How can I live above average? Part 4

“Oh, … that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” I Chronicles 4:10d

God created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, we are looking at a simple, yet profound prayer of a man named Jabez. Even though Jabez got off to a painful start as his name suggests (“Jabez” means “Pain”), he did not let that determine his destiny. He chose to live a life that was honoring to God, despite his painful beginning. And we can do the same.

You and I can live above average for God’s glory by following the same principles found in Jabez’ prayer. The first three principles we have looked at are…

– Seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a).

– Ask God to increase our territory or influence for Him (I Chronicles 4:10b).

– Ask God for power to accomplish His dream for our lives (I Chronicles 4:10c).

As God gives each of us His blessings, and as He grants us more influence and power to impact more people for Him, guess whose territory we will be invading? Satan’s. And the devil hates it. He will do whatever he can to mess things up. That is why Jabez prayed, “And that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” (I Chronicles 4:10d).

Jabez “knew Satan would try to use coming blessings as an opportunity to tempt him to become independent from God.” 1 Do we understand this? Our tendency when we experience great success, is to depend less on God and more on ourselves. When our lives or ministries are endowed with God’s supernatural blessings, influence, and power, this can dull our sense of dependency upon the Lord.It is during these timeswhen we are most vulnerable to the devil’s attacks. When influential Christian leaders fall into sin, it causes great pain and even disillusionment for believers who looked up to them as godly examples.

The fourth and last way to live above average is to ASK GOD FOR PROTECTION OVER OUR LIVES (I Chronicles 4:10d). Why did Jabez do this? Because in those days, the more land you had, the more influence you had, and the better-known you were.

It is still true today. The more successful we are, the more critics we have. The closer we grow to the Lord and the stronger we become as Christians, the more the devil will harass us, because he does not want us to grow and impact more people for Jesus Christ. If the devil is not attacking us, that should cause us concern. It may suggest we are no threat to him because our lives are conforming more to the world’s ways than to God’s will.

But when we are sharing God’s blessings with more and more people, Satan is not going to ignore us. The devil will use different strategies to set us up for a fall. He may use carelessness, complacency, distractions, discouragement, fear, opposition, oppression, or even pride to make us less effective for Jesus. He may even attack our families to bring us down!

I have discovered in my own life that I need to pray this way especially before and after a success. In the Philippines when I returned home from a fruitful mission trip, I was most vulnerable to defeat. I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This made me more vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. I was more prone to holding a dangerous view of my own strengths. It is during those times that I needed to cry out to God, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.”

Jesus understood the schemes of the devil. This is why He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). When was the last time we asked the Lord to lead us away from the temptation to do evil? Just as God wants us to ask Him for more blessings, influence, and power, He also wants us to ask Him for protection from the evil one, so we won’t yield to sin, and cause pain to God, ourselves, and others.Since Satan is much wiser and stronger than us, we desperately need God’s supernatural protection over our lives every day.

Too often, Christians wait until Satan starts to attack them before they pray for protection. Imagine what would happen if we prayed for protection before the devil opposes us? What if we prayed for God to lead us away from temptation before it ever happens?

Without a temptation, we would not sin. Most of us face too many temptations—and therefore sin too often—because we don’t ask God to lead us away from temptation. We make a huge spiritual leap forward, therefore, when we begin to focus less on beating temptation and more on avoiding it… As we move deeper into the realm of the miraculous, the most effective war against sin that we can wage is to pray that we will not have to fight unnecessary temptation. And God offers us His supernatural power to do just that.” 2

If we live by these four principles that Jabez prayed for, we are going to live above average. Do we want to break out of mediocrity? Do we want to see God work in our lives? Are we tired of drifting through life not knowing where we are going? Then we need to pray and live as Jabez did.

When we pray in faith, as Jabez did, we will live above average. How do I know that? Look at these verses:9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers10 So God granted him what he requested.(I Chronicles 4:9a, 10e). Jabez had a painful beginning and a prosperous ending. Why? Because he prayed the way God loves to hear His children pray. Jabez got what he sought from God because he asked for it. He was like Jacob who said as he wrestled with God: “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:26). Do we pursue God until we see a transformation in our hearts and/or situation? 3

God honors those who ask. He opens the floodgates of heaven for those who diligently seek what He wants. What do you want God to do in your life? Heal a broken relationship? Ask Him. Help you with a problem? Ask Him. Help you with some goals? Ask Him. Lead more people to Christ and disciple them? Ask Him. God is not some policeman up in the sky waiting for you to mess up so He can pounce on you! God wants to bless your life. He wants you to live above average for His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for these powerful insights from the prayer of Jabez. It is Your will that we seek countless blessings from You with which to bless others. It is Your profound desire to take more territory from Satan through the preaching of the gospel and the making of disciples of Jesus Christ. But when You bless us, Satan attacks us. Knowing this, can help us be on the alert for the devil’s deceptions. Father, please keep us safe from Satan’s temptations that pull at our emotions and our physical needs, that call out to our sense of what we deserve, what we have the “right” to feel and enjoy. Because You are the true Source of all that is really life, guide our steps away from all that is not of You. Please protect our families and communities from the evil one. We know that Jesus Who is in us is far greater than the evil one who is in the world, so we have nothing to fear. At the name of Jesus Christ all other powers on earth will bow or flee. Thank You so much for surrounding us with Your protective hand, Lord. We love You and trust You, Mighty God. In the name that is above all other names – Jesus Christ – we pray. Amen. 4

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 711.

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 67-68.

3. Evans, pg. 711.

4. Portions of this prayer were adapted from Wilkinson, pp. 72-73.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 3

“But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ ” John 19:15

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

Today we see that THE CLOSER WE GET TO THE CROSS, THE MORE CLEARLY WE SEE WHO PEOPLE REALLY ARE, INCLUDING OURSELVES (John 19:13-16). When Pilate heard the religious leaders threaten to accuse him of treason if he did not bow to their wishes to put Jesus to death (John 19:12), Pilate “brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” (John 19:13). The threat of losing his favored position with the Roman government was a key motivation for Pilate to crucify Jesus. Pilate took his seat on a raised platform known as the bēma (“judge’s seat”) at a place called “the Stone Pavement,” where a Roman official or governor would sit in judgment. 1  The meaning of the Aramaic term “Gabbatha” is uncertain. One suggested meaning is a “raised place,” referring to the platform from which Pilate spoke to the crowd (cf. Josephus Jewish Wars 2.175-176, 301, 308). 2

Ironically Pilate then brings Jesus out to the judgment seat (bēma). One day Jesus will judge all unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15) and all believers at His Judgment Seat (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10). Yet this day He submits to judgment by a weak, arrogant unbeliever!” 3

“Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ ” (John 19:14). Jesus, the innocent Passover Lamb of God “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5; John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21), was being presented by a pagan ruler to the nation of Israel on Friday the day before the Sabbath at “about the sixth hour” which was 6:00 A.M. according to the Roman method of reckoning time. 4

“When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God had commanded them to slaughter a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts of their homes. Then, when he struck down the firstborn of Egypt, he ‘passed over’ the homes with a blood covering. By means of this, God rescued his people from slavery (see Exod 12:1-28). Jesus, ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (1:29) was about to shed his blood so that all those who believe in him would be saved from slavery to sin. His death at this particular moment wasn’t due to chance, then, but due to the sovereign timing of God.” 5  

Once again, we see that God is the One Who is in control. Pilate was an instrument of God’s sovereign plan and purpose (cf. Acts 2:22-24). Even though Pilate seems to be taunting the Jews when he presents their beaten and bloodied Messiah (“Behold, your King!”), it is ironic that this corrupt political leader recognizes the truth that Jesus is their King.

But the Jews wanted nothing to do with King Jesus despite all the evidence that He was their promised Messiah-God. “But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ ” (John 19:15a). Again Pilate refers to Jesus as their King. “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’” (John 19:15b). And the Jewish leaders persisted in their rejection of Christ.  “The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ ” (John 19:15c). Really? They have no king but Caesar!?! 

Notice that they didn’t say, ‘We have no king but God.’ Their hatred of Jesus was so great that they were willing to disregard their divine ruler and align themselves with a pagan king. Placing human government above God never ends well.” 6

Just ask the Israelites when they rejected God as their ruler and demanded a human king similar to the surrounding pagan nations during the time of the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 8:4-8). Although their demand arose out of frustration over the corruption of Samuel’s sons (I Samuel 8:1-3), the better choice would have been to remove Samuel’s sons from leadership and choose qualified men to take their place. But they refused to do this even though God warned the nation of Israel of the destructive things a human king would do to them (I Samuel 8:9-20).

What happened in Samuel’s day and in Jesus’ day, is also happening today. When God is dismissed from the family, people often turn to the government to fix their problems instead of turning to God. People are wanting the government to manage their affairs instead of submitting to God’s rule in their families and individual lives. When “civil government reaches into the other spheres that God has instituted—things like the family or the church—government grows far beyond its divinely authorized scope. This allows government to both confiscate and redistribute what should not be moved. That is exactly what God warned Israel against in 8:10-18 as they insisted on having a human king.” 7

Although the nation of Israel’s rightful King, a Descendant of king David, stood before them, they chose a pagan king when they said, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15c). Pilate then gave in to their demand and “delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away.” (John 19:16). If you were Pilate, how would you explain to your wife that night why you finally let Jesus be killed? Remember she had told Pilate earlier, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19).

“The time had now come for the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world and make people savable (John 1:29). He would be crucified and after six hours would breathe His last in His non-glorified body.” 8

Jesus had known what was going to happen for days, weeks, months – eternity past. And now on this Stone Pavement, Pilate says, I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” (Matthew 27:24). It is at this time,Jesus hears the words, “You are going to be crucified.”

It is amazing what happens when Jesus is on trial before the religious leaders and Pilate. Pilate stands before the crowd and tries with all of his might to appear fair and just as a political leader. But when we look at him in this scene that John presents to us, does he look fair? Does he look like a man of justice? No, he looks like a self-serving political coward who yields to the demands of the majority!

But are we any different than Pilate? Have we ever made a decision based on fear or ambition? Have we ever refused to do the right thing because of the cost involved? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is “Yes!” The cross exposes this in our lives.

If you look at the chief priests and temple officers there at the same place, they try to appear holy and righteous. They would not even go into the Gentile palace area so they could avoid ceremonial defilement (John 18:28). They wanted to be holy for the day of Passover. But do they look holy and righteous, rejecting their rightful King? Not at all!

And yet we can also be like these religious leaders. We compare ourselves to others and conclude that we look pretty devoted to our religion compared to the way others look. We go to a place of worship every week while others spend more time in jail. We pray and read our sacred literature every day while others curse and read filth online.  

But compared to the innocent Lamb of God, we are very dark and wicked on the inside. We think more of ourselves than others. But Jesus continued to think of others even while hanging on the cross (John 19:25-27). We hold grudges against those who have hurt us, but Jesus forgave His enemies while He hung on the cross (Luke 23:34). We are quick to condemn criminals, but Jesus lovingly offers them hope (Luke 23:42-43).

From this scene presented to us by the apostle John, we learn that the closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16). It is at the cross of Christ, that we see who people really are. The innocence of the Lamb of God exposes the guilt of everyone who draws near to the cross. There is a blinding light of truth that comes from the cross that shows us who we really are.  

If you want to make this more personal, the closer I get to the cross, the more I see who I really am. The more I see how I need God to change me. The more I see how His power can make a difference in my life, and needs to make a difference in my life.

When we compare ourselves to the people around us, we might think we are pretty good. But when we start to look at our lives in light of the cross of Jesus Christ, we recognize our great need for Him. And we also recognize His great love for us (Romans 5:8). This is why we need the cross in our lives. So we can see who we really are and Who Jesus really is. Jesus said it best: “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26b). So why not make it known between you and the Lord right now? He is patiently waiting.

Prayer: Oh heavenly Father, thank You for the light of the cross of Your Son, Jesus Christ, which exposes the darkness in our own hearts.Like Pilate, we can easily make hurtful decisions based upon fear or ambition, and yet our stubborn pride wants to deny this. Thank You for lovingly showing us this today. As difficult as it is to admit, we can also be like the religious leaders who thought they looked pretty good compared to the way they thought others looked. But compared to their King, they were self-righteous and unholy, rejecting Jesus as their rightful Ruler. Likewise, we often want to control our own lives instead of yielding to Your rightful rule over us. Oh Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us how much we need the cross and how much we need You and Your love for us. None of us are close to perfect. All of us have sinned against You and fall short of Your glory. None of us deserve the love You have for us. But all of us need Your love. All of us need the cross whether we admit it or not. We need the forgiveness, the cleansing, and the power and strength that the cross provides so we can change and become more like Your Son. Thank You, our Lord and our God, for Your amazing grace. In the redeeming name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 342.

2. John Wilkinson, The Jerusalem Jesus Knew (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978), pg. 141, cited by Laney in Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 342.

3.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. 558.

4. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pp. 342-343; Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 558; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 348.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1823.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., pg. 526.

8. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 559.

9. The last several paragraphs are adapted from Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

How will you respond to Christ crucified? Part 1

“Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.” John 18:28

A legend tells of an Irish king who disguised himself and went into the banquet hall of one of his barons. He was escorted to a lowly place among the throng who sat at the feast. The brilliance of his conversation and the nobility of his manner soon attracted the attention of someone with sufficient authority to escort him to a higher table. The same thing occurred again, and soon he was seated among the nobles of the realm. After another display of great wisdom, one of the lords spoke out, “In truth, Sir, you speak like a king. If you are not a king, you deserve to be one.” Then the king removed his disguise and took his rightful place among his subjects. 1

This is what should have happened when the eternal Creator God of the universe, Jesus Christ, set aside His glory in heaven, took on human flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3, 14). Although Jesus was the Son of a carpenter from the despised town of Nazareth (Matthew 13:55; John 6:42), His words and works should have persuaded the Jews to understand that He was their promised Messiah and King. But the Jewish leaders were so blinded by the lies of their father, the devil (John 8:44), that even the incredible miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead only solidified their resolve to kill Jesus (John 11:45-53).

We are gong to look at several different responses to Christ crucified in John 18:28-19:4. Most likely you will be able to identify with one of these responses to Jesus. Christ’s words and works demand a response. One cannot remain neutral toward Jesus Christ. If you choose to ignore or dismiss Jesus, you decide against Him. Let’s look now at the first possible response to Christ crucified: LIKE THE JEWISH LEADERS, WE MAY REFUSE TO BELIEVE IN JESUS BECAUSE OF OUR SELF-RIGHTEOUS RELIGIOUS PRIDE (JOHN 18:28-32).

Luke informs us that the Sanhedrin had charged Jesus with blasphemy earlier (Luke 22:66-67) and they were intent on applying the death penalty to Him. But because these Jewish leaders did not have the legal right to put Jesus to death, the case had to be brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. In A.D. 6, Judea became a Roman imperial province ruled by a governor appointed by the emperor. Normally, Pilate “lived in Caesarea (Acts 23:25), but stayed in Jerusalem during the Jewish festivals to be available to handle a crisis and maintain order. Pilate is described by his contemporary Philo (Legatio ad Gaium 3-1-2) and later by Josephus (Atiquities 18.55-59; Jewish Wars 2.169-77) as a greedy, inflexible, and cruel leader. He created much antagonism between himself and the Jews on” a number of occasions. 3

For example, “he and his soldiers brought standards into Jerusalem bearing the emperor’s image (Josephus Antiquities 18.55-59).” 4  According to Luke 13:1, Pilate’s soldiers killed “some Galileans while they were in Jerusalem offering sacrifices… Pilate used revenues from the Temple to construct an aqueduct to bring water to Jerusalem (Josephus Antiquities 18.60-62).” 5  As a result, Pilate did not have good relations with the Jewish people.

After Jesus’ trial before the Jewish authorities (cf. Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71), 6 John informs us, “Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.” (John 18:28). The “Praetorium” was the Roman governor’s official residence either at one of King Herod’s palaces in West Jerusalem or at the Antonia fortress northwest of the the Temple area. 7  The Jewish authorities stayed out of the palace to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean by entering a Gentile dwelling. Should they become ceremonially unclean they would not be able to participate in “the Passover.” 8  The reason Gentile houses were thought to be unclean by the Jews is because Gentiles were believed to throw abortions down the drains. 9

“Pilate then went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?’ ” (John 18:29). Pilate wants to know what formal charges these Jews brought against Jesus. His question does not mean he was completely ignorant of Jesus’ affairs. Matthew tells us that Pilate “knew that they had handed Him over because of envy” (Matthew 27:18). Christ was stealing their following. Multitudes of people followed Jesus because He healed their sick and He taught them with authority, not as their scribes taught (Matthew 7:29). After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘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 11:47-48). Jesus’ growing popularity threatened their grip on power. Rather than lose their positions of power, these religious leaders wanted Jesus to lose His life.

SoThey answered and said to him, ‘If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.’ ” (John 18:30). The Jewish leaders’ answer was evasive. They had no charge that would stand up in a Roman court of law. They simply wanted Pilate to confirm their verdict without further examination. “Certainly we wouldn’t trouble you, Pilate, if Jesus were not a criminal,” these leaders are saying,“Trust us, Pilate.” But Pilate had enough issues of state to attend to without getting involved with a petty Jewish controversy. “Then Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and judge Him according to your law.’ ” (John 18:31a). Assuming Jesus had violated some religious law or custom, Pilate instructed them to try Jesus by their own “law.” Pilate’s response demanded that these Jews clarify their request.

So they made it clear that they wanted an execution, not a fair trial. Yet they didn’t have the authority to inflict the death penalty, but the Romans did. Therefore the Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,’ that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 18:31b-32). If Jesus was executed by the Sanhedrin, it meant death by stoning. But for Jesus to be tried in a Roman court meant death by crucifixion. John tells us that this “fulfilled” Jesus’ teaching earlier where He alludes to death by crucifixion (cf. John 3:14; 12:32-33).

Tragically these Jewish leaders had rejected God’s promised Messiah and were seeking to put to death an innocent Man, yet they were more concerned about being ceremonially unclean (John 18:28)! They failed to see that their wicked actions and intent toward Jesus already made them spiritually filthy! 10 They were more concerned about their image in front of people than the condition of their own hearts before a holy God.

Jesus taught earlier that it is what comes out of our hearts that defiles us, not what we eat (Mark 7:19-23) or I might add – what places we go to. The religious leaders were concerned about making themselves look good on the outside, but wickedness came from within them. Following customs and traditions cannot cleanse our sinful hearts. Only Jesus Christ, through His atoning work on the cross, can grant us forgiveness of sins and a transformed heart (Hebrews 10:16-18) that is in sync with God, enabling us to love Him and others. 11

Before we condemn these Jewish religious leaders, let’s take a look at our own hearts for a moment. Are we any different than these religious men? Have any of us refused to believe in Jesus because of our own self-righteous religious pride? Do we look at our own religious activities and conclude that we are better than others because they do not appear to be as good as we think we are? Do we think that our good life, prayers, or religion will gain us acceptance before God so we can enter His heaven? Are we offended when people suggest to us that we are sinners who need a Savior?

If so, we need to understand that pride can be so much a part of us we don’t recognize it for what it is. For example, a woman said to C. H. Spurgeon, “I have not sinned for some time.” He replied, “You must be very proud of it.” “Yes, indeed I am!” she rejoiced. 12  What about you? Are you proud in areas you don’t even recognize?

These Jewish religious leaders were. Their pride persuaded them to put God’s Messiah, an innocent Man, to death. They were so focused on Jesus and His growing popularity, that they were blind to their own sinfulness and need for Him.

A woman was dying, but she had lived a good moral life and had never felt she needed a Savior. But when a minister offered to come and talk with her, she allowed him to visit. The pastor explained the way of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Emphasizing that Jesus died for the sins of everyone in the world, including her, he urged her to trust the Savior.

The woman responded, “Do you mean to tell me that if I’m going to be saved, I have to come to God on exactly the same terms as anyone else – even the most wicked person in the world?”

“That’s right,” the pastor answered, “there’s only one way.” The woman thought for a moment and then declared, “Well, if that’s the case, I want no part of it!” (Our Daily Bread, 2000). 13  You may be like that woman. You see other people making mistakes, but not yourself. Don’t look at what the other person is doing, look at yourself. Be willing to say, “I have done wrong. I am a sinner.”

Like the religious leaders, we may need to understand that all the good things we do, say, or think cannot make us righteous before a holy God. The Bible says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” (Isaiah 64:6 NASB). God looks at all the righteous deeds we have done and sees that they are all stained with sin. None of these “good things” can take away our sins.

We may have a tendency to compare our righteousness with the righteousness of other people and think we will go to heaven if ours is greater than theirs. But when God considers how sinful we have been, He compares us to the most perfect Person who ever lived, His Son Jesus Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). The “glory of God” is Jesus Christ. Jesus never, ever told a lie. But we lie to ourselves and others daily. Christ never had one unkind thought. But we average a minimum of five a day. God’s Son never hated His enemies. But sometimes we can’t even stand the person we are married to or live with. So when it comes to behavior, in God’s eyes, we do not measure up. All of us fall short of God’s perfection and are guilty before Him.

Therefore, we must come to God the same way as any other sinner. Simply recognize we cannot save ourselves from sin’s penalty. But Jesus Christ can because He died in our place for all our sins and rose from the dead. Jesus is alive today and He invites us to believe in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). And the moment we do, His righteousness covers imperfect righteousness so God can accept us into His heaven.

The Bible says, “Even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” (Romans 3:22). Just as there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles being guilty before God because “all are under sin” (Romans 3:1-9), there is also no difference in the way all people are “justified” (declared righteous) before God which is “through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe.” (Romans 3:22; cf. 3:21-26). The hand that receives God’s free gift of justification is “faith in Jesus Christ.” There is no other way to obtain a right standing before God.

Henry Ironside shares a helpful illustration about what it means to be justified before God. One morning on his way to a sheep ranch, he noticed a very peculiar sight. He saw an old ewe loping across the road followed by the strangest looking lamb he had ever seen. It seemed to have six legs, and the last two were hanging helplessly as though paralyzed. When one of the sheep ranchers caught the lamb and brought it over to Ironside, the rancher explained that the lamb did not really belong to that ewe. She had a lamb that was bitten by a rattlesnake and died. This lamb that Ironside saw was an orphan and needed a mother’s care.

But at first the ewe refused to have anything to do with it. She sniffed at it when it was brought to her, then pushed it away, saying as plainly as a sheep could say it, “That is not my lamb!” So the ranchers skinned the lamb that had died and covered the living lamb with the dead lamb’s skin. When the covered lamb was brought again to the ewe, she smelled it once more and accepted the lamb as her own as if to say, “That is Mine!”

Like that orphan lamb, all people are born as outcasts, separated from God because of our sin. But God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead, so that when we believe or trust in Him alone, God can accept us into His family because He sees we are now clothed with the righteousness of His Son! He can say, “That is Mine!”

Prayer: Lord God, it is my tendency to avoid my own sin and shortcomings by focusing on the failures of others. I have convinced myself that I am better than others by the good things I think, say, or do. But You do not compare my righteousness with other people. You compare my righteousness with Your perfect Son, Jesus Christ. And I fall far short of His glory. All people are guilty sinners before a holy God. And therefore, I need Your perfect righteousness through faith in Jesus. As best I know how, I come to You right now as a guilty sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God Who died in my place for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting in Jesus alone (not my imperfect righteousness), to give me His gift of righteousness and everlasting life so I may be accepted into God’s heaven. Thank You, my Lord and God, for covering me with Jesus’ righteousness and giving me everlasting life. Thank You for declaring me totally righteous before You the moment I believed in Jesus. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Donald Grey Barnhouse,Let Me Illustrate (Grand Rapids: F. H. Revell Co., 1967), pp. 180-181.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 326-327.

3. Ibid, pg. 327.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on John (2017 Edition), pg. 332.

7. Ibid, pp. 332-333; Laney, pg. 327.

8. There seems to be a conflict between the Synoptic gospels which teach that the Last Supper was the Passover meal (Matthew 26:2, 17-19; Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16; Luke 22:1, 7-8, 13, 15) and the gospel of John, which teaches that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal (John 13:1; 18:28; 19:14, 31-36). This apparent contradiction between the Synoptic gospels and the gospel of John can be resolved when we recognize that in Jesus’ day there were two systems of reckoning the day: from sunset to sunset (Exodus 12:18; Mark 4:27; 5:5; Luke 2:37) and from sunrise to sunrise (Genesis 1:14, 16; Deuteronomy 16:4; Matthew 28:1; Acts 4:3; 20:7-11; 23:32). The Galileans and Pharisees used the sunrise to sunrise reckoning. Thus, according to the Synoptics, the Last Supper was a Passover meal. Since this day was to be reckoned from sunrise, the Galileans, and with them Jesus and His disciples, had the Passover lamb slaughtered in the late afternoon on Thursday, Nisan 14 (cf. Exodus 12:6) and later that evening they ate the Passover with the unleavened bread. On the other hand, the Judean Jews who reckoned from sunset to sunset would slay the Passover lamb on Friday afternoon which marked the end of Nisan 14 and would eat the Passover lamb with unleavened bread that night which had become Nisan 15. Thus, Jesus had eaten the Passover meal when His enemies, who had not as yet had the Passover, arrested Him. This interpretation eliminates the difficulties presented in John’s gospel. First, this gives good sense to John 18:28 where the Jews did not want to enter the Praetorium so as not to be defiled since later that day they would slay the Passover lambs for those who reckoned from sunset to sunset. Second, John 19:14 makes sense for it says that Jesus’ trial and crucifixion were on the “day of preparation for the Passover” and not after the eating of the Passover. Third, this fits well with John 19:36 where it speaks of the fulfilment of the Old Testament (Exodus 14:26; Numbers 9:12) when no bones of Jesus, the Passover Lamb of God, were broken. After Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, He died when the Passover lambs were slain in the temple precincts.

9. Herbert Danby, The Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford Univ.: 1933), pg. 675, n. 10.  

10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1819.

11. Ibid., pg. 1602.

12. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 2012), pg. 127.

13. Ibid, pg. 138.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 4

“Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.” John 18:27

As we focus on John 18:13-27, we are learning how we can overcome failure and religious hatred. So far we have discovered we must…

Realize life is not always fair, but God always is (John 18:13-14).

– Remain close to Christ and other committed disciples (John 18:15-18).

Respond to our enemies by speaking the truth in love to them (John 18:19-24).

Now we go back to stage two (John 18:25-27) to discover our fourth and final principle. Rather than reporting Peter’s three denials together, John tells of Jesus’ hearing before Annas between the  accounts of Peter’s first denial and his last two denials. This serves to magnify both the shame of Peter’s actions 1  and the triumph of Jesus before His enemies.

“Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, ‘You are not also one of His disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not!’ ” (John 18:25). If Annas and Caiaphas occupied separate wings of the same residence, the second and third denials probably took place in the same courtyard. Peter was warming himself by the fire and again someone asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Again, a negative answer is expected and Peter gives it with the words, “I am not” (ouk eimi) or “Not me!” 3

 “John has constructed a dramatic contrast wherein Jesus stands up to his questioners and denies nothing, while Peter cowers before his questioners and denies everything.” Jesus boldly spoke the truth risking His own life, but Peter speaks lies to preserve his life. Christ is presented by John as a courageous Victor, but Peter is portrayed as a lying coward.

“One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’ ” (John 18:26). Peter must have been sweating profusely when one of the servants of the high priest who was a relative of Malchus, “whose ear Peter cut off” in Gethsemane (John 18:10), approached him and asks, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” His question expects an affirmative answer, in contrast to the former two that expected a negative answer. 5

“Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.” (John 18:27). For the third time Peter denies any association with Jesus. It was a response Peter would deeply regret. At that moment a rooster began to crow. The shrill sound must have reminded Peter of Jesus’ words spoken to him a few hours earlier (John 13:38).

What had happened to Peter from the time he courageously tried to defend Jesus at his side in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10) and his three denials of knowing Jesus (John 18:17, 25, 27)? In addition to what I said earlier regarding Peter’s self- reliance, his separation from Christ, and his companionship with Jesus’ enemies, I believe Peter struggled with doubt, fear, and pride. 6

Doubt had come into his life that was not there before. He thought when he leaped out at that army in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), that Jesus would do something. Christ had disappeared before when crowds tried to arrest Him (John 8:59). Or maybe He would bring lightning bolts. Peter was thinking, “I will make the first move and Jesus is going to be right behind me to back me up.” But Jesus said, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Peter watched them bind Jesus’ arms behind Him and this army marches Him off like a sheep that is being led to slaughter. Peter did not know what was happening. He had doubts because his plan and God’s plan did not match.

Has that ever happened to you? Your plan and God’s plan don’t match and the doubts come flooding into your soul? It happens to all of us. That is a difficult time. That is a time when we can fall prey to the denial that happened in Peter’s life. 

Peter’s denials also happened because of fear. He had a fear of the unknown in his life. He knew what it was like to be with Jesus. He knew what it was like to follow Jesus. He was confident in Jesus’ presence. But all of a sudden he is separated from Christ. Jesus is in the room with the trial going on and Peter is out in the courtyard and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. The fear of the unknown can be a terrible thing.  And it caused Peter to deny Christ. 

And the fear of the unknown can cause us to deny Jesus as well. We get into situations where we do not know what is going to take place next. And we are overwhelmed with the fear of the unknown. Does this sound familiar to you? We can easily deny our relationship with Jesus when this happens.

But I believe there is one other cause that contributed the most to Peter’s denials. Jesus exposed this when He spoke to Peter in the Upper Room. It was Peter’s pride. Like all of us, Peter had pride in his life. He vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake (John 13:37). He thought he would never fail his Lord. And because of that he found himself denying Jesus. His greatest weakness is the same weakness a lot of us have. His greatest weakness was the inability to recognize his greatest weakness. If only he could have seen. If only he could have listened when Jesus said, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38). But he did not hear Jesus. Jesus had warned him but he could not see this weakness in his life.  

So he failed because he couldn’t admit to himself that he might fall. If you and I read the story of Peter and we don’t see ourselves in it we are missing something extremely important. Peter’s story is there to remind us that any of us given the right circumstances can do what Peter did. Peter has followed Jesus for over three years. Christ knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Jesus pointed out Peter’s pride and told him he would fail Jesus three times. Just being able to admit that weakness in his life could have kept Peter from getting to that point in the courtyard. But like most of us, Peter was not willing to admit this weakness in his life.

This is the key to overcoming failure in our Christian lives: RESOLVE TO ADMIT YOUR WEAKNESSES TO JESUS (John 18:25-27). This can prevent us from getting to that point in our lives where we deny Christ.

If you are reading this and you are thinking, “I could never deny Jesus like Peter did,” you may want to think again. Or if you think that Moses, who the Bible says was the most humble man living in his time (Numbers 12:3), could fall prey to anger (Numbers 20:1-12), and then say to yourself, “It could never happen to me,” you may want to think again. Or to think that King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), could fall prey to adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:1-17), and then say to yourself, “That could never happen to me.” Is your pride any different than David’s? Or to think of Solomon, who the Bible says is the wisest man who ever lived (I Kings 4:30-31), and then in his later years allowed his many wives to turn his heart away from the Lord to worship their pagan deities (I Kings 11:1-8). For us to think that he could stray from his faith but say to ourselves, “That could never happen to me,” what kind of pride says such things!?!

Are we willing to admit that we have the same kind of tendency to doubt God’s word that Abraham and Sarah had (Genesis 16), or do we say to ourselves, “That could never happen to me?” Or that Noah, who is the example of endurance – 120 years of endurance (Genesis 6:3) – and then after that endurance when he reached the pinnacle of his success found himself drunk and ashamed (Genesis 9:20-21)? What kind of pride does it take for us to say to ourselves, “that will never happen to me – that at the pinnacle of my success I am going to do something foolish? No that won’t happen.”

These stories are in the Bible for a purpose, to remind us that we are human. That we need God in every circumstance of life, every moment of life. The humble thing is to say, “Without God, anger could destroy my life. Lust could destroy my life. I could stray away from Jesus and never see the doors of the church for twenty years. Without Jesus and trust in Him daily, I could doubt God’s word and miss His blessing. Or even at the moment of greatest success, I could find the moment of greatest humiliation.” 7

But when I recognize that these truths are here to remind me that I am human and I need Christ, when I recognize my weakness, guess what happens? I turn to Him at that moment of weakness. Instead of denying Him, I follow Him. Instead of turning from Him, I trust Him. That’s the great thing about these stories. Pride does come before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). And Peter’s denials teach us this. 

But if we do fail, and we will, the Bible offers us hope. Luke tells us that the moment the rooster crowed after Peter’s third denial, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61). The eyes of Jesus must have penetrated Peter’s soul. For we are told, “Peter went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62).

Do you think Peter breaks down and weeps because Jesus gave him a look of scorn and condemnation? Or did Jesus give him a look of forgiveness? Jesus knew Peter was going to fail (John 13:38). He was praying for Peter and knew Peter would be restored to strengthen others (Luke 22:31-32), so I believe Jesus gave Peter a look of forgiveness. Peter broke down and wept because he knew what it meant to be forgiven. He didn’t live with regret because he knew what it meant to be restored by Jesus Christ.

Peter hit bottom, but the Lord’s hand was under him to eventually bring him back up. No matter how many flaws you have nor how many times you have failed, the Lord’s hand is there to help you up and start over. The Bible says, “The Lord upholds all who fall and… gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.” Psalm 145:14 [NKJV/MSG].

Colossians 2:13 [NIV] says, “When you were dead in your sins… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Even the sins we have not committed yet, Jesus saw them in advance at the cross and died for them, and forgave them ahead of time.

God uses our failures to equip us to strengthen others in their spiritual journeys. Someone once said, “You will fail in the area of your greatest strength.” Why is that? Because the area of our greatest strength is often the area of our greatest pride. But failure is not the end of discipleship. Failure is just a detour or a pause in the journey.

Pastor Chuck Swindoll quoted A. W. Tozer, “It is doubtful that God can use anyone greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” 8   There will be times in your discipleship journey when it looks like everything is finished, but in reality that will be the beginning. Imagine how Peter felt after he denied Jesus three times and heard the rooster crow? And yet that is just the beginning for Peter. Now God can really begin to use him to strengthen others.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that failure is not final for those of us who believe in You. You can use our failures to magnify Your restoring love and grace, and bring encouragement to others who fail. Help us learn from Peter’s denials of You. Any of us are capable of doing what Peter did, especially if we refuse to face our own weaknesses and transfer our trust onto You to overcome them. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for including the failures of others in the Bible to remind us that we too are prone to wander and that we need You every moment of our lives. Thank You that when we do fail, You do not give us a look of scorn or condemnation, but a look of love and forgiveness. May this image of Your grace motivate us to stay close to You every second of our lives. In Your gracious and mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 552.

2.  J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 325.

3. Ibid., pg. 326.

4. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation and Notes. Anchor Bible series. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966-71, Vol 2, pg. 842.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 331. 

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

7. Ibid.

8. Pastor Chuck Swindoll’s September 15, 2015 post of A.W. Tozer on twitter.

How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 3

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” John 13:38

We are learning how to impact our hate-filled world for Christ. So far we have discovered we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33) and commit to loving others as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). The final way to impact a hate-filled world for Christ, is to CLING TO JESUS SO HE CAN LOVE OTHERS THROUGH US (John 13:36-38).

Jesus’s announcement of His departure and consequent separation from His disciples raised concerns in their minds (John 13:33). Peter spoke up first. “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’ ” (John 13:36). Peter loved the Lord so much he wanted to go with Him. Jesus gently tells Peter it would not be possible for him to be with Jesus right then, but He did encourage Peter when He said, “you shall follow Me afterward.” Perhaps Christ was referring to when Peter would die and go to heaven to be with Him.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ ” (John 13:37). Peter was perplexed about the Lord’s destination. Because of the opposition of the religious leaders on previous visits, Jesus had departed from Jerusalem. Peter supposed on this occasion that Jesus would depart to another region outside of Jerusalem.  The disciples had accompanied Jesus on other departures from Jerusalem, why couldn’t Peter accompany Him this time? Peter concludes that Jesus was departing alone because it was too dangerous for the Eleven to follow Him. On this occasion Peter was not afraid to go with Jesus in the face of danger. He would be loyal to Christ even unto death! Notice Peter’s self-reliance: “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” He does not say, “By God’s grace or with God’s help I will lay down my life for Your sake.”

Peter had good intentions, but it is much easier to express them in a secure room after good food than in a darkened garden with a hostile mob. We can be a lot like Peter. In our minds we envision ourselves as better followers of Jesus than we actually are. Pride can cause us to think too highly of ourselves and then we fall flat on our faces.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” (John 13:38). The Lord knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew Peter would disown Him when his life was threatened. Peter needed to learn to rely on the Lord to remain loyal to Him. Jesus would lay down His life for Peter, but Peter in no way would lay down his life for the Lord at this time.

How do you think Peter felt when he heard Jesus predict his three denials of knowing Christ? Confused? Shocked? Peter was certain he would be faithful to Christ even when threatened with death. “I’ll show You, Lord, how loyal I am to You!” Peter thought he could remain faithful to Jesus in his own strength. Perhaps he thought he could love the other disciples like Jesus loved him by using his own abilities. “Lord, I love these guys so much, I will even lay down my life for them!” “No Peter,” Jesus says, “You must learn to rely on Me to do this in your life.”

We cannot love one another as Christ has loved us unless we trust Him to love others through us. It is not a natural desire to wash dirty feet, especially when those dirty feet belong to someone else. Nor is it natural for us to want to cleanse the dirt in our own spiritual lives. God must work in our hearts to enable us to do this.

Jesus is calling us to let Him live a supernatural life through us so we can love the undeserving as He has loved us. This coming week, you will probably have opportunities to love other believers with dirty feet. You may learn that someone has gossiped about you and said some very hurtful things about you. You may be tempted to do the same to him or her. Someone at your work or school may push your buttons and test your patience. You will be tempted to get angry and retaliate.

Like Peter, John is reminding us that we cannot love Jesus’ way in our own strength. We must rely on Christ who can give us the power to love others selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally as He has loved us. Today will you make a commitment to obey Jesus’ new commandment and love one another as He has loved you? You won’t regret it and it may encourage an unbeliever to investigate this Person by the name of Jesus Christ. The world desperately needs disciples of Jesus who love like Jesus loves.

Prayer: Lord God, I cannot give to others what I do not have. This is why it is so important to spend time with You so I may receive Your love for me. Like a water bucket under a faucet, I need You to refill my love bucket under the fountain of Your love when I am running on empty. I can tell when I need to be refilled. I tend to be easily irritated or angered, and it is difficult to let go of past hurts and be available to love others. Thank You for reminding me that I cannot love others in my own strength. I need to spend time with You, talking to You in prayer and listening to You as I read and study the Bible. The more time I spend with You, the more You enable me to love those who matter to me. I give myself to You, my Lord and my God, to be a channel of Your love to others. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 6

For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’ ” John 9:39

Today we will look at the last symptom and solution of spiritual blindness in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John. After the former blind man discovered Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and believed in Him, he worshiped Christ (John 9:35-38). Jesus then said to the healed man, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’ ” (John 9:39). Jesus came into this world to bring “judgment” based on how people respond to Him. “Those who do not see may see” refers to those who like the former blind man, humbly admit their spiritual blindness and sin and call out to Christ to heal them of their spiritual blindness so they might see and believe the gospel. Jesus is saying that humility leads to sight.

This is the fifth solution to spiritual blindness: DECIDE TO AGREE WITH CHRIST ABOUT YOUR OWN SINFULNESS AND NEED FOR A SAVIOR (John 9:39a). Christ will give spiritual sight to those who humble themselves and admit their spiritual blindness and their need for God’s forgiving grace. He will forgive those who come to Him in faith like this healed man did.

When Jesus said, “Those who [think they] see may be made blind,” He is referring to the self-righteous, like the Pharisees, who refused to humble themselves and admit they were spiritually blind. They thought they already could see spiritually. Jesus came to show unbelievers like these religious experts that they were spiritually blind. Their works-salvation was spiritual blindness. Christ does not forgive the self-righteous because they do not see their need to come to Him for forgiveness. Instead, they are deceived by their own sin into thinking that they can be saved by their own works.

This is the sixth symptom of spiritual blindness. DECEIVED BY THEIR OWN SIN (John 9:39b-41). In this case, Jesus promised the “judgment” of becoming more spiritually blind because they refused to humble themselves and admit their own spiritual blindness. They were puffed up with pride and Jesus is saying that pride leads to more blindness.

“Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ ” (John 9:40). Their question expects a “No” answer. It does not occur to them that they are spiritually blind. They don’t acknowledge their own sin, guilt, and need for forgiveness. “Certainly, we of all people have spiritual perception!” Pharisaical people deceive themselves from seeing their own sinfulness. The deceitfulness of sin often makes self-righteous people, who are in the greatest need of God’s help, think that they are the most spiritually enlightened people. Only God’s Spirit, using God’s Word, can break through that deep darkness, to bring conviction of spiritual blindness, and to create openness to the gospel.

If these religious leaders had been willing to admit their own blindness and sinfulness, Jesus would have given them grace. But they did not. So Jesus gives them truth. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.’ ” (John 9:41). Christ is saying, “If you recognized your spiritual blindness and acknowledged your sin and guilt, you would have come to Me for forgiveness. And I would have forgiven you so ‘you would have no sin.’ But because you claim to have spiritual sight and deny your own sin, and refuse to come to Me for forgiveness, ‘your sin remains.’ ” These leaders refused to admit their sinfulness and need for a Savior. Since they refused to believe or trust in Christ alone for His forgiveness, they remained in their sins, guilty before God. They were swollen with pride. They loved the darkness and hated the Light. Their treatment of the Son of God confirmed their spiritual blindness. When we think that nothing is wrong with us (I John 1:8), everything is wrong with us.  

Someone once said, “The same sun that melts butter, hardens clay.” Light gives sight to some and it blinds others. Jesus has the same effects. The physical and spiritual healing of the man born blind reveals the healing power of Jesus Christ toward those who respond in faith toward Him (John 3:36a). But it also reveals the condemning power of Jesus Christ toward those who refuse to believe in Him (John 3:36b).

There may be someone in your life who seems like clay but is turning into butter. Pray about a time to share the gospel with him or her. On the other hand, you may know of a person who seemed like butter, but is now turning into clay. Pray for the Lord to melt their resistance to Him. Ask God to show you how to best minister to him or her. 

I wonder how many of you are experiencing Christ’s healing grace so that He can live through you in such a way that you help others to see Him more clearly. The blind man experienced Jesus’ healing grace on a physical and spiritual level. As we experience God’s grace in our relationship with the Lord, it will carry over in our relationships with one another (cf. Ephes. 4:32). In an age when hatred is more common than love, we could all use greater doses of God’s love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my default setting is to think first of myself and then about others, including You. Thank You for exposing this selfishness in me that I still battle daily. I was once spiritually blind and proud of it. I thought I could get to heaven through my own good works and therefore I had no need for a Savior. But You still pursued me and gradually revealed to me the depth of my sin and arrogance which had deceived me into thinking this way. I am eternally grateful that Your light exposed my darkness and led me to believe in You alone as my only hope of heaven. As a believer in You for everlasting life, I can still be deceived into thinking I do not need You in my daily life to grow and become more like You. Please, my Lord and my God, help me to melt like butter rather than harden like clay when exposed to the Light of the Son. I pray that Your light will also have the freedom to shine through me to others so they may be drawn to You. In Your magnificent name I pray. Amen.

What is God’s response to the proud?

“Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” Proverbs 16:5

This verse really hit home with me today. God detests or loathes (“abomination”) those who are “proud in heart.” Pride is what led Lucifer or Satan, the most beautiful and intelligent of all God’s angels, to rebel against God and establish a rival kingdom (cf. Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:11-19). If that is not enough reason to avoid pride, then know that no proud person will “go unpunished” even “though they join forces.” This last phrase literally means “though they are hand to hand.”

An example of this unified effort of proud people is seen in the making of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. When the people of the world tried to preserve their unity and make a name for themselves by building a magnificent tower whose “top is in the heavens” lest they “be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1-4), the Lord came down and “scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” by confusing their “language” which held them together (Genesis 11:9). God had instructed the people to “fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), but they rebelled against God’s will and placed their security in a large city and tower. God confused their language to force them to do what they were unwilling to do – “fill the earth.”

This spirit of Babel can be seen in the early church in Jerusalem. When the early church in Jerusalem refused to obey Jesus’ command to spread the gospel beyond Jerusalem (Acts 1:8; 2:1-6:7), the Lord allowed persecution to scatter them “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 6:8-8:4).

The Lord Jesus has commanded all Christians to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone” (Mark 16:15) and to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19). When believers place their security in large gatherings of Christians instead of in the Lord Jesus Christ and refuse to go to the lost, He may bring difficulties into their lives to persuade them to obey His command to go to the lost people of a different culture or nation.

It is much better to obey the Lord than to act independently of Him. God is not against large churches. But He is against the proud who refuse to obey His commands. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). When pride fills our hearts, we are declaring war against God.But please understand this: No one has ever won a fight against God and no one ever will.

Just ask the kings of Egypt (Exodus 1-14) and Babylon (Daniel 4-5). They were proud men who thought they had built their kingdoms on earth and no one could destroy them. They viewed the God of the Bible as a powerless deity or as a figment of one’s imagination. Each of them learned the truth of Proverbs 16:5 the hard way. “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.”  

Those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ can also be filled with pride. When James wrote his letter to Jewish believers, he also warned them of the pitfalls of pride. James’ readers were engaged in fighting with one another because they proudly gave in to their selfish desires much like the world (James 4:1-3).  James warned them and said that their friendship with the world was “enmity with God. Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4). If we commit adultery with the world, God is not going to sit back and do nothing. His “Spirit Who dwells in us us yearns jealously” for God’s bride (James 4:5). He does not want to share His bride with anyone, especially this world.

So what does a jealous God do with His children when they proudly commit adultery with the world? He “resists the proud” (James 4:6a). God opposes His children who proudly attach themselves to this world. Why? Because such pride imitates the king of pride – the Devil who exalted himself above God (Isaiah 14:12-14). The only solution is for believers to “humble” themselves before the Lord to experience an outpouring of His “grace” (James 4:6b).

How do we humble ourselves? First, we must “submit to God” (James 4:7a). We do this by recognizing our own weaknesses and stop fighting with God. We then yield to God as our ultimate and final authority. Second, we “resist the devil” (James 4:7b) by speaking Scripture to him just as Jesus did in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10), and then the devil “will flee from you” (James 4:7c) as he fled from Jesus (Matthew 4:11). Third, we “draw near to God and He  will draw near to” us (James 4:8a). We do this through repentance – “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8b). We live in a world that calls wrong right and right wrong. Those are expressions of pride.

James says to “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). When we sin against God we are to agree with Him that it is sin. The world downplays sin and rejects personal responsibility. But Christians are to do the opposite. We must take sin seriously as God does and stop blaming others for our sinful choices. I like what one author writes, “God’s elevator to the top always starts with a trip down.” Humility leads to exaltation. Pride leads to humiliation.

If you are like me, however, the daily news reports make it seem like the proud and the wicked are growing in numbers and unity, with little or no punishment for their behaviors. It seems that right is wrong and wrong is right. Truth is no longer important. But listen: God is not done yet. He remains faithful to His Word.And He says that those who are proud in heart are an “abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).

This verse does not say when the punishment of the proud will take place. But the Bible tells us it could occur in this life (Nehemiah 9:9-11; Ezekiel 18:4-32; Acts 5:1-11; Romans 1:18-32; 13:1-7; James 1:14-15) or in the life to come (Malachi 4:1; Romans 2:1-11). One thing is for sure, the proud will not go unpunished. Those who proudly refuse to believe or trust in Christ alone for their salvation will experience eternal punishment in the lake of fire (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Revelation 20:15; 21:8). God will see to that. Our responsibility is to keep our eyes on “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25).