Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 5

“Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” John 21:9

When Jesus appeared for the fourth time after His resurrection in the gospel of John, He reminds us of several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

Now we are ready for the fifth lesson from Jesus. After Christ miraculously enabled His seven disciples to catch more fish than they could haul into their boat, John identifies that this Stranger is Jesus and then Peter eagerly dives into the sea to swim over to Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:6-7). When the other disciples arrived on the shore with a net full of fish (John 21:8), John writes, “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” (John 21:9). The disciples discovered that the Creator of the universe had fixed them breakfast on the beach. This must have smelled great to these tired and hungry fishermen who had been fishing all night.

John included an interesting detail in this verse that can easily be missed. The Greek word that is translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used two times in John’s gospel: here and in John 18:18 when Peter was in the courtyard warming himself around the fire and he denied knowing Jesus three times. The risen Lord Jesus was reminding Peter of his recent past. We can be sure of this because of the conversation Jesus will have with Peter in John 21:15-17. Peter would never forget this life-changing meal as he would even mention it in his preaching (see Acts 10:41). 1

What was going on here? If Peter was going to get over his past failures he needed to face the truth about himself. He had to stop hiding in his fishing expeditions and face up to what he had done earlier.

Peter isn’t the only one in the Bible who tried to hide from his failures. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, hid behind fig leaves after they sinned against God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-10).

You and I can be a lot like Peter, and the first man and woman. We can easily go into hiding after we have failed our Lord. And we can hide in so many ways. We may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion.

Recently I read a true story about a man who shoved his way to the head of the ticket line at the airport after his flight had been canceled. “I have to get on the next flight, and it has to be first class,” he bellowed to the agent. “I’ll be happy to help you, sir,” she replied, “as soon as I serve these folks in front of you.” The passenger was irate. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he shouted at her. Without replying, the agent picked up the airport intercom and announced to the whole terminal, “May I have your attention, please. We have a passenger who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone can help him reclaim his identity, please see the agent at gate six.” 2

Most of us probably would not do something as selfish as that man did in a public setting, but we have probably thought about it under similar circumstances. Like that man, we have demanded our own way in a more indirect manner while hiding from God’s work in our lives. But the amazing thing is that our risen Lord, unlike that ticket agent, lets us get away with it at least for now. But the day is coming when we will all stand before Him, unable to hide anything from Him (I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 4:12-13). But God does not force us to stand openly before Him now.

As a result, some of us have been hiding areas of our lives for a long time, and that is what causes bondage. Hell always grow stronger when there is secrecy. Some of us carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame; others of us hide behind the fig leaves of anger, or our business or careers or even our ministries.

No matter how long we have been hiding, sooner or later, we are going to have to trust the Lord and admit the truth about ourselves. This is what Peter needed to do and Jesus built this fire of coals to help him do just that. As Peter stood before the fire where his risen Lord had cooked him breakfast, he was remembering his greatest failure of his life. Now Peter had many failures, but none were as great as when he denied knowing his Lord, especially after vowing to be faithful to Him even unto death (cf. John 13:37; 18:17-18, 25-27).

At some point all of us have had such a failure. And it seems unforgivable. Peter remembered standing before the fire and not just once, but three times – openly and blatantly – he denied the One Who loved him more than anyone else ever had or ever would.

Have you ever done that? We end up denying our risen Lord Jesus Who loves us more than anyone else. We end up betraying our best Friend by doing the very thing we vowed never to do.

Yet what does Jesus do? He cooks breakfast which included “fish” and “bread.” Why did He choose those foods? Just as the “fire of coals” would remind Peter of his past failure, so too the “fish” and “bread” would remind these seven disciples of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13). Notice that He had already provided fish for them, in addition to cooking it for them – flame-broiled – even before the disciples got out of their boat and hauled the fish they had caught to shore. Before His crucifixion, Jesus had served His disciples by washing their dirty feet (John 13:1-17). Now He continues to serve them as their risen Lord by providing them with a warm fire and a delicious breakfast.

Both the fire of coals, and the fish and bread would be reminders of Jesus’ faithfulness to His disciples. Christ faithfully predicted Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38) and he did around the coals of fire (John 18:17-18, 25-27). This would assure the disciples that Jesus would be faithful to fulfill other predictions such as His promises about preparing a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27). Jesus was also faithful to supernaturally feed over five thousand people with fish and bread (John 6:1-13), and He would continue to faithfully provide for His followers in the future. Perhaps the disciples feared that the Lord’s death would bring an end to His care for them. But this breakfast was a timely reminder He would continue to faithfully provide for all their needs.

This leads us to our fifth lesson: OUR RISEN LORD JESUS GIVES US REMINDERS OF HIS FAITHFULNESS TO CARE FOR US (John 21:9). In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to observe different festivals to celebrate His provision for the nation in various ways (cf. Leviticus 23). 4 Each time God’s people observed these festivals, they would be reminded of God’s provision in the past so they may continue to trust Him to provide for them in the future.

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself established the Lord’s Supper to be observed in remembrance of Him, His death and shedding of blood for our sins (Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30; I Corinthians 11:23-26). Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, it helps us to think and thank God for His great grace toward us through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9).

I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 where He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). When we see the “birds of the air” we are reminded of how our heavenly Father takes care of them. Have you ever seen a bird get an ulcer from worrying? They don’t get anxious about their next meal because our “heavenly Father feeds them.” And since we are far more valuable to our Father in heaven than a bird, how much more will He take care of you and me!?!

Jesus also said, 28So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30). Flowers don’t worry about looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation. If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t He do much more for you and me? You and I are much more valuable to Jesus than a bird or a flower, so there is no need for us to worry about Him taking care of our needs.

As you read this article you may be realizing that you needed these reminders from the risen Lord Jesus. We are prone to forget what is most important in life. Jesus knows this and He addresses it with daily reminders of His faithfulness to provide for all our needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Peter, we can hide from our past failures in a variety of ways. And like Adam and Eve who hid behind fig leaves after they sinned, we may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion. Thank You for reminding us of our past unresolved failures so we can face them and bring them to You and be restored. Lord Jesus, we can be so prone to worry about many things, especially our unmet needs. Thank You for the many reminders You give us each day that tell us we are important to You and that You will be faithful to take care of all our needs. Please renew our trust in You to do what You promise. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Ed Kittrell, Funny Business (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Publishing House, October 1977), pg. 6.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.

4. Evans, pg. 294.

5. Ibid., pg. 1501.

Celebrated not condemned

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

I was drawn to a favorite verse today in the book of Zephaniah in the Old Testament. If you are like me, you may struggle with shame. I’m not talking about true shame. True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-8, 10). All of us experience this kind of shame because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).

But what I am talking about is false shame which can be at the core of our being. False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can actually experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” For example, a child who was verbally or sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I am bad because that happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”

True shame says, “I have done wrong.” But false shame says, “I am wrong.” Do you see the difference?  

When talking about false shame, we may believe deep down inside us that we are unacceptable or worthless before God. We may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but we do not believe it nor experience it in the deepest part of our being. Deep down we think we have to earn God’s love or that God would never love us as we are.

Shame-based lies keep us from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” “I don’t have what it takes to be a God-honoring child of God.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Our verse in Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zephaniah 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zephaniah 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

In the future, after King Jesus defeats all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation period (Zephaniah 3:15; cf. Revelation 19:11-21), He will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (Zephaniah 3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (Zephaniah 3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

Let’s get more personal in our application of this verse, especially as it relates to false shame. King Jesus has the “mighty” power to “save” us from shame-based memories or feelings from trauma in our past so they do not invade our present relationships, especially with those we care the most about. King Jesus “rejoices” over us, He does not reject us. He delights in us, He does not despise us. We bring King Jesus pleasure, not pain simply because we are His beloved children through faith in Him for everlasting life. King Jesus will “quiet” or calm us with His passionate “love” for us! His great love for us cannot be contained, but bursts into joyful celebration and “singing” over us.

King Jesus wants to celebrate us, not criticize or condemn us. He wants to delight in us, not despise us. Christ loves us, He does not loathe us. King Jesus rejoices over us, He does not reject us. He sings over us, He does not shame us.

Some of us are running from this false shame inside us. We stay busy to avoid these feelings of shame. We seek different coping behaviors to medicate our shame and fear inside us. They seem too overwhelming for us to face. But please hear me. Jesus wants to quiet your soul with His radical love. He wants us to stop running and rest in His loving presence.

For some of us, this may seem very disturbing because we have listened to shame-based lies all our lives. And if we slow down, we may start to feel unwanted emotions that we have buried under layers of self-protection. But King Jesus wants to walk with us through these painful emotions or memories to bring healing and restoration to our lives.

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:17-19; I John 4:9-11). We are His beloved. We are His delight. We are His precious possession by virtue of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be our true selves in the presence of God and other people.

Take a moment to picture in your mind what kind of look Jesus has on His face when His eyes are fixed on you. Does He have a look of anger and disapproval toward you? Does He look apathetic or distant? Or does He have a look of delight and love? Is He celebrating you by rejoicing and singing over you? If it causes you discomfort to picture the look on Jesus’ face, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus the way Zephaniah describes Him in our verse today. Christ can do this in your life through the Holy Spirit’s application of His Word and through Christlike believers who are overflowing with His love.

Prayer: Hallelujah, Lord God Almighty! Thank You for Your unchanging and everlasting Word. By Your Holy Spirit, please renew my mind this day as I focus on Your truth so I may see myself more as You do – as a beloved and prized child of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Please quiet my heart with Your radical love for me. Please enable me to see that You celebrate me, You do not criticize me; You delight in me, You do not despise me; You love me, You do not loathe me; You rejoice over me, You do not reject me; You sing over me, You do not shame me! Thank You my Lord and my God for showing me that I do not need to perform or work to earn Your love. Therefore, I will not seek to earn anyone’s love, because Yours is more than enough. Please fill me with more of You and the worth You alone can give to me so I am not threatened by what others say or think of me. Thank You King Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome my fears? Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

3. Ibid., pg. 378.

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

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 7

“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” John 19:23

We are discovering lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Thus far we have learned the following:

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

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

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

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

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

Today we discover in the seventh picture the apostle John presents to us, that JESUS’ GARMENTS WERE REMOVED SO WE COULD WEAR THE GARMENTS OF SALVATION (John 19:23-24). The words “when they had crucified Jesus” (John 19:23b) refer to the time when they nailed Jesus to the crossbeam and set the cross in place. 1  While Jesus is writhing in pain on the cross, John informs us, “Then the soldiers… took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” (John 19:23a, c).

Four Romans soldiers under the leadership of a centurion were assigned to each person being executed. “It would be the privilege of the soldiers conducting the execution by crucifixion to divide the personal property of the crucified among themselves. In keeping with custom therefore, the four soldiers took Jesus’ garments and divided them into four parts among themselves.” 2

It is significant to note that the Greek word for “garments” (hamatia) is plural. “When this word occurs in the singular it refers to the outer robe that most Jews wore. Here, because he used the plural, John evidently had in mind all of Jesus’ ‘outer garments,’ including His robe, sandals, belt, and head covering.” 3

The “tunic” (chitṓn) that was also removed from Jesus “was a garment worn next to the skin, but it was not what we would think of as underwear. It was more like a long shirt.” 4  The Jewish historian, Josephus, used this word to describe the high priest’s tunic that was woven in one piece (Antiquities 3.161). 5 This undergarment “was without seam, woven from the top in one piece,” and therefore, was more valuable. Not wanting to tear this expensive article of clothing, the soldiers “said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be.’ ” (John 19:24a). What a contrast between the innocent Lamb of God who was nearly stripped naked before a watching world to bear the shame of all our sin while Roman soldiers ignore Him because they were more concerned about accumulating wealth.

The Bible often describes our behavior as the clothes we wear. For example, Peter encourages us to be “clothed with humility” (I Peter 5:5). King David writes of the wicked person, “As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment.” (Psalm 109:18). Garments represent character, and like His tunic, Jesus’ character “was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.” (John 19:23a, c). Christ’s life was like His tunic: “uninterrupted perfection.” 6

When John says Jesus’ tunic was “woven from the top,” Lucado suggests it means  “Jesus wasn’t led by his own mind; he was led by the mind of his Father. Listen to his words: ‘The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise’ (John 5:19 NRSV).

“’I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge’ (John 5:30 NRSV).

“The character of Jesus was a seamless fabric woven from heaven to earth… from God’s thoughts to Jesus’ actions. From God’s tears to Jesus’ compassion. From God’s word to Jesus’ response. All one piece. All a picture of the character of Jesus.” 7

But when the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, Christ took off His tunic of seamless perfection and put on a tunic of shame. Imagine what it was like for Jesus to be stripped down to a loin cloth in front of His own mother and loved ones. He was shamed before His family.

Jesus was also shamed before His accusers. While Jesus hung on the cross for a few hours, it seemed as though the religious leaders were the winners, and Christ was the Loser.

Worst of all, Jesus wore the shame of sin. Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” (I Peter 2:24a). He not only was shamed before His family and before His accusers, He was shamed before heaven. Although Jesus had never murdered anyone or committed adultery, He felt the shame of the murderer and adulterer. Though He never lied or gossiped about anyone, He experienced the disgrace of the liar and the gossiper. Though He never lost control of His anger, He experienced the embarrassment of those who do. Though He never had any pride or selfishness, He felt the shame of the proud and the selfish. Because He became our Substitute, He felt “the collective shame of the world.” 8

Jesus experienced the shame of all our sin while hanging on that cross in our place. Why? So we can wear the garments of salvation. His garments were removed so we can wear the robe of His righteousness. Only those who believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life can say, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10).

The Bible tells us,But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). God clothes with His righteousness the person “who does not work.” Getting right with God is not based upon our works. It is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If our works could gain us the robe of God’s righteousness, then there was no need for Jesus to remove His garments and die in our place.

God puts His robe of righteousness on the person who “believes on Him who justifies the ungodly.” Getting right with God is not based upon behaving, but upon believing in Jesus Christ “who justifies the ungodly.” It does not matter how well you have behaved, you are still “ungodly” before a holy God. You may say, “Well, I’m not as bad as him or her.” You need to understand that God is not comparing your life to other sinful people. He is comparing your life to the only perfect Person who has ever lived on earth – Jesus Christ. And the Bible says, we  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). We all fall short of the seamless perfection of Jesus Christ.

The fact is that all people are “ungodly” sinners who deserve to be separated from God forever in a terrible place called the “lake of fire” (Romans. 3:9-23; Revelation 20:15). But the moment you believe in Jesus Christ alone, God gives you a right standing before Him as “your faith is accounted for righteousness.” He clothes you with His righteousness so that when He looks at your life, He sees the seamless perfection of His Son.

Even though it seemed like Jesus Christ had been defeated by wicked men as He suffered on the cross, John then reminds us that God is still in control when he writes, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.” (John 19:24b). The soldiers’ dividing of Jesus’ garments and casting lots for His inner tunic fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 22:18. Satan has not won a victory here. God used the wicked actions of wicked people to provide for our salvation. 9

Even though Jesus was shamed before His family, His accusers, and before heaven, He did not let this shame keep Him from finishing His work on the cross. Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus “endured the cross” by “despising the shame.” The word “despising” comes from a compound Greek word, kataphronéō, which means “against, down” (kata) and “to think” (phronéō).” 10  Literally it means “to think against” or “to think little of.”

Jesus was able to endure the embarrassment or humiliation of the cross and the sins He bore by “despising the shame” associated with them. He simply did not pay attention to that shame because it was not His and it was contrary to God’s original design for humanity (cf. Genesis 2:25). This shame was of little consequence compared to the surpassing “joy that was set before Him” when He would sit “down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ endured the pain and shame of the cross because of the joy that awaited Him on the other side when He would sit down on His everlasting throne next to His heavenly Father (cf. Hebrews 1:8-9).

Christ endured being abandoned by His closest friends, being falsely accused, being beaten, mocked, spit upon, stripped down to His undergarments in public, and nailed to a cross like a terrible criminal to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Matthew 26:47-27:44; John 19:1-24). Worst of all, Jesus endured being rejected by His own Father in heaven when the sins of the world were placed upon Him because God is holy and righteous and cannot be around sin (Matthew 27:45-46). Did Jesus enjoy this shameful treatment associated with His crucifixion? No!!! He despised or looked down with contempt toward the shame associated with His sufferings and our sins. Jesus is showing us that just because something bad happens to you does not make you bad.

Like Jesus, we may have experienced shame by being falsely accused. During our childhood we may have been told, “You are no good.” “You cannot do anything right.” “You will never amount to anything.” Or like Jesus, some of us have been abandoned by those closest to us. Perhaps a parent abandoned you physically at an early age or they abandoned you emotionally. They lived in the same house with you, but they did not provide the emotional nurturing and support you needed. Like Jesus, you may have been beaten physically by those in authority over you. As a result, the voice of shame told you that this happened to you because you are bad. You may have been mocked and verbally mistreated and the voice of shame said you deserved this. Like Jesus, we may have experienced the humiliation of being put on display with minimal clothes on (or no clothes on) in front of others.

Or may be you have been shamed because of your commitment to follow Jesus. Perhaps you have been abandoned by those closest to you, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of your love for Jesus. Please realize that Jesus understands how you feel because He has been through something similar (cf. Hebrews 4:15). Knowing He understands and sympathizes with us can embolden us to approach Him in prayer for His supernatural assistance. So instead of looking to our own shame whether it is based on our actions or the actions of others, we are to look to Jesus who despised the shame when He endured the cross on our behalf (Hebrew 12:2).

Prayer: PreciousLord Jesus, thank You for loving us so much that You were willing to have your garments removed so our shame could be replaced with the garments of salvation the moment we believe in You. Thank You for enduring the cross by despising the shame associated with it and the sins You bore, so we could be clothed with Your robe of righteousness. Knowing that You understand how we feel when we are abandoned by those closest to us or falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of our love for You, emboldens us to approach You in prayer for Your supernatural assistance to keep running the race You have set before us. We love You our Lord and our God. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 560.

2. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 482.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 354 cites Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1 (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912), pg. 625.

4. Ibid.

5. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 347.

6. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 73.

7. Ibid.

8. Adapted from Max Lucado’s He Chose The Nails, pg. 74.

9. Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary, pg. 347.

10. https://biblehub.com/greek/2706.htm.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 4

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

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

The fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).

This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”  (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.

When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1  So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).

The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.

It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26). 

The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5

John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6

The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began. 

Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.

The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as. 

The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.

So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.

When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.

The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.

The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.

They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome. 

Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross.  Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime. 

As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.

John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….

“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?

“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?

“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partially true. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.8

The Bible tells us, 13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).

Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…

“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9

Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11  Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.” 12

The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.” You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.

What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).

Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.

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

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.

5. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.

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

7. Ibid.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.

9. Ibid., pg. 34.

10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.  

11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.

12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.

How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 1

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” John 14:16

A few years ago I watched the movie “Spotlight” which is based on a true story of how the Boston Globe newspaper’s spotlight team uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The many victims of abuse had been ignored by the Catholic Church and the Boston community. Near the end of the movie, many victims called in to the Spotlight department after they ran an article entitled, “Church ignores abuse by priests for years.” For years victims of sexual abuse were abandoned by people who knew about the abuse but turned the other way.

We might think, “Well, that is just the Catholic Church. That would not happen among true born-again Christians.” Evangelical churches would not ignore the victims of such abuse, right!?! Mission agencies would not tolerate such horrific treatment of their own people. Right?! Wrong! These assumptions are one of many factors that has hindered evangelicals and Bible-believing mission agencies from dealing with sexual abuse among their own people.

Former gymnast, Rachael Denhollander, says she was fifteen-years old when US Olympic team doctor, Larry Nassar, started sexually abusing her. In an interview with Christianity Today, she says, Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church… 1

Mission agencies that once denied the possibility of sexual abuse among their missionary families have had to come to grips with the harsh reality that such abuse has and does take place among conservative evangelical missionary families. In fact, I was told by one mission agency leader in the Philippines, that sexual abuse takes place in every culture and subculture, Christian or non-Christian. All people are fallen and broken because of sin.

Sexual abuse victims are often isolated and left alone to deal with their pain and shame. Those who are abused within the church are wanting to know, “Where is God in all of this? Has God abandoned me? Why did He permit this to happen to me?”

The feeling of being left alone, not only haunts victims of sexual abuse, it also haunts the “divorcee in that apartment… or the one who just buried his or her life’s companion… or the couple whose arms ache for the child recently taken… the young nurse in 1967 who, after a shattered romance and broken engagement, went back to the Midwest to start over… like the disillusioned teenaged girl, away from home and heavy with child – wondering, ‘How can I face tomorrow?’” 2  Because of COVID-19, many people are experiencing abandonment by family, friends, colleagues, and churches. Some of you reading this article may be feeling as though God has left you or abandoned you.

The disciples of Jesus may have asked that question, “How can I face tomorrow?” After Jesus announced His departure to His disciples, they became troubled (John 13:33-14:12). They were afraid to be left alone without Jesus present. They did not want to fight battles and face issues alone.

Like Jesus’ disciples, we may struggle with the fear of abandonment. A word, a tone of voice, or gesture or lack of it can drive us to act in ways that we think will prevent someone from leaving us. But we do not have to yield to our fear of abandonment because Jesus has provided a Helper to encourage us during His absence.

In John 14:12-14, Jesus had promised His disciples that if they trusted Him, they would do greater works than He had done because He would go to the Father. Even though Jesus was leaving them, they were to continue His ministry of revealing the Father. Christ’s disciples would reveal His Father to a greater extent than He had done while He was on earth if they had faith in Him to work through them. The power to reveal the Father would be obtained through prayer in Jesus’ name.

For the next few days, we will learn how we can overcome the fear of abandonment. We can overcome the fear of abandonment by focusing on… THE PROMISE OF ANOTHER HELPER (John 14:15-16). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,“If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15). While Jesus was gone, the disciples would have an opportunity to show Christ just how much they loved Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The present tense of the first verb, “love,” (agapate) could be translated, “If you keep on loving Me…” 3 They could reveal their love for the Lord through their ongoing obedience to Him.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “If you fear Me, keep My commandments.” The fear of Jesus is not the motivation for obedience to Him. Instead, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Love for Jesus is the strongest motivation for obeying Him. Our obedience to Christ is the outgrowth of our love relationship with Him. First John 4:18-19 say, 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.”The more I experience the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus Christ, the more my love toward Him will increase and express itself by obeying Him.

Some people may claim to love Christ while living in disobedience to Him. They may misconstrue that their love for the Lord is a feeling. But Christ makes it clear that our love for Him is revealed through our actions. Jesus taught His disciples that answered prayer is dependent upon obedience to Him (John 14:13-14; cf. 15:7). John writes in his epistle, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”(I John 3:22). We can say we love the Lord, but what truly communicates our love for Him is obedience to His Word (cf. I John 3:18).

Think about this for a moment. If Jesus just told us with His mouth that He loved us and never took action, we would still be dead in our sins. God’s love involves the commitment to do what is best for others. Our love for Jesus is expressed through our obedience to Him.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16). Jesus recognized the weaknesses of His disciples and their inability to fulfill the ministry of revealing the Father through their obedience to His commands, so He promises that the Father will send “another Helper.” The word “Helper”(paraklétos) literally means, “One who is called alongside to help.” 4 The disciples had been sent out to minister while Jesus was here on earth. But now they were being sent out to be His witnesses during His absence from the earth. Jesus had been their Helper while He was with them. In His absence, He would send “another Helper.”

This verse has much to say about the Trinity. Laney observes that “it is noteworthy that in vv. 13-14 Jesus commands His disciples to ‘ask’ (aiteō), the word used of an inferior asking a superior. But here Jesus uses the word erotaō (‘ask’), a word used of a request made to an equal. This has significant implications in terms of Jesus’ deity. Although submissive to the Father, Jesus regarded Himself as an equal (cf. 10:30; 14:9)5 to the Father.

Christ also considers the Holy Spirit to be equal to Himself by using the word “another” (allon) which means “another of the same kind.” 6 Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another just like Myself.” According to Christ, there is equality among the Godhead (see diagram below). The Son is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in every way as God, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity.

Christ is saying in this verse that the Holy Spirit will do for them all that He had done for them while He was with them. So they would not be abandoned or left alone to their own wisdom and strength. This Helper would be with them “forever.” There would never be a time when this coming Helper would be taken away from them in the way Christ was now being taken from them through His death and eventual ascension to heaven. 

You may ask, “If God the Holy Spirit is with me, why do I still feel all alone?” Because the Holy Spirit is not a feeling, He is a Person without a physical body. Rather than focus on our feelings to determine if we are alone and abandoned, we are to focus on what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that this “Helper” will “abide with you forever.” The word “forever” is the English translation of three words in the original language and literally means “to the age” (eis ton aiōna). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will continue with them (and us) until “the end of the world or time” itself to provide constant comfort, guidance, leading, power, protection, provision, and teaching. Unlike Christ who spent three and a half years with His disciples and then left them, Jesus now promises another equal Helper Who will never depart from them.

Think about this: how long is “forever?” It is permanent, isn’t it? It never ends. Even though you may feel alone, the truth is there will never be a time when the Holy Spirit is not “with you.” Feelings can lie to us. We may conclude, “I am alone because I feel alone.” That is a lie. We must not give our feelings more authority than God’s Word. Will we focus on a lie or on the unchanging truth of God’s Word? The choice is ours. If we feel alone it is because we are focusing on thoughts or feelings of loneliness which are contrary to the truth of Jesus. We need to follow the example of the Psalmist when he prayed to the Lord, “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.” (Psalm 119:29).  We can ask the Lord to remove this lie from our thinking and to graciously renew our mind with this truth that God the Holy Spirit is always with us to provide constant assistance and strength whether we feel this way or not.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for sending God the Holy Spirit to supply our needs in Your absence. I must admit that I have given my feelings more authority than Your Word when I believe I am all alone. Thank You for reminding me that I am never alone, Lord Jesus. Your Holy Spirit abides with me forever! Holy Spirit, I want to give You everyone and everything in my life right now. Please restore my union with You and guide me into a deeper connection with You, the Father, and Jesus. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. http://www.christianitytoday. com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html.

2. Adapted from Chuck Swindoll’s Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 164-165.

3. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 260-261.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 438.

5. Laney, pg. 261.

6. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V., Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 252.

Overcoming Satan’s Accusations

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

One of Satan’s primary weapons against Christians is his accusations (Revelation 12:10). Satan delights in accusing believers of wrongdoing because this is the way he achieves victory over sinners. He knows these accusations can increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us. He uses these accusations to keep us from drawing near to God and trusting in Him. Accusations that say, “God could never love you in light of what you have done. You have done too many wrong things for God to ever forgive you. God is against you. You are worthless and unwanted in the sight of God. Serving God does not pay. God will not keep His promises to you because He only cares about Himself.” Do you ever have thoughts like these? I certainly do.

An important truth God has given us to combat these accusations is found in Romans 8:31 where the apostle Paul writes: “If God is for us [and He is], who can be against us” (8:31)? When we think God or someone else is against us, God says, “Since I am for you (and no one is greater than Me), no one can successfully oppose or accuse you!” This includes those in authority over us, family, friends, and even the devil and his demonic armies. As a preacher once said, “One plus God is always a majority.” Does it always feel this way? No. But our feelings do not always tell the truth.

You may respond, “But God, how do I know You are for me?” Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). When we were enemies of God, He gave us His only perfect Son to die in our place (Romans 5:6-8). If God gave us His best when we were at our worst, how much more will He give us now that we are His beloved children!?!

The Cross of Jesus Christ guarantees the enemy’s defeat because Satan achieves victory through accusing sinners. But through the Cross, Jesus would deal with sin once and for all. 13And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the Cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15).

We can never fully comprehend all that Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross. The Cross is infinite in its depth, because it is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Jesus. Before we became Christians, we were “dead in” in our “trespasses,” but God “has made us alive together with” Jesus. How? “Having forgiven” us “all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13). Think about this for a moment. God says “all” our sins are “forgiven” through Jesus’ death on the Cross.When Jesus died in our place nearly 2,000 years ago, we were not even born yet. So all of our sins were yet future in the mind of Christ when He hung on that Cross. The forgiveness Jesus provides for believers includes our past, present, and future sins. But that is not all.

The Bible tells us that Jesus’ death “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the Cross” (Colossians 2:14). The word translated “wiped out” (eksaleíphō) means “to completely erase, obliterate, remove, or wipe away.” It refers to the process of washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 1  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

When a person was executed under Roman law, the sentence was attached to the accused’s Cross (see John 19:19). But Jesus took our sentence away, effectively nailing our certificates of debt to His Cross. He paid our penalty in full; He died for our guilt. 2  God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our previous sins and accusations against us. This is why the Cross of Jesus Christ is the only answer to the shame that lies at the core of our being. All of our sin and shame was dumped on Jesus as hell unleashed its deepest fury upon Him while He hung on that Cross. Satan can no longer refer to the list of charges against us because it was nailed to the Cross forever! So what Satan does is make up his own accusations which are lies from the pit of hell.

Jesus’ death on the Cross “disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). The First Coming of Christ accomplished a spiritual victory over Satan and his kingdom. A fallen angel is no match for the Son of God, who took away Satan’s rulership. Satan is actually the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning ‘adversary’ or ‘accuser.’ He is ‘the accuser of our brothers and sisters’ whom he ‘accuses . . . before our God day and night’ (Rev 12:10). He accused Job (see Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5) and Joshua the high priest (see Zech 3:1). But in light of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Satan’s accusations are empty.

“If somebody has a gun pointed at you, whether or not it’s loaded is a huge deal. The devil doesn’t want you to know that his gun has been emptied by the Cross of Christ. Now, if you don’t know that, you’re still going to cower and run, living in fear and shame. But you don’t have to listen to him. Though he is right about your sin, your debt has been paid by Christ. You are free to live for God. Satan still has power, but he no longer possesses final authority in history.” 3

The Cross of Christ is the only answer to the accusations of Satan and the shame that accompanies them. The death of Jesus is the only thing that can set us free. It has for all time declared our infinite value. We truly do matter to God!

Unfortunately, churches can shame people for struggling with sin and shame. When they do that, they are becoming Pharisees of further condemnation instead of priests of hope. We can deepen the shame of believers with the bony finger of a critical god, instead of revealing the open arms of the crucified Savior. We may think we have to defend God’s purity even though Christ took the filth of our sins upon Himself.

I am not suggesting that churches accept the world’s standards of behavior. But in our efforts to keep the church pure, we have beaten up the souls of broken men and women who are crying to be free from the shackles of shame. We have become modern-day Pharisees and we do not even realize it. God’s most powerful weapon is grace; but it has been cast aside in our efforts to be spiritually pure. The irony of this is that the modern-day Pharisee is just as obsessed with sin as the one who is consumed by it – one to avoid it, the other to live in it. Both need to come back to the Cross to find lasting freedom.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am eternally gratefully for the Cross. For it was at the Cross that You proved that God is for me and not against me. It was there that You declared my infinite value. It was there that the list of accusations against me was nailed and rendered powerless. It was at the Cross that Satan was defeated and sentenced to die forever in the lake of fire. It was there that Your love for me was clearly displayed. And it was at the Cross where freedom from sin and shame was achieved forever!!! Thank You, my Lord and my God, for the Cross which is the basis for victory in my Christian life. To You, Lord Jesus, be all the glory both now and forever! Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.

2. Tony Evans, Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), pg. 2148.

3. Ibid.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 1

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” John 8:2

Are you living under condemnation? Are you weighed down by guilt and anxiety about your past? Maybe you have done things which would embarrass you if they became public knowledge. You may have a criminal record or a moral charge or a domestic conflict that, to this moment, is private information. You may wrestle with a past that has been fractured and wounded by a mental or emotional breakdown. Futile attempts at suicide may add to the previous scar tissue and increase your fear of being labeled “sick” or “nervous.” It’s possible you live with memories of an immoral relationship, a financial failure, a terrible habit, a divorce or a scandalous involvement. You may be your worst critic of your past.

Many of us are driven by shame. We believe we are flawed at the core of our being. Yes, we hear preachers say that God loves sinners, yet we are convinced that we are still worthless and unloved. We live under condemnation whether it be of our own doing or the doings of others, including the master of condemnation – Satan himself (Rev. 12:9-10).

How can I overcome this condemnation that keeps me buried under a load of guilt and shame? For the next few days, Lord willing, we will look at John 7:53-8:11 to discover God’s remedy for the condemnation that often plagues us.

The first way I can overcome condemnation is to REST UNDER CHRIST’S GRACIOUS TEACHINGS (John 7:53-8:2). After Jesus had freely offered eternal satisfaction to the people gathered at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39), John tells us, “And everyone went to his own house.” (John 7:53). The religious leaders had criticized Nicodemus after His attempt to defend Jesus’ right to be heard. They didn’t believe a prophet would arise from Galilee. More than a prophet would arise from Galilee, however, and offer everlasting hope to that region. “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (John 8:1). The religious leaders slept comfortably and late, but Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had no place to lay His head in Jerusalem.

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” (John 8:2). The day after the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went into the temple and all the people came to Him. Why did all the people come to sit under Jesus’ teaching? Was it because He beat them up spiritually and emotionally and people love to be put down? No. I believe these people were tired of the demands of the religious leaders, and they were drawn to the gentle and forgiving grace of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:28-30; 12:20).

Notice that the Bible says Jesus “sat down and taught them.” Although sitting down was a normal rabbinic practice, I think it is very significant that John tells us this. Jesus did not stand like He did the day before in the temple (John 7:37). He “sat” among them to teach them. He was on the same level as His audience. He longs to connect with people so they can begin to see themselves as He sees them – someone who is infinitely loved and valued by God.

As they sat under His teaching and discovered the magnificence of His grace, they were healed from the malignancy of their guilt! How precious and broad is Christ’s love they found, yet how petty and narrow is man’s legalism (trying to keep the Law to gain God’s acceptance). How refreshing is the Lord’s grace! Yet how rigid is the legalist’s guilt! Christ’s grace was setting them free from their guilt and shame. And He wants to do the same for you. “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Christ did not come into the world to condemn us. He came into the world to cleanse. He did not come to rub our sin in. He came to rub our sin out.

We can be free from the plague of condemnation and shame by coming out from under shame-based religious systems. These systems may preach the love of God and that Christ died for our sins, but at the core of their teaching they believe: “You are bad, God is good, so try harder.”

As Christians we need to be under the grace and truth of Jesus Christ which teaches: “God is good, you are being restored, so come and be.” As we place ourselves under His teaching, we will begin to see the weight of condemnation lifted and the wellspring of Jesus’ grace settle into our hearts and minds so we can focus on being and not working to earn His love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am learning so much from You about who I am in the sight of God. I used to see myself as a worthless sinner who is saved by grace. But You are helping me to see I am a child of God who is infinitely loved and valued by You and my Father in heaven. Lord, my heart is deeply concerned about the millions of people who are under religious teachings that condemn and oppress broken people in need of Your healing grace. They have no hope of freedom from condemnation and shame. They need You Lord Jesus. Please show them how good and gracious You are. Help them to come to know Your saving grace that makes them a new person on the inside who is free from condemnation and shame. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Transformed from a tree of shame to a tree of splendor

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18

After Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by Satan and ministered in Galilee (Luke 4:1-15), “He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (4:16). Christ then read verses taken from Isaiah 61:1-2 which describe the promised Messiah’s ministry on earth hundreds of years prior. His gospel is for everyone, including “the poor” (4:18a). His gospel heals, not hurts “the brokenhearted” and “proclaims liberty,” not labor to those who are “captives” or in bondage (4:18b). When Jesus said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21), He was saying that He was the promised Messiah Whose gospel would bring blessing to those who are broken.

There is a progression in Isaiah’s description of the Messiah’s gospel preaching ministry that is relevant to those who are struggling with shame and the bondage it creates. All people have hidden wounds in their lives. They may be in the form of hurtful memories such as a mean word on the playground or abuse in the home. We try to medicate these wounds with behaviors, substances, or emotions. But Jesus came to “heal the brokenhearted,” resulting in “liberty” from that which we could not break free (4:18a). Shame imprisons us, but the Savior liberates us. His gospel grants spiritual “sight” to us so we can begin to see ourselves through His eyes and no longer be “oppressed” by shame-based lies (4:18b).

The biblical text does not tell us if Jesus read verse 3 of Isaiah 61, but this verse is a continuation of the Messiah’s ministry on earth. His healing grace will “console [not condemn] those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty [not a beating] for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise [not punishment] for the spirit of heaviness;  that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). Our brokenness brought great sadness to us, but Christ’s grace will “console” us, changing our sadness and the “heaviness” of shame into “joy” and “praise.” This inward transformation will make us a blessing to others, like oak “trees” flourishing in “righteousness” because of the outrageous love and grace of God.

The word translated “trees” is the Hebrew word אַיִל (ayil) which refers to a terebinth tree – a prominent, lofty tree much like an oak tree (Isaiah 1:29; 57:5). We may not think much of Isaiah’s reference to an oak tree, but in ancient times, people sacrificed to and worshipped their pagan gods in groves of oak trees. The use of the word “trees” (ayil) in Isaiah 1:29 and 57:5 is revealing.

29 For they shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees (ayil) which you have desired; and you shall be embarrassed because of the gardens which you have chosen. 30 For you shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fades, and as a garden that has no water. 31 The strong shall be as tinder, and the work of it as a spark; both will burn together, and no one shall quench them” (Isaiah 1:29-31). God would judge those who had forsaken Him to meet secretly among “the terebinth [oak] trees” to worship the false gods of the people around them. The reason they would be “ashamed” is because those who worshipped these pagan gods were required to participate in a wide variety of sexual practices, including orgies, adultery, prostitution, and the bloody sacrifices of children.

In Isaiah 57, Israel’s rebellion against God among the groves of oak trees included adultery and idolatry. 3But come here, you sons of the sorceress, you offspring of the adulterer and the harlot! 4 Whom do you ridicule? Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue? Are you not children of the transgression, offspring of falsehood, 5 inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree (ayil), slaying the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks? 6 Among the smooth stones of the stream is your portion; they, they are your lot! Even to them you have poured a drink offering, you have offered a grain offering. Should I receive comfort in these? 7 On a lofty and high mountain you have set your bed; even there you went up to offer sacrifices” (Isaiah 57:3-7). God summons the idolatrous Israelites who were acting as though their father was an “adulterer” and their mother a “sorceress” and a prostitute (57:3). They were mocking the righteous minority among them (57:4) and they burned (“inflamed”) in their lust for the “gods under every green tree” (57:5). Pagan gods were strewn among these oak trees. God’s people worshipped “the smooth stones” in the stream beds and offered sacrifices to the gods “on a high and lofty mountain” (57:6-7).

Then Isaiah says, “Also behind the doors and their posts you have set up your remembrance; for you have uncovered yourself to those other than Me, and have gone up to them; you have enlarged your bed and made a covenant with them; you have loved their bed where you saw their nudity” (Isaiah 57:8). The Israelites deliberately turned their back on the Lord and placed symbols of these pagan gods “behind the doors and their posts” to remind them of the gods they worshipped.

You may wonder what these symbols looked like? They were often highly sexual. For example, the goddess Asherah was the goddess of fertility. The symbol identifying her was a phallus. When God’s people are described in the Old Testament as meeting at the Asherah “poles,” it is talking about them gathering around a tall tower or temple built in the shape of a man’s genitalia.

What God is telling us in the book of Isaiah is that the “oak trees” were common places of unrighteousness – especially sexual sin and immorality. So when Jesus offers to heal broken hearts, free those in bondage, and transform them into “trees of righteousness” who will display His glory (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Isaiah 61:1-3), we come to a new and profound understanding. In the very place where the Israelites engaged in sinful, shameful, and degrading practices, He promises to make them oak trees of righteousness. And He promises to do the same with us.

God wants to meet us in the hidden places of our greatest shame and struggle to help us heal. He is not uptight about our sin and shame. His grace is far greater than either (cf. Romans 5:20). But most men and women who are struggling with shameful and degrading practices want to hide themselves from God and have lost hope. They have settled for the ongoing cycles of defeat and shame. But Jesus wants to transform them from a tree of shame to a tree of splendor. And He does this through His love. His perfect love casts out fear and shame (I John 4:18).

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). After defeating all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation (3:15), King Jesus will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

God wants to celebrate who we are! “He will rejoice over you with singing,” not condemn us or shame us. He wants to heal and quiet us with His love. He wants to transform our tree of shame into a tree of splendor so He is glorified. Will you place yourself in a position for Him to do that?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, even though I am afraid and ashamed, I invite You to do what You were sent to do. Please heal my brokenness deep inside of my heart, liberate me from bondage, open the door where others have locked me up and thrown away the key, comfort and console me in my grief, grant me beauty instead of the ashes of humiliation, the oil of joy in place of mourning, the garment of praise instead of punishment for my spirit of heaviness, that I may be called a flourishing oak tree of righteousness that is a blessing to others and magnifies Your name. In Your name. Amen.