How can we endure difficult times? Part 2

“When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” John 18:1

We are learning in John 18:1-12 how we can endure difficult times. Last time we discovered the first way is to learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a). The second way to endure difficult times is in the last half of verse 1. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” (John 18:1b). Christ crossed over the Brook Kidron to go to “a garden.” This is not necessarily a reference to a place where flowers or vegetables are grown, but to an orchard where olive trees are growing on the side of the Mount of Olives. 1 

John is referring to the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32). The word “Gethsemane” (Gethsēmani) means an “oil press” 2  or a place where the olives are pressed and pressured so that the oil would come out. Jesus was pressured spiritually like never before in the garden that night. John leaves out the agony of Gethsemane where Jesus fervently prayed to the Father concerning the cross (cf. Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-43). His sweat became like blood (cf. Luke 22:44). Why does John leave this out? Because his purpose is to show Jesus in complete control over the situation. Christ is presented as the Victor in John’s account, not the Victim.

This garden was probably something some wealthy citizen of Jerusalem owned. They didn’t just have free land outside of Jerusalem in those days. All the gardens that were around Jerusalem were owned by wealthy citizens in Jerusalem. They didn’t have big gardens in Jerusalem for two reasons: there wasn’t enough land and the law forbid them from putting manure or fertilizer on the ground in Jerusalem. So even if you did have a garden in Jerusalem, it would not grow anything. So all the wealthy citizens would buy these gardens outside of town and they would go out there to relax. 3  We don’t know the name of the person who owned this garden. But whoever he or she was, they lent this garden to Jesus during the hour of His greatest need. I find it intriguing that God does not tell us the name of this significant person who ministered to our Lord at this time. Perhaps the Lord Jesus will reveal this person to us in heaven.

Nonetheless, the main observation here is that Jesus went to Gethsemane to prepare for Calvary. He prepared for His suffering (arrest, trials, and crucifixion) by spending time in prayer with His heavenly Father. So the second way to endure difficult times is to LOOK TO THE LORD IN PRAYER (John 18:1b; cf. Luke 22:39-42).

Do you have a quiet place where you can get alone with the Lord to pray? Dr. Tony Evans said, “Pain is always an invitation to pray.” God allows pain in our lives to cause us to depend more on Him in prayer. Where do you go when you are in pain? Do you go to the internet? To a bottle of booze? To drugs? To a boyfriend or girlfriend? To the Lotto (lottery)? To your job or ministry? Where do you go? Jesus turned to His heavenly Father in prayer.

John tells us that “Jesus often met there with His disciples” (18:2b). Christ went there often with His disciples to pray. This is where He got His endurance. If we are going to endure trials in a way that honors Jesus Christ, we must make it a habit to talk to Him in prayer.

The Bible tells us when we face tough times, to “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). When God allows pain in our lives, He invites us to trust Him and pour out our hearts before Him. Why? Because “God is a refuge for us.” He is a safe Person to share our hurts and struggles with because He understands and sympathizes, having gone through similar struggles (Hebrews 4:15). He will not tell others what we share with Him. He will not mock us or betray us. He has our best interests in mind. Go to Him in prayer because He loves you and cares for you more than any other person in the universe. As we give Him our burdens, He will give us renewed strength to endure the trials we are facing.

Prayer: Father God, there is no better way to face Calvary (suffering) than to spend time in Gethsemane talking to You in prayer. Thank Youthat we can talk to You anytime, anywhere, about anything. And You are always available to listen and understand. Lord Jesus, no one understands our hurts and struggles better than You. You know what it feels like to be abandoned, alone, misunderstood, rejected, unfairly accused, and unloved. You are our Refuge. Our secrets and struggles are safe with You. Thank You for reminding us that You also know what it is like to endure suffering victoriously. Please lead us to face our difficulties victoriously with Your strength as we lean into You through prayer. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 316.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 153.

3. William Barclay, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, Commentary on John, 1956-1959, vs. 18:1-14. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-18.html.

4. Tony Evans, March 10, 2019 post on Facebook.

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 5

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Growing up in the 1960s, sports were a major part of my life. I remember watching the introduction of the TV show called “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Every week, the host of the show, Jim McKay, would say, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport … the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” To represent “the agony of defeat,” a film clip of Vinko Bogataj was played of him crashing off a ski-jumping ramp. For decades viewers watched this terrible crash. Thankfully, Bogataj was not seriously injured. But his wipeout representing the  “agony of defeat” was immortalized by this show.

Can you imagine having your failure replayed for decades before millions of viewers!?! None of us want our names to be connected with “the agony of defeat.” We would much rather be associated with “the thrill of victory.” With this in mind, we are going to look at the fifth and final way to face challenges with courage. So far we have learned from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, that 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).

– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).

– Rest in the Father who will never abandon us (John 16:31-32)

The final way to face challenges with courage is to RELY ON CHRIST WHO HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD (John 16:33). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). When Jesus says, “these things I have spoken to you,” He is probably referring to the many promises He has given to His disciples in the Upper Room discourse which included preparing a place for them in His Father’s house (John 14:1-3), answered prayer (John 14:13-14; 15:7), the sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:5-15, 26), fruit-bearing (John 15:1-17), and unending joy (John 16:16-24). Christ ends His discourse on a note of peace and victory.

There are three contrasts in the first half of this verse which have incredible significance:

1. “in Me” vs. “in the world” – Jesus depicts the disciples as living in two spheres. The first is spiritual and eternal (“in Me”)and the second is physical and temporal (“in the world”).The phrase “in Me” points back to the intimacy Christ spoke of in the vine and branches imagery (John 15:1-8). Disciples of Jesus can “have peace” in Christ who never changes, not “in the world” which is ever-changing. We are not going to find peace in the world. Only Christ can give us the peace we yearn for. If our focus is on Christ, then peace can be our experience. If our focus is on the world, then we can expect “tribulation” (thlipsin). This word refers to “pressure or distress brought about by outward circumstances.” 1

2. “you may have” vs. “you will have” – in the spiritual realm the disciples “may have”  peace. The verb translated “may have” (echēte) is in the subjunctive mood which means it is possible or desirable 2  they may have peace, but Christ did not guarantee their peace in this life. If they abide in Christ (“in Me”), then they can have peace. But it is not certain they will abide in Him. But Jesus does guarantee they “will have” tribulation in the world. The verb translated “will have” (echete) is in the indicative mood which conveys certainty 3  that the disciples will experience tribulation in the world. The disciples (and we) will not be able to escape the tribulation that is in the world. Perhaps the disciples still did not believe persecution was imminent (cf. John 15:18-16:4). They expected to rule with Jesus soon in His coming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-30). Their expectations kept them from receiving more truth from Christ that they found to be contrary to what they wanted – this is something all of us must guard against. 4

3. “peace” vs. “tribulation” – If the disciples (and we) abide in Christ and stay focused on Him, they can experience internal “peace” (eirēnēn) or a deep-seeded calmness that is given to obedient believers (cf. John 14:21, 23, 27a) even though they will definitely have “tribulation” in the world. This peace of Christ arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.5

The world cannot give this kind of peace to believers. The world gives Christians “tribulation” because the world opposes Christ and His followers (John 15:18-16:4). The word “tribulation” (thlipsin) “is used in a general sense to speak of the ‘pressing affliction’ that the disciples must endure as they identify with Christ in an unbelieving world (cf. 15:18-25). This is the pressure believers experience when they take a stand for Christ or speak out on a sensitive moral issue. Yet although believers face intense pressure from the world, they can enjoy internal peace in Christ.” 6

Some teach that if you are doing God’s will everything will go smoothly. This is contrary to what Jesus promises. Even if you are living for Christ “you will have tribulation,” because the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him (John 15:18-16:4). If the world does not hate a believer, it may be because that believer is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by the Word.

After the disciples forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50), they may have felt ashamed and uneasy whenever they thought of Jesus. But Jesus predicted their desertion in the very saying where He also assured them of the peace He would give them (John 16:32-33). Christ loved them despite their shortcomings. In the future when they looked back on their desertion, they would reflect that Jesus predicted it. And even though He knew full well they would abandon Him, He had promised them peace. That is grace. Christ would give them peace even though they did not deserve it.

The world would definitely bring the disciples distress, but they could “be of good cheer.” The word translated “be of good cheer” (tharsaeite) means “to have courage.” Why could the disciples face these upcoming challenges with courage? Christ explains, “I have overcome the world.” The word “overcome” (nenikēka) means “to overcome, conquer, be victorious” and it is in the perfect tense. So Jesus speaks of His victory over the world as though it is an accomplished fact with continuing results to the present!

It was no accident that Jesus spoke these triumphant words, “I have overcome the world,” even as the Roman soldiers were buckling on the weapons for His arrest. That is confidence, isn’t it!?! But this is a confidence that would be lacking in the disciples that night. At first, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter, the ring leader of the disciples, pulled out a sword in Jesus’ defense (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). But by the next day, all eleven disciples had lost faith. Those triumphant words from the previous night must have haunted the disciples as they watched from a distance as Jesus agonized on the cross. It appeared to them that the world had overcome Jesus. But on Sunday morning, their faith would be reignited and strengthened by the resurrection of their Lord!

To an unbeliever, the cross of Christ seems like total defeat for Him. But Jesus sees it as a complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. Christ goes to the cross, not in fear or in gloom, but as a Conqueror! Because Jesus won the victory over the hostile world and Satan through His death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5), we can also win with Him as we face difficulties with His courage! Because Jesus has already won the battle, we can claim the victory as we face trials triumphantly. Have you heard this before? It is true, but it is not quite as simple as it sounds. One does not become an overcomer by simply saying with confidence, “I am an overcomer!”

The verb “to overcome” (nikáō) is used by John only here in the gospel of John, but he uses it six times in I John (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5) and sixteen times in the book of Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 17:14; 21:7).

John’s use of the word “overcome” in I John is used of all Christians who are “overcomers” through their single act of faith in Christ at the moment of salvation which overcomes the world’s system’s hostility toward saving faith (I John 5:1, 4-5; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). However, the statements in I John about overcomers are not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers.

In Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

The Book of Revelation deals with persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15) and not a single act of faith for salvation from Hell. For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:8) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:14a). Revelation is talking about Christians being “overcomers” through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives, so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

In John 16:33, we see that victory begins when, through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we find peace in living life for Him. Christ has already won the victory over the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing this can give us much courage as we face intimidating challenges.

In the Philippines when I would watch NBA basketball, I enjoyed the Dallas Maverick’s team. Since we were fourteen hours ahead of CST in Dallas, Texas, I was not available to watch their games in the mornings while living in the Philippines when they were televised live in the States. So I would watch the replay of their games in the evening. Before I did that, I liked to check the final score on ESPN, so I would know if the Mavericks won before sitting down to watch them. Knowing my team had already won the game, gave me confidence even though I may watch my team make several mistakes and fall behind in the score. I did not give up on them though because I already knew they would win the game.

The same is true in our Christian lives. We already know the outcome of this battle between Jesus and the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing Christ has already won the victory over the world and the devil can enable us to have courage when we face intimidating challenges. At times it may seem that the world and Satan are winning the battle when we fail, or other believers fail, but the truth is Christ has already won the war through His death and resurrection! Therefore, we can fight “from” the victory Jesus has already won, not “for” the victory as though it was completely dependent upon us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, regardless of how the world beats us down, we have reason to live with courage because You are the Sovereign King over the world. You have defeated sin, death, and Satan through Your death and resurrection! Because of this, our eternity is secure in You if we have believed in You for Your gift of eternal life. We can now fight “from” the victory You have already won, instead of fighting “for” victory as though it all depended on us. Lord Jesus, You have the power to overcome our circumstances here on earth. Knowing this truth and staying connected to You in an intimate relationship will greatly change our perspective as we face challenging times on earth. Thank You for giving us peace and courage in the midst of life’s storms. You are an amazing Lord and God! In Your victorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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),  pg. 362.

2. https://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm.

3. tps://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm.

4. 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.

5. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 440.

6 J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 297.

7. BAGD, pg. 352.

8. Ibid., pg. 539.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 4

“Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.” John 12:17

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).

– By changing the way we perceive life (John 12:16).

The fourth and final way Jesus leads us to victory is BY PROCLAIMING HIS RESURRECTION POWER TO OTHERS (John 12:17-19). This is what those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead did. The Bibles tells us, “Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.” (John 12:17). This is a different group of people from the “great multitude” (12:9, 12). Those who had witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were telling others now. When people have been impacted by the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus, it is difficult for them not to tell others about it.

This reminds us that Jesus did not save us so we could keep the good news of His resurrection power to ourselves. No, He saved us so we could proclaim this life-giving message to those who are perishing without Him. When we tell others what Jesus has done for us, Christ’s following will grow even larger just as it did soon after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The world needs this good news today especially in light of all the chaos and calamities taking place. Spread some everlasting hope by telling others what Jesus has done for you!

“For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.” (John 12:18). Other groups wanted to go meet Jesus when they heard about this miraculous “sign.”They wanted to see the One who had done the impossible and raised the dead! Hence, the people are growing in their excitement about Jesus – but not all of them.

“The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!’ ” (John 12:19). The Pharisees are unbelieving and pessimistic. They see the crowd being swept up with enthusiasm toward Jesus and blame each other for the defeat of their plots against Jesus. “Your efforts (not ours) have failed. Look, the whole world is following Him now!” Ironically, the Sadducees had advertised to “find” Jesus (cf. John 11:57). Well they can find Him now along with thousands of His followers.

We see here a human attempt to carry out their plans versus the supernatural working of God. Sometimes we are no different than the Pharisees. We may want people to follow us instead of Jesus because we are looking in the wrong place for victory. Victory is found in the resurrection power of Christ, not in popularity or the approval of others. The more we make Jesus’ resurrection power known to others with our life and lips, the more He can lead us to victory in our Christian lives. After all, we also need to hear this good news even after we have been saved for years!

Look in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: 14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” God wants to lead us to victory by having us preach the gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the lost. When we preach the gospel, we are pleasing to God (“to God the fragrance of Christ”), regardless of the response of those who hear it. “From death to death” probably means from the death of Christ, that the apostles preached in the gospel, to the eternal death of those who reject it (cf. John 3:36b). “From life to life” probably means from the resurrection of Christ that they preached in the gospel, to the eternal life and future resurrection of those who believe in Jesus (cf. John 11:25-26).

Two triumphs in Christ – a spiritual triumph at His First Coming was accomplished on the Cross and established peace in heaven (Isaiah 9:6a; Luke 19:38; John 19:30; Colossians 2:15). The second triumph is material and will take place at His Second Coming (Isaiah 9:6b-7; Luke 2:14). Revelation 19:11-21 describes this second triumph:

11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.’ 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

Are you prepared for this second triumph of the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation period to rescue believers and destroy His enemies? Those who have believed in Christ for eternal life are eagerly awaiting this day because of the spiritual triumph He provided at the Cross during His First Coming to earth.

However, it will be a horrific day for everyone who has rejected Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Do not be among them if you have not believed or trusted in Christ alone for eternal life yet. Simply take Him at His Word when He promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Do you believe Jesus’ promise? He guarantees that you now have everlasting life which cannot be lost (John 10:28-29). Let His Holy Spirit lead you in the triumph of Christ by changing the way you look at life.

If you now understand and believe the spiritual triumph of Christ on the Cross, and you are believing or trusting in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone does that. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

“Dear Lord Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner who deserves to be separated from You forever because of all the wrongs things I have thought, said, and done. I believe in Your spiritual triumph whereby You died in my place on a cross for all my sins and rose from the dead so I could have peace with God in heaven the moment I believe in You. I am now believing or trusting in You alone, Lord Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to give me everlasting life now and a future home in heaven. Thank You that Your resurrection guarantees my own in the future. Please use me now to tell others of Your death and resurrection so they also can believe in You for everlasting life and prepare for Your second triumph when You will return on the clouds in glory at the end of the Tribulation period to defeat all Your enemies and establish Your Kingdom on earth. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

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.  

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 2

14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: 15 ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ ” John 12:14-15

God wants to lead us to victory through His Son, Jesus Christ. We saw last time that He does this through Jesus’ resurrection power (John 12:9-11). Today we see that He also does this BY PROVIDING A SPIRITUAL TRIUMPH (John 12:12-15). The following verses (John 12:12-19) are traditionally known as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. All four gospels record this event (cf. Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44).

“The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” (John 12:12). “The next day” probably refers to Monday when the Passover lamb was selected and set aside to be slain and eaten for the Passover. 1 Jesus was going to Jerusalem to be sacrificed as our Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God (John 1:29; cf. I Corinthians 5:7). To His disciples, this did not seem like a Triumphal Entry. They may have thought to themselves, “Yes, Lord there are many who have believed in You, but the religious leaders, the ones with a lot of power, do not believe in You. In fact, they want to kill You and Lazarus. How can this be a triumphal entry when there is a warrant out for Your arrest? Where is the victory in this?!”

Prior to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Luke tells us that Jesus, 31…took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 They will scourge Him and kill Him.’” (Luke 18:31-33). Now Jesus is saying, “Let’s go up to Jerusalem and have a Triumphal Entry!” The disciples are saying, “Wait a minute, Lord. You call this a Triumphal Entry?”

John informs us that “a great multitude… had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” (John 12:12). Ellicott describes the scene as the Lord entered Jerusalem:

“It is not hardly possible to form a just conception of the appearance which Jerusalem and its vicinity must have presented at the season of the Passover. All the open ground near the city and perhaps the sides of the very hill down which our Lord had recently passed were now, probably, being covered with the tents and temporarily erected structures of the gathering multitudes, who even thus early would have most likely found every available abode in the city completely full. We are not left without some data of the actual amount of the gathered numbers, as we have a calculation of Josephus based upon the number of lambs sacrificed (256,500), according to which it would appear that even at the very low estimate of 10 persons to each lamb the number of people assembled must have been little short of 2,700,000, without taking into consideration those who were present but incapacitated by legal impurities from being partakers in the sacrifice… There would thus have been present not much short of half of the probable population of Judea and Galilee… These observations are not without importance considered theologically. They show that our Lord’s rejection and death is not merely to be laid to the malevolence of the party of the Sanhedrin and to the wild clamors of a city mob, but may justly be considered, though done in partial ignorance (Acts 3:17), the act of the nation. When Pilate made his proposal, it was to the multitude (Mark 15:9), and that multitude we know was unanimous (John 18:40).” 2

The Passover “feast” would be followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. When this “great multitude… heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem” they were eager to see what was going to happen. Perhaps it seemed to some of them that Jesus was defying the Sanhedrin who were plotting to put Him to death (cf. 11:53). “When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ ” (John 12:12b-13).

This great crowd “took branches of palm trees,” which signified a triumph or victory. This was a way of honoring and respecting a conqueror. 4  Perhaps they were honoring Jesus because He conquered death by raising Lazarus. When the people “cried out: ‘Hosanna!’ ” (Ὡσαννά), this originally meant “Save now we pray.” 5  They wanted Jesus to deliver them from the domination of Rome! The words, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The king of Israel” are from Psalm 118:26 which speaks of the presentation of Israel’s Messiah-God. They see Jesus as their Messiah because of the manifestation of His Messianic power when He raised Lazarus from the dead.

“Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written…” (John 12:14).  John informs us that Jesus “found a young donkey.” Imagine what the disciples are thinking. “You want to find a young donkey?! I thought conquerors ride a stallion or war horse? Instead of riding a stallion, You are going to ride a young donkey? We are not sure we understand this triumph You are bringing to us. The prophet Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14) says the Messianic Son of Man will come on the clouds, not a young donkey. What kind of triumph are you bringing to Israel?”

The donkey was a symbol of peace and gentleness. In Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry, we read that the people cried out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38). Christ came to bring “peace in heaven” at His First Coming by suffering on the Cross. Remember when Jesus was born, the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). Peace on earth will take place when Jesus returns to earth as King at His Second Coming. The First Coming of Christ brought spiritual peace in heaven through the cross. The Second Coming of Christ will bring peace on earth when Jesus rules as King of kings and Lord of lords! The first triumph of Christ was a spiritual or an inward triumph in the heavens. The second triumph of Christ will be on earth and it will be an outward, material triumph, subjecting the nations of the earth to His rule so that there will be universal peace among all people.

Before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He told His disciples, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here. And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’ ” (Luke19:30-31). By doing this, the Lord is letting His disciples know that He is in control. It was like the Lord already talked to these people and set the whole thing up. “I have planned this entry into Jerusalem even though I am going there to be crucified.”

John tells us that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey had been planned for centuries. “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:15). When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, He fulfilled Zechariah 9:9. God is in control. He had this planned hundreds of years earlier. He planned on bringing a spiritual triumph through His Son’s death on the cross to establish peace in heaven.

We may be looking for a material triumph instead of a spiritual triumph. That is not God’s primary concern right now. We are not going to defeat the world. Christ will do that at His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-21). He will subject the world to His rule then (Psalm 2; Revelation 20:1-6). You and I are not going to bring the entire world under the will of God. Christians may try to force a material triumph, but that will only lead to more frustration.

Two times the word for “triumph” (θριαμβεύω) is used in the New Testament. Colossians 2:15 says, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” The death of Jesus did three things to the spiritual rulers of darkness. It disarmed them, displayed them, and dethroned them. One Bible commentator says this about the verse: “The picture, quite familiar in the Roman world, is that of a triumphant general leading a parade of victory…” 7 Another commentator writes: “It is more natural to view the principalities and powers here as the defeated foes, driven in front of the triumphal chariot as involuntary and impotent witnesses to their conqueror’s superior might.” 8

The cross of Jesus Christ provided a spiritual triumph, not a material triumph. Jesus is Head of a new humanity, a new group of people called the Church, who can respond to evil differently than the rest of the world. As the Son of God, He defeated the spiritual forces of darkness. We are now “in Christ” as believers and we are meant to enjoy this triumph.

The second use of this word for “triumph” (θριαμβεύω) is found in 2 Corinthians 2:14 which says: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” God is the One who takes us and leads us into the triumph of Christ. What am I supposed to do then? Start thanking God for your spiritual triumph. As we yield to the Lord and thank Him, He is going to lead us into the triumph of Jesus which is a spiritual or inward triumph. We may want a material triumph. We tell ourselves, if I could just be released from jail or have the perfect car, job, health, spouse, family, friends, and church, then I will be fulfilled. But there is no life in that kind of existence.

Where do you think the resurrection life of Jesus is seen? It is more often seen in the things that do not go the way we want them to go. That is where God works. That is where we will see resurrection life. God resurrects that which has died, including our attitudes. His resurrection power wants to transform our negative attitudes into positive ones which emit the fragrance of Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I must admit that I am a lot like the disciples. I also can look for a material triumph instead of a spiritual triumph. I can look for victory in my external circumstances instead of in my internal attitudes. I can so easily believe the lie that says, “If you are a Christian, everything will go smoothly in life. You will have no more difficulties or trials.” Please forgive me, my Lord and my God, for looking in the wrong places for Your victory. Your First Coming provided a spiritual triumph on the cross whereby peace with God in heaven was made possible through Your shed blood. Thank You, that I now have peace with the Lord God of heaven and earth through faith in You, Jesus. You now live inside me through Your Holy Spirit Who can enable me to respond in a God-honoring manner to the evil that is flourishing in the world today. I am now trusting You to lead me into this spiritual triumph that can manifest Your fragrance or attitude in all I think, say, and do. Yes, I am looking forward to Your Second Coming which will usher in Your material triumph whereby all nations will be brought under Your rule, and there will be peace on earth among all cultures and countries forever! But until then, my focus remains on You to lead me into spiritual victory! In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 224.

2. C. J. Ellicott, Historical Lectures on the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (London: Longman’s Green, 1896) pg. 289, footnote.

3. Laney, pg. 224.

4. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V: John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 220.

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),  pg. 899; cf. Laney, pg. 224.

6. 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. 432.

7. Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians.” In Ephesians-Philemon. Vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), pg. 202.

8. F. F. Bruce, “Colossians Problems,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 563:298-99.

How does Jesus lead us to victory? Part 1

“But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” John 12:10-11

There are times when we think that if we could acquire something or change, we could be more at peace. Things would be better for us. We may even make promises to ourselves. If this would be different, I would be happier. Yet if we succeed in acquiring something or changing something it seems like something takes its place and we start acquiring or changing something all over again. And on it goes. If that will be different then I will be happy. When that changes, then I will have peace and things will be okay. It seems like a cycle that goes on in our lives. 

For example, we tell ourselves, when COVID-19 is over, then I will be happy. Or when I am released from jail, then I will have peace. When I get a job… get married… have children… get a house… go on vacation… get new clothes… get a new car… get a faithful group of friends, then I will be happy. We tell ourselves things like this, don’t we? We focus on these things and promise ourselves that when this happens, then I will be happy and fulfilled.

But what about the time from now until we acquire or change that something we are aiming for? What are we like during that time? What type of attitude do we have? Are we happy or at peace then? What about the great fade? Lets’ say we are achieving or acquiring something. You know, you get there and it fades on you? Like sand slipping between your fingers. You arrive there and you thought it would be so much better, but it is not. So, we go on to something else. We set up a new hope because what we came to faded on us and it did something we did not expect.

Or what if we become convinced that the situation or person will not change? I’m going to have to live with this situation in my life, these circumstances, these issues in my life that make me unhappy? Are we going to have this heavy ball and chain attached to our emotional hearts the rest of our lives? Dragging it around? Oh, I will just have to live with this. I have tried to acquire something different or change this, or remove that, but I have been defeated at every turn. At that point we may ask, where is the victory of Jesus in our lives when we face challenges? Where is that joyous victory in Jesus when things don’t go the way we had hoped? Where is the victorious Christian life when problems do not go away? If God is God, why doesn’t He change this and make it better?

The key issue here is to ask where am I looking for victory? Is it in some external event or happening? Is it possible you are looking in the wrong place? Ask the Lord, “Teach me, Lord, to look in the proper place for the triumph of Christ.” We may be expecting a type of victory that God is not primarily concerned about. We must look in the right place for victory.

The Bible is clear, God wants to lead us in to His Son’s triumph. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14). For the next few days we will look at Jesus’ triumph in John 12:9-19. How does Jesus lead us to victory?

The first way is THROUGH HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 12:9-11). In the context of this passage, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead about three weeks earlier (John 11). Six days before the Passover, Jesus had an evening meal with some dear friends – Martha, Mary, Lazarus, Simon the leper, and the Twelve disciples (John 12:1-8; cf. Mark 14:3-9). On the next Sunday, a great crowd came to Bethany of Judea to see Jesus. “Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.” (John 12:9). But the crowd did not come “for Jesus’ sake only,” but also to see the one whom Jesus “had raised from the dead.” “Was it true what they heard? Was Lazarus truly alive?” They had to see for themselves.

But not everyone was excited to see Jesus and Lazarus. “But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also.” (John 12:10). The chief priests met together and decided to put Lazarus to death because a living Lazarus was irrefutable evidence that Jesus was who He claimed to be – the Son of God. What did Lazarus do wrong? He was simply raised from the dead. The word “also”indicates that they wanted to kill both Lazarus and the One who had raised him from the dead because both of them were rapidly growing in popularity. In John 11:50, Caiaphas said one man must die for the nation. But one man was not enough. Now two men had to die. Maybe the chief priests thought if they killed both Jesus and Lazarus, Lazarus would remain dead and less people would believe in Christ.

Because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” (John 12:11). When the people saw Lazarus alive, they abandoned the religious leaders and believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Lazarus’ resurrection was an undeniable witness to the power and Person of Jesus. Christ’s resurrection power declares Him to be the Son of God, God Himself (cf. Romans 1:4). 

Wherever evangelism takes place, opposition is usually not far behind. The religious leaders did not want to see a massive movement of people turning to Jesus in faith. So, they make more plans to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.

If we are to be led to victory by the Lord Jesus, we must tap into His power, the same power that raised Lazarus from the dead and got the peoples’ attention. We can do that by walking in the Spirit and obeying His leading in our lives (Romans 8:4-13).

The common people were responding to Jesus in faith, but the religious establishment was rejecting Christ. This was to be expected in a fallen world where Satan is the ruler and his kingdom is shrinking as the gospel spreads. Praise God for the message of the gospel being taught by Christ and being authenticated by His miraculous signs! The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was doing what God designed it to do – to persuade people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that believing they may have life in His name (cf. John 20:31).

How has God manifested His resurrection power in your life so that unbelievers are attracted to Jesus? The Lord is far more interested in changing our character than He is in changing our circumstances. He is far more interested in making us holy than He is in making us happy.

Has Christ transformed your anger into acceptance? Your critical attitude into one of compassion? Your emptiness into eternal life? Your greed into generosity? Your grief into gladness? Your guilt into innocence? Your hatred into love? Your haughtiness into humility? Your impatience into patience? Your promiscuity into purity? Your resentment into redemption? Your selfishness into selflessness? Jesus changes lives!!!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, the new life You gave to Lazarus persuaded many people to believe in You alone for everlasting life. I pray Your resurrection power would change me in such a way to draw many people to Your saving grace. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” John 11:44b

Today we will look at the final reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. It is to GET CHRISTIANS TO HELP ONE ANOTHER DISPOSE OF THEIR GRAVE CLOTHES (John 11:44b). Jesus had just commanded a dead man to come out of his grave (John 11:43). And a living Lazarus walked out of his tomb wrapped from head to toe in burial clothes. Only Jesus can bring life to dead churches, marriages, families, and individuals. That is Jesus’ job. But look at the end of verse 44:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” (John 11:44b). Could Jesus have caused the grave clothes of Lazarus to drop off? Absolutely! If He could raise Lazarus from the dead, He could certainly cause his grave clothes to drop off. But why didn’t He do this?

That would have left Lazarus naked and caused him a lot of humiliation and shame. By having those around him unwrap Lazarus, Jesus was providing an opportunity for people close to Lazarus to help him lose his grave clothes without losing his dignity. Likewise, Christians need to help one another get free from their spiritual and emotional grave clothes.

Jesus gives life to people. That is His job. But it is our job, the people of God, to help one another get out of the grave clothes that keep reborn people from acting alive. We may still have the grave clothes of shame and self-righteousness. We may view ourselves and God in a way that keeps us from experiencing His resurrection life. There may be deeply ingrained habits or thought patterns that prevent us from living resurrection lifestyles. Or we may have the grave clothes of unconfessed sin or an unforgiving spirit which keep us from experiencing true freedom in our Christian lives.

The church needs to be a safe place where we begin to peel away the grave clothes that keep born again people from experiencing the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. We cannot live victorious Christian lives in isolation from other believers. We need each other to experience the resurrection power of Christ in our lives.

How can churches become a safe place for believers to remove their grave clothes?

1. Ask others to help you remove your own grave clothes. Instead of jumping in like a spiritual superior to help remove the grave clothes of others, church leaders are to give others permission to help them remove what is keeping them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power more fully. After all, how can church leaders expect others to be vulnerable about their struggles if they are not vulnerable about theirs? This kind of mutual vulnerability conveys the gospel message that we are all imperfect sinners in need of God’s grace (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). If Christians will live in humble vulnerability with one another, they will create an atmosphere that gives every believer in the church the safety and freedom to shed their grave clothes on the pathway to experiencing Christ’s resurrection power.

2. Extend the same grace to others as Christ has given to you (Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:32). None of us deserved salvation, but God freely gave it to us by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. We must create an atmosphere of this grace that invites imperfect sinners to come out of the darkness into the light of Jesus’ love. I have attended Christian churches and/or ministries where believers were treated harshly for having grave clothes that kept them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power. They were belittled and bullied for having struggles, which only increased their fear and shame. They were viewed as an embarrassment to the church or ministry. According to them, since “true Christians” have no serious problems, no provisions were made to help them.

This is the exact opposite of what Jesus did with those who were broken and wounded. Christ fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 42:3 which says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (cf. Matthew 12:20). Jesus did not deal harshly with those who were already hurting nor did He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He came along side of them to strengthen them with His presence rather than step on them to advance His own plans. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). He gave forgiveness to the fallen (John 8:11). Likewise, the more churches have this Christlike mindset, the more they will expect “true Christians” to have obvious problems and provide ministries that provide the safety and security to promote transparency, healing, and growth.

3. Focus more on the heart instead of behavior. God is not uptight about our sin and shame. People are the ones who are uptight about our sin and shame. God still loved us even though we were undeserving, ungodly sinners without any strength to reconcile ourselves to Him. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up before He loved us and died in our place. The Bible says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “Christ died for the ungodly,” not the godly. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” not saints. Christ looked beyond our sin to our hearts. He loved us no matter how often or badly we sinned.

Do our churches communicate this same kind of love to those the Lord brings to us? No matter how stinky a believer’s grave clothes are, do we love and accept that person as Jesus loves and accepts him or her? Do we take time to get to know the person, or do we stay preoccupied with their behavior and avoid them or judge them? It is Christ’s love that will embolden believers to remove their grave clothes and be transparent with one another, not focusing on behavior. After all, God’s “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). And fear and shame are two of the most common obstacles that keep people from being vulnerable with one another. But when we experience God’s incredible love for us through other believers who love and care for us no matter what we have done, we will respond with love toward our Lord and toward His children (I John 4:19).

4. Define believers by what God says about them, not by what they do. Christians are not defined by their grave clothes. They are defined by what God says about them. For example, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to Christians who were living in the city of Ephesus, a sex-saturated society that was the home of the temple Diana. Christians were enticed by temple teachings to live without restraint. Paul countered this godless culture by emphasizing the Christian’s new identity in chapters 1-3, followed by a call to live in a way that is consistent with who they are in chapters 4-6.

An example of this is seen in Ephesians 5:8-10. Paul writes,  “8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Notice that Paul starts with who they now are in Christ – “you are light in the Lord” (5:8a). The light of Jesus Christ now defined who they are, not the darkness of their sin. Paul then concludes, “walk as children of light” (5:8b). Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and His followers are defined by His light.  

Christian speaker and author, Dr. Tony Evans, writes, “His followers must reflect Him the way the moon reflects the sun—not as crescent-moon Christians but as full-moon Christians. And we can’t reflect His light unless we’re in the light. So, if you want to reflect Christ, you have to be absorbing Christ through cultivating an intimate walk and relationship with Him (see John 15:1-16).” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. pg. 2110).

As we grow closer to Jesus and learn how He sees us, we will begin to live like children of light who produce “goodness, righteousness, and truth” as we discover what is “acceptable to the Lord” (5:9-10).  

If we want to see believers shed their grave clothes and experience the resurrection power of Jesus more fully, we must focus on what God says about them instead of on what they have done. Why? Because the more they see themselves as God sees them, the more He will transform their lives. After all, we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. The Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). Our behavior does not determine who we are. At the very core of our being we are God’s children and God wants us to learn to start acting in a way that is consistent with who you are.

For example, if you see yourself as an addict at the core of your being, what will be the most natural thing for you to do? To stay sober or practice your addiction? Practice your addiction. What will be the most unnatural thing for you to do? Stay sober. But if you see yourself as a child of God at the core of your being (John 1:12; I John 3:1-2), what is the most natural thing for you to do? Stay sober. Satan wants to convince you that you are a sinner. Why? Because sinning is accepted as natural. But if you realize and believe you are a child of God at the core of your being, then you will come to the conclusion that sinning compromises who you are. Sin is inconsistent with who you are in Christ. The more a believer sees themselves as God sees them, the more they will realize their grave clothes no longer define who they are. In fact, wearing their grave clothes will seem unnatural and restrictive to them.

Prayer: Wow, Lord Jesus! Many times I have read the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but I had not noticed the last part of verse 44. What a powerful application this is for the church today. Yes, You gave life to Lazarus as only You can do. But You want Your people to help him remove his grave clothes so he can experience his new life more fully. Oh Lord, please awaken Your church to see their role in helping other believers remove their grave clothes in a way that preserves their dignity and enables them to more fully experience Your resurrection power in their lives. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

Overcoming incredible odds

15 Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s… 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” 2 Chronicles 2o:15, 17

When King Jehoshaphat and Judah were surrounded by a great multitude of enemies from Ammon and Moab and others with them in what seemed to be certain defeat, Jehoshaphat “set himself to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” and all the people “came to seek the Lord” (20:3-4). As Jehoshaphat turned to the Lord in prayer, he focused on the supremacy and ability of God to meet them and deliver them in the midst of their national crisis (20:6-12). He confessed his and Judah’s inability to overcome these great odds against them, yet he said to the Lord, “but our eyes are upon You” (20:12b).

The Lord told the king and all of Judah not to “be afraid” because “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (20:15). God assured them that they would “not need to fight in this battle” (20:17a) because it was His. Their responsibility was to “position themselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (20:17b). God’s responsibility was to do the fighting in this battle.

Has God ever lost a battle? No, of course not! He never loses. He has a 100% success rate. He bats a 1000. He always wins when He fights against an enemy. The question is, “Will we let Him fight for us?” Will we turn the battle we are facing over to Him?

How did Jehoshaphat position the people to watch God fight for them? Instead of taking up military weapons, he put the choir in front of his army to “sing to the Lord, and … praise the beauty of holiness, …saying: ‘Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever’ ” (20:21). As they sang praises to the Lord, “the LORD set ambushes against the people” who came against them and “they were defeated” (20:22). When God heard their praise in the midst of this crisis, He responded to their circumstances and brought them victory.

What battles are you facing right now that seem hopeless? Is the battle in your marriage or family? Your job or school? Your finances? Your health? Your witness for Christ? A habitual sin? God says it is now His battle in your marriage or family. It is His battle at your job or school. It is His battle with your finances or your witness for Christ. It is His battle with your habitual sin.

The Lord says to lay down your weapons (e.g. your anger, clever words, manipulation, obsessing, running, worrying, etc.) and trust Him to fight this battle for you. Put yourself in a position to see God work. Instead of trying harder, be still and trust Him to work on your behalf. Instead of working harder, watch Him fight for you. He is already at work to bring victory.

Then praise Him for what He will do. You may say,“I will praise God after He answers my prayer.” If you wait to praise God until after He answers, is that faith? No. Anyone can thank God after the fact. Faith is thanking God in advance, praising Him in advance that the odds will be overcome, that the solution will arrive, that the miracle will take place. When we start to thank God in advance for what He is going to do, we are going to see some very amazing things happen.

Prayer: Almighty God, I want to acknowledge that the battles I am facing right now are far beyond my ability to overcome them. Right now I want to tune into You, Lord, and see these battles from Your point of view. I know that nothing is impossible with You. You have helped me so much in the past and now I am trusting You to help me now. I am handing these battles over to You to fight. They are now Yours, not mine. I am laying down my weapons and trusting You to win this battle for me. Much of the battle is within me. I am my biggest problem. Please change me wherever You need to. Lord Jesus, I want to thank You in advance for the victory You are going to win. Thank You that I can trust You to do what I never could. In Jesus’ name. Amen.