How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 1

All of us have experienced failure in our lives. Perhaps you embarrassed yourself by forgetting the name of the person you were talking to or the friend you meant to introduce. Maybe you missed the catch for the final out in a baseball game or you forgot the crucial line in a school play. Some of us may have lost a wedding ring or engagement ring never to be recovered. After making a mistake, how do you respond? Did you beat yourself up? Did you feel remorse or apologize, if applicable? Or do you blame someone else for your mistakes? How long does it take you to get over a mistake?

As we talk about making mistakes, I am reminded of a conversation between a pastor and a lawyer. The pastor asked the lawyer, “Sir, do you ever make mistakes in pleading?” “I do,” replied the lawyer. “And what do you do with mistakes?” inquired the pastor. “Why, I mend them, if large ones. If small ones, I let them go. And I pray, sir.” The lawyer continued by asking, “Do you ever make mistakes in preaching?” “Yes, sir, I have,” replied the pastor. “What do you do with your mistakes?” asked the lawyer. “Why, sir, I dispose of them in the same manner as you do. Not long ago when I was preaching, I meant to observe that the devil was the father of liars, but I made a mistake and said the father of lawyers. The mistake was so small that I let it go.”

All of us have experienced failure in our Christian lives. That is a reality. How we respond to failure can determine the direction we move from that point on. We can move forward or backward in our Christian lives.

Starting today, we are going to look at two kinds of responses to Christ crucified in John 18:13-27 over the next few days. One response will teach us about failure – factors that contribute to it and how to overcome it. The other response will teach us about how to handle the hatred of religious people toward Christ crucified. The events of John 18:13-27 are like a drama presented on two stages. Stage one is presented first (John 18:13-14) while the action on stage two takes place (John 18:15-18). Then the action shifts back to stage one (John 18:19-24) and then returns to stage two (John 18:25-27).

In these verses we are going to discover some things that took place during the final hours of Jesus’ life before He was crucified. Christ has already been arrested by the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards (John 18:12). He now must face the first of six trials. Three would be religious trials: one before Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23), one before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-68), and one before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1-2). And there would be three Civil Trials: One before Pilate (John 18:28-38), one before Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and one before Pilate (John 18:39-19:1). 1

“And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.” (John 18:13). After Jesus was arrested by the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple officers, He was led back across the Kidron Valley into the city of Jerusalem to appear before the religious authorities. It seems as though there are two high priests in this section (cf. John 18:13, 19, 24). But understanding the historical background will help to explain this observation.

According to the Mosaic Law, the high priest was the most important member of the Jewish community because he was the only one authorized by God to offer sacrifices for the sins of the community on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16).

According to Jewish law, the high priestly office was to be lifelong and hereditary. But during King Herod’s rule, the high priest was frequently dismissed and replaced because the Romans didn’t like the concentration of power in one person.

But because the Jews believed the office of high priest was lifelong, the high priest retained a good measure of power and prestige among the Jewish population even after removal from office. 3  Such was the case with Annas. He “had been appointed high priest by Quirinius, governor of Syria, in A.D. 6 and remained until he was deposed by Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea, in A.D. 15. According to the Jewish law the high priestly office was for life, but the Romans did not like the concentration of power in one person so they frequently changed high priests.” 4

Because the office of high priest is lifelong, it is not surprising that the matter of Jesus’ arrest and trial was first brought to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest officially recognized by the Roman authorities. Annas was a very powerful man. So great was his influence that eventually five of his sons, as well as his son-in-law and grandson, became high priests. 5  The Jews virtually regarded him as a high priest, although Caiaphas held the title officially.

Annas was also very wealthy. He owned the famous Bazaars of Annas, which ran a monopoly on the temple sale of animals for sacrifices and the stalls of the money-changers. 6  Twice Jesus had cleansed the temple, once at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22) and again at the end of His ministry (Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-47). From the day of the first cleansing of the temple, Annas hated Jesus. Now at last he has Jesus in his power.

To Annas “was the task assigned of the preliminary hearing of the urgent case under consideration. This preliminary hearing took place in one of the apartments of the high priest’s palace, a large building surrounding a central court, designated for the uses of Annas, whose residence was in another part of the city, between the Tyropoean valley and the upper city.” 7

Ironically, the Jewish religious leaders begin to break law after law with their various trials even though they are trying Jesus for not keeping the law. “Some of the main problems with the trial of Jesus include the following.

“1. There Was No Possibility Of A Fair Trial. To begin with, the Sanhedrin should have never held the trial. They had plotted to kill Jesus ahead of time. Consequently they were hardly in a position to render a fair verdict as to his guilt or innocence. This is especially true of the High Priest Caiaphas. He is the one who said that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the entire nation. The High Priest was the supreme judge in Israel. It was his responsibility to see that a person be given a fair trial. At the very least, he should have not participated in trial in any manner. Yet he was the driving force behind the arrest and trial of Jesus. Therefore there was no possibility that Jesus could have been given a fair trial.

“2. A Capital Trial At Night Was Illegal. It was illegal to try capital cases at night. By doing so the Sanhedrin broke the law. When a person’s life was at stake the trial could only be held during the day.

“3. They Should Not Have Looked For Witnesses After The Trial Started. According to Jewish law, a trial starts when witnesses come forward to testify. The Sanhedrin should not have gone out to look for witnesses. The witnesses come first, then the trial.

“4. They Should Not Have Looked For False Witnesses. Not only should the Sanhedrin have not looked for witnesses, they certainly should not have looked for false witnesses if Jesus were to be given a fair trial. The verdict, of course, was never in doubt.

“5. The False Witnesses Should Have Been Punished. Since the Sanhedrin knew the testimony of the witnesses was false, these witnesses, according to Jewish law, should have been punished. The fact that they were not is another illegality.

“6. The Judgment Should Have Been Delayed Till Next Day. In capital cases, judgment was to be delayed until the next day. The fact that they pronounced judgment immediately is another sign of the illegal nature of the trial.

“7. There Is Not Supposed To Be A Trial On Day Before The Sabbath Or Before Holy Days. Since the judgment in a capital case could not be rendered until the next day, it was illegal to try someone on the day before the Sabbath or before some holy day. During the Sabbath day or holy day there could be no legal meeting of the Sanhedrin. Consequently the timing of the trial was also illegal.

“8. They Never Considered Jesus’ Testimony. There is also the problem of Jesus’ testimony. When Jesus was put under oath he acknowledged that he was the Messiah – the promised Deliverer. This admission of Jesus was what caused the Sanhedrin to cry out that he was guilty of death. However, they never stopped to consider the possibility that Jesus was telling the truth. There was not the slightest interest in attempting to find out whether Jesus may indeed be the promised Messiah. There was no evidence that was allowed to be given on Jesus’ behalf and they weighed no evidence before making their judgment.

“Conclusion: When all the facts are weighed it becomes clear that those who tried Jesus on that night were not interested in giving him a fair trial. The verdict had been determined ahead of time. They only went through the motions of the appearance of a fair trial. Jesus was illegally and wrongfully tried… Therefore when all the facts are considered we conclude that Jesus’ trial was the greatest injustice in all of history.” 8

When you study the trials that Jesus faced, Christ looks more and more innocent and those who were trying Him looked more and more guilty. These were trials that proved the innocence of the accused and the guilt of the accusers. They were unfair in every way. Yet John informs us in the next verse, “Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” (John 18:14). The apostle alludes to Caiaphas who unknowingly prophesied that Jesus would need to die for the people. This verse indicates what can be expected as the outcome of the trials. The outcome was certain. Events would lead rapidly to Jesus’ death. It is doubtful Caiaphas meant spiritual benefits “for” the people, but rather political and monetary benefits “for” the nation’s leaders. Nonetheless, God was in control and would use these unfair religious and civil trials to bring about the means of salvation through the death of His Son.

Do you get upset when life is unfair like this? When things are not handled fairly there is something inside us that stirs our anger. Especially those of us who have grown up in America. There is something about the American spirit, the Bill of Rights, and all those things that just burns us up when life is not fair. But notice that God took an unfair trial, held by unrighteous people, and used it to accomplish His perfect will – Jesus going to the cross to die for our sins. We can easily get so focused on what is fair in America that we conclude that God has lost control. We need to remember that somebody can treat us unfairly but it doesn’t keep God from treating us righteously. 

This leads to our first principle: We can overcome religious hatred when we REALIZE LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR, BUT GOD ALWAYS IS (John 18:13-14). Let’s not forget this. The truth is life is not fair. Jesus did not deserve to be on trial. He lived a perfect life on earth because He was and is God (John 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18; I John 5:20). If life was not fair for the perfect Son of God, why would we expect life to be fair when we are imperfect sinners!?!

“The world is anything but a fair place. A young man in the prime of his life is killed by a drunk driver who walks away without a scratch. Drug dealers and pornography peddlers make millions of dollars and live in mansions. A less qualified applicant gets the job. The best runner is tripped from behind by another and loses the race. Our response is, ‘It isn’t fair,’ as if labeling it that way somehow changes things. King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man of all time, understood life’s unfairness when he noted, ‘There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.’ (Ecclesiastes 8:14).” 9

But we need to remember that when life is not fair, God is always fair toward us. If God is not just, He isn’t God and can’t be in control of everything. If God ever once unfairly disciplined or punished a person, it would disqualify Him as God and mean that He is not in control of everything. We see miscarriages of justice all the time here on earth, but there is never a miscarriage of justice with God. We can never honestly say to God that He didn’t handle something fairly or right.” 10   Why? Because only God has all the information about a situation. He is all-knowing and fair, but we are not. So none of us are in a position to critique the God of the universe.

When the books are not being balanced in this world we need to remember this is not where the books are balanced anyway. Heaven will determine the balancing of the books. 11  God will make everything right in His time. His judgment of the world will be fair. He will judge everyone according to their works (Romans 2:5-11). For the unbeliever, God will judge him or her according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). For the believer in Jesus Christ, God will judge him or her according to their works to determine the degree of their rewards in Christ’s coming Kingdom at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; Revelation 22:12). God will make things right in His time.

Embracing this truth that life is not fair, but God always is, can give us peace when we are treated unfairly. Just as Jesus “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” when He was unfairly treated by His enemies (I Peter 2:23), so we can do the same when we face unjust situations, knowing that God is fair and He will bring our enemies to justice one day (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 20:11-15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know what it is like to live in a world that is not fair. Sometimes we let that world bring us down. We see how the world tolerates people who embrace its values, but it hates Christians who live out Your values. It is not fair. But You never promised us that the world would be fair to us. Lord, help us not to forget Who You are and Who You want to be in our lives and in our world. Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding us that in the future You will balance the books and bring justice to this unfair world. Knowing this enables us to live peacefully even when we are treated unfairly. Remind us that no matter how powerful human institutions around us might seem or people in our lives might seem, in comparison to You, all human power looks feeble and foolish. You are the Lord that we need. You are the King that we need.  We worship You as the Lord and King. We need You, Jesus. We thank You for being in our lives. In Your powerful name we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 157.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 320.

3. Ibid.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pp. 682-683.

5. Laney, pg. 321.

6. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), pp. 573-575.

7. Ibid.

8. Don Stewart’s article, “Did Jesus Receive a Fair Trial?” at https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_250.cfm.

9. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pp. 83-84.

10. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe about God: Knowing God for Who He Really Is (David C Cook, 2017 Kindle Edition), pg. 86.

11. Tom Holladay’s sermon on Wednesday, July 17, 1996, entitled, “Jesus on Trial.”

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 5

“But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” John 16:4

As we draw closer to the time of Christ’s return for His church, we are seeing an increase in the world’s hostility toward Christians. We are learning from Jesus’instructions to His eleven believing disciples how we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world. So far we have discovered we can be effective witnesses when we…

– Realize that we will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19).

– Recall what Jesus has already taught us (John 15:20).

– Recognize that the world is not opposed to us personally, but to our relationship with Christ (John 15:21-25).

– Remain in vital contact with Christ through the Holy Spirit (John 15:26-27).        

The fifth and final way is to REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS STILL IN CONTROL (John 16:1-4). Christ said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.” (John 16:1). This message about the hatred of the world was not meant to discourage Jesus’ disciples or dissuade them from the ministry. He told them what to expect from the world so they “should not be made to stumble” or fall away from their Christian faith. The word picture here is of someone stumbling over an unexpected obstacle. 1  Jesus was warning His disciples (and us) of the obstacles ahead so they would not be taken by surprise and overcome by worldly opposition. We do a disservice by telling people that discipleship is easy. Jesus never taught that, and neither should we. He said discipleship is costly (cf. Luke 14:26-33). It will be difficult. How difficult would it be for them (and us)?

He describes specific ways that the world will hate them. “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” (John 16:2). When Jesus says, “They will put you out of the synagogues,” He is saying they will lose every privilege they had as a citizen of Israel. They would be excluded from using the temple for worship. They would be excluded from the society in which they had moved. They would lose the privilege of employment in their nation. They would be deprived of schools to which they could send their children. In effect, they would be reduced to poverty. Some would even be killed, and their killers would think they were providing a faithful “service” to God. According to church tradition, all the apostles were martyred for their faith except for John. 2

Christ is not talking about persecution by the secular government here. He is speaking of persecution by religious zealots. No persecution is more bitter than when done by religious enthusiasts like the Spanish Inquisition, set up in 1478. It sought to eliminate heretics and killed up to 5,000 people. 3

From 1095-1492, violent crusades against Muslims took place in Europe, Asia, and Palestine along with severe persecution by the Roman Church of those who differed with it. The Roman Inquisition, 1542-1858, originally sought to deal with the spread of Protestantism. Those who differed with the Roman Church were tortured until they confessed and recanted. If they did not confess and recant, they would lose their property, freedom, or be burned at the stake. 5

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) reorganized in 1915 and in addition to hating blacks, it hated Catholics, Jews, and  it opposed Jews, blacks, Catholics, and newly arriving Southern and Eastern European immigrants, many of whom were Jewish or Catholic. The Klan claimed to be explicitly Protestant. Although it appropriated some Christian teaching, hymns, and symbols, it was widely denounced by Christian denominations. 6  

It is important to understand that the persecutors mentioned above do not represent biblical Christianity. Just because someone says they are a Christian or does something in the name of Jesus does not mean they are genuine believers in Jesus.

The Bible emphasizes that eternal life is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). A person does not receive eternal life by living a good life, keeping God’s commandments, going to church, praying every day, being baptized with water, or hating their enemies. The Bible tells us that a person must come to God as a sinner (Romans 3:23), realizing that Christ died for all his sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6), and then believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 3:36; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:3-6). The moment a person trusts in Christ alone to give them everlasting life, God not only gives him or her the free gift He paid for when He died on the cross – eternal life – He also comes to live inside of that person through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; 3:2) to give them the power to live a life that pleases Him.

Many people who claim to be Christians do not understand this simple gospel message. Instead of trusting in Christ alone to get them to heaven, they are trusting in their good works or in Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, and therefore, they do not have God’s power in them to live a life that pleases Him. Many non-Christians use their religion to try to cover up their sins. So it is important to understand that not all people who say they are Christians have God’s power in them to live a different life because they are not trusting in Christ alone to save them and give them everlasting life. Instead, they are depending on their good works or religious efforts to get them to heaven, instead of on Christ and His finished work on the cross alone. 

Modern day examples of persecution by misguided zealots include militant Muslims persecuting innocent Christians in the Middle East and Africa, and militant Hindus attacking Christians in India, etc. Since the time of Christ, the most severe persecution of Christians has come from religious enthusiasts who think they are serving their god or gods.

Next Christ said to His disciples, “And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” (John 16:3). The reason the world will persecute Jesus’ followers is because it is spiritually ignorant of God the Father and God the Son. Opposition to God’s messengers really meant opposition to God Himself.

Jesus then said, “But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 16:4). Jesus warned His disciples about this coming persecution to strengthen their faith. Even on the night before His crucifixion, He is concerned for these men and their future. Jesus’ knowledge about their future would give them more confidence in His ability to control events. Christ did not tell His disciples “these things” about their coming persecution “at the beginning” of His ministry when He was with them, because He was the object of attack from the world at that time. But now that He is leaving them to go be with His Father in heaven, He forewarns them. They would know He was in control when trials would come because He had said they would.

We see in the book of Acts that Jesus’ words emboldened the apostles to continue preaching Christ in the midst of persecution. For example, when the apostles disobeyed the Sanhedrin’s order to stop preaching Jesus, they were beaten and commanded once again to speak no more in Jesus’ name. Luke reports, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). They were not taken by surprise when the Sanhedrin opposed them because Jesus forewarned them of this. Jesus really is in control.

Do you think Jesus’ control over us is total or partial? Listen to Daniel 4:35: “He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ ” Accept it or not, God is in total control. He is running the show. Either He is in full control or He is off the throne. It is as foolish to say He is “almost” in control as it would be to say I am “almost” married or Trump is “almost” President, or the surgeon’s gloves are “almost” sterile. God is totally in control. The more we believe this, the more confidence we will have to be an effective witness for Christ in a hostile world.

Jesus wanted His disciples and us to be prepared for what is coming. We should not be overtaken by surprise when we experience some form of rejection or censure for our Christian beliefs and standards because Christ forewarned us of such opposition. This hostility can come from family, friends, employers, customers, coworkers, the government, and especially from religious zealots. As Paul warned Timothy, “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). But the Holy Spirit is always available to empower us in our time of need (John 15:26-27). 7

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are an amazing God! Thank You for warning me about the hostility of the world so that when I do experience it, I can be encouraged to know that You are in control and I can trust You to accomplish Your purposes in my life. Please embolden me to share Your gospel message unashamedly with this broken and hostile world. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit Who can empower me to face this opposition with grace and truth. I surrender everyone and everything to You, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1 J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 285.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 453.

3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition.

4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crusades.

5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Inquisition.

6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan.

7.  Adapted from Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1809.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 3

“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” John 15:21

As Christ anticipates His departure to be with His Father in heaven, He directs His eleven believing disciples to their relationship with the world (John 15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. From His instruction, we are learning how we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world.  

So far we have discovered we can be effective witnesses to a hostile world when we…

– Realize that we will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19).

– Recall what Jesus has already taught us (John 15:20).

Another way to be an effective witness for Christ is to RECOGNIZE THAT THE WORLD IS NOT OPPOSED TO YOU PERSONALLY, BUT TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST (John 15:21-25). Christ gives another reason why the world will persecute His followers. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (John 15:21). Referring to the world’s persecution of His followers, Jesus says, “All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake,” on My account, Jesus says, because you are My followers. Christ does not want His disciples to take the world’s hostility personally because the world is actually opposed to Him and His message. The world will not receive Christ in us because they did not receive Him.

How the world responds to us is more often connected to who Jesus is, not who His witnesses are, unless we are behaving carnally. The reason people rejected Christ is because “they do not know” the Father “who sent” Jesus. They were ignorant of Christ’s origin and relationship with God the Father because they were spiritually blind.

Next Jesus said,22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.” (John 15:22-24). As the Light, Jesus came into the world and exposed their sin of hating and rejecting Him. His words and works revealed His true identity as the Christ, the Son of God (cf. 5:36; 10:38; 14:11; 20:31). The miracles Jesus performed had never been done by anyone before (“works which no one else did…”).

These miraculous works unmistakably revealed that Christ was equal with the Father as God. If Christ had not come, “they would have no sin” (John 15:22, 24) or guilt for the sin of refusing to believe in Him. Refusing to believe in Jesus is the ultimate rebellion against God the Father. People cannot talk about how much they love God while simultaneously rejecting His Son. 1 To reject One is to reject the other since they are both equally God.

Their hatred of Jesus reflects their hatred toward His Father in heaven because Jesus is a perfect reflection of the Father as God. To reject Jesus is to reject God the Father because Jesus is equally God. The Jews knew they were born into sin, but the Pharisees thought they were now without sin by obeying the minute details of the law. So the world hated Christ because He exposed their sin. Jesus said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).

The world’s hatred toward Christ also fulfilled what king David wrote in Psalm 69:4 hundreds of years before Christ came to earth. “But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ ” (John 15:25). As the wicked showed their hatred for King David, so they showed hatred for the promised Son of David. 2

Jesus did not depreciate the Law, He fulfilled it. There is no reasonable basis to reject Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, because both His words and His works provide sufficient evidence to believe in His Person. Jesus is the only sinless Person to ever live because He is God (John 1:1, 14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). However, there is a touch of irony here. The men who were champions of the Law, who supposedly knew the Old Testament very well, these experts of the Law fulfilled prophecy concerning the enemies of God’s Messiah. The purpose of God was fulfilled by these religious men. 

To be an effective witness for Christ, we must accept that the world does not hate us, it hates Christ in us. Some of us may have a difficult time when hatred is directed toward us because we want people to like us. We may feel responsible for their hatred toward us. Often times if we have unresolved trauma from our past, we tend to take things more personally. It is difficult for us to separate our past trauma from our present circumstances. But as we invite Jesus to heal those past wounds, He can enable us to become more whole so we can live more in the present instead of in the past.

People in our communities may dislike us for being vocal about Jesus Christ. Religious people are often the most hateful people toward those who preach Christ crucified. This is true in America, North Korea, the Middle East, Africa, and India. Why? Because the message of the cross exposes their sinfulness and they are too proud to admit they need a Savior.

When asked, “What is keeping you from trusting Christ alone as your only way to heaven?” religious people often respond the same way another woman did when asked to write down five reasons why she couldn’t trust Christ as her only way to heaven. She wrote this:

1. Me

2. Me.

3. Me

4. Me.

5. Me.

Don’t let “me” stand in the way of coming to faith in Christ. Remember when Jesus took your place on the cross, “you” were foremost on His mind. He died for YOU! Do not let your pride keep you from trusting in the Only One who can save you from an eternity separated from God!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for opportunities to grow in my relationship with You. When I experience rejection from people, it often triggers an overwhelming emotional response inside of me. Thank You for revealing to me that much of that emotional reaction is connected to painful experiences in my past. Right now, I want to invite You to walk with me through those dark painful memories so Your healing grace can set me free from my past. I am grateful that You are showing me that people do not reject me personally, but You and Your message, when I share the gospel with them. Please help me to remember this when I encounter opposition from the world. Lord, I also want to lift up those You are drawing to Yourself. Please show them that You are equal with God the Father and that to reject You is to reject the Father. May Your Holy Spirit persuade them to believe in You alone for Your free gift of everlasting life. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1808.

2. Ibid.

3. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pp. 127-128.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 2

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.’ ” John 15:20

Jesus Christ experienced love and hate from people during His time on earth. While most of the people ended up hating Christ and had Him crucified, some came to love Him. Those who loved Him received more intimate and life-changing truths from Him (cf. John 14:21; 15:14).

The night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared intimate truths with His devoted followers to prepare them to carry on His ministry after He departs and ascends to heaven to be with His heavenly Father. After speaking to His eleven believing disciples about their relationship to one another (John 15:12-17), He then directs their attention to their relationship with the world (John 15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world?  

Last time we learned the first way is to realize that you will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19). The second way to be an effective witness to a hostile world is to RECALL WHAT JESUS HAS ALREADY TAUGHT US (John 15:20). As followers of Christ, we are not to think we will be treated better by the world than Jesus was.

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20). Jesus reminded His disciples of what He already taught them after He washed their feet at the Last Supper (cf. John 13:16). He said, “A servant is not greater than his master.” Earlier Jesus used this statement to encourage them to humbly serve one another as He had done when He washed their feet. Now in this context, He uses that statement to explain why they will face persecution. Christ meant that His disciples are not greater than Him in the sense that they will not escape persecution from the world when walking with the Lord. Since their Master (Jesus) was “persecuted” by the world, the world “will also persecute” His servants. 

Conversely, Jesus says, “If (since)1 they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” People often treat servants the same way they would treat the servant’s master. Hence, Christ is saying that just as some people followed His teaching, so there will be some who follow His disciples’ teaching.

In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection toward Christ and His followers, Jesus is giving us hope. While most rejected Christ and His message, some did not. Likewise, “while most will reject the words of the apostles, some will accept their witness. For example, on the Day of Pentecost, just fifty days after Jesus spoke these words, Peter led over three thousand to faith in Jesus (Acts 2:14-41).” 2

When you and I share the gospel with others, some will oppose the message and others will receive it. It is important to remember this when we face an antagonistic crowd. Don’t give up on someone if they are not receptive the first time you try to share Christ with them. Some people may need to hear the gospel several times before they believe in Jesus. Or there may be people in a crowd of antagonists who are receptive. You may not be aware of that at the time you share with them because they are too intimidated to express their receptivity. Let the Holy Spirit draw them to Jesus among hostile listeners.

For example, in 2013 when I went with Filipino pastors to a critical area in the southern Philippines to preach in public schools, students there were very responsive. On one particular day, we stopped at an all-Muslim school to share the gospel with students, but the students had already been dismissed. We noticed that there was a crowd of about two hundred fifty adult Muslims having a Parent/Teacher meeting. We asked if we might share the good news of Jesus Christ with them and the moderator permitted us to do so.

As I began to share about the love of the God of Abraham and how He wanted to have a personal relationship with them, I noticed a group of about twenty-five Muslim women dressed in their Islamic head gear, and they were forming a circle. They would keep looking at me through the opening in their head gear and then they would look at one another. I didn’t know what they were going to do, but I just knew that Jesus did not want my translator and I to stop preaching. By God’s grace we boldly shared Christ crucified to them and then invited them to believe in the Lord Jesus for eternal life and a future home in heaven. When I asked them to raise their hands if they were now trusting in Christ alone as their only way to heaven, all two hundred fifty adult Muslims lifted up their hands. Hallelujah! My translator and I then made a quick exit out of there to go to the next school.

We can be more effective witnesses for Christ in this hostile world as we remember the things He taught us about the world’s hostility toward His followers. His teaching will give us strength in the future when we face opposition because Jesus warned us in advance, so we would not be overtaken by surprise.Regardless of how people respond, we are to faithfully represent Christ on the earth.

When we go through dark times, look back at the times of light and what Jesus already taught us during that time. Our tendency is to forget the lessons that Jesus already taught us when we go through tough times. When pressures pile up on us, we can easily throw away the biblical truths the Lord has given us (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:7). During dark times, get alone with the Lord and read His Word. Listen to His voice of truth. Let Him give you His power as His Spirit renews your mind with the everlasting truths of His Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for warning me in advance that when I identify with You, I will receive the same kind of treatment from the world that You received. While most people will oppose Your message through me, there will be some who will embrace it. Please help me to focus on those who are receptive so I can follow them up and teach them to follow You as You did for me through Your faithful followers when I first got saved. Regardless of how people respond, please empower me to faithfully represent You on earth while there is still time left. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The phrase εἰ τὸν λόγον μου ἐτήρησαν is a first-class condition meaning some did keep or obey Jesus’ teaching.

2. 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. 537.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 1

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:18

Today, just like in the book of Acts, believers are persecuted all over the world for following Jesus. According to Open Doors USA, “A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

“A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.

 “A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.

 “A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

“These people don’t live in the same region, or even on the same continent. But they share an important characteristic: They are all Christians, and they suffer because of their faith. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. From Sudan to Russia, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Colombia to India, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked; they are discriminated against at work and at school; they risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.” 1

Do you realize that in just the last year (2020 World Watch List reporting period), there have been:

– Over 260 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution

– 2,983 Christians killed for their faith

– 9,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked

– 3,711 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned 2

While Christians are not suffering extreme persecution in the USA, there is an increasing lack of tolerance for Christian beliefs and practices in our country. During COVID-19, certain government leaders in America are trying to use this pandemic to try to shut down churches. For example, on July 1, 2020, the governor of California banned singing and chanting in places of worship in the name of a pandemic. Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) states, “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power. And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable. This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.” 3

Have you ever been falsely accused or betrayed by a friend? Have you had people plotting against you? Or have you ever experienced some other form of personal hostility? Jesus experienced all these things and so will we as we follow Him.

For the next few days, we are going to receive instruction from Jesus Christ about how to be effective witnesses for Him in a hostile world. Earlier in John 15, the Lord Jesus spoke to His eleven believing disciples about their relationship to one another – they are to love each other as He loved them (John 15:12-17). Now He speaks to them about their relationship to the world (15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world?  

The first way is to REALIZE THAT YOU WILL FACE THE SAME CONFLICT WITH THE WORLD THAT JESUS DID (John 15:18-19). Christ never said that following Him as a disciple would be easy. Earlier, when Jesus had sent the Twelve disciples on a special mission, He warned them that they would be as sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).

Now He was sending them into the world on a mission, and again Christ warned these men of conflict with the world. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18). “The world” in John’s gospel is “the system of organized society hostile to God, which is under Satan’s power (John 14:30).” 4

In anticipation of the world’s hatred, Jesus warned His disciples that they would experience the same hostility from the world that He had experienced. He did not promise a painless, effortless experience as a disciple. He says, “If the world hates you [and it does], then it should come as no surprise to you because it hated Me first.” From His birth when king Herod sought to kill Him, to His death on the cross, Jesus experienced opposition from the world. Therefore, a person cannot be intimately related to Christ without being hated by His enemies. The main issue here is not whether we will experience rejection and persecution as Christ followers, but how we will respond to it.

Disciples of Christ are known by their love (cf. John 13:34), but the world is known for its hatred toward God. Followers of Christ are unpopular in the world today because of the world’s hatred toward Christ who lives in every believer through the Holy Spirit. Jesus now gives a reason why the world hates His followers. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19). The world hated Jesus’ disciples because they were chosen out of the world by Jesus to follow Him. Christ says, “If you were of the world [and it’s doubtful that you are], 6  the world would love its own.” They were once a part of the world as unbelievers, but now they are set apart from it as committed followers of Christ.

Perhaps some of you were rejected or even persecuted for beginning to follow Christ as a new believer. When I first got saved, I stopped drinking alcohol with my non-Christian friends and they got mad at me. They no longer called me their friend. They made fun of me and avoided me. This should not surprise us in light of what Jesus is saying here.

Some churches teach that when you become a Christian, you will have no more problems or difficulties. Is that true? Of course not. If Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, experienced rejection and persecution for perfectly following God’s will, why would we think we are exempt from such treatment as we imperfectly follow the Lord?!

Christ wants us to adjust our expectations about following Him as His disciples. Discipleship is costly, but eternal life is absolutely free. Discipleship involves rejection and persecution from Satan’s world system which is hostile toward God. After all, the Bible says, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). This is not a popular message today. But it is a needed message, isn’t it?! If we don’t adjust our expectations so that they line up with what Jesus taught, we are going to become very discouraged when we experience opposition for following Christ.

Christ said to His half-brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7). Jesus called sin, sin. He came to tell the truth and that is why the world hated Him. And if we are going to be like Him, we must do the same. If we find ourselves fully accepted by the world it is cause for concern. We are to be loving, kind, sensitive, and understanding. But if our lives do not challenge the wickedness of the world around us, if our lives do not provoke some persecution, criticism, and opposition – something is probably wrong. We have probably become too friendly with the world around us.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Does the world hate me? If it does not, why not? Is it because the world has become more Christian or because Christians have become more worldly?” If we are not experiencing opposition from the world, it may be because our lifestyle is no different than the world’s lifestyle. James 4:4 says, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4). If the world is our friend, then God is our enemy.

James likens friendship with the world to spiritual adultery with God. It is like a married man who decides to engage in immorality with a woman to whom he is not married. In that very decision he chooses to reject faithfulness to his wife. When Christians crave for worldly acceptance and living, they have committed spiritual adultery and have rejected friendship with God. On the other hand, if God is our friend, the world will be our enemy. We cannot be a friend of God and the world at the same time.

How do we become friends with Jesus? We saw this when Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). If we are going to be Jesus’ friend, we must keep Christ’s commandments. Not all Christians are Jesus’ friends because not all Christians are obeying Christ. But if we are Jesus’ friends through obedience to Him, then we can expect more hostility and opposition from the world.

Younger Christians may mistaken the world’s hatred toward them as a reproach for not being more Christ-like. So they conclude that if they were more gentle, generous, loving, or compassionate, then they would receive more favor from unbelievers. But the truth is, the more we become like Jesus, the more the world will hate us. Christians are not mistreated or shunned by the world because they are superior, but because they are servants of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, Whom the world has rejected. 7

Prayer: Father God, as I look at the hostility in the world toward those who follow Jesus, I am reminded of these important words Christ gave to His disciples. Knowing the world’s hatred for Jesus empowers me to endure its hatred toward Christ living in me. Please help me to adjust my expectations so they align with Jesus’ teaching. Opposition from the world will happen when we follow Christ because the world hates Jesus Who lives inside us. By Your grace and love, Lord God, I choose to follow my Lord Jesus no matter what the cost. Use me to be Your voice of grace and truth to a hostile world so millions may come to know Jesus as the Giver of life everlasting. Please be with my brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world who are suffering for Jesus’ sake. I ask that You give them abundant grace to love their enemies and to boldly make Christ known to them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Taken from  https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/ on December 13, 2020.  

2. Ibid.

3. Taken from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aclj-files-lawsuit-challenging-california-ban-on-singing-in-church-301094471.html on December 13, 2020.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 664.

5.The phrase in the Greek language, Εἰ ὁ κόσμος ὑμᾶς μισεῖ, is a first-class condition and means that the world does actually hate the disciples. See J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 279.

6. The phrase Εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἦτε is a second-class condition expressing improbability. See Laney, pg. 279.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 294.

The Providence of God or the Plots of Man? Part 1

“What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” John 11:47b-48

Life can take a turn for the worse very quickly. On the eve of Tuesday, May 23, 2017, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern region of the Philippines called Mindanao due to the fighting in Marawi City of Lanao Del Sur Province between the Philippines military and the Maute terrorist group. More recently, COVID-19 caused you to lose your job and health. The police show up at your door to tell you your son was killed by a drunk driver. Your spouse informs you he or she does not love you any longer and is filing for divorce. The doctor’s office calls you with bad news. We may wonder, “Are we merely the victims of fate? Is there any purpose for the events which are taking place in our lives? Or is this because of the sinfulness of man?”

The Bible tells us, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). This verse alludes to the plans of people and the providence of God. The providence of God is that “work of God by which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that transpires in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.” 1  Sometimes God guides the ways of men outside their consciousness of that guidance (cf. Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 10:5). He exercises control over things that seem accidental or insignificant (Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:30). Although people make their plans, the Lord determines how those plans will unfold (cf. Proverbs 16:9; 19:21; 20:24).

Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead in front of many Jews who had come from Jerusalem to console the family of Lazarus (John 11:28-44). Christ had claimed to be “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25-26). He had claimed to have the power over life and death, and now He had just backed up that claim by raising Lazarus from the dead. We will now look at the conflict over this miracle to discover how the providence of God and the plans of people work together for God’s glory. We will focus on four principles:

1. RECOGNIZE THAT PLANS TO OPPOSE CHRIST CAN ARISE FROM FEAR AND JEALOUSY (John 11:45-48) over those responding to Him in faith. “Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.” (John 11:45). Throughout John 11 the emphasis has been on Martha and it is curious that the Jews are said to have come to the less prominent sister, Mary. There may have been more concern for Mary who was weeping than for Martha who was actively seeking Jesus. Mary seems to have been expressing more grief and therefore, had a greater need for consolation. These “Jews”beheld the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus and they believed in Christ for eternal life. They didn’t need an instant replay. They saw enough evidence to persuade them that Jesus was the Messiah-God who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Him (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31).

While most of the people believed in Christ, some did not. “But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.” (John 11:46).Some of these Jews were skeptical, so they went to the Pharisees who were enemies of Jesus to tell them what Christ had done. Their motive was not to win them over, but to oppose Christ. “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs.’ ” (John 11:47). The report of this miracle came to the attention of the “chief priests”(Sadducees) and the “Pharisees.” These two groups called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members, including the presiding high priest. They could be called the Jewish Supreme Court of Palestine at that time.

The Pharisees were anti-Roman, and they loved to foster among the Israelis a dislike for the foreigner and a devotion to the hopes and ideals proper to the people of God; but they could only fear and oppose a movement that might end in allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah. The Sadducees were tolerant of Rome and they feared and obeyed her. And they dreaded nothing more than a revolt that would stir her wrath. So these two ancient rivals were united by a common hate for Jesus Christ. They met to plot against Jesus so that they could destroy Him.

From this point on, the Sadducees take the lead in opposing Jesus. “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs?” “He is active, and we are idle.” They admit the miracles are taking place, but they decide to oppose Christ instead of believe in Him. Their minds are already made up despite the evidence supporting that Jesus is the Messiah-God. “If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” (John 11:48). They were fearful that if they don’t stop Jesus and He keeps on raising the dead so close to Jerusalem, then “everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place” of leadership in the temple and “our nation.” As Jesus’ popularity grows, the Romans would fear a revolution and intervene by seizing complete authority, thus destroying their Jewish government and their national identity.

The Sanhedrin misunderstood Jesus. They were typical politicians. Their personal power came before their country. They failed to recognize Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies. They failed to recognize their need for deliverance by Christ. Christ had shown no political ambitions. He had already shown this by His refusal to be made King after He fed the five thousand (John 6:15). He had no intention of organizing a revolt against Rome. But the Sanhedrin perceived Christ to be a threat. They wanted Him dead so they could get their followers back. Jesus attracted many followers because of the healing grace He offered to them. People were oppressed by the spiritual demands of the religious leaders, so they came to Jesus for healing. The Sanhedrin despised Christ and His popularity because they were losing control over the people.

If you are loyal to Jesus, people may hate Him and you for that. Legalists will especially oppose the Lord’s work in your life, and they will resent the Lord because He is in control instead of them. As you grow in your commitment to follow Christ, your family and friends may hate you and the Lord because Jesus is first in your life instead of them. They may be afraid of losing you and their influence in your life. Try not to take their opposition personally. They misunderstand who Jesus is and how He can make their lives and yours better.

Prayer: Lord Jesus,thank You for showing me why people may oppose Your work in my life. They are mostly afraid of losing me or their influence in my life. They either love me and want the best for me or they are thinking only of themselves and want to have control over me. But what either of these groups don’t realize is that You can do far more for me than any mortal human being. Thank You Lord Jesus for giving me life everlasting and a hope that never ends!!! Please use Your relationship with me to draw the people in my life to Yourself. Help me not to take their opposition to You personally, but to see that they want to help me the best way they know how, even though it often is not helpful. You are the best, my Lord and my God. Thank You for loving me and saving me. In Your hope-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine, 2nd Ed. (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Christian Liberty Press, 2003), pg. 42.

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 4

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” John 10:40

When we encounter skeptics who deny that Jesus is God, we may find it necessary to CONSIDER OUR BEGINNINGS (John 10:40). This is the fourth way Jesus responded to His skeptical audience.

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him. All doors were closed to His ministry in Judea and for some time Galilee had rejected His ministry. Jesus did not stay long in resistant areas. He moved to more receptive areas and He advised His disciples to do the same (cf. Matthew 10:11-15, 23). Plus, it wasn’t time for Him to suffer and die on the Cross. So where does Jesus go?

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” (John 10:40). Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany, a small ford community on the east bank of the Jordan River where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry. 1 This was not the Bethany near Jerusalem, but the Bethany of Perea which was east of the Jordan River. Christ would spend the next three and a half months here.

This was a place that had many fond memories for the Lord. This is where He met and won His first disciples (John 1:35-51). He had success here far away from the prejudiced atmosphere of Jerusalem and He would enjoy more success here again. John tells us that it was “there He stayed” – He made His home here.

It is important for us to consider our beginnings when we are going through difficult times. If you are discouraged right now because of having to deal with skeptics or those who reject your Christian faith, relive the time when you became a child of God through faith in Christ or when you began your Christian ministry. Remember God’s faithfulness during those early days of your Christian life. This will encourage you and renew your strength in the Lord.

When my parents moved our family away from their families in Illinois to Iowa when I was seven years old, we would periodically return to Illinois to visit where we were born and relive the many fond memories we had there. This served as a way of recharging us spiritually and emotionally for the challenges we faced in Iowa.

Even now when I may be disappointed in ministry or with life in general, I like to relive the many fond memories I have of my first couple of short-term mission trips to the Philippines when I saw an incredible response to the gospel. Occasionally, I schedule mission trips to go back to areas I have visited in the past where we saw amazing receptivity among the people of the Philippines. These trips serve as a time of refreshment and renewal for us and for those to whom we minister.

There are many stressors in our world today including COVID-19, social unrest, political divisions, and opposition to Christianity. When you face difficulties in your Christian life, do you have a place where you can go to relive fond memories you have with the Lord? If not, ask the Lord to guide you to such a place where you can remember some special times you had with Him to refresh your soul.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are such a wise Counselor. Thank You for reminding me how You can use opposition to my Christian faith to redirect me to people who are more receptive to Your gospel message. I also appreciate Your example of retreating to a place where You could relive many fond memories from the beginning of Your ministry. Please lead me to such a place where I can be refreshed by memories of Your amazing grace working in my life and the lives of others whom You brought into my life. You are such a Good Shepherd to lead Your sheep beside still waters to refresh their souls. In Your name I praise You! Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) pg. 50; cf. John 1:28 – the majority of Greek manuscripts read “Bethany,” not “Bethabara.”

How can I grow closer to the Good Shepherd? Part 5

“Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.” John 10:19

The final way in this passage that we can also grow closer to the Good Shepherd is when we IMPART A CONSISTENT AND CLEAR WITNESS TO THE LOST ABOUT CHRIST (John 10:19-21). Jesus’ claims to be the Messianic Shepherd of Israel received a mixed response from His Jewish audience (John 10:1-18). “Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.” (John 10:19). Because of what Jesus taught about being Israel’s Messianic Shepherd and yet dying for His sheep, His audience continued to be divided over Him. In the mind of the average Jew this was a contradiction. The Israelites expected a political Messiah to deliver them from political oppression, but Jesus came to be a spiritual Messiah to deliver them from the penalty of sin. The people rejected Christ because He did not live up to their expectations.

Even Christians can succumb to a similar kind of thinking that says if you are following Christ, you will have fewer problems and less suffering. In fact, believers may be quick to reject other believers who are suffering or display weaknesses because of this false expectation.

“And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20). Some of Jesus’ listeners concluded that He “has a demon and is mad” or insane to say such things! They questioned why anyone would “listen” to such a man. His teachings seemed unreasonable and impossible to them.

Yet others were impressed with what Jesus was saying. “Others said, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’ “ (John 10:21). Christ’s gracious teaching did not resemble that of a demon nor did His miraculous healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41). This group says what Jesus is not but they make no attempt to say who Christ is.

Throughout his gospel, John emphasizes the two opposite conclusions that people draw from Jesus’ teaching, even though Christ’s witness to His identity as God was sufficiently consistent and clear. This should be an encouragement to all Christians who tell others the truth about Christ. Not even Jesus Himself convinced everyone that He was God’s Son. When believers openly identify with Christ by telling others who He is and what He has done for them, they can experience a closer relationship with Him regardless of how others respond to the message. After all, Jesus is our Good Shepherd Who has entrusted us with His Good News (gospel) to share with others. As we proclaim this good news to others, we are also proclaiming it to ourselves. And in a world that is filled with bad news these days, it does our souls good to hear the good news of our Good Shepherd! And let’s remember that as disciples of Christ, our responsibility is to be clear and consistent in our witness for Christ to the lost; however, it is Jesus’ responsibility to save them.

It is also true that the lies of the Devil can keep believers from being a consistent and clear witness to the gospel of Christ. After all, Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). In EvanTell’s Evangelism Study Bible, it reads, “He [Satan] misrepresented what God said to Eve since only one tree was off limits (see Gen. 2:16-17; 3:11). He even cast doubt over God’s character, implying that God would hold back what was best for them (see Gen. 3:4-5).

“Satan still uses lies to hinder believers in evangelism today. Here are five he commonly uses:

“1. ‘Non-Christian aren’t that approachable.’ Some aren’t, but some are. How do we know unless we approach the subject of spiritual things? One person who wasn’t open doesn’t represent everyone. Additionally, a person completely closed yesterday may be open today. God can use a single day’s events to get someone’s attention.” 1

For example, when I was flying back to Manila from a mission trip to the southern Philippines five years ago, I sat next to a Filipino businesswoman and asked her if I may show her from the Bible how she can know for sure she has eternal life and will go to heaven when she dies. She told me she was not interested. I thanked her for her honesty, and then I prayed a silent prayer to the Lord asking Him to open this woman’s heart so she can be saved.

As we approached the Manila Airport, the pilot told us that weather conditions were not favorable but they would still try to land. There was a lot of turbulence as we descended toward the airport. As our plane tried to land, it had to pull up at the last minute because the winds and rain were too strong and the pilot could not see. A wave of panic swept across the passenger area. Our plane circled around to make another attempt at landing. I was praying for the Lord to keep us safe and open the hearts of the people on the plane. As the pilot made another attempt to land in Manila he had to pull up again at the last minute because of poor visibility. There was a nervous hush among the passengers. The pilot then announced that our flight would be diverted to Clark Air Base about a fifteen-minute flight (three-hours’ drive by car) away.

The Lord prompted me to share with the passenger who earlier did not want to talk about how to get to heaven. I now asked her if she would like to know what she must do to get to heaven if she only had five minutes to live. She said, “Yes.”  So I introduced Acts 16:31 to her by telling her the Philippian jailer thought he had a short time to live, so he asked a missionary what he must do to be saved from hell. I then shared Acts 16:31 with her and explained it to her. I asked her, “Do you believe in Jesus now to save you from hell so you can live with Him forever in heaven?” She said, “Yes. Thank you.” I briefly explained to her that she now has everlasting life which cannot be lost. The Lord then enabled me to share the same thing with the passenger across the aisle from me. As I was sharing I noticed the passenger directly behind me was also listening. So when I finished with this passenger, I did the same thing with the one behind me. Praise God for the typhoon which got people to think about life and death and where they will spend eternity.

Continuing with lies that Satan commonly uses in evangelism, is “2. ‘You may end up doing more harm than good.’ That’s not possible. God honors obedience, so you never go wrong by serving Him in evangelism. Suppose you say the ‘wrong things’ in the mind of someone else or were not as tactful as you needed to be. God is more honored by someone who attempts to evangelize and makes mistakes than someone who doesn’t do anything. Ultimately God is in control even if we make a mistake, He is bigger than our mistakes.

3. ‘You might not be able to answer their questions.’ You may not be able to answer every objection, but who said you have to? That’s certainly not something Jesus ever said. Should the non-Christian ask a question you can’t answer, it’s honoring to God to say ‘I don’t know.’ Then look up the answer and you will be better prepared the next time. New converts tend to lead more people to Christ than anyone else, yet they know very little and often can’t answer most questions an unbeliever would ask. God often uses their zeal and excitement to convince non-Christians of their need for Christ.

“4. ‘Your life isn’t what it ought to be.’ It may not be. But keep in mind two things. First, Satan is a master of intimidation. No believer’s life is a perfect example of Christ. If you wait till your life is everything it ought to be, you will never evangelize. That’s what Satan prefers. Second, God doesn’t use perfect believers. There are none. He uses imperfect believers who are trying to be who God wants them to be. Seek to live the life you should, but don’t wait till you are ‘there’ to evangelize.

“5. ‘There is probably a better time than today.’ Satan doesn’t care what you do as long as you do it tomorrow. Procrastination is one of his tools. How do people know what the best timing is unless they attempt to evangelize today?

“Lies- Satan’s tool. Recognize lies for what they are and don’t allow him to hinder you in your evangelism outreach.” 2

As I traveled on mission trips throughout the Philippines, I experienced various responses to the preaching of the gospel message. The majority have been very responsive to the gospel of Christ and have publicly indicated that they are now trusting in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life. Some, however, have expressed indifference or even animosity toward the gospel. Regardless of how people respond, God asks me to be a faithful steward of His gospel (I Corinthians 4:1-2; Colossians 4:4; I Thessalonians 2:3-10).

When we are faithful to preach the gospel clearly and consistently in season and out of season, we can experience a closeness to our Good Shepherd whose witness was always consistent and clear during His earthly ministry. Even Jesus, the perfect Messiah-God, could not convince everyone that He was God in human flesh and nor will we. Our responsibility is to be faithful to our Lord’s command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). It is Jesus’ responsibility to give them everlasting life and transform them into His likeness (John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, it still amazes me how divided people are concerning Your identity both now and when You walked on the earth. Even though You gave a clear and consistent witness to Your identity as the promised Messiah-God, people formed different conclusions about You. I am realizing more and more that the primary reason for this is because Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), has deceived people into believing his lies about You to keep them from having life in Your name (John 20:31; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Regardless of how people respond, Lord Jesus, please enable me to preach Your gospel message clearly and consistently to everyone who is perishing without You. You could have chosen angels or billboards to proclaim Your life-giving message. But instead, You entrusted Your precious gospel with imperfect sinners like me to share this life-changing message. Thank You that You are in me and with me through Your Spirit to help me do this in a way that brings You glory and draws me closer to You. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), p. 1174.

2. Ibid.

How can I overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus? Part 4

“Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.” John 8:55

A fourth way we can overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus is to APPEAL TO OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD (John 8:54-55). Jesus explains “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.” (John 8:54). Christ was not trying to glorify Himself when He claimed to be able to deliver from death those who keep His words (John 8:51) because self-testimony alone is not valid. Although Jesus does not seek to glorify Himself, that does not mean He is without glory. His Father “honors” or glorifies Him. Ironically, Jesus’ opponents, who claimed to know God, did not perceive that this is how God was working in their midst. Their relationship with God was formal, but Jesus’ relationship with God was personal.

Jesus says, “Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.” (John 8:55). In reality, they did not know God the Father, but Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Father. Christ is saying, “You have not come to know God by your personal experience or observation (ginosko), but I know (oida) Him inherently and intuitively.” For Jesus to deny knowing God would reduce Him to being a liar like they were liars. If Jesus’ audience would keep Jesus’ word by believing in Him for everlasting life, they would come to know God the Father.

When Jesus says, “But I do know Him and keep His word,” we learn that Christ’s knowledge of the Father results from keeping His Word. Likewise, as believers in Jesus learn to obey Christ’s Word, they will come to know Him in a deeper, more personal way. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). As we demonstrate our trustworthiness to Jesus by obeying His Word, He will manifest or reveal more of Himself to us. Friendship with Christ requires obedience to Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). The closer we grow to Christ, the more boldness we will have when facing opposition to the truth about Him. We see this in Acts 4 when the apostles boldly preached Jesus to their persecutors who were their educational superiors.          

As Peter and John boldly spoke of Jesus before this educated crowd, their listeners could discern that these men had spent time with the Savior. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13). These two, lowly fisherman were not intimidated by all the intellectual knowledge and training of these men. They were more impressed with Jesus and they wanted this group to know Him in a personal way. This elite religious group acknowledges the boldness of Peter and John while noting their lack of education.

Often a person’s boldness for Christ shrinks as his education increases. He or she becomes “too sophisticated” to be excited for Christ!! It is better to possess boldness and lack learning, than to possess learning and lack boldness. And it is one thing to be bold with our social equals, but it is an entirely different thing to be bold – as Peter and John were – with our social and educational superiors. True boldness knows no respect of persons.

Boldness does not arise from having a theological degree or a vast knowledge of the Bible. The key to boldness is spending time with Jesus Christ. Peter and John had been in a discipleship relationship with Jesus for over three years. His heart became theirs. So, the closer we get to the heart of Christ, the closer we get to the people for whom He died.

Jesus’ heart bleeds for the lost. Luke 19:10 explains: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The heart of our Lord is a seeking heart. Aren’t you thankful for that? We would still be lost in our sins if Jesus did not seek us out. Look at God’s heart in I Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God created hell for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), not for people. God desires that all people go to heaven regardless of their background, education, culture or color of skin, and He wants to use you and I to introduce them to the Savior who can get them there.

Are we willing to go to the people who need Jesus even if they do not know they need Him and are hostile to the truth? I believe the more we know Jesus’ heart for the lost, the more we will love those for whom He died. And the more we love them, the more motivated we will be to introduce them to the Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, I can relate to Jesus’ audience approaching Him formally instead of personally. Before I became a Christian, this was the way I approached You through my religion. But the moment You rescued me from my own sin and gave me everlasting life, You began a new work with me that was internal, not external; it was relational, not religious; it was personal, not formal. I can still engage in the formalities of religion. But that only leaves me empty and without direction. But the closer I grow to You, Lord Jesus, the more Your heart for unbelievers becomes my heart as well. When I face opposition from people whether they be unbelieving or believing, help me to see them through Your eyes as broken and wounded sinners who need You more than anything or anyone else. Only You can understand and meet their deepest needs. Please use me to point them to You so You can show Yourself to them in ways that will enrich their lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can I overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus? Part 3

“Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” John 8:51

So far we have learned that to overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus we must analyze Christ’s opponent’s accusations with God’s Word (John 8:48-49) and aim for God the Father’s approval (John 8:50). Today we discover that we are to ASK THEM TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST’S PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE (John 8:51-53). Christ says to His unbelieving audience, “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (John 8:51). This does not mean that a person must completely obey all of God’s Word to earn eternal life because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught in the gospel of John about how to receive eternal life (cf. John 3:15-18; 4:10-14;  5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-38; 8:45-46). Nor is Jesus saying believers will never experience physical death. In the context, the word “keeps” (tēréō) means to pay careful attention to what Jesus says about receiving eternal life.

For example, in John 6:47, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” In John 11:26, Jesus promised, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” The apostle John also writes in I John 2:23, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Christ promises that those who keep His word by believing in Him for everlasting life shall never see eternal death. When a believer in Jesus dies physically, he or she (their spirit) is immediately taken into the presence of the Lord.

“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Christians can be confident that the moment they die (“be absent from the body”) their spirit will go to “be present with the Lord” while their body sleeps in the grave (cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-17). I can be assured, that “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23). Physical death for the believer in Jesus is not the end. It is actually a new beginning for Christians as they transition into eternity in the presence of our Lord where there will be no more sin or death for them (cf. I Corinthians 15:51-57; I John 3:2-3).

Non-Christians cannot understand the things of God because they do not have the Spirit of God (cf. I Corinthians 2:11b-14). Thus, the best place to start with unbelieving opponents to the truth about Jesus, is to share the gospel with them so they can be saved and receive the Holy Spirit who can enable them to understand and believe the truth about Jesus (cf. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20, 27).

Jesus’ unbelieving audience mistakenly think He is claiming that those who keep His word will never die physically. They respond to this invitation with more unbelief toward Jesus. “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.” (John  8:52). They think their previous accusation against Jesus has just been confirmed (cf. John 8:48). “Only a demon-possessed man would claim to have more power than Abraham and the prophets who all died, yet in the face of these facts Jesus claims that the one who keeps His word ‘shall never taste death’ or experience physical death? If these righteous ones to whom God gave great privileges were not delivered from physical death, such deliverance was impossible.

They continue, “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?” (John 8:53). Their question expects a negative answer and means, “Surely, Jesus, You are not greater than our founding father, Abraham, or the prophets, who are dead. If keeping Your words prevents physical death, then You are claiming to be greater than those who died.” Ironically, Jesus was greater than Abraham and the prophets as we shall see in the next few verses.

Before I became a Christian at the age of nineteen, the claims of Jesus did not make much sense to me because I did not have God the Holy Spirit inside me to help me understand the meaning of Scripture and how it applies to my life. But the moment I believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the Bible came alive for me. As I read the Bible each day, certain truths would jump off the pages of my Bible and burn in my heart. Jesus’ gift of everlasting life was my new norm and reality.

One of the most important ways we can overcome opposition to the truth about Jesus is to invite unbelievers to believe Christ’s promise of everlasting life to all who believe in Him so they can receive the best Teacher in the universe – God the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20, 27). He can remove Satan’s blinders (2 Corinthians 4:4) so they can see and embrace the truth about Jesus Christ – that He is much greater than Abraham and the prophets as we shall learn in the next few verses.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You so much for showing me that I do not need to be afraid to share the truth about Jesus with those who are hostile to the truth. For I am guaranteed never to taste eternal death the moment I believe in Him Who is greater than Abraham and the prophets! Thank You Holy Spirit for removing the blinders from my heart and my mind so I could see Jesus for Who He truly is! He is the promised Messiah-God! He is the Alpha and the Omega! The Beginning and the End! He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace! Please give me the wisdom and boldness to point people to Jesus Who alone can rescue them from sin and death the moment they believe in Him. I love You, my Lord and my God. Though I long to be in Your presence in heaven, I also know You are not finished with me yet on earth. Please use me to introduce millions to Your Son. In His everlasting name I pray. Amen.

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