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.

How can Jesus become more popular where we live? Part 2

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

Another way for Jesus to become more popular where we live is to REJOICE IN ATTRACTING OTHERS TO JESUS EVEN AT OUR OWN EXPENSE. When John’s the Baptist’s disciples were jealous of Jesus’ growing popularity, John said to them, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.” (John 3:28). John explains to his disciples that he was only a forerunner, not the Messiah himself. God’s plan for John was to prepare people for Jesus’ ministry. It was God’s plan now for Jesus to increase in prominence and for John to decrease in prominence. Jesus’ growing popularity was in part due to John doing his job so well. Rather than seek the limelight for himself, John was content to be an instrument to glorify Christ.

“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.” (John 3:29). In the first century, the friend of the bridegroom was an assistant, not the main participant in a wedding. He was responsible for making wedding arrangements and waiting for the groom to return with his bride to the groom’s house for the wedding banquet. The friend of the bridegroom did not expect to take center stage. With this comparison in mind, John rejoiced fully in Jesus’ success. John was simply the “friend of the bridegroom,” but Jesus is “the bridegroom.” In effect John says, “When I see crowds of people leaving me and going to Jesus, I am thrilled because Jesus can do for them what I could never do. For their sakes and His, I rejoice!” He says, “It fills my heart with joy to see them leaving me and going to Jesus.” And a heart full of joy has no room for jealousy.

John then says,He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). Some have misunderstood this verse to mean that you must die to yourself and that there be less and less of you so that there can be more and more of Christ in you. But in the context, what John means here is that Jesus “must increase” in popularity and he “must decrease” in popularity. After all, John was the forerunner; Christ was the Messiah-God. If he was preparing the way for the Messiah, then surely the Messiah would need to be better known than the forerunner.

Don’t you want to see this where you live? Don’t you want to see Christ grow in popularity in your community? Don’t you want to see more people in your community talking about Jesus Christ and what He is doing in and through your church? Don’t you want to hear your neighbors and co-workers talking more about Jesus? Are you willing to set aside your own preferences to attract more unbelievers to Jesus? With God, all things are possible.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this planet is Your stage to show Your grace and truth off. Please forgive me for wanting the attention that belongs only to You. Thank You for the grace that continues to heal the deep wounds of my soul so that my need for attention is much less than it used to be. I am merely a voice, but You are the living Word Who changes peoples’ lives. Nothing thrills me more than to see people come to You in faith for Your gift of everlasting life. I pray that my family, my friends, my neighbors, my church, my acquaintances, and even my enemies will begin to focus more on You and talk more about You, Jesus, than anyone or anything else. You are the Real Deal. You can do far more for them than I ever could. For this I am eternally grateful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jesus cares about the little things in our lives

“When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’ ” John 2:9-10

We have learned from Chapter 2 of John so far, that our joy (represented by wine) can be restored when we release our problems to Jesus (John 2:1-4) and when we respond to Jesus with total obedience (John 2:5-7). Another way to restore our joy is to realize that Jesus cares about the little things in our lives (John 2:8-10).

After the servants at the wedding banquet filled each stone pot to the brim, Jesus said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” (John 2:8a). John tells us, “And they took it.” (John 2:8b). As far as we know, Jesus had not told the servants about the miracle that He was going to perform. To them, they were carrying a cup full of water not wine. But when the master of ceremonies tasted what was brought to him, he got a mouthful of wine that was better than anything he had ever tasted before.

“When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’ ” (John 2:9-10). The master of the feast observed that it is a universal custom to serve “the good wine” first and then the “inferior” wine “when the guests have well drunk”   and their sense of taste has become less discerning. John is not suggesting that Jesus created more wine for drunken guests. He is simply emphasizing the supreme quality of wine that Jesus created out of water. 

Some Bible teachers have insisted that the wine Jesus created was no more than grape juice. But the word for “wine” (oinos) here is the word for fermented juice of the grape. Paul uses this same word when he writes, “Do not be drunk with wine [oinos]” (Ephesians 5:18). The same Bible that condemns drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) and cautions against a misuse of alcoholic beverages (Proverbs 23:29-35; I Timothy 3:3, 8) recognizes wine as one of God’s gifts (Psalm 104:15: Ecclesiastes 9:7). God created the grape from which the wine is made. But God is not to be blamed for peoples’ misuse of His gifts. Each human being is responsible for their own sobriety.

The words of the master of the feast demonstrate that a transformation miracle has taken place whereby Jesus created out of plain water a superior wine to any previously served. We will discover in John 3 another type of transformation miracle when Jesus gives His gift of eternal life to a sinner who believes.  

When the servants obeyed Jesus, this tells us that it is our job to fill the water pots, but it is Jesus’ job to change the water into wine. For example, in your marriage, it is your responsibility to love and serve your spouse, but it is Christ’s responsibility to change him or her. Don’t try to do something that only Jesus can do. He alone can change the personality and habits of your spouse. Trust Him to do what you cannot. It is our responsibility to share the gospel with people, but it is Jesus’ job to transform them. Simply share the truth with those without Christ and let the Holy Spirit convict them of their need for Him.

A miracle happened on that day in Cana of Galilee. This is such a beautiful picture of grace here. Initially, it appeared that Jesus was going to refuse to replenish the wine. But as He listened to His mother and looked into the faces of the wedding party, He reconsidered. People are more important to Jesus than schedules. Jesus changed His plans to meet the needs of some friends at a wedding feast. His first miracle was motivated not by famine or terrorism, but by concern for friends who were in a bind.

Christ not only cares about the major difficulties in our lives like death, disease, and disaster, but He also cares about the smaller things in life like running out of wine at a wedding reception, having a flat tire, a toothache, or even losing an ear plug when you desperately need to sleep.

If we are to experience Jesus’ transforming grace and the joy that results from this, we must realize that Jesus Christ cares as much about the little things in our lives as He does about the big things.So, go to Him with what concerns you. Make your relationship with Him your top priority, and He will fill your hearts to overflowing with His peace and power so that you may have a joy-filled life.

This miracle of changing water into wine could not have happened without the request of Mary as she admitted the problem. It couldn’t have happened without the presence of Jesus for them to bring the problem to Him. It couldn’t have happened without the willingness of the servants to work hard to do whatever Jesus commanded them to do. And it couldn’t have happened without Jesus’ concern for the little things in life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your grace transforms lives, even when it comes to the little things in our lives that no one else thinks is important. You are a kind and caring Lord Who not only sees the little things in our lives, but You also do something about them. Knowing this, motivates me to come to You in prayer. My prayers never fall on deaf ears. You hear and You answer. And my life is filled full of joy! Thank You my Lord and my God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I restore my joy?

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” John 2:5

We learned in John 2:1-3 that releasing our problems to Jesus can restore our joy. Another way to restore our joy is seen in the next few verses.

While Jesus and His disciples attended a wedding banquet in Cana of Galilee, the unthinkable happened – the hosts ran out of wine (John 2:1-3). To the Jews, wine symbolized joy.  Running out of wine at a wedding banquet in the first century was so serious that lawsuits could be brought against you by the offended guests. The presence of wine stated that this was a special day and that all the guests were special guests.

Jesus’ mother informed Christ of the problem and He let her know that she was no longer in control (John 2:4). He was no longer under obligation to do what she wanted when she wanted it. He was now obligated to fully obey His heavenly Father not His earthly mother.

Inviting Jesus to the wedding banquet made it possible for the supply of joy to be renewed and refreshed. But the simple fact that Jesus was there did not bring the joy. It did not replenish the wine. To have your joy restored, you must be willing to do whatever Jesus tells you to do.

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” (John 2:5). At that moment, Jesus ceased to be a guest and became the One who was in control of the whole wedding.  And at that moment, a miracle began to happen. It is easy for us to be willing to have Jesus as a guest in our lives, but are we willing to turn over the controls and “do whatever Jesus tells” us to do? Only then will we see Christ do miracles in our lives.

I greatly admire Mary because she is the mother of the Messiah. For those of us who respect her, it is important to listen to what she told the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

What does Jesus say to do to have everlasting life? He says, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Have you made this decision to believe or trust in Christ alone to give you never-ending life? The moment you do, Christ gives you everlasting life and He comes to live inside of you through His Holy Spirit (cf. 7:37-39) so that His joy can fill your life to the brim!

“Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.” (John 2:6). The Jews would use the water in these stone water pots for purification. They would come to the pots and let water run over their hands. It wasn’t a matter of sanitation but of ceremony. It did nothing to clean them physically or to wash them spiritually. It was simply an outward show.

An outward show, then or now, has never been able to produce joy. Simply coming to church and going through the motions will not produce joy in your life. They will put you in the place where you can find joy and put you around the people who will help to enhance your joy. But if you hear God’s Word without doing His Word, you will become even more miserable than you were to begin with. If we say the prayers but refuse to listen to God’s Spirit as He speaks to us, then our prayers will only produce emotional and spiritual conflict in us. If we read the Bible with no intention of obeying it, then we will only provoke guilt within ourselves.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.” (John 2:7).  The servants heard Jesus speak, and they responded in obedience. They began the process of filling the stone jars with water. Each of these jars held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, and there were six jars. That’s up to 180 gallons of water. It would have taken a lot of time and energy to accomplish this task. Trip after trip to the well to draw water and pour it into the jars. And we don’t know how far it was to the well. It would have been tempting to do a half-hearted job. After all, Jesus only said to “fill” the jars with water. He didn’t say how far to fill them. And “fill” is a word that can be interpreted in many ways depending on how hot it is and how late in the workday it is. Anything over half way is full, isn’t it? That’s what potato chip companies seem to think. But these men didn’t think so. When Jesus told them to fill the jars, they took Jesus’ words quite literally, and they filled them all the way “to the brim,” just shy of overflowing. This was more than enough to meet the need that this newly married couple had encountered.

Do we want God’s joy in our lives? (Pause) To receive that joy, we might even be willing to be obedient to God – to a certain extent, right? But are we willing for our obedience to reach all the way to the brim even when the obedience that Jesus asks for doesn’t make sense to us? Or when it requires more work than we had originally intended on giving? Or when it forces us to rearrange our priorities and our schedules like these servants had to do? You see, the amount of joy that we experience is in direct proportion to the amount of obedience that we give. The greater our obedience, the greater our supply of joy will be. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11). When Jesus tells you to do something, never do it halfway because Jesus wants to give you joy to the full.

I don’t know where the brim is for you, but I know that to get there, you must do whatever He tells you to do even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it is inconvenient or painful. It will require hard work. It won’t be easy. You must ask yourself, “How badly do I want the joy that God has to offer?”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me for the many times I have treated You like a guest in my life, instead of the Lord of my life. You make it clear that wholehearted obedience to You will give us joy to the full. How easy it is for me to go through the motions without giving You my heart. Lord Jesus, You do nothing halfway and nor should I. The more I know You and what You have done for me, the more I want to serve You as a way of saying “thank You,” even if it does not make sense to me. Please take all that I have, including my obedience, and use it for Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Releasing my problems to Jesus

“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” John 2:3

There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. There are always going to be problems – some of them small and some of them large. In John 2:1-11, Jesus and His disciples were attending “a wedding in Cana of Galilee” where Jesus’ mother, Mary, seemed to be the wedding coordinator (John 2:2). A big problem took place at this wedding celebration. “They ran out of wine.” (John 2:3a).

To the Jewish people, wine symbolized joy. Running out of wine at a wedding banquet in the first century was so serious that lawsuits could be brought against you by the offended guests. The presence of wine stated that this was a special day and that all the guests were special guests.

I can imagine that the bride was getting pretty anxious about this time! I can hear her saying to her mother, “My wedding day is not supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be filled with joy. But instead, I’m worried about what everyone is going to say or do when they discover that we have run out of wine.”

Maybe you have had similar thoughts. “My marriage is not supposed to be the mess that it is. Parenting isn’t supposed to be filled with so much stress. Christianity is not supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to be overflowing with joy – or so I’ve heard – but nothing seems to be going right. My joy is gone.” You may not know where your joy went. You just woke up one morning, and the supply had been completely drained. Some things have come along that you didn’t anticipate that have stolen your joy. Maybe some people have come into your life, and by their attitudes or actions, they have depleted your joy. Perhaps you have overbooked your schedule and lost your joy as a result. Sometimes we can lose our joy because of sin in our lives.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have been the one responsible for coordinating this wedding feast. It would have been embarrassing for her to admit that she had not planned on enough wine. Embarrassing or not, she was willing to admit that there was a need. She said to Jesus, “They have no wine” (John 2:3b). That’s what we have to do too. We have to admit that there is a need – that we are running out of joy. It may be because of our own choices or the choices of others, it does not matter. What matters is that we admit that there is a problem because then we can do something about it.

That’s what Mary did. When she realized that there was a problem, she took the problem to Jesus. She said to Him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3b). She didn’t try to solve it in her own strength. The fact that Mary came to Jesus indicates she believed He could resolve the problem. This tells us that Jesus is concerned with the everyday things in life that we face. This family may not have exhibited a lot of wisdom in how they planned for the wedding celebration, but the wisest thing that they could have ever done was to invite Jesus. The very presence of Jesus at this wedding opened the possibility to a miracle.

And you know something? Jesus is also here with us today. The Bible tells us that He died for our sins…was buried… and on the third day He rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). He is alive today and His power is available to everyone who believes in Him. With Jesus’ presence in our lives, there is enough power to resolve whatever problem you may be facing and build a life that is filled with joy.

When Mary came to Jesus and communicated the problem to Him, His response toward her may seem a little cold and harsh to us in the twenty-first century. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’ ” (John 2:4). Literally, Jesus says, “What to Me and to you, woman?” This may seem disrespectful to our modern ears to address one’s mother as “woman,” but this was an acceptable term in that day (cf. John 19:26; 20:15).

There may be times when we bring our requests to God for what we think would bring joy into our lives – but God’s response seems cold and harsh. It seems like the windows of heaven are closed. But the response that Jesus gave to Mary was to let her know that she was no longer in control. He was no longer under obligation to do what she wanted when she wanted it. He was now obligated to fully obey His heavenly Father not His earthly mother.

When it comes to asking God to do certain things in our lives, God is under no obligation to do things our way or in our time. He commands us; we do not command Him. God knows better than we ever could what will bring us the most joy and when is the most beneficial time for Him to answer our requests. God does miracles and He answers prayers, but He does it in His time and in His way.

There is one prayer that Jesus will always answer with a “yes” as soon as that prayer is offered up to Him. That is the prayer for forgiveness. After King David had sinned against God, he prayed to Him, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2). Notice that David did not ask God to forgive him according to David’s goodness or righteousness, but according to God’s “lovingkindness” and “the multitude of” His “tender mercies.” That is called grace – receiving what we do not deserve.

As believers in Jesus, we still sin after we are saved from hell (I John 1:8, 10), but all God asks us to do when we do sin is “confess our sins” to Him “and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). Confessing our sins restores our fellowship or closeness with God after we have sinned against Him.

If you do not have Jesus in your life, the Bible invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His unlimited forgiveness of all your sins – past, present, and future. “All the prophets say it is true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins through Jesus’ name.” (Acts 10:43; cf. Colossians 2:13-14). He will then come to live inside of you and fill you with His joy (Romans 8:11; 15:13; Galatians 2:20).

If your joy is gone, or if you have never found joy because you are living a life that is contrary to what God says, then come to Jesus as you are. He will work the miracle of forgiveness. He will fill you with His joy.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to You now as a broken cistern that is deplete of any joy. I have stubbornly insisted on living my life my way instead of Yours. Instead of turning to You to restore my joy, I have continued down a path that dishonors and hurts You. Most of my problems I have brought on myself through my foolish and selfish decisions. I am deeply sorry for all the pain I have caused to You and to those close to me. Please forgive me my Lord and my God. Thank You for washing away my sin and restoring Your joy in my life. I release my problems to You. I give everyone one and everything to You, my Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.