A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

How can I ever change? Part 3

“So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ ” Genesis 32:27

We are learning from Jacob’s interaction with the Angel of the Lord how God wants to change us from the inside out. Thus far we have discovered that we can change when…

– God uses the process of a crisis (Genesis 32:24).

– God uses the process of commitment (Genesis 32:26).

After an all-night wrestling match, the Angel of the Lord said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” Jacob replied, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:24). Before the Angel of the Lord would bless Jacob, “He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ ” (Genesis 32:27). Why did the Angel of the Lord ask Jacob this question? Didn’t the Lord already know the answer? He asked this question to get Jacob to confess his character by stating his name, which had basically come to mean a “cheater” or “schemer.” Jacob remembered the heartache he had caused by scheming against his brother Esau, so when the angel asked, “What is your name?” He was asking, “What are you really like?” Jacob admitted, “I am a cheater and a schemer.” He was honest about his character flaws.

The third way for us to change for the better is when GOD USES THE PROCESS OF CONFESSION (Genesis 32:27). This is an important process when it comes to God changing us from the inside out, because we never change until we honestly face and admit our need to change. We need to come clean with God about our sins, faults, and weaknesses. God is not going to go to work on our problem until we admit that we have a problem.

There is a part of our brain that is designed to help us survive by storing the memories of experiences that created intense pain or fear. When we are wounded, the best defense is to create a wall – a form of protection to keep us from being hurt that same way again. These walls become “protective personalities.” These personalities usually represent the opposite of who we really are, because it is in our true identity that we can be most wounded. This “protective personality” shows itself as a part of you that everyone else can see or sense, but which remains out of your own awareness. This sometimes is referred to as a “blind spot.” 1

The protective personality is there to protect us from trusting, being vulnerable, and subsequently being betrayed and hurt by others. It pushes others away and communicates that you don’t have problems or need anyone, making it difficult or unsafe for them to tell you the truth. The thing you need the most (connection with God and others) is also the thing you fear the most. This “protective personality” is a means of not needing God and others, remaining invulnerable, avoiding risk and pain. Most of the time these personalities were formed when we were very young, as a protective mechanism. Their job is to keep us safe. They have worked successfully throughout our lives or they wouldn’t still be around! 2

Jacob’s protective personality was the Deceiver or Schemer. He tried to protect himself through manipulation and trickery. God’s wrestling match with Jacob had brought him to the end of himself. Jacob could no longer control the situation like he had done in the past. His protective mechanism was no longer working. It was time for Jacob to identify his protective personality and come clean with God. And he did.

What about us? What wall of protection have we created to protect ourselves from being hurt again? Here are some possibilities: Actor, Anger, The Bully, Confusion, Contempt, Control, Crazy, The Critic, Don’t Mess with Me, The Doormat, The Hard Worker, The Hero, Independence, Invisible, The Joker, Lazy, Loser, I’m OK, Mr./Ms. Right, Over-Achiever, Overwhelmed, The Perfectionist, The  Pharisee, The Phony, The Pleaser, The Professor, The Protector, Rescuer, The Scapegoat, The Super Servant, The Victim. 3

What do you think your protective personality protects you from? Does it protect you from trusting and being hurt, betrayed, criticized, humiliated, rejected, shamed, taken advantage of, or looking stupid, etc.?

If we are still in denial about having a protective personality, God is not going to help us. It is when we admit we have created this personality to protect ourselves, that God can go to work. Yes, it is humbling to admit our wall of protection, but once we do, God gives us all the resources and all His power to enable us to change for the better. At that point, we can start becoming the person God has always wanted us to be.

Once we have identified our protective personality, it is important to go to the Lord and confess it to Him. Let’s go to Him right now in prayer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am a lot like Jacob. I have created _____________ (your protective personality’s name) to protect me from ________________ (name what it protects your from). But this has left me more isolated and lonely. The thing I fear the most – connection with You and others – is also what I need the most. I am realizing that I do not need _____________ (your protective personality) anymore. Lord Jesus, I will trust You with protecting me from _______________. I invite You, Lord Jesus, to come and minister to me now. Please show me how You will do this. In Your loving name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Book 1 and 2 Individual Workbook 4th Edition (Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 109-110.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pg. 115.

How much you matter to God – Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Alberto Samuel Valdés, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 382.

3. Constable, pg. 272.

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

5. Valdes, pg. 383.

How much you matter to God – Part 4

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.’ ” Luke 19:5

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

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

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

Zacchaeus’ appearance made him feel lonely and insecure. His accusers made him feel bitter and resentful. But it was Zacchaeus’ sins, his own lifestyle, his own choices, that made him feel guilty and ashamed. So Jesus Christ did something even more shocking. He didn’t just walk up to the tree and look up and notice Zacchaeus. And He didn’t just call him by name and affirm him as a pure one in front of everybody else who hated him. 

Jesus then said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5). Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner. This is truly amazing!

Think about this. The Son of God, walked all the way through town to find the biggest scoundrel in town and says, “I’m going to go to your house. I’m going to be your guest. Out of all these thousands of people, I choose you, Zacchaeus.”

This leads us to our third profound truth: NO MATTER WHAT I’VE DONE, JESUS ACCEPTS ME (Luke 19:5c-6) and He wants a relationship with me. This is the biggest mind blower of all. Jesus knew that there was no way that Zacchaeus would ever invite Him to his house because Zacchaeus was carrying a lot of hidden guilt, perhaps like some of us today. Because in his mind, Zacchaeus was thinking, “I’m not good enough to have Jesus Christ at my house. I’m not good enough to have God as my guest. You don’t know the things that I have done. I am not good enough to have a relationship with Him.”

And many of us have felt that way. We say to ourselves, “I’m not good enough. If you knew all the shameful things I have done You could never love me or want to spend time with me.” But we are wrong. Spending time with Jesus is not based on our goodness. It is based on God’s incredible love and grace for us. Regardless of all we have done wrong, Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with us.

So Jesus takes the initiative and says, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Notice, that Jesus did not say, “I would like to stay at your house.” No, He said “I must stay at your house.” This was a divine appointment. It was a necessary visit. 1  Since Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He obviously knew Zacchaeus. He knew everything about him, but that did not deter Jesus from taking the initiative and inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

The truth is, like Zacchaeus, we have done a lot of things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people with our own brand of selfishness. Sometimes it is out in the open. Sometimes it is in secret. But we have hurt a lot of other people in our lives by the things we have said and done. Our choices have deeply wounded people. But Jesus wants to change us more than condemn us. Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). Christ came into the world to cleanse us, not condemn us. So He looks at you and me, and He says, “I know you, I love you, and I accept you in spite of all that you have done. And I want you to know and love Me and have a relationship with Me.”

Some of us may think, “If I come to Jesus Christ with all the dirt in my life, He is going to condemn me!” If this is how we think, then we don’t understand how much we matter to Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ in faith, no matter what we have done, Jesus still accepts us. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37b). Christ guarantees that when you come to Him in faith, He will never reject you. This may be difficult for us to understand if we have experienced a lot of rejection in our lives.

But there is a big difference between people and God when it comes to forgetting our past. When we sin, people have a tendency to remind us of our past sins. But God forgets! The Bible says, “ ‘16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ 17 then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ ” (Hebrews 10:16-17). God was not teasing when He said He will remember our sins no more. God has a forgetful nature. “Just as it’s against your nature to eat tree or grow wings, it’s against God’s nature to remember forgiven sins.” 2

“You see, God is either the God of perfect grace… or He is not God. Grace forgets. Period. Grace does not judge! He who is perfect love cannot hold grudges. If He does, then He isn’t perfect love.” 3 Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us what we need instead of what we deserve. None of us deserve to be forgiven. None of us deserve to have our sins remembered no more. But God’s grace forgives and forgets!

Think about this. If God did not forget, how could we pray? How could we sing to Him? How could we dare enter into His presence if the moment He saw us He remembered all our sinful past? 4

Let me illustrate this with a $100 bill. If I took a $100 bill and crumpled it up in my hand, would you still want it? Yes. But what if I stomped on that $100 bill with my dirty shoes on? Would you still want it? Yes, of course you would. But why? Because it has not lost any of its value. Yes, your life may be crumpled and stained by sin. It may be a total mess. But your life has not lost any value to God! And, yes, you have blown it but Jesus Christ still wants a relationship with you. 

When we come to Jesus, He accepts us and He will never reject us. No matter what we have done, Jesus wants a relationship with us. Knowing that Jesus notices everything in our lives, He affirms us regardless of what anyone else says about us, and He still wants a relationship with us in spite of the fact that we have rejected Him in the past, how should you respond to Him?

The way Zacchaeus did. The Bible says, “So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.” (Luke 19:6). I think Zacchaeus was saved before he hit the ground. He thought, “This is a deal I am not going to get anywhere else. I am going to take advantage of it right now.” Zacchaeus didn’t just receive Jesus joyfully into his house that day, he joyfully received Jesus into his heart. His heart was filled with joy because no one had ever showed him such love and grace as Jesus just did!

With the God who notices… affirms… and accepts you and is waiting with open arms, give me one logical reason why you should refuse to receive him as your Savior. There is none. It is so simple. The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Believe and receive. Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus into his life by believing in Him. God became His Father in heaven and Zacchaeus became God’s child forever at that moment of faith.

Today I want to invite you, like Zacchaeus, to jump out of the tree you are in or get off the limb you are out on or get out of the dark hole and receive Jesus Christ into your life. How can you do that? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1). Jesus is the promised Christ, the Messiah-God (cf. Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1, 14, 41; 20:31). When you believe this, you are born of God. You are placed in God’s family forever and He will never cast you out (John 6:37).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have done, separate us from God (Romans 6:23a). But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by dying on the cross for all our sins (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again. The Lord Jesus is alive today and He now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

Just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust in Jesus Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Your good life, religion, or prayers will not save you. Only Jesus can save you. The Bible says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Did you catch that? “No other name under heaven” can save us from eternal separation from God outside of Jesus Christ. Your monk, parent, pastor, peers, politician, priest, prophet, or imam, cannot save you from your sins. You and I cannot save ourselves. But Jesus Christ can.

And the moment you place your trust in Jesus for eternal life, you become God’s child and God comes to live inside you through His Spirit. He can change the way you see yourself.

If you just believed or trusted Christ alone today for His gift of salvation, I would like to give you a chance to tell God what you have done. You can pray this prayer in your heart, keeping in mind that prayer does not save, trusting Christ saves.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for noticing every detail of my life… for seeing my potential in spite of my sin… for wanting a relationship with me in spite of all that I have done wrong. Today I realize there is nothing I can do to deserve heaven. So right now as best I know how, I am trusting You alone, Jesus, to forgive all my sins and to give me eternal life. Thank You for the assurance that I will now be with you in heaven when I die. Thank You for not being ashamed of me. I do not want to be ashamed of You, Lord Jesus. Please help me to see myself as You see me – forgiven, redeemed, and saved forever. Help me to tell others what You have done for me. In Your mighty name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He placed you in God’s family forever (John 1:12; 6:37). All of your sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:13-14). God has forgotten all your sins so you can approach Him with boldness now through prayer (Hebrews 10:16-22). God is now Your Father in heaven and you are His child forever (Matthew 6:9). You now have many brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. And at that moment of faith in Jesus, everything changed in your life just as it did in Zacchaeus’ life. Lord willing, we will discover next time just how dramatically Zacchaeus’ life changed and how Jesus can change our lives too.

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Retrieved from Steve Siemen’s communion meditation at NewLife Church in Pleasant Hill, Iowa on August 8, 2021.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Ibid.

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 overcome doubt? Part 5

“Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ ” John 20:29

We are learning from John 20:24-29 how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

– Renew our confession of faith (John 20:28).

Today we will look at the final way to overcome doubt. RECEIVE JESUS’ BLESSING (John 20:29). After Thomas said to Jesus,  “my Lord and my God,” (John 20:28), Jesus did not correct him for addressing Him as “my Lord and my God.” No, Jesus accepted Thomas’ worship because Christ is Lord and God. Jesus then told Thomas, Because you have seen Me, you have believed.” (John 20:29a). But then Jesus has something to say to you and me two thousand years later, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b).

The risen Lord Jesus is saying to His doubting disciple, “Thomas, I did something special for you. I came and showed you the nail prints in My hands. I showed you the scar in My side where the spear pierced Me. I want you to know the blessing on the lives of those millions of people who are going to believe in Me even though they have not had this experience.”  1

Jesus gave only a small number of people (about 500, 1 Cor 15:6) the privilege of seeing Him bodily after His resurrection. Most who believe do so without benefit of such direct revelation. Thomas and the others saw and heard, and thus their eyewitness testimonies have benefitted many people since then (John 20:30; 21:24-25; 1 John 1:1-3).” 2

Jesus wants you to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life even though He has not personally appeared to you. He wants you to trust in Him alone to give you never-ending life before you see Him work in your life. This is why He said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” With these words, Jesus is broadening the object of faith from His resurrection to His promise to give eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. That is the transition John makes in the next two verses (John 20:30-31). 3

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Do you believe this? If you do, Christ guarantees you now have His life which never ends (John 11:25-26). You now have a personal relationship with Him that lasts forever (John 17:3). And Jesus wants to bless you with His remarkable gifts (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus before Christ appeared to him (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Even after you believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, the risen Lord Jesus Christ wants to bless your life and work in your life. However, you are going to be filled with doubt if you think, “I’m not a good enough person for Him to bless my life. I will just let Christ give His blessings to somebody else.” Did Thomas deserve what Jesus gave him? Not at all. Thomas had received the eyewitness reports from the women and other disciples who had seen Jesus alive, yet he refused to believe them (Mark 16:10-11, 13-14; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18, 24-25). Even so, Christ graciously appears to him and gives him the evidence he needed to believe Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s blessings are not something we earn. They are gifts He wants to bless you with.

His blessings are part of what builds our faith and keeps our faith growing. Receive His blessing. The result of faith is blessedness. The Bible says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). God rewards those who exercise faith and diligently seek Him.

Jesus is teaching us that those who believe in Him are blessed. Not only are they blessed the moment they believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, but they can continue to be blessed as they learn to live a life of faith. People who believe live a blessed life. This is not a perfect life, nor a life without problems; but a blessed life. The satisfaction and fulfillment that the world longs for can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Later John reminds us that the result of faith is life (John 20:31). When people believed Jesus then and when they believe Jesus now, lives are transformed. There is a new quality of life for us to experience. He says there is “life in His name” (John 20:31b). The kind of life that has the name of Jesus stamped all over it. Every blessing that comes into your life has Jesus’ name on it. The decisions that you make – Jesus’ name is stamped all over them. Your family has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Your job has Jesus’ name stamped all over it. Everything about your life is to be lived in His name.  His power, His blessing, His purpose, His character is to be manifested in your life. 

Do you want to overcome doubt and have faith? I will not tell you to just have faith. Instead, I will say here is how to have faith. Here is how to overcome doubt. These are some practical suggestions. You don’t have to do all of them. Just start with one of them this week and see where the Lord leads you.

1. Intentionally connect with other Christians this week. One of the reasons we struggle with doubts is because we are isolating ourselves from other like-minded believers in Jesus. God wants us to connect with one another to receive love and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). Schedule a time this week to get together with a trusted friend who knows Jesus and can offer a listening ear.

2. Write down your doubts on a sheet of paper. You might even be really brave and show your list to someone else. Not to an enemy, but to a trusted friend. Then at the bottom of the sheet of paper write, “Jesus, I ask You to give me Your answers to these doubts.” He wants to do this for you just like He did for Thomas.

3. Then you may need to redirect your will. This week or even tonight, decide to have faith in an area of your life where you have been struggling with doubts. You have been waiting for your emotions to catch up with your faith. Perhaps you have been studying this for months and you think you cannot learn any more. But now is the time to decide to move toward believing. You know what God wants you to do. You know what His Word says to do. It is time to act.

4. For some of us, we may need to renew our confession. Let me encourage you to do this this week if you are struggling with doubts. Start each day with a confession of faith. Use Thomas’ confession every day if you want to – “My Lord and my God.”  Or pick up your Bible and open it to the book of Psalms. Start reading any psalm. You will find two or three confessions of faith in any psalm – “Lord, You are my rock. Lord, You are my fortress. Lord, You are my hiding place.” (Psalm 31; 32; 119). The book of Psalms is just filled with confessions of faith. Find some confessions of faith there and use them to start each day. 

5. Perhaps you need to receive His blessing this week. You might be afraid to think about all the blessings that come from the Lord. You may feel guilty to recognize that God is doing something special in your life. There are times when we may look at our past and conclude that we are not deserving. The truth is, none of us are deserving. I do not deserve God’s blessings and neither do you. We admit that together. We come as undeserving people to God, but because of His grace – His undeserved favor – He gives to us abundantly. This week take twenty minutes and sit down and start to make a list of blessings from God on a piece of paper or on your computer. Since Jesus is in your life now, focus on His life which is stamped all over yours. Write down the different ways He is blessing you.

These are some practical ways that you and I can begin to overcome our doubts and build our faith.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may feel that we do not deserve to be blessed by You. We have been conditioned to believe that blessings must be earned. But Your encounter with Thomas reminds us that none of us are deserving of Your goodness. It is because of Your magnificent grace that we can be in a position to receive Your many blessings. Thank You especially for the gift of everlasting life that is ours forever the moment we believe in You. Please teach us to live a life of faith; A blessed life whereby we diligently seek You because we know that You are a Rewarder of those who do. In Your hope-filled name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 566.

3. Ibid.

4. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How can Jesus’ resurrection make a difference in our daily lives? Part 4

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher).” John 20:16

We have discovered that Jesus’ resurrection can make a difference in our daily lives by…

– Dispelling the darkness in our lives with the light of His resurrection (John 20:1).

– Providing evidence of His resurrection for our minds (John 20:2-9).

– Providing answers for our hearts (John 20:10-15a).

There is a fourth thing that happened to Mary Magdalene on that first Sunday after Jesus’ death and burial that helped her to see the resurrected Lord. And this is what we also need. If we are going to see Jesus’ resurrection in our daily lives, WE NEED A RELATIONSHIPFOR OUR SOULS (John 20:15b-18). That’s exactly what happened with Mary. There are two incredible recognitions that occur in one verse.

First, Jesus calls Mary by name. So Mary was able to say to Jesus, “You recognize me, Lord” (20:16a). At first,Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. After all, the tomb of Jesus was in a garden (John 19:41). So it makes sense that Mary assumes this man outside the tomb is the gardener. “She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ ” (John 20:15b).

The Son of God, the King of creation, had risen from the dead. And he was mistaken for a gardener!” 1  Her tears and her focus lead her to conclude Christ is the gardener. Even though she mistakes Jesus’ identity, her request for His body expresses her desire to assume the care of it, revealing her devotion to Christ. Did you ever wonder how is Mary going to carry Jesus? That is a lot of faith and strength for her to think she is going to carry a dead man’s body by herself.

Here’s the big question for our lives, “Who do we mistake Jesus for?” We may laugh at Mary and say how could she have mistaken Jesus for the gardener? But who do we mistake Jesus for? Perhaps we have mistaken Jesus for luck. Something has happened in your life and you have said, “I was so lucky! I can’t believe that car missed me coming around that blind curve. I can’t believe I did not die when that car ran the red light! I can’t believe I haven’t died from COVID-19! I am so lucky!” No. The resurrected Jesus Christ was there. That is why you are still alive.

Sometimes we mistake our risen Lord for fate. Or we mistake Him for our own intellectual ability, like somehow we figured everything out and did it ourselves. God does use our minds, our heart, and our strength. But it was Christ who was there for us. So who do we mistake Him for?

Mary mistook Him for the gardener, but Jesus would not let her stay there. I love the way that Jesus recognized her. One word, one name. “Mary!” (John 20:16a). In the native language – Mariam.  As the True Shepherd, Jesus “calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3) and “they know His voice” (John 10:4). 3  

The incredible thing to me that the first word out of the mouth of the resurrected Jesus Christ is not some great words of theology. It is a name. The name of one of His devoted followers. “Mary!” It is the name she had heard so many times before. It is the name she heard when Jesus cast the demons out of her life (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2), when He called her out of a life of sin. She heard it again and again as He had taught her along with the other disciples day by day. But this time it took on new meaning because it helped her to recognize Jesus Christ is alive and He is here. He spoke her name in the midst of her pain and confusion and He does the same with us.

The resurrection of Christ moves from being an historical event to being a personal event when we hear Jesus Christ speak our name. It’s something personal. When Jesus calls your name, you see Him as a risen Jesus instead of a gardener. It becomes personal. Until Jesus becomes personal to you, there will be no lasting hope for you. Christ will be like a gardener to you. All you will have is dead religion. Other gods are not speaking our names because they are still dead in their graves or they are made by human hands and imaginations. But Jesus is not dead nor imaginary. He is alive and He comes to us speaking our name.  

Do you ever call a dead person? I know that sounds like a strange question, but really, do you ever call a dead person? I don’t. I call a living person. Some of us do not call Jesus or talk to Him because we think He is still dead.

If Jesus spoke your name what would it sound like? What do you think it sounded like to Mary? If Jesus came into your life right now and spoke your name, how would you hear it? We need to learn how to hear it. I’ll tell you how I think He spoke it to Mary. With tenderness, compassion, concern, and power all rolled up into one. It is a tone of voice that is filled with hope for you and what God can do in your life. He speaks it with a tone that knows everything you have done wrong, and yet it is a forgiving and compassionate tone of voice. That is how I hear Him speaking our names. 

When Mary hears Jesus speak her name, she recognizes Him. “She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher).” (John 20:16b). Mary moves from saying, “You recognize me, Lord”to saying, “I recognize You, Lord.”Mary is saying, “I see You. I understand Who You are. You are my risen Lord.” Mary refers to Jesus as “Rabboni” which means “Teacher.” “The term ‘Rabboni’ was a respectful form of address more emphatic and perhaps more honorific than the simpler term ‘Rabbi,’ the traditional honorary title for recognized teachers of the Law. The Aramaic rab means ‘great’ or ‘great one.’Even after His death and resurrection, Jesus is still our “Teacher” Who passes on the truths of His Father.

“The men were quicker to grasp, intellectually, the meaning of the empty tomb, but Mary was the more devoted, and this Christ rewarded. Mary exemplifies the case of those whose hearts seek Christ, but whose minds are ill-informed. It is the heart God ever looks at. We may know much truth intellectually, but unless the heart is absorbed with Christ, He will not reveal Himself to such a one in the intimacies of love and communion.” 5

“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them,’ ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ” (John 20:17). Mary embraces her risen Lord because she loved Him and did not want to lose Him again. When Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father,” the Greek word translated “for” (gar) is an anticipatory conjunction, not a causal conjunction and is more accurately rendered as “since” instead of “because” or “for.” 6 So the verse is better translated, “Do not cling to Me. Since I have not yet ascended to My Father, go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ “ Jesus is telling her that it will be a while before He ascends to His Father so there was no need for her to cling to Him (cf. Acts 1:4-11).

Also the present tense verb “ascending” “might refer to Jesus’ ascension forty days later (without denying that He went to the Father often during that time). Compare 10:18 (‘I lay it [my life] down’) where another present tense clearly refers to a future event. The clause might be paraphrased ‘I will soon ascend.’” 7  The idea that Jesus ascended to the Father before He appeared to the disciples is not clearly substantiated by John 20:17. The main thing is that Christ has an important job for Mary to do now. She was “to go” to His disciples whom He now refers to as His “brethren.” This reminds us that believers in Jesus become members of the same family with God as their Father and Jesus as their Brother (John 1:12; Hebrews 2:11-12).

When Jesus told Mary, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God,” Jesus is not denying He is God as some conclude when He refers to God as “My God and your God.” This would be contrary to the entire argument of the gospel of John. Jesus simply acknowledges His Father is God. So many other verses also acknowledge Jesus is God in the gospel of John.

The beginning of the gospel of John establishes that Jesus is the eternal Creator God without beginning and the source of life and light (hope): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-5).  

Later in Chapter 1 John informs us that Jesus is “the Word” (God) and human “flesh.” “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:14, 17-18). Jesus Christ is presented in the gospel of John as one Person “with a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. He is deity poured into humanity. He is fully human so he cried as an infant, but he is fully divine and gave life to his mother! He is fully human so he had to sleep, but he is fully divine and can raise the dead back to life. Our God fully experienced what it is to be human—yet without sinning (see Heb 4:15).” 8

As the gospel of John progresses, we see the divinity of Jesus elaborated: He assumes dominion over all things (John 3:35); He identifies Himself as the promised Messiah-God to the woman at the well (John 4:25-26); He called God His Father, making Himself equal with God in nature (John 5:17-18); He claims to have the same power as God to give life to whom He wills (John 5:21); He claims to have the same privilege as God to judge the world (John 5:22); He claims to be worthy of the same honor and worship due to God (John 5:23); He declared that the Old Testament Scriptures testify of Him (John 5:39); His disciples said He was the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 6:69); Jesus identifies Himself as the Son of God to the former blind man who then worships Jesus, and Christ does not refuse his worship (John 9:35-38); When Jesus said He and God the Father “are one,” the Jews took up stones to stone Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:30, 33); Jesus asks people to have faith in Him as they have faith in God (John 14:1); He is the earthly manifestation of God (John 14:8); Jesus claims to be able to do whatever people ask in His name after He is gone, more or less implying that He has omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence (John 14:13); He is the King of another world (John 18:36–37); In addition, He admonishes His opponents that His identity is central to salvation (John 8:24) and that He perpetually preexists Abraham (John 8:58), in both of these cases using the divine name of Yahweh from the Old Testament, the “I AM.” Jesus said in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” This is the most indisputable claim by Jesus to be God. “I AM” is the name of God in the book of Exodus. Jesus’ audience knew full well what He was saying. “They took up stones to stone Him”(John 8:59) because they think He committed blasphemy, claiming to be God.

In what some consider the climax of the gospel, a disciple named Thomas realizes who Jesus is and exclaims in affirmation, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) to which Jesus responds, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Jesus does not correct Thomas when he said Jesus was his Lord and his God. Why? The answer is obvious. From the first to the last, John’s gospel identifies Jesus as God. You cannot ignore those verses and be honest with God’s Word.

“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.” (John 20:18). Mary did as Jesus commanded her and faithfully told the disciples all that Jesus spoke to her. Don’t overlook that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was first announced by a woman. In first-century Judaism, a woman’s testimony wasn’t considered credible. So if the disciples were going to invent a resurrection story, they wouldn’t choose women to be the first to see and declare it. Such testimonies would have been rejected by the Jews. Thus, the fact that the first witnesses were women (see Matt 28:1-10) provides evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. It also affirms the communication gifting of women as long as the gift is exercised under the legitimately authorized spiritual authority and covering of the home and the church (see 1 Cor 11:5, 10).” 9

What Mary says to the disciples is the best thing we can say about any moment of our lives – “I have seen the Lord.” I’ve seen the Lord give direction for my family. I’ve seen the Lord comfort me in this painful situation. I’ve seen the Lord show me His will in this decision. I’ve seen the Lord’s presence even in this place that I don’t want to be in. I’ve seen the Lord heal my friend of a deadly disease. I’ve seen the resurrected Lord.”

Are we seeing Jesus’ resurrection in our daily lives? If not, it is becausewe need the darkness in our lives to be dispelled by the light of His resurrection. We need evidence for our minds. We need answers for our hearts. And we need a relationship for our souls. This is not about a religion or philosophy. It is about a  Person Who loved us so much that He died in our place for all our sins and rose from the dead. And He is alive today and He is speaking your name. The risen Lord Jesus wants to be personally involved in our lives. He wants to have a love relationship with us.

Would you like to begin a relationship with Jesus now that lasts forever? All He asks is that you come to Him as a sinner, realizing He died for your sins and rose from the dead, and then believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Christ is alive today and He has the power to freely give you a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life. All He asks is that you believe in Him alone.

Prayer: My faithful risen Lord Jesus, thank You for rising from the dead and speaking my name with compassion and love. You are not some impersonal force who is far away from His creation. You still speak my name in the midst of pain and confusion which comforts and soothes my soul. You are involved in my life every day, teaching me truths from the Father. I have seen You give direction for my family. I’ve seen You comfort me in this painful situation. I’ve seen You show me Your will in the decisions You have led me to make. I’ve seen Your presence even in places that I did not want to be in. I’ve seen You protect me from careless drivers. I’ve seen You in the every-day circumstances of life. I praise You, my resurrected Lord. And I beg of You to have mercy on those who are rejecting You at this time. Please send Your Word to them so they may believe You are the Resurrection and the Life who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in You. Glorify Your name my risen Lord! In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1827.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 370.  

3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 697.  

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 363 cites F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pg. 389.

5. Tom Constable, pg. 372 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 279.

6. Laney, pg. 363 cites Michael McGhee, “A Less Theological Reading of John 20:17,” JBL 105 (June 1986): 299-302.

7. 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. 564.

8. Tony Evans, pg. 1748.

9. Ibid., pp. 1827-1828.

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.

Transforming a nation and world

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower.” Matthew 13:18

Jesus explains His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:2-9) to His disciples to prepare them for the different types of responses to the preaching of God’s Word (Matthew 13:18-23). Each soil in this parable represents a different response to God’s message. Some to whom we share the gospel are like “the wayside” soil (Matthew 13:4, 19) who will not receive or believe in Jesus (Matthew 13:19; Luke 8:12).

Others are like “the stony places” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21) who “believe [the gospel] for a while” (Luke 8:13) but never really make a commitment to follow Christ as His disciple and “fall away” because of adversity (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13). They are “hearers only” of the Word like James talks about (James 1:22). They deceive themselves into thinking they can grow spiritually simply by hearing God’s Word without doing what it says. They are not willing to follow Jesus regardless of the costs.

A third type of person we will discover is like the seed that “fell among thorns” (Matthew 13:7, 22). These are those who believe in Jesus and start to follow Him, but they never bear much fruit because they are so distracted by worldliness and wealth (Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14).

So far this has been disappointing. If this is the kind of response we can expect to get from many people, why go on? Jesus tells us why! He tells us not to become discouraged because eventually we will come across the fourth kind of person, a person who bears much fruit after believing the gospel (Matthew 13:8, 23; Luke 8:15). Unless we are willing to endure those who reject His message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, we will never discover the pure joy of finding those who are fruitful!

And notice that Jesus tells us that some of these fruitful ones will bear fruit “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). One of the blessings we will experience if we continue to faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, is that we will begin discovering these amazingly productive believers. These fruitful believers are “super spreaders” because they are super at spreading the seed of God’s Word. These are the “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They will far exceed us in witnessing and planting new churches.

The way to discover these “good soil” believers, is to train everyone in discipleship who believes the gospel! The “good soil” believers will quickly emerge. They will immediately become doers of the Word of God. As these super spreaders emerge among us, we will begin to see a more significant movement take place in our country and world as well. But the whole process begins with those who are faithful to sow the seed – to preach the gospel and train in discipleship those who believe in Jesus (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the key to a transformed life and nation, not the political process. I believe more than ever, that Jesus is calling His church to return to the discipleship process in order to see our nation and world change for His glory! Christ implores us, “Hear the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18). Will we hear and obey our Lord and Master! Perhaps today is when some of us begin  to sow the seed of His Word!!! Please know that His Word will not return to Him void, but it shall accomplish what He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all authority has been given to You in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Your one and only plan to reach the world for Your glory is the discipleship process whereby we preach Your gospel message to everyone in the world, and then call those who believe Your gospel to commit to follow You as a disciple through water baptism. Then we are to teach them to obey all Your commands (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20). Please enable us to be faithful to spread the seed of Your gospel message to this world which is perishing without You, Lord Jesus! Thank You for explaining the different types of responses we can expect from our audiences as we proclaim Your Word. By Your grace, enable us to endure those who reject Your message, those who fall away, and those who are too distracted, so we may discover the pure joy of finding those who are super at spreading the seed of Your Word to others!!! Your discipleship process is what transforms individuals, nations, and the world, not a political process. Please forgive us for looking in the wrong places for transformation. I beg You to bring us back to the basics of the Bible and the discipleship process, my Lord and my God. May Your Holy Spirit give us the boldness and vision to pursue You and Your discipleship process until all hear Your gospel message!!! Thank You for the assurance that You are always with us as we make disciples for Your glory (Matthew 28:20b). In Your matchless name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 7

“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

    ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

    ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

   ~ Praying for their presence with Him in His coming kingdom where they will see His glory displayed before them (John 17:24-25).

The third thing Jesus prayed for future believers is for them TO EXPERIENCE THE FATHER’S ETERNAL LOVE FOR JESUS (17:26). Finally, Jesus prayed, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26). Jesus “declared to” the disciples His Father’s character (“name”). When Jesus said He “will declare” the Father’s name, He is referring to doing this “through the Word of God, and especially through the Fourth Gospel.” 1 Christ then prayed that the same “love” with which the Father “loved” Jesus “may be in” future believers and Christ “in them.”

“The essence of God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus made the Father and His love known to the world by His death. And the Father made known His love for the Son by raising Him to glory. Jesus’ purpose in revealing the Father was that Christians would continue to grow in that love (that the Father’s love for the Son may be in them) and to enjoy the personal presence of Jesus in their lives (that I Myself may be in them).” 2

Christ longs for believers to experience the Father’s love for Him through fellowship. We have two eternal Persons who are loving us and wanting the best for us. The more we spend time with God the Father and God the Son, the more we will experience their outrageous love for us which will cast out our fears and deepen our love for one another (I John 4:7-21).

What an incredible prayer in John 17! Christ prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), His believing disciples (John 17:6-19), and then for future believers, including us (John 17:20-26). Not by name of course, but He asked that all “who believe in Me” would “be one.” This final request for all believers shows the importance of widening the circle of our prayer concerns. Not only are we to pray for ourselves, and our close friends, but we also need to remember to pray for those who will believe in Christ in the future. Remember, prayer moves the Hand that moves the world. 3

Take time today to thank Jesus for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise Christ for all of eternity as we discover the prayers He prayed for us that we did not hear. Prayers that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that You would cause our lives and our churches to be an answer to this prayer that You prayed. Lord, the rest of this week whether we see it or know it or not, would You use us to bring You glory? Would You help us to pray like You prayed? We pray that very humbly. But we pray it because we know that is what You want to do. We pray, Lord, that our lives would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your security and not in fear. Jesus, we pray for a real sense of growth and maturity in our lives to be happening as we keep abiding in Your Word. Help us to see some ways that we are growing. And Lord, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that the world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. We pray that Your love would make the difference in our relationships with others. Jesus, thank You for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise You all the more because we will have eternity to look at the prayers that You prayed for us that we did not hear, that are not written down, but that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. We thank You for this. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 549.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.

3. See John Wallace’s Poem, “Prayer Moves the Hand that Moves the World,” at https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/prayer-moves-hand-moves-world.