How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 3

2 So the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A rod.’ 3 And He said, ‘Cast it on the ground.’ So, he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.” Exodus 4:2-3

Fear can keep us from doing the will of God. Just ask Moses. When God called him to leave the desert wilderness where he was shepherding sheep to go back and deliver His people from bondage in Egypt, Moses expressed several fear-based excuses as to why he was not God’s man (Exodus 3-4). His first two fears had to do with inadequacy (Exodus 3:11) and embarrassment (Exodus 3:13). God quieted those fears with the assurance of His presence (Exodus 3:12a) and His name (Exodus 3:14-15).

But Moses had other fears for God to calm. The next one was a Biggy – his FEAR OF REJECTION (Exodus 4:1). “Then Moses answered and said, ‘But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’ ” (Exodus 4:1). Fear that the Israelites might not believe God had appeared to him is reasonable” because “God had apparently not appeared to the Israelites for 430 years, the length of the sojourn in Egypt.” 1

Moses’ fear of rejection expressed itself by saying, God, what if they do not accept me. Suppose they call me a liar and insist that You never appeared to me?”

The Bible tells us, The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25). Whatever we fear we give control to. If we live our lives always worried about pleasing people – afraid of being criticized – then we are going to be too afraid of rejection to do what God wants us to do. The Bible says we are already a slave. We are giving control to the people we fear will reject us.

What is God’s answer to the fear of rejection… criticism… and disapproval? “So, the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A rod.’ ” (Exodus 4:2). Whenever God asks us a question it is never for His benefit. He already knows the answer. He wants us to recognize something in our lives. 

What does a rod or staff represent? A rod is a symbol for a shepherd as much as a stethoscope around a neck is for a doctor or a tool belt is for a carpenter.

1. It is a symbol of IDENTITY. Moses is a shepherd. His rod or staff was a symbol of who he is.

2. It is a symbol of INCOME. In those days there were no stocks or bonds, there were flocks. The more sheep and goats you had, the wealthier you were. So, this is a symbol of his income. All his wealth is in his sheep.

3. It is a symbol of INFLUENCE.  What do you use a shepherd’s staff to do? You use it to move sheep from Point A to Point B. You either pull them or you poke them. You use it to influence. He moves them along.

God is saying, “Moses, I want you to take what you have – your identity, your influence and your income (what’s in your hand) and I want you to give it to Me.” This is going to overcome the fear of rejection if you understand this.

Next God told Moses, And He said, ‘Cast it on the ground.’ So, he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.” (Exodus 4:3). God is saying, “Moses if you will give Me what is in your hand – your identity, your influence and your income – who you are, what you own, what you do – I will make it come alive! I will miraculously do things with your identity, income, and influence that you have never imagined. What I do may even scare you because I am in control, not you. But every time you pick it up, it is just going to be a dead stick again. When it is yours, it is lifeless. When it is Mine, it comes alive!” 

Here is my question: What is in your hand? What is your identity, your influence, your income?  If you give that to God and say, “God, it is Yours. You can use my income… my influence…and my identity any way You want to, for the mission You put me on earth to do.” God says, “I will make it come alive. I will do things you never imagined. This may be scary for you because I am in control when you release your staff to Me. Simply trust Me to use what you give to Me in a way that will magnify My name.”

Brothers and sisters, when we have that kind of power in our lives, we are not going to be afraid of what the critics are saying. We are not going to be afraid of rejection because we know we are being used by God. 

Prayer: Almighty God, thank You so much for speaking to us through Your word!We are living in a world filled with bullies who try to intimidate us into being silent about our Christian faith. Christianity is being politicized and Christians are being persecuted in various ways! Satan wants to use fear in our lives to keep us quiet about the living Lord Jesus Christ. Right now, Lord Jesus, we want to give You our staff which represents our identity, income, and influence, so You can make it come alive and use it to do things we could never do on our own! Like Moses, we may be afraid at first, as You bring it to life. Please help us continue to trust You, and not our feelings, as You move in our lives. Lord, we give You everything and everyone to use as You please for Your glory. We are eager to watch You work with what we give to You! In the name of the living Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. John D. Hannah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 213.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 3

Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ ” John 18:23

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

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

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

Now let’s go back to stage one where Jesus is on trial before Annas to discover our third principle. “The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine.” (John 18:19). Annas is conducting a preliminary investigation before sending Jesus to Caiaphas. This may be likened to what might happen today when an arrested person is first brought into a police station. 1  Annas’ questions focus on two primary issues: Jesus’ disciples and His doctrine. He wanted to know the extent of Jesus’ following and about the teaching He propagated. Perhaps Annas wanted to know what Jesus was doing to cause such an uproar among the Jewish leaders. It is also possible that Annas suspected Jesus of leading a subversive movement to undermine the Romans.

“Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.’ ” (John 18:20). Christ explains that He had nothing to hide. He had always taught “openly to the world.” He protects His disciples by drawing attention to His teaching. Jesus’ teaching was the same in private as in public. He was not leading a secret organization or cult. Obviously He was not denying that He had taught His disciples privately. He was simply assuring Annas that His teachings were not subversive. He did not have two types of teaching: a spiritual message for the multitudes, and a revolutionary one for His disciples.

Next Christ challenges the legality of the proceedings when He says, Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” (John 18:21). According to the Mosaic law, a person was innocent until proven guilty by evidence of witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). So the high priest should first call on witnesses to testify before questioning Jesus. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them,” Jesus says.By questioning Jesus, Annas assumed He was guilty. Christ’s question exposed the illegal proceedings by Annas. “If I am guilty, then where are the witnesses?” Jesus is asking. There were many people in Jerusalem who were familiar with Jesus’ teachings and could answer the questions of Annas. It was obvious that the officials were not seeking the truth at this first trial but were seeking incriminating charges to advance their purposes.

“And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ ” (John 18:22). One of the temple officers thought Jesus’ answer was disrespectful, so he resorted to violence and delivered a blow to Jesus “with the palm of his hand.” It was illegal to strike an unconvicted person.

Rather than turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), Jesus stands up for the truth and for justice. “Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ ” (John 18:23). Jesus knew that He had done nothing wrong so He demanded that they produce evidence of wrongdoing. If there was no evidence against Him, then why did they hit Him? Striking Christ without producing evidence of wrongdoing was illegal. Jesus did not let people walk over Him and violate the law. He stood up for justice and He can enable us to do the same.

Notice also what Jesus did not do. He does not respond in anger. He does not hit the officer back. But neither does He say I was wrong. Christ does not back down. He has this continued willingness to say, “I was right in what I said.” But He continues to say it with humility, without anger or malice towards the person who slapped Him. This is another way we can overcome religious hatred. We are to RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES BY SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE TO THEM (John 18:19-24). Jesus shows us that even when you love an enemy, it is okay to tell them the truth. Don’t back down from the truth. Jesus in love says, “I am standing for the truth. Why did you strike Me?”

When looking at Jesus’ religious trials in this section, one marvels over His steadfastness under pressure. Many of us would have folded under the pressure exerted upon Christ by Annas and the illegal court proceedings. But Jesus stood up for what is true and just. He did not let their wrongdoing go unquestioned. He exposed their illegal procedures and confronted their abusive behavior.

As we grow in our relationship with Christ, He can enable us to confront abusive behaviors in others by speaking the truth with dignity. Jesus did not get caught up in the hatred of the religious leaders and hate them back. He forgave them, but that did not eliminate His boundaries. He stood up to the officer who struck Him and confronted his wrongdoing.

When people mistreat you physically or verbally, please know that Jesus understands how you feel because He endured abusive treatment as well. And I believe He would assure you that you have every right to protest!

Forgiveness means we choose not to “get even” or “get back” at someone who has hurt us. But it does not mean we automatically trust the person who has wounded us. Nor does it mean we do not protect ourselves. The offender must earn our trust once again and that takes time and effort.

Jesus was hated by the religious community. And if we openly identify with the crucified Christ, we too, will not be accepted by religious people. In fact, some of the most brutal treatment of Christians comes from religious people. Religious people do not want to see their sin or admit their need for Jesus Christ Who died in their place for their sins.

If you are in an area of the world that persecutes Christians, you can reach out to the American Center for Law and Justice (aclj.org) which is dedicated to defending persecuted Christians around the world.

Christ confronted wrongdoing which brought an end to Annas’ investigation. Abusers do not like to be stood up to. “Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:24). It is possible that Jesus had been “bound” during this preliminary hearing before Annas. If so, Jesus was defenseless when the officer struck Him. 2  It becomes clear at this point, that Annas and the other officials were not interested in justice. They were committed to killing Jesus.

When Jesus spoke the truth to Annas and the officer who struck Him, He was seeking to convict them of their sin, without which they would not see their need for the Savior. Because Jesus was faithful to His Father’s will and He never fails, we can trust Him to enable us to speak the truth in love to a hostile world.

There is also a stark contrast between the corrupt and self-serving high priest named, Annas, and our faithful and blameless High Priest, Jesus Christ, Who was willing to sacrifice Himself willingly for His sheep (Hebrews 2:14-18; 7:26-27). Christ wants us to know that when we fail, we can draw near to Him to obtain the grace and mercy that we need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that if we are faithful to bear witness to a hostile world, God will protect us. Jesus was faithful to His Father in heaven, but He died a horrible and humiliating death. The Lord Jesus tells the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10).

Believers in Christ who do not compromise when faced with persecution, are guaranteed a rich reward from Jesus in the future – “I will give you the crown of life.” This reward refers to the abundant quality of existence faithful believers in Christ will experience in eternity. If the believers in Smyrna die for Christ in this life, they will receive an eternal experience that is totally opposite to the troubles they faced on earth.” 3

It is our responsibility to remain faithful to God “until death.” It is the Lord’s responsibility to reward us for our faithfulness.

Prayer: Gracious High Priest, thank You for willingly enduring the illegal court proceedings and mistreatment by those presiding over it, so we may obtain complete forgiveness of our sins through faith in You. We need You, Lord Jesus, to enable us to speak the truth in love to a hostile world as You did before Annas.We need Your wisdom to discern when to speak up and when to remain silent. Help us keep our eyes upon You, Lord, to endure persecution without compromise so we may honor You throughout eternity with the rewards You give to us in the future. In Your gracious name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

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. 552.

3. Ibid, pg. 1505.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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