I John 1 – Part 3

3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that our joy may be full.” I John 1:3-4

The next two verses in I John contain the apostle John’s purpose for writing this book which is fellowship or closeness with God and other believers (1:3-4). 1 Some will argue that I John 5:13 is the purpose statement for John’s epistle since the apostle’s purpose statement in his gospel was near the end of the gospel of John (John 20:31).They conclude that I John was written to provide tests for professing believers in Jesus so they could know for sure they have eternal life. 2

But this view fails to understand that “there are five purpose statements in I John (1:3, 4; 2:1, 26; 5:13) plus ten imperatives (2:15, 24, 27, 28; 3:1, 7, 13; 4:1 [twice]; 5:21), any of which could possibly provide John’s purpose for writing.” 3 First John 1:3-4 provides the most comprehensive primary and secondary purposes in writing this epistle. 4

Wilkins notes that the words, “These things” in I John 5:13 do not refer to the entire book of I John, but to the verses immediately preceding it (5:6-12), observing that this near reference is consistent with John’s style throughout his epistle: 5

  • The statement “these things we write to you” (1:4) refers to what was just stated in verses 1:1-3.
  • The words, “these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (2:1) refer to the teaching on sin in 1:5-10.
  • The statement, “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you” (2:26) refers to the preceding discussion about antichrists (2:18-25).

To summarize the first two verses of I John: As the magnetic power of Jesus’ love draws us closer to Him (1:1), we are more motivated to tell others about Him (1:2). And as we proclaim Christ to others, we find ourselves drawn even closer to Him so that our fellowship or intimacy with Him deepens even more.

This is the purpose of I John: “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:3). The “we” and “us” in this verse refer to the apostle John and the eleven other apostles who were eyewitnesses (“we have seen and heard”) to Jesus in the first century. The “you” represents John’s readers 6 who had not known Jesus in the flesh as John and the other apostles had. 7 You and I cannot “look upon” or “handle” (1:1) the Lord Jesus Christ physically as did the first-century apostles until we are in Jesus’ presence in heaven 8 (cf. I John 3:2; Revelation 4:1-5:14; 7:9-17).

The reason the apostle John and other apostles “declare” what they had “seen and heard” regarding the Lord Jesus is so their readers (“you”) “also may have fellowship with” them. The Greek word for “fellowship” (koinōnia) means a “close association involving mutual interests and sharing, … close relationship.” 9 John wants his readers to have close fellowship with him and the other apostolic eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ. 10 This is known as horizontal fellowship whereby believers in Jesus share what they have in common with other believers in Christ. 11

But John takes this concept of fellowship deeper. Ultimately, the purpose of fellowship with the apostolic eyewitnesses is to have fellowship with God the Father and God the Son. The apostle writes, “and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:3b). John longs for his readers to enjoy the intimate fellowship or closeness with God that the apostolic eyewitnesses enjoyed. 12

It is very important to observe that John repeatedly refers to his readers with terms that clearly indicate he considered them to be genuine Christians – “little children” (2:1, 12, 13b, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21), “brethren” (2:7; 3:13), “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake” (2:12; cf. 2:13-14), “you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (2:20; cf. 2:21, 27), “beloved” (3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11 ), and “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (5:13). Obviously, John did not intend his epistle to be used to convert his readers or assure them of their salvation because he knew they were already saved. What his readers needed was “fellowship” or closeness with the apostolic circle and with God Himself.

It is quite possible that the “antichrists” or false teachers were telling John’s readers that Jesus was not God’s promised Son (2:22-23), and they did not have eternal life simply by believing in Christ (2:25-26; cf. 5:9-13). 13 To doubt God’s promise of eternal life through believing in Jesus would undermine their assurance that they were God’s children. This would make them more susceptible to the influences of the world (2:15-16) and these false teachers (2:19-23). For if they doubted they were God’s children, then they would be more prone to act like non-Christians (cf. Proverbs 23:7a) which would jeopardize their fellowship with the apostles and with God Himself.

Notice I did not say this would jeopardize their salvation. As believers in Jesus, they could never lose the gift of eternal life which God had freely given them (cf. John 3:16; 4:10-14; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Romans 6:23b; 11:29; Ephesians 2:8-9). But they could lose their “fellowship” or closeness with God which depended on walking in the light (1:7), confessing their sins (1:9), keeping God’s commandments (2:3-5; 3:24), abiding in Christ (2:6, 24, 27-28), loving one another (2:9-11; 3:11-23; 4:7-5:3), hating the world (2:15-17), acknowledging Jesus is God’s Son (2:23; 4:2-3, 4:15), practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10), listening to and obeying apostolic teaching (4:6), and avoiding idolatry (5:21).

Don’t miss the connection in verse 3 between fellowship with the apostolic eyewitnesses and fellowship with God Himself. John is saying he is part of a circle (the apostles) so intimate with God that if one has fellowship with his circle, one also has fellowship with God the Father and with His Son. To refuse to hear the apostles is to refuse to hear the Lord Himself (cf. 4:6). We cannot enjoy fellowship with God apart from the apostles who experienced the Lord Jesus Christ firsthand (1:1-3). Unfortunately, our modern world has lost respect for this apostolic authority. Skepticism and unbelief run rampant today. Our modern world thinks it knows more than “ignorant and unlearned men in the first century.” People who ignore what the apostles have to say about Jesus often create their own false teaching and spirituality. 14

This is what Muhammed, the founder of Islam did when he created the Quran. For example, instead of embracing what the apostolic eyewitnesses taught about the Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross (Matthew 27:31-66; Mark 15:21-47; John 19:16-42; I Corinthians 15:1-8), Muhammed listened to the beliefs and traditions of other faiths he had been exposed to while traveling with his uncle Talib on caravan journeys. 15 Some of those beliefs included second-century false teachings which denied Jesus was crucified on the cross, and therefore did not rise from the dead. 16

But how can we in the twenty-first century have fellowship with the apostolic eyewitnesses so we can enjoy the fellowship they had with Jesus? We do this through their written word as recorded in the New Testament. As we take the truth of the Bible and apply it to our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience deeper fellowship and spiritual intimacy with God. 17

Evans illustrates this when he writes, “Cities establish high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to prevent having too many cars clogging up the interstates. In a sense, they want you to be in fellowship while traveling to work. God wants you traveling a HOV lane in life, and He also wants to be your companion in the car.” 18

The reason the apostle John writes about having fellowship with the apostolic eyewitnesses and ultimately with God Himself is so he and the other apostles may experience the fullness of joy. “And these things we write to you that our joy may be full.” (I John 1:4). 19 If John’s readers were to experience greater fellowship or intimacy with John (and the other apostles) and ultimately with God Himself, then he and the other apostles would experience greater joy. The apostles’ hearts were so much like Christ’s that their own joy was connected to the spiritual well-being of those to whom they ministered. 20

This is similar to what John wrote in 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Nothing would give the apostle John more joy than seeing his readers walk in the truth of God’s Word so they could experience intimate fellowship with Christ.

Do we share Jesus’ concern for His people so that our own joy is bound up in the spiritual well-being of those we minister to? If not, we would be wise to ask the Lord Jesus to give us a heart for the spiritual development of other believers.

It is important to understand that the degree of intimacy we enjoy with Christ on the new earth may be directly proportional to the degree of intimacy we enjoy with Him now on the old earth. 21 For example, the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17). Jesus motivates His followers on earth to live victoriously (“him who overcomes”) by promising a special intimacy 22 with Him in eternity which includes eating “the hidden manna” and receiving “a white stone” on which is “a new name written” on it. Eating hidden manna with Christ and receiving a new name from Him are both expressions of deeper love and spiritual intimacy with Him.

But the primary focus of John in his epistle is the greater “joy” we can have before eternity (1:3-4). Under the guiding power of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), the apostle John has written this love letter from God so we may have a fullness of joy. After all, don’t love letters have a unique way of bringing us joy!?! 23

This reminds me of my first year of seminary when I would write to my girlfriend who was serving as a missionary in Costa Rica. Every day I would write in an aerogram about seminary life and how much I missed her. I would then mail the aerogram once a week, eagerly awaiting her reply. Her written responses were my lifeline during that first year of seminary. I couldn’t wait to check my mailbox to see if a letter from her was inside. When I received those letters, I would read them repeatedly. When I read how much she missed me and loved me, it restored my joy in view of her love for me.

This is one very important reason God has given us the book of I John. This “love letter” is in the Bible to restore our joy considering how much God loves us. John knows a lot more about God’s love than you and I do. He is known as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Perhaps this is why he has written so much about the Lord’s love in his gospel and epistles.

Anderson puts it well: “When the fires of our devotion to Christ are burning low, or we begin to forget just how much He really loves us, we can come running back to His inspired Word, His ‘love letters,’ and experience a fresh state of joy as we read again the old, old story of His love for you and me.” 24

Anderson shares the story of Christ’s love for us involving a little girl who had a great love for her dolls. He writes, “A man once came to her house to visit her mother and father. Her dad was not home from work yet, but her mother went into the kitchen to put together some refreshments while they waited for her husband to arrive. The little girl saw her chance. She coyly came up to the stranger as he waited in the living room and asked him if he liked dollies. Wanting to be polite, he assured her he did. ‘Would you like to see my dollies?’ the little girl asked. Not wanting to discourage her, the stranger said, ‘Of course.’

“So, the little girl began bringing out her collection of dolls. It was quite large and surrounded the coffee table. ‘Now which of these is your favorite?’ asked the visitor. ‘Are you sure you like dollies?’ queried the little girl. ‘Oh, yes,’ he confirmed. So, the little girl rushed back to her room and returned clutching an old Raggedy Ann dolly. She held it close and patted its head. The visitor was nonplused. This doll wasn’t nearly as impressive as the others. It had lost one leg; half its hair had fallen out; its belly button was missing, as well as part of an arm below the elbow. With astonishment in his face he asked, ‘But why is this your favorite dolly?’

“The little girl looked at him shyly and then back at Raggedy Ann. Then, holding the tattered doll very close, she said, ‘This is my favorite dolly… because if I didn’t love her… nobody would.’” 25

All of us are like that Raggedy Ann dolly. There is nothing about us that is worthy of God’s love. We are all ungodly sinners (no belly button, one arm and leg missing, hair torn out), yet God still demonstrated His love for us in that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That is true love. And that is what can restore our joy no matter how unlovable or unwanted we may see ourselves. The apostle John knows this and that is one reason he has written this love letter.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, if we are honest with ourselves and with You, we would have to admit there have been times in our lives when we viewed ourselves to be like that Raggedy Ann dolly – unlovable, unwanted, and unworthy of love. Yet Your love letter, the Bible, tells us how much You love us and delight in being with us. We thank You for the apostle John who wrote his epistle so we might experience an abundance of joy as we enter the deep and pervasive fellowship or spiritual intimacy that he and the other apostles had with You. May Your magnetic love draw us closer and closer to You so we may grow in our desire to tell others about You and Your love for them. Lead us to those who need to hear of Your radical love for them as demonstrated through Your death and resurrection so all who believe in You may have everlasting life. Give us Your heart for the spiritual well-being of others so we may see an even greater movement of Your Spirit in Your church and around the world. Thank You our Lord and our God for hearing our prayer. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 7; David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 28; Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 3367 to 3473; 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. 589; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2329-2333.

2. Anderson, pg. 15 cites cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91; Constable, pg. 46 cites James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979); Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible series(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982); F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1970; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986); John Calvin, The First Epistle of John, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries series, Translated by T. H. L. Parker. Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-61); John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988); John R. W. Stott, Basic Introduction to the New Testament, 1st American ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (1883. Reprint ed. England: Marcham Manor Press, 1966); and Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1989).

3. Constable, pg. 17.

4. Ibid., cites Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), pg. 46; Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco: Word Books, 1984), pg. 15; Gary W Derickson, “What is the Message of I John?” Bibliotheca Sacra 1 50:597 (January-March 1993), pp. 89-105.

5. Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 603; cf. Robert N. Wilkin, “‘Assurance: That You May Know’ (1 John 5:11-13a),” Grace Evangelical Society News 5:12 (December 1990), pp. 2, 4; Anderson, pg. 241; Hodges, Kindle Location 4070.

6. Anderson, pg. 28.

7. Constable, pg.14.

8. Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 589.

9. 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. 552.

10. Hodges, Kindle Locations 3460 to 3465.

11. Anderson, pg. 28.

12. Constable, pg. 14.

13. Hodges, Kindle Locations 3465 to 3469.

14. Evans, pg. 2332.

15. Daniel Janosik, THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM: What Every Christian Needs to Know About Islam and the Rise of Radical Islam (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 15.

16. The Quran denies that Jesus died by crucifixion (4.157) which is the same teaching of a second-century gnostic false teacher named Basilides whose school of thought lasted for centuries after his death. (See Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition], pp. 179-180 cites Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenaeus against Heresies,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, [Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1885], pg. 349).

17. Evans, pg. 2332.

18. Ibid.

19. The majority of Greek manuscripts have the word translated “our” (hēmōn) in place of the word “your” (humōn) in the text.

20. Hodges, Kindle Location 3473.

21. Anderson, pg. 30.

22. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 959-960.

23. Anderson, pg. 30.

24. Ibid., pg. 31.   25. Ibid., pp. 31-32.

I John – An Introduction

When God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and joined them together as husband and wife, the Bible tells us, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25; cf. Mark 10:6-9). To be “naked” and “not ashamed” suggests something more than not wearing any clothes. These words describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and with one another. They were able to be completely open with the Lord and each other without holding anything back or hiding their true selves. Adam and Eve were fully known by God and each other and they were okay with this. This enabled them to experience uninhibited intimacy with God and with one another. 1 They knew that they were totally accepted and loved by God. There was nothing to fear and nothing to hide from the Lord and each other.

Prior to the Fall, they did not experience any self-consciousness regarding the uniqueness of their personhood as man and woman. For example, Adam probably did not doubt his masculinity or his ability to impress Eve as a man. He was not concerned about his biceps being big enough or being a good enough lover for Eve. Nor did Eve wonder if her beauty was enough to attract Adam or if her ideas were as significant as his. With an unwavering assurance, both knew that who they were and what they offered to one another was more than just good enough – it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 2

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6), they experienced shame for the first time. The complete innocence and vulnerability they once had with God and one another were now lost. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). They were now self-conscious and ashamed of their nakedness before one another, so they tried to remove their shame by covering themselves with fig leaves. They went from holding nothing back from one another to hiding and covering their true selves.

When they put their own desires ahead of God’s will for their lives, they may have realized they could also put their own interests ahead of the other’s. Would Adam be able to trust Eve after she violated God’s trust? Would Eve be able to trust Adam after he did the same thing? Once transparent and vulnerable with each other, Adam and Eve now hid their physical nakedness and the nakedness of their souls with fig leaves. Instead of trusting each other, they were afraid of being hurt by one another, so they chose to protect themselves by hiding under the cover of fig leaves.

But their sin and shame also adversely affected their closeness with God. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Instead of being open and vulnerable before God, they now hid themselves from His presence when He pursued them. God is presented in this verse as pursuing His fallen children by walking in the garden in the cool of the day as if this was something He had always done to connect with them. We might assume that God came to them to punish and shame Adam and Eve for the wrong they had done but notice that God does not seek to shame His fallen children. He seeks to restore them. “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). Why would an all-knowing God ask Adam a question to which He already knows the answer? Because the Lord wanted a confession from Adam. “Where are you in relation to Me?” God asks. God knew where Adam was, but did Adam know where he was in relation to the Lord? Do we know where we are in relation to God?

When Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked” (3:10), God replied, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat” (3:11)? God never told Adam and Eve they were naked. This was the natural consequence of their sin. Satan also reveals our shame to us when we sin (true shame) or don’t sin (false shame). His accusations against believers produce shame in their lives. The Devil uses shame to isolateChristians from God and one another. Like a roaring lion who focuses on those who are isolated and weak, Satan focuses on believers who are alone and weak (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

Would Adam and Eve believeGod is still the same loving and merciful God that He had always been prior to their disobedience? Or would they believe the lie of the serpent who implied that God could not really be trusted (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)? The Lord did not abandon Adam and Eve when they sinned and felt ashamed. He soughtthem out to restore them to fellowship with Himself.

But instead of trusting the Lord, Adam and Eve were now afraidof Him. “So, he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Their sin and shame now became a barrierto His loving and merciful pursuit of them. Not only were they self-conscious of their nakedness before one another, they were now self-conscious of their nakedness before God. By covering themselves with fig leaves and hiding themselves among the trees of the garden, Adam and Eve removedthemselves from being able to receive God’s love, grace, and mercy which He was freely offering to them. Their faith in God had now changed to fear. Unfortunately, their shame pushed them away from the Lord instead of drawing them near to Him. And shame can do the same to us today.

We learn from the first man and woman, that intimacy with God and one another is broken when we sin against God or each other. Instead of love characterizing our relationships with one another, fear and shame disrupt the closeness we once enjoyed.

As a result of the Fall, all people are now born with a sin nature which creates huge barriers to love and intimacy (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12-21). Dr. David Anderson identifies two of those barriers in his book Maximum Joy:

“It is selfishness. Selfishness focuses on getting, not giving. Love, by definition, is giving, but the sin nature grabs and gets. People often confuse love and lust, but the main difference between the two is selfishness. Love asks, ‘How can I meet your needs?’ whereas lust asks, ‘How can you meet mine?’ So, the sin nature works against intimacy because it is selfish.

“But there is something else contained in the sin nature which is a block to intimacy, and that’s fear. Fear is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to opening up. You can’t be intimate with someone if you don’t open up. You can’t be close to someone if you don’t share the things which are close to you. But we are afraid to do that. We are afraid to let the other person see what is deep down inside. We are afraid they won’t like what they see. We are afraid they will simply reject us.

“This fear of rejection keeps us from opening up and getting close. But there is good news. God has given us I John to show how to have intimacy after the fall, to show how we can have our most fundamental need for love met even though there is sin in the world, in the universe, and resident within us. That’s why I John was written.” 3

Not everyone agrees with this understanding of I John. There are several popular preachers and teachers who believe I John was written to provide tests to see if you are genuinely saved and going to heaven when you die.

For example, one popular author and speaker wrote a book entitled Saved without a Doubt. 4 He argues that I John provides eleven tests which can help you determine if you are a genuine Christian on your way to heaven:

1. Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and with the Father?

2. Are you sensitive to sin?

3. Do you obey God’s Word?

4. Do you reject this evil world?

5. Do you eagerly await Christ’s return?

6. Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life?

7. Do you love other Christians?

8. Do you experience answered prayer?

9. Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

10. Can you discern between spiritual truth and error?

11. Have you suffered rejection because of your faith? 5

When I read this list of questions, they raised more questions than answer. What if I could only answer “yes” to five of those questions and not all eleven of them? Does that mean I am not a Christian? How much fellowship must I enjoy with Christ and the Father? How do I measure that? How sensitive to sin must I be? How much of God’s Word must I obey to know I am truly a Christian? Must I obey His Word perfectly or most of the time? Do I have to obey all of God’s commands or just the major ones? 6 No one can obey all of them or they would be perfect, and the Bible says that does not happen in this life (I John 1:8, 10). So, who determines how much obedience is enough?

What if I became a Christian when I was nine years old, but I fell away from the Lord when I was a teenager and lived a wayward life for the next ten years? During those ten years I could not answer “yes” to any of those questions. Does that mean I was never saved to begin with, or I lost my salvation during those years? There are different groups who would say I was never saved, or I had lost my salvation during those wayward years. 7

The point is that these kinds of questions do not give us the certainty we are saved without a doubt. They only increase the doubts of an introspective or thinking person. They increase one’s fear or guilt. 8

As we approach the book of I John, it is important to understand that the apostle John 9 is writing to Christians (2:12-14) prior to 70 A. D. 10 fromJerusalem (2:19) 11 so they could experience the joy of intimacy or closeness with God and other believers (1:3-4). While the gospel of John was written primarily to non-Christians to tell them how to receive the gift of eternal life simply by believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), I John was written to believers in Jesus so they could experience the joy of fellowship or closeness with God (I John 1:3-4).

John is writing to this community of believers because their fellowship with the Lord Jesus (1:3, 7) was being threatened by false teachers whom he calls antichrists (2:18-26). Hodges observes that these antichrists:

a. Thought physical contact with a divine being was impossible (1:1-4). They believed spiritual things (soul, spirit) are divine and good, but material things (body) are created and evil. Therefore, what you did with your body was irrelevant.

b. May have taught that good and evil, light and darkness, originated from God; therefore, to fellowship with God involved participation in good and evil (1:5-6; 2:29; 3:6-9).

c. Undermined John’s readers assurance of salvation (2:25-26) to entice them into a worldly (2:15-17; 3:4-10a) and unloving lifestyle (3:10b-4:21).

d. Were probably believers who defected from the Christian faith (2:19), denying that Jesus was the Christ come in human flesh (2:22-23; 4:1-3). Believed Jesus was only a man and the divine Christ descended on Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion (5:6-8).

e. May have practiced idolatry (5:21), including immorality with temple prostitutes. 12

Anderson emphasizes the importance of understanding I John from the backdrop of the gospel of John. He observes that the outline of the gospel of John is parallel to the temple or tabernacle (see diagram 1). 13

The first twelve chapters of the gospel of John focus on evangelism. John presents seven miraculous signs of Jesus so his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so they may obtain eternal life (John 20:31). “John’s signature phrase for a new believer is the Greek construction pisteuō eis (believe in). This phrase is found nowhere in Greek literature outside the New Testament, and of the thirty-four uses in John, thirty of them occur in the first twelve chapters.” 14

But when we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift in John’s presentation. Instead of focusing on sharing the gospel with non-believers, John addresses believers about discipleship. This is why Judas, who is not a believer (John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), must be sent out of the room as one of two steps to prepare Christ’s believing disciples for the intimate truths of discipleship (John 13:1-30). 15

The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believing disciples. Since Judas was not a believer, he did not belong in this setting. Non-believers had to come into the temple/tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truths Jesus wanted to share in the Upper Room were intended for believers. But even they needed to be cleansed daily of their sins to enjoy fellowship with God. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they wouldn’t be able to absorb the truth He wanted to impart to them. 16

The truth Christ gave to them involved Positional/Relationship Truth and Practical/Fellowship Truth. Christ presented this symbolically as taking a bath (Positional Truth) and foot washing (Practical Truth). When Jesus bent down to wash the feet of Peter, Peter resisted (John 13:5-8a). When Peter submits, he asks Jesus for an entire bath (John 13:9). Jesus explains that Peter is already “completely clean” because he already had a complete bath (John 13:10). All he needs now is to have his feet cleansed. If Christ doesn’t wash Peter’s feet, Jesus said Peter would have no “part” (fellowship) with Him (John 13:8b). 17

Hodges states, “This truth, of course, is more fully elaborated in I John 1:5-10 where fellowship is related to the question of the believer’s walk’ (which one’s ‘feet’ suggest) and it is conditioned on the cleansing that comes in response to confession of sin (I John 1:9).18 Peter could not have fellowship with the Lord until He was willing to receive His cleansing ministry.

How is it possible for Peter to be completely clean and yet need to have his feet washed? This is where we see Positional/Relationship Truth combined with Practical/Fellowship Truth. Peter had already received Jesus’ gift of eternal life early in Jesus’ ministry (John 1:35-2:11). Therefore, Jesus said Peter had already been “bathed” (John 13:10). In the first century, there were no bathing facilities in small houses. So, a person had to go to a public bathhouse to bathe. When invited to a meal, a person would first go to the public bathhouse and bathe, and then put on clean clothing, anoint himself with fresh oil, and proceed to the home where he would be served a meal. On the way from the bathhouse to the home, the guest’s feet got dirty. Hence, the host provided a basin of water so that the one who already had a bath and cleansed his entire body could sponge the dirt off his feet. 19

Jesus is referring to two types of cleansing in John 13:10. The first type of cleansing refers to the complete cleansing of regeneration or salvation which takes place at the moment of faith in Jesus (cf. Titus 3:5; Revelation 1:5). This is seen in the word “bathed” (louō) which refers to bathing the entire body. 20 This verb is in the perfect tense which conveys the idea of a permanent cleansing. A person only needs one complete bath spiritually. This is a one-time experience. The Holy Spirit performs this complete cleansing at the moment of faith in Jesus for eternal life. Some believers think they need to be totally bathed repeatedly. They fail to understand that God’s water or soap is guaranteed for eternity. Have you experienced this one-time permanent cleansing? If not, Christ invites you right now to believe or trust in Him alone. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Once you believe in Christ, you will need the second type of cleansing that He speaks of next.

This second type of cleansing refers to daily forgiveness to have fellowship or closeness with God. This cleansing is represented by the word “wash” (niptō) which means to wash parts of the body. 21 This fellowship forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 11:4) is based upon the confession of sin (I John 1:9). So, Christ is saying in verse 10, “He who is bathed [Positional/Relationship Truth] needs only to wash his feet [Practical/Fellowship Truth] but is completely clean.” Every bathed person (Christian) needs daily cleansing of his dirty feet to have fellowship or closeness with Christ.

Peter and the other ten believing disciples needed cleansing of their pride. They had been arguing among themselves at the Lord’s Supper about who would be the greatest in Christ’s future kingdom on earth (cf. Mark 10:35-44; Luke 22:24). So, these eleven disciples did not need a bath (Relationship Truth), they needed their feet and hearts cleansed (Fellowship Truth). Once Christ cleansed their feet and demonstrated what true greatness was (humble servanthood), their hearts were ready to hear Him share truths about loving Him and He them (John 14:21), how to stay close to Him so He could produce fruit through them (John 15). He also prepared them for future suffering and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16). 22

Anderson writes, “Again, the tabernacle may well have been in John’s mind when he structured his gospel. It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So, if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believer through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than just intercede in prayer. He actually becomes our mercy seat (Romans 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus, in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Now Jesus leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21).

“The importance of seeing the parallels between the structure of John and tabernacle cannot be overstated. With this visual aid we can see that a major portion of John does not focus on evangelism or relationship. The focus of Jesus’ words in the upper room is on intimacy or fellowship. As we look at I John we will see that it is this theme of the Upper Room Discourse that is repeated over and over in this short letter. In fact, as noted in the diagram above, all the major elements of the tabernacle (blood, fellowship, confession, light, intercession of the High Priest) are also found in I John 1:5-2:2.” 23

It is with great anticipation we will begin to discover the joy of intimacy or fellowship with God and one another as we embark on this journey through I John. I hope you will join me in the weeks to come, Lord permitting, to grow closer to our God and to one another.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the book of First John which You have given to us so we may develop a deeper intimacy with You and Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please open our eyes and hearts to the wonderful things You want to show us. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 68.

2. Ibid., pg. 69.

3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 14.

4. Ibid., pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992).

5. Ibid., pg. 15 cites MacArthur, pp. 67-91.

6. Ibid., pg. 15.

7. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

8. Ibid., pg. 16.

9. The ancient Greek manuscripts name the author of I John to be the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, who also wrote the gospel of John. The style and vocabulary of 1-3 John appear to come from the same author of the the gospel of John. See Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2329 and Zane Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 587.

10. Hodges, pg. 587.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., pp. 587-588.

13. Anderson, pg. 16.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

16. Ibid., pg. 17.

17. The word “part” (meros) is a term for fellowship (cf. Luke 10:42) in the New Testament. See Zane Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers – John 2:23-25,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978), pg. 147; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 326, 353, 401,593-594; 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. 215.  

18. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers,” pg. 147.

19. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 429.

20. 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. 603.

21. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 238-239.

22. Anderson, pg. 18.

23. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

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.

Transforming a nation and world

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower.” Matthew 13:18

Jesus explains His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2-9) to His disciples to prepare them for the different types of responses to the preaching of God’s Word (Matthew 13:18-23). Each soil in this parable represents a different response to God’s message. Some to whom we share the gospel are like “the wayside” soil (Matthew 13:4, 19) who will not receive or believe in Jesus (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12).

Others are like “the stony places” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) who “believe [the gospel] for a while” (Luke 8:13) but never really make a commitment to follow Christ as His disciple and “fall away” because of adversity (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13). They are “hearers only” of the Word like James talks about (James 1:22). They deceive themselves into thinking they can grow spiritually simply by hearing God’s Word without doing what it says. They are not willing to follow Jesus regardless of the costs.

A third type of person we will discover is like the seed that “fell among thorns” (Matthew 13:7, 22). These are those who believe in Jesus and start to follow Him, but they never bear much fruit because they are so distracted by worldliness and wealth (Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14).

So far this has been disappointing. If this is the kind of response we can expect to get from many people, why go on? Jesus tells us why! He tells us not to become discouraged because eventually we will come across the fourth kind of person, a person who bears much fruit after believing the gospel (Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:15). Unless we are willing to endure those who reject His message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, we will never discover the pure joy of finding those who are fruitful!

And notice that Jesus tells us that some of these fruitful ones will bear fruit “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). One of the blessings we will experience if we continue to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, is that we will begin discovering these amazingly productive believers. These fruitful believers are “super spreaders” because they are super at spreading the seed of God’s Word. These are the “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They will far exceed us in witnessing and planting new churches.

The way to discover these “good soil” believers, is to train everyone in discipleship who believes the gospel! The “good soil” believers will quickly emerge. They will immediately become doers of the Word of God. As these super spreaders emerge among us, we will begin to see a more significant movement take place in our country and world as well. But the whole process begins with those who are faithful to sow the seed – to preach the gospel and train in discipleship those who believe in Jesus (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the key to a transformed life and nation, not the political process. I believe more than ever, that Jesus is calling His church to return to the discipleship process in order to see our nation and world change for His glory! Christ implores us, “Hear the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18). Will we hear and obey our Lord and Master! Perhaps today is when some of us begin  to sow the seed of His Word!!! Please know that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all authority has been given to You in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Your one and only plan to reach the world for Your glory is the discipleship process whereby we preach Your gospel message to everyone in the world, and then call those who believe Your gospel to commit to follow You as a disciple through water baptism. Then we are to teach them to obey all Your commands (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). Please enable us to be faithful to spread the seed of Your gospel message to this world which is perishing without You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for explaining the different types of responses we can expect from our audiences as we proclaim Your Word. By Your grace, enable us to endure those who reject Your message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, so we may discover the pure joy of finding those who are super at spreading the seed of Your Word to others!!! Your discipleship process is what transforms individuals, nations, and the world, not a political process. Please forgive us for looking in the wrong places for transformation. I beg You to bring us back to the basics of the Bible and the discipleship process, my Lord and my God. May Your Holy Spirit give us the boldness and vision to pursue You and Your discipleship process until all hear Your gospel message!!! Thank You for the assurance that You are always with us as we make disciples for Your glory (Matthew 28:20b). In Your matchless name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 3

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15

We are learning from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, how to pray like He prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

   ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

Today we also discover that praying for those we disciples includes PRAYING FOR THEIR PROTECTION FROM THE WORLD AND THE EVIL ONE (John 17:9-15). Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven, 9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:9-10).Jesus did not “pray for the world” the night before His death, He prayed for the disciples whom the Father gave Him because they belong to the Father (“they are Yours”) and to Jesus (“Yours are Mine”), and Jesus will be departing from them soon. This is another affirmation of Jesus’ equality with the Father. The disciples belong to both the Father and the Son. Only God in human flesh could make such a claim of reciprocal ownership with God the Father! 1  

It is not that Jesus did not care about the world – He does! But the night before His crucifixion, He needed to focus on His disciples because their needs were great. When Jesus says, “I am glorified in them,” He is referring to the disciples who now believe that Jesus is from the Father (cf. John 17:8). Every time a person comes to faith in Christ as the One sent by the Father, Jesus is glorified in them!

Christ would no longer be with His disciples when He would ascend to heaven, so He prayed: “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11).Christ prays to His “Holy Father” to “keep” them “through” or “in” His Father’s “name.” The word “name” refers to the character of God. 2  Jesus is asking the Father to keep the disciples loyal to His Father’s character while they are “in the world.”

Sometimes Christians miss what Jesus just said. He does not say His disciples should live out of the world or as far away from the world as possible. He says, “these are in the world.” Some people think that to live a holy life you must live as far away from the world as possible. So you have a whole movement of people called monks who live far away from people in monasteries. You have churches that think they must live as far away from non-Christians as possible to live holy lives. But that is not what Jesus is praying here.

Christ is praying that His disciples would live distinctly holy lives “in the world,” not distant lives from the world. Because if we are the light of the world, and we are (Matthew 5:16), how is the world going to see it unless we live among them? If we are the salt of the earth, and we are (Matthew 5:13), how is the world going to taste it unless we live among them? So when Jesus prayed for us, He doesn’t pray for us to be taken out of the world. He prays that we would be kept loyal to the Father’s character while we live in this world.

This is the only time in the gospel of John that God is addressed as “holy Father.” The use of this title of God prepares the way for Jesus’ prayer to “sanctify” His disciples through the Father’s “truth” (cf. John 17:17-19). The purpose of praying for the Father to keep them loyal to His character was so they “may be one as We are one.” Christ wants us to live in unity with one another like He and the Father do, so the world can see what God is like. But Satan and the world want to divide the body of Christ, so our witness is less effective in the world.

Next Jesus prays, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12). Two different words are used for the word “kept” in this verse. The first word for “kept” is the same word used in verse 11 (etēroun) and has the idea of “to keep, hold, or preserve.” Christ said He had kept or preserved their loyalty to the Father’s name or character.

The second word for “kept” (ephylaxa) means “to guard, protectand focuses on Christ keeping them secure from being spiritually “lost” or perishing after they believed in Him (John 10:28-29). Not one believer has ever been lost by Christ nor ever will be lost by Him (John 6:35-40). Judas, “the son of perdition” (NIV – “one doomed to destruction”), never believed in Jesus in the first place (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11). Judas’ unbelief does not mean Jesus failed, but that Judas fulfilled Scripture in Psalm 41:9 which spoke of David’s friend betraying him. Judas “destroyed” himself by refusing to believe in Christ and thus fulfilled Scripture and God’s purpose.

“But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13). Christ had kept the disciples loyal to God’s character while “in the world,” but now He was returning to the Father (“now I come to You”) and so He prays “these things I speak” in My prayer about keeping My disciples loyal to God’s character and guarding them from perishing is so “they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” If the disciples remained faithful to God, which is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer, they would have a “full measure” of the joy that He had (and will have – Hebrews 12:2) in obeying His Father (cf. 15:10-11; 16:20-22, 24).

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:14). What did Jesus give the disciples that caused the world to hate them? The Father’s word about His Son and eternal life. The disciples were “not of the world” in their position because of their faith in Christ just as Jesus was “not of the world.” What makes the world hate believers is the truth of God’s Word. One way to get the world to love us is to let go of what makes them hate us – God’s Word and its truth.

Comedian, Bill Cosby, used to do a comedy routine about the time he was an American football running back. He was this 120-pound scrawny little kid playing against these 300-pound linemen on the other side. The quarterback said, “Cosby, you’re going to get the ball,” and they handed him the ball and these 300-pound defensive linemen are charging at him and they look like they are going to kill him. But then all of a sudden, Cosby realizes that they didn’t really want him. They wanted the ball. So he gave the other team the ball.

It us easy for us to do that as believers. We realize that the world doesn’t really hate us personally, it hates the truth that we live by and for. So we let go of the truth. But then there is no light and no salt. Jesus says, “I have given you something that’s very powerful and very dangerous. Be aware of it. I have given you God’s Word. And because it is truth that cannot be denied, it makes people love you, but it also makes people hate you. Your friends may hate you. Your family or neighbors may hate you. You need to be aware of this,” Jesus says. So Christ was very honest with His disciples (and us) about this.

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). If the disciples were taken “out of the world” they would have no witness to the world. Hence, Jesus prayed that the Father “should keep them from the evil one” while they are in the world. The word “keep” is the same word used in verses 11 and 12a, and it refers to them being kept safe from Satan and the world which he rules through deception, so that they remain faithful to the Father.

Too many Christians either withdraw from a worldly environment or they live like the world wants them to live to protect themselves. Christ wants neither response from His followers. Jesus wants us to remain faithful to God while living in a hostile world, looking to the Lord to protect us. We are to live for Christ “in this world – in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, marketplaces, and civic arenas. Yet, we are not to adopt the world’s perspective or let it dictate our values. We must operate on earth from a heavenly perspective, God’s perspective. God’s Word is to determine our understanding of right and wrong. Though we are in the world, we must not be of it.” 5

Prayer: Father God, we pray that our lives and the lives of those we disciple would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your protection and security, not in fear. Deliver us from fear if we are facing it. Father, we pray You would keep us and the people we disciple loyal to Your character while we are in this world so the full measure of Jesus’ joy will be in us. Thank You for giving us Your Word which can cause people to either love us or hate us. Regardless of how people respond to us, help us to hold fast to Your truth so that our lives will be transformed into Your likeness and more people can come to know Jesus as the Giver of everlasting life. Holy Father, please protect us from the evil one in this world whose deceit and rebellion take many different forms. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 545).

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 459; J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 305.

3. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 814-815.

4. Ibid., pg. 868.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 5

“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His eleven believing disciples how Christ can transform our grief into gladness. So far we have discovered He does this when we …

– Ask Christ to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).

– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).

– Allow our grief to direct us to the Father in prayer (John 16:23-24).

The final way Jesus transforms our grief into gladness is not based on a specific verse in this passage, but on the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus transforms our grief into gladness when we ACQUAINT OURSELVES WITH THE PATTERN OF TRANSFORMED PAIN. This pattern finds its fullest expression in Jesus. He transformed the bad into the good.

Because of Jesus, we can never say about a person, “He or she must be suffering because of some sin he or she committed.” Jesus, who never sinned, also suffered. God never promised that typhoons or twisters will skip over our houses on the way to our non-Christian neighbors or that COVID-19 will flee from our Christian bodies and invade a non-Christian’s body. We are not exempt from tragedies in the world just as God was not exempt. Christ was willing to suffer in order to accomplish a higher goal. He trusted His Father to use His death for good. And God took the worst thing that could happen – the brutal execution of His only Son and turned it into the final victory over sin, death, and the Devil (I Corinthians 15:1-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15). God turned the design of evil into the service of good, an act that holds in it a promise for all of us.

Because God transformed Jesus’ suffering into good, He can do the same for us. Jesus’ resurrection transformed the pain of His disciples into joy. No trial, illness, unemployment, broken relationships, death of a loved one, or grief extends beyond the range of Jesus’ transforming power. He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward Him.

Childbirth is ironical – an event that causes some of the greatest physical pain, but also opens the doorway to one of life’s greatest joys – new life! Someone once said, “The more grief inflicted upon you, the better fitted you are to appreciate joy. More often than not the so-called negatives are assets. There cannot be a front without a back, an up without a down, a cold without a hot, a love without a hate.”

When speaking of the effects of His own death on His disciples, Jesus compared it to a woman in labor. She travails until the moment of delivery, when suddenly anguish is transformed into ecstasy. Death is like birth – it causes great emotional pain, but in reality, it opens a doorway into the great joy of eternity because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Author Philip Yancey writes, “Imagine birth from the perspective of the fetus (unborn baby). Your world is dark, safe, secure. You are bathed in a warm, cushioning liquid. You do nothing for yourself. You are fed automatically, and a murmuring heartbeat assures you that someone larger than you is meeting all your needs. Life consists of simple waiting – you’re not sure what to wait for, but any change seems faraway and scary. You encounter no sharp objects, no pain, no dangers. A fine, serene existence.

“One day you feel a tug. The walls seem to press in. Those soft padded walls are now pulsing, wildly, crushing you downward. Your body is bent double, your limbs twisted and wrenched. You’re falling, upside down. For the first time in your life, you feel pain. You’re in a sea of roiling matter. There is more pressure, almost too intense to bear. Your head is squeezed flat, and you are pushed harder, harder into a dark tunnel. Oh, the pain. Noise. More pressure.

“You hurt all over. You hear a groaning sound and an awful, sudden fear rushes in on you. It is happening – your world is collapsing. You’re sure it’s the end. You see a piercing, blinding light. Cold, rough hands grasp at you, pull you from the tunnel and hold you upside down. A painful slap. Waaaahhhh!

“Congratulations, you have just been born.

“Death is like that. On this end of the birth canal, it seems a scary, dark tunnel we are being sucked forward by an irresistible force. None of us looks forward to it. We’re afraid. It’s full of pressure, pain, darkness… the unknown.

“But beyond the darkness and the pain lies a whole new world outside. When we awaken after death in that bright new world, our tears and hurts will be mere memories.” 1

Perhaps you have lost a love one recently who believed in Jesus or was too young to believe in Him, and your heart is numb with grief. Christ’s resurrection guarantees you will be reunited one day in His presence (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Knowing this can comfort and sustain you during this dark and painful time. Jesus wants you to take heart because the day is coming when the darkness will be gone forever and your pain will be transformed into endless joy (Revelation 21-22).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You never promised that suffering would not be part of our lives. In fact, You promised just the opposite if we follow You. But it is not a hopeless kind of suffering. Your resurrection guarantees to all of us who believe in You a hope-filled beginning when we die and go to be with You. A perfect, sinless, world awaits us in Your presence when we take our last breath. Knowing this empowers us to endure the darkness and pain before us with the confidence that something much better and greater lies beyond our time here on earth. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that the hurts and tears we have now will be transformed into endless joy and laughter in the world to come where we will be reunited with You and those who have gone before us. Please help us to lean into You when troubled times come. Your presence can calm our hearts when we surrender to You. In Your hope-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 258-259.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 4

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. Christ can do this when we…

– Ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).

– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).       

The fourth way the Lord can transform our grief into gladness is to ALLOW OUR GRIEF TO DIRECT US TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (John 16:23-24). Christ’s resurrection would change relations. Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 16:23). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would not be with His disciples physically and so they would not be able to ask Him questions. But the Holy Spirit would teach them and answer their questions (John 16:13-15).

We also see that Christ’s resurrection and ascension provided unlimited access to the Father in prayer. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples had often asked the Lord to meet their needs while they were with Him, but they had not asked the Father in heaven for anything in His name. Christ promises that after His ascension to heaven, the “Father …will give” them “whatever” they ask in Jesus’ name.

Praying in Jesus’ name is not a magical formula that we add at the end of our prayers. To pray in Jesus’ name means we pray what Jesus would pray to accomplish God’s will and bring Him maximum glory. When we pray according to God’s will, He will hear and answer our prayers to magnify the name of Jesus (cf. I John 5:14-15).

Next Christ says, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). “Now,” because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. The word “ask” (aiteite) is a present imperative verb and conveys the idea of asking God continually and persistently. Christ assures them that the Father would “give” them whatever they prayed in Jesus’ name to accomplish His will. The purpose of all of this was so that their “joy may be full” or complete. 

No matter what pain or sorrow we experience, it is essential that we stay connected to Jesus because God the Father is still in the prayer-answering business when we love and seek to honor His Son. 1 A disciple of Christ centers his or her life around Jesus (cf. Philippians 1:21), so when Jesus is glorified, his or her joy will “be full” or complete. Nothing is more enjoyable or satisfying for a follower of Christ than to see his or her Lord magnified.

When we go through painful times as did Jesus and His disciples, we have a choice to make. Will we turn away from the Father and pout or will we turn to the Father and pray? If we turn to the Father in prayer, He can fill our hearts with joy that the world cannot take from us. Our joy is connected to prayer. It cannot be made complete in any other way. Isn’t this exciting!?! God desires to make us glad by working in and through us as we pray to Him.

How do you respond to trials? Do you allow pain in your life to turn you to God or away from Him? Many of us want to take matters into our own hands when we experience pain. We may try to medicate our pain with different behaviors, feelings, people, or substances (e.g. alcohol, anger, anxiety, cell phones, depression, drugs, friends, gossip, lust, ministry, music, pornography, rage, romantic relationships, shopping, sports, TV, video games, work, or worry, et al.). But the Lord  wants us to turn to Him as we face painful times. He is waiting to hear from us, so He can fill our hearts with gladness.

What keeps believers from turning to the Lord in the midst of their pain? I believe much of it has to do with the lies we believe.  Let’s look at some common lies and the corresponding truth with which to overcome them:

Lie #1: God must not love me to allow all this pain in my life.

Truth #1: No one and nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Lie #2:  God is against me, not for me.

Truth #2: God is for me and He proved it when He gave His only Son for me (Romans 8:31-32).

Lie #3: God will not understand my feelings.

Truth #3: Christ experienced the same feelings as you, so He could understand your feelings and help you process them (Hebrews 4:15).

Let’s lean into the Lord especially during these uncertain times. He longs to fill us with His joy that cannot be taken from us.  

Prayer: Father God, I come to You now through the Lord Jesus Christ Who loved me and gave Himself to die in my place on a cross for all my sins and then rose from the dead. Please forgive me for embracing lies that lead me away from You instead of the truth that brings me closer to You. I am so thankful that I now have direct access into Your presence because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You at any time about anything knowing that You understand and are listening. Right now my Lord and my God, I give everyone and everything to You. I surrender everyone and everything to You, Lord. You are a good, good Father Who wants to bless His children. Thank You for the safety and security that I find in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold me, Lord. Hold me…. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

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

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 2

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” John 12:2

About two to three weeks after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:45-53), He retreats to the eastern slope to Bethany of Judea where He has supper with some dear friends (John 12:1-8). From these verses in John 12:1-8, we are learning how we can honor only Jesus. The first way to honor only Jesus is to serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what he has done (John 12:1-2a). Today we learn that the second way to honor only Jesus is to SPEND TIME WITH CHRIST OUT OF JOY FOR HIS GIFT OF SALVATION (John 12:2b).

“There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.” (John 12:2). As Martha served we are told, “but Lazarus” was reclining at the table with Jesus, the disciples, Simon, and Mary. This is a wonderful picture of fellowship with the Lord and other believers. The guests were laying back on couches with their heads near the table. They leaned on cushions with one arm and ate with the other. Notice the progression in Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus. First, Christ gave him life by raising him from the dead (John 11) so that now Lazarus can enjoy fellowship with Him (John 12). This is a great picture of spiritual birth resulting in fellowship or closeness with Jesus.

Before we became Christians, the Bible says we were “dead in trespasses and sins”(Ephesians 2:1). “Death” in the Bible refers to separation from God. Our sins separated us from the Lord who is holy, perfect, and righteous. God cannot be around our sin. But when we believe in Christ for His gift of eternal life, we are joined by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through Spirit baptism (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:11, 13) so that now we can live a resurrection kind of Christian life and experience victory over sin (cf. Romans 6:4-14; Ephesians 2:4-7).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this is a picture of our conversion. All who believe in Christ for His gift of salvation are raised from the dead spiritually so that now they can walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6:4). After God saves us, He invites us to enjoy fellowship with Him. The apostle John, who wrote the gospel of John, also wrote First John to explain how believers can experience the joy of fellowship with the Lord. He writes, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (I John 1:3-4). God raised us from the dead spiritually when we were saved by grace through faith in Christ so we can now enjoy fellowship or closeness with Him.

I once heard someone say that “fellowship” is like two fellows on a ship. They are going the same direction together, sharing the same experience together on the ship. When believers are going the same direction as Jesus Christ, they can experience the joy of intimacy with the Lord and His children. In I John, John tells his readers that they can enjoy fellowship with God when they:

“walk in the light as He is in the light.” (1:7)

“confess” their sins. (1:9)

“keep His commandments.” (2:3)

“walk just as He walked.” (2:6)

 “love one another.” (2:10; 3:14; 4:7, 11-12)

“do not love the world or the things in the world.” (2:15)

“let that abide in… [them] which… [they] heard from the beginning.” (2:24)

“abide in Him.” (2:28)

“practice righteousness.” (2:29; 3:7)

“confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” (4:2)

“know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (4:6)

“confess that Jesus is the Son of God.” (4:15)

“keep … [themselves] from idols.” (5:21).

Lazarus could enjoy intimacy with Christ now because Jesus raised him from the dead. Likewise, we can enjoy closeness with Jesus now because He raised us from the dead spiritually the moment we believed in Him for His free gift of everlasting life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9). What a joy to spend time with our gracious Savior who loves us and accepts us no matter what we have done or what others say about us!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, before I believed in You, I was dead in my sins without the life of God. I was in the gutter of my own sin and shame. No amount of my good works or religiosity could give me life or relationship with You. Thank You so much for raising me from the dead spiritually the moment I believed in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Only You could give me life that never ends. What a privilege I now have to spend time with You every day to honor You and You alone. I am so blessed to be able to sit at Your table and feed upon Your goodness and mercy. It is there that I can listen to Your voice of truth and give You my undivided attention. In Your presence I do not have to pretend to be something I am not. You delight in my presence because I am family. I am God’s child and You totally love and accept me as I am. I don’t have to perform to prove my value to You. You have already determined my value through Your shed blood on the cross for me. I praise You for Your love which quiets my soul. Help me to hold on to Your love for me and my love for You. Show me how I can love You and Your children better, my Lord and my God. Use me to introduce others to You so they also can experience the joy of spending time with You, the true God and eternal life. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.