How can I overcome loneliness? Part 4

16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” 2 Timothy 4:16-17 

In 2 Timothy 4, we have been looking at some of the most basic causes and cures for loneliness based on the apostle Paul’s communication with a young pastor named Timothy. So far, we have learned that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8), separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21), and opposition from others (2 Timothy 4:14). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13), recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a), and releasing the hurt (2 Timothy 4:16) to God. 

The last basic cause for loneliness is probably the most serious one that can cause the most pain. It is REJECTION (2 Timothy 4:16a). Rejection is when you feel as though you have been betrayed and abandoned in your time of need by those closest to you. Paul felt this way. He felt deserted. He says of his trial before Nero, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” (2 Timothy 4:16a).

Paul’s first defense evidently refers, not to his first Roman imprisonment, about which Timothy would have already known, but to a preliminary hearing leading up to his present trial. At such trials it was common to hear advocates for the accused, but in Paul’s case no one came to his support, but everyone deserted him. The widespread desertion of the apostle may be explained by the fact that, unlike the period of his first imprisonment, it had now become dangerous to be a Christian in Rome. As early as A.D. 59-60 Roman Jews had informed Paul ‘that people everywhere are talking against this sect’ (Acts 28:22). But the situation had gotten far worse after the fire of Rome in July of A.D. 64. Nero made the Christians scapegoats, and many were tortured and died. The intensity of the anti-Christian pressure must have eased somewhat by A.D. 67, but the thought of identifying themselves with the fearless and outspoken apostle must have been more than the Roman Christians and even Paul’s companions could face. In fact, Paul was understanding toward their unfaithfulness, and he expressed the hope that it not be held against them (cf. Christ’s words on the cross, Luke 23:34).” 1

You can almost hear the pain in Paul’s voice: “When things got tough, everybody left me. When the trial got heated up, nobody was there to support me.” No one spoke up in his defense; everybody abandoned him.

Has that ever happened to you? You were going through a very difficult circumstance, and no one was there to support you? You were perfectly healthy, but your friends treated you like you had the plague? You felt abandoned and forsaken. God says that every human being has an emotional need for acceptance, and when that need is violated, it is a serious sin which can cause deep emotional pain.

Let’s understand that it is not just non-Christians who may reject us. Christians can also reject one another. And this can be the most painful form of rejection of all because we have higher expectations of other believers in Jesus. After all, we are both children of God and we are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34-35), right?

But Christians are just as capable of rejecting one another as a non-Christian is, maybe even more. Even though believers have more resources than a non-Christian to live in unity (e.g., the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s Word, etc.), they also have an adversary, the Devil, who seeks to devour them and destroy (I Peter 5:8) the unity Christ prayed for (John 17:20-23), provided (Ephesians 2:14-18), and commands Christians to preserve (Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-32). Satan knows that when Christians live together in unity, they reflect the image of God in a very powerful way. This is why he seeks to divide believers, so the image of God is distorted, and God is not glorified, and non-Christians are not as likely to be drawn to Christ.

If you are struggling to forgive someone who has rejected you, I recommend going back to our previous article (Part 3) where you can prayerfully read and apply that forgiveness exercise to your situation.

After forgiving those who have rejected us, we can then focus on the fourth and final way to deal with loneliness: EMPATHIZE WITH OTHER PEOPLES’ NEEDS (2 Timothy 4:17b). Instead of focusing inward on our own needs, focus outward on other people. Instead of looking inwardly at ourselves, we are to look out to other people. Begin helping other lonely people. That is what Paul did: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” (2 Timothy 4:17). Paul’s aim at his trial was to preach the gospel so “all” his unsaved listeners might hear it and be saved.

Paul was lonely at the end of his life, yet he never forgot his life’s goal – to help other people by sharing the good news of Jesus with the loneliest people in the world – those who do not know Christ. We need to stop building walls between us and others and start building bridges. We need to stop complaining, “God, I am lonely,” and start praying, “God, help me be a friend to somebody today who needs You today. Help me build a bridge instead of a wall.”

Love is the antidote to loneliness. Instead of waiting to be loved, we need to give love, and then love will be given back to us abundantly. The greatest expression of love we can give to a non-Christian is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her.

What does God have to say to you about your loneliness? First, He would say, “I understand. I really do understand.” The Son of God knows what it is like to be lonely. In Christ’s darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified on the cross, His followers fell asleep (Matthew 26:40-45).When the soldiers came and took Him to trial, all His disciples fled the scene (Matthew 26:56b). Soon after that, Peter publicly denied knowing Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75). When Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself as He hung on the cross, His own Father in heaven abandoned Him (Matthew 27:46). Why?

Because God is holy and perfect and demands that sin be punished. So, when your sins and my sins, and the entire sins of the world were placed on God the Son, Jesus was separated from His Father for the first and only time. Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b). Why did Jesus say those words? So that you and I would never have to. God rejected Jesus so He would never reject us after we believe in Christ (John 6:37-40; 10:28-29). God turned His back on His Son, so that He would never have to turn His back on us.  

Do you have Jesus in your life? If not, listen to what Jesus said to a woman who tried to overcome her loneliness through her romantic relationships with men: 10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water… 14 whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10, 14).

When we come to Christ on His terms and believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life, we never have to be lonely again. Because the moment we believe in Jesus, He digs a spiritual well in our hearts that gushes up into everlasting life, and never becomes dry. Christ lives in us forever through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). We will never be alone again because He promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Then He can help us to overcome our loneliness as we connect to Him through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. As we stay connected to Jesus and other Christians, Christ can empower us to reach out in love to lonely people around us who need Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have felt alone and unloved. I did not know how to connect with other people. Nor did I have any love to give to them. Thank You so much for coming to me today to show me that You love me and want a personal relationship with me. Right now, as best I know how, I believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through Your Holy Spirit. Please teach me how to know You more intimately and how to make You known to others. I look forward to meeting with You as often as I can. In Your precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A. Duane, Litfin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 436.

Revelation 2 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

4. pg. 673.

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

6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

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

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

9. Ibid.

10. Evans, pg. 2371.

11. Walvoord, pg. 164.

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

13. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

14. Constable, pg. 31.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1504.

16. Constable, pg. 33.

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

Revelation 1 – Part 3

“ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.’ ” Revelation 1:11 

After a very powerful introduction to the book of Revelation climaxing with a quote from the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-8), the apostle John transitions to the setting of his first vision of Christ as Judge among seven local churches (1:9-11). Wanting to keep the spotlight on the Lord Jesus, John introduces himself and his situation in a humble and simple manner 1 when he writes, I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island of Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:9). The phrase, “I, John,” introduces a change in speaker, 2 since Almighty God was the last to speak (1:8).

John describes himself as the “brother [in Christ] and companion” with his readers in three things:

“tribulation” or persecution for their faith. The word for “tribulation” (thlipsei) refers to“distress brought about by circumstances.” This mention of “tribulation” is not referring to the coming Great Tribulation leading up to Jesus’ physical return to earth (Matthew 24:21, 29), but to “tribulation” or persecution in general that Christians of every era experience (Matthew 13:21; Mathew 20:22-23; John 16:33; Acts 12:2; 14:22; Romans 5:3; 8:17-18, 35; 2 Timothy 2:12; 3:12). 4 John could help his readers endure suffering because he himself had gone through it as well. Those who have not experienced opposition to their faith are not as capable of empathizing with those who have.

“the… kingdom … of Jesus Christ.” John is referring to the future earthly “kingdom” or rule of Jesus Christ that will be established when He comes back to earth (Revelation 19:11-20:6; cf. Psalm 2:6-12; Zechariah 14:9; Matthew 19:28; Acts 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 4:1). John and his readers will share in this future kingdom.

“the … patience… of Jesus Christ.” The word translated “patience” (hypomōnē) “implies endurance under extreme difficulty, as a beast of burden might endure under a heavy load.” 5 Persevering through persecution and suffering is motivated by the promise of reward in Christ’s kingdom (Matthew 19:28; Romans 8:17b; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 10:35-36; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). Those who faithfully endure for Christ to the end of their lives on earth will share in the privilege of reigning with Him Jesus’ future reign on the earth.

When the Lord reminds these believers (and us) of these three things (tribulation, kingdom, endurance) that they share in, it unites them with a common purpose and perspective amid suffering. Sharing in Christ’s suffering is an essential element in discipleship (Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-24; Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:10; I Thessalonians 1:6; I Peter 2:20-21; 4:12-14).  

John “was on the island of Patmos,” when God gave him this incredible revelation that comprises this last book of the Bible.Patmos is “a small island in the Aegean Sea southwest of Ephesus and between Asia Minor and Greece. According to several early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius), John was sent to this island as a prisoner following his effective pastorate at Ephesus. Victorinus, the first commentator on the Book of Revelation, stated that John worked as a prisoner in the mines on this small island. When the Emperor Domitian died in A.D. 96, his successor Nerva let John return to Ephesus.” 6

The reason John was in this penal colony on Patmos was because of his commitment to proclaim, “the word of God and for the testimony of [about] Jesus Christ.” The Roman Emperor Domitian sent John to this desolate island to silence him.Yet this exile did not silence John.God had bigger plans for His apostle while he was there.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, John “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10a). For John to be “in the Spirit” means he was thinking and functioning spiritually, engulfed in a spiritual framework on the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week).” 7 While under the influence of the Holy Spirit, John’s physical senses are apparently supernaturally suspended as God gives him the visions found throughout this book. 8

While “in the Spirit,” John writes, 10 I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:10b-11).

John heard the clear, penetrating voice of the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ identify Himself as the eternal God when He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” “The First and the Last” is a title that belongs to Yahweh, the God of Israel (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12).Because Jesus is God and exists eternally, He can give eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:16; 10:28).No other person has this capability. This is what makes Jesus so unique.

The Lord Jesus instructs John to “write in a book” what he will “see” and then “send it [the book of Revelation] to the seven churches which are in Asia” Minor. The ‘book’ in view was a roll of papyrus made from a plant that grew in Egypt. Normally papyrus scrolls were about 15 feet long.” 9

Each of these seven “churches were an autonomous local church and the order of mention is geographical in a half-moon circle beginning at Ephesus on the coast, proceeding north to Smyrna and Pergamum, then swinging east and south to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 10

Why did the Lord choose these seven churches? The best explanation is that they represent conditions that are applicable to all churches throughout history 11 from which this book could easily circulate. 12

What impresses me the most about these verses is the apostle John’s devotion to the Lord Jesus while he was banished to the island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor to silence him. But John’s love for Christ could not be silenced. Yielded to the Holy Spirit, the apostle was used by God to pen one of the most profound books in the entire Bible about the Lord Jesus Christ and His ultimate triumph over evil.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your Word which cannot be silenced. Thank You for the example of the apostle John and others like him, whose devotion to Jesus could not be silenced, even long after they have died. May each of us look up to You in prayer so we can speak up for Christ when others try to shut us up. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 36.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 18 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series, Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 75.

3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1498.

4. Swindoll, pg. 37; Constable, pg. 19.

5. Ibid.

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

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2369.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1499.

9. Constable, pg. 20 cites Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1912), pg. 30.

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

11. Evans, pg. 2369; Swindoll, pg. 38.  12. Constable, pg. 20 cites Robert Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 93-94.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 3

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16

In 2 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul is writing to his dear friend named Timothy. Paul was a dying old man as he wrote from prison in Rome to Timothy. He urged the younger man to visit him because he was lonely. We are learning from Paul some different causes and cures for loneliness. So far we have discovered that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8) and separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13) and recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a).

The third cause of loneliness is OPPOSITION (2 Timothy 4:14a). Although Demas had merely abandoned Paul (2 Timothy 4:10), Paul writes that “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.” (2 Timothy 4:14a).It’s likely that this is the same Alexander in Ephesus who was a false teacher and whom Paul ‘delivered to Satan’ (1 Tim 1:19-20) because Paul warns Timothy, who was ministering in Ephesus, to watch out for him and his opposition to sound teaching (2 Tim 4:15).” 1

Paul is saying, “Not only am I getting old and sitting here alone in prison separated from my dear friends, but I have also been attacked.” We don’t know exactly what Alexander did. He may have vigorously opposed Paul at his trial. Maybe he slandered Paul’s name or attacked his reputation. Maybe he was turning people against Paul – we don’t know for sure. But to be vigorously opposed creates a very lonely feeling inside of us.

Remember when you were a little kid on the playground at school and everybody ganged up on you? “You are not our friend anymore!” they said.You felt opposed and you felt all alone, didn’t you? It is a painful experience to face opposition when everyone else is having fun. It is lonely to be misunderstood, to be embarrassed, and humiliated. The temptation is to build walls of protection around ourselves. But doing that only makes us lonelier.

We may harbor resentment toward those who have opposed us. We may want to get back at them and make them pay for the hurt they have caused us. The way Paul responds to the opposition in his life provides the third way to deal with loneliness: RELEASE THE HURT (2 Timothy 4:16). Don’t exaggerate your loneliness and don’t rehearse it over and over: “I’m so alone. I’m so alone.” Also, don’t allow the loneliness to make you bitter and resentful.

Paul said, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul’s words are reminiscent of Jesus’ and Stephen’s words toward their enemies before they died (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).

Paul had a lot of time on his hands, but he did not have any time to become bitter and resentful. He chose to forgive those who wounded him. Paul knew that bitterness only makes you lonelier and builds a wall around your life because no one likes to be around a cynic – someone who is always resentful and complaining.

Paul is saying, “I want to be a better person, not a bitter person, so I will utilize my time, recognize God’s presence, and release my hurt.” Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances. We can choose to focus on our feelings, or we can choose to focus on the truth. The truth is forgiveness frees us from past hurts.

All of us have been hurt and wounded by others, especially those we trusted. From beginning to end, the Bible emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. God even commands us to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Therefore Jesus taught us to pray, 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. 2 God invites us to release the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

I am learning that there are three things that can hinder me from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. 3 When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. We may judge their motives and try to read their minds. We tell ourselves, “He or she is evil, selfish, and does not care about me or love me.” Christ warns us about making such judgments (Matthew 7:1-2). These judgments can cause heart wounds that keep us from healing and growing. When we refuse to forgive that person, we can bind ourselves to the person we are judging and become more like that person.It is important to repent of our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. 4

Not only do judgments about our offenders hinder us from forgiving them, but so do the vows we make. Jesus opposed the practice of distorting vows so they could convey or conceal a lie (Matthew 5:33-35). We can make inner vows to survive the hurts we have suffered. For example, when a person I trusted hurts me, I may make an inner vow that says, “I will never trust anyone again!” Or “If I need others they will take advantage of me!” These types of vows can become self-curses that result in isolation and loneliness, which cause us even more pain. These inner vows can often become subconscious and do not disappear with time. They are like a contract that must be renounced or broken.  It is important to ask God to forgive us and break these vows we have made. 5

False beliefs or lies can also prevent us from forgiving others. We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just (Romans 12:19). Or “If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.” The truth is that just because you forgive them does not mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

If you are struggling with loneliness because of unforgiveness, take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. 6 You may want to start with those closest to you (e.g., a parent, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, etc.). What wound did he or she cause to you? (e.g., abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, neglected, rejected, etc.).

What are the judgments or things you believe about them? (e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matthew 7:1-2).

What vows did you tell yourself to survive the wound? (e.g., “I don’t need or trust anyone,” or “whatever I do, it won’t be enough,” or “all men/women are ______,” etc.). Renounce and repent of these vows, asking God to forgive you and to break them.

What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? (e.g., anger, addiction, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.).

What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? (e.g., apologize, change their behavior, justice, make restitution, money, repent or seek your forgiveness, etc.). Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt.

What false belief or lie is keeping you from forgiving them? Say the following false beliefs below to yourself to see if they feel true. If they do, then focus on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true.

False belief: If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.

True belief: Only God know what is just (Romans 12:19).

False belief: Forgiveness means I must pretend that nothing ever happened.

True belief: Forgiveness is not denial. You must tell yourself the truth about what they did and how it affected you to really be able to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35; John 8:32).

False belief: If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.

True belief: Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

False belief: My unforgiveness punishes them and is justified because I am right; they will never see their wrong and repent if I let go.

True belief: The truth is, it is God’s mercy and kindness that leads us to repentance. Only He knows what will change them (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:24-32).

If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness:

Father God, Your Word says that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And so, I come to You in the name of Jesus, in obedience and love, and I bring (name) _____ before You. I cancel _____ debt to me (e.g., apology, change of behavior, humiliation, repentance, suffering, etc.). I choose to forgive this hurt against me, and I ask that You would not hold these sins against _____ on my account. I release _____ from any desire on my part to see _____ punished. In fact, as You have told me to do, I bless _____ in Your Son’s name, Jesus. You know _____ desires, needs, and hurts. You know what would bless _____. And so, I ask that You would pour out Your love and healing to _____ and bring _____ Your highest good, because Your name is Good and Love, and You are not willing that any should perish. Now also, Father, please heal my heart and set me free to love _____ as You do. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2220-2221.

2. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124.

3. Ibid., pp. 126-131.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. The following steps are adapted from Ibid., pp. 129-132.

7. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 132.

How much you matter to God – Part 5

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ ” Luke 19:8

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

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

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

– No matter what I’ve done, Jesus accepts me (Luke 19:5c-6).

Today, we discover the final profound truth: NO MATTER HOW MUCH I’VE HURT OTHERS, JESUS CAN RESTORE MY RELATIONSHIPS (Luke 19:7-10). When Jesus gave Zacchaeus attention, affirmation, and acceptance, Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him (Luke 19:5-6; cf. John 1:12). At that moment of faith in Jesus, Zacchaeus was forever changed!

Zacchaeus probably came down out of the tree and began to walk with Jesus to his house. As they are walking along, Zacchaeus overhears the people grumbling right behind Jesus. “But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’ ” (Luke 19:7). When Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house, the reaction of the crowd was swift and brutal. They are complaining against Jesus because He is going to go and stay in the house of “a sinner.” We can hear their self-righteous anger come out: ”Jesus is going to stay in the house of this corrupt guy? This is absurd!”

When the crowd refers to Zacchaeus as “a sinner,” they are saying he does not appear to be righteous like they are. He doesn’t live his life the way society expects life to be lived. The crowd assumes that Jesus is losing something by accepting Zacchaeus and it disturbs them. “It was as though Jesus had become the guest of a Mafia godfather (cf. 5:29-30; 15:1-2). However, table fellowship implied even more comradeship then, than eating in someone else’s home does today. Staying in a person’s home amounted to sharing in his sins.” 1

But it does not bother the Lord Jesus. He knows His purpose for coming to Jericho (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus, however, is disturbed. He hears the grumbling against Jesus’ association with him and is troubled inwardly. But Jesus just keeps on walking. Christ is delighted that Zacchaeus has received Him as his Savior. But Zacchaeus is bothered and as he hears the crowd complaining against Jesus, he thinks to himself, “Oh my, I am getting the Lord into trouble! These people are turning against Jesus because He has affirmed me and accepted me!” Zacchaeus hears the people complaining about Jesus making friends with him and is troubled by this, so he wants to make things right.

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ ” (Luke 19:8). Notice Zacchaeus says, “I give.” The moment he trusted Jesus as his Savior, suddenly the most greedy man in all of Jericho became the most generous man. What happened? The love of Jesus Christ changed him. When we meet Jesus Christ and believe in Him for salvation, our attitudes change. You start thinking about other people. Why? Because you realize how much you have been given and you want to give back.

Zacchaeus is saying to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, I feel terrible about this. You are spending time with me – a rotten sinner – and these people are turning against You. I just want You to know that as a result of Your love and acceptance of me, I want to make things right for the wrongs I have done to these people.”

When Zacchaeus says, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor,” the people must have been dumbfounded when they heard this. But it doesn’t stop there. Then he says, “If I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation [and I have], I restore fourfold.” This is an amazing statement! Zacchaeus admits he has stolen from the people by falsely accusing them of withholding their taxes from the Roman government! And now he pledges to give back to them four times what he stole from them!

Zacchaeus serves as a sterling example of the repentance preached by John the Baptist and by Jesus (3:7-14; 5:27-32). In fact, Zacchaeus surpassed both John’s instructions and the OT requirement for reparations—the addition of 20 percent beyond the original value of the stolen goods (cf. Lev 5:14-26). Whereas the narrative of the blind man focused on salvation by faith alone, this story emphasizes repentance. Belief in Jesus and national repentance would have brought about the kingdom and the promised OT blessings. Now, the realization of the kingdom would have to await a future time (see Luke 19:11).” 2

“The Mosaic Law only required adding 20 percent to the amount due when restitution was necessary (cf. Lev. 5:16; Num. 5:7). When a Jew stole an animal that he could not restore, he had to repay about fourfold, but if he was caught with the stolen property, he had to repay double (Exod. 22:1, 4). Zacchaeus’ words were the signs of true repentance (cf. 3:8; 14:33; 18:22).” 3 He went beyond what the law required.

These are the spiritual results of his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the things that came of out of his new relationship with the Lord Jesus who loved him and accepted him. Zacchaeus was a defrauder and a sinner, but he was willing to change his ways as a result of his relationship with Jesus.

“That’s what repentance looks like. Repentance doesn’t merely say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it makes amends for wrongdoing. The crowds had complained that Jesus went to this wicked man’s home. But after Jesus got through with him, Zacchaeus would be a better man for the community and restore what he had taken from them.” 4

Zacchaeus was concerned that the wrong things he had done in the past were now getting the Lord Jesus into trouble with the people around Him. When we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we become more sensitive about how our decisions affect the Lord and the people around us. Is there anything in your life right now that could ruin Jesus’ reputation? Is there anything in your life that a non-Christian could look at and say if that’s what Christianity is about, then I don’t want anything to do with it. Some of us have done things to people that need to be made right because it’s hurting the Lord’s reputation and His church. All of us, including me, need to ask the Lord if there is anything in our lives that is getting Jesus into trouble with others.

Whether we like it or not, the world is watching us to see if we are going to live what we preach. Will we walk the talk? Perhaps we need to go back to people we have offended and we need to make it right with them. Say to them, “I was only thinking of myself back then, but Jesus has changed me and I ask for your forgiveness. I want to make things right with you.” The longer we put it off, the more it hurts the Lord and the testimony of His church.

When Jesus hears Zacchaeus’ pledge to make things right with people, He rejoices. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:9).  Does this mean Zacchaeus received salvation because he would give to the poor and restore fourfold what he had stolen? No, this would be contrary to the emphasis of the New Testament which teaches salvation from hell is based upon faith alone in Christ alone (cf. John 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 9:35-38; 11:25-27; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; et al.).

While Zacchaeus was a physical son or descendant of Abraham, he became a spiritual “son of Abraham” through faith alone in Jesus. “Son of Abraham” is a term used by the apostle Paul. Paul and Luke, the author of the gospel of Luke, were traveling companions. So it is likely Luke used this term the same way Paul does. Paul writes, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7). Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house because of his faith in the Lord Jesus.

Both ‘son of Abraham’ and the similar ‘daughter of Abraham’ (cf. Luke 13:10-17) describe a justified believer (see Gal 3:1-14). Whereas Zacchaeus’ fellow countrymen would have questioned his fidelity to his physical Jewish heritage, his belief in Jesus (which probably occurred sometime during the course of Jesus’ stay in his home) rendered him a spiritual son of Abraham as well. In fact, John the Baptist minimizes the claim to descendancy from Abraham when not accompanied by repentance. Zacchaeus’ belief in Jesus and his subsequent repentance rendered him a true Jew and Israelite in every sense of the word (cf. Rom 2:17-29; 9:6-8).” 5

Jesus then explains why Zacchaeus came to faith in Him. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Because Jesus, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” He came to Zacchaeus and saved him the moment Zacchaeus believed in Him.

Jesus is the One who seeks and saves. We do not save ourselves. We may think we are seeking God, but the truth is, God is the One seeking us. This is going on today. Our responsibility is to receive the One who seeks us. Christ constantly seeks to love and accept us. We must simply believe in Him to be saved (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). The “lost” refers to anyone who does not have a relationship with the heavenly Father through faith in Christ alone. Jesus does not wait for people to come to Him. He goes to them. He is seeking people who are up in a tree or out on a limb.

Many people today have a misunderstanding about God. We think we have to get our act together to come into God’s presence. We think we have to be worthy in some way to go into Jesus’ presence or to get His attention and acceptance. That is a gross misunderstanding of the relationship Jesus offers. The New Testament tells us that this Son of God seeks sinners. He seeks the helpless, hopeless, and humiliated. He comes to them. He give them attention where they are at. Even if they are up in a tree or out on a limb, He notices every detail in their lives without any conditions. That is the love of Jesus Christ!

However, many Christians and non-Christians are trying to become worthy to receive the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. They won’t go to God when they are in trouble because they think they have got to get everything together first. “As soon as I get my life together this week, then I will go to God in prayer.” If that happens, tell me how you did it because I have never met someone who has it altogether for God except this One Person named Jesus Christ.

God comes to those who do not have it altogether. He comes to the people who are treed like Zacchaeus, and feel unworthy. He comes to them and accepts them. How many of us have a relationship with Jesus like that? Don’t we want to be with Someone like that? Of course we do! All of us long to be with Someone who loves and accepts us as we are. But when we are in the presence of someone who is harsh, condemning, and unaccepting, we want to run and hide. If we see Jesus that way, we are not going to want to spend any time with Him. And if we are not spending time with Jesus, we are not going to change for the better.

I wonder how many of you reading this do not feel worthy? To be honest, this also comes up in my life in my interactions with others. People think they must be worthy to come into God’s presence. I tell them, “Jesus loves you and He is offering a free gift if you will simply receive it by faith. Eternal life can be yours forever if you simply believe in Jesus for it. You can have new life. You can possess an inward life that is real and can respond to problems and pressures in this life. A life that transforms your life from a hurtful life into a healing life.”  

People then tell me, “But I am not worthy! I have done so many shameful things that you don’t know about.” I say to them, “You are in the best position you could be in if you feel unworthy because Jesus Christ seeks the unworthy. He did this with Zacchaeus and He is doing this with you. In His compassion, Christ comes to the unworthy and accepts them. He is seeking you and wants to save you. Will you climb down out of your tree and receive Him joyfully today? He is waiting.”

Christians can also feel unworthy and refuse to spend time with Jesus. They don’t build a relationship with Christ. They look at their sins all the time while Jesus is saying, “Hey, I came to you when you were an enemy of Mine and now you are God’s child. You were not worthy then and you are not worthy now. But I still love you and want to spend time with you. I still come to you as your Savior and your Lord.  And I love you and accept you as you are. And I also love you enough to change you if you will permit Me.”

How do we view our relationship with Jesus? Do we see Him shaking His fist at us? Do we see Him as a cruel old man leaning over the balcony with a holy hammer, saying, “Hmmmm. Anyone having a good time? Stop it! Pow! Pow! Pow!”

Do we think we must work hard to enter God’s presence? Or is His love and acceptance tugging at our hearts? Is your heart drawn to Jesus Christ? Is there a pull on your heart to draw closer to Jesus? If not, why not? He is the most loving and accepting Person who has ever walked on the earth. He cared so much for you and for me that He let people spit on Him, beat Him, whip Him, and kill Him so He could pay for all our sins. Now that is the ultimate expression of love! Why do we stand off at a distance from Jesus like we cannot approach Him? Like He doesn’t care? Is it because we have a distorted view of Christ!?!

Jesus seeks and saves the lost. If you are saved, He still loves and accepts you. I have just as many problems today as I did forty-two years ago when Jesus saved me. My problems are just in different forms today. And I still need Jesus’ acceptance today, don’t you? I don’t feel worthy. I still need a Lord Who comes to me in my unworthiness and loves me. When I see Jesus like that, I want to spend time with Him and let Him speak truth into my life and work in and through me. Don’t you want that? I hope so.

Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? If not, why not? He loves you and longs to save you. Why not come down out of your tree and receive Him today?

If you already have a relationship with Jesus, are you enjoying your relationship with Him? If not, why not? He wants to build a close relationship with You.

When Jesus saves us, He wants to change us. As we spend time with Jesus, we start to value what He values. We start to seek out the lost and introduce them to Christ. We become more sensitive to the Lord and to others. If we have hurt others, Jesus wants to heal our relationships with them. Will You let Him show You how to do this? He can heal those we have wounded. It is true that hurting people hurt people. But it is equally true that healed people heal people. Our world needs the healing touch of Jesus Christ through those who love and follow Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when we look back on our lives, we realize that we were a lot like Zacchaeus. We had our own brand of selfishness which hurt others deeply. But You sought us out and saved us so Your life could live through ours. Lord, please show us if there are any people in our lives that we have hurt. People who want nothing to do with Christianity because we have wounded them with our words or actions. Show us how we can make things right with them. Lord Jesus, You are the God Who heals. Please heal us so we can be used by You to help others heal. In Your all powerful name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 272.

2. Alberto Samuel Valdés, 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. 382.

3. Constable, pg. 272.

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

5. Valdes, pg. 383.

Responding to Rejection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

Thank God for His highlight reel of Jesus

“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” John 21:25

When we were living in the Philippines, I was not able to watch my favorite sports teams in America play their games live on TV because of the time difference. But I always tried to watch the highlight reels of their games so I could see the most significant plays.

The apostle John has given us a highlight reel of Jesus Christ in his book. He did not include all that Jesus said and did, but he included the most significant things we need to know to fulfill his evangelistic purpose (John 20:31).

As we come to the end of the gospel of John, the apostle John concludes with an afterthought of his book that affirms the truthfulness of his gospel. He writes, This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24). The author of this gospel is none other than “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). 1 The phrase “these things” refers to the entire gospel. 2 John is testifying that what he “wrote” is “true.” All that we read in the gospel of John is based on his eyewitness testimony.

Some believe that the phrase “we know that his testimony is true” was written by someone other than John. There are scholars who view the “we” as the elders of the Ephesian church where John traditionally served late in his life. 3  Others think that they were influential men in John’s church, though not necessarily in Ephesus. 4  Another view states this is an indefinite reference similar to “as is well known.” 5

It is better to see this phrase referring to John as he uses the editorial “we” to affirm the accuracy of what he has written. The editorial “we” is a rhetorical device used to refer to the author’s self. Using the first person plural, as authoritative people sometimes do, is something the apostle John does with regularity (cf. John 1:14; 3:2, 11; 20:2; 1 John 1:2, 4, 5, 6, 7; 3 John 1:12). 7  In favor of this view is also the use of the first person singular in the next verse (“I suppose…”).

Before we look at the last verse of this incredible book, let’s glance at the prologue of this gospel (John 1:1-18). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“ (John 1:1). John began his gospel with “the Word,” Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14-17), Who is “God.” He informs us that all things were made through Him” (John 1:3; cf. Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). The Person of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in this world because He is its Creator God. As God, He is independent of creation. He is not dependent on anyone or anything to sustain Him.

But John also wants us to know that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a human being without ceasing to be God (John 1:1; 14; Philippians 2:6-8). This is why John refers to Jesus as “the only begotten Son” (John 1:18). The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents, as many false religions teach today. The compound Greek word translated “only begotten” is monogenḗs, which literally means “one (monos) of a kind (genos)” or “unique kind.” 8Jesus Christ is the only one of His kind. He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14). This is the message of the gospel of John.

The writer of this gospel, the apostle John, goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ deity (John 1:1, 34, 49; 5:16-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 10:30-33; 11:27; 20:28; et. al). Jesus was unlike any other Person who has walked on this earth. In the Old Testament, the phrase “I AM” is how Jehovah God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). “I AM” is also how Jesus identified Himself to the people of Israel. He makes several “I AM” statements in the gospel of John: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the door” (John 10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), “I am the true vine” (15:1). Each one of these staggering statements attested to the fact that Jesus was and is God.

Jesus also claimed to be equal with God and to be God Himself (John 5:17-18; John 10:10-33). This is why His enemies wanted to kill Jesus for blasphemy (Leviticus 20:10; cf. John 5:18; 8:59; 10:31-33; 11:8). For example, when Jesus said, “He and the Father are one” (John 10:30), the Jews understood Him to claim to be God. They said, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33).

Did Muhammed, the founder of Islam, orBuddha, the founder of Buddhism, or Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, or Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, or Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Jehovah Witnesses, or Ellen G. White, the co-founder of Seventh Day Adventist, claim to be equal with God? No!Jesus Christ not only claimed to be God, He proved He was God through His works (John 1-12), the greatest of which was His resurrection from the dead (John 20:1-18; cf. Romans 1:3-4)!

John also goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ humanity (John 1:14; 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; et. al). Jesus had brothers and sisters like you and me (John 2:12; 7:3, 5; cf. Mark 6:3). Christ ate food and got thirsty just like you and me (John 19:28; 21:12, 15; cf. Matthew 9:11; 11:19; Mark 2:16; Luke 7:34). He experienced physical fatigue and even slept (John 4:6; cf. Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23). Why? He became a man without ceasing to be God so He could understand what it is like for you and me to have family, food, and fatigue. The God of the Bible is not some distant uncaring deity like the religions of the world. He understands our needs and He came to earth to meet our most fundamental needs to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure.

When John says that Jesus was “is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18b), he is referring to Christ’s very close and intimate relationship with God the Father. The word “bosom” (kolpos) refers to the upper part of the chest where a garment naturally folded to form a pocket. The picture here is that of a son resting his head on the chest of his father, experiencing a very close and intimate relationship with him. Jesus had the closest and most intimate relationship with God the Father. He knows the heart of God the Father better than anyone because His head often rested upon His Father’s chest in eternity past.

Who better to tell others what a Person is like than the One who is closest to that Person and has known Him the longest in an intimate relationship!?! There is no one more qualified to tell us what God is like than the only begotten Son of God who has known God the Father forever in the closest of relationships with Him.

This is why John then says, “He has declared Him” (John 1:18c). The word “declared” (eksēgéomai) is where we get our English words, “exegete” and “exegesis” from. It means “to set forth in great detail, expound.” 10  In seminary, we learned to “exegete” or explain God’s Word, the Bible. We were taught to “read out” of the Bible God’s intended meaning through a grammatical, historical, and literal interpretation instead of “reading into” the Bible our own biases and assumptions.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, has “exegeted” or “explained, interpreted, or narrated” what God the Father is like. Jesus is more qualified than anyone else to explain what God the Father is like because He, being God, knows God the Father longer and more intimately than anyone else.

Understanding the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, will help us understand why John concludes his book with the following words: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:25). John is telling us that he did not record everything “Jesus did.” He wrote selectively about the life and ministry of Jesus on earth. 11In other words, John gave us “a highlight reel” of Jesus!12  This highlight reel makes all others look pale in comparison.

Take for example a highlight reel of the greatest sports figures in history. None of them – whether it be Mohammed Ali, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Jim Brown, Tom Brady, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Pele’, Florence Griffith Joyner, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, or Ronda Rausey – can come close to what Jesus Christ has done.

The Lord Jesus has loved people perfectly, giving His life for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16; Romans 5:8). By His grace He has forgiven people perfectly no matter how badly or often they have sinned (John 4:1-29; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; I Timothy 1:14-16). He has given eternal life freely to all who believe in Him (John 3:16). He has granted a forever relationship to the religious (John 3:1-18). Christ has saved from hell forever all who have trusted in Him (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). He has transformed sinners into saints the moment they believed in Him (I Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:1, 13-14). Jesus has given hopeless people a purpose for living (Romans 8:28). He has granted contentment to those who could not find satisfaction (Philippians 4:11-13). He has given those who have greatly failed a second chance (John 21:15-17). He has bestowed peace upon the troubled (John 14:27; 16:33; Ephesians 2:14-15). And Christ Jesus has never lost one person He has saved, and He never will (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29).

No sports figure, politician, Hollywood celebrity, or philanthropist can do what Jesus Christ has done and continues to do. His life and ministry make Him unique. His highlight reel is superior to all others even though it does not include all that Jesus ever did.

“But God providentially determined that what we have in Scripture is enough. You don’t need to know everything that Jesus did and said. But, John says, you do need to ‘believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31). Amen.” 13  

But John did say if all that Jesus did on earth “were written one by one… the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” To date, countless books have been written on what little was actually recorded in the gospels about Jesus Christ. “Jesus is surely the most written-about person of all time—and rightly so!” 14 When you consider the thousands of historical books, theological books, religious books, scholarly books on the gospels, testimonial books, and articles about Jesus Christ, the numbers are endless! Isn’t that what we would expect from Someone Who is uniquely God and Man!?!

There is no end to the books written about Jesus Christ because He is still working in peoples’ lives today – giving them His life freely through believing in Him (John 3:16; 10:10b) so they can experience His life abundantly as they learn to follow Him as a disciple (John 10:10c; cf. 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8; 21:15-23).  

For me, the gospel of John is one of the greatest books of the Bible because it repeatedly shows God’s grace and truth through the Person of Jesus Christ. It also tells us over and over again what one must do to have eternal life now (John 3:16; 17:3) and a future home in heaven (John 14:2-3). It tells us to simply believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of eternal life (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 9:35-38; 10:24-29; 11:25-27; 14:1; 20:31; et al.). Jesus did not say, “whoever behaves.” He said, “whoever believes…” (John 3:16). Believe in Him alone and He will give you His never-ending life so you can experience it abundantly in your daily life.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the gospel of John which gives us all we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing we may have life in His name. There is no one like You, Lord Jesus. There is no one who forgives and loves us like You do. Thank You for revealing Yourself to us through the gospel of John. Please enable us to share this life-changing book with a lost world so they may discover the radical love you have for them and come to believe in You alone for Your gift of eternal life. Getting right with You, Father God, is based upon believing, not behaving. May Your Holy Spirit convict people of this profound and simple life-changing truth. And may those of us who have eternal life through Jesus, experience His abundant life as we learn to follow Him as His disciple. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78628-78629).

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 705.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 402 cites Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Authorised Version with Introduction and Notes 1880 (London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958), pg. 306. .

4. Ibid., cites Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Translated by G. R. Beasley- Murray, R. W. N. Hoare, and J. K. Riches. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), pp. 717-718.

5. Ibid., cites C. H. Dodd, “Note on John 21, 24,” Journal of Theological Studies NS4 (1953):212-13.

6. 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. 570.

7. Constable, pg. 402.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 658.

9. Ibid., pp. 556-557.

10. Ibid., pg. 349.

11. Wilkin, pg. 570.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1834.

13. Ibid.

14. Wilkin, pg. 570.

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 3

“This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” John 21:19

When studying Peter’s life, Dr. Charlie Bing identified several different stages of discipleship. First, there is the finding stage where Peter finds Jesus the Messiah-God and puts his trust in Him for the gift of eternal life (John 1:40-2:11). This is followed by the following stage which involves submitting to Jesus’ purpose of living to reach the lost (Mark 1:16-18). Third, is the forsaking stage when Jesus taught the importance of wholehearted trust and obedience to Him, especially in evangelism (Luke 5:1-11). Fourth, is the failing stage when God uses failure to equip us to strengthen others (John 13:36-38; 18:15-17, 25-27; cf. Luke 22:31-32, 61-62). Then there is the feeding stage when Peter begins to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). This is followed by the focusing stage in John 20:20-22. Currently we are looking at the feeding stage.

So far, we have learned in this feeding stage that for the the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, we must…

– Make loving Jesus our first priority (John 21:15).

– Receive His forgiving grace into our hearts for our greatest sins (John 21:16-17).

Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times when standing around “a fire of coals” in a courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). After His resurrection while standing around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:1-14), Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-17). Each time Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, Christ commanded him to feed or tend to His sheep to indicate that Peter was forgiven and restored to his position of leadership. Jesus was going to use Peter’s failure to help others grow in their love for Jesus. And He wants to do the same thing in our lives.

After restoring Peter to leadership, Jesus warns Peter of what his love and service for Jesus will cost him. After Peter told Jesus, “Lord, You know all things” (John 21:17b), Jesus demonstrated that as God, He truly did know all things when He said,  “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” (John 21:18).

Jesus contrasts Peter’s youthful freedom with the restrictions he will experience in old age. As a young man (“when you were younger”), Peter dressed himself and went wherever he wanted (“you girded yourself and walked where you wished”). But a day would come when he is old (“when you are old”) and he would no longer have control over his life and activities. He would live to an old age in which he would have to depend on others to dress him and to provide an arm on which he could lean. 2

When Jesus says, “you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you,” He is using a “euphemistic reference to crucifixion in the Roman world.” 3  “This stretching took place when the Roman soldiers fastened the condemned person’s arms to the crosspiece of his cross. This often happened before they led him to the place of crucifixion and crucified him.” 4  To be carried or led “where you do not wish” is clearly a reference to death. 5

John confirms this when he explains, This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.” (John 21:19a). Peter’s commitment to follow Jesus would ultimately mean martyrdom. Peter had formerly confessed his commitment to lay down his life for Christ (cf. 13:37). Someday he would indeed follow through on that commitment and by so doing he would glorify God.” 6

Tertullian, an early church leader (C. A.D. 212), reports that Peter was crucified in Rome under Nero (Scorpiace 15) around 64-67 A.D. Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 96) wrote that Peter died by martyrdom (1 Clement 5:4; 6:1).” 8  Another early church leader, Origen, stated that Peter was crucified with his head down because he did not feel worthy to suffer as Jesus had. 9

Jesus refers to Peter’s death as that which “would glorify God.” Peter, who had struggled with pride and prayerlessness, was learning through his failure to depend more and more on the risen Lord Jesus. Later in life, he would be so in tune with God’s will and purposes that even in death he would magnify the character and reputation of God. 10  Instead of trying to control his future as he had tried formerly to do, he would commit his future to the risen Lord’s control.

“The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.” 11  

“Peter later wrote that Christians, who follow Jesus Christ faithfully to the point of dying for Him, bring glory to God by their deaths (1 Pet. 4:14- 16). He lived with this prediction hanging over him for three decades (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14).” 12

After Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, John writes, “And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” (John 21:19b). Here again Jesus is giving Peter an invitation to follow Him. He is inviting Peter to step it up in his commitment to Christ. There is always a sense in which a disciple can grow deeper in his commitment to Christ. For Peter to fulfill his love for the Lord and provide spiritual care for other Christians, he must follow Jesus. The same is true for us. So, the final way for the risen Lord Jesus to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, is to RENEW OUR COMMITMENT TO FOLLOW JESUS NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 21:18-19).

These words to follow Christ take place 2 ½ years after Jesus’ initial invitation to follow Him (Mark 1:16-18). Now these words have a lot more significance. Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. These words are much weightier than Jesus’ other invitations to follow Him. But this is the feeding stage, and it depends on our love for Christ.

The night before His crucifixion, we saw Christ’s loving service to others when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16). He then said to them, 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). When you see the purpose God has given us – to love other people, to serve them, to feed them – it is hard to go back to doing the old things we used to do. Before Jesus said, “feed My sheep,” the question He asked was, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). He didn’t ask, “Peter will you walk on water for Me?… Peter, will you fight for Me?… Peter, will you build monuments in My name?” No, He asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” 

What’s the most important qualification for ministering to God’s people? Loving the Lord Jesus. If you don’t have a love relationship with Christ, you are not going to have His love for His people. John writes in his first epistle, 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11). When Jesus died on the cross, He was shouting out to you and me: “I love you!” When we receive God’s love for us through Jesus Christ, we can then share His love with others.

The person who has this kind of love is “born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7b). The phrase “born of God” refers to a Christian. Before you can ever produce this kind of love in your life, you must first be born of God. How? The Bible says you must simply believe or trust in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Notice that you are not born of God by following Christ, keeping God’s commandments, being baptized with water, surrendering to Christ, or living a good, moral life. No, the only condition to be born of God is believing in Jesus Christ alone, not behaving.

The moment we place our trust in Jesus for eternal life, we become God’s child and God comes to live inside us and love us always. As we get to know Him and trust Him, He pours His love into our lives so we can begin to love others (cf. Romans 5:5).

But if we are going to develop loving relationships after we become Christians, we must refill ourselves with God’s love daily. The person who loves God’s way is “born of God and knows God.” Once we have begun a relationship with God by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, the key is to stay close to Jesus. Get to know Him. Staying close to God is not complicated.

This image works for me: I picture my life as a bucket. I must have my bucket filled.  And God’s love is like a fountain. The more I refill that bucket, the more I must share with others. If you have been a Christian for a while, you can probably tell when your bucket is empty. You are easily irritated or angered. It is difficult to let go of past hurts and to trust someone who has hurt you. It is tough to expect the best of him or her. Perhaps you can’t stand being in the same room with the person. All of these are indications that you need to be refilled with God’s love.

You say, “How do you do it?” Spend time with Jesus. Hang out with Him. Read what He has written in the Bible. Talk to Him about what you are reading and feeling. You may even want to write it down in a journal. Treat Jesus like a close friend, and you will become His close friend. And when you get closer to Jesus, you will discover that you are more able to love those who matter to you.

Can you see this? Is this making sense? Can you see why you need God’s love to love others? Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Okay, so God commands us to love one another, but what does God’s love look like?” Look in I John 4:9-10: 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

First, we see that God’s love is selfless. His love gives without expecting anything in return. Often, we give to get. That is not God’s love. If Jesus had been selfish, He would never have left heaven or if He had come to earth, He would have packed His bags and left at the first sign of rejection. But He didn’t. He endured incredible suffering because He came to give, not to get. If God’s love is controlling our lives, we will be givers, not getters.

Second, God’s love is sacrificial. He not only gives, but He gives sacrificially. He “sent His only begotten Son into the world.” If it were possible, would you sacrifice your only child so that a serial killer could live? “No way!” Nor would I. But that’s exactly what God did when He sent His perfect Son to die for undeserving sinners like you and me. Who else would die for you except someone who loves you that much!

Third, God’s love is unconditional“not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” God’s love was not a response to our love. He loved us even if we never loved Him. God loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes God love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If God waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that He loved you and me first. His love does not require that we love Him back. Likewise, we are to love others even if they do not love us back. Is this easy? It’s impossible without Christ. Will we trust the Lord to love those who are difficult to love through us? So, when we experience God’s love, we naturally want to share that love with the people we love. Did you follow that? To become a more loving person we need to receive God’s love and refill ourselves with God’s love.

Lastly, we must reflect God’s Love to Others. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11). In other words, if God loved us with this selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love when we were least deserving, then we ought to love each other in the same way. Maybe our love cannot be as perfect as Jesus’ love, but it can grow in that direction. This is to be our goal.

So, this feeding stage in John 21:15-19, involves God using broken people to feed His sheep. God uses the lessons we have learned from our past failures to strengthen others. We minister out of our brokenness to others. As a pastor once said, “Before God can use a man greatly, He must hurt him deeply.” That’s the lesson of this feeding stage.

It is one thing for Jesus to say, “Follow Me into joy and goodness when everything is going to be great!” But it is another thing for Christ to look at Peter and say, “Follow me and I will lead you to die in the same way that I died.” Jesus is not saying that every Christian is going to die by crucifixion. But He does demand more of us the longer we follow Him as His disciple.

Obedience to Jesus’ command, Follow Me, is the key issue in every Christian’s life. As Jesus followed the Father’s will, so His disciples should follow their Lord whether the path leads to a cross or to some other difficult experience.” 13

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It won’t be easy. You never promised that it would be. So, Jesus, right now we refresh our simple commitment to follow You. Not just to listen to You or be around You or even say to You, “I love You.” But to follow You and Your leading in our lives. Lord, we know that where You lead is where we will find lasting joy. Whether you lead us to a cross to be crucified or to some other difficult trial, where You lead us is where we will find significance. Where You lead us is where we will find life. So, Jesus, we just say these simple words to You, “I will follow You.” Please give us the grace to do this, for apart from You we can do nothing. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Charlie Bing’s articles, “The Making of A Disciple,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1992; “Are Disciples Born or Made?” GraceLife, November 2007; “Peter as a Model Disciple,” GraceNotes – no. 21 all retrieved on July 13, 2021, at www.gracelife.org.

2. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 382.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 399 cites Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John Vol. 2 (Translated by Robert W. Funk. Edited by Robert W. Funk and Ulrich Busse. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 226-27; C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed. Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1978), pg. 585.

4. Constable, pg. 399 cites G. R. Beasley-Murray, John Second ed., Word Bible Commentary series (Waco: Word Books, 1987), pp. 408-409.

5. Laney, pg. 382.

6. 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. 569.

7. Laney, pg. 382; Constable, pg. 399 cites Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to

St. John: The Authorised Version with Introduction and Notes (1880, London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958), pg. 304.

8. Constable, pg. 399 cites Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers, 1:11.

9. Constable, pg. 399 cites The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 2:25; 3:1 and Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, pg. 304; Laney, pg. 382 also cites Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica 3:1. 

10. Laney, pg. 382.

11. Constable, pg. 399 cites Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, pg. 60. This book deals with this episode in Peter’s life most helpfully, especially for Christian leaders.

12. Ibid.

13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 704.

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 2

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” John 21:17

Twelve-year-old Kurt never missed a game of his Little League team, but he didn’t get to play much because of his small size and lack of coordination. The coach never let him play more than the two innings a game required by league rules. Even with Kurt’s participation, the team won many games and qualified for the playoffs. After the last practice before the playoff game, the coach drew Kurt aside and said, “Kurt, just don’t show up on Saturday for the game. It will be better for the team if you are not there.” A dejected twelve-year-old left the field that day.

Peter also felt the sting of despair. He had denied the Lord three times and swore that he was not one of His followers while in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17, 25, 27). After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter may have thought Christ no longer wanted him on His team, so he returned to fishing. Because of his failure, Peter may have felt unworthy to serve as a leader any longer. Perhaps he thought his public denials of Jesus disqualified him as a follower of Christ.

All of us can probably relate to this. We, too, have failed Christ and we feel unworthy to be on His team. We might think our sin is unforgivable or unredeemable. We fear that Jesus would not want us on His team. But please understand that Jesus never says to a repentant child of God, “Don’t show up.” Christ always gives a second chance to those who seek His forgiveness.

We are learning from John 21:15-19 how the risen Lord Jesus can use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail. Last time we discovered He can do this when we make loving Him our first priority (John 21:15). Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times after breakfast, he would say he loved the Lord. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?” (John 21:15a). When Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You,” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15b).

The word Jesus used for “love” is agapaō and is often used of God’s unconditional sacrificial love. But the word Peter used for “love” is phileō and refers to a brotherly and affectionate love that is between close friends. But Christ does not stop with this one question.

“He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (John 21:16). Again, Jesus begins with “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the importance of what He was about to say to Peter. Jesus uses the same word for “love” (agapaō) to ask Peter a second time, only He drops off the “more than these” to encourage a more positive response. 1  “In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all.” 2

Peter replied using the same words as the first time, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Again,Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had proudly claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33, 35; Luke 22:33; John 13:37). But after his failure and denials, Peter now exhibits more humility.

Seeing Peter’s humility, Jesus says, “Tend My sheep.” The word for “tend” (poimaínō) in the original Greek language means to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters … in the sense of lead, guide, or rule.” 3  This word means “to be a shepherd” or “take care of” flocks. Both Paul and Peter use this word to speak of the spiritual responsibilities of church leaders (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). 4 The word for “sheep” (probata) is a diminutive form of the more common word for sheep, probaton, and means “little sheep.” 5  It is quite possible Jesus is referring to believers who are not yet fully mature in their faith.

John then tells us, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” (John 21:17). For a third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the extreme importance of what He was about to say. When Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” He uses the same word for “love” (phileō) that Peter used.

John notes that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ” The word for “grieved” is lupeō which means “to become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” Was Peter hurt because Jesus used the same word for love (phileō) that Peter had used or was he hurt because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved Him? I believe Peter was hurt because when Jesus asked him a third time, it reminded Peter of his three denials. Peter had denied knowing Jesus early in the morning when standing around “coals of fire” (John 18:15-18, 25-27), and now Jesus was asking him three times if he loved Him early in the morning while being around “coals of fire” (John 21:1-17).

“Seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: ‘Do you love me?’ It broke Peter’s heart.” 8  

All Peter could do is say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” This time Peter appeals to Jesus’ omniscience (“You know all things”). “When Peter was proudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.” 9  

It may have also grieved Peter that Jesus was asking him questions that He already knew the answers to. 10  But these questions from Jesus were for Peter’s benefit, not the Lord’s benefit.

After Peter told Jesus a third time that he loved Him, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Here Jesus uses the word boskō (“feed”) from verse 15, and the word probaton (“sheep”) from verse 16. Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus. And now three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus and three times Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His lambs or sheep. This whole scene was intended to show Peter that he is completely forgiven and restored to his position of leadership! Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned him to feed or shepherd His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven, and he would serve Christ until his dying day!

Peter reminds us, that no matter how great a Christian is, he or she may fall away from the Lord. And when they do, they need to know that Christ always gives a second chance to His humble followers.

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to say “I love you” to erase the three-fold denial that had happened in the courtyard the night before Christ’s crucifixion. The truth is Simon Peter failed Jesus miserably. But Jesus Christ forgave him magnificently! 

Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me. Failure is overcome by forgiveness. There is no other way. If we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, we must learn this important lesson. Sometimes we try to overcome our failures by trying harder or being “better” Christians. But trying harder or trying to be “better” Christians only makes things worse. Our failures are always overcome by the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him because He wanted him to take His forgiveness into his heart where it really mattered. It is one thing to know about the forgiveness of Christ. But it is another thing to take it to heart. 

There may be many of us, if the truth were known, who know about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We know in our heads that He died on the cross for all our sins, and on this basis, He is willing to forgive all our sins. We even know that when we trusted Christ for His gift of eternal life, Jesus promised to forgive all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

But when it comes to the worst sin in our lives that we can look back on, the truth is many of us have not taken Jesus’ forgiveness to heart yet. Oh, we know we have eternal life by virtue of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13). But we have not heard Jesus say, “I forgive you” yet in that area of our greatest sin. Maybe that is the reason God brought you to this page, to hear Him say, “I forgive you,” so you can take it into the depths of your heart and soul.   

Keep in mind that Peter had believed in Jesus three years before Christ’s crucifixion (John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). And when Peter came to faith in Christ, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, which means a stone or rock (John 1:42). Why did Jesus change his name? Because Jesus knew the leadership role that Peter would play when He saw Peter in rough form. Peter would become a rock-solid leader among leaders.

Prior to Peter’s denial of Jesus, he had been walking with the Lord over three years. But Peter failed the Lord miserably when He denied knowing Jesus three times. He was probably uncertain about having a future ministry for his Lord and Savior after his great failure. He probably felt unworthy to be Jesus’ disciple. Therefore Jesus took special time with Peter to make sure he took Christ’s forgiveness into his heart so he would not carry that burden of guilt or shame into the future.

If the risen Lord Jesus is going to be able to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, WE MUST RECEIVE HIS FORGIVING GRACE INTO OUR HEARTS FOR OUR GREATEST SINS (JOHN 21:16-17). If we want to take to heart the forgiveness of Christ, we need to do it the same way Peter did. We look at Jesus’ word and we let His word come into our hearts and give us the assurance that His forgiveness has restored our fellowship or closeness with God.  

What does God say a Christian is to do after he or she sins? John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). To “confess” (homologeō), means “to agree, admit, acknowledge.” 11  When we confess our sins to God we are agreeing with what God says about our sin. It is not merely a mistake or weakness. It is an offense against our holy God.

And the moment we confess our sin to God, He is “faithful and just” to forgive the sin we confessed and cleanse us of all our unknown sins (“all unrighteousness”) as well. God restores us to a harmonious relationship with Himself. The word “just” (dikaios) means “righteous.“Because of the shed blood of Christ (v 7), there is no compromise of God’s righteousness when He forgives.” 12 Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s “just” demand to punish all our sin. When we confess our sins, God’s cleansing is total.

It is possible that even when God forgives us after we confess our sins, we stubbornly refuse to forgive ourselves. How long does it take us to forgive ourselves? Since God is ready and willing to forgive us when we seek His forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), what gives us the right not to forgive ourselves? If you are struggling to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you, take some time to write I John 1:9 down on a piece of paper. Then insert your greatest sins for the word “sins” in that verse. Draw a picture representing this truth so it can be installed into your right (limbic) brain. Review this verse and drawing every night before you go to sleep so God the Holy Spirit can massage it down into the depths of your heart and soul as you sleep. Choose to forget what God has already forgiven.

As stated earlier, Jesus used the word phileō the third time to meet Peter where he was at. Jesus was saying to Peter (and to us), “I want to meet you where you are at and walk with you on this journey called discipleship. I want to help you grow in your love for Me. I want to give you a vision of what you can become as My grace works in and through you to feed others spiritually.”

We are not on this journey alone. We have a great and sympathetic high priest who understands our struggles and longs to come alongside us to give us the grace and mercy we need (Hebrews 4:15-16). There is probably not one of us reading this article that feels like we love Jesus Christ the way He deserves. We love Him the best we know how, yet we know there is a lot of room for growth. I hope that all of us want to grow in our love for Jesus.

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me with everything you have every moment of your life?” If we are honest with ourselves, we would say to the Lord, “Jesus, I want to love You more in the way You deserve, but I fall way short of that. I need Your help.” That is sort of what Peter was saying to Jesus. So, Jesus came the third time and said, “Peter, I know you are trying to grow in Your love for Me. I want to come alongside you and help you do that.” This is what Jesus wants to do for you and me. He takes us where we are and helps us grow in the love we have for Him. 

Interestingly, each time Jesus commands Peter to “tend” or “feed” His sheep, He uses present tense verbs (boske… poimaine… boske). This indicates that the feeding process is to be repeated and regular. A meal or two now and then will not develop strong sheep. Nor will a sermon now and then build strong disciples of Jesus. We need to be fed repeatedly, regularly, and often.

Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, ‘Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).” 13

Although Peter failed the risen Lord Jesus greatly, Jesus did not take Him off His team. To the risen Lord Jesus, winning men and women, and boys and girls is more important than winning games. Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven and restored. And he served Christ until his dying day. Jesus wants us to know and experience that we are forgiven so we can serve Him until He says it is time to come home to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, many of us needed to hear this message from You. We have felt disqualified from serving You because of our past failures. We know in our heads that we are completely forgiven the moment we believed in You for eternal salvation, but our feelings keep lying to us. We have let them convince us that we are unworthy to be on Your team. Thank You so much for reminding us that our failures are not final because of Your forgiving grace. And when You forgive, You choose to forget. Teach us O Lord God to forget our past failures and to embrace Your amazing grace so we may forgive ourselves and help others to grow in their love for You. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 381.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 396 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 324.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 842.

4. Laney, pg. 381.

5. Ibid.; See also Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78494-78496.

6. Bauer, pg. 604.

7. A. T. Roberston, Kindle Locations 78509-78510.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1832.

9. Ibid.

10. 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. 569.

11. Ibid., pg. 1430.

12. Ibid.

13. Evans, pg. 1832.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 4

“Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.” John 21:7

We are learning in John 21:1-14 how to relate to the risen Lord Jesus Christ in our daily lives. So far we have discovered…

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

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

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

After the disciples stayed up all night trying to catch fish without any success, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and advised them to cast their net on the right side of their boat (John 21:3-6a). At this time, the disciples did not realize that this Stranger on the shore was Jesus. When they did what Christ said, they caught so many fish they were not able to haul them all into their boat (John 21:6b).

Then the apostle John writes, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.” (John 21:7). This miraculous catch of fish opened the eyes of John (“that disciple whom Jesus loved”) so he could identify this Stranger to be the risen Lord Jesus (“It is the Lord!”). John was the first to discern that this was the risen Lord Jesus and he “had also been first to discern the significance of the grave clothes (John 20:8).” 1  

This is an important lesson for those of us who proclaim the gospel to a lost world. When our risen Lord Jesus grants success to our labors, especially “when the gospel-net in our hands gathers fishes, let us not forget to own ‘It is the Lord!’” 2  The risen Lord Jesus is the One responsible for people coming to salvation. He is the One Who gets the glory. We are merely His instruments.

But we also see that Peter was the first to take action after Jesus was identified by John. Peter responded by wrapping his “outer garment” around himself and “plunged into the sea.” His quick reaction reveals his true feelings toward Jesus. He was so eager to be in Jesus’ presence, that he couldn’t wait for the boat to come to shore. Peter’s action contrasts strikingly with the time he started to sink in the water (Matt. 14:30).” 3

“True to the pictures we have of them in the New Testament, John exhibited quick insight and Peter quick action… Peter had learned that John’s instincts about these things were better than his. He accepted John’s conclusion and jumped into the water…  Apparently he wanted to get to Jesus faster than his boat and net, now full of fish, would allow. He showed no concern for the fish; he willingly let them go. His only desire was to get to Jesus. That his action was thoughtful, rather than impulsive, is clear from the fact that ‘he put his outer garment on’ before jumping overboard.” 4

Peter’s actions may seem strange to us. Why would he put on his “outer garments” before swimming? Normally people take off unnecessary clothing before swimming. The Greek word that is used to describe Peter is translated “for he had removed it.” This word is gumnos and can mean “naked, stripped bare, poorly dressed” or to “be lightly clad without an outer garment.” 5  In this context, Peter most likely had dressed lightly down to his loincloth for work as a fisherman, but he wanted to be dressed appropriately when he reached shore to greet Jesus.Modesty even had its place in the life of a Galilean fisherman. 6

But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.” (John 21:8). While Peter swam the hundred yards (“two hundred cubits”) to shore, the “other disciples”  followed in the boat towing the net full of fish.

I am really drawn to Peter’s actions. Remember fishing was Peter’s profession. He had left his fishing business to follow Jesus a few years earlier (cf. Luke 5:11). But while waiting to meet Jesus in Galilee after Christ’s resurrection, Peter returns to fishing with six other disciples of Christ. They throw in the fishing net where Jesus said, and Peter and the other disciples catch so many fish that they cannot even haul them all in. And then when Peter realizes it is the risen Lord Jesus on the shore, he jumps in the water to go over and greet Jesus. Only those of you who are fishermen can appreciate the significance of this. Why would a fisherman leave behind one of the greatest catches he ever had? Because he discovered what his real purpose was. It wasn’t in the boat. It wasn’t with those fish. He realizes immediately that it is the risen Lord Jesus on the shore. And He is the One Peter needs to be with. Peter was reminded of his purpose, and it was not fishing.

What about you and me? Do we realize our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ? To know Him more intimately and to make Him known to others? This leads to our fourth valuable lesson. OUR PRIMARY PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO BE WITH THE RISEN LORD JESUS CHRIST WHO IS GRACIOUS (John 21:7-8).

You may ask,“But isn’t Jesus in heaven now with God the Father? How can I be with Him here on earth?” Great question! Jesus anticipated this question when He said to His disciples, 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 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. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18). Christ promises that He will not leave His disciples as “orphans” who are deprived of their parents. Jesus had been like a father to the disciples – 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 the Holy Spirit (“another Helper… the Spirit of truth”). The Holy Spirit would fill the void left by Jesus’ departure. The Holy Spirit would protect, provide, guide, and instruct them. He would function as their Divine Parent and “abide with [and “in”] you forever” (John 14:16-17). There would never be a time when this coming Helper would be taken away from them (or us) in the way Christ was now being taken from them through His death and eventual ascension to heaven. 

The risen Lord Jesus is reminding us that our primary purpose is not in the number of fish or people we catch with our gospel nets. It is not in our job successes or failures. It is not in the number of people who like us or dislike us. Nor is our primary purpose found in how much money we make or don’t make. Or how much education we have or don’t have. Our primary purpose revolves around being with the risen Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit. Are we willing to put spending time with the risen Lord Jesus ahead of our achievements, our families, our hobbies, our jobs, our peers or anything else in life? Peter came to this realization on that “little boat.” He was so eager to be with Jesus that he turned his back on one of the greatest catches of fish he had ever seen.

What about us? How does our eagerness to be with Jesus compare to Peter’s? Peter and the other disciples went fishing without Jesus and caught nothing. But Jesus was so good and gracious to give them advice that led them to catch a large amount of fish. Christ’s goodness and grace toward them had a lot to do with Peter’s eagerness to swim over to Jesus. The more we experience the goodness and grace of our risen Lord Jesus, the more eager we will be to spend time with Him.

Peter spoke of this in his epistle when he wrote, 2As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (I Peter 2:2-3). Just as newborn babies desperately desire their mother’s milk, so believers are to desire time with the Lord in His Word so they “may grow thereby.”  The word “if” 7  assumes that Peter’s readers had “tasted” or experienced “that the Lord is gracious” and good in new birth (cf. I Peter 1:3, 23-25).

Our spiritual appetite for God’s Word is heightened by the graciousness and goodness of our risen Lord Jesus. If we have lost our eagerness to spend time with Jesus it is probably because we have lost sight of the goodness and graciousness of our risen Lord. God’s graciousness can be seen in His sacrifice on the cross. He gave Himself for us so He could have a love relationship with us. God is so gracious, He died for you and me. He is full of grace. Grace means giving your absolute best to someone who deserves your absolute worst. And this is what God did through Jesus Christ.

God is also patient and kind. If He were not, you and I would drop dead because God is so holy that He has to punish every sin. He has been waiting for years for some of us to come through on our promises to Him. The only reason we are still hanging around and He is still listening to those promises is that He is patient. We would give up on other people a lot sooner than God does. But Jesus Christ is also merciful which means removing our misery. He is truthful. He is the only One who will give us the straight story all the time. He forgives us of things that other people will hold against us until they go to their graves. That is God’s goodness and that is grace!

Our desire to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus hinges on our taste of His grace to us. If we perceive Jesus to be a harsh, critical, and angry God, we are not going to want to hear what He has to say. We are not going to want to be open to His Word.

It is easy for Christians to see God as an unkind Person when they experience suffering. But God is not to blame for the bad things that happen to us. We live in a world that is contaminated by sin. Because of sin, we live in a very painful world of cancer, COVID, personality conflicts, attitude battles, and political strife. We live in a world where if a sinner decides to pick up a gun, a Christian could be in trouble. Much of our world is not good, but it is not because God is not good. It is because people are not good.

All of creation was completely good when it came from God’s hand (Genesis 1:31), but it was contaminated by sin (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12). Therefore, we live in a world where many bad things happen.

But the goodness of God can be seen when He takes the bad things that happen to us and brings eternal good out of them. Like the Christian who knew he was dying and knew there was no medical hope. He looked up and said, “This is my crowning day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” But those who loved him and were looking on wanted to know, “Why did God let him die?”

Peter is telling us in his epistle and in his example in John 21 that our desire to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus hinges on our experience of His goodness and grace in our lives. Have you lost your eagerness to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus? If so, you can activate it by focusing on the richness of His grace toward you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Peter’s example of eagerness to meet with You. Honestly, it hurts me to think about the number of times I have been a lot more eager to focus on the things of this world instead of You. I have put people and ministry ahead of You so much of the time. Yet You patiently wait on the shore for me to come to You. You even intervene to help me when I am struggling to do things without You. Lord, Your goodness and grace humble me. Yet the more I experience Your grace, the more eager I am to be with You. Lord Jesus I want to be with You. I want to sense You with me always. Please enable me to be as eager as Peter, and to dive in to those opportunities and places where I anticipate You will show up. Thank You my Lord and my God. In Your gracious name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 390 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 317.

3. Blum, pg. 702.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 390.

5. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 208.

6. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 376.

7. The phrase, “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (εἴπερ ἐγεύσασθε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος) is a first-class conditional clause that assumes the truth of what is said. See Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1379.