I shall leave behind me all the old familiar things, and shall sail out into the unknown, the unseen, the unexplored. I shall be surrounded on every hand by the wonders that here were beyond me, by the mysteries that here baffled my comprehension. I shall see strange sights and hear unwonted sounds. But it will be all right.” 14

Yes, “it will be all right” because the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us will be on heaven’s shore. With the assurance that the risen Lord Jesus will be standing “on the shore” to welcome him home, Boreham concluded, But there is no tinge of gold in the scudding clouds now; it is too dark for writing; they are lighting the gas behind me; I must draw the blinds and go.” 15

Boreham died with confidence he would see Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Can you? If not, you can simply come to Jesus now as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). But Christ Jesus loved you so much He took your place on a cross and died for all your sins and three days later rose from the dead (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today, and He has the power to forgive all your sins and give you everlasting life so that when you die, you will be greeted by Him on heaven’s shores (John 3:16; 14:2-3; Colossians 2:13-14). All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness or everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you believe what Jesus just said, you can die with the assurance that you will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Christ cannot lie. He always remains faithful to His promises, even if we become faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). That is why we can confidently say after a person believes in Christ, “See you in heaven!”

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us the assurance through Your meal with Your disciples on the beach, that You will continue to meet all our needs even while You are in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. As our Good Shepherd, You not only laid down Your life for us and rose from the dead so we could have everlasting life the moment we believe in You for it, but also so we can be assured of seeing You on heaven’s shores after we die. And as our Good Shepherd, you can refresh and restore our souls as we connect with You and other Christians outdoors. Thanks so much for reminding us that You designed our physical bodies and souls to be refreshed through the things You have made, much like Adam and Eve’s experience in the garden of Eden prior to their disobedience when they would walk with You in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Please help us to make it a daily habit to align ourselves with You in the context of Your creation so we can unwrinkle or disentangle our souls from the artificial world we expose ourselves to much of the time. Thank You our Lord and our Creator God. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 377-378.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 703.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 393.

4. Ibid., pp. 392-393.  

5. Ibid., pg. 393 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 397.

6. Laney, pg. 378.

7. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 568.

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

9. Robert Wilkin, pg. 568.

10. John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020) pg. 76 cites Neil E. Klepeis et al., “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants,” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 11, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 231-52.

11. Eldredge, pp. 76-79.

12. Ibid., pp. 79-86.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Frank W. Boreham, The Golden Milestone (Publication arranged by Pioneer Library, printed byKindle Direct Publishing, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 1825-1828.This compilation of Boreham’s essays was first published in 1915.

15. Ibid., Kindle Locations 1831-1832.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 7

“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” John 21:11

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

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

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

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

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

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

Now we will look at the seventh lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. After Jesus supernaturally enabled His seven disciples to catch a net full of fish, six of the disciples drug the net to shore behind their boat while Peter swam over to Jesus on the shore (John 21:6-8). When they all arrived on the shore, they saw that Jesus had prepared breakfast for them consisting of fish and bread (John 21:9). In response to Jesus’ request to “bring some of the fish” they “just caught” (John 21:10), John writes, “Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” (John 21:11).

When John notes that “Peter went up,” it suggests that Peter climbed into the boat to help the other disciples with the fish. Since the net “full of large fish” would be pulled behind the boat, Peter most likely got into the boat and stood in the stern to help retrieve the net. Then he would have jumped into the water again to help haul the net to shore. 2

Why does John mention “one hundred and fifty-three” large fish were caught? There have been many symbolic interpretations made about this number. This “number has been used to teach about the Trinity, the perfection of the church, Christian conduct, and the church’s missionary task.” 3

It is better to take the number literally without any symbolical interpretation. John was both an eyewitness and a fisherman who experienced an incredible catch of large fish thanks to the risen Lord Jesus. Most likely John mentioned the number as a matter of historical detail. With a group of men fishing, the common procedure would be for them to count the fish they caught and then divide them equally among the fishermen.” 4  

Mentioning such a detail would “lend authenticity to his testimony (cf. 2:6). He was, after all, a fisherman himself. Most fishermen know exactly how many fish they have caught whenever they catch some, and this was a very unusual catch.” 5

The Holy Spirit drew me to a significant detail in the last part of this verse which reads, “although there were so many, the net was not broken.” The fact that the net is full of so many “large fish” and does not break, is a second miracle in this appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when the disciples had caught nothing all night, Jesus instructed them to launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4). When they obeyed Jesus, “they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” (Luke 5:6). Jesus then told them, “From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10b). Notice that Jesus uses a metaphor to describe the disciples’ gospel-preaching ministry. They would use their “gospel-nets” to catch people.

This post-resurrection repetition of the miracle in Luke 5 would have refreshed the disciples’ “memories of that first catch of fish and reminded them that people, not fish, was now to be their focus. In that first miraculous catch, Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, picturing His presence with them when He came into this world. Now, He is on the shore, picturing Him in heaven as He directs and provides as they fish for people. But on both occasions, the abundant catch came when they obeyed the simple command of Jesus.” 6

In contrast to that earlier catch of fish, the unbroken net in John’s account may symbolize that there is room in God’s family for all people (I Timothy 2:4). God does not desire for any people to perish in hell (2 Peter 3:9), but for all to come to faith in Jesus for His gift of salvation. After all, God “desires all” people “to be saved” and Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all” people (I Timothy 2:4-6). The fact that the net was not torn illustrates that the gospel can catch many people without failing. 8

Hence, our seventh lesson is THE POWER OF THE RISEN LORD JESUS IS CAPABLE OF CATCHING MULTITUDES OF PEOPLE IN HIS GOSPEL-NET (John 20:11). Our effectiveness in evangelism is not based upon our giftedness, methodologies, personalities, presentations, or training. The power in evangelism is in the life-changing message of the gospel and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is no need for us to be ashamed or afraid when we share the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).  

In January of 2011, I went on my first short-term missionary trip to the Philippines with the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. During our first two days preaching the gospel in public schools on the island of Catanduanes, I saw more people indicate they were believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life than I had witnessed in nearly twenty years of pastoral ministry in America. What I learned from that trip was the power in evangelism did not rest upon me or my abilities, but in the clear message of the gospel. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Are we sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who do not have Jesus Christ in their lives? The gospel-net of Jesus Christ is large enough and strong enough for all people, no matter what their condition, color, culture, or country. Jesus wants us to cast His gospel-nets wherever unsaved people gather. It may be in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at a marketplace, in a school, at a basketball court, in government offices, or on the internet. Jesus Christ died for all people, and He desires to save all people. Will you avail yourself to Him to use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of others? Christ wants to use you to be a channel of blessing to a lost world.

Prayer: Hallelujah Lord Jesus! Thank You for the eternal difference You are making in our needy world. Thank You for entrusting us with Your gospel-nets so we may catch men and women, and boys and girls for Your glory. Please enable us to obey Your command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15), no matter what their economic status, education, morality, or nationality. Show us where to cast Your gospel-nets. We ask that You grant us the boldness to overcome our fears and declare the good news of Your death and resurrection to those You have prepared to hear and believe it. Use us we pray, to be a channel of blessing to those You have placed in our lives. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The the Greek word translated “went up” is anabainō and it means “to go up, ascend.” (See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 58).

2.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 377.

3. Laney, pg. 377 cites J. M. Ross, “One Hundred and Fifty-Three Fishes,” The Expository Times 100 (July 1989): 375.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 702-703.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 392.

6. Steve Cole’s September 27, 2015 sermon at www.bible.org entitled, “Lesson 105: Serving Christ Effectively (John 21:1-14).”

7. See Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 568.

8. Constable, pg. 392.