How can we endure difficult times? Part 4

“Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way.’ ” John 18:8

In John 18:1-12, we are learning how to endure difficult times. So far we have discovered we can do this when we…

– Learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a).

– Look to the Lord in prayer (John 18:1b).

– Lean on the power of Christ (John 18:2-8a). 

Next “Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way.’ ” (John 18:8). After identifying Himself as the One they are seeking, Jesus then commands this big bad army to “let these go their way.” He is telling them what to do. “An ordinary man would be in no position to command the arresting party to let his followers go. However, Jesus boldly did, and they obeyed Him.” 1

Christ wants them to arrest Him and let His disciples go free. “Being the commanding Leader He was, Jesus first made sure that His disciples would be safe before He allowed His captors to lead Him away.” 2 Doesn’t this seem a little strange? They came to arrest Jesus and Jesus is telling them what to do and they follow His orders. They don’t arrest any of His disciples because as God (cf. John 1:1; 8:58-59; 9:35-38; 18:5-8), Jesus has the power of command.

From this response of Jesus we have our fourth way to endure difficult times. LISTEN TO THE COMMAND OF CHRIST (John 18:8b). When we are facing difficult times, who do we allow to command us? That is a decision we face every day. Sometimes we listen to the wrong things to give us commands. We may listen to our sinful flesh, the world, or even the devil. Judas listened to Satan and he ended up betraying our Lord.

We can let the wrong things tell us what to do. Sometimes we get to the end of a day and we are all beat up and bruised emotionally or spiritually because we have been following the wrong commander. It happens to all of us. But praise God He’s willing to forgive us and give us new direction in our lives.

If you are a Christian, what does God tell you to do after you sin according to 1 John 1:9? God says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To confess means to agree with God. The moment we admit to God that we have sinned, He forgives that sin we confessed and cleanses us of all the sins we are not even aware of so we can be restored to fellowship with Him and begin obeying His commands once again.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, after You revealed Your majesty as Almighty God in the Garden of Gethsemane to the well-armed army who came to arrest You, You commanded them to let Your disciples go, and they obeyed You. If this big bad army obeyed You, how much more should Your followers obey You? Thank You for showing us today that if we do not not listen to Your commands and obey them, we are not going to endure difficult times in a way that glorifies You. So often we can listen to the commands of our own sinful flesh or to this world which follows the orders of Satan, and we end up all bruised and defeated spiritually. Please forgive us, our Lord and our God, when we listen to the wrong commanders and sin against You. Thank You for graciously forgiving our sins and cleansing us of all unrighteousness in our lives the moment we confess our wrongs to You. Please increase our sensitivity to Your voice of truth and to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives so we place ourselves under Your authority and endure these challenging times in a way that magnifies Your name. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ 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. 550.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 325.

How can we calm our troubled hearts in a chaotic world? Part 1

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” John 14:26

Fear is a normal human response. It is a part of every person’s life – perhaps more so in some people than others – but still everyone has to deal with fear at some time. There are many things that can cause unexpected fear to grip our hearts. The nuclear build up in North Korea has caused nations to fear the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. Parents fear for the safety of their children with so many reports in the news of people who would want to harm them. We are afraid to leave our homes unlocked, or to walk in the dark at night. We fear failure so we scramble to meet our tight schedules, duties and obligations. Many people are afraid of COVID-19 which may take their health, their job, or a loved one. And where there is fear, there is no peace.

Earlier in John 14 Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1a). The word “troubled” (tarássō) in the Greek is a picture of a stormy sea. Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever had a heart that just feels like there is a storm surging inside of you? You talk to it, you tell it things, you read it Scripture, and you bring it to church. But the storm just keeps stirring inside of you.

Jesus understood that a storm was surging in the hearts of His disciples. Their hearts were troubled. Why? The same reasons our hearts are often troubled. They had troubled hearts because of failure. Remember what Jesus had said just before this? He had just looked at Peter and said, “Peter, you think you are going to follow Me even if you have to lay your life down for My sake?! No. You are going to deny knowing Me three times” (John 13:38). Christ had also told them that one of them would betray Him (13:21). So their hearts were troubled.

The disciples were also troubled by confusion. Not knowing what God is going to do next can be very troubling to us. Or not knowing why the circumstance is happening. Jesus was talking about going somewhere else and His disciples not being able to go with Him (John 13:33, 36). That was confusing. The disciples’ world was turning into chaos.

It was also very disappointing. They had a dream. When they marched into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday they waved palm branches, dreaming that Jesus was going to stay in Jerusalem to sit on the Davidic throne to rule over Israel and the entire world. And they would sit next to Jesus as His right-hand men, right? But Jesus was saying, “I’m going somewhere, and you can’t go with Me.”What does that mean?” the disciples must have wondered. “Is Jesus not going to be our King? Or He is going to be King and we are not going to be His right-hand men?” So they are very disappointed. Their dream is being shattered this very night. God’s got a different dream than their dream. Their dream seemed to be turning into a nightmare.

They also faced fear. The fear of not knowing what would happen next. The fear of the Roman Empire persecuting them. They knew that the Jews were plotting to kill Jesus. The disciples were afraid of losing their beloved Shepherd.

All of these things combined to give them troubled hearts. Jesus could see this in their eyes and in their hearts. He then begins to share truths with them to calm their troubled hearts. Jesus can also see what is troubling us.

How do you deal with what is troubling your heart? Do you ignore it? Do you pretend it is not there and that everything is going to be okay? Do you hide from the storm that is stirring in your heart? There are many ways to hide from it. We can hide from our troubled hearts in alcohol, drugs, and sexual relations. We can even hide from our heart trouble by staying busy at work. Or we bury ourselves in a book, in the computer, or in the television. We hide from our heart trouble because we do not want to face it. But is that the best strategy?

No, for the next few days Jesus will teach us truths to calm our troubled hearts. We can calm our troubled hearts by focusing on THE PROMISE OF INSIGHT FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 14:25-26). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.” (John 14:25). The phrase “these things,” refers back to Jesus going away to a place where the disciples could not follow now (John 13:33). He would go prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-3) and while He was gone the Holy Spirit would permanently indwell them (John 14:16-17). The idea in verse 25 was that Jesus was physically “present with” them now, but that would soon change because of His departure. Christ now speaks about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26). This verse identifies “the Helper,” the One called alongside to help, as the “Holy Spirit.” We observe in this verse that the Holy Spirit is closely related to God the Father and God the Son. The Father had sent Jesus to reveal Himself and now He is sending the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ “name.” The phrase “in My name” means in Jesus’ place and for Him. In this one verse we see all three Persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:20; John 14:16; 15:26).

The Holy Spirit will continue the teaching and work of Jesus Christ after Christ’s departure. Jesus promises that the Spirit “will teach you all things” that you need to know. We see that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. He is a Person because He teaches. The Holy Spirit would provide insight into the meaning of Jesus’ teaching. He would cause Christ’s disciples to understand those aspects of Christ’s instruction that had remained beyond their comprehension. The disciples did not fully understand all of Jesus’ teaching at this time, especially concerning His going away, that is, His death and resurrection.

In addition, Jesus promised that the Spirit will “bring to” their “remembrance all things that” He taught them. It is likely they would forget the things they did not understand. We do that, too, don’t we? If we don’t understand something, we tend to let it slip away from our memory. But God wants us to rely on the Holy Spirit to give us understanding and remembrance. Jesus is telling us that the Holy Spirit will supply what we lack.

Did you ever wonder how John remembered all those things that Jesus said in the Upper Room? The Holy Spirit reminded him. The Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of the precise things Jesus had spoken to them. The Spirit would not start teaching something contrary to what Jesus taught. He would cause the disciples to recall Christ’s exact teaching, so they could write it down years later to form the New Testament Scriptures. The Holy Spirit would not only bring to their remembrance exactly what Jesus said, but He would also teach them what Jesus meant. When the apostles wrote the New Testament, the Holy Spirit empowered them to remember precisely what Jesus had said so that it was without error in the original manuscripts (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21; 3:15-16). These verses provide a strong argument for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.

This truth was not limited to the apostles back then. “The Spirit also helps believers today, enabling us to recall Scripture at the appropriate time and helping us to understand its meaning and its application to our lives, as He activates ‘the mind of Christ’ in us (1 Cor 2:10-16).” 1 There is comfort, strength, and hope in the Holy Spirit’s ministry to us when we are troubled.

The Holy Spirit continues His teaching ministry today by enlightening Christ’s followers as they study Jesus’ teachings. The Spirit of God knows and understands the deep things of God (cf. I Corinthians 2:10-16). He is to be the true Guide and Teacher of every believer, with human teachers serving in a secondary role (cf. 1 John 2:27). 2

Before I got saved, the Bible did not make much sense to me. It seemed like a boring text book. But when I came to faith in Jesus Christ at the age of nineteen, the Bible came alive because of the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life. God’s Spirit provides direction for His church through His Word. He will not contradict God’s Word. If we let Him, He will lead us into a better understanding of the Bible. So many times, I come to God’s Word not knowing what is meant and I ask the Holy Spirit to help me understand and He does. Sometimes He uses other believers to give me more insight into His Word and sometimes He fills my mind with insight as I study.

We are told in I John 2:27, “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.”“The anointing” or Holy Spirit is a sufficient Teacher. As we grow in our spiritual lives, we become less dependent on human teachers. Do not always take what a pastor or teacher says as truth without checking it out in the Bible. Learn to depend on the Holy Spirit for insight, not human teachers. Many times, churches have a pastor or teacher move on and as a result, God’s people flounder because they were depending too much on that pastor or teacher for insight instead of the Holy Spirit. When our hearts are troubled, we must depend more on the Holy Spirit for comprehending and applying God’s Word to our lives. The Spirit’s insight into the Bible can calm the storm in our hearts.

I heard one preacher say that “the Holy Spirit is like a personal trainer in our lives. He’s not some video that you watch on TV where you find out how. He actually comes into our lives to be a personal, spiritual trainer. You know how you want to have discipline and do it on your own but if you could just get a personal trainer to come alongside you to encourage and tell you what to do? Wouldn’t that make it easier? Jesus is saying, that’s what the Holy Spirit is. So when you’re trying to pray and it’s like push-ups – You can’t do any more. The Holy Spirit comes alongside and says, ‘I’ll help you out. I’ll even pray for you.’ And He does” (cf. Romans 8:26-27).3 

When we feel so discouraged to the point of wanting to quit living for Christ, the Holy Spirit comes along side and He helps us and He encourages us in our hearts where we most need Him. Jesus said that is Whom My Father will send to you (John 14:26a).

May I suggest that you take time this week to read John 14:1-31 right before going to sleep. Then set your Bible aside, turn off the light, and go to sleep. Review the verses in your mind as you fall asleep. See what the Holy Spirit does for your heart the next morning as you put His word in your heart.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank You that You understand us. You know what it is like to have a troubled heart. You did the night before Your crucifixion. And we praise You, Jesus, for giving us answers when we talk to You in prayer. We are so grateful we can talk to You about anything. Father God, thank You for sending the Holy Spirit so we are not left alone. Holy Spirit, we praise You for helping us remember Scripture at the appropriate time and for giving us understanding so we can apply Your Word to our lives. Lord God, when we look at the trouble in our lives and what it does to our hearts, the storms that it brings, there is part of us that thinks nothing can calm them. But we put our faith in You and Your Word right now. Thank You in advance, Holy Spirit, for the insight You will give to us that can calm our troubled hearts. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans; CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1804.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pp. 253-254.

3. Tom Holladay’s message, “Calming Your Troubled Heart” – John 14:1-27, May 29, 1996.

How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 2

“… The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:17-18

COVID-19 not only affects the physical health of people but also their emotional well-being. During this global pandemic, restrictive measures are being taken to contain the transmission of this virus by mass indoor quarantines and social distancing. Add to this the changing of plans, loss of structure, routine, and isolation, and you have a plethora of triggers for the fear of abandonment in many people. 1

All of us have a need to connect with people, but when that need is threatened by multiple restrictions, the fear of separation and rejection can easily overtake us. Day-to-day tasks can become burdensome because of our preoccupation with abandonment. This feeling of being left alone can overwhelm us.

How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? We are learning from Jesus’ interaction with His eleven believing disciples how this can be done. Last time we discovered we can overcome the fear of abandonment when we focus on the promise of another Helper, God the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16). Today we see the second way to overcome this challenge is to focus on THE PERMANENT INDWELLING OF THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH (John 14:17-18).

Jesus now answers the question, “Who is the Helper?” Christ explains that the Helper is  the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17). The Helper or Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth.” Jesus identified Himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Hence, the Holy Spirit communicates “the truth” about Jesus (cf. John 15:26). Jesus identifies the truth as the Father’s “word” (John 17:17). The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth about Jesus through God’s Word. It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit tells us what to do. He does not speak audibly to us, He speaks through the truth of the Bible. The Spirit of God will not lead us to act contrary to the Word of God. He will give us the ability to do what the Word says as we depend upon Him. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep Jesus’ commands (John 14:15).

In a sense the Holy Spirit replaces Jesus’ physical presence. This Helper would be unknown to “the world” (John 14:17) because He would be unseen and unrecognized. For example, without a radio, radio waves go unnoticed. So too, the Holy Spirit is unnoticed by the unsaved because they have no spiritual life. Why would we expect non-Christians to obey God? They do not have the ability to understand God’s Word properly without the Holy Spirit (cf. I Corinthians 2:11-15), let alone obey God’s Word. Jesus promised His disciples that they would “know(ginóskō) the Holy Spirit from personal experience because “He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17b).

Keep in mind that in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was not given to every believer. Those called by God to do a special ministry were clothed or empowered by God’s Spirit (e.g. Gideon, Judges 6:34; David, I Samuel 16:13). Also, the Holy Spirit was temporarily given and could be withdrawn (e.g. Samson, Judges 13:25; 16:20; Saul, I Samuel 10:10; 16:40; David, Psalm 51:11). Before Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit generally dwelt with believers (by their side), just like Christ had been with His disciples in bodily form. The Spirit’s indwelling was selective and temporary. But Jesus is now saying that the Holy Spirit would permanently indwell all believers forever after the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit can dwell individually in each of us, but Jesus could not do that when He was in a human body while on earth.

Then Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18). Christ promises that He will not leave them as “orphans” who are deprived of their parents. Jesus had been like a father to the disciples – comforting, protecting, providing, guiding, and instructing them as His own children. And now He was leaving them. But He would not leave them as “orphans.” He says, “I will come to you” through God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would fill the void left by Jesus’ departure. The Holy Spirit would comfort, protect, provide, guide, and instruct them. He would function as their Divine Parent.

In his book Living Faithfully, J. Allen Bair tells of a man who was struggling to get to Grand Central Station in New York City. The wind blew fiercely, and the rain beat down on him as he lugged his two heavy suitcases toward the terminal. Occasionally he would pause to rest and regain his strength before trudging on against the elements.

At one point he was almost ready to collapse, when a man suddenly appeared by his side, took the suitcases, and said in a strangely familiar voice, “We’re going the same way. You look as if you could use some help.” When they had reached the shelter of the station, the weary traveler, the renowned educator Booker T. Washington, asked the man, “Please, sir, what is your name?” The man replied, “The name, my friend, is Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt.” What a thrill it would be to have the assistance of a such a famous person!

But how much greater is the Helper God has sent! The God of the universe now indwells every person the moment he or she believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 11:15-17; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). At the moment of faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit moves in to stay so that your physical body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19). In Romans 8:9, the apostle Paul tells us that if we do not have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we do not belong to Christ. When we believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life, we receive all of the Holy Spirit, so there is no need to seek a second blessing or experience. The God of the universe now lives inside of you and will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)!

One day Jesus will return for His church to take them to the place in His Father’s house that He has prepared for them in heaven (John 14:2-4). The Holy Spirit’s seal on every believer guarantees their safe and secure delivery to this heavenly home. “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

When we “heard” and “believed” the “gospel… of salvation” we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (1:13-14). The word “sealed” (sphragizō) was used in the ancient world to refer to a legal signature which guaranteed the promise or contents of what was sealed. It signifies ownership and security caused by the backing of the owner.

The word “guarantee” (arrabōn) was a regular feature of the Greek business world. The “arrabōn” was a part of the purchase price of anything paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest of the price should in due time be paid. The seal of the Holy Spirit guarantees that the remainder of our “inheritance” blessings will eventually be given to us. The primary aspect of our inheritance involves life in heaven with the Lord Jesus.

Registered mail is a good example of the seal of the Holy Spirit. When something is registered at the post office it is sealed until delivered. Actually only two persons can open registered mail – the sender (if it is delivered back to him) and the recipient. When we believe in Christ for eternal life, we are sealed by God the Holy Spirit until we go to heaven. God is the One who sends us on our way to heaven, and God in heaven is the Recipient on our arrival. There is no power greater than God Who can break the Holy Spirit’s seal. Only God can break this seal and He promises not to do so “until the redemption of the purchased possession” which is when the church is delivered safely and securely to God in heaven.  

No matter what I do or don’t do after being sealed by God the Holy Spirit, I am guaranteed a safe and secure delivery to God in heaven. Therefore, I do not need to look to anyone or anything besides the Holy Spirit to give me security in this life. My security is found in God the Holy Spirit, not in achievements, affluence, appearance, or the approval of others. This amazing truth must not be neglected or misrepresented because it is intended to bring “praise” and “glory” to our great and gracious God!

The Holy Spirit is not limited by COVID or government restrictions. When churches are not allowed to gather in one place, God the Holy Spirit can still meet with us and minister to us. And we can minister to Him as we worship the Lord Jesus Christ Who is the truth.

There are many physical orphans today in the world. They have been abandoned by their parents or by guardians. They are all alone. Some of you reading this article are all alone. Your family, your church, your friends, your co-workers, and neighbors have abandoned you. They act like you do not exist. But listen to what Jesus is saying: God will never abandon you! He will never give up on you. He is in your life to stay. Take time to get to know Him. Talk to Him through prayer about whatever is on your heart. Listen to Him as you read and study the Bible. He will help you understand what you are reading so you can apply it to your life.

Prayer: I come to You now, God the Holy Spirit, and I thank You for permanently indwelling me the moment I heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even though there are many restrictions in our world today that hinder me from connecting with other people, I can still connect with You at any time and place about anything. I am so appreciative of Your presence in my life which provides everything I need to live for Jesus. Thank You for never abandoning me nor giving up on me. Thank You for sealing me the moment I came to faith in Christ. I am eternally grateful for the assurance that You will safely and securely deliver me to my Father’s house in heaven. I praise You that no one and nothing can break Your seal on my life except God the Father. And this will not happen until You safely deliver me to Him in heaven. Knowing this teaches me not to look to counterfeit substitutes for my security, but to solely rest in You for this deep need in my life. I give You all the glory, God, for this precious truth! In the mighty name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7179484/; https://themighty.com/2020/03/coronavirus-fear-of-abandonment-borderline-personality-disorder/.

2. https://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/illustrations/faithful-servants-11544480.html.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 4

7 But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’ ” John 12:7-8

At a special dinner for Jesus among His close friends, we are learning how to honor only Him (John 12:1-8). So far we have learned the following ways to honor only Jesus:

– Serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what He has done (John 12:1-2a).

Spend time with Christ out of joy for His gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

– Sacrifice for Christ out of love for Him (John 12:3).

The final way to honor only Jesus in this passage is to SHOW SENSITIVITY TO WHAT BLESSES JESUS ALONE (John 12:4-8). In contrast to Mary, John characterizes Judas in three ways. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said…” (John 12:4). First, his surname “Iscariot.” The name “Iscariot” is taken to refer to his origin, “from Kerioth.” 1 This could mean his father, “Simon” Iscariot (6:71; 12:4), is either from Judah (Joshua 15:25) or Moab (Jeremiah 48:24). Judas then, would be the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee.

Second, Judas was “one of His disciples.” He belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of companions for the last three years. Many unbelieving disciples had already withdrawn from following Jesus (John 6:66), but Judas, an unbelieving disciple (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), chose to stay with Christ. Why did He remain with the Lord Jesus?

This leads to the third characteristic of Judas. He remained with Christ so he could “betray” the Lord. He stuck around so he could deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Mary was devoted to Jesus, but Judas despised Him. Mary loved Jesus, but Judas seems to loathe Him.

“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas thought this anointing was a terrible waste of money – a year’s wages for a working man. Judas may have sounded compassionate toward the poor, but he was not. His criticism of Mary infected some of the other disciples according to Matthew and Mark’s account. Matthew’s writes, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’ ”(Matthew 26:8)? Those who seek to bless Jesus alone are often “misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.” 2

If you give your best to Jesus, you will be criticized and many times the loudest criticism will come from other believers who think they are only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When the Lord called our family to serve Him in the Philippines, we had some believers and unbelieving family members question our sanity. Some said our time and talents could be used better by the Lord in the USA. In their minds, we “wasted” our lives for Jesus in the Philippines!

At this point Judas does not sound like a bad guy, does he? “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6). John informs us that Judas was not being honest. He did not really care about the poor. He only cared for himself. He had been appointed treasurer of the disciples which may mean he had some accounting ability. But he was pilfering what was put in the money box and carrying it away for himself. He was a thief motivated by greed. He wanted to make money from his association with Jesus. He desired the perfume to make money for himself. When he could not get the perfume, he soon went to the chief priests and offered to betray Christ if they paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).

Some people pretend to be Christians or even disciples of Jesus to obtain money or power for themselves. But they only have their own benefit in mind. They are not sensitive to what would bless Jesus or others around Him.

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.’ ” (John 12:7). Jesus defended Mary’s act of love and devotion, “Let her alone!” He would have nothing to do with criticism brought against Mary. Anointing was usually for some festivity or celebration. But Jesus says she kept it for His burial which was just a few days away. Mary had entered into the mind of Christ more fully than the others. She knew His death was coming since He had already taught them about His suffering and eventual death many times before. Rather than wait until after He dies, she uses the perfume now when He can still enjoy it! This was a time for Jesus to relax before His sufferings and death. Mary understood this and she wanted to refresh her weary Lord and Savior.

Mary’s actions remind us that it is better to show our appreciation for someone before he or she dies rather than afterward. “Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.” 3 Is there someone in your life that the Lord may be impressing you to contact before his or her life is over? What would you regret more? Expressing your love for him or her before or after they die?

For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John 12:8). Jesus is saying, “You will always have opportunity to minister to the poor, but your opportunity to minister to Me here on earth is limited. I’m going to die soon.” The word “Me” is emphatic. The sentence literally reads, “Me, however, you do not always have”(Ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε).   Unless Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, Who was due the same honor as God His Father (John 5:23), this statement would be an expression of extreme arrogance. But these are not the words of a mere man or prophet, these in essence, are the words of God!

Christ’s comment about always having the poor was not an endorsement of poverty or an encouragement to do nothing about poverty. He is simply saying that there will “always” be opportunities to serve the poor, but their opportunity to serve Him here on earth was rapidly fading. Now was the opportunity for special service to the Lord Jesus. Now was the time to do something that would benefit Him and Him alone. Christ welcomed Mary’s gracious display of love and devotion.

In Matthew and Mark Jesus even said her gracious act would become a perpetual memorial of honor whenever the gospel is preached. What a contrast between Mary and Judas. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was interested in Jesus only as a ladder for his selfish ambitions.

Mary saw her time with the Lord prior to His death as an opportunity for special service to Him. She was sensitive to what He needed, to what would bless Him. When she anointed the Lord, it did not benefit the others or herself, it benefited Jesus and Him alone.

What made Mary so sensitive to the Lord? We are told back in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” If we would learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word, we would probably become more sensitive to what would bless our Lord Jesus and Him alone. Perhaps we would also give more to our Lord as Mary did.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee, observed in this passage that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha represent three essentials in the church today, respectively: “new life in Christ, worship and adoration, and service.” 4 If churches would focus on these three areas, think of how much the fragrance of Christ would fill our lives and communities!?!

How can we serve Jesus now in a way that serves Him alone? Spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and serve Him alone. Just you and the Lord alone. No one else there to benefit from what you give Him at that time. As You meet with Jesus, give Him…

Your complete honesty. When you really love somebody you don’t just want to spend time with them. You want to talk with them. If you want a deeper relationship with someone, you need to be completely honest with them about your faults and your feelings. Christ is not looking for perfection, but He does insist on complete honesty. What do you talk to God about if you want to draw close to Him? Anything that you would talk to your best friend about. Your hopes… fears… dreams… anxieties… things you are embarrassed about… things you are proud of… things you are ashamed of… your goals… your ambitions… your hurts… your cares… every part of your life – you come to God and you talk to God about it. The Bible says in Psalm 116:1-2:  “I love the Lord because He hears me and answers my prayer, because He bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath.” If you don’t feel close to God and some of you don’t… some of you have been believers for quite a long time and you honestly have lost your spark. Your Christian life has become routine, dull, and lifeless. There is no real joy and spark any more. There is a simple remedy for that. Start talking to God again. Choose to be completely honest with Him.

– Your listening ear as you read the Bible. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. We all want to be understood. We all want to be listened to. When you listen to someone, you are saying, “You matter to me.” When I listen to my wife or my children, I am saying, “I value what you have to say. You are important to me.” When I don’t listen to somebody I’m basically saying, “You are not important to me.” One of the ways you express love to someone and draw close to them is by listening to them.  The same is true with Jesus. Every time you listen to Christ you are saying, “Jesus, You matter to me. You are important to me.” If you want to learn to pray effectively, you must learn to listen to God through His Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). The more time you spend in Christ’s word, the more your thoughts become His thoughts. God made you with two ears and one mouth for a reason: so you will do twice as much listening as talking. So as God speaks to you through His written Word you will have more confidence when you pray because you know what you are praying is according to God’s will. Your heart will be filled with joy as He answers your prayers which are in line with His will.

– Your submission. The Bible says, 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a). Many years ago when my children were very small, I would come home from work and they would run to the door with their hands lifted high saying, “Daddy… Daddy!” By lifting their hands, what were they saying to me? “Take me, Daddy. I’m yours. I trust You.” By lifting their hands they were surrendering themselves to me and my control. They were not trying to manipulate me or control me. They were letting go and letting me take them into my hands. Your heavenly Father wants to do the same with you. He is waiting to draw near to you and hold you in His everlasting arms of love, but you must take that first step and surrender to Him. Give up your agenda and yield to His. When we worship God, lifting our hands to Him is an expression of surrender. We are saying, “I am Yours, Father God. Take my life and use it as You please.” It is time to surrender to the God of all grace. You cannot draw near to Christ without surrendering to Him.

– Your adoration and praise. Reach out to the Lord in prayer and praise Him and thank Him. Tell Him how much you love Him. Bow your heart before Him and worship Him. Surrender to Jesus all that You have. Mary gave sacrificially to the Lord because He raised her brother from the dead. But Jesus has raised us from spiritual death and given us eternal life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9)! Praise Him for that! Let Him know how grateful you are! Give Him what is most precious to you. He will never forget it.

You are as close to Jesus as you choose to be. Do you really want it more than anything else? Is it worth giving up other things and developing the habits and skills required? Start asking God to give you a passion for Him. Jeremiah 29:13 (MSG) says, “When you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me a beautiful picture of what true worship looks like through Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Her love and devotion for You were displayed when she gave to You what was most precious to her. Unlike Judas, who loathed You and thought only of himself, Mary loved You and was sensitive to what would bless You as the time of Your crucifixion rapidly approached. Like Mary, I want to be still and sit at Your feet to hear Your voice of truth so I can become more sensitive to what would bless You and You alone. For me to hear You more clearly, I must lay aside anything that would keep me from hearing Your voice, including my own selfishness, deceit, envy, hypocrisy, evil speaking, and malice (I Peter 2:1). What would You say to me at this time, Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], 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. 380-381.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), 1:339.

3. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 232.

4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:444.