How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 1

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.’ ” John 17:1

In 1952, a brilliant guest lecturer was asked, “What is there left in all the world that has not been done for a doctoral dissertation?” The lecturer replied, “Find out about prayer.”  The lecturer happened to be Albert Einstein.

It has been said that, “Prayer is conversation with God that arises out of communion with God.” The closer we grow to the Lord, the more intimate our prayer life will be with Him.

Do you believe in prayer? Honestly, do you believe God hears us when we talk to Him? Can He be trusted with our deepest longings and most troubling fears? I would like to think that the majority of people in the world today may consider praying to a Supreme Being more than ever before during this global pandemic. But there are probably some people who want nothing to do with a Higher Power because of the suffering that is taking place in the world today.  

Jesus Christ frequently turned to His heavenly Father in prayer (cf. Luke 5:16; 22:39). After warning His disciples of tribulation and comforting them with the promise of His victory (John 16:25-33), Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. It is the longest in length and it is also the longest in span of time. It includes the time of Jesus’ day and reaches all the way to our lives today.

John 17 is like the holy of holies of the book of John. Remember the holy of holies in the temple where once a year the high priest could go in and make the sacrifice for the people and pray for the people (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:7)? It was such a holy place because it was God’s presence. John 17 is a chapter like that. Dr. David Anderson understands the outline of John’s gospel to be parallel to the temple (see diagram 1). 1

Diagram 1

The first twelve chapters are about evangelism whereby John presents seven miraculous signs so non-Christians might believe in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). When we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift from evangelism to intimacy or fellowship with God. This truth is not for unbelievers.

Anderson writes, “That is why in John 13:1-30, Judas must be sent out of the room as one of the two steps to prepare Jesus’ disciples for the intimate truth He wishes to share. The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believers. Judas had no place in this setting because he was not a believer. Unbelievers had to come into the temple/ tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truth Jesus wished to share in the Upper Room was for the ears of believers only. But even these believers needed to be cleansed of their daily sins in order to be in fellowship with the Lord. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they would not be able to comprehend the truth He wished to share.” 2

“It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and the believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believe through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than intercede in prayer. He actually became our mercy seat (Rom 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Then leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21) to complete the mission.” 3

So John 17 is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for us. As we study this chapter of John, I hope we will embrace the fact that we are with Jesus entering into God’s presence. It is an incredible privilege. Just like the high priest used to enter into the temple where God’s presence was, Jesus Himself entered into God’s presence and prayed for us. The sense of this prayer is we are in a very holy place where we listen to Jesus pray.

This prayer is commonly known as the High-Priestly prayer of Christ or the Prayer of Intercession. Intercession refers to praying to God on behalf of others. This prayer is a picture of Jesus’ current ministry of intercession in heaven as our High Priest (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus prays this prayer in front of His Eleven disciples to summarize His relationship with the Father and the relationship He wants them to have with Him and the Father. Repeatedly Jesus had connected His going to the Father with their new life of prayer (John 14:12-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). The power of prayer in Jesus’ name would be connected to His intercession for us in heaven. This prayer will teach us what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It will also show us Jesus’ love and concern for His disciples, including you and me.

From John 17,  we will answer the question, how can we pray more like Jesus prays? After Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), He prepared for the cross by turning to His Father in prayer. Notice that He taught His disciples first, and then He prayed for them to internalize what He had just taught them. We would be wise to do the same. Peoples’ lives will not be transformed through the preaching of God’s Word alone. We must pray for those people to apply what they have heard from God’s Word.

Diagram 2

We see in this prayer that Christ first prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), then His followers (John 17:6-19), and finally for future believers (John 17:20-26). His prayer is like circles that grow wider and wider (see diagram 2).  He starts with Himself, then He widens the circle beyond Himself to pray for His Eleven believing disciples. Then He widens the circle a lot more by praying for all future believers that His disciples (and others) would reach. So He begins with His own need, then prays for the needs of the disciples, then He prays for the world that they would reach.

As Jesus prays this prayer, we will learn what is really important to Him – desperately important. Here Jesus is. He is about to die. He knows that these disciples are going to have tremendous needs in their lives. He loves them, so He prays for them. How can we pray more like Jesus prays?

LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO PRAY FOR GOD TO BE GLORIFIED WHEN WE FACE TRIALS (John 17:1-5). We might think this is selfish to begin by praying for Himself, but when we look at the content of this part of His prayer, we will realize this is not selfish because Christ’s motivation was to glorify His Father. Jesus prays for two things in this first part of His prayer: His resurrection (John 17:1-3) and His glorification (John 17:4-5).

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1a). The word for “eyes” (ophthalmous) is where our English word ophthalmologist is derived from. 4  Christ does not bow His head or close His eyes as we are accustomed to doing in our western culture. There is more than one posture to take when we pray. You can pray while you are walking or driving( just make sure to keep your eyes open). You can pray when you are standing or kneeling with your hands raised, or you can pray sitting or laying down. There is no one way you have to pray. If you are in the habit of taking only one posture when you pray, you may want to change that up from time to time. It could revolutionize your prayer life.

Christ prayed aloud so His disciples could hear what He prayed to His Father. Likewise, as we disciple new believers in Jesus, it is important to pray aloud with them because God can use that to teach them how and what to pray. I am not exactly sure where Jesus prayed this prayer. It may have been in the Upper Room (cf. John 18:1) or on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31).

We are told that Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven.” He was not discouraged or downcast as He approached the cross, He was hopeful and expectant as He looked up to His Father in prayer. He had just announced that He had “overcome the world” (John 16:33), and now He engages in a prayer of victory!

The first thing Jesus prays is, Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” (John 17:1b). Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come…” By addressing God as “Father,” He expresses His childlike relationship to His Father and His submission to Him. His long-anticipated “hour has come” for His death, resurrection, and ascension to His Father in heaven (cf. John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27-28, 31-33; 13:1, 31).

Jesus is not being selfish here when He prays for the Father to “Glorify Your Son,” because it serves a higher purpose –  “that Your Son also may glorify You.” The word “glorify” (doxason) is derived from the word “glory” (doxa) which “refers to the estimation or opinion in which one is held. Here Jesus prays regarding His own reputation and attributes. His words ‘Glorify Your Son’ petition the Father to bring into full display Jesus’ divine character and attributes through His impending death and resurrection.” 5  Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension would also “glorify” the Father by enhancing His reputation and attributes through Jesus, since Jesus is a perfect reflection of the Father (John 12:44-45; 14:9-11) and was sent by Him (John 4:34; 7:16; 8:18; 14:24; 17:8, 18).

We see in this verse how much “the Father and Son love one another and desire to make much of one another before a watching world. Those who come to God through Jesus Christ are called to participate in this intra-Trinitarian love, bringing glory to God through our faith in and obedience to the Son.” 6

Jesus’ words remind us that suffering precedes glory (Matthew 16:21-27; 20:19; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-10; 12:2). 7  Through His suffering and death, Jesus brought glory to Himself and to His Father. Likewise, when we suffer for Christ’s sake, we bring glory to Him and He promises that God will give glory and honor to us in the form of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (John 12:26; cf. Matthew 16:21-27; Romans 8:17; I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; I Peter 1:3-11; 2:11-25; 4:12-5:4; Revelation 2:10, 25-29; 22:12).

We may ask, “How did the Father glorify Jesus?” Jesus prayed, “As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (John 17:2). The Father glorified Christ by giving “Him authority over all flesh” so Jesus would “give eternal life” to those the Father had “given Him.” Only God can give life that never ends to people which means Jesus must be God! Notice Christ has authority to give eternal life to “all flesh”! There is no such thing in the Bible of only a select group of people that are savable. All people are savable because Christ is drawing all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32), He desires all people to be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4), and He died for all people (cf. I Timothy 2:3-6; I John 2:2).

Five times in this prayer, Christ refers to believers as those whom the Father had given Him (John 17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24). Does this refer to the elect from the foundation of the world? Does it mean a person cannot believe in Christ if the Father has not given him or her to Jesus? No, this is a reference to the Father giving Old Testament believers in the Dispensation of Law over to Jesus at the beginning of the dispensation of Grace (see John 6:37 for discussion). 8  The Eleven disciples were believing Jews who belonged to the Father, but now the Father transfers them into the Son’s hands for His use and safe keeping at the beginning of the Church Age (cf. John 17:6-12). Now they belonged to Jesus. 9

Someone may ask, “What is eternal life?” Jesus explains. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). “Eternal life” is knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom” the Father “sent.” The word “know” (ginōskō) refers to an intimate knowledge of God, not just an awareness of certain facts. 9  Notice that the primary focus is on one’s relationship with God (“life”),not the duration (“eternal”).This is not just a future promise, it is a present reality for all believers in Jesus.  Eternal life is knowing the true God personally in one’s experience forever. Eternal life is not static or unchanging. It can be experienced at deeper and deeper levels as we grow closer to the Father and His Son.

In fact, when we examine the uses of “eternal life” in the New Testament, we discover that when eternal life is referred to as a present acquisition, it is received as a free gift by believing in Jesus (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:13; Revelation 22:17), but when eternal is referred to as a future acquisition, it is received as a reward for sacrificial service to Christ (cf. Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; John 12:25-26; Galatians 6:8). 

Some have argued that John 17:3 shows Jesus is not God because Jesus distinguished God the Father as “the only true God” from “Jesus Christ whom” the Father sent. But Jesus did NOT say, “I am not God” in this verse. You will not find that anywhere in the Bible. Jesus was not denying He was the “only true God,” but was praising the Father as such. The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was.

But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says,  “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another? Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father in heaven. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the True God. In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” like idols. Jesus had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.

This understanding is substantiated by the same writer of John 17:3 when he writes in his epistle, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.

Also the Greek word for “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).

To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God. The burden of proof rests upon those who deny Jesus is God. John calls them “antichrists” in his first epistle who reject that “the Christ,” the Messiah-God,has come in human “flesh” (I John 2:18, 21-22; 4:1-3). They willingly reject the historical record of the Bible which clearly and consistently proclaims that Jesus is fully God (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; 44:6; John 1:1, 14-18, 34, 49, 5:6-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 9:35-38; 10:30-39; 11:27; 14:7-9; 17:5; 20:28, 31; Acts 16:31, 34; 20:28; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; Philippians 2:6, 9-11; Colossians 1:15-20; I Timothy 3:16; 4:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 4:2-3; 5:20; Revelation 1:17; 22:13; et al.) and fully Man (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6-7; 7:14; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 8:24; 9:11; Mark 6:3; John 1:14; 2:12; 4:6; 7:3, 5; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; 21:12; Philippians 2:7-8; I Timothy 2:5; I John 4:2-3; et al.)!!!

Our privilege is to know God personally now and forever through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). If this is true, and it is, then the one thing that will last beyond this life and the one thing that deserves our utmost attention is our daily life and fellowship with God. Many of us have known the Lord for a long time, but has our knowledge of the Lord grown deeper as a result of spending time with Him and obeying Him (cf. John 14:21, 23)? What are we doing today to know God more intimately?

Next Jesus prayed, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4). As Jesus faces the cross, He has no sense of failure, but rather fullness of attainment. He had “glorified” His Father “on the earth” and “finished the work which” the Father had given Him to do – revealing the Father by His words and works (cf. John 1:18).

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Christ does not pray for new glory. He prays, “Glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” The words, “the glory which I had with You before the world was,” affirm the eternality of Jesus Christ and His preexistence as God before He became a human being on earth. Notice that Jesus clearly affirmed his pre-existence. “Before the incarnation, before Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, before the creation week even began, God the Son eternally existed in the glorious presence of God the Father. And to this glory He would soon return.” 10

These words also affirm Jesus’ equality with the Father, because in the Old Testament, God said He would not share His glory with anyone: “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8; cf. 48:11). Since the Father and the Son share their glory, they must both be God.

Christ’s human flesh had veiled this glory He shared with the Father in eternity past during His earthly life (Philippians 2:6-8), and now He prays that that same glory may be restored in His Father’s presence. As Jesus had glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4), now He prayed to be restored to His heavenly glory with His Father (John 17:5).

Like Jesus, we are to pray for God to be glorified when we face trials. Christ faced His sufferings and death with the desire to glorify His Father in heaven. He submitted to His Father’s timetable and agenda. This takes humility. Jesus went through terrible pain and suffering to honor His Father. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to submit to God’s timetable for us? If not, pray for that willingness. When we are struggling and in pain, it is easy to obsess on ourselves and it is especially difficult to focus on others and on what God wants. Through prayer, we can obtain the power to focus on God’s will for us and glorify Him even though we may be in pain. The best way to face calvary (suffering), is to spend time Gethsemane (prayer).

Keep in mind that Jesus is praying for us now in heaven (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He is praying for us to glorify our Father in heaven as we face difficulties. Sometimes when we face difficult situations, we do not know how to pray, so the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and prays according to God’s will on our behalf. “26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). So we have both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit praying for us, especially when we face trials in life. What an encouragement this is for us as we seek to glorify the Father during these challenging times!

Prayer: Precious Father in heaven, thank You so much for Jesus’ prayer in front of His eleven believing disciples. We are given an incredible glimpse into the intimate relationship Jesus had with You during His earthly ministry. And just as He prayed for You to be glorified when He faced His hour of suffering and death, help us to yield ourselves to You in prayer so You are  glorified when we face difficult times. And like Christ Who submitted to Your timetable and agenda, may we humbly submit to Your timetable and will for our lives. Please make us willing when we are unwilling to do this. We can so easily focus on ourselves when we are hurting or in pain, instead of focusing on others and what You want to do in our lives. But praying to You gives us hope because as we talk to You, You can give us the power to focus on Your will for our lives and glorify You in the midst of our struggles. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also praying for us in addition to You. Knowing this greatly encourages our hearts. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2005), pp. 16-17.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 300.

5. Ibid.

6.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1813.

7.  Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 457.

8. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 185-186.

9. Ibid., pp. 116, 186.

10. Tony Evans, pg. 1814.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 3

“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage.Thus far we have learned we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

We can also face challenges with courage when we RECOGNIZE THAT JESUS IS IN CONTROL (John 16:28-30). Christ said to His believing disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28). Jesus plainly declares His heavenly origin (“I came forth from the Father”), His humiliation (“and have come into the world”), and His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation (Again, I leave the world and go to the Father”). He has come from heaven to earth and is going back again to heaven. Jesus’ departure will not change the fact of His incarnation and its continuing results. This is underscored with the use of the perfect tense verb (elēlytha) translated “have come,” which means that Christ came to earth as the God-Man in the past and He continues to this day to be the God-Man. 2

“His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!’ ” (John 16:29). Now the disciples thought Jesus had “plainly” answered their questions about where He was going. “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” (John 16:30). Jesus’ knowledge of the future, especially regarding His return to heaven, convinced them that He knew “all things.” They had full confidence in Christ. When they said Jesus had “no need that anyone should question” Him they were referring to His supernatural insight into their hearts which enabled Him to answer their questions before they even asked Him. His complete knowledge reconfirmed their faith in Him as having come “forth from God.”

Jesus’ infinite wisdom assures us that He has a complete grasp of the difficulties we face so we can rest assured that He will never fail us. Knowing He is in control of our future – that everything happens according to His plan – can increase our courage. The more you believe Christ is in control, the more courage you will have.

God allows difficulties in our lives to teach us that He is in control and that nothing is impossible with Him. Have you ever met people you think even God cannot change? That person you think will never become a Christian? Bring him or her to God in prayer and God can melt that heart of stone. We can lose our courage because we have lost sight of how big our God is. God knows everything. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He invites us to trust Him even when we face major challenges. And as we do, He can supply us with the courage we need to rise above our feelings and circumstances to make Him known to a lost world.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You demonstrated Your omniscience by alerting Your disciples to Your return to the Father. Your supernatural knowledge of the future and the disciples’ questioning hearts reassured them of Your identity as God and that You are in control. Knowing that You are in control of our future and that everything happens according to Your plan and purpose, increases our confidence in You. The more we believe You are in control, the more courage we will have to face these challenging times. Lord, You know the people in our lives who seem so difficult to reach with the gospel. Their hearts seem so hardened. Thank You for reminding us that no problem or person is beyond Your life-changing touch. Please use us as You deem best to share Your life-giving gospel message with all who will listen. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 671.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 296.

3. Ibid.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 2

“For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” John 16:27

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage. Yesterday we discovered we can do this when we resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26). Today we learn we can also face challenges with courage when we RECEIVE THE FATHER’S SPECIAL LOVE FOR US (John 16:27).

Jesus explains why the disciples are to go directly to the Father in prayer after He goes to the Father following His resurrection and ascension. “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” (John 16:27). The disciples could go directly to the Father because of His special “love” (philéō) for them. This word for “love” refers to a warm, affectionate, friendly kind of love. This special love for them was based on their relationship with Christ.

Jesus said that the Father’s love for them was, “because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from God.” The words “loved” (pephilēkate) and “believed” (pepisteukate) are in the perfect tense which means they loved Jesus warmly in the past and still love Him warmly in the present, and they believed Jesus was from the Father in the past and still believe He is from the Father now.

Christ is referring to discipleship or fellowship with God here, not  salvation from hell. This special kind of love from the Father is based upon our obedience to Christ which follows belief in Him (cf. John 14:21, 23). We saw in John 14:21 that when a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest” or reveal more of Himself to them.

God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special or more intimate way (John 16:27; cf. 13:23; 14:21, 23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with God the Father and God the Son. It can also be said that unloving and unbelieving Christians will not experience this special kind of love from the Father.

Wilkin writes, “For a believer to abide experientially in the love of God, he must hold fast to the faith both doctrinally and morally (cf. 14:15; 15:14; cf. Jude 21).” 2 We cannot do this in our own strength. We must rely on God the Father through prayer to remain faithful to the Christian faith (cf. John 16:23-26).

God often uses troubling times to deepen our experience of His love for us. This was what happened to missionaries, Charlie and Frauke Schaefer, who were serving the Lord in Germany. One morning, when Frauke was getting ready to leave for a conference and Charlie was out on a run, Charlie did not return home. Frauke became alarmed and went looking for him in likely places, but he was not to be found in any of them. After she called the police, she learned that Charlie had been taken to the hospital after collapsing during his run. There was bleeding of an unknown cause inside his skull.

“After Charlie’s collapse, Frauke felt distant from God and was evading His presence. Although communication between her and God was good, she had gnawing questions when she slowed down. Why did this happen when we were doing what we believed God wanted us to do? How could Charlie’s collapse fit into God’s plan. Why were we unable to lead the retreat that was so diligently prepared and prayed for? After a while, Frauke gained courage to direct these questions to God. An immediate response came through the peace of realizing God was assuring her, ‘I am with you and I know.’ God also seemed to be saying that deepening our love and trust in Him was more important than ministering to others at the moment.” 3

Instead of doubting God’s love for us when we face challenges, we are to embrace the truth that God may allow personal suffering in our lives to take us where He knows we must go to experience the fullness of His love for us. God does not just want to tell us that He loves us. He wants to show us that He loves us and this often takes place in the context of pain and suffering. Knowing we are warmly loved by the Father, can give us courage during those difficult times.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for not just telling me that You love me, but for permitting me to go through challenging times to deepen my experience of Your unfailing love for me. Much of my Christian life I have known intellectually that You love me, but in recent years You are showing me how much You love me as I go through various difficulties in life. The more I experience the warmth of Your love, Father, the more I can face opposition and painful trials with courage. Thank You for fighting the battles I could never fight or win on my own. Thank You for being my best Friend. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament, Vol. V, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 271-272.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 542. 

3. Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., Trauma & Resilience: A Handbook, (Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., 2012) pp. iv-v.

4. Ibid., pg. 1.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 1

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” John 16:26

Do you know what Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Barack Obama all have in common? The answer is quite simple: They are all orphans. This is the conclusion of a study done by Dr. Pierre Rentchnick in a book entitled, “Do Orphans Lead the World?” 1

After surveying the lives of three hundred leaders who have had a great impact on world history, he discovered that all these leaders had grown up as orphans – either actually, through the death or separation from parents, or emotionally, as a result of severe childhood deprivation. “He concluded that what many would consider emotional deprivation may arouse an exceptional willpower which can be turned to either good or evil.” 2

Today psychologists are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards their child, and we find this study which shows that some of the most influential people in world history never had healthy relations with their parents.

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, who was also an orphan, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study, and so he took up the study and realized that many of the most influential religious leaders were also virtual orphans. 3  In his book, Creative Suffering, Tournier states that circumstances are morally neutral, whether fortunate or unfortunate. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. 4

Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but they always reside in persons. Rarely are we in control of events which cause suffering. But we can control how we respond to suffering. By God’s grace, we can respond positively, creatively, and see suffering as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can respond negatively and stunt our growth.

When we face challenges or difficulties in life, how will we respond? Will we respond with faith or with fear? The circumstances do not determine how we respond. How we view those circumstances determines how we respond. This is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in John 16:25-33.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus used the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach how He could transform the disciples’ grief over His death into gladness at His resurrection (John 16:16-24). In John 16:25-33, Jesus wants to teach us how to face challenges with courage.

First, we are to RESOLVE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (16:25-26). Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25). The phrase “these things” refers back to what Jesus just said about a woman being in labor (John 16:16-24). When Christ says He spoke to His disciples in “figurative language,” He is referring to dark sayings which conceal some truth. He admits that He has not given direct answers to His disciples’ questions. But He assures them that “the time is coming” after His resurrection when He will no longer speak to them in figurative language. For forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), Christ would speak “plainly about the Father” and that would be reflected in the apostles’ teaching.

Evans writes, “There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.” 5

Next Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” (John 16:26). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. It would not be necessary for Jesus to “pray the Father for” the disciples as He had done during His earthly ministry, because now they would be able to ask the Father for themselves.

This does not mean Jesus would never intercede in heaven for His disciples because the Bible tells us that Christ intercedes for all believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). What He probably means is that they are not to look to Jesus only to meet their needs, but to the Father also. 6 The verb “ask” (aitēsesthe) is in the middle voice and means to ask for one’s self a favor from God. It is not wrong to ask God to meet your own needs. The disciples could pray directly to the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross which provided direct access into the presence of God in heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).

All believers can pray directly to God the Father. This is not a privilege limited to pastors or other church leaders. It is a privilege for all Christians. The Bible tells us, “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

In Acts 4, the believers of the Jerusalem Church were experiencing opposition to the gospel, so they prayed the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26) which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). Do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”

This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. The father knows the boundaries of power possessed by his son. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is courage. If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among all the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid among those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of courage to give us.

Among those who served in the court of Alexander the Great was a famous philosopher who had outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told he could draw whatever cash he needed from the imperial treasury. When he submitted to the treasurer a request for an amount equal to $50,000, he was promptly refused. The treasurer had to verify that such a large sum was indeed authorized. But when he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request, he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”

Believers who exercise great faith by asking God to provide for their needs demonstrate a similar understanding of His vast wealth and generosity. That kind of asking honors God the Father. If we are going to have courage when facing challenges in life, we must learn to go directly to the Father in prayer, knowing that He has an infinite supply of courage and He is eager to give it to those who ask.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to have direct access into Your throne room in heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You about anything at any time, knowing that You understand and want to bless me as Your child. I honor You when I ask You to meet my needs abundantly because it reflects that You are a good and generous Father Who delights in blessing His children. Lord God, I ask that You supply Your children with an abundance of boldness to proclaim Christ crucified to a lost and dying world. The world may mock or oppose those of us who proclaim Your gospel message, but we are so thankful to have the honor of serving You as Your ambassadors here on earth. Please use us as You deem best to magnify Your Son. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David M. Atkinson, Leadership – By the Book, (Dyer, IN: Grace and Glory Publishers, 2007), pg. 84.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, pp. 84-85.

4. Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 143-144.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.

6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentar, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 456.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” John 16:20a

As technology advances at exceedingly high rates, we may come to the conclusion that life should be easy. After all, we have all of these gadgets that are intended to make life easier for us. Things like automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens, central air-conditioning, garage door openers, GPS, cell phones, etc. Once we obtain these gadgets, we think we cannot live without them.

There is nothing wrong about finding ways to make life easier. But when we do, we can often shift this attitude into a demand that life must be easier. And when life does not comply with this thought, we can easily become angry or even bitter. Our grief over the problems in life can turn into depression.   

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. We discovered in John 16:16-19 that Christ can do this when we ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation. Today we see that our grief can be transformed into gladness when we ACCEPT THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE PART OF LIFE (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20a). Jesus assures His disciples (“most assuredly, I say to you”) that they “will weep and lament” over His departure when He dies on the cross. These words combine the thoughts of deep grief and the outward expression of that grief. Watching their Lord endure false accusations, beatings, mocking, and the shameful, humiliating death of crucifixion, would be extremely difficult for the disciples. Yet while they would experience great anguish at the crucifixion of Christ, the unbelieving “world will rejoice.” The religious leaders especially rejoiced over Christ’s sufferings and death because they had removed the One Who threatened their power.

When we see evil appear to triumph over good, we will experience grief and sadness. For example, when militant Muslims murder innocent Christians and boast about it on TV, Christians will feel deep sorrow over this. Believers must realize that being a Christian does not insulate us from grief and sorrow. Christ never promised believers that life would be easy. It is not sinful to experience grief and sadness since both Jesus and His disciples did (cf. Matthew 17:23; 26:22, 37-38; Mark 14:19, 34; Luke 22:45; John 11:33-35; 16:6, 20, 22). In fact, the prophet, Isaiah, describes Jesus as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). So feeling grief and sadness is not ungodly. It is Christ-like.

There is some teaching in Christian circles today that says life should be easy if you are a Christian. If life is not easy for you, then you must be the problem because God wants all His children to have it easy. Is this true? No. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (16:33). He did not say “you might have” tribulation. He said you “will have” tribulation. The word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; it is an internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). Christ uses this word to refer to “persecution, affliction, and distress.” 1

Jesus also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34b). Most people would agree with this. On Monday, your electric bill arrives, and it’s three times as much as you have left in your bank account. On Tuesday, your car won’t start. On Wednesday, your child is exposed to COVID and your entire family must quarantine. On Thursday, your spouse tells you they don’t love you any more. On Friday, you find out you have lost thousands of dollars in a poor investment. And the list goes on and on. Jesus did not say Christians would have it easy. He said life would be difficult. He wasn’t being pessimistic in these verses, He was simply being honest.

Life can also be internally difficult for us as Christians because there is this internal battle going on between our sinful flesh and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). All people are born with a sinful flesh that has a bent toward selfishness, laziness, immaturity, distorting reality, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, the pride of life, etc. (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 7:18; Galatians 5:19-21; I John 2:16). 2

The apostle Paul describes this battle when he says, 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” (Romans 7:15-21).

Paul is very clear in these verses that a battle raged inside of him between his sinful nature that operated in the flesh and the new person he was in Christ that operated in the Spirit. We may agree intellectually that life is difficult both externally and internally, but deep down inside the recesses of our minds we believe the lie that says life should be easy. So when life does take a turn for the worse, we can throw an emotional tantrum.

Christian counselor, Dr. Chris Thurman, shares how many of his clients come into his office believing this lie that life should be easy, and when life proves otherwise, they have a lot of intense anger that can turn into bitterness and resentment. They refuse to accept that their problems or disappointments are a part of life. 3

Accepting that life is difficult does not mean we must like the problem or be glad it happened. But you can choose to hurt over it and accept it. Thurman writes, “Accepting it means you have faced the fact that it happened (versus refusing to), understand why it occurred (versus being in the dark about why it did), have let it hurt (versus feel numb about it), and have come to a place of peace about it (versus still in turmoil over it).” 4

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to face my problems or run from them?” Satan “wants us to run from our problems, both foreign (external) and domestic (internal), because he knows our problems get worse and we end up suffering at a greater level when we do. God wants us to face our problems because He knows doing so resolves them and the suffering we experience helps us mature in Christ.” 5

If we tell ourselves that life should be easy, we are going to experience bitterness because our expectations are not realistic or biblical. We will either become very angry or discouraged and depressed when life does not match our expectations. The truth is life is difficult and the more we accept this truth, then the more we can move on from our past problems and experience the joy Jesus wants us to have, even when life is difficult.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this message really convicts me about my bad attitude. It is so easy for me to complain about problems in life and develop a lot of anger and even bitterness. Much of my anger is connected to believing the lie that life should be easy. Thank You for making it so clear that life is not always going to be easy. It can be very difficult. Even if I am living for You, Lord Jesus, You said I “will have tribulation” (John 16:33) because the world hates You and those who follow You (John 15:18-21). I pray You will help me replace this lie that life should be easy with the truth that life is difficult so I may accept that pain and suffering is a part of life. I want to invite You to walk with me as I face the pain and process it so I may move on and experience Your joy no matter what happens in life. Thank You for hearing my prayers, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. see https://biblehub.com/greek/2347.htm.

2. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 201.

3. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., pg. 165.

5. Thurman, The Lies We believe (2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 209.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 1

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:18

Today, just like in the book of Acts, believers are persecuted all over the world for following Jesus. According to Open Doors USA, “A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

“A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.

 “A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.

 “A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

“These people don’t live in the same region, or even on the same continent. But they share an important characteristic: They are all Christians, and they suffer because of their faith. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. From Sudan to Russia, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Colombia to India, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked; they are discriminated against at work and at school; they risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.” 1

Do you realize that in just the last year (2020 World Watch List reporting period), there have been:

– Over 260 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution

– 2,983 Christians killed for their faith

– 9,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked

– 3,711 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned 2

While Christians are not suffering extreme persecution in the USA, there is an increasing lack of tolerance for Christian beliefs and practices in our country. During COVID-19, certain government leaders in America are trying to use this pandemic to try to shut down churches. For example, on July 1, 2020, the governor of California banned singing and chanting in places of worship in the name of a pandemic. Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) states, “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power. And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable. This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.” 3

Have you ever been falsely accused or betrayed by a friend? Have you had people plotting against you? Or have you ever experienced some other form of personal hostility? Jesus experienced all these things and so will we as we follow Him.

For the next few days, we are going to receive instruction from Jesus Christ about how to be effective witnesses for Him in a hostile world. Earlier in John 15, the Lord Jesus spoke to His eleven believing disciples about their relationship to one another – they are to love each other as He loved them (John 15:12-17). Now He speaks to them about their relationship to the world (15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world?  

The first way is to REALIZE THAT YOU WILL FACE THE SAME CONFLICT WITH THE WORLD THAT JESUS DID (John 15:18-19). Christ never said that following Him as a disciple would be easy. Earlier, when Jesus had sent the Twelve disciples on a special mission, He warned them that they would be as sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).

Now He was sending them into the world on a mission, and again Christ warned these men of conflict with the world. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18). “The world” in John’s gospel is “the system of organized society hostile to God, which is under Satan’s power (John 14:30).” 4

In anticipation of the world’s hatred, Jesus warned His disciples that they would experience the same hostility from the world that He had experienced. He did not promise a painless, effortless experience as a disciple. He says, “If the world hates you [and it does], then it should come as no surprise to you because it hated Me first.” From His birth when king Herod sought to kill Him, to His death on the cross, Jesus experienced opposition from the world. Therefore, a person cannot be intimately related to Christ without being hated by His enemies. The main issue here is not whether we will experience rejection and persecution as Christ followers, but how we will respond to it.

Disciples of Christ are known by their love (cf. John 13:34), but the world is known for its hatred toward God. Followers of Christ are unpopular in the world today because of the world’s hatred toward Christ who lives in every believer through the Holy Spirit. Jesus now gives a reason why the world hates His followers. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19). The world hated Jesus’ disciples because they were chosen out of the world by Jesus to follow Him. Christ says, “If you were of the world [and it’s doubtful that you are], 6  the world would love its own.” They were once a part of the world as unbelievers, but now they are set apart from it as committed followers of Christ.

Perhaps some of you were rejected or even persecuted for beginning to follow Christ as a new believer. When I first got saved, I stopped drinking alcohol with my non-Christian friends and they got mad at me. They no longer called me their friend. They made fun of me and avoided me. This should not surprise us in light of what Jesus is saying here.

Some churches teach that when you become a Christian, you will have no more problems or difficulties. Is that true? Of course not. If Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, experienced rejection and persecution for perfectly following God’s will, why would we think we are exempt from such treatment as we imperfectly follow the Lord?!

Christ wants us to adjust our expectations about following Him as His disciples. Discipleship is costly, but eternal life is absolutely free. Discipleship involves rejection and persecution from Satan’s world system which is hostile toward God. After all, the Bible says, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). This is not a popular message today. But it is a needed message, isn’t it?! If we don’t adjust our expectations so that they line up with what Jesus taught, we are going to become very discouraged when we experience opposition for following Christ.

Christ said to His half-brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7). Jesus called sin, sin. He came to tell the truth and that is why the world hated Him. And if we are going to be like Him, we must do the same. If we find ourselves fully accepted by the world it is cause for concern. We are to be loving, kind, sensitive, and understanding. But if our lives do not challenge the wickedness of the world around us, if our lives do not provoke some persecution, criticism, and opposition – something is probably wrong. We have probably become too friendly with the world around us.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Does the world hate me? If it does not, why not? Is it because the world has become more Christian or because Christians have become more worldly?” If we are not experiencing opposition from the world, it may be because our lifestyle is no different than the world’s lifestyle. James 4:4 says, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4). If the world is our friend, then God is our enemy.

James likens friendship with the world to spiritual adultery with God. It is like a married man who decides to engage in immorality with a woman to whom he is not married. In that very decision he chooses to reject faithfulness to his wife. When Christians crave for worldly acceptance and living, they have committed spiritual adultery and have rejected friendship with God. On the other hand, if God is our friend, the world will be our enemy. We cannot be a friend of God and the world at the same time.

How do we become friends with Jesus? We saw this when Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). If we are going to be Jesus’ friend, we must keep Christ’s commandments. Not all Christians are Jesus’ friends because not all Christians are obeying Christ. But if we are Jesus’ friends through obedience to Him, then we can expect more hostility and opposition from the world.

Younger Christians may mistaken the world’s hatred toward them as a reproach for not being more Christ-like. So they conclude that if they were more gentle, generous, loving, or compassionate, then they would receive more favor from unbelievers. But the truth is, the more we become like Jesus, the more the world will hate us. Christians are not mistreated or shunned by the world because they are superior, but because they are servants of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, Whom the world has rejected. 7

Prayer: Father God, as I look at the hostility in the world toward those who follow Jesus, I am reminded of these important words Christ gave to His disciples. Knowing the world’s hatred for Jesus empowers me to endure its hatred toward Christ living in me. Please help me to adjust my expectations so they align with Jesus’ teaching. Opposition from the world will happen when we follow Christ because the world hates Jesus Who lives inside us. By Your grace and love, Lord God, I choose to follow my Lord Jesus no matter what the cost. Use me to be Your voice of grace and truth to a hostile world so millions may come to know Jesus as the Giver of life everlasting. Please be with my brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world who are suffering for Jesus’ sake. I ask that You give them abundant grace to love their enemies and to boldly make Christ known to them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Taken from  https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/ on December 13, 2020.  

2. Ibid.

3. Taken from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aclj-files-lawsuit-challenging-california-ban-on-singing-in-church-301094471.html on December 13, 2020.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 664.

5.The phrase in the Greek language, Εἰ ὁ κόσμος ὑμᾶς μισεῖ, is a first-class condition and means that the world does actually hate the disciples. See J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 279.

6. The phrase Εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου ἦτε is a second-class condition expressing improbability. See Laney, pg. 279.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 294.

How can we recover from rejection? Part 1

“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ ” John 13:18

In 1858 the Illinois legislature – using an obscure statute – sent Stephen A. Douglas to the U.S. Senate instead of Abraham Lincoln, although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.1 No doubt many political candidates can empathize with how Lincoln felt after last week’s elections.

In some way or form, all of us will experience rejection – that feeling of being unwanted. You feel that you are not liked or accepted. In fact, the majority of people may reject us rather than accept us. Although some people are special to us they may reject us as well. Jesus experienced rejection by many people, but none perhaps as difficult as the rejection by one of His own disciples. Jesus will now teach us how to recover from rejection. We must first…

LOOK TO THE BIBLE FOR GOD’S PURPOSE (John 13:18). Jesus had just finished washing the feet of His disciples to give them an example of how they were to humbly serve one another (John 13:1-16). Christ told them they would be “blessed” if they not only knew this, but did it (John 13:17). However, there would be no blessedness for one of Christ’s disciples.

Jesus said to His disciples, “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ ” (John 13:18). Jesus “knew” the disciples He had “chosen” for service, not salvation, and that one of them would betray Him. Jesus wanted His disciples to realize that He knew the future and was in control. Christ was not fooled by Judas. Judas was chosen by Jesus as one of the disciples so “that the Scripture may be fulfilled” in Psalm 41:9, where King David endured the painful rejection of his table companion, Ahithophel, who later hanged himself (2 Samuel 16:20-17:3, 23). 2  Likewise, Judas, Jesus’ close companion, would betray Christ and then hang himself (Matthew 27:3-5). Even though Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was foreknown by God, Judas was still responsible for his actions.

To “eat” bread with someone is a picture of fellowship. In the first century, to lift up your “heel” to show someone the bottom of your foot so as to shake off the dust is an expression of rejection. It was a gross breach of hospitality to eat bread with someone and then turn against them. Yet this is what Judas did. He had been a companion of Jesus for over three years and now he was about to do the unthinkable and betray His loving Teacher.  

Jesus was not surprised by Judas’ betrayal because the Bible predicted it hundreds of years earlier. Christ shares this with His disciples so they can know that Judas’ betrayal is a part of God’s plan and purpose. Jesus also wants His disciples to know that they also will experience rejection as they carry on His mission after He is gone. They are to look to the Scriptures for God’s purpose amidst their rejection.

Likewise, we can also know that God has a purpose for us when we experience painful rejection. For example, Romans 8:17 says, “And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” Suffering from rejection prepares believers to be “joint heirs with Christ” as co-rulers with Him in His coming Kingdom on earth.           

In his book entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Sorrows,” Paul Billheimer writes, “If the Bride [of Christ] was to be qualified to rule with Him, she also had to suffer. This illuminates the passage in Second Timothy 2:12, ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.’ Therefore, suffering is inherent in God’s universe.” 3  Billheimer also writes, “God … designed that suffering, which is a consequence of the Fall, shall produce the character and proper disposition – the compassionate spirit that will be required for rulership in a government where the law of love is supreme.” 4

The Bible explains that one of God’s purposes in allowing us to experience rejection is to prepare us for rulership with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. Knowing this can enable us to endure rejection in preparation for our role as co-rulers with Jesus (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for this message today which reminds me that You do know the future and You are in control. I can trust You to accomplish Your plan and purpose even when I experience rejection from those who are close to me. My normal response to rejection is to want to be in control and retaliate. But this is not Your way. Please help me to respond to the pain of rejection by looking to Your promises to find comfort and hope. I want to be more like You so I can reign with You in Your coming Kingdom on earth. Instead of responding to rejection with contempt, please help me to respond with compassion, realizing that You are in control and You are using this event to fulfill Your plan and purpose for my life. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Max Lucado, God Came Near (Multnomah Press, 1987), pg. 57.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pp. 320-321.

3. Paul Billheimer, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows (CLC Publications, 1977), location 316.

4. Ibid., location 95-102.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 3

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” John 12:27

When we encounter stressful situations, it may be easy for us to want to medicate our uncomfortable feelings with some kind of unhealthy coping behavior such as drinking alcohol, blaming others, gambling, playing violent video games, overeating, overspending, taking drugs, viewing pornography, or watching excessive amounts of TV. We may have practiced these coping behaviors for so long that we are not even aware of what we are doing. The common thread in all of these coping behaviors is self-protection. We are trying to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings, so we engage in these unhealthy coping behaviors.

But instead of avoiding these uncomfortable emotions, God wants us to bring them to Him. He already knows they exist, so there is no need to try to hide them from Him. This is similar to what Jesus did when He experienced intense emotions prior to His approaching crucifixion.

In our study of John 12:20-33 we are learning how to overcome self-centeredness. So far we have discovered that the way to overcome our self-centeredness is through…

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

The third way to overcome our self-centeredness is by SURRENDERING TO GOD’S CONTROL IN PRAYER (John 12:27-30). Jesus said, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27). As Jesus contemplated all that was involved in His approaching death – He would die for the sins of the world and endure separation from His Father – He experienced a surge of emotion which drove Him to His Father in prayer. He was emotionally stressed and turned to His Father asking, “What shall I say (not do)? Father save Me from this hour?” In view of His upcoming sufferings on the cross, He was tempted to shrink back and ask for deliverance from this major trial. This was a normal human response, but Christ prevailed through prayer.

Likewise, if we are going to overcome our self-centeredness, we must surrender to the Lord’s control in prayer. If God’s Spirit is to be released from our inner man, we must surrender to the Lord when we face difficulties and trials instead of succumbing to them and our selfish desires. When we feel out of control, we may often try to control the situation or the people involved. But God wants us to look to Him in prayer during those stressful times. Prayer is dependence upon God. One way to determine how much we are depending upon the Lord is to look at our prayer life. The more we are praying, the more we are depending upon the Lord. The less we are praying, the less we are depending on Him. God will use difficulties in our lives to make us more dependent upon Him.

Jesus then prayed, “Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:28a). Jesus came to “this hour” (12:27b) of suffering to “glorify” His Father through His death on the cross. Even though Jesus knew all the trials and troubles He was getting in to, He endured them so His Father would be glorified. When Jesus prayed, “Father glorify Your name,” He reminds us of a very important principle. We are to let God glorify what we do, not us. Jesus did not pray, “I will glorify Your name.” Jesus let His Father do the glorifying. He saw that His Father was in control. He submitted to His father and His Father glorified what His Son had done.

We are to focus on doing God’s will and let Him glorify what we do. Do not try to do God’s job. He is big enough to bring honor to Himself. How often we may try to get in God’s way by drawing attention to what we do. Let God draw the attention. God glorified and exalted His Son (Philippians 2:8-11) after His Son submitted to His will, and one day God will exalt and honor those who are surrendered to Him now. The Bible says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (I Peter 5:6). Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before God. It is His responsibility to exalt us in His time and way.

Also, when Jesus faced the cross, He denied Himself and sacrificed His life. His self-denying obedience to the Father’s will glorified the Father. Jesus wants His disciples to face trials in the same way. He struggled and went to God and sought to glorify Him. Can we say that our purpose in going through trials is to glorify God? By His grace we certainly can. When we endure trials through God’s strength, He receives all the glory.

As Jesus approached the time of His sufferings, He understood who was in control, but did the people? 28b Then a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.’ 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to Him.’ ” (John 12:28b-29). A thunderous voice from heaven said, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again” through the death of Jesus. God the Father was in control and He would glorify Himself through the triumph of the cross. The crowd heard the sound of God’s voice, but some thought it had thundered, while others thought an angel had spoken to Christ. They did not understand God’s message, but they should have.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee says, “That is the same reaction many people still have today. They say God’s Word is full of errors and the miracles recorded can’t be accurate. Because they don’t believe in them, they say it just ‘thundered.’ ” 1  

“Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.’ ” (John 12:30). God’s message was meant to benefit the crowd, not Jesus. They needed to recognize that God the Father was in control and would be victorious. God intended this to be an auditory approval of His Son so that the crowd might believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah-God.

Jesus understood His Father’s voice, do we? We have the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s Word. First John 2:20, 26-27 say, “20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things… 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. 27 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” Ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding and teach you as you read and study the Bible. You can also ask His Spirit to give you the power to obey what the Lord is saying to your heart and mind.

One reason we may not hear God’s voice is because we have so much noise in our lives. We may be too busy to slow down enough to hear the still small voice of God’s Spirit. Take time today to slow down and listen to the voice of God. Find a quiet place to meet with the Lord. Then take a few moments to do some deep breathing. Inhale God’s peace and exhale your stress. Inhale God’s peace and exhale your stress. Then read a Bible passage aloud, slowly, and attentively. Then pause to let it sink in. Read the passage again, this time asking the question, “Where am I in this verse?” Finally, read the verse or passage again noticing what word or words jump out at you, grabbing your attention. Meditate on those words. Chew on them for a while.

Then write down what you observe the Holy Spirit saying to you. Writing down what you observe clarifies your thought processes and involves another whole section of your brain. Then request that the Holy Spirit help you see how all of this applies to your life. Instead of asking God to help you analyze His Word, ask Him to use His Word to analyze you. This is a supernatural process that produces a neurochemical flow of new understanding where your mind is being renewed (Romans 12:1-2). Once the Holy Spirit gets you headed in the direction God wants you to go, dedicating yourself to that direction in life will be used by the Lord to transform your life from the inside out.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for not surrendering to Your intense emotions when You contemplated the cross. Instead, You surrendered to the will of Your Father Who sent You to glorify His name by dying in our place on a cross as our Substitute. If Your love was a feeling, You never would have died for us. Thank You for showing me that You understand what it is like to feel troubled inwardly when faced with extremely difficult circumstances (Hebrews 4:15). You know how it feels to have a storm of emotions raging in one’s heart before yielding to the Father’s will. Thankfully, You are not overwhelmed by my intense emotions. You understand that the best thing I can do with them is to share them with You in prayer. And as I talk to You about those uncomfortable emotions, their power is diffused and Your peace that surpasses human understanding can guard my heart and mind as I yield to Your control. By Your grace, I want to give everyone and everything to You. Glorify Your name my Lord and my God however You deem best. In Jesus’ matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:448.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 3

“His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” John 12:16

We are learning from Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (John 12:9-19), that God wants to lead His children into victory through His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14). So far we have learned that God does this…

– Through Jesus’ resurrection power (John 12:9-11).

– By providing a spiritual triumph (John 12:12-15).

Today we see that Jesus also leads us to victory BY CHANGING THE WAY WE PERCEIVE LIFE (John 12:16). After John tells us that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey had been prophesied centuries before in Zechariah 9:9 (John 12:15), he then writes, His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” (John 12:16). The disciples did not understand all of this when it happened. They missed their opportunity to proclaim their Messiah-God. They are thinking, “Save us now, we pray?! Ha! He is riding on a donkey, not a war-horse! Where is the triumph in this?” The disciples were looking for a material triumph, not a spiritual triumph. They did not understand until after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. It is then that the Holy Spirit will make these things clear to them (cf. John 14:25-31), and through them to us. As John writes this gospel, he understands what he did not grasp when these things were taking place, and he makes sure that his readers know it as well.

Dr. Tony Evans writes that verse 16 teaches us that “fulfilled prophecies like this one testify to the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. The many Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were written hundreds of years before His birth, yet they were fulfilled in His life accurately and in detail. This should encourage all believers to trust that the Bible is indeed the authoritative Word of God.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1794). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition). God can use Bible prophecy to comfort and encourage us amidst challenging times. Knowing that God is in control of our future gives us comfort and security during turbulent times.

Jesus knew that eventually the religious leaders and the nation of Israel would reject Him and crucify Him (Luke 19:44). Don’t you think He was tempted to bypass the spiritual triumph through the cross and bring in the material triumph as the King? “Father, bring in the angels!” Wham! Bam! “Jerusalem is now the new capital of the world and we are going to conquer every nation of the world and bring them into submission to My Kingship!” Jesus wanted that but He submitted to His Father’s plan instead (cf. Matthew 26:36-44; Philippians 2:8). Christ brought us a spiritual triumph through the cross.

Jesus wants to lead us into a new way of looking at life and the circumstances of life. He wants us to have an inward triumph of gratitude no matter what we face in life (cf. I Thessalonians 5:18). We often want to remove the external circumstances in our lives and God is wanting us to look at those circumstances differently. God may change things outwardly, but His goal for us is an inward triumph.

In the book of Acts, missionaries Paul and Silas were in prison, praising and singing to God (cf. Acts 16:24-25). They yielded to God’s plan and purpose for their lives which resulted in leading the jailer and his household to faith in Christ (cf. Acts 16:27-34).

We may say, “God, you change these circumstances and then I will praise and thank You. You bring me a better job, health, or spouse, or family, or some friends, or a new car, then I will thank You.” God says, “I want you to sing now. My triumph is internal, not external.” Maybe you have been confined in your home since COVID-19 broke out and no one has visited you. Your family has not visited you. Your friends and neighbors have not visited you. They may mock you or avoid you for being a Christian. We don’t like these kinds of circumstances so we try to pray them away or wish them away and we fight them in our flesh.

Look with me at 2 Corinthians 1:8-9: “8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” The apostle Paul was depressed about difficult circumstances in Asia. He thought his problems would lead to certain death. Yet he yielded to God and God helped him trust in Him, not in himself. God resurrected Paul’s attitude.

God gives us an inward perspective that the world cannot possess. Are you angry with God? You have gone to church, given, prayed, read your Bible, helped others, but God has not changed your circumstances. You may conclude that God has not done His part. You may be looking for victory in the wrong place.

The picture accompanying this article really touched me. So often we see the dark side of life. But Jesus’ gives us a brighter perspective. He can help us discover the spiritual victory He already won when He died in our place on the cross.He can pull away our dark perspective and give us one that is much more hope-filled. Let Him resurrect your way of looking at life. He can help you find joy in life when you face difficult circumstances. His grace is sufficient to help you see obstacles as opportunities to trust Him.

Prayer: Father God, there is so much that happens in life that I do not understand. With all of the chaos from COVID-19, the upcoming political elections, and social unrest, I need You to help me see these circumstances through Your eyes. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for helping me understand the Bible so I can have an inward perspective that helps me to be grateful even during difficult times. You intend for the trials I am currently facing to encourage me to lean in toward You, my Lord and my God. My trust is in You, Father God, to comfort and lead me during these turbulent times. Thank You for helping me to see obstacles as opportunities to trust You more. In Jesus’ matchless name I pray. Amen.