How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

How can I ever change? Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

How can I ever change? Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

How can we endure difficult times? Part 5

“…That the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.’ ” John 18:9

In a world that seems to be increasingly filled with evil, it is important for us to seek God’s wisdom and protection. We are reminded of this today in John 18:9-11. In the first twelve verses of John 18, we are learning how to endure difficult times. So far we have discovered we can do this when we…

– Learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a).

– Look to the Lord in prayer (John 18:1b).

– Lean on the power of Christ (John 18:2-8a). 

– Listen to the command of Christ (John 18:8b).      

After Jesus commanded the well-armed army that came to arrest Him to let His disciples go their way (John 18:8b), John informs us that this fulfilled what Jesus spoke earlier in John 17:12: “that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.’ ” (John 18:9). In John 17:12, Jesus affirmed that none of His disciples were spiritually lost, except Judas, but here Christ is talking about not having lost any of His disciples physically. 1  Jesus wants to make sure His disciples would be safe before His captors lead Him away. Some suggest that this is a preview of Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross. 2  Christ preserved the lives of His disciples as He laid down His own life on their behalf.

Christ’s ability to keep His disciples physically safe in this dangerous situation validates His promise to keep them spiritually safe for eternity. If Jesus had failed to keep His disciples physically safe, His promise in John 10:28-29 would be empty and unfulfilled. 3  If Christ could not protect His disciples against the Roman soldiers and temple guards, how could He protect them from greater spiritual forces who would threaten to snatch them out of His hands eternally!?! Knowing that Christ has the ability to protect us physically in this life and eternally in the life to come, teaches us the fifth way to endure difficult times – LET CHRIST PROTECT US NOW (John 18:9-11).

Christ’s protection in this circumstance is even more amazing when we look at what happens next. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.” (John 18:10). Peter had promised He would die for the Lord earlier (John 13:37), and now he senses Jesus is in danger and he courageously comes to His defense. Peter draws “a sword” (machairan), which is a ceremonial dagger used to prepare the Passover lambs earlier 4  and strikes the high priest’s servant, cutting “off his right ear.” John is the only gospel writer who mentions the names of “Peter” and “Malchus” in this circumstance, which underscores the nature of his eyewitness account.

Peter’s actions show that he did not understand that it was necessary for Jesus to die in their place. Peter and the other ten disciples had already believed in Christ for everlasting life (John 2:11; 13:10-11; 17:12), but they did not understand how Jesus could give them eternal life (John 2:11; 13:10-11; 17:12). They did not realize He had to pay for their sin debt in full by dying in their place on the cross and rising from the dead in order to freely give them eternal life.

It must have been a very tense moment when Malchus’ ear dropped to the ground and Peter, the fisherman, stood there facing this army with a bloody knife. Somebody needed to stop Peter before he gets himself and the other disciples killed. But it is not the army nor the army’s commander who stops Peter. It is Jesus. “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?’ ” (John 18:11). Jesus stopped Peter from attacking the rest of the army by telling him to put his “sword into the sheath.” Jesus reminds Peter and the other disciples that His arrest, trials, and death were all part of “the cup” of wrath and judgment His “Father has given” Him to drink. One writer puts it this way, “Peter had a sword in his hand, but our Lord had a cup in His hand. Peter was resisting God’s will but the Savior was accepting God’s will.” 5

Luke tells us that not only did Jesus command Peter to put the sword away, but He also picked up the ear and put it back on the servant’s head and healed him (Luke 22:51). In His moment of greatest need, Jesus has compassion for one of His enemies and heals his ear. This shows us Who Jesus really is. Even in His arrest Christ is thinking of others. Healing the servant’s ear probably saved Peter’s life. Have you ever cut off somebody’s ear trying to do what’s right for the Lord? I have. We all have. We may resist God’s will thinking that we have a better plan to deal with things than the Lord has. We can so easily try to do what we think is right and in our zeal, we do the wrong thing. Yet Jesus is there to heal and protect. Do we deserve this? No, of course not. None of us deserve His grace. But that is why it is grace – undeserved favor from our Lord.

From these verses we learn the following – Who do we look to for protection? Why not look to the Lord of lords? There are so many places in this world that we could look to for protection that we need. I’m not saying we don’t need to have locks on our doors and those practical things. But the protection most of us need is inside where we struggle. Who saves us from worry? Is it only when the circumstances get better? Jesus Christ wants to protect us from worry. Who saves us from fear? Who saves us from doubts? Jesus Christ wants to protect us from these things that rob us of the joy and peace He wants us to have. Who saves us from temptation? Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray to the Father, “do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13a). Christ wants to protect us from temptation. He wants to use His power to do that.

Think of how different our lives would be if we turned to the Lord for the protection we need instead of to substitutes which always seem to disappoint us. Only the Lord can protect us at all times. Let’s look to Him for protection twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us in the Garden of Gethsemane how able You are to not only keep us safe from physical dangers in this world that is filled with evil, but spiritually safe for eternity after we believe in You alone for Your gift of everlasting life. Like Peter, we can try to take things into our own hands thinking that we have a better plan than You do, only to make matters worse. Thank You for giving us grace during those times which is often manifested by bringing healing and restoration to relationships that we have damaged. Thank You for the many times You have intervened in our lives to save us from ourselves and the foolish decisions we have made. Lord, only You can protect us at all times. Help us to turn to You for the protection we need instead of to substitutes which in the end always seem to disappoint us. Please enable us to make wise decisions that lead us down the path You want us to take. Thank You in advance for hearing our prayers. In Your safekeeping name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary [TGNTC], Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 463.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 325; Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 335.

3. Wilkin, TGNTC, pg. 463.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 319.

5. Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1., (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books), 1989, pg. 374.

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 become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 6

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John 15:7

Thus far in our study of John 15:1-8, we have learned that we can become more fruitful for the Lord when we …

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

– Repent when we lose our discipleship relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

The sixth and final way to become more fruitful for the Lord is to RELY ON JESUS THROUGH PRAYER (John 15:7-8). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). What is the secret to answered prayer? “Abide in” Christ by keeping His commandments (cf. John 15:10; I John 3:24a). We cannot expect Jesus to answer our prayers if we are living in disobedience to Him.

A second condition for answered prayer is “My words abide in you.” For Jesus’ words to abide in us “requires more than merely reading or listening to them. You must internalize them. Another way to describe this is meditating on God’s Word, rolling it around in your mind to grasp what it means and how to apply it to your specific circumstances. We must chew and swallow Scripture, so to speak, so that it becomes part of us.” 1

It has been said that God has given us two ears and one mouth, so we will listen twice as much to Him as we talk to Him. The more we know and experience Jesus’ Word, the more we can pray the way Jesus would pray. Before spending time talking to God in prayer, take a few minutes to abide in His word. Read and reflect upon Scripture to align your thoughts with God’s. Then “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” because your will has aligned with God’s (cf. I John 5:14-15).

How do you know that you are relying on Jesus? Look at your prayer life. The more you pray the more you are depending on the Lord. And a life of answered prayer will produce much fruit for Christ.

Christ then said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8). The main purpose of bearing fruit is to glorify God the Father. As we remain in vital contact with Christ, much fruit is produced so that God is glorified. Why? Not because of our human effort, but because of Jesus’ work in our lives. Jesus wants His disciples to bear much fruit and in this way be His disciples. Fruit-bearing is a sign of a believing disciple, not a Christian.

When a person does not bear any visible fruit, do not assume they are not a believer in Jesus. Assume that they are not a disciple or committed follower of Christ’s. John 15 is dealing with discipleship, not salvation. Let’s stop playing God and judging who is saved and who is not saved based on how much fruit we can see in their lives. You may not see an outward transformation in a believer’s life, but God sees the inward transformation that has taken place.

God wants all Christians to produce fruit – to lead others to Christ and develop Christ-like character. How?

REALIZE that Jesus Is our Only Source of Life (John 15:1).

– RECEIVE Jesus’ Encouragement From His Word (John 15:2a).

– RECOGNIZE Jesus’ Pruning Process (John 15:2b-3).

– REMAIN In Christ By Obeying His Word (John 15:4-5).

– REPENT When We lose our Discipleship Relationship with Christ (John 15:6).

– RELY on Jesus Through Prayer (John 15:7-8).

What stage of fruit bearing are you at now? Are you at the level of “No fruit”(15:2a) because of discouragement? Your need is to be lifted up or encouraged through Christ’s promises?  Or are you at the level of bearing some “fruit”(15:2b) because of wrong priorities? Your need at this level is for pruning. Or are you at the “more fruit”(15:2c) level because of self-reliance? Your need is to trust and obey Christ. Or are you at the “No fruit” (15:6) level because of disobedience? Your need is for repentance. Or are you at the “much fruit”(15:5, 7-8) level of fruit bearing? The need at this level is for deeper intimacy with Christ through prayer and obedience.

In Revelation 7:9-10 we are given a glimpse of heaven during the future Tribulation period. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). What part of that innumerable crowd in heaven will be there because of you? Because you stayed connected to Jesus Christ so He could bear much fruit through you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, sometimes it is difficult for me to pray because I am so preoccupied with trying to control situations and people. But the moment I surrender to You in prayer, there is a sudden release of the weight I am carrying. Thank You for inviting me to grow deeper in my relationship with You through prayer. You are the God Who hears my prayers. At times I can feel that no one listens to me. I can feel all alone with the weight of worry or loneliness. But You hear me when I pray according to Your will instead of my own. You are the God Who changes lives through prayer, including my own. Thank You so much for being such a good God Who answers prayer. May all the glory be to You, my Lord and my God. Please use me to help populate heaven by preaching the gospel to the lost and discipling those who believe in You. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 3

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” John 14:21

So far we have learned that the way to overcome the fear of abandonment is to focus on…

– The promise of another Helper, God the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16).

– The permanent indwelling of the Spirit of truth (John 14:17-18).

The third way we can overcome the fear of abandonment is by focusing on THE PROSPECT OF LOVE FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON TO THOSE WHO OBEY (John 14:19-24). Jesus says to His eleven believing disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19). Jesus says that “a little while longer” when He goes to the Father’s house after His death and resurrection (cf. John 13:33, 36; 14:2-3; Acts 1:9-11) “the world will see” Him “no more,” but His disciples will see Him through the revealing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had revealed the Father, so the Holy Spirit will reveal Christ (cf. John 15:26; 16:14, 16). The coming of the Holy Spirit would be evidence that Jesus was alive and in heaven with His Father (John 16:7).

When Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also,” He was saying that His bodily resurrection would guarantee the bodily resurrection of all believers in the future (cf. I Corinthians 15:1-58; I Thessalonians 4:14-17). Since Christ rose from the dead and had conquered sin and the grave, He could share His resurrection life with His followers through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would connect them to the Trinitarian God.

Christ explains, “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:20). “At that day” when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost (Acts 2), the disciples will know by experience the indwelling of the Trinitarian God: “I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ would live in them and the disciples would “see” Him (John 14:19).

Because the Holy Spirit would soon indwell His disciples, Jesus anticipated a new intimacy with them. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). Observe the progression in this verse – “has… keeps… loves Me.” Before we can “keep” Christ’s commandments, we must “have” them. In order to “have” Jesus’ commandments, we must spend time with Him to be aware of what He has said.

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 sense (John 14:21, 23; cf. 13:23). 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 the Father and the Son.

“If you listen to a radio station in your car, you know that the further you get from the broadcast station, the worse your reception of the signal gets. Many people have difficulty connecting with God because they’ve wandered too far away to pick up his signal. But if you come back home in obedience, relating to God through Christ in love, He will disclose more of Himself to you.” 1

“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’ ” (John 14:22). “Judas,” the son of James (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), expected Jesus to manifest His Davidic rule to the world. He was looking for a political and physical manifestation of Christ. But Jesus was referring to a spiritual manifestation through the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’ ” (John 14:23). Christ would only reveal Himself to those who loved Him by keeping His “word.” Not only would the Holy Spirit take up residence in them, but so would God the Father and God the Son. The reality of the Father and Son indwelling a believer was conditioned upon obedience. This is a picture of fellowship or closeness with the Godhead – “and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” The issue here is not salvation. A believer’s disobedience does not take away salvation. Christ is talking about discipleship in this verse. The more we love and obey the Lord, the more we will enjoy close fellowship with the Trinitarian God.

The word “home” (monḗ) is the same word Jesus used of the “many mansions” in the Father’s house in heaven (John 14:2). The link between verse 2 and verse 23 is that the current dwelling of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in an obedient believer’s life is a foretaste of God’s dwelling with us and in us in His eternal kingdom on the new earth (Revelation 21:1-3). 2 “Salvation means we are going to heaven, but submission means that heaven comes to us!” 3  Notice that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not based upon obedience, but upon belief in Christ (cf. John 7:37-39).

Christ then said, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:24). If there is no love for Jesus, there is no obedience. Love to the apostle John is not an abstract emotion, but an action. Those who disobey Christ will miss out on knowing Him more intimately. Their relationship with Him will be more superficial. If you disagree with Jesus, He informs you that you also disagree with His Father who “sent”Him because Jesus’ teaching originated from His Father in heaven.

How many of you are married? How many of you believe you know your spouse better today than you did on your wedding day? How did that come about? Through shared time and experience and communication. Jesus says if we keep His commandments, He will “manifest”or reveal more of Himself to us (John 14:21, 23). This is much like a friendship with another person. Through shared time and experience, the person opens up to you in a more intimate way. Also, as we obey Jesus, we will experience God the Father’s and God the Son’s love for us in a deeper way. So to know God intimately is to know His love more intimately since “God is love”(I John 4:8). If we are not developing a more intimate relationship with Jesus, it is probably because we are not living in obedience to Him. If that is the case, simply confess your sin to God (I John 1:9) and trust Christ to help you obey Him.

A story in Leadership magazine illustrates how the Holy Spirit can help us when we feel all alone. “Jackie Robinson was the first black to play major league baseball. Breaking baseball’s color barrier, he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. While playing one day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he committed an error. The fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered. Then, shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.” 4

How often has our Helper, the Holy Spirit, given us the support we needed when we felt abandoned and all alone? Maybe we were discouraged and ready to quit, but then we sensed His comforting presence. Or perhaps He gave us the support we needed through a Christian friend. Jesus wants us to know that we can be certain the Holy Spirit is always standing alongside, ready and able to help. If you have the Holy Spirit on the inside, you can stand any battle on the outside.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the free gift of everlasting life which is received simply by believing in You alone. But to enjoy deeper fellowship with You, I must obey Your commands. Lord, You know my heart better than anyone, including myself. You know that I like to be in control because I feel so vulnerable when I am not. Because I long to know You and Your love more intimately, I want to surrender all control to You. Right now, I voluntarily surrender everyone and everything to You, my Lord and my God. The more I love and obey You, the more I can experience closeness with You, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Thank You for disclosing more of Yourself to me as I live for You. Although I sin every day, Your shed blood on the cross makes it possible for me to enjoy close fellowship with You the moment I confess my sins to You (I John 1:7, 9). Thank You for Your cleansing truth and grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans; CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group: Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1803.

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. 446.

3. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 353.

4. https://bible.org/illustration/2-timothy-18.

How can we recover from rejection? Part 4

“When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’ ” John 13:21

The fourth way to recover from rejection is to LAY ASIDE YOUR DENIAL OF PAIN (John 13:21). “When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’ ” (John 13:21). When Jesus had said these things about being betrayed by one of them, “He was troubled in spirit.”The word “troubled” (etarachthē) means “to shake together, to stir up.” Christ was emotionally stirred up, unsettled, and disturbed. Why? Because He knew Judas was going to “betray” Him. He felt hurt that Judas was going to reject Him. Judas had walked with Jesus for over three years. They had been through a lot together. Christ had poured His life into the disciples, including Judas, but Judas refused to believe in Him (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12).

Don’t feel guilty if you are deeply hurt or upset when someone close to you rejects you. Jesus felt hurt when He was rejected, and He is almighty God in human flesh. How much more will we feel emotionally stirred up and unsettled?! If we want to recover from rejection, we must be honest about our feelings. Some of us need to learn to give ourselves permission to feel hurt when we have been rejected. Christians can easily minimize their feelings. “A good Christian would not feel this way,” they say to themselves. Jesus felt upset about Judas’ rejection of Him! Why don’t we permit ourselves to feel hurt when we are rejected? Christ understands what it is like to be betrayed by someone close to you. He is not going to tell you to deny your pain and act as though nothing happened. He sympathizes with your pain and wants to offer His healing grace. We cannot forgive someone from our heart if we do not acknowledge the pain he or she has caused us (Matthew 18:35).

Some of you have been through unbearable rejection and pain. Have you allowed yourself to feel the hurt? People who have experienced a lot of rejection throughout their lives may be afraid to permit themselves to feel the pain of that rejection. It may seem overwhelming to them to feel, so they deny their emotions thinking they will go away. But they don’t. Repressed emotions will manifest themselves in unhealthy ways. Jesus can help you identify your pain and give you the strength to release it to Him. Will you permit Him to help you do this?

After over three years of intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus, how could Judas betray Him? The Bible tells us that Judas was motivated by greed. 14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.” (Matthew 26:14-16). Judas was in bondage to money. Afterward he felt guilty and ashamed for betraying the Lord Jesus, and he hung himself (Matthew 27:3-5). Judas could have turned to Jesus for forgiveness after betraying Him, but instead he took matters into his own hands and killed himself.

Judas’ betrayal “troubled” Jesus. In what ways do we “trouble” our Lord? Have we put money or the approval of others ahead of Jesus’ approval? Whatever we have done to offend our Lord, the solution is simple for believers:“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). Permit Jesus to come alongside of you and help you release your pain to Him. He can handle what may seem unbearable to you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for providing a godly example of what it looks like to acknowledge the pain of rejection. For many years I have believed the lie that says, “A good Christian does not feel hurt when someone rejects him.” But You, Lord, understand what it is like to be betrayed by someone close to You. You do not tell us to ignore the pain. You encourage us to acknowledge and release the pain to You. Thank You in advance for the strength You will give me to do just that. Please forgive me for the many ways I have troubled You, my Lord and my God. Thank You for Your cleansing grace that gives me a fresh start the moment I confess my wrongs to You. In Your holy name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 805.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 3

“Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” John 13:10

We are learning in John 13 how we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ. So far we have discovered that we must…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

Today we discover we can experience the blessedness of clean feet when we RECEIVE JESUS’ CLEANSING GRACE (John 13:6-11). In Jesus’ day, people wore sandals without any socks or stockings on their feet. Since the roads were dusty, their feet would become dirty and need to be washed. It was the host’s responsibility to provide a servant to wash the guest’s feet. But Jesus did something that was unheard of in that day. He, a Rabbi, got up from the table and took the position of a servant and began washing His disciples’ feet.

John informs us, “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ ” (John 13:6). Apparently there was nothing said as Jesus washed the other disciples’ feet until He came to Peter. Peter did not understand the significance of what Jesus was doing. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ ” (John 13:7). Jesus asks Peter to submit to Him by permitting Him to wash his feet. He assures Peter that he will understand the significance of this foot washing later.

Has Christ ever asked you to do something that does not make any sense to you? But later on, the Lord showed you what He was doing in your life or in the lives of others? Maybe He is asking you to do something that no one else will do. When Christ tells us to do something, we must be willing to do it whether it seems reasonable to us or not. This is one of the keys to experiencing the blessedness of intimacy with Jesus!

“Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ ” (John 13:8a). Peter may be saying, “You shall never wash my feet for eternity!” Peter felt that Jesus should not degrade Himself by performing such a lowly task. Or perhaps he was thinking, “Never, Lord. My feet are not dirty, and even if they were, I certainly cannot permit You to clean them.” Peter’s words reflect pride and false humility. Our humility does not begin with giving service to others. It begins with a readiness to receive it. It is easier to have pride and a condescending attitude when we receive service rather than when we give it. For example, we may not hesitate to take a meal to a church member who has taken ill. But it is more difficult for us to receive such a meal if we are the one who is sick.

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ ” (John 13:8b). Jesus is not talking about social fellowship here as Peter was thinking, rather He is talking about spiritual fellowship (closeness) as the context will reveal (cf. 13:10-11). “If I don’t cleanse you from the effects of sin (dirt on your feet), you can have no part (fellowship) with Me,” Jesus is saying. The word “part” (meros) is a term for fellowship (cf. Luke 10:42) in the New Testament.Hodges states, “This truth, of course, is more fully elaborated in I John 1:5-10 where fellowship is related to the question of the believer’s ‘walk’ (which one’s ‘feet’ suggest) and it is conditioned on the cleansing that comes in response to confession of sin (I John 1:9).Peter could not have fellowship with the Lord until He was willing to receive His cleansing ministry.

The same is true for all believers in Jesus. We cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with our Lord until we are willing to let Him cleanse our dirty feet (the effects of sin in our lives). We must be honest with the Lord about sin, which John refers to as “walking in the light” (I John 1:7), and “confess” that sin to Him and God promises to be faithful to forgive us of that confessed sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness or unknown sin in our lives (I John 1:9).

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’” (John 13:9). Peter’s outburst reveals his deep need for intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus. “If fellowship with You, Lord, depends on cleansing, then wash not only my feet but my hands and head, too!” Peter seems to be telling the Lord what to do instead of submitting fully to Him.

“Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.’” (John 13:10a). In the first century, there were no bathing facilities in small houses. So a person had to go to a public bathhouse to bathe. When invited to a meal, a person would first go to the public bathhouse and bathe, and then put on clean clothing, anoint himself with fresh oil, and proceed to the home where he would be served a meal. On the way from the bathhouse to the home, the guest’s feet got dirty. Hence, the host provided a basin of water so that the one who already had a bath and cleansed his entire body could sponge the dirt off his feet. 4

Jesus is referring to two types of cleansing in this verse. The first type of cleansing refers to the complete cleansing of regeneration or salvation which takes place at the moment of faith in Jesus (cf. Titus 3:4-5; Revelation 1:5). This is seen in the word “bathed” (louō) which refers to bathing the entire body. This verb is in the perfect tense which conveys the idea of a permanent cleansing. A person only needs one complete bath spiritually. This is a one-time experience. The Holy Spirit performs this complete cleansing at the moment of faith in Jesus for eternal life (Titus 3:4-5). Some believers think they need to be totally bathed over and over again. They fail to understand that God’s water or soap is guaranteed for eternity.

Have you experienced this one-time permanent cleansing? If not, Christ invites you right now to believe or trust in Him alone for it. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Once you trust in Christ, you will need the second type of cleansing that He speaks of next.

This second type of cleansing refers to daily forgiveness in order to have fellowship or closeness with God. This cleansing is represented by the word “wash” (niptō) which means to wash parts of the body. This fellowship forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 11:4) is based upon the confession of sin (I John 1:9). So Christ is saying in verse 10, “He who is bathed [regeneration] needs only to wash his feet [fellowship], but is completely clean.” Every bathed person (Christian) needs daily cleansing of his dirty feet to have fellowship with Christ.

For example, “just as our children may sin within our family, the believer may sin within God’s family. Our child is always our child, but until he confesses [his sin], our fellowship is not good. In God’s family, the same principle applies. There is a forgiveness for salvation and a forgiveness for restoration. The Lord referred to this second kind of forgiveness when He said to Peter, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’ (Jn. 13:8). Peter told the Lord to wash him all over if that was the case. To this Jesus replied, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean’ ” (Jn. 13:10).” 7

“Jesus said to him, ‘… and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” (John 13:10b). All but one of the disciples were “completely clean” in their position before God and could have fellowship with the Lord. “For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’ ” (John 13:11). Judas had not experienced the cleansing bath of salvation because of his refusal to believe in Christ (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). Nothing in the text suggests that Jesus did not wash Judas’ feet. Christ cleansed the feet of His greatest betrayer. This teaches us not to be selective about whom we will love. Christ loved everyone, including His enemies. And He commands us to do the same (cf. Matthew 5:43-48).

As I have thought about Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, including the feet of Judas, I realized that Jesus did not ask them why they walked through the mud and got dirty. That is a part of life. Water was there regardless of the amount of dirt on their feet. The Lord does not seek to condemn us. He seeks to cleanse us (cf. John 3:17; I John 1:5-10). All Christians have a need for daily cleansing because we all sin (Romans 3:23). We all have dirty feet. As we appreciate God’s cleansing grace in our lives both at the moment of salvation and daily for fellowship, we will grow deeper in our intimacy with Jesus and be more eager to humbly serve Him by serving others.

Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus, thank You for the complete cleansing bath You gave me the moment I believed in You alone for Your gift of everlasting life (Titus 3:4-5)! Thank You that I do not need to repeat that bath because it permanently cleansed me of all my sin and shame positionally. But my feet still get dirty – I still sin as I walk with You in this sin-stained world – and I need cleansing from You daily. I praise You because You are faithful to forgive the sin I confess to You (I John 1:9)! And not only that, You graciously cleanse me of all my unknown sin at that time as well! I am doubly blessed by Your faithfulness to me! Please use me, my Lord and my God, to serve You by serving others even when it may not make sense to me or be the popular thing to do. Serving You in light of all You have done for me is one of the greatest privileges I could ever do. In Your grace-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Zane C. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers – John 2:23-25,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978), pg. 147; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 326, 353, 401,593-594; Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 438.

2. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers,” pg. 147.

3. Literally “the sins,” tas hamartias.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 429.

5. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp 480-481.

6. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 238-239.

7. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pg. 353.

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.