How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 1

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” John 21:15

On October 25, 1964, the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League were playing the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, CA. Carl Eller of the Vikings had just scooped up a 49er fumble and turned it into a touchdown.

Working hard to get back the touchdown, 49er quarterback, George Mira, threw a short pass into the secondary to halfback Bill Kilmer. Jim Marshall of the Vikings quickly diagnosed the play and headed for Kilmer. Marshall got there quickly when someone hit Kilmer and the 49er halfback fumbled. Reacting instinctively, Marshall hurdled a player in front of him and, on the run, picked up the loose ball. Without hesitation he began sprinting for the goal line – the Minnesota goal line sixty-six yards away.

Marshall had simply gotten mixed up. And the roar of the crowd drowned out his teammate’s shouts to turn around. Marshall ran into the end zone without opposition and then threw the football away in celebration. He began to realize something was wrong when San Francisco’s Bruce Bosely threw his arms around him, thanking him for the safety. The Viking quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, ran up and said, “Jim, you went the wrong way, the wrong way!” Marshall buried his head in his hands for a few agonizing moments and then jogged back to the bench.

Viking’s coach Norm Van Brocklin, a man with a notoriously short temper, realized that the situation was not one that called for angry words. He smacked Marshall on the backside and said, “Forget about it, Jim. Go back in there and make the fans forget.” For the rest of the game Marshall played excellent football. Minnesota went on to win 27-22. No doubt Marshall expected the coach to bench him for his blunder. But he didn’t. He gave him a second chance. He told him “To forget it. Go back in there and make the fans forget.”

Have you ever run the wrong way in your Christian life, not listening to God or to others who are trying to tell you to turn around? It happens to all of us. And we may then feel God wants to bench us and not let us back into the game. We feel like a failure and tell ourselves, “God cannot use failures.”

If you have ever felt that way, it would profit you to take a look at how the risen Lord Jesus responded to Peter in John 21:15-19 after Peter had failed the Lord in a big way. Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “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).

Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life over three years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11; cf. 6:69). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”

In John 21, seven of Jesus’ disciples were sitting around “a fire of coals” on a beach along the Sea of Galilee with Jesus after He rose from the dead (John 21:1-14). It was dawn; quiet and cool. Smoke drifted lazily from the fire as well as the aroma of freshly toasted bread and smoked fish. No doubt small talk and a few laughs occurred as they ate breakfast. Surely someone commented on how good it was to miraculously catch over one-hundred fifty large fish so quickly after Jesus instructed these fishermen to cast their net on the other side of their boat.

Suddenly the conversation stopped, and Jesus turned to Simon Peter. Their eyes met. “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ ” (John 21:15). When the disciples had finished eating breakfast with the risen Lord Jesus, Christ asked Peter three questions in front of his companions. These questions would probe the depths of Peter’s heart and would stand in contrast to Peter’s three denials.

You may recall the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, during our Lord’s trial, Peter had vehemently denied three times that he was associated with Jesus (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). Now the risen Lord Jesus was giving Peter a chance to redeem himself. Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times he would say he loved the Lord. Peter’s failure took place while standing around “a fire of coals” (John 18:18) in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:15-16), and now his restoration would take place while around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:9).

I believe Peter knew what was coming. He may have returned to fishing because of his three public denials of Jesus. He may have had doubts about his future considering his failure. He stood around this fire like a condemned man before his Judge. There was no need for a trial; the evidence was indisputable – it shouted of his conviction! Then Jesus did something amazing, so amazing that few people grasp the magnitude of the question, instead they read an accusation into Jesus’ words. 1

Jesus addresses Peter with an air of seriousness when He says, “Simon, son of Jonah.” In the Gospels, Jesus addressed Peter this way on only the most important occasions. These were: Peter’s call to follow Jesus (1:42), his confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 16:17), and as he slept in Gethsemane (Mark 14:37). When Jesus addressed Peter this way here, Peter probably realized that what Jesus was about to say to him was extremely important.” 2

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he is going to deny Him again.  Nor does Christ ask Peter if he was sorry for what he had done. He didn’t interrogate Peter to find out if he was going to try harder the next time he is in a similar situation. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him. 3

Much discussion has revolved around the use of the words for “love” used by Jesus (agapaō) andPeter (phileō). Before we look at that, I want to point out something that is often overlooked in this passage. Jesus made Himself vulnerable by asking Peter if he loved Him. Haven’t all of us, at some point in time, asked someone if he or she really loves us? If we are married, we certainly have. I know I have asked my wife many times if she loved me, especially after I had offended her or deeply hurt her. I felt so vulnerable during those times. We all do in a situation like that.

Jesus made Himself vulnerable in this conversation with Peter. Peter was probably expecting Jesus do reprimand him for his public denials knowing he deserved a painful rebuke. But he hears the risen Lord Jesus ask if he loved Him. When we ask a question like that, we all put our heart right out there on the line. Even God does this with Peter!

Jesus Christ was not only vulnerable when He came to earth and lay in a manger as a Baby, or when He was faced with the failures and humanness of His disciples, knowing one of them would eventually betray Him. Nor was the cross, where He made Himself extremely vulnerable to everyone’s sin and suffering, the only place of His vulnerability. Christ’s entire life on earth was one of unguarded servanthood to humanity. “Do you love Me?” is a constant expression of Jesus’ heart.

That simple question can transform a broken heart that is overtaken by failure. It certainly changed Peter’s relationship with his Savior. And it can change ours. When Jesus asked Peter this question, He was looking beyond Peter’s behavior to his heart. Christ is focusing on Peter’s heart, not his past failure. Why? Because a person cannot change their behavior until their heart has been changed.

All too often the Christian church is preoccupied with the behaviors of its members instead of their hearts. They can be quick to condemn believers who have failed. They may constantly remind fallen Christians of their sinful behavior, while failing to offer hope and healing to them by focusing on their hearts.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart with His questions. Peter had been preoccupied with himself earlier when he claimed to have more commitment than the other disciples (Matthew 26:31-33; John 13:37). He was focused on himself when he failed Jesus in the courtyard and began to curse and swear and weep bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75). But Jesus’ question was bringing Peter’s focus back to Him.

The truth is all of us can be like Peter. I know I can and have many times. We can get so full of ourselves, that we cannot see Jesus. We get so focused on whether we are okay and appreciated by others, that we lose sight of our love for Jesus.

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, I can just picture Peter looking at the ground, probably moving some dirt around with his water-logged sandals and then saying, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Peter seems to be saying, “Lord, when I get my head on straight and my heart isn’t so polluted, I really do love You. And I want to love You – at times more than anything else in my life. But, Lord, I really don’t know the truth about my heart most of the time. Yet You do, and that’s why Your name is Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.” 4

Jesus’ full question was, “Do you love Me more than these?” This was not a performance question. This was a heart question. Jesus uses the Greek word agapaō for unconditional love. This word is often used of God’s sacrificial love to do what is best for another (cf. John 3:16; I John 4:9-10).

Peter knew what Jesus meant by “these” (toutōn), but it is not as clear to us. Some suggest that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Christ more than the fishing vocation he has returned to. I don’t take it this way.

I believe Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you unconditionally love Me more than the other disciples love Me?” Why would Jesus ask this? Because when he had predicted that the disciples would fall away, Peter had vowed, ‘Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away’ (Matt 26:31-33). Peter had wanted Jesus to know that though the devotion of the other disciples might waver, he could count on Peter remaining steadfast. He would be the one disciple that Jesus could trust. But here, after Peter had shamefully denied Jesus three times, Jesus basically asked Peter, ‘Are you still the most committed disciple?’ ” 5  Jesus is asking Peter, “Can you still affirm that you love Me more than these other disciples do?”

So, Jesus is taking Peter back to the worst failure of his life, not to condemn him, but to give him hope and to develop a new depth of intimacy with Him. 6  

Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Notice that Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Peter uses the Greek word phileō for “love” here. This word means “to have a special interest in someone or something …  with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” 8 This is the kind of love that exists between good friends. 9

Some Bible students believe that the word Peter used for love (phileō) is inferior to the word Jesus used for love (agapaō). 10  So, when Peter responded to Jesus, they believe his failures had humbled him. Peter had claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the others. But after his failure and denial, he wasn’t willing to arrogantly say that he loved Jesus with a sacrificial love.” 11

Other Bible students believe the use of agapaō and phileō are used interchangeably in the gospel of John and do not see any actual difference in meaning. 12 “The word phileō does not represent an inferior type of love. John, for example, uses phileō, to refer to the Father’s love for Jesus (5:20). Surely the Father’s love for Jesus is not some lesser love! In addition, Jesus’ love for John and for Lazarus is expressed by phileō (11:3, 36; 20:2), as is the Father’s love for the disciples and the disciples’ love for Jesus (16:27). The change was merely for stylistic considerations—much like the change from ‘Feed My lambs’ to ‘Tend My sheep’ to ‘Feed My sheep.’” 13

In the context, I prefer the former view, that Peter uses a word for love (phileō) that is not as strong because he doesn’t feel worthy of unconditional love. Peter doesn’t have enough confidence to say he loves Jesus unconditionally more than his fellow disciples do because he had just failed the Lord miserably.

How does Jesus respond to His discouraged disciple? “He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” The word for “feed” (boskō) is used of herdsmen who feed or “tend to the needs of animals” 14 or their herds(Matthew 8:30; Mark 5:14; Luke 8:34; 15:15). The verb means “to take care of,” not merely “feed.” 15

The “lambs” (arnia) refer to Christ’s followers, especially the young ones in the faith who may be prone to wander. 16  When Jesus said this, what kind of look do you think was on His face? Was he frowning or doubting? I am convinced that Jesus was smiling from ear to ear.

Jesus wasn’t done with Peter yet. Earlier he told Peter he would fish for men (Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10), which was more of an evangelistic ministry. But now Christ is telling him to “Feed My lambs” which is more of a pastoral ministry. “Previously Jesus had referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd (10:14). Now He was committing the care of His flock to this disciple who had failed Him miserably in the past.” 17  

How does Jesus restore us after we fail? The first way is HE INVITES US TO MAKE LOVING HIM OUR FIRST PRIORITY (John 21:15). What motivates our lives or ministries? What motivates us to serve others? Is it the promise of a payment or reward? I’m not just talking about money, but also appreciation or approval from others. Is it the prestige of being in leadership? Is it the sense of power or control over others that motivates us?

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Peter’s answer is, “Lord, You know that I love you.”  Not “more than,” just “You know that I love You.” And Jesus says, “Feed My lambs.”

So, Jesus says if you really want to feed people, the first question is do you love Him? If God is going to use us to make a difference in the lives of other people after we fail Him miserably, we must make loving Jesus our number one priority.

Jesus is giving Peter (and us) an entirely new set of priorities for living. He uses our failures to establish new priorities in our Christian lives. It was one thing for Peter to be excited about an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. It was quite another thing to let the truth of the resurrection change the way he lived his life. It is one thing for us to come to church on a Sunday and be excited and give a standing ovation to a great song or an “Amen” to a great sermon. We may feel close to the Lord during those times. But it is quite another thing for us to let that truth change the way I treat my wife or my kids at home or the way I act at work the next day. If we are honest with ourselves, it is very difficult to make the leap between Sunday’s experience and Monday’s reality.

Jesus is helping us learn how to do this. First, He is telling us, “Make loving Me the top priority in your life. If you want to love other people, first love Me. Take time to connect with Me. That’s where the strength comes from to love others.” Take time every day to get to know Jesus. Get alone and talk to Him in prayer and listen to Him speak to you as you read and obey the Bible. We cannot get to know and love Jesus if we don’t spend time with Him.

And if we are not taking the time to know and love Jesus, we are not going to last in ministering to others. We will get burned out and dry up spiritually. Other people cannot love us the way Jesus can. Other people cannot strengthen us the way Jesus can. Make loving Christ your number one priority in life, and He will use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of other people.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that we are a lot like Peter. We can start out relying on ourselves to remain committed to You even unto death. We get so focused on ourselves that we do not even see You. But we soon find out, like Peter did, that that is a recipe for failure. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us the grace we need so that our failures are not final. Thank You for focusing more on our hearts than on our behaviors. By Your grace, we want to make loving You our top priority in life. Lord Jesus, there is no one who loves us more than You do. There is no one who forgives us more than You do. Please use us to make a difference in someone’s life today. Would You use us to do that, Lord Jesus? Would You love that person through us, our Lord and our God? Thank You for hearing our prayer. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999), pg. 246.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 394.

3. Adapted from Ted Robert’s discussion in his book, Pure Desire, pp. 246-247.

4. Ibid., pp. 248-249.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

6. Roberts, pg. 249.

7. Constable, pg. 395.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 1056.  

9. Evans, pg. 1832.

10. Constable, pg. 395 cites K. L. McKay, “Style and Significance in the Language of John 21:15-17,” Novum Testamentum 27 (1985):319-33; Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 4: “Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament” (by the author, 1940; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 60-63; and Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, The New Versus the Old (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2002), pg. 227; See also J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 379 who cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953-54), 2:494-500; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1942), pp. 1418-20; A. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. John (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1899), pg. 372; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), pg. 303.

11. Evans, pg. 1832.

12. Laney, pg. 380 cites C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (London: SPCK, 1962), pg. 486; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 404-405; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 873; Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 293-318.

13. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 569; and see Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 395 where he writes, “For example, John used both agapao and phileo to describe the Father’s love for the Son (3:35; 10:17; 5:20), Jesus’ love for Lazarus (11:5, 3, 36), and Jesus’ love for the beloved disciple (13:23; 20:2). Also, he used three different Greek words to describe ‘fish’ in this passage: prosphagion, ichthus, and opsarion.”

14. Bauer, pg. 181.

15. Laney, pg. 380.

16. Ibid.

17. Constable, pg. 396.

Connecting in a Disconnected World of Covid (Video)

Although this video was prepared for a church anniversary in the Philippines, its biblical principles can apply to any culture. We will not only look at the challenges of connecting with other people during this age of COVID-19, we will also turn to the Bible to discover how we can connect with one another in more effective ways. If you are feeling all alone and without hope, this video is for you.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 3

“And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2b

The third way to becoming more fruitful for the Lord is to RECOGNIZE THE PRUNING PROCESS (John 15:2b-3). Jesus said to eleven believing disciples, And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2b). Pruning grape vines is necessary during the growing season. So picture this: You are in fellowship and producing fruit, but God wants to produce more fruit in your life so He prunes you. The word “prunes”(kathairō), means “to make clean, purge.” 1  The natural tendency of a grapevine is to grow so vigorously that the leaves and branches block out the sun where the fruit should form. The vinedresser must cut away the excess growth so that more grapes will be produced.

In a similar way, God will cut away excessive commitments or lesser priorities in our lives (which are not necessarily wrong) in order for us to produce even more fruit for His glory. This involves the removal of self from our lives. God prunes us to encourage us to let go of that which might prevent us from accomplishing even more for His glory. God may use pain in our lives to remove excessive commitments.

Ask yourself, “Where do I hurt?” God may be pruning you in that area. He may be calling you to go where the lost people are but your excessive commitments are preventing you from going. He may want you to create more space in your life to meet alone with Him, but your priorities have become imbalanced making it difficult for you to do this. Even though we are in fellowship with the Lord, we are not perfect by any means. So the Lord must prune us.

One of the ways God may prune us is seen in the next verse. Jesus says to them, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). The word “clean” (katharoi) is the adjective form of the verb “prunes” (kathairō) in verse 2. God prunes us through His Word (cf. Ephesians 5:26).

Constable notes, “‘Cleansing’ the branches involved washing off deposits of insects, moss, and other parasites that tend to infest the plant. Jesus gave this teaching in the spring when farmers did what He described in this verse.” 2

Jesus assumed His disciples had already been pruned (“You are already clean”) by His recent words at the Lord’s Supper (John 13:1-14:31). They had already been cleansed positionally by believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:35-51; 2:11; 3:16; 11:25-26; 13:10a), except Judas who refused to believe in Christ (John 13:10b-11; cf. 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). At that moment of faith in Christ alone for salvation, these eleven disciples were cleansed of all their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. John 2:11; Acts 15:7-9; Revelation 1:5b). But these believing disciples (and us) needed daily cleansing through the pruning of God’s Word in their lives. Jesus’ teaching was and is a cleansing agent that would make it possible for them (and us) to bear more fruit for Him and the Father’s glory.

While we are in fellowship with Jesus, God’s Word exposes our sin, our misplaced priorities and commitments, to promote growth in our Christian lives so we can become more fruitful for the Lord. Take time today to ask the Lord where He wants to do His pruning in your life. You will be glad you did.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving me enough to prune or cleanse me of things in my life that hinder me from bearing more fruit for Your glory. Now I understand why I have been hurting so much in certain areas of my life. You have been trying to remove the excessive commitments and misplaced priorities in my life so I can spend more time with You, doing the things You created me to do – loving You and listening to You speak truth into my heart and mind. Forgive me, O Lord, for thinking far more of myself than You. Thank You for the pain You have allowed in my life to nudge me closer to You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 386-387.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 282.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),pp. 380-381.

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

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

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

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 3

“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” John 7:18

So far in our discussion about how to stay focused on what is important to God, we have learned to avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16) and to ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17). Today we learn to ASSESS THOSE WHO TEACH US (John 7:18-23). We all have teachers. We should have those who disciple us. However, we must be careful to whom we entrust ourselves. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets or teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly, they may appear to be Christians. They may be very gentle, kind, loving and quite popular, but if they are teaching a message that is contrary to Jesus’ message, they are false teachers and they are to be avoided.

Jesus gives us a clear warning – “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory.” (John 7:18a). Jesus gives us several things to look for in a teacher:

1.  Who is the teacher seeking to glorify? Himself or God the Father? Jesus sought to glorify the One who sent Him by teaching the doctrine His Father gave Him (John 7:16; cf. 5:19-20; 12:49-50). Jesus did not seek His own glory. What Jesus taught was always true. What Jesus taught was always consistent with what His Father taught. When a person advances the ideas of another person, it glorifies his teacher rather than himself. However, when he advances his own ideas instead of his teacher’s, it dishonors his teacher and glorifies himself. When we distort or mishandle God’s Word, we are seeking our own glory instead of God’s.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say my earthly father told me to invite people to meet him for a free meal at Mullets Restaurant in Des Moines at 8 am this Saturday by using the Dart Bus local route 6, but I told everyone I knew to meet him there at 8 am this Saturday by taking the Dart Bus route 52 because it is a more popular route (which does not go to that destination). Imagine the consequences!

First, no one would make it to the right destination because I had not communicated my father’s directions correctly. Second, all of them would miss out on a free meal. Third, they would think less of my father for sending them on a bus that took them to a destination where he was not present, thus wasting their time. By failing to communicate my father’s message accurately, I would damage his reputation and cause many people to miss out on his blessings. In addition, it would draw much attention (albeit negative) to myself from both my father and those I invited. On the other hand, if I had communicated his message accurately, many would enjoy a free meal and look up to my father for being so generous and gracious.

This is much more than semantics or splitting hairs. God has chosen specific words to communicate how to spend eternity with Him in Heaven (cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; et al.). His word is truth (John 17:17), not our opinions. When we distort or mishandle His saving message by inserting unclear clichés such as “give your life to Christ,” “invite Jesus into your heart,” “surrender to Christ” instead of the words Jesus taught about how to obtain eternal life (believe or faith), we do not please the Lord even if that is our sincere desire. In addition, we are also making it easier for people to arrive at the wrong eternal destination. However, when we tell people the same condition for obtaining eternal life that Jesus taught (believe in Him – John 3:15-18; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:38-39; 11:25-26; et al.), we are glorifying Jesus Christ and the Father who taught Him, and we are giving lost people the Good News they desperately need to hear.

2. Are they telling the truth about Christ and our need for Him? Jesus claimed something about Himself that could not be said about any other person – “But He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” (John 7:18b). Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He is fully God and fully human. He never said, did, or thought anything wrong. Even His motives were sinless. He always sought to glorify His Father. Jesus’ listeners were the opposite of Him. They were sinners. “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19). This is true of all of us. None of us can keep all of God’s laws. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10). No matter how well you keep the rest of God’s laws, if you fail at one point, you are considered a lawbreaker and deserving of eternal punishment. And the Bible tells us that all of us fall short of His glory or perfection (Rom. 3:23).  

So maybe you have never murdered anyone or committed adultery, but have you ever misused God’s name or have you ever failed to love Him more than anyone or anything else? Our innocence in one area does not excuse us in other areas. All of us are sinners and sinners need a Savior. Instead of looking to Jesus to save them, Jesus’ listeners were seeking to kill Him. If a teacher depreciates the Person and work of Christ (denies He is fully God who took the punishment for all our sin and rose from the dead) and denies their own sinfulness, and therefore denies the need to trust in Christ alone for salvation, they are not from God and should be avoided.

First Timothy 6:3-5 tells us: 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” In other words, there is a fungus among us and they need to be avoided. If a church or denomination ever goes down this slippery slope of depreciating the Person and work of Christ by denying His deity or distorting His gospel, it will be decision time. Will we follow Jesus and His teachings or will we follow people’s opinions and traditions?

We are living in an age similar to what Paul describes: “For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3 Living Bible). We need to ask ourselves when we listen to teachers at church, on TV, the radio, the internet or even in a book, “Are these teachers telling us the truth, (which is sometimes painful) or are they telling us what they think we want to hear? Are they teaching salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone or are they teaching a faith plus gospel?” If a teacher is focused on glorifying God, if they seek to get across what God has said so that people might be delivered from sin’s penalty and obtain the free gift of eternal life simply by believing in Jesus alone who is the true God and eternal life, then you can trust that kind of teacher.

3. Are they living by a double standard? Instead of admitting their desire to murder Jesus, the crowd lies: “The people answered and said, ‘You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?’ ” (John 7:20). Because Christ’s grace conflicts with their legalistic understanding, they accuse Jesus of having a demon. 21 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I did one work, and you all marvel. 22 Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?’ ” (John 7:21-23). The religious leaders accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath by healing a man who had been lame for 38 years (see John 5). However, these same people did not feel it was a violation of the Sabbath to circumcise a child on the Sabbath. According to their logic, it was right to make one part of the body right before God, but not the entire body. Their logic was falling apart. Jesus did more for that lame man than the religious leaders did for the boy who was circumcised. They thought their act was consistent with what God desired but they couldn’t see that with Jesus. That’s a double standard.

When I was having a discussion with another pastor a few years ago, he said to me that if I was humble, I would agree with his understanding of a particular passage of Scripture. And I did agree with him about that passage. And then I asked him if he was open to understanding another passage in a way that may be new to him, and he said, “No.” This same person, who was ready to accuse me of being proud for not agreeing with his understanding of Scripture, turned around and was very close-minded to a different interpretation of Scripture. That kind of double standard inhibits growth. If we are not teachable and open to learning new insights from God’s Word, we are going to remain spiritually stunted like the legalistic Jews that Jesus was encountering.

If we are going to stay focused on what is important to God, we must avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16), ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17), and assess those who teach us (John 7:18-23). If the person who instructs us does not magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ for the glory of God, then we are to avoid his or her teaching so we may remain focused on what is important to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in terms of whom I place myself under to receive instruction. Also, please enable me to resemble You in my teaching of others. May all of us who teach be consistent in teaching what You taught so You are most glorified and people will be most satisfied in You. Help us to magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man Who paid our sin debt in full so all anyone must do to have everlasting life is believe in Him alone. If other Christians depart from sound doctrine to follow those who teach what they want to hear, help us to remain faithful to Your words which give eternal life. Forgive us for closing our hearts off to Your instruction. Please give us an open heart that longs to gain new insights from Your Word so we may continue to focus on what matters most to You – Your glory and Your gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

Living life with the right priorities

“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.’” John 4:34

During COVID-19 restrictions, I have noticed my waist line growing in size. If you are like me, you may be in the process of finding a diet plan to take off that COVID-19 fat to look good in your warm weather clothing. And there are as many diet plans out there as there are people. But that is not the case in our spiritual lives. God has one diet plan that will answer the needs of every person. His plan will reduce unwanted spiritual fat and fatigue. It will give you benefits which last far beyond this life. What is God’s diet plan?

LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH THE RIGHT PRIORITIES (John 4:31-34). While the Samaritan woman went back to her village to tell people about Jesus, Christ’s disciples focus on Jesus’ physical needs. “In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ Therefore the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?’”(John 4:31-33). The disciples were encouraging Jesus to eat and He told them that He had food to eat. The disciples are asking themselves, “How can this be? He didn’t carry any food with Him. Did that woman give Him something to eat?” Before they left to get food, Jesus was tired and hungry (John 4:6), but now food and rest was not important to Him. Whatever food Christ spoke of, they weren’t familiar with it.

Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in what you were doing that you forgot to eat? Christ was so consumed with love for lost souls He had no interest in food or rest.

As followers of Christ, we must be careful that we do not get so focused on the physical realm that we forget about the spiritual needs of others. Christ shares the key to God’s diet plan. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.’” (John 4:34). His focus is on doing what God wants Him to do. It was God’s will for Christ to give eternal life to the Samaritan woman and through her to the people of Sychar. Consequently, He felt no hunger while doing the will and work of God. God was seeking true worshipers (John 4:23-24) and that is why He gave the woman eternal life so she could worship the Father. Now it was time for the disciples to find worshipers for God. To eat and enjoy that task as one who eats and enjoys food was what Jesus was teaching them now. The Samaritan woman seemed to know this intuitively as she quickly went back to the village to tell others about Christ

Jesus says the priority now is to DO God’s will and FINISH His work. He is not talking about just knowing His will, but doing it. There may be 101 things you can do this week, but how can you get it all done? There is housework, homework, schoolwork, office work and church work. In a world full of things that need to be done, where do we go to get some sense of what to do first? How do we determine our priorities? Most of us just jump right in and overload ourselves. As a result, we begin to get very nervous. We say to ourselves, “Well, I will just have to try harder.”

Learn from Jesus how to determine your priorities:

1. Pray and seek wise counsel from the Lord. We can have problems determining our priorities if we are not taking time to hear God’s voice. Look at the order of determining priorities in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

a. I must be still enough to hear God’s voice.

b. I will be able to know God and what He wants me to do.

c. God will be exalted as His priorities are carried out.

2. Plan and prioritize. We need to plan. Jesus did not choose to go with His disciples. He found a quiet place and had a one-on-one conversation with the Samaritan woman. He started talking about water, because that’s what the woman came to the well for. Then He gave her water that would satisfy her forever. Prioritize and you will be able to DO and FINISH the works God has entrusted you. 

Prayer: Father God, this is such a convicting message for me. It has been a struggle maintaining the right priorities in my life lately. I can easily become preoccupied with my own physical needs and the physical needs of those close to me during this COVID-19 crisis, so that I forget about the spiritual needs of others. Thank You for the example of Jesus with the Samaritan woman. Even though He was tired from His journey, He focused on her need for everlasting life. His food was to do Your will and finish Your work. Father, I want the same food that Jesus consumed. Please show me Your will for me at this time so I may finish the work You have set before me. I believe it involves sharing Your message of everlasting life with those You have prepared to hear and believe it so they may worship You in spirit and in truth. By Your grace, help me to finish well what You have set before me so that all the glory is given to You. Thank You for hearing my prayer, Father God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.