How much you matter to God – Part 3

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab

During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.

Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.

All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.

But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”

From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” Pure or just one!?!  Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him. 

Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.” Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down. 

Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.”  God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.

It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things. 

Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”

We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.

When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).

The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).

Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.

When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).

Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.

We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2;  2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).  

Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 9

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ I Kings 19:15a, 18

Remember how Elijah felt in verse 14? “Lord, Your people don’t care about You and I’m the only one left who does. I’m the only one left standing for what is right! I’m the only one left trying to serve You and that’s very discouraging.” Do you ever feel like that? Alone, afraid, and angry?

Then God has to tell us what He told Elijah –15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ (I Kings 19:15a, 18). Circle the word “Go.” God is saying, “Get moving. Don’t sit in the cave of life feeling sorry for yourself. There is more to be done and I am doing things you don’t even know about that will encourage you and help you.”

This leads to our final step out of the pit of discouragement: GET MOVING, KNOWING WE DON’T HAVE THE WHOLE PICTURE (I Kings 19:15a, 18). We don’t have to have the whole picture to move out for God. God has a journey for us to take…a course for us to follow. He is inviting us to step out in faith, believing He is already at work behind the scenes to prepare the way for us.

Jesus Christ wants to lift us out of our pit of discouragement. He can help us; He can change us; He can heal us of discouragement. We don’t have to go through life being controlled by our emotions. Our emotions are controlled by our thoughts, and even though we cannot directly control our feelings, we can control what we think about with God’s help. We can choose to change our thoughts.

This is what Jesus is saying in John 8:31-32: “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. The Lord Jesus wants to change our false beliefs that can keep us enslaved to harmful habits, hurts, and hang-ups, including discouragement.

I’d like to share some lies that have contributed to discouragement in my life along with the truth that is setting me free from them:

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

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

Lie: If somebody criticizes me, it means I’m worthless.

Truth: If somebody criticizes me, it is an opportunity for me to grow.

Scripture: “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

Lie: I  must be loved and accepted by everybody to be fulfilled in life.

Truth: It does not matter what other people say or think about me, what matters is that God always loves and accepts me.

Scripture:  “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’ ” Jeremiah 31:3

Lie: I cannot admit any area of weakness; I have to be perfect or else I’m a failure.

Truth: It is good enough to do my best for Jesus, and not be perfect.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Colossians 3:23

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Lie: I do not have what it takes.

Truth: Through Christ who strengthens me I do have what it takes.

Scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

These are the kinds of lies that cause discouragement. Jesus knew the importance of correct thinking when He said, “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). The more we “abide” or remain in Christ’s word, the more we will know the truth which can deliver us from the lies that can enslave us to discouragement.

You can change. How do you start? By beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t automatically cure all of your discouragement, but without Christ in your life you have no lasting power to change. He wants to be a part of your life, and if you will receive Him by faith, He will come into your life to help you start climbing out of the pit of discouragement.

To help us understand our need for Christ, we need to understand that the Bible makes it clear that all of us have sinned against God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our sin separates us from God Who alone is perfect and righteous. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). By sinning with our thoughts, words, and actions, we have earned death. The word “death” in the Bible means separation. This means we all deserve to die and be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). I think you will agree that is bad news.

“But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). Notice that eternal life is not through our religion, our good life, or prayers. Eternal life is “through Jesus our Lord.” God sent His Son Jesus to take our punishment on the cross and rise again so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Jesus alone (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be convinced that something is true and then trust or depend upon.

Jesus is inviting you to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life, not your good life or religion or prayers. If you are ready to believe or trust in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only trusting in Christ gets us to heaven. Praying this prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven now.

Prayer:  Dear God, I come to you as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to forgive all my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the forgiveness and everlasting life that I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through the Holy Spirit. And thank You for the assurance I now have a future home in heaven with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you trusted in Christ for everlasting life, the Bible says Jesus gave you everlasting life (John 3:16; 10:28). How long does eternal life last? 5 minutes? 5 years? 5 million years? Or forever? Eternal life is forever! It never ends. And it begins the moment you believe in Jesus. Christ now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11; Galatians 2:20). Jesus in you can enable you to say “No” to Satan’s lies and “Yes” to God’s truth as you learn to trust and obey His Word. He can empower you to climb out of the pit of discouragement and help others to do the same.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, I recommend downloading our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. This will help you grow in your relationship with Jesus and with those you love.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 8

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.’” I Kings 19:15-16

Twice God asked Elijah what he was doing in the cave (I Kings 19:9, 13). This stresses Elijah’s need to talk and change his perspective. But look at Elijah’s response the second time God asks this question. “And he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.’ ” (I Kings 19:14). Notice that Elijah’s response is no different than his first response.He still feels angry, alone, and afraid.

How does God respond to this? 15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.” (I Kings 19:15-17). God doesn’t seem to address Elijah’s answer. Why? Doesn’t He care? Yes, He cares so much that He wants Elijah to go beyond sharing his feelings to sharing his life with others. God gives Elijah a new job to do which gives him a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

From this interaction we learn the next step to take to climb out of the pit of discouragement: LET GOD GIVE US A NEW DIRECTION (I Kings 19:14-17). God put Elijah back to work. He did not give Elijah a big dramatic assignment like on Mt. Carmel. He gave him a smaller assignment designed to renew his sense of hope that God can still use him. He was to anoint two kings who would wipe out his antagonists and Elisha who would take over his role as prophet. 

Through these three men God would complete the purge of Baal worship that Elijah had begun. Actually Elijah did only the last of these three directly, but he did the other two indirectly through Elisha, his protégé. Elisha was involved, though strangely, in Hazael’s becoming Aram’s king (2 Kings 8:7-14) and one of Elisha’s associates anointed Jehu (2 Kings 9:1-3).” 1

When we are discouraged, we need to know that God is not done with us. Also, the quickest way to defeat discouragement is to quit sitting around in self-pity and start helping others. This gets our eyes off ourselves and onto to those who need our help. If we are constantly looking at ourselves and our problems, we are going to get discouraged. But if we are going to climb out of the pit of discouragement, we must get involved in helping other people.

God encourages us when we are discouraged so we may encourage others when they find themselves in the pit of discouragement. The Bible says, 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Who better to minister to someone who is depressed than someone who has battled depression? God does not waste our experiences. He will use them to equip us to minister to others.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for caring about us enough to help us go beyond sharing our feelings to sharing our lives with others. You are an amazing God who uses our struggles to equip us to minister to others with similar struggles. Thank You for not giving up on Elijah when He was at the bottom of the pit of discouragement. And thank You for not giving up on us. Help us to move beyond self-pity to sacrificial service for others. Please lead us to those who need encouragement. And when You do, show us the best way to bless them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary History, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Location 6246.  

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 5

“So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” I Kings 19:8

We are learning from the prophet Elijah, how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. For this to happen, we must …

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Not compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

– Take care of our physical needs (I Kings 19:5-7a).

– Accept God is not done with us yet (I Kings 19:7b). 

After the angel of the Lord awakened Elijah again and informed him that God had a “journey” for him to take,he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” (I Kings 19:8). Just as Elijah needed food and rest, he also needed time in God’s presence.

Moses and the Israelites had traveled in that wilderness for 40 years, sustained by the manna God had provided for them and learned lessons of His faithful care and provision. Now Elijah would traverse the same desert for 40 days and … nights, sustained by the bread God provided and would learn the same lessons. A direct trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb (the ancient name for Mount Sinai; cf. Ex. 3:1; 17:6; 33:6; Deut. 5:2; 1 Kings 8:9; Ps. 106:19; Mal. 4:4) would have taken Elijah only about 14 days on foot (a distance of ca. 200 miles). God was reminding him and teaching him during those 40 days and nights. Finally He went to the mountain of God, the very place where God had revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites and where He had entered into a covenant with His Chosen People.” 1

Remember Elijah’s attitude in verse 4? He was ready to die, but now we see him doing what God wants him to do. He moves toward God. This is the fifth step to take to climb out of the pit of discouragement – PURSUE THE LORD (I Kings 19:8). Pursuing the Lord is one of the hardest things to do when we are overwhelmed with discouragement, but it is an important part of climbing out of this pit.

The Bible tells us, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). We must take the first step. God will not force His way into our lives without an invitation. We must open our hearts to Him. People are opening their hearts to all kinds of false hopes instead of to the Lord, our true source of hope.

We can draw near to God through prayer, praise, and obedience. The key is to be open and honest with the Lord. The apostle John writes, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7). Notice that this verse says, “If we walk in the light.” Only God is light (I John 1:5); but we are called to walk “in” the light. We must be willing to let God expose the sin in our lives. And when He does, we are to agree with Him by confessing our sin to Him (I John 1:9). Believers who “walk in the light” are not sinless, but the light reveals their sin to them so they can confess it to the Lord. When that happens “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

When holy people see themselves in God’s light, they see their dirt. And when they see the dirt, they want God to deal with it—something he is delighted to do. Only as we live fully exposed to the truth of God is the ongoing cleansing work of the blood of Christ activated to reveal, cleanse, and empower us to address the sin that has been exposed. Then fellowship with God is maintained and expanded.” 2

God has pursued us all our lives, but He also wants us to pursue Him. Let’s take some time to do that, especially when we are discouraged. It may not feel comfortable at first, but the Lord will not disappoint if we will take that first step toward Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when I think about Elijah’s decision to move toward You by taking his journey to Mt. Horeb, I wonder what lessons You taught him as he traveled 40 days and nights? Did Elijah take time to observe the birds of the air in the wilderness? Was he reminded by those birds that You care far more for him than the birds You daily feed (Matthew 6:26)? Was he refreshed by the cool breeze under the shade of the trees? Did he feel the warmth of Your presence along the way? You gave Your prophet the strength he needed to make this trip. Giving Elijah this journey must have renewed his sense of purpose and usefulness. Perhaps his sense of anticipation of good from You increased with each step he took along the way toward Mt. Horeb. Lord God, please help each of us to take that first step toward You; to open our hearts and minds to You knowing that You are the God of second chance Who delights in spending time with His children no matter how discouraged they have been. Our discouragement is no surprise to You. You love us regardless of our emotional condition. And like You did with Elijah, You also give us the strength to pursue You when we choose to do so. Thank You, Father, for being so good and gracious to us. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary History, Editors John F. Walvoordand Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Locations 6218-6223.  

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2334.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 4

“And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ ” I Kings 19:7

Like Elijah, we can climb out of the pit of discouragement when we…

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Don’t compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

– Take care of our physical needs (I Kings 19:5-7a).

After feeding Elijah and letting him sleep some more, “the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ ” (I Kings 19:7). What did the angel know that Elijah didn’t? He knew of a “journey” that God wanted Elijah to take. Elijah wanted his life over right now! But God had further plans for him. God was not done with Elijah no matter what Elijah felt. Elijah had felt useless to God, but the angel let him know that he was not useless; God had a special trip for him to take.

The fourth way to climb out of the pit of discouragement is to ACCEPT GOD IS NOT DONE WITH US YET (I Kings 19:7b). Do we feel like quitting or giving up? Do we tend to think, “How could God ever use me? I’m such a failure. I keep making mistakes. I disappoint myself, so surely I must disappoint God.”

But we can never disappoint God because disappointment can only happen when somebody expects us to do something different from what we normally do. The fact is God knows everything about us. Perhaps we have blown it big – a total failure. Here is a verse for us: “God gives a… fresh start to those ready to quit.” (Psalm 145:14 MSG). God knows we are human because He made us and He knows what makes us tick. He can give us a fresh start on the journey He has for us. He is not done with us. Let’s look to God to help us start over.

Prayer: Father God, some of us may feel useless to You because we are discouraged. We feel like giving up. Because we feel like failures we assume we are failures. Thank You for reminding us that failure is not final. Discouragement is not final. You have a journey for us to take that will renew our sense of direction and purpose. Thank You Lord for giving us a fresh start when we were ready to quit. Thank You for being the God of second chance. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 2

“And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” I Kings 19:4b

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. After experiencing a tremendous spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40), Elijah encountered resistance from the vicious Queen Jezebel whose god Baal was defeated and her prophets killed (I Kings 19:1-2). When Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die (I Kings 19:3-4). He has gone from the mountaintop of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement.

Last time we saw the first step to take out of the pit of discouragement was to focus on the facts, not your feelings (I Kings 19:1-4). To climb higher out of the pit of discouragement, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS (I Kings 19:4b). “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:4b). When Elijah said, “I am no better than my fathers,” he was comparing himself to his ancestors who failed to remove Baal-worship completely from Israel. He was feeling guilty for not being any better than they had been.

When we start comparing ourselves with others, we are going to get discouraged. We may try to motivate ourselves through criticism and condemnation. We do it by “shoulding” ourselves. “I should be more like that person. I should be able to act better and feel better like him or her.” Nagging ourselves like this leads to discouragement.

There is only one person that you can be, and that is you. That is all God expects. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like him or her?” Most likely He will ask, “Why weren’t you like the person I created you to be?”

The Bible tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Before we become Christians, we are defined by our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is what defined us and drove our lives. But now we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). We used to be “dead” spiritually (Ephesians 2:1), but now we are God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).  

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes poiēma is the term “masterpiece.” Like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has His personality and stamp put on it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are God’s Masterpiece – something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as royalty… as His masterpiece. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake… that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece – a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. 

The last part of Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are … created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us why God created us. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” That is God’s plan for us. Before we were even born, God planned the “good works,” the specific ministry, He wants us to have. We don’t have to make things happen. We can rely on the Lord to show us the good works He wants us to do.

How do we know God’s plan for us after we believe in Jesus? We look at the way God has shaped us. I have borrowed the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. from Rick Warren’s ministry. God has uniquely shaped us for a reason. Let’s look at five things that shape us to serve the Lord:

S – Spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10). Ask yourself, “What am I gifted to do for the Lord?” God has given believers in Jesus one or more spiritual gifts with which to serve Him in ministry (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to start serving the Lord Jesus in a local church. He will manifest your gifts as you begin to serve.

H – your Heart (I Samuel 12:20b; Romans 15:20; Galatians 4:18; Colossians 3:23-24). Ask yourself, “What do I love to do for the Lord?” There are some things we love to do and there are some things we hate to do. The things we love to do reflect our hearts. Where did we get that natural inclination? God put it in us. The Lord wants our ministries to be a blessing, not a burden. So it is a legitimate question to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” Why would God give you a ministry that He hasn’t given you a heart for? When you look at your gifts and your heart, what do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you?  What gets you excited?  That is your heart. Some people love to serve or help others. Others love to influence, improve, perform, repair, prevail, follow the rules, or lead and be in charge.

A – your Ability (Exodus 31:3; I Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Ask yourself, “What natural talent and skills do I have?  What vocational skills have I learned?  What natural talents have I been given by God?“ God wants to use the natural talents and skills you have in ministry. Some of you may have skills in arts and crafts, childbirth, computers, cooking, communication, construction, counseling, decorating, graphics, law, management, mechanics, media, music, safety, security, sewing, singing, song-writing, speaking, and teaching, etc. Be open to God using these natural talents or skills in your ministry.

P – your Personality (I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 1:13-14). We are all very different.  We have all got different personalities, different blends of temperament.  Ask yourself, Where does my personality best suit me to serve?” If you are an introverted person you would probably not want to get involved in being a greeter at church. That would place a lot of additional stress on your life. When you have an area that you may be gifted to do and a heart to do, but you don’t have the personality to do it, it puts enormous stress on your life. God doesn’t want you to have to do that. 

E – your Experiences. There are four different kinds of experiences you want to look at when you are trying to discover the shape God has given you. First, ask yourself, “What kind of spiritual experiences have I had?” (Galatians 1:12, 15-18; Hebrews 5:12-13). This has to do with the times you have had with the Lord. Maybe you encountered God at a retreat or campground or at home, or as a young person, or during a crisis you went through, and that brought you closer to the Lord. 

Next ask yourself, “What kind of painful experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 1:4; 11:23-27; 12:7-10). God often allows us to go through a painful experience and then heals us and comforts us in that experience so that He will give us the ministry of helping other people in that very same thing. Who can relate to somebody who is struggling with alcoholism better than somebody who has been an alcoholic?  Who can better relate to somebody who has lost a child in miscarriage or stillbirth than somebody who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. God never wastes a painful experience. Even the painful experiences we bring on ourselves through our own decisions, God wants to use in ministry.

Next ask yourself, “What kind of educational experiences have I had?” (Acts 22:3). What have you learned? Maybe you have educational training in computers or dance or debate or auto mechanics or teaching children. God wants to use these experiences in your ministry to others.

Then ask yourself, “What kind of ministry experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Some of us have already served the Lord in ministry and we have proven ourselves in the body of Christ and can see what God has done in our lives. Others of us may be new to the Christian faith and have not yet served God in a ministry.  

All five of these things shape you and make you, you. When you understand how God has shaped you, then you will know His plan for your life, and how and where He wants you to serve Him.

When we trusted in Christ for salvation, we probably did not realize how much everything changed. We thought we were just forgiven and going to heaven. But God has so much more for us here and now. And He wants us to be encouraged and see ourselves as the new person we are through His eyes. Because when we do, being a Christian is not a matter of living by rules and trying to clean up this and that. It is a matter of living as the royalty that God has made us by the blood of His Son. When we understand this, there will be no need to compare ourselves to others. We will be free to be the unique person God created us in Christ to be.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we take our eyes off of You, it is easy to compare ourselves with others and become discouraged. Right now, Lord God, we want to pause and reconnect with You. Please restore our union with You. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. Before Jesus, we used to be defined by our sin and shame, but now we are defined by being in Christ. And You see in us all the holiness … beauty… and goodness that You see in Jesus Christ. Everything You see in Jesus You now see in us. Thank You for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in. Please help each one of us to identify the shape You have given us so we may bring You the most glory by following Your plan for each of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 1

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” John 21:3

We are now in the last chapter of the gospel of John. In the first half of this chapter we are going to learn how to relate to the risen Lord Jesus in our daily lives. The disciples are in a much different place than the upper room when they were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19-29). This chapter begins with the disciples back in Galilee. Jesus had commanded the disciples through the women to leave Jerusalem for Galilee where He promised to appear to them (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28; 16:7). While waiting for Jesus to come to them, the disciples decided to return to their previous employment.

The apostle John 1 writes, “After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself.” (John 21:1). This is the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus in John’s gospel. “The Sea of Tiberias” is another name for the Sea of Galilee. The name “Tiberias” was associated with the Sea because of the prominent capital city of Galilee by that name on the southwestern shore. 2

John identifies five of the seven disciples who witnessed this resurrection appearance. They included “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee [James and John], and two others of His disciples were together.” (John 21:2). We could refer to the “two others” as UFOC’s – unidentified followers of Christ. John notes that “Nathanael” was from the Galilean village of “Cana” where Jesus changed water into wine. Cana was located about nine miles north of Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. 3

Keep in mind that the disciples had gone to Jerusalem and had experienced a tumultuous series of events: the Triumphal Entry, the expectation of a new kingdom, a betrayal by a trusted friend, near arrest, denial of Jesus by their leader Peter, the agonizing crucifixion of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the manifestations of the risen Lord. Understandably they were confused and unsure of the future.” 4

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We are going with you also.’ They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:3). Peter was probably feeling badly at this point because of his three denials of Jesus (cf. John 18:17, 25-27). He probably had a lot of doubts about his future as a follower of Christ. So he goes back to what is most familiar to him – fishing. It is also possible Peter had grown tired of waiting for Jesus to arrive in Galilee. Maybe the sight of fishing boats and the smell of wet fishing nets drying in the sun reminded him of what he left to follow Jesus (cf. Luke 5:11).

So Peter breaks the monotony and takes the lead, saying, “I am going fishing.” His proposal to go fishing was met with an unanimous response from the other disciples, “We are going with you also.”

I believe Peter has been unfairly criticized for returning to his former employment. He and the disciples had done what Jesus commanded by going to Galilee. We know they had to wait for the Lord since He did not meet them directly as they entered Galilee. Peter knew Jesus was coming but he did not want to waste time. Besides, he also had a family to provide for. Peter wasn’t abandoning Jesus, he was just making good use of his time. It was quite a natural and normal thing for these men to do. They were fishermen. Here is a sea, a boat, a net, and the time. What’s the logical thing for fishermen to do? Go out and fish! This was not a sin.

In support of this is the fact that the apostle John usually points out the failures of Peter, but in this case he is silent. Also, Jesus did not condemn or correct them for fishing when He arrived. They were unable to catch fish until Jesus was with them. They didn’t recognize the risen Lord until He performed the miracle. So it was God’s plan for them to fish. God used this fishing experience to enable these disciples to recognize their risen Lord and their mission to be fishers of men.

John tells us, “they went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.” The disciples fished at night when the fish are actively feeding near the surface. And although the Sea of Galilee was noted for its fishing industry in the time of Jesus, 5  the disciples’ all-night fishing expedition went unrewarded. John reports probably with a smidgeon of painful memory that “they caught nothing.” Any fisherman can relate to the disappointment Peter and the other disciples must have felt that night. They probably started out with a lot of excitement, but all that faded by morning. “Whose idea was this?” they may have grumbled. “It must not be God’s will for us to be out here! Are the fish biting? If they are they must be biting each other!”

The story is told of a psychopath peeping over an asylum wall. He observed a man fishing nearby. He yelled, “Caught anything?” The fisherman replied, “No!” “How long have you been waiting?” “Three hours!” came the fisherman’s reply. “Come inside,” the psychopath said, assuming he must have been crazy to wait three hours without catching any fish. Well, the disciples had waited more than three hours without catching any fish. They were out all night and they must have felt crazy to stay out that long without anything to show for it.

I wonder how many of us feel something similar? We know exactly how the disciples felt. We feel like we are not catching any fish right now. When that starts to happen, life becomes a rut. Frustration starts to set in. When you keep trying to go back to the same thing and make it work, instead of looking ahead to God’s plan, life gets deeper and deeper in this rut. Ruts can be very frustrating places. But the only good thing about a rut is it is very easy to steer once you get into one. You cannot veer one way or the other. You can only go the way the rut goes. But the problem is you lose your sense of purpose. You don’t have to think about what you are doing nor do you have to put any effort into what you are doing. There is no purpose or joy.

All night these seven disciples had to feel the disappointment of being expert fishermen who were unable to catch a thing. No doubt they felt like failures. They were discouraged. If we had asked them at that moment what their purpose was for living, they may have said, “We don’t know right now!” But Jesus still had a purpose for their lives. Jesus had commanded them to go to Galilee and He would meet them there. Even though the disciples were discouraged and feeling like failures, Jesus had not lost sight of His purpose for them.

Like the disciples, when we have failed miserably in an area of strength, we can easily become discouraged and feel like God must not have a purpose for our lives. When this happens, it is important to understand that our feelings are wrong.  God’s Word tells us that He has a constant purpose for our lives and we can trust it more than our feelings. Romans 8:28-29a says, 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” God uses “all things,” including our failures and discouragement, to “work together for good.” What “good” is this referring to? Being “conformed to the image of His Son.”

This leads to our first principle: We all need to learn that FAILURE AND DISCOURAGEMENT ARE OFTEN CONNECTED TO THE RISEN LORD JESUS’ PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES (John 21:1-3). When it comes to failure and discouragement, they are almost always a part of God’s purpose. We would like to hear that God’s purpose means we will never be discouraged or fail again. But if I told you that, I would be lying.

When we look at the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, we see they all had failures and times of discouragement. For example, after the worldwide flood, Noah got drunk and his son saw his nakedness. Abraham grew tired of waiting for God to give him a son, so he took matters into his own hands. Sarah was unable to bear children, and when God announced that she would have a son, she laughed in unbelief. Jacob was a deceiver, yet God used him and his lineage to bring the Messiah into the world.  Moses kept making up excuses to avoid going back to Pharaoh, but God was still able to use Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Even though Rahab had a problem with her past, she was used by God to protect the spies. Both Samson and David had a problem with lust, and yet they fulfilled God’s purpose for their lives. All these heroes of the faith tell us not to give up even though we fail and get discouraged.

The Bible compares living the Christian life to running a long distance race in Hebrews 12:1-2. This race requires endurance to finish well for the Lord. God’s purpose for your life is not found in the short sprints of life. His purpose is found in running a marathon. If we are going to run a marathon, it is going to require endurance. There will be ups and downs along the way. That is part of God’s purpose.  

The apostle Paul writes again and again in 2 Corinthians about the discouragement that he faced in the midst of God’s purpose for his life. God used Paul’s discouragement to deepen his dependency upon the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:8-10) and to eternalize his perspective (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The Lord used Paul’s discouragement and difficulties to magnify God’s grace in his life (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). If you feel discouraged while you are trying to live out God’s purpose and you think there is something wrong with you, there is not. Don’t let discouragement say to you that God’s purpose is gone. It is not. His purpose for your life is unfolding in His way and in His time.  

Christ used the disciples’ failure to catch fish all night to prepare them for what He was about to do. Their discouragement would soon be transformed into unspeakable joy. And Jesus wants to do the same in our lives.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us are very tired because we have been casting our nets again and again and again with nothing to show for it. We are discouraged and feel like failures. We have lost sight of Your purpose for our lives. Help us not to give up, but to keep pressing on by faith in Your Word which tells us Your purpose has not been lost. You are working behind the scenes in our lives to accomplish Your good will for our lives all for Your glory. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Some critics claim that the apostle John concluded his gospel in John 20:31 and an anonymous writer wrote chapter 21. But the linguistic evidence does not support this notion. In addition, other great books of Scripture have appendixes after reaching a grand climax (cf., e.g., Rom. 16 following Rom. 15:33). Thus John 21 is neither without value nor out of harmony with other Bible books.” (Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 701; see also J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 373 cites Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John (London: United Bible Societies, 1980), pg. 623; Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pp. 665-668. Constable writes, “The structure of this chapter is similar to the rest of the Gospel’s. John first narrated an event (vv. 1-14), and then related Jesus’ teaching based on that event (vv. 15-23). Finally he concluded his Gospel (vv. 24-25).” Tom Constable, Notes on John (2017 Edition), pg. 387.

2. Laney, pg. 374.

3. Ibid.

4. Blum, pp. 701-702.

5. Laney, pg. 374 cites Michael Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), pp. 205-206. “Fish were salted at Taricheae or Migdal Nunay (‘Tower of the Fisher’) for export.”

How can I overcome my fears? Part 3

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ ” John 20:21

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6), they experienced shame for the first time. The complete innocence and vulnerability they once had with God and one another were now lost. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). They were now self-conscious and ashamed of their nakedness before one another, so they tried to remove their shame by covering themselves with fig leaves.

But their sin and shame also adversely affected their relationshipwith God. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”(Genesis 3:8). Instead of being open and vulnerable before God, they now hid themselves from His presence when He pursued them. God is presented in this verse as pursuing His fallen children by walking in the garden in the cool of the day as if this was something He had always done to connect with them.

We might assume that God came to them to punish and shame Adam and Eve for the wrong they had done, but notice that God does not seek to punish or shame His fallen children. He seeks to restorethem. “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”(Genesis 3:9). Why would an all-knowing God ask Adam a question to which He already knows the answer? Because the Lord wanted a confessionfrom Adam. “Where are you in relation to Me?” God asks. God knew where Adam was, but did Adam know where he was in relation to the Lord?

When Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked” (Genesis 3:10), God replied, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:11). God never told Adam and Eve they were naked. This was the natural consequence of their sin.

Satan also reveals our shame to us when we sin (true shame) or don’t sin (false shame). His accusations against believers produce shame in their lives. The Devil uses fear and shame to isolate Christians from God and one another. Like a roaring lion who focuses on those who are isolated and weak, Satan focuses on believers who are alone and weak (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).

Would Adam and Eve believe God is still the same loving and merciful God that He had always been prior to their disobedience? Or would they believe the lie of the serpent who implied that God could not really be trusted (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)? The Lord did not abandon Adam and Eve when they sinned and felt ashamed. He seeks them out to restore them to fellowship with Himself.

But instead of trusting the Lord, Adam and Eve were now afraid of Him. “So he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’” (Genesis 3:10). Their fear and shame now became a barrier to His loving and merciful pursuit of them. Not only were they self-conscious of their nakedness before one another, they were now self-conscious of their nakedness before God. By covering themselves with fig leaves and hiding themselves among the trees of the garden, Adam and Eve hid themselves from being able to receive God’s love, grace, and mercy which He was freely offering to them. Their faith in God had now changed to fear. Unfortunately their fear and shame pushed them away from the Lord instead of drawing them near to Him. And fear and shame can do the same to us today.

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with His ten fearful disciples in the evening of His resurrection day how to overcome our fears. The disciples were afraid of opposition from the Jews so they were hiding behind locked doors. I wonder if they may have felt ashamed too since they had abandoned Jesus in His hour of suffering after promising to remain faithful to Him even unto death (Matthew 26:35, 56).

Like He did in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, Jesus sought out His disciples who were afraid and ashamed. And from this we are learning how to overcome our fears. So far we have discovered we must…

– Rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19).

– Redirect our focus to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to convince our doubting hearts (John 20:20).

Today we see that we must also RENEW OUR SENSE OF PURPOSE (John 20:21). After calming and convincing His fearful disciples, they were still paralyzed by fear. They still remained behind locked doors. Amazingly, Jesus remains calm and gracious. He does not give up on them even though they may have given up on themselves.

Christ believes so much in these frightened men, that He commissions them. “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ ” (John 20:21). Why does Jesus repeat His extension of peace to His disciples?

Because they were terrified of the Jews. That’s why they had locked the doors (20:19). Yet Jesus gave them his peace. Notice that their situation hadn’t changed. The Jewish leaders would still oppose them in the days ahead (see Acts 4:1-24; 5:17-42). But Jesus can speak peace into trouble. Though your circumstances are unstable, he can provide the internal stability your heart needs.” 1

Christ wants to reassure these frightened men of the deep and lasting peace that could be theirs. Peace prepares them for His commissioning. Notice that Jesus’ peace is given to them before they are commissioned. Sometimes we can mistakenly conclude that we must work to gain God’s peace. But Jesus reminds us that this peace comes from His presence in our lives, not from our service for Him. Christians can easily make the mistake and conclude that peace is based upon their performance instead of the peace-giving presence of Jesus Christ. And when they do this, the peace for which they are working so hard to gain, constantly escapes them.

Can you relate to this? Instead of ministering to others out of the peace Christ’s presence has given to us, we minister to others out of fear. The fear of not measuring up. The fear of being disapproved or rejected. The fear of failing. The fear of not having what it takes to be a God-honoring follower of Christ. We can even use ministry as a way to medicate our fears. Ministry can function like an addiction. It becomes our fig leaf to cover up our fear and shame.

But when we understand that Christ’s peace comes from His presence in our lives, we can minister to others out of our identity in Christ, not out of a desperate attempt to earn God’s peace or to prove that we have what it takes. The latter leads to ruin. The former leads to fruitfulness and glory to the Father (John 15:1-8).

After extending peace to them, Jesus begins the commissioning of His disciples. Keep in mind that this is regarded as the first of Christ’s commissionings in the Gospels and Acts. It is followed by Mark 16:15-16, then Matthew 28:19-20, and finally Luke 24:46-48 and Acts 1:8 which seem to be two versions of the same commissioning.

Christ begins by stating that the Father had sent Him. The Greek word for “sent” (apostéllō) in the phrase, “As the Father has sent Me,” refers to an official or authoritative sending. It is in the perfect tense (apestalken), indicating that the mission of Christ is not being regarded in its historical fulfillment, but in its permanent effect. The form of the fulfillment of Christ’s mission was now to be changed, but the mission itself was to be continued.

The Greek word translated “send” (pempō) in the phrase “I also send you,” is a general word for sending. It is in the present tense. The disciples were not to start a new work, but were to carry on Christ’s work. Just as Jesus was the Father’s Representative on earth, so Christ’s disciples would be His representatives on earth.

It is much like a baton exchange in a relay race at a track meet. One relay runner passes a baton to another runner. He receives the baton, and runs with it. And when he finishes his leg in the race, he places it in the hands of another who is to continue the race.

“Since believers no longer belong to the world (15:19), it was necessary for Jesus to ‘send’ His disciples back into the world to complete the mission. Our mission does not replace Jesus’ mission, however. He carries out His present mission through us.” 3

“. . . what is central to the Son’s mission—that he came as the Father’s gift so that those who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life (3:16), experiencing new life as the children of God (1:12-13) and freedom from the slavery of sin because they have been set free by the Son of God (8:34-36)—must never be lost to view as the church defines her mission.” 4

Christ responds to their fears by pointing them to His mission for them to carry out. Remember, whatever we fear, we give power and control to. Christ wants them (and us) to renew their sense of purpose and replace their fears with His mission in their lives. For this to take place, they must give power and control to Jesus.

Christ gives us His peace so we can give Him power and control over our lives. He will not take advantage of us or misuse our trust in Him. He is a good Shepherd Who radically loves His sheep. His death and resurrection prove this. Will we trust and follow Him?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I praise You for giving me Your peace before giving me Your purpose for my life. I can now operate out of Your peace-giving presence instead of operating out of fear. I don’t have to minister to others as a way of avoiding my fears. I can now minister to others out of the peace Your indwelling presence gives to me. Thank You for entrusting me with Your mission to proclaim the gift of eternal life so that those who believe in You should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). I praise You for the new life believers can experience as children of God (John 1:12). Thank You for the freedom from slavery to sin they can experience as they learn to abide in Your word (John 8:31-32). Please renew Your church all around the globe with the urgency of this mission. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1828.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 377.

3. Ibid., pg. 378.

4. Ibid., cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), pg. 649.  

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 6

“Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” John 19:19

The apostle John is presenting different pictures from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. We have learned from the first five pictures the following lessons:

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).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

The next picture John presents to us teaches us that THERE IS NO PERSON OR LANGUAGE GOD WILL NOT USE TO PROCLAIM WHO JESUS IS (John 19:19-22). Jesus has been lifted up on a cross and Pilate continues his power struggles with the Jews by placing a sign above Jesus indicating that He is “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (John 19:19). It was normal for the Romansto write the name of the condemned person and the crime for which they were being punished on the sign placed above them. Pilate maintains that Jesus is King of the Jews perhaps as a way of getting back at the Jews for hounding him to crucify Jesus.

What Pilate did not realize was his sign was also used by God to help people come to faith in Jesus. For example, in our last article, we saw that one of the thieves hanging on a cross next to Jesus said to Christ, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”(Luke 23:42). Why would this thief make reference to Jesus’ kingdom? Had he heard Jesus preach about the kingdom? Had someone else told him about Jesus’ kingdom? Or did this thief simply read the sign above Jesus’ head identifying Him as the King of the Jews?

Lucado writes, “The thief knows he is in a royal mess. He turns his head and reads a royal proclamation and asks for royal help. It might have been this simple. If so, the sign was the first tool used to proclaim the message of the cross. Countless others have followed, from the printing press to the radio to the stadium crusade to the book you are holding. But a crude wooden sign preceded them all. And because of the sign, a soul was saved. All because someone posted a sign on a cross.” 2

God used Pilate to proclaim the message of the cross through a sign to a thief hanging next to Jesus. That was not Pilate’s plan, but it was God’s plan. Pilate intended this sign to threaten and mock the Jews, but God intended to use Pilate’s sign as a tool for spreading the gospel message.

This tells us that there is no one God cannot use. If He can use an unbelieving political leader to lead a thief to Christ, He can use anyone. During my first year of seminary, one of my classmates told me one night in our dormitory that before he became a Christian, he had led many people to Christ as an evangelistic worker in a church. You do not have to be a Christian for God to use you. There is no person God will not use. That is meant to encourage us especially if we think God cannot use us because of some failure in our past or some weakness in our present. God is eager to use those who make themselves available to Him.

“Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” (John 19:20). Pilate’s sign infuriated the Jews as “it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin” which were the commonly spoken languages in the first century. “Hebrew” was the language of the Jews. “Greek” was the language of the culture. And “Latin” was the language of the Roman empire.So Pilate wanted to make sure that everyone knew of Jesus’ kingship. No one could claim they did not know Who Jesus really is because the sign was written in their language.

This leads to the second part of our lasting lesson: There is no language God will not use to proclaim the gospel. The message on the sign was the same, but the languages were different. Since Jesus was a King for all people, the message must be in the languages of all people. If all people were going to have an opportunity to enter His kingdom through faith alone in Him alone, they must hear or read His message in a language they understand. God wants the world to know that He loves them.

This is why I greatly appreciate those who translate the Bible into different languages. According to October 2020 statistics, “The full Bible is now available in 704 different languages, giving 5.7 billion people access to Scripture in the language they understand best. The New Testament is available in another 1,551 languages, reaching another 815 million people. Selections and stories are available in a further 1,160 other languages, spoken by 458 million people…There are currently 3,945 languages with no Scripture. 167 million people, speaking 2,014 languages, still need translation work to begin.” 3

If you are reading this, then God has provided His gospel message in a language you can use to tell others Who Jesus is and what He can do for them. He is the King of the universe Who died in their place and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16b).

When the Jews read Pilate’s sign over Jesus, they protested because they did not want Jesus’ Kingship to be proclaimed as a fact. “Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but, “He said,” ‘I am the King of the Jews.’ ” (John 19:21). They wanted Him to die for claiming to be the King of the Jews.

Pilate refused to comply. “Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’ ” (John 19:22). While Pilate meant for the sign to sting the Jews, God, in His sovereignty, meant it to declare to the world the truth about His Son. 4  John wants us to be aware that Jesus is the King of the Jews and no objection, protest, or even crucifixion can deprive Him of this rightful position. No circumstance can diminish the power of Who Jesus is. The soldiers take Jesus to the cross to be crucified and drive nails through His hands and feet, and still the sign reads King. There is no circumstance that can diminish the power of Who Jesus really is in my life or in yours. That is what this sign also tells us.

We also learn from this scene that people will try to change the truth about Who Jesus is, but they will always fail. We talk about spin doctors today – people who come in after the event and try to reframe what happened especially when it comes to politics. There were spin doctors in Jesus’ day. The Jewish religious leaders were spin doctors. They come in after the event had happened, after the sign was put in place and said, “Change the sign. Let’s make it read something different.” In one courageous act we see Pilate standing up to those thugs and saying, “No, I won’t change it.” 5

That says to me you cannot change the truth of Who Jesus is. People will try to change the truth about Who Jesus is in my life or in your life, but they will not be successful, because the truth is greater than any human being. God is greater than any human being. And what He says is final.  

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, we are so impressed with how You used a sign written by one who rejected Jesus to lead a thief to Christ. Throughout history, You have demonstrated there is no person You will not use to spread Your message to others. You use the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to tell the world about Your one of a kind Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You, Lord, for using others to tell us about the identity of Jesus and what He can do in our lives. Please help us to pay it forward so others can discover this life-changing message. Since Jesus is a King for all people, You are providing this message in the languages of all people so everyone can know how much You love them and want to save them. Thank You, Lord God, for providing this message in our own language so we could understand and believe. Please enable those who have not yet heard this message in their own language to hear it soon so they don’t miss any signs You are sending their way. In the name of Almighty God, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 41-47.

2. Ibid., pg. 42.

3. Retrieved from www.wycliffe.org.uk/about/our-impact/ on April 19, 2021.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1824.

5. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s discussion in his July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 2

10 Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ 11 Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:10-11

In John 19:4-42, the apostle John has recorded different pictures containing lasting lessons from the last day of Jesus’ life before the Roman soldiers sealed His tomb containing His dead body. John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. Last time we learned that like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

Today we discover that NO ONE HAS POWER IN THIS WORLD EXCEPT WHAT IS GIVEN TO THEM BY GOD (John 19:8-12). After Pilate affirmed Jesus’ innocence again before the crowd (John 19:6b), the Jews took a different approach to persuade him to put Jesus to death. The Jews told Pilate that they have a law that says Jesus ought to be put to death “because He made Himself the Son of God.’ ” (John 19:7).

John then informs us, “Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid.” (John 19:8). Although Pilate was not a religious man, like most Romans he was superstitious. Every Roman knew stories of gods or their offspring appearing in human form. Pilate was already afraid of losing control of the situation and now he feared he was involved in a trial against a god. 1

When Pilate learned that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.” (John 19:9). Pilate wants to find out if Jesus was a god. If Jesus was, Pilate did not want to mistreat Him. But Jesus had already alluded to His heavenly origin (John 18:36-37) and unbelieving Pilate would not have understood if He explained further, so He refused to answer, fulfilling yet another prophecy. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).

Pilate was agitated that Jesus ignored him and perhaps somewhat surprised that Jesus did not try to defend Himself, so he says to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” (John 19:10). Pilate reminds Jesus of his authority to put Jesus to death or to set Him free. But when someone insists on shouting, ‘Don’t you know that I’m in charge here?,’ it usually means he’s uncertain himself.” 2

But Jesus affirmed that His life was not in Pilate’s hands, but in the hands of God Himself. “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’ ” (John 19:11). Pilate’s power was delegated by God. “The authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1). All human rulership is determined by God (Daniel 4:17).

God grants authority and takes it away. Two important truths are wrapped up in Jesus’s statement. First, if a person exercises any authority on earth, ultimately that authority has been granted by God. So, will that authority be wielded for his kingdom purposes or not? How you answer that question has serious consequences because you will one day be called to give an account for your own use of authority. Second, remember to maintain a heavenly perspective: God is your ultimate authority. Anyone who seeks to rule over you illegitimately will not have the final say. He may be a boss, but he isn’t the boss.” 3

The phrase, “the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” probably refers to the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, not Judas or Satan. Although Pilate was accountable to God for his gross violation of justice in this civil trial, the one who delivered Jesus over to Pilate, Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-27:2; John 18:24), was guilty of a “greater sin” because he had the Hebrew Scriptures to point him to the truth of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah-God and yet he closed his eyes to the truth. This is consistent with what Jesus taught about greater privilege means greater accountability (cf. Matthew 11:20-24). “The greater the knowledge of God’s revelation, the greater the accountability for those who reject it.” 4

There is a significant application for Christians in this verse. For those of us who know what is right and disobey there is greater accountability than for those who disobey out of ignorance. Believers who have been privileged to read and study God’s Word will be evaluated in light of this revelation given to them. This presents a challenge to Christian leaders to pursue God’s holy calling in their lives. 5

“From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.’ ” (John 19:12). Since Jesus affirmed that He had come from God, Pilate kept trying to “release Him.” But the Jews squelched Pilate’s attempts to release Christ when they pitted Pilate against the Roman Emperor. If Pilate did not consent to their wishes to have Jesus crucified, they would accuse him of treason. Tiberias, the Roman Emperor, was suspicious and prone to violence. Pilate did not want to risk his political career or even his life for a Galilean rabbi.

This is an incredible scene! Jesus is standing alone with Pilate, His back torn open from the flogging, wearing a purple robe soaked in blood, and a crown of thorns pushed into his scalp causing blood to flow down His face. The bloodthirsty crowd is against Him.  The entire Roman government is behind Pilate and all the power that comes with it.  Pilate says to Jesus, “Why don’t You answer me? I’ve got the power in this situation to crucify You or to set You free. Talk to me.” Jesus looks Pilate right in the eye and says to him, “You are mistaken. You do not have the power or the authority. God has the power and authority to determine what happens here.”

This confrontation teaches us something we need everyday in our lives. This is a perspective you need to discover or rediscover in life. No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God. Do you believe this? Nobody has the power or authority in this world except what is given to them by God. Your employer at work who might be trying a power play on you right now. They don’t have any power over you except what was given to them by God. They may recognize that, they may not recognize it. But it is true. No human government has power except what power is given to them by God. He can give power in an instant and He can take it away in an instant. We have seen that happen several times in the last year in America. When you get a letter from the IRS, remember that the only power they possess over you is what God has given to them – nothing more and nothing less. 7

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking as long as circumstances are happening the way we want them to happen, then God must be in control. But when humanity’s temptations and sins seem to be in control, we think God has stepped off His throne. That is not true! For His own purposes God allows evil to reign and people to make sinful choices. This is especially true on this day in Jesus’ life. Christ had to face illegal trials and court proceedings, false accusations, and a gross violation of justice all for a greater cause – the salvation of the world.  

Listen to what the apostle Peter said of Jesus’ sufferings and death. 22 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” (Acts 2:22-23). When Jesus was lawlessly and unjustly delivered up to be crucified it was “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” God’s sovereign plan and purpose included the use of evil and “lawless” men to deliver up His Son to be crucified. But notice that it was Jesus “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:34). God was in control of the last day of Jesus’ life before the cross and He is in control of our lives as well to accomplish His plan and purposes.

We will never face a situation where God is not in control. That is what Jesus is telling us here. It is our responsibility to remember that God is in control of life. Jesus understood this. He was able to humbly and graciously face His accusers and enemies (I Peter 2:21-23a) because “He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Peter 2:23b). He did this asan example, that you should follow His steps.” (I Peter 2:21b).

You may be facing some very stressful circumstances right now. Things may seem out of control to you. You may have concluded that God has stepped off His throne because it seems as though your world is spiraling out of control. Would you go with me to God’s throne of grace right now? He understands what you are going through and how you feel (Hebrews 4:15). He still occupies His throne and He wants to give you the mercy and grace you need right now to rest in His love (Hebrews 4:16).

Prayer: Precious Father in heaven, we are amazed at the majesty of Jesus Christ before His accusers and the one whom You gave the power to crucify Him or release Him. We are so grateful that Jesus understood You were in control of everything that led up to His death on a cross for our sins. Lord God, as we face difficult circumstances in life, please renew our minds with this truth that You are the One who gives power to those in positions of authority over us. Even though they may make evil decisions which cause pain to us and to those we love and care about, You are still in control and are in the process of fulfilling Your plan and purpose through these difficult situations. Please enable us to continue to love and serve You no matter what we face. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 339-340.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1822.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., pg. 1515.

5. Laney, pg. 340.

6. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1823.

7. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”