Revelation 3 – Part 1

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5

Jesus now addresses the fifth church in Asia Minor. “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” ‘ (Revelation 3:1). Sardis was located a little over thirty miles southeast of Thyatira and was a glorious city in the past. In the sixth century BC it was considered one of the greatest cities on earth and was ruled by the wealthy King Croesus (called Midas by the Greeks because of his golden treasures). But by the time John wrote to the church there in the first century AD, the city’s greatness lay in the distant past. Unfortunately, the church at Sardis had the same problem—a great past but dismal conditions in the present. So, the Lord gives this church the steps they need to come alive again as well as a warning if they fail to do so.” 1

When the ascended Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the seven Spirits of God,” He is telling this church that He knows their true spiritual condition because He possesses the all-knowing Spirit of God(cf. Revelation 1:4b-5a). 2 Nothing escapes the notice of our Lord. Christ also “has the seven stars” or seven angels of the seven churches (cf. 1:20) to remind them of His Lordship over the entire church.

Although they had a good reputation among other churches for being “alive,” the Lord Jesus knew their true condition. This was the kind of church about which people today might say, “They have great music, great preaching, great outreach, a great children’s ministry, and beautiful buildings.” But because Jesus knew their “works,” He could say they were “dead” inwardly without any spiritual life (3:1b). “They were merely playing church.” 3

Like the Pharisees, their outer appearance was a facade hiding their lack of life (cf. Matt. 23:27-28).” 4

“Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the ‘monument’ stage, but there was still hope!” 5

The remedy for this condition is given by Jesus in the next few verses. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” (Revelation 3:2). The city of Sardis had fallen into enemy hands more than once, due to the carelessness of sentries who had relied too much on the town’s natural fortifications. 6 The Lord now commanded the church to “be watchful [alert] and strengthen” the areas of weakness in their church “that are ready to die.” The Lord wants His people to be diligent in protecting every element of good that remained in their church. They were not to be careless about this or allow any  more of the good that was still in existence to be cast aside as it had been in the past. 7

The Lord Jesus did not find their “works perfect [complete] before God.” The believers in Sardis tended to begin things but never finish them as God desired (cf. Acts 14:26). Do our churches resemble the church at Sardis? Does our outward appearance hide our lack of spiritual life? Did we start out strong for the Lord only to weaken over time and lose the vitality that once was so contagious? Have we held fast to the gospel of grace that transformed our lives, or have we turned away from the “faith alone” gospel to a “faith plus” gospel that promotes reformation instead of transformation?

Jesus then says, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:3). To overcome their spiritual deadness, these believers needed to “remember” the biblical instruction they “received and heard” from their spiritual leaders. Sound doctrine is always the foundation of a church that brings honor and glory to God (cf. Titus 2:1-15).” 8

They were also to “hold fast” to this instruction and “repent” and change their attitudes that led to their spiritual deadness. If they did not arise from their spiritual deadness, the Lord would “come upon” them “as a thief,” swiftly and unexpectedly to discipline them for their carelessness and superficial spirituality.

Jesus held out eternal rewards for the faithful “few” in Sardis. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4). The all-knowing Judge knew of a “few names… in Sardis who” had “not defiled their garments” and “shall walk with” Christ “in white” because they are “worthy” or deserving. This cannot refer to salvation because no one deserves to be saved from hell. The Bible clearly says that salvation is a free gift apart from any works (Romans 6:23b; 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:6; 22:17).  Instead, walking with Christ in white is a privilege reserved for the faithful believer who is undefiled in his Christian life.

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5). The risen Lord Jesus promises to the “overcomer” who is “worthy” (3:4) to be honored, the following eternal rewards:

– “Clothed in white garments.”  “White garments” are symbolic of one’s works (cf. 19:8) and are pure and free of defilement (cf. 7:9, 13; 19:14; Matthew 22:11-12). “In the ancient world, white robes also connoted festivity and victory.” 9 “Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs.” 10 Only the believers who remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth could enjoy His intimate fellowship in His coming Kingdom (“walk with Me”; cf. 7:14; 22:14). 11

Wilkin provides a helpful insight about this reward. “Keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Himself will be clothed in dazzling white garments that will outshine all others. His glory will be supreme.

“When at the Mount of Transfiguration He appeared in His glory, ‘His clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2). Special clothing is not insignificant, because it honors a person. The more glorious the garments, the more honor to the wearer.

“Like the sun, the Lord’s garments will have maximum radiance. The garments of great servants like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Deborah, Esther, and Mary will surely glow brightly. But theirs will be reflected glory, like the glory of the moon that reflects the glory of the sun.

“Would you not want to be identified as closely as possible with the Lord Jesus and glorify Him, even in your clothing? The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.” 12

– An honored name that is supremely secure. When Jesus says He will “not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” Armenians teach that Jesus is saying a non-overcoming (unfaithful) believer can lose his salvation. 13 But this would be contrary to Jesus’ teachings in John’s writings elsewhere. For example, Jesus taught, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith “shall never hunger” or “thirst” for eternal life again because the need He met can never reoccur. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we are unfaithful to Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).

Christ also said, 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:38-39). Jesus came down from heaven to do His Father’s will which was that all whom the Father had given Him should lose nothing, including their salvation. If Jesus failed to keep believers from losing their salvation, He would have failed to do His Father’s will. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God. But Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father.

Jesus said, 2And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29). Christ gives eternal life because it is a gift from Him. We do not earn it. Secondly, He also guarantees that a believer “shall never perish.” Eternal life is God’s life. You can no more perish in hell than God can perish in hell. If a believer in Jesus could lose his salvation, then Jesus just told a lie. Jesus also promises that “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Because Jesus securely holds each believer in His hand and no one – not a lion, wolf, thief, bandit, false teacher, popular speaker, demon, devil, not even you yourself – are strong enough to snatch (John 10:12) them out of His hand. The word “snatch” (harpasei) means “to snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly or vehemently.” It is impossible for even one sheep to be removed from the hand of our Good Shepherd. And no matter how strong or persuasive they are, not one of His sheep can wriggle out of His grasp.

If you are still not convinced that a believer in Jesus is secure forever, Christ adds, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” The hand of Jesus holding the believer is secure in the hand of God the Father. And no one is strong enough to snatch a believer from the hand of God the Father. In other words, the believer is doubly secure.

If a believer ever lost his or her salvation, Christ would have failed to keep these promises and many more. To properly understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:5), it is important to answer an important question.

What is the Book of Life? There appear to be several “books” or records that God keeps in heaven (cf. Revelation 20:12). Since God is all-knowing, “He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a ‘book’ is an example of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand.” 14  

There is the “Book of the Living,” namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exodus 32:32-33; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3). 15 To have one’s name removed from this book refers to physical death. But the “Book of Life” in Revelation refers to all those who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27). 16

It is best to understand Jesus’ words, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5), as another litotes (cf. 2:11) 17 which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. Jesus is saying, “If you remain undefiled to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure.”

Dillow writes, John is saying that, even if we are ridiculed and ultimately killed for our faith here on earth so that our name is dishonored and forgotten, we will, if we persevere, enjoy a heavenly reputation for all eternity. Our name will never be blotted out in heaven. No Christian will ever have his person blotted out of the book of life, even carnal ones. The overcomers are being reminded that, even though others can destroy them on earth, they cannot ruin the believer’s heavenly name.” 18

Such an honored name will be forever cherished by Jesus throughout eternity, which leads to the third reward.

– Christ said, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5 cf.Matthew 10:32-33; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:8; 19:17, 19). Only worthy or faithful believers will have their name publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels.

Only those Christians who acknowledge Christ now will be acknowledged by Him then. Only those Christians who are overcomers now will have their names acknowledged before the Father and His angels (Revelation 3:5). But having one’s name ‘acknowledged’ [confessed] is not the same as being declared saved. Rather, it refers to the public testimony by the Son of God to the faithful life of the obedient Christian. Conversely, not having one’s name acknowledged is to forfeit the Master’s ‘Well done.’” 19

This confession is functionally the positive idea implied in the litotes (no erasure of his name means a magnifying of his name, i.e., magnification by Christ’s personal acknowledgement before the Father and His angels).” 20

The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus during this church age will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards according to their works (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12) during the Tribulation period. Believers who lived in disobedience and failed to grow spiritually, like the believers in Sardis, “will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). Although they have eternal life by believing in Jesus, they will suffer the loss of rewards and be denied the praise that Christ could have given them before His heavenly Father and the holy angels if they had been faithful to the Lord’s calling in their lives.

Christ concludes, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:6). Not all Christians will be overcomers by remaining faithful to Jesus to the end of their lives. Only those who have “an ear” and “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promises and live as “overcomers” so they may receive these glorious eternal rewards.

Imagine being on the new earth with King Jesus in the future, and He publicly honors you by acknowledging your name before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. If you are the kind of person who likes to receive approval, praise, and recognition before others, this acknowledgement or confession of your eternally honored name in the future by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, will greatly motivate you to persevere in faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus now, no matter what the cost. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our hearts and what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him, even when people dishonor or forget our names on earth now.

In summary, Christians who watch expectantly for Christ’s return and live undefiled Christian lives will receive a three-fold reward consisting of dazzling eternal clothes, an eternally honored name, which will be publicly praised before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity (3:1-6).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, only You are qualified to judge Your church. Thank You for warning the church in Sardis (and us) of the danger of looking good on the outside to hide the lack of spiritual life on the inside. Thank You for warning us of the loss of reward and for giving us the remedy for our spiritually immature condition. Lord Jesus, we do not want to compromise our faith and waste our Christian lives by living selfishly. Please help us to stay spiritually alert and remember what we have been taught by godly teachers in the past. Thank You for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by You before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to You now no matter what the cost. To hear Your praise, Lord Jesus, in eternity, is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us so You will receive maximum honor and glory in eternity. In Your mighty and most honorable name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; 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), pp. 1509-1510.

2. Ibid., pg. 1510.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

4. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 46 cites, Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 577.  

6. Constable, pp. 46-47.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1510.

8. Ibid.

9. Constable, pg. 47 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 155.

10. Constable, pg. 47 cites R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 1, International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg.  78.

11. Constable, pg. 47.

12. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 46.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 684 cites J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (Scottsdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961), pp. 329-331.

14. Constable, pg. 48.

15. Ibid.

16. Dillow, pg. 685.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1511; Constable, pg. 49; Dillow, pg. 687 cites Martin Loyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), pp. 314ff.

18. Dillow, pg. 687.

19. Ibid., pp. 687-688.

20. Vacendak, pg. 1511.

How can I ever change? Part 4

“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” Genesis 32:28

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).

– God uses the process of confession (Genesis 32:27)

Earlier Jacob had sought his brother Esau’s blessing from his earthly father, Isaac. When he entered his father’s presence, Isaac asked him, “Who are you, my son” (Genesis 27:18b)? Jacob deceived his father and said, “I am Esau your firstborn” (Genesis 27:19a).

Now Jacob is wrestling with God and God dislocates his hip (Genesis 32:25). And when God asks him for his name, he comes clean with his heavenly Father and says his name is “Jacob” (Genesis 32:27b). Up to this time, Jacob had been a deceiver and manipulator. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-catcher” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter” – “one who takes the place of another by trickery.” His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, deceiver, schemer.” So when he told God his name, Jacob was being honest with God about his character flaws. He is saying to God, “I am a cheater and a schemer.” It is like Jacob is saying, “Lord, I don’t want to pretend any more. I want to present my true self to You. Here I am. Take me.”

God began changing Jacob as soon as he admitted who he was and started to cooperate with God’s plan. “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’ ” (Genesis 32:30). Jacob came face to face with God. Every one of us must eventually come face to face with God before God can change us. In this encounter with Jacob, God was saying, “I want you to relax. Just cooperate with Me and trust Me, and I will make the changes that you want made, and I will bless you.”

God didn’t say, “Jacob, try real hard and use all your willpower to grow and become the person I made you to be.” That doesn’t work. Willpower does not make permanent changes in our lives because it is attacking the outward circumstance, not the internal motivation that makes the permanent changes. God works on the heart. From this we learn the fourth way God changes us: GOD USES THE PROCESS OF COOPERATION (Genesis 32:28-31).

When Jacob began to cooperate, God started working, and the first thing God did was give Jacob a new identity. “And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” (Genesis 32:28). After we have had a personal encounter with God we can no longer be the same. God changed Jacob from a cheater and schemer to an “Israel,” which means “God fights” or “God’s fighter.” After all, Jacob fought with God and men, and prevailed; not by trickery, but by persistent faith. God knew Jacob’s potential; He saw beneath his self-sufficient, crafty exterior. God said, “That’s not the real you, Jacob. You are actually an Israel. You are My fighter.” God saw the fighter in Jacob, and the former cheater began to become the man whom the entire nation of Israel was named after. 

The good news is when we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, God gives us a new identity. Beneath all those things we know about ourselves that we don’t like, God sees an Israel. He sees “His fighter.” He sees what we can become by His grace. He sees potential because He gave us God the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a victorious Christian life. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 NKJV). God the Holy Spirit in us gives us the desire and power to do what is right. “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 LB). We are now God’s fighter, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 NKJV). We now have the potential through Jesus Christ Who loved us to live above our circumstances instead of underneath them.

God always knows how to bring out the best in our lives. If we will let Him, He will use whatever is necessary to change our lives for the better. Do we want God’s blessing on our lives? Then we need to take the situation that is making us miserable right now and commit it to God. Say, “God, I am going to commit this problem to You. I am going to hold on to You until You turn this problem around for good.”

Then confess the faults we need to confess, and cooperate with God. Notice an important point about Jacob’s life: 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him… 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.” (Genesis 32:25, 31). While they had been wrestling, the angel dislocated Jacob’s hip, and as a result, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. That hip muscle is one of the most powerful muscles in your body. When God had to get Jacob’s attention, He touched him at a point of his strength.

When God needs to get our attention, He may touch us at a point of strength to remind us to rely on his power and not our own. When we start thinking, “This is what I am really good at,” God may have to touch that very thing to get our attention. God touched Jacob’s hip, and it became a reminder to Jacob for the rest of his life that he was no longer to rely on his own power but in the power of God, and in so doing he became a much stronger person.

One more insight we gain from this incident in Jacob’s life. Jacob often got himself into trouble because he was a cheater and deceiver, and he often reaped what he sowed. But every time he got himself into a mess he ran away from it – he did this with Esau and Laban, his father-in-law. So God said, “I know how to take care of that temptation- I will put a limp in his walk.” For the rest of his life, Jacob would have to stand and face his problems, not in his own strength, but in God’s strength.

This teaches us that God puts an obvious weakness in people whom He blesses. Often the weakness is some kind of physical problem. For example, the apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The influential 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a lifelong battle with depression. Pastor Rick Warren  has a rare neurological disease called spinal myoclonus that causes painful spasms and blurs his vision when he gets a jolt of adrenaline. 3 God used these weaknesses to keep these men dependent on Him and His grace.

What about you? What is the one thing you would most like to change about yourself? Do you want God to change it? He will, but in His own way and time, if you will let Him.

Prayer: Father God, forgive us for pretending to be someone we are not, for hiding behind layers and layers of lies and manipulation. All of us have created protective personalities to protect us from being hurt again. Even though You know this, You still love us and accept us. Because of Your amazing love for us, we come to You as we are. Help us to say good-bye to our protective personalities, and then trust You instead to protect us. Please help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. We are Your fighter or conqueror through Jesus Who loved us. Thank You for giving us God the Holy Spirit to empower us to live for You now above our circumstances instead of underneath them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.  Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 148.

2. Retrieved on August 27, 2021 from Michael Reeves’ February 24, 2018 online article entitled, “Did You Know That Charles Spurgeon Struggled with Depression?” at www.crossway.org.

3. Retrieved on August 27, 2021 from Cris Kuo’s June 8, 2021 online Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Rick Warren to retire as lead pastor of Saddleback Church.”

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 can I ever change? Part 2

“And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ ” Genesis 32:26

God wants to change us from the inside out so we can experience His best in our lives. We are looking at an incident that took place in the life of Jacob before he encountered his brother Esau (Genesis 32) from whom he had stolen his father’s blessing (Genesis 27). Last time we saw that Jacob had an all-night wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:24; cf. Hosea 12:3-4). From this we discovered that God uses the process of a crisis (Genesis 32:24) to change us.

Today we will look at the second way God changes us from the inside out. As the dawn sets in, the Angel of the Lord said to Jacob, “‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ ” (Genesis 32:26). Jacob was committed to winning this wrestling match. He was persistent. Even though the Angel of the Lord had dislocated his hip making it nearly impossible for him to win (Genesis 32:25), Jacob did not give up. He said, “I am 120% committed to staying with this situation until God turns it around for good.” Jacob understood his utter helplessness now apart from the blessing of God. He was totally dependent on the Lord to bring good out of his situation.

One commentator writes, “Jacob completed, by his wrestling with God, what he had already been engaged in even from his mother’s womb, viz. his striving for the birthright; in other words, for the possession of the covenant promise and the covenant blessing . . . . To save him from the hand of his brother, it was necessary that God should first meet him as an enemy, and show him that his real opponent was God Himself, and that he must first of all overcome Him before he could hope to overcome his brother. And Jacob overcame God; not with the power of the flesh however, with which he had hitherto wrestled for God against man (God convinced him of that by touching his hip, so that it was put out of joint), but by the power of faith and prayer, reaching by firm hold of God even to the point of being blessed, by which he proved himself to be a true wrestler of God, who fought with God and with men, i.e., who by his wrestling with God overcame men as well.” 1

From a human perspective, Jacob was having a struggle with his brother, Esau. But behind this struggle, Jacob was wrestling with God, Who was seeking to transform Jacob’s life. We learn from Jacob that GOD USES THE PROCESS OF COMMITMENT (GENESIS 32:26) to change us for the better.After God gets our attention with a problem or crisis, He doesn’t solve it immediately. He waits a little longer to see if we really are committed.

Many people miss God’s best for their lives because they give up too soon. They get discouraged and quit. When God allows a crisis in their lives, instead of saying, “God, I am not going to let go until You bless me,” they just give up and miss God’s blessing.

We are so conditioned to instant everything that if we don’t receive an instant answer to our  prayers we say, “Forget it, God.” A couple may be ready to give up on their marriage or a believer is ready to give up on overcoming a bad habit when success is right around the corner. We need to remember that the things that led to this predicament did not occur overnight. Those attitudes, actions, habits, and fears took years to develop, and sometimes God has to remove them layer by layer,like peeling an onion. And it brings tears to our eyes. It can be painful. It takes time for God to change us. But don’t give up. There is hope. Hang in there. Be committed to getting God’s best for your life.

The Bibles says, And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). God uses trials to mature us. He uses difficulties to develop godly character in our lives and deepen our dependency upon Him which gives us a greater sense of hope.

This happens in parenting all the time. A parent puts a child into a sport or club, but when the child encounters difficulties, he immediately wants to quit. If the parent allows the child to quit, quitting will often become part of his character. When circumstances become difficult, he will want to quit relationships, jobs, hobbies, etc., throughout his life. He may never develop perseverance. But wise parents understand the benefit of perseverance. If the child continues, even though he emotionally wants to quit, he will develop the ability to persevere in the various difficulties of life—in the work force, marriage, parenting, church, etc.

God isn’t trying to develop spoiled children who want to quit every time they go through something painful. He is trying to develop mature children who not only can persevere but can also help others persevere through the difficulties of life as they learn to trust God instead of their feelings. 2

Prayer: Heavenly Father, many times in the past we have given up too soon in the midst of our struggles and missed Your best for our lives. Thank You for reminding us today that we need You in the midst of a crisis. We need Your blessing in our lives. Like Jacob, we can be tempted to give up when we have been hurting for a long time. When our struggles seem to have no end, that is when we need You the most. O Lord God, please give us the grace to not let go of You until You bless us. Bless us indeed heavenly Father! Bless us a lot!!! We want Your best for our lives and for those near to us. Thank You for loving us enough to permit us to struggle for the long haul so we can develop a godly character that does not give up, but gives in to You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Genesis, 2016 Edition, pg. 241 cites C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, The Pentateuch. Vol. 1  (Translated by James Martin. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. N.p.; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.), pp 305-306.

2. Adapted from Gregory Brown’s message, What Is God’s Purpose in Our Trials? (Genesis 32:22-32), at www.bible.org.

How can I ever change? Part 1

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” Genesis 32:24

What would you most like to change about yourself? If you could change one thing what would it be? Would you like to have more confidence? Be more relaxed? Organized? Perhaps you would like to be more outgoing, more self-controlled, more flexible, less anxious, less fearful or less controlling? One of the greatest tragedies is a person who is never willing to change. Change is a necessary part of the Christian life. If you are not changing, then you are not growing. We need to change in order to remain fresh and to keep moving forward in the Christian life. 

Most of us are interested in changing because we recognize there is always room for improvement. Many of us admit we want to change and try to change, but it doesn’t happen. We try to go on a diet, but it lasts an afternoon. We join health clubs and our excitement runs strong for a few weeks. Then we fall back into the same old rut. We go to seminars or counseling, but we keep falling back into old patterns of behavior. We want to be more positive and outgoing, and complain less, but it doesn’t work. The main reason is because we work on the exterior – our outside behavior – instead of working on the interior – our heart. Any lasting change must begin on the inside. Before we can make lasting changes to our behavior, we must first experience a change in our hearts. And this is a work of God!

During the next few days, Lord willing, we are going to look at a process that God uses in changing us – in making us more like Jesus Christ. God wants to change us and if you are a growing Christian, you will want to change as well. Turn with me to Genesis 32:24-30 where we will see how to change by looking at the life of Jacob, the father of Joseph. The incident in this passage was a turning point in Jacob’s life. It illustrates how God can change us as individuals.

Jacob was somewhat of a shifty guy. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-holder” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter”“one who takes the place of another by trickery.” (Genesis 27:1-29). His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, schemer.”    

But a wrestling match transformed Jacob into a new person (Genesis 32:24-30), and he became “Israel,” the man whom the entire nation of Israel would be named after. In this passage we see the process God uses to change us into the kind of people He wants us to become. It communicates to all of us that we don’t have to stay in the rut where we are: God will help us to change and overcome the weaknesses in our lives, if we will just let Him.

How do we let Him? After Jacob sent all his family and possessions across the river on the edge of the Promised Land (Genesis 32:22-23), Jacob had a wrestling match with an angel (Genesis 32:24-30). What does a wrestling match with an angel (Hosea 12:4) several thousand years ago have to do with changing you and me today? There are four steps in these verses that God uses to change us into the people He wants us to become.

First, we discover that GOD USES THE PROCESS OF A CRISIS (Genesis 32:24). We read, “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” (Genesis 32:24). An unidentified man assaulted Jacob, and he had to fight for his life. The “Man” was the Angel of the Lord. The Bible tells us,3 When he [Jacob] became a man, he even fought with God. 4 Yes, he wrestled with the Angel [of the Lord] and prevailed.” (Hosea 12:3-4 LB). Notice that God took the initiative in wrestling with Jacob, not vice versa. Why?

God was bringing Jacob to the end of himself. The fact that the match lasted till daybreak is significant. For the darkness symbolized Jacob’s situation. Fear and uncertainty seized him. If Jacob had perceived that he was to fight God, he would never have engaged in the fight, let alone have continued all night. On the other hand the fact that the wrestling lasted till daybreak suggests a long, decisive bout.” 1

Jacob had an all-night wrestling match with an angel, and the angel was really struggling, but it was a no-win situation for both of them. By dawn Jacob was getting tired of the struggle because he saw that he could not win. It was a situation beyond his control which was something Jacob was not used to. Jacob had been able to handle his problems using his own craftiness until now. Now Jacob is facing a crisis he cannot control with his scheming.

When God wants to change us, He begins by placing us in a frustrating situation that is totally beyond our control. We cannot win, and we just keep getting more and more tired. If we are in a crisis now, it may be because God is getting ready to change us for the better. We rarely change until we get uncomfortable and dissatisfied enough to let God do something in our lives.

The Bible tells us, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30 GNT). God loves us so much that He makes us uncomfortable if that is what it takes, to make us willing to change and grow. He will allow a crisis or problem in our lives to get our attention. He needs to do this because we won’t change until our fear of change is exceeded by the pain we are experiencing.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving us enough to allow us to face a crisis so we become willing to change and grow. We often don’t like the pain associated with it, but we realize that were it not for the pain, we would probably continue down the path of self-destruction. You understand us better than we do. You know that our fear of change must be exceeded by discomfort before we are open to change. Thank You our Lord and our God for pursuing us and giving us opportunities to grow. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 147.

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 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning 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).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 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… 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

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

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

7.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

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

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 4

“17 Sanctifythem by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” John 17:17-18 

The night before Jesus was hung on a cross, Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. We are learning from this prayer, how to pray like Christ prays. So far we have learned 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 fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

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

The third way to pray for those we disciple is to pray for THEIR PURIFICATION THROUGH GOD’S WORD (John 17:16-19).  Jesus prayed, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16). Jesus repeats that the disciples “are not of this world” in their position just as He was “not of the world.” They were to become less and less influenced by the world. How?

Next Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The word “sanctify” (hagiázō), literally means to “set apart1  from the world or “to make holy.” This is not referring to perfection. It is referring to spiritual growth or maturity – becoming more like Christ. How? We are to be “set apart” from the world’s influence and its values “by” the Father’s “truth” which is His “word,” the Bible. We cannot grow spiritually apart from God’s Word. So the way we grow in holiness is by renewing our minds in accordance with the truth of God’s Word (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Disciples of Jesus must abide in His word if they are to know the truth of His word and be set free from the lies that enslave them to sin (cf. John 8:31-36). We must feed upon God’s word to experience the victory Jesus has already won for us (John 16:33).

Diagram 1

At a meeting, a Native American Indian said a black wolf lived in his heart, but when Christ became his Savior, a white wolf came to live in his heart, and the two wolves were then fighting all the time (see diagram 1). After the meeting, someone approached him and asked, “Which wolf wins, the white one or the black one?” The Indian replied, “The one I feed the most.” If we feed upon God’s Word and do it, we are going to experience more victory over the world and Satan in our Christian lives.  But if we feed upon the lies of Satan, we will experience more defeat in our Christian lives and be conformed to the world. I like what D.L. Moody wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible. “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.” That’s the truth. If I let this book become more and more a part of my life it will keep me away from sin. Or sin can keep me away from reading His word.

Tony Evans writes, “This process happens through internalizing the eternal truth of God’s Word. Think of the Word like food. You can chew it all day, but unless you swallow it, you receive no health benefits from it. You internalize God’s Word, not by merely hearing or reading it, but by trusting and obeying it. Then its work of spiritual transformation is activated in your life (see 2 Cor 3:17-18).” 3

Diagram 2

Sanctification or spiritual growth takes place as we learn and as we love and as we live God’s Word. It is a balance of those three things – learning it, loving it and living it. We learn it with our mind. But that’s not enough. We probably know a lot of people who have learned the Bible with their minds and can even quote verses, but they are not growing because they don’t love it. They don’t love it with their hearts. And they are not living it with their will. They are not deciding to do the things it says. It is like a three-legged stool (see diagram 2) – learning it, loving it, living it. You can’t leave out any of those things. We may know some people who are trying to live God’s word without loving the One who wrote it. When we do that, the Bible is just a law. There is no relationship with God. When we start to learn His word and what it says, we start to love it with our hearts, and live it with our wills. when we have all three legs of that stool together, we’ve got a solid foundation for growth (cf. Matthew 7:24-25).

Next Jesus prayed, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). Now Jesus is setting His disciples apart through prayer to do the same work He had done. Instead of taking the disciples “out of the world” (John 17:15), Jesus was sending them “into the world.” Christ had trained them to continue what He had come to do – reveal the Father (cf. John 1:18). Notice that sanctification or spiritual growth (John 17:17) and sending (John 17:18) go together. Christ wants the world to see what He is like through disciples who are growing spiritually. If believers are not going into the world to make Christ known, they are not growing spiritually because sanctification (John 17:17) leads to reaching out to a lost world (John 17:18). If we are becoming more like Christ, we will develop the same love for the unsaved that Jesus has for them.

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus called His first disciples, “Follow Me,  and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing for men (evangelism), then we are not following Christ. Notice, however, that it is our responsibility to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Then Jesus prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (John 17:19). How did Jesus, the sinless Son of God “sanctify” Himself? Keep in mind that the word “sanctify” can mean “to set apart.” Jesus set Himself apart from the world to do the will of His Father which involved His sacrificial death on the cross “for their sakes” (cf. Hebrews 10:5-10, 14). In dying for His disciples (and all of us), He did for them what they could never do for themselves. He also died so His disciples “may be sanctified by the truth.” Christ’s death permanently set believers apart from their sin and guilt (cf. Hebrews 10:10, 14) and it also broke sin’s control over them (cf. Romans 6:5-11).

How important it is for us to understand that our spiritual growth and development is being nurtured by Christ’s prayers for us. We are also to pray for one another’s spiritual growth. Pray for God’s Word to shape us and mold us into Christlike people. Pray for one another’s commitment to holiness and godliness.

Diagram 3

The water spider is an amazing little creature (see diagram 3). Called the frogman of the spider world, it lives in rivers and streams. How does this fascinating species survive in its watery environment? It spins a tough basket-like web of silk, a kind of diving bell, and anchors it under water to plants or other objects. Then it captures a surface air bubble, which it pulls down and ejects into its underwater house, filling it with air. This combination of web building and bubble trapping allows the water spider to live in an environment that normally  would destroy it.

As Christians, we also live in an environment which could destroy us. The world’s values, attitudes, and practices threaten to drown us unless we are able to protect ourselves from them. How are we to survive spiritually in this hostile world? We are to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another. Prayer for one another can insulate our minds and help to keep us safe and secure in the Lord. As the water spider lives in the water but is not of the water, so we are to live in the world but not of the world.

Are you building a safe bubble by praying with and for other believers? Do you have a prayer partner? Sometimes our pride keeps us from asking for prayer from others. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that we need to be in a community of people who pray. We cannot grow spiritually in isolation from one another nor apart from God and His Word. We need both to influence the world for Christ.

Prayer: Father God, we live in a world where Satan uses politics, the media, the educational system, the economy, the laws of the land, and our unsaved family and friends to draw us away from You and make us less sensitive to Your Word. But You have called us to become less and less influenced by the world’s values through the transforming truth of Your Word, the Bible. Please activate Your Word in our lives as we learn, love, andlive Your Word. Renew our minds so that our thoughts align more with Yours. And as we grow closer to You, Lord Jesus, Your love for the lost people of this world will become ours. Increase our love for those for Whom You have died. Thank You, Jesus, for sending us into the world just as the Father sent You into the world. Please teach us all we need to know to effectively share Your gospel message with those who are perishing without You. Help us to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another to keep us safe and secure in You, Lord Jesus, as we live in this hostile world. We desperately need You, Your Word, and one another to accomplish Your mission of making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Thank you, my Lord and my God, for giving us all we need to honor and glorify You in this process. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 307.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 8.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

How can we respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ? Part 4

“42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” John 12:42-43

The people to whom Jesus spoke had important decisions to make before Christ was crucified.  We are learning from Jesus’ response to this crowd how we can respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ. So far we have discovered we must…

– Challenge them to seek God while there is time (John 12:34-35).

– Counsel them to believe in Christ while there is time (12:36).

– Contemplate the Scriptures’ explanation for their unbelief (John 12:37-41).

The fourth way to respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ is to CONSIDER THAT SOME ARE SECRET BELIEVERS (John 12:42-43; cf. 7:50; 19:38-39). John does not want to leave us with the impression that none of the Jewish leaders believed. “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.” (John 12:42). Although much of the nation of Israel was spiritually blind, “many” of its rulers believed in Christ for His gift of salvation. They became “sons of light” (John 12:36). But now they tragically refuse to walk in the light of fellowship with Christ. They choose not to “confess Him” to others because they are afraid of being “put out of the synagogue.” They were not willing to follow Jesus’ example of enduring trials to glorify God. Why did they refuse to openly identify with Christ?

For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43). Because they cared more about what people thought of them instead of what God thought of them. They were people-pleasers, not God-pleasers. They chose to walk in the darkness by refusing to confess Christ before others. They wanted the approval of men more than the approval of God. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were like this (cf. John 7:50; 19:38-39).

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (cf. I John 4:15).

God’s praise and opinion of us is more valuable than anyone else’s. God is the most important Person in a believer’s life. What matters the most is what He thinks of us, not what other people think of us. We cannot have everyone’s approval anyway. Trying to only makes our lives worse. There are believers working extremely hard to please others in the church, or more often than not, they are still trying to please their own parents. They are not trying to please God. God does not put those kinds of standards on us. God has not called us to serve others in a way that wears us out. He has not called us to do it all. He has called us to only do our part. We need each other to do our part.

The verb “confess” (hōmologoun) is not just telling others about our conversion, it also refers to calling upon the name of Jesus publicly when praying or seeking deliverance (Romans 10:9-15). It involves experiencing Jesus’ presence and power to save us from the power of sin in our lives!

It is important to understand that confessing Christ before others is not a condition for receiving eternal life. Only believing in Jesus is necessary for salvation from hell (John 3:14-18, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; Acts 16:31; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). God can see our faith in Christ alone apart from any good works or outward manifestation (Romans 3:21-4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7).

But confessing Christ before others is necessary to grow in our Christian lives. Romans 10:9-10 is referring to believing in your heart “unto righteousness” which is justification (Romans 3:21-5:9a) and confessing with your mouth for salvation from the present-day wrath of God (Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) which is sanctification (Romans 5:9b-8:39). Failure to confess Christ before others now, will result in the loss of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, particularly, the loss of ruling with Christ in the world to come (Matthew 10:32-39; Matthew 25:21; 2 Timothy 2:12).

Loving “the praise of men more than the praise of God” now will result in forfeiting the praise of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus said, 32 Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33). If we confess or publicly identify with Christ before people now regardless of the cost, Jesus will give us a good confession before His Father in heaven when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (e.g. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord,” Matthew 25:21). But if we deny Jesus our confession of Him before people now, He will “deny” us a good confession before His Father in heaven at the Judgment Seat of Christ (e.g. “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest,” Matthew 25:26-27).

In summary, when people do not seem to believe in Christ when we share the gospel with them, keep in mind that they may be secret believers. They have truly believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, but because they love the praise of people more than the praise of God, they are not willing to make their faith in Christ known to others yet. Continue to meet with them and disciple them. As they grow in their new relationship with Jesus, they will learn to put Him first in their lives instead of the opinions of other people. Pleasing Jesus will become their top priority so that their fear of people will fade away.

Prayer: Father God, I want nothing more than to hear Jesus give me a good confession before You in heaven when I stand before His Judgment Seat. So many believers in the world are afraid to make their faith in Christ known to others because they are afraid of the consequences. They still have everlasting life, but they will lose rewards in heaven if they value the praise of men more than the praise of God. There have been times when I was ashamed to confess Jesus before the unsaved for fear of rejection or persecution. Please forgive me for thinking only of myself instead of You. I pray Your Holy Spirit will stir up the warrior in me that will boldly proclaim Christ to a lost world regardless of the cost. Use me, Father God, to equip and empower Christians around the world to boldly make Jesus known so they will receive His praise when they give an account of their lives to Him in heaven. In Jesus’ most precious name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 7

“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” John 11:39a

As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John (11:1-44), we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

– Discover Christ’s compassion (John 11:28-37).

The seventh reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DEMONSTRATE THAT OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST ACCESSES HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 11:38-44a). “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” (John 11:38). Again, Christ felt the same angry emotion (“groaning” – cf. 11:33) as He approached the tomb. He may have been angry that the Jews who came to comfort Mary did not believe He could raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:37). They thought He could overcome sickness but not death.

Tombs were often cut into limestone making a cave in the side of a wall of rock. A large stone was placed over the entrance. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” (John 11:39a). To do so was to risk defilement according to Jewish law and customs. But Jesus is not bound by man-made laws or customs. The people standing next to Jesus may have thought, “Doesn’t He have the power to move this stone?” Yes, He does, but He did not use that power to move the stone. Why? Because their obedience was necessary for them to realize and experience Jesus’ resurrection power.

“Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ ” (John 11:39b). Lord, Lazarus already stinks. Nothing can be done. It’s hopeless!” When we see death, we see no further. But Jesus sees beyond death to life. 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ ” (John 11:40). Christ called Martha “to demonstrate her faith in Him by her action – allowing the stone to be removed. Jesus didn’t want her explanations about bodily decay; He wanted her to walk by faith, putting one foot in front of the other. Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Then, demonstrating the “glory of God” would be up to Jesus. Faith must precede sight if we want to see God’s supernatural intervention in our circumstances. We can never know what God plans to do in secret until we obey what He has clearly revealed.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), pg. 1791. All the people there would see this miracle. Only those who believed would see God’s glory revealed in the raising of Lazarus.

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ ” (John 11:41-42). Jesus had already pleaded Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ case to the Father. This is the second time He had prayed about it. He states this so those around Him can believe the Father sent Him.

Jesus’s prayer for His Father’s supernatural intervention also illustrates His current intercessory work of deliverance for believers when we respond in faith and obedience (cf. Hebrews 7:25). This is why we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. The Father responds to what the Son endorses. When we face disappointments, Christ prays for us (cf. Luke 22:31-32). He can overcome our circumstances even when there seems to be no hope.

Earlier Jesus had said that men would hear His voice and come out of their graves (John 5:28) and that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:16, 27). “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ ” (John 11:43). If Jesus had not said Lazarus’ name, all the dead would have come out of their graves. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.” (John 11:44a). The One who is the Resurrection and the Life revealed His power by summoning Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus did not come out by his own power, but by the power of the One who commanded him to come out. This is the glory of God! Only God could reverse the process of decay and restore Lazarus from death to life.

If the people with Jesus had not obeyed His command to remove the stone over the entrance to Lazarus’ grave, they would not have witnessed the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, we must obey the Lord Jesus to experience His resurrection power in our daily lives. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:11, 13: 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

As believers live “by the Spirit”through obedience to Christ (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1, 4-5; Galatians 5:16-26), they can experience Christ’s resurrection power to put to death the sinful deeds of the body. We cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless we walk in obedience to Christ. We cannot access Christ’s resurrection power unless we obey Him. When we face disappointments, we may not “feel” like obeying the Lord, but this is key to experiencing His resurrection power in our lives. Step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His power in your life.

This resurrection miracle is a beautiful picture of conversion. Lazarus was unable to raise himself from the dead. None of his friends or religious leaders could reverse his death. Likewise, before we become Christians, the Bible tells us that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) without the life of God. And our sin separates us from God (Romans 6:23). We are unable to come to God apart from His drawing (John 6:44a).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was giving us a foretaste of what is to come. One day, Lazarus would physically die again. But he would eventually participate in a future everlasting bodily resurrection whereby He would live with Jesus forever along with all who believe in Christ alone (John 11:25-26; cf. I Thessalonians 4:14-17)!  

Only Jesus Christ can give eternal life to people, and this gift is based upon His finished work on the cross, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; cf. Isaiah 64:6). We cannot save ourselves. Other people or religions cannot save us. Only Jesus can do this. We receive eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Each time God saves a sinner He reveals His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for this incredible miracle which demonstrates that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. As the Resurrection, only Jesus can guarantee a future bodily resurrection that lasts forever to all who believe in Him. And as the Life, only He can give spiritual life that that never ends to all who believe in Him alone. Father, thank You for demonstrating that my obedience is necessary to experience Your resurrection power daily in my Christian life. I cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless I walk in obedience to Jesus. When I am tempted to sin, please help me to step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His resurrection power in my life to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to You. I also ask You to use me to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection power to all who are dead in their sins and separated from You. Please persuade them to believe in Jesus alone as the Resurrection and the Life so they may have eternal life in His name. In Jesus’ powerful life-giving name I pray. Amen.