Category Archives: Worship

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 6

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” John 21:10

After Jesus miraculously enabled the disciples to catch a net full of fish, John recognized it was the Lord on the shore, so Peter dove into the sea to swim over to Jesus and the other disciples rode on their little boat to shore (John 21:6-8). When they arrived on shore, they saw Jesus cooking fish and bread over a fire of coals (John 21:9). John then informs us, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” (John 21:10). Even though there was already one “fish” 1 on the fire (John 21:9), Jesus instructed the disciples to “bring some of the fish” 2  that they had “caught” (John 21:10). Why doesn’t the Lord miraculously multiply the one fish to feed these disciples? Why does He invite them to bring some of their own fish?

There are several attempts to explain this invitation. Some suggest Jesus did this because He wanted His disciples “to feel they had contributed in some way to the meal. Most dinner guests like to contribute a dish to the meal, and Jesus may have simply been sensitive to this need.” 3  Others say “this was all symbolic of how Jesus would carry out His mission through His disciples in the future, compared with how He had done it during His pre-cross ministry.” 4 Another says, “I believe our Lord’s object was to show the disciples that the secret of success was to work at His command, and to act with implicit obedience to His word.” 5  The explanation I like the best is that Jesus simply wanted them to enjoy His company so He invites them to bring some of their fish and have a meal with Him. 6  

Some people think the resurrected Lord Jesus is a phantom or a figment of their imagination. But John is telling us in this last chapter of his gospel that the resurrected Lord Jesus is real. He has built a fire for His disciples who are tired and hungry. He is cooking some fish and bread and invites them to join Him. He is sitting around the fire with His close friends to enjoy a delicious meal while they fellowship with one another. I can just imagine them talking with Jesus about their all-night fishing expedition with nothing to show for it and then suddenly, after they cast their net on the other side of their boat, they catch so many fish they cannot even haul it into their boat. This is a real relationship with the resurrected Christ. And this is what Jesus invites us to enjoy. So our sixth lesson is this: ACCEPT JESUS’ INVITATION TO ENJOY HIS COMPANY (JOHN 21:10).

There are people who think their relationship with the resurrected Christ is so spiritual, it is not real. It does not fit into their everyday life. They can experience the resurrected Lord Jesus at church when they are singing with other believers, but it is extremely difficult for them to experience Him on Monday morning. But these verses in John 21 are telling us how we can have breakfast with Jesus on a beach in the real daily experiences of our lives. We can experience a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord Jesus.  

These seven disciples returned to fishing while they waited for Jesus to meet them in Galilee. But Jesus was there on the shore. He knew they had been fishing all night without catching anything. He knew where the fish were so He instructed them to cast their net on the other side of their boat and they caught so many fish they could not haul them all into their boat. When they arrived on the shore, He invites them to bring some of their fish to enjoy with Him.

What I believe God is saying to us is that through His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us no matter where we go or what we do (cf. John 14:16-18). And He wants to be part of our daily lives. He wants us to experience His presence whether we are up in the mountains or out on a lake. He wants us to experience His presence in the city or out on a farm. When we realize that Jesus’ presence is everywhere we don’t have to fit Him into certain places at certain times. He can be part of every moment of our lives.

Christ wants to hang out with His disciples. He wants to spend time with His best friends. He wanted to eat a meal with them and He had some things to share with them. And He wants to do the same with you and me.

When is the last time you hung out with the risen Lord Jesus just to hang out? Unfortunately for many of us, we are so focused on our growth and ministry for Christ and making an eternal difference for Him in the world, that we don’t just hang out with Him. Every time we relate to Him we talk about some big problem or some issue that is so huge that it tires us out spiritually.

But when is the last time we simply hung out with the risen Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, I am so glad You are here!” If you are like me, you don’t do that often enough. It feels so calming just to enjoy the company of the risen Lord Jesus. He delights in us. He celebrates us. We do not have to perform or try to be someone or something we are not.

Some of us may think that sounds really strange. After all, Jesus is up in heaven and we are down here on earth. What exactly are you talking about? But that is not completely true. Remember, since Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), His presence is everywhere through God the Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus lives in each of us who believe in Him (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-47; Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus is here. He wants to say something to our hearts and minds. Have we learned to relax in the presence of our risen Lord Jesus Christ? If not, it is one of the key lessons of the Christian life – to relax in His presence. Have you learned to let Him “cook breakfast” for you? To provide for your needs?

All of us get invitations in our email inbox. With some of those invitations, when we open them up, we say, “No way am I going to that event! That is the last place in the world I want to be!” A second kind of email invitation is when we open it up, we think, “If nothing else is going on, maybe I will go to that. If I’m not too tired from work that day, I may go to that event.” Then there is a category three kind of email. When you open it up and look at it, you say, “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am going to be at that event for sure! I am really looking forward to this!”

Every invitation from the risen Lord Jesus needs to be in category three. “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am pumped to hang out with Jesus!”

We are not talking about an email invitation from Jesus or a Facebook invite. Jesus invited His disciples when He said, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” How do we hear invitations from the risen Lord Jesus now? And if we have heard them, how will we recognize them as being from Him? How do we know if Christ is inviting us? He is not going to show up physically on a seashore and speak audibly to us so it must be an invitation that takes place in our hearts and minds. How do we know if the risen Lord Jesus Christ is saying something to our hearts and minds?

First of all, when Jesus speaks to us it is always consistent with His Word. God the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Jesus identified Himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Hence, the Holy Spirit communicates “truth” about Jesus. Jesus identifies the truth as the Father’s “word” in John 17:17. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth about Jesus through God’s Word (John 15:26; 16:13). It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit tells us what to do. He does not speak audibly to us, He speaks through the truth of the Bible. He will always “testify of” Jesus (John 15:26) and teach us what He “hears” Jesus say (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit is not going to teach something contrary to what Jesus has already taught. He will give us the ability to do what the Word says as we depend upon Him. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep Jesus’ commands (John 14:15).

Here are some ideas about how this works. Any time you have a desire to worship God, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus. It is consistent with His Word (Psalm 22:27; 29:2; 95:1, 6, 9; John 4:23-24; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:2-5:14; 7:11; 14:7; 15:4; 22:9), so accept it.

Whenever you have a desire to pray about something, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:44; 6:5-7, 9; 9:38; 26:41; Luke 11:1-2; 18:1; Colossians 4:2-3; I Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Accept it.

When a thought pops in your mind and you want to do something good for another person, that may be an invitation from Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16, 44; Galatians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; 6:5-9; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:22-24). Accept it.

Or when your heart is burdened to share the gospel with someone, it is probably from the risen Lord Jesus (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 8:26-39; 2 Timothy 4:2). Accept it.

Maybe some of you are naturally good and you always think of prayer, worship, doing good things for others or sharing the gospel with them because you are such a “good” person. But I am not that way. The truth is, without the risen Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would not do those things. It is only when Jesus says, “Why don’t you worship or pray, and why don’t you do something good or share the gospel with that person?” that I have learned to do those things. Those types of thoughts are not from my “good” human nature. I have learned when those thoughts come into my mind they are from the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we have these thoughts, accept them. Accept invitations from Jesus Christ any time they come. That will be the greatest thing you have ever done. It will be the greatest party that you have ever attended. Have a real relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us that You are not some phantom or figment of the imagination. You are a real historical Person Who is alive today and wants to have a real personal relationship with each of us. Thank You for speaking to our hearts and minds through the Bible and Your Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Your voice of truth and rely upon Your Spirit to accept Your invitations whenever they come to us. Saying, “Yes,” to You, Lord Jesus, is the greatest decision we could ever make! Thank You for this adventure with You called the Christian life. I look forward to hanging out with You today. Being in Your presence is so much better than life itself. I love You, my Lord and my God. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Greek word for “fish” is opsarion which is singular.

2. The Greek word for “fish” is opsariōn which is plural.

3. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 376-377.

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

5. Ibid., pg. 392 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 313.

6. The next several paragraphs are adapted from Tom Holladay’s September 4, 1996 message entitled, “Resurrected Purpose: John 21:1-24.”

How can Jesus’ resurrection make a difference in our daily lives? Part 4

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher).” John 20:16

We have discovered that Jesus’ resurrection can make a difference in our daily lives by…

– Dispelling the darkness in our lives with the light of His resurrection (John 20:1).

– Providing evidence of His resurrection for our minds (John 20:2-9).

– Providing answers for our hearts (John 20:10-15a).

There is a fourth thing that happened to Mary Magdalene on that first Sunday after Jesus’ death and burial that helped her to see the resurrected Lord. And this is what we also need. If we are going to see Jesus’ resurrection in our daily lives, WE NEED A RELATIONSHIPFOR OUR SOULS (John 20:15b-18). That’s exactly what happened with Mary. There are two incredible recognitions that occur in one verse.

First, Jesus calls Mary by name. So Mary was able to say to Jesus, “You recognize me, Lord” (20:16a). At first,Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. After all, the tomb of Jesus was in a garden (John 19:41). So it makes sense that Mary assumes this man outside the tomb is the gardener. “She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ ” (John 20:15b).

The Son of God, the King of creation, had risen from the dead. And he was mistaken for a gardener!” 1  Her tears and her focus lead her to conclude Christ is the gardener. Even though she mistakes Jesus’ identity, her request for His body expresses her desire to assume the care of it, revealing her devotion to Christ. Did you ever wonder how is Mary going to carry Jesus? That is a lot of faith and strength for her to think she is going to carry a dead man’s body by herself.

Here’s the big question for our lives, “Who do we mistake Jesus for?” We may laugh at Mary and say how could she have mistaken Jesus for the gardener? But who do we mistake Jesus for? Perhaps we have mistaken Jesus for luck. Something has happened in your life and you have said, “I was so lucky! I can’t believe that car missed me coming around that blind curve. I can’t believe I did not die when that car ran the red light! I can’t believe I haven’t died from COVID-19! I am so lucky!” No. The resurrected Jesus Christ was there. That is why you are still alive.

Sometimes we mistake our risen Lord for fate. Or we mistake Him for our own intellectual ability, like somehow we figured everything out and did it ourselves. God does use our minds, our heart, and our strength. But it was Christ who was there for us. So who do we mistake Him for?

Mary mistook Him for the gardener, but Jesus would not let her stay there. I love the way that Jesus recognized her. One word, one name. “Mary!” (John 20:16a). In the native language – Mariam.  As the True Shepherd, Jesus “calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3) and “they know His voice” (John 10:4). 3  

The incredible thing to me that the first word out of the mouth of the resurrected Jesus Christ is not some great words of theology. It is a name. The name of one of His devoted followers. “Mary!” It is the name she had heard so many times before. It is the name she heard when Jesus cast the demons out of her life (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2), when He called her out of a life of sin. She heard it again and again as He had taught her along with the other disciples day by day. But this time it took on new meaning because it helped her to recognize Jesus Christ is alive and He is here. He spoke her name in the midst of her pain and confusion and He does the same with us.

The resurrection of Christ moves from being an historical event to being a personal event when we hear Jesus Christ speak our name. It’s something personal. When Jesus calls your name, you see Him as a risen Jesus instead of a gardener. It becomes personal. Until Jesus becomes personal to you, there will be no lasting hope for you. Christ will be like a gardener to you. All you will have is dead religion. Other gods are not speaking our names because they are still dead in their graves or they are made by human hands and imaginations. But Jesus is not dead nor imaginary. He is alive and He comes to us speaking our name.  

Do you ever call a dead person? I know that sounds like a strange question, but really, do you ever call a dead person? I don’t. I call a living person. Some of us do not call Jesus or talk to Him because we think He is still dead.

If Jesus spoke your name what would it sound like? What do you think it sounded like to Mary? If Jesus came into your life right now and spoke your name, how would you hear it? We need to learn how to hear it. I’ll tell you how I think He spoke it to Mary. With tenderness, compassion, concern, and power all rolled up into one. It is a tone of voice that is filled with hope for you and what God can do in your life. He speaks it with a tone that knows everything you have done wrong, and yet it is a forgiving and compassionate tone of voice. That is how I hear Him speaking our names. 

When Mary hears Jesus speak her name, she recognizes Him. “She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher).” (John 20:16b). Mary moves from saying, “You recognize me, Lord”to saying, “I recognize You, Lord.”Mary is saying, “I see You. I understand Who You are. You are my risen Lord.” Mary refers to Jesus as “Rabboni” which means “Teacher.” “The term ‘Rabboni’ was a respectful form of address more emphatic and perhaps more honorific than the simpler term ‘Rabbi,’ the traditional honorary title for recognized teachers of the Law. The Aramaic rab means ‘great’ or ‘great one.’Even after His death and resurrection, Jesus is still our “Teacher” Who passes on the truths of His Father.

“The men were quicker to grasp, intellectually, the meaning of the empty tomb, but Mary was the more devoted, and this Christ rewarded. Mary exemplifies the case of those whose hearts seek Christ, but whose minds are ill-informed. It is the heart God ever looks at. We may know much truth intellectually, but unless the heart is absorbed with Christ, He will not reveal Himself to such a one in the intimacies of love and communion.” 5

“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them,’ ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ” (John 20:17). Mary embraces her risen Lord because she loved Him and did not want to lose Him again. When Jesus tells Mary, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father,” the Greek word translated “for” (gar) is an anticipatory conjunction, not a causal conjunction and is more accurately rendered as “since” instead of “because” or “for.” 6 So the verse is better translated, “Do not cling to Me. Since I have not yet ascended to My Father, go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ “ Jesus is telling her that it will be a while before He ascends to His Father so there was no need for her to cling to Him (cf. Acts 1:4-11).

Also the present tense verb “ascending” “might refer to Jesus’ ascension forty days later (without denying that He went to the Father often during that time). Compare 10:18 (‘I lay it [my life] down’) where another present tense clearly refers to a future event. The clause might be paraphrased ‘I will soon ascend.’” 7  The idea that Jesus ascended to the Father before He appeared to the disciples is not clearly substantiated by John 20:17. The main thing is that Christ has an important job for Mary to do now. She was “to go” to His disciples whom He now refers to as His “brethren.” This reminds us that believers in Jesus become members of the same family with God as their Father and Jesus as their Brother (John 1:12; Hebrews 2:11-12).

When Jesus told Mary, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God,” Jesus is not denying He is God as some conclude when He refers to God as “My God and your God.” This would be contrary to the entire argument of the gospel of John. Jesus simply acknowledges His Father is God. So many other verses also acknowledge Jesus is God in the gospel of John.

The beginning of the gospel of John establishes that Jesus is the eternal Creator God without beginning and the source of life and light (hope): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-5).  

Later in Chapter 1 John informs us that Jesus is “the Word” (God) and human “flesh.” “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:14, 17-18). Jesus Christ is presented in the gospel of John as one Person “with a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. He is deity poured into humanity. He is fully human so he cried as an infant, but he is fully divine and gave life to his mother! He is fully human so he had to sleep, but he is fully divine and can raise the dead back to life. Our God fully experienced what it is to be human—yet without sinning (see Heb 4:15).” 8

As the gospel of John progresses, we see the divinity of Jesus elaborated: He assumes dominion over all things (John 3:35); He identifies Himself as the promised Messiah-God to the woman at the well (John 4:25-26); He called God His Father, making Himself equal with God in nature (John 5:17-18); He claims to have the same power as God to give life to whom He wills (John 5:21); He claims to have the same privilege as God to judge the world (John 5:22); He claims to be worthy of the same honor and worship due to God (John 5:23); He declared that the Old Testament Scriptures testify of Him (John 5:39); His disciples said He was the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 6:69); Jesus identifies Himself as the Son of God to the former blind man who then worships Jesus, and Christ does not refuse his worship (John 9:35-38); When Jesus said He and God the Father “are one,” the Jews took up stones to stone Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:30, 33); Jesus asks people to have faith in Him as they have faith in God (John 14:1); He is the earthly manifestation of God (John 14:8); Jesus claims to be able to do whatever people ask in His name after He is gone, more or less implying that He has omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence (John 14:13); He is the King of another world (John 18:36–37); In addition, He admonishes His opponents that His identity is central to salvation (John 8:24) and that He perpetually preexists Abraham (John 8:58), in both of these cases using the divine name of Yahweh from the Old Testament, the “I AM.” Jesus said in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” This is the most indisputable claim by Jesus to be God. “I AM” is the name of God in the book of Exodus. Jesus’ audience knew full well what He was saying. “They took up stones to stone Him”(John 8:59) because they think He committed blasphemy, claiming to be God.

In what some consider the climax of the gospel, a disciple named Thomas realizes who Jesus is and exclaims in affirmation, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) to which Jesus responds, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Jesus does not correct Thomas when he said Jesus was his Lord and his God. Why? The answer is obvious. From the first to the last, John’s gospel identifies Jesus as God. You cannot ignore those verses and be honest with God’s Word.

“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.” (John 20:18). Mary did as Jesus commanded her and faithfully told the disciples all that Jesus spoke to her. Don’t overlook that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was first announced by a woman. In first-century Judaism, a woman’s testimony wasn’t considered credible. So if the disciples were going to invent a resurrection story, they wouldn’t choose women to be the first to see and declare it. Such testimonies would have been rejected by the Jews. Thus, the fact that the first witnesses were women (see Matt 28:1-10) provides evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. It also affirms the communication gifting of women as long as the gift is exercised under the legitimately authorized spiritual authority and covering of the home and the church (see 1 Cor 11:5, 10).” 9

What Mary says to the disciples is the best thing we can say about any moment of our lives – “I have seen the Lord.” I’ve seen the Lord give direction for my family. I’ve seen the Lord comfort me in this painful situation. I’ve seen the Lord show me His will in this decision. I’ve seen the Lord’s presence even in this place that I don’t want to be in. I’ve seen the Lord heal my friend of a deadly disease. I’ve seen the resurrected Lord.”

Are we seeing Jesus’ resurrection in our daily lives? If not, it is becausewe need the darkness in our lives to be dispelled by the light of His resurrection. We need evidence for our minds. We need answers for our hearts. And we need a relationship for our souls. This is not about a religion or philosophy. It is about a  Person Who loved us so much that He died in our place for all our sins and rose from the dead. And He is alive today and He is speaking your name. The risen Lord Jesus wants to be personally involved in our lives. He wants to have a love relationship with us.

Would you like to begin a relationship with Jesus now that lasts forever? All He asks is that you come to Him as a sinner, realizing He died for your sins and rose from the dead, and then believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Christ is alive today and He has the power to freely give you a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life. All He asks is that you believe in Him alone.

Prayer: My faithful risen Lord Jesus, thank You for rising from the dead and speaking my name with compassion and love. You are not some impersonal force who is far away from His creation. You still speak my name in the midst of pain and confusion which comforts and soothes my soul. You are involved in my life every day, teaching me truths from the Father. I have seen You give direction for my family. I’ve seen You comfort me in this painful situation. I’ve seen You show me Your will in the decisions You have led me to make. I’ve seen Your presence even in places that I did not want to be in. I’ve seen You protect me from careless drivers. I’ve seen You in the every-day circumstances of life. I praise You, my resurrected Lord. And I beg of You to have mercy on those who are rejecting You at this time. Please send Your Word to them so they may believe You are the Resurrection and the Life who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in You. Glorify Your name my risen Lord! In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1827.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 370.  

3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 697.  

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 363 cites F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pg. 389.

5. Tom Constable, pg. 372 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 279.

6. Laney, pg. 363 cites Michael McGhee, “A Less Theological Reading of John 20:17,” JBL 105 (June 1986): 299-302.

7. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 564.

8. Tony Evans, pg. 1748.

9. Ibid., pp. 1827-1828.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 6 (Video)

This is the sixth video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the sixth miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving His miraculous healing of a man born blind (John 9:1-41).

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

How can we endure difficult times? Part 3

“Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” John 18:6

In John 18:1-12, we are discovering how to endure difficult times. So far we have learned we can do this when we…

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

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

As Jesus crosses over the Kidron Brook with His disciples, He begins to meet with a series of people. Each of these people that Jesus meets, are thinking about and deciding who Jesus really is. This first group of people that Jesus meets will encounter Jesus’ power. From this we get our third way to endure difficult times – LEAN ON THE POWER OF CHRIST (18:2-8a). John informs us, “And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.” (John 18:2). Perhaps John recorded this detail because it shows that Jesus was not trying to avoid His arrest. Instead He deliberately goes to “the place” that Judas knew Christ would go. Jesus was actually more concerned about meeting with this group than they were with Him! 1

Judas was a disciple of Jesus, who was in the process of betraying Christ. The word translated “betrayed” (paradidous), is a present participle which suggests “the vividness of an unfolding drama.” 2  The process of betrayal was already in progress. “Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” (John 18:3). It was Judas who led the arresting officers to the olive grove where Jesus was with His disciples.

This group included a “detachment” (speiran) normally consisting of 600 Roman soldiers 3 and temple “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.” John is the only gospel writer to refer to both Roman soldiers and Jewish temple officers in the arresting party perhaps to reveal even more of the power of Christ. These soldiers were stationed in the Fortress of Antonia just north of the temple during the Jewish feasts. 4  These troops were used to quell riots like an emergency police force. 5

John informs us that this group “came with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” I wonder why such a large group of soldiers came to arrest one Teacher who was accompanied by Eleven terrified followers who had two swords among themselves (cf. Luke 22:38)? Keep in mind that this is Passover time when the moon would be full. 6  A full moon would provide a lot of light to see things. Yet we are told that they brought lanterns and torches. Why? They must have thought Jesus would hide somewhere in the dark recesses of the garden so they brought lights to search for the Light of the world, but they would not need them.

They also brought “weapons” to arrest the Prince of Peace, suggesting that they anticipated resistance from Jesus. But, as we shall soon see, they would not need them either. When all is said and done, this arresting party looks pretty ridiculous, especially Judas. It makes me wonder what Judas had told them about Christ. Judas came in the cover of night because he was afraid. He needed a big group with lights and weapons to compensate for his fear of Jesus. Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus for material gain (cf. Matthew 26:14-16; cf. I Timothy 6:10).

What about us? Do we betray the Lord when we lack finances? Do we seek to dishonor Him when there is financial gain? Do we look to people to meet our financial needs instead of to the Lord? How many Christians have compromised the Word of God for the sake of money? God knew money would be a great temptation for people, that is why He talks more about money and material possessions in the Bible than any other topic except love.

When we compare John’s account of Jesus’ arrest with the other three gospels, John gives less time to Judas than the other gospel writers. John does not even include the kiss Judas gave Christ to identify Him (cf. Matthew 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48). Why? Because John is magnifying the Person and power of Jesus Christ.

How must the disciples have felt when they saw this large army of soldiers and temple guards? They were probably terrified! How does Jesus respond to this arresting party? “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ ” (John 18:4). Jesus was not taken by surprise by the arrival of this large army. He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. He knew what was ahead and so He stepped out of the dark into the light of their lanterns and torches. Instead of fleeing from this intimidating group, He “went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ ” This may seem odd to us because people who are about to be arrested, do not usually move toward the arresting party. But Jesus moved towards those who were going to arrest Him. Why? Because He was confident of God’s will. Perhaps Christ also wanted to identify Himself to draw attention away from His disciples.

“They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.” (John 18:5a). When the arresting party told Him they were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus boldly declared to them, “I am He.”  Once again Jesus makes an “I AM” (Egō eimi) statement claiming to be God (cf. John 6:35; 8:12, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6). The same Self-Existing God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) now stepped forward to announce His identity to this large arresting party. This army had come to arrest a fleeing Teacher, but they are confronted by a commanding Leader who claims to be God.

In contrast to Jesus’ claim, “Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them” on the side of the arresting party, not on the side of Jesus. This was a bad choice by Judas because even though the other disciples were outnumbered by this army, they were still on the side of the majority. Why? Because one plus God is always a majority.

“Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:6). When Jesus identified Himself with the words, “I am He,” this army of Roman soldiers and temple guards “drew back and fell to the ground.” Why did they do this? We can understand why when we look at the verb, “fell” (epesan). This word means “one who is overcome in battle by a superior” 7 or “to fall down before high-ranking persons or divine beings.” 8 The sheer power of Jesus’ name or identity causes His well-armed enemies to fall “backward in fear and absolute dismay.” 9  They are overwhelmed with the power and majesty of Jesus the Messiah, including Judas who also fell down at Jesus’ feet. 10  These powers of Rome and Israel were bowing before Jesus and could not touch Him except by His permission. 

Tony Evans writes, “The Greek words behind the translation ‘I am he’ can simply be rendered as ‘I am’—the divine name, the self-designation that God revealed to Moses… Jesus is no mere man. He’s the God-Man. He’s the Word who was with God, was God, and became flesh (1:1, 14). Jesus spoke the divine name using the same voice that had spoken the world into existence. And it knocked the betrayer and his accomplices off their feet.” 11

“Then He asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ” (John 18:7). Jesus repeats the same question and receives the same answer. “Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He.’ ” (John 18:8a). Again Jesus tells them, “I am He.” This is the third time John refers to the words “I am He” in verses 5-8. He is clearly focusing on Christ’s deity. Christ is the Initiator here. It seems as though He is having to work hard to get arrested because they are overwhelmed with His majesty. Even though He is unarmed, and they are heavily armed and outnumbered Him, they are hesitant to arrest Him because they are concerned about what He might do. This big bad army knows Who Jesus is now, but they are still in awe of Him.

What do we learn from this circumstance? Christ has the power to help us endure difficult times so LEAN ON THE POWER OF CHRIST (John 18:2-8a). To whom do we look for power when we are stressed out? This is a daily trial that we have in our decision making with Jesus every day. To whom do we look for power? To politicians? Celebrities? Family? Employers? Do we look to our own strength? Do we look to somebody else’s strength? Do we look to money for power? Where do we look for power in our lives to give us that sense of significance and power? God is teaching us that this power is in Jesus’ name. He has the power to make an army fall down before Him. Therefore, He has the power to enable us to endure difficult times in a way that glorifies Him.

Instead of being in awe of the difficulties we face, let’s take time to be in awe of the majesty of Jesus Christ which causes armies to fall down at the mention of His name. His name is exalted above all others (Philippians 2:9-11). May we never forget Who the Lord Jesus Christ truly is. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, (Isaiah 9:6b). Jesus is appointed Heir of all things, through Whom also He made the universe, Who being the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His Person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, Who purged our sins, and now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:2-3). He is the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd Who gave His life for the sheep (John 1:29; 10:11).

As we focus on the majesty of Jesus Christ, we can more fully appreciate the song when it says,

“Turn you eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

Prayer: Lord God, may we never forget that the Baby born in Bethlehem Who grew up to die on a cross as a suffering Servant was Almighty God in human flesh Who is the Maker and Sustainer of the entire universe. Please renew our sense of awe and wonder toward Your majesty, Lord Jesus, which was manifested in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Your death when You boldly announced to Your well-armed enemies, “I AM He.” Help us appreciate the majesty, dominion, glory, and power of Almighty God captured in these words. May the same power that caused an army to fall at Your feet enable us to face these challenging times with boldness and power to honor Your matchless name. Please help us not to underestimate the power of Your Word which not only spoke the universe into existence, but also caused an army to fall down before You. Use our voices, O God, to transform this world with Your powerful Word. In the majestic name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 462.

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

3. 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. 761.

4. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 323.

5. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 537.

6. Constable, Notes on John, pg. 323; cf. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V., Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 284.

7. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 458.

8. BAGD, pg. 659.

9. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983. pg. 484.

10. W. Hall Harris, A Theology of John’s Writings.” In A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Edited by Roy B. Zuck, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pg. 182.

11.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1817.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 4

7 But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’ ” John 12:7-8

At a special dinner for Jesus among His close friends, we are learning how to honor only Him (John 12:1-8). So far we have learned the following ways to honor only Jesus:

– Serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what He has done (John 12:1-2a).

Spend time with Christ out of joy for His gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

– Sacrifice for Christ out of love for Him (John 12:3).

The final way to honor only Jesus in this passage is to SHOW SENSITIVITY TO WHAT BLESSES JESUS ALONE (John 12:4-8). In contrast to Mary, John characterizes Judas in three ways. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said…” (John 12:4). First, his surname “Iscariot.” The name “Iscariot” is taken to refer to his origin, “from Kerioth.” 1 This could mean his father, “Simon” Iscariot (6:71; 12:4), is either from Judah (Joshua 15:25) or Moab (Jeremiah 48:24). Judas then, would be the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee.

Second, Judas was “one of His disciples.” He belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of companions for the last three years. Many unbelieving disciples had already withdrawn from following Jesus (John 6:66), but Judas, an unbelieving disciple (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), chose to stay with Christ. Why did He remain with the Lord Jesus?

This leads to the third characteristic of Judas. He remained with Christ so he could “betray” the Lord. He stuck around so he could deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Mary was devoted to Jesus, but Judas despised Him. Mary loved Jesus, but Judas seems to loathe Him.

“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas thought this anointing was a terrible waste of money – a year’s wages for a working man. Judas may have sounded compassionate toward the poor, but he was not. His criticism of Mary infected some of the other disciples according to Matthew and Mark’s account. Matthew’s writes, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’ ”(Matthew 26:8)? Those who seek to bless Jesus alone are often “misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.” 2

If you give your best to Jesus, you will be criticized and many times the loudest criticism will come from other believers who think they are only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When the Lord called our family to serve Him in the Philippines, we had some believers and unbelieving family members question our sanity. Some said our time and talents could be used better by the Lord in the USA. In their minds, we “wasted” our lives for Jesus in the Philippines!

At this point Judas does not sound like a bad guy, does he? “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6). John informs us that Judas was not being honest. He did not really care about the poor. He only cared for himself. He had been appointed treasurer of the disciples which may mean he had some accounting ability. But he was pilfering what was put in the money box and carrying it away for himself. He was a thief motivated by greed. He wanted to make money from his association with Jesus. He desired the perfume to make money for himself. When he could not get the perfume, he soon went to the chief priests and offered to betray Christ if they paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).

Some people pretend to be Christians or even disciples of Jesus to obtain money or power for themselves. But they only have their own benefit in mind. They are not sensitive to what would bless Jesus or others around Him.

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.’ ” (John 12:7). Jesus defended Mary’s act of love and devotion, “Let her alone!” He would have nothing to do with criticism brought against Mary. Anointing was usually for some festivity or celebration. But Jesus says she kept it for His burial which was just a few days away. Mary had entered into the mind of Christ more fully than the others. She knew His death was coming since He had already taught them about His suffering and eventual death many times before. Rather than wait until after He dies, she uses the perfume now when He can still enjoy it! This was a time for Jesus to relax before His sufferings and death. Mary understood this and she wanted to refresh her weary Lord and Savior.

Mary’s actions remind us that it is better to show our appreciation for someone before he or she dies rather than afterward. “Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.” 3 Is there someone in your life that the Lord may be impressing you to contact before his or her life is over? What would you regret more? Expressing your love for him or her before or after they die?

For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John 12:8). Jesus is saying, “You will always have opportunity to minister to the poor, but your opportunity to minister to Me here on earth is limited. I’m going to die soon.” The word “Me” is emphatic. The sentence literally reads, “Me, however, you do not always have”(Ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε).   Unless Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, Who was due the same honor as God His Father (John 5:23), this statement would be an expression of extreme arrogance. But these are not the words of a mere man or prophet, these in essence, are the words of God!

Christ’s comment about always having the poor was not an endorsement of poverty or an encouragement to do nothing about poverty. He is simply saying that there will “always” be opportunities to serve the poor, but their opportunity to serve Him here on earth was rapidly fading. Now was the opportunity for special service to the Lord Jesus. Now was the time to do something that would benefit Him and Him alone. Christ welcomed Mary’s gracious display of love and devotion.

In Matthew and Mark Jesus even said her gracious act would become a perpetual memorial of honor whenever the gospel is preached. What a contrast between Mary and Judas. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was interested in Jesus only as a ladder for his selfish ambitions.

Mary saw her time with the Lord prior to His death as an opportunity for special service to Him. She was sensitive to what He needed, to what would bless Him. When she anointed the Lord, it did not benefit the others or herself, it benefited Jesus and Him alone.

What made Mary so sensitive to the Lord? We are told back in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” If we would learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word, we would probably become more sensitive to what would bless our Lord Jesus and Him alone. Perhaps we would also give more to our Lord as Mary did.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee, observed in this passage that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha represent three essentials in the church today, respectively: “new life in Christ, worship and adoration, and service.” 4 If churches would focus on these three areas, think of how much the fragrance of Christ would fill our lives and communities!?!

How can we serve Jesus now in a way that serves Him alone? Spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and serve Him alone. Just you and the Lord alone. No one else there to benefit from what you give Him at that time. As You meet with Jesus, give Him…

Your complete honesty. When you really love somebody you don’t just want to spend time with them. You want to talk with them. If you want a deeper relationship with someone, you need to be completely honest with them about your faults and your feelings. Christ is not looking for perfection, but He does insist on complete honesty. What do you talk to God about if you want to draw close to Him? Anything that you would talk to your best friend about. Your hopes… fears… dreams… anxieties… things you are embarrassed about… things you are proud of… things you are ashamed of… your goals… your ambitions… your hurts… your cares… every part of your life – you come to God and you talk to God about it. The Bible says in Psalm 116:1-2:  “I love the Lord because He hears me and answers my prayer, because He bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath.” If you don’t feel close to God and some of you don’t… some of you have been believers for quite a long time and you honestly have lost your spark. Your Christian life has become routine, dull, and lifeless. There is no real joy and spark any more. There is a simple remedy for that. Start talking to God again. Choose to be completely honest with Him.

– Your listening ear as you read the Bible. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. We all want to be understood. We all want to be listened to. When you listen to someone, you are saying, “You matter to me.” When I listen to my wife or my children, I am saying, “I value what you have to say. You are important to me.” When I don’t listen to somebody I’m basically saying, “You are not important to me.” One of the ways you express love to someone and draw close to them is by listening to them.  The same is true with Jesus. Every time you listen to Christ you are saying, “Jesus, You matter to me. You are important to me.” If you want to learn to pray effectively, you must learn to listen to God through His Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). The more time you spend in Christ’s word, the more your thoughts become His thoughts. God made you with two ears and one mouth for a reason: so you will do twice as much listening as talking. So as God speaks to you through His written Word you will have more confidence when you pray because you know what you are praying is according to God’s will. Your heart will be filled with joy as He answers your prayers which are in line with His will.

– Your submission. The Bible says, 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a). Many years ago when my children were very small, I would come home from work and they would run to the door with their hands lifted high saying, “Daddy… Daddy!” By lifting their hands, what were they saying to me? “Take me, Daddy. I’m yours. I trust You.” By lifting their hands they were surrendering themselves to me and my control. They were not trying to manipulate me or control me. They were letting go and letting me take them into my hands. Your heavenly Father wants to do the same with you. He is waiting to draw near to you and hold you in His everlasting arms of love, but you must take that first step and surrender to Him. Give up your agenda and yield to His. When we worship God, lifting our hands to Him is an expression of surrender. We are saying, “I am Yours, Father God. Take my life and use it as You please.” It is time to surrender to the God of all grace. You cannot draw near to Christ without surrendering to Him.

– Your adoration and praise. Reach out to the Lord in prayer and praise Him and thank Him. Tell Him how much you love Him. Bow your heart before Him and worship Him. Surrender to Jesus all that You have. Mary gave sacrificially to the Lord because He raised her brother from the dead. But Jesus has raised us from spiritual death and given us eternal life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9)! Praise Him for that! Let Him know how grateful you are! Give Him what is most precious to you. He will never forget it.

You are as close to Jesus as you choose to be. Do you really want it more than anything else? Is it worth giving up other things and developing the habits and skills required? Start asking God to give you a passion for Him. Jeremiah 29:13 (MSG) says, “When you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me a beautiful picture of what true worship looks like through Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Her love and devotion for You were displayed when she gave to You what was most precious to her. Unlike Judas, who loathed You and thought only of himself, Mary loved You and was sensitive to what would bless You as the time of Your crucifixion rapidly approached. Like Mary, I want to be still and sit at Your feet to hear Your voice of truth so I can become more sensitive to what would bless You and You alone. For me to hear You more clearly, I must lay aside anything that would keep me from hearing Your voice, including my own selfishness, deceit, envy, hypocrisy, evil speaking, and malice (I Peter 2:1). What would You say to me at this time, Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Your name I pray. 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),pp. 380-381.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), 1:339.

3. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 232.

4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:444.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 3

“Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” John 12:3

So far in our study of John 12:1-8, we have learned to honor only Jesus by serving Christ out of thanksgiving for what he has done (John 12:1-2a) and by spending time with christ out of joy for his gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

The third way to honor only Jesus is to SACRIFICE FOR CHRIST OUT OF LOVE FOR HIM (John 12:3). What happens next is an amazing expression of love toward Jesus. “Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” (John 12:3). I can picture Mary quietly arising from her couch to walk around the other couches with people reclining on them and reaching down to pour “this pound of very costly oil of spikenard” on Jesus’ feet which were propped up on the couch. The value of this ointment was equivalent to a year’s wages (12:5).

This perfume was very expensive for several reasons. First, because of the large quantity that Mary used. A “pound” was the equivalent of a Roman pound or approximately twelve ounces. Mary had enough anointment to not only anoint His feet, but His entire body. In fact, Matthew and Mark indicate that she also anoints Jesus’ head perhaps to focus on honoring Him (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3). John may have reported Mary anointing Jesus’ feet to draw attention to her humility and devotion in contrast to the pride of the Sanhedrin and disciples (cf. John 11:47-53, 57; 13:1-17). 1 It is likely then that Mary anointed both Jesus’ head and feet.

Secondly, this was costly ointment because of its quality. John reports that it is “pure spikenard” in contrast to ointment which had been diluted. 2 A third reason why this perfume was costly is because it was made from the nard plant in East India and imported from there. 3 It is normally shipped in a sealed alabaster jar and would only be broke open for very special occasions. Because this ointment was so expensive, only the wealthy could afford to buy it. It was usually reserved to be given to kings. Mary wanted to give Jesus the best ointment because of her love for Him. Nothing was too good for her Lord.

Do you treasure the Lord Jesus more than your possessions or money? Does your spending of money reflect that Jesus is first in your life? If others looked at how you spend money, would they conclude that you love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?

Mary “anointed the feet of Jesus” with this costly perfume. Normally a Rabbi’s head would be anointed with such perfume. To tend to Jesus’ feet was the task of a lowly house slave or servant. But Mary chooses to anoint His feet as an expression of her humility and devotion to Christ. To use “her hair” to wipe off the excess oil from Jesus’ feet is also significant. “Normally Jewish women never unbound their hair in public, since loose hair was a sign of loose morals.” But Mary did not seem to care what others thought at this moment. Her heart went out to her Lord and she expressed her feelings of gratitude for Him raising Lazarus from the dead.

Do you love Jesus more than your pride? Or are you more concerned about what others think of you than what Jesus thinks of you? People may think you are a religious fanatic, but what matters is what Jesus thinks about your sacrificial love for Him.

John then informs us that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”  Mary’s expression of love and gratitude for the Lord filled the entire house with a fragrant aroma. I’m reminded of a Rabbinic saying: “The scent of good oil is diffused from the bed-chamber to the dining-hall while a good name is diffused from one end of the world to the other.” 5 This may be John’s way of saying that Mary’s action would be spoken of throughout the world (cf. Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9). Her devotion and sacrifice for Christ would become a perpetual memorial of world-wide honor.

John leaves out an important detail that Mark’s account includes. Before Mary could anoint Jesus with the pure spikenard, she had to break “the flask” containing it (Mark 14:3). Christian author Watchman Nee equates the flask to our “outer man” or soul which must be broken to release “the inward man” or spirit (2 Corinthians 4:16). 6 Our outer man must be broken to allow the inward man containing the fragrance of Christ to be released.

Nee states, “God purposely used this term ‘pure’ in His Word to show that it is truly spiritual. But if the alabaster box is not broken, the pure spikenard will not flow forth. Strange to say, many are still treasuring the alabaster box, thinking that its value exceeds that of the ointment. Many think that their outward man is more precious than their inward man. This becomes the problem in the Church. One will treasure his cleverness, thinking he is quite important; another will treasure his own emotions, esteeming himself to be more advanced than other people. Others highly regard themselves, because they feel they are better than others, their eloquence surpasses that of others, or their quickness of action and exactness of judgment are superior, and so forth.

“However, we are not antique collectors; we are not ‘vase’ admirers; we should be those who desire to smell only the fragrance of the ointment. Without the breaking of the outward, the inward fragrance will not come forth. Hence, not only do we individually have no flowing out, but also the church has no living way. Why then should we hold our inner man to be so precious, especially if the outward only contains the fragrance, instead of releasing the fragrance?

“The Holy Spirit has not ceased working. He makes sure one event after another and one difficulty after another come to us. These disciplinary workings of the Holy Spirit have but one purpose – to break our outward man so that our inward man may come through. Yet here is our difficulty – we fret over trifles, we murmur at small losses, and we complain about insignificant things. The Lord is ever finding and preparing a way in order to use us. Yet when His hand slightly touches us, we begin to feel unhappy – even to the extent of quarreling with God and having a negative attitude. Since the time when we were saved, we have been touched by the Lord many times in various ways – all with the purpose of breaking our outward man. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the aim of the Lord is to break this stubborn vessel called our outward man.

“Nevertheless, the Treasure is in the earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7). But if the earthen vessel cannot be broken, who can see the Treasure within? Have we seen what is the final objective of the Lord’s working in our lives? It is to break open this earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7), to burst open our alabaster box (Mark 14:3), to crack open our shell (John 12:24). The Lord longs to find a way to bless the world through those who belong to Him. Brokenness is the way of blessing, the way of fragrance, the way of fruitfulness. But, it is also a path sprinkled with ‘blood from our wounds.’  Yes, there is blood from the many wounds we suffer. When we offer ourselves to the Lord for His service, we cannot afford to be lenient and spare ourselves. We must allow the Lord to crack open our outward man utterly so that He may find a way for His working through us.” 7

Does our devotion and sacrifice for Christ fill the place we occupy with a fragrant aroma? Does our praise please the Lord? Does our lifestyle honor the Lord (Hebrews 13:15-16) and emit the beautiful fragrance of Jesus (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)? What kind of odor does our devotion to Christ emit? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Unbearable or refreshing?

We all have reason to live for the Lord. Mary was thankful that Christ raised Lazarus from the dead physically. But Jesus has done even more for us! He has raised each of us who believe in Him from the dead spiritually. He has given us never-ending life and guarantees to resurrect us from the dead in the future (John 11:25-26)! Only Jesus could motivate a person to do what Mary did. What a wonderful Savior we have!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord Jesus, for drawing my attention to what honors You! Mary gave to You what was most precious to her as a way of thanking Your for raising her brother from the dead. But it also seems that she wanted to bless You before Your upcoming crucifixion. She seems to understand, at least in part, what you were about to face at the cross, and she wanted to minister to You while You were still with her. Lord, I must admit that my love for You is so pale compared to Your love for me. Nevertheless, I want to express my love to You by giving You what is most precious to me – my family, my dreams, and my time. You are worthy of my very best. As I look back on my life, I can see You at work breaking my outer man to release my inner man containing Your fragrance. I am beginning to understand how much You want to bless this world through my own brokenness. Help me not to resist this process, but to surrender to You so more people can enjoy Your fragrance and be drawn to You. In Your powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Donald A. Carson, “Current Source Criticism of the Fourth Gospel: Some Methodological Questions.” Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978):411-29.

2. While the New King James English translation omits the word “pure,” John does include it (pistikēs) in his Greek text.

3. W.E. Shewell-Cooper, “Spikenard,” in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Marrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 5:502.

4. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 213.

5. William B. Silverman, The Sages Speak: Rabbinic Wisdom and Jewish Values (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1995), pg. 72.

6. Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit, (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 2000) pp. 12-17.

7. Ibid., pp. 14-16.

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 5

“Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:38

Unable to overcome the former blind man’s logic and the evidence of a miracle, the Pharisees answered and said to him, ‘You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?’ And they cast him out.” (John 9:34). They were saying that this man’s blindness was due to specific sins in his life to shame him into silence and discredit his testimony. He could not teach them because he was a sinner and they were righteous. This is the fifth symptom of spiritual blindness – DISTORT THE TRUTH ABOUT THEMSELVES (John 9:34) – they perceived themselves to be superior to this former blind man and to Jesus for that matter. These educated religious leaders were unwilling to learn from a beggar. They continued in their stubborn rejection of Christ despite the overwhelming reasons to believe in Him.

“They cast him out” of the synagogue to silence him and limit his influence of others. This also served as a warning to others who are tempted to confess that Jesus is from God. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to the former blind man because now he would not have to listen to the works-salvation message of the Pharisees. He was now more prepared for his next encounter with Jesus. God can use the rejection of others to make non-Christians more open to hearing the gospel.

Perhaps you have experienced rejection from your spiritual leaders or religious community because of your interest in Jesus Christ. You have interacted with Christians and they have shown you love instead of hatred. In fact, they have shown you more love than the people of your own religion. And this increases your interest in Jesus.

The Bible then tells us that “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him…” (John 9:35a). Hearing of his excommunication, Jesus sought the former blind man out. Jesus did the seeking since the man had not yet seen Jesus.

Whatever opposition you have experienced for confessing Christ publicly, please know that this is not the last word. Jesus was aware of the former blind’s man’s excommunication, and He sought Him out. Jesus is also aware of your situation, and He seeks you out to reveal more of Himself to you. Your religious community or family may reject you for speaking the truth about Jesus, but Jesus will never reject you when you diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6b).

Now, for the first time, the former blind man could look at the One who restored his sight. Jesus is very direct with the man. “He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ ” (John 9:35b). This is the purpose for John’s gospel. John recorded these miracles of Jesus so you “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). This personal response is necessary for receiving the gift of eternal life.

Many people today believe that Jesus exists and died for them on the Cross and even rose from the dead, but they are not trusting in Him alone for this free gift. They are still depending on their own religious efforts to get them to heaven.

The former blind man “answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ ” (John 9:36). The beggar is willing and ready to believe, but he is ignorant. He wants the Son of God to be identified so he may believe in Him. Jesus identifies Himself as the Messiah-God when He says, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” (John 9:37). The words “seen Him” must have meant a lot to the man who up until that day, had never seen anything.

As soon as the man knew the identity of the Son of God he immediately responds in faith. “Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” (John 9:38). Jesus used the physical healing of this blind man to prepare him for his spiritual healing. Jesus had once again mixed His own divine DNA (His Word) with humanity (the former blind man) so that an even greater healing could take place. Out of gratitude for his physical healing, the man believed in Christ as the Messiah-God, which meant he now had eternal life (John 20:31)! This is the climax for the man in a process that has been taking place throughout the whole chapter. His insight into the Person of Jesus has been growing:

“The man who is called Jesus” (John 9:11).

“I do not know” (John 9:12).

“He is a prophet” (John 9:17).

“Whether He is a sinner, I do not know” (John 9:25).

The Man who has “disciples” (John 9:27).

“He has opened my eyes” (John 9:30).

“If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:33).

“Lord, I believe” (John 9:38a).

“He worshiped Him” (John 9:38b).

The man has been moving from darkness to the Light. After believing in Jesus, “he worshiped Him.” The word translated “worshiped” (proskunéō) is a compound Greek word meaning “towards (pros) to kiss (kunéō),” which refers “to kissing the ground as you prostrate yourself before a superior, to fall down on your knees to adore someone of superior rank.” The former blind man was honoring Jesus as God by worshiping Him (cf. John 5:23).

There is only one Person in the universe who is worthy of worship (Exodus 20:3-5), and Jesus did not stop this man from worshiping Him. If Jesus is not God, why would He permit the man to worship Him? God told Moses on Mount Sinai, “You shall have no other gods before Me… You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3, 5). The healed man was bowing down before Jesus to worship Him. When Jesus accepted the man’s worship, He was making a statement that He was God! This confirms what the apostle John said in John 1:1, “And the Word was God.” If Jesus was not God, then He was endorsing idolatry.

The former blind man could no longer worship God in the synagogue, but now he could worship  God to His face. And Jesus will never “cast out” of His family those who come to Him in faith (John 6:37). This is the fourth way to overcome spiritual blindness. DEPEND ON CHRIST ALONE FOR ETERNAL LIFE (John 9:35-38). Only Jesus can meet our deepest spiritual needs.

When we believe in Him, He gives us everlasting life which can never be lost (John 3:16; 10:28-29) and places us in His family forever (John 1:12; 6:37)! We now have brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the world! And we can begin to see Jesus in a more intimate way as we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Christ is our only source of life and acceptance. Let’s enjoy Him!

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I praise You for seeking me out when I experienced exclusion from my former religious community. Thank You for revealing my own sinfulness to me at that time so I could see my need for You and Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for accepting me into Your family the moment I believed in You for eternal life. Thank You for the new brothers and sisters I gained from all around the world at that moment of faith. What a privilege I now have to approach You in worship! The more I focus on You, the more the cares and concerns of this world fade away. Your light dispels the darkness in my own heart and gives me a hope that never ends. With You at the center of my life, I have joy beyond my own understanding! You are more than enough for me!!! Please use me to share Your light with those who are in darkness so they, too, may obtain everlasting hope and life in You. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.

Why is singing a new song to the Lord important?

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” Psalm 96:1

The Psalmist instructs all the earth to “sing to the Lord a new song” (96:1a) because the Lord has revealed new blessings which are “the good news of His salvation from day to day” (96:2). “All peoples” need to hear this good news about God’s “glory” and “wonders” in creation which show that He is greater than all the lifeless “idols” that people tend to worship (96:3-5). All peoples of the earth are to “give to the Lord the glory due His name” because “He is coming to judge the earth… with righteousness” which will provide “salvation” (96:2) or deliverance from His enemies (96:7-13). The Lord Jesus Christ will fulfill these verses when He returns to earth with His church at the end of the Tribulation period to reign over all the earth during His Millennial Kingdom (cf. Revelation 19:7-20:6). 

I was captivated this morning by the command to sing “a new song” to the Lord. Several times God commands us to “sing a new song” to Him (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10). As God reveals new blessings to His people, they are to respond by singing a new song which praises God for those blessings. Failure to sing a new song when God is doing something new in our lives is disobedience and can lead to a loss of joy and admiration for the Lord in our worship.

But when God’s people obey the Lord and write and/or sing new songs to the Lord which reflect the new manifestations of His grace toward us, He will reveal more of Himself to us (cf. John 14:21). Also, there will be an increase in our praise to Him and “many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord” (cf. Psalm 40:3). Being sensitive to the new manifestations of God’s grace to us in our songs to Him will increase our “fear” or admiration of Him and lead us to “trust” in Him more in our daily lives, and it can also lead the unsaved to “trust in the Lord” Jesus as their Savior. Hopefully, no Christian wants to hinder unsaved people from coming to faith in Christ because of a music style preference.

Contrary to what many Christians think, music style is not sacred to the Lord, but the words (lyrics) are sacred to Him. God enjoys all music styles (old, new, fast, slow, loud, soft, etc.) because He created them and He loves diversity (cf. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)! Just because we do not like all music styles does not mean God does not like them all. What matters most to God is not the music style, but that the songs we sing are offered up to Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). 

All of us have our music preferences, but as we look back at history in the Old and New Testaments (cf. Exodus 15:1-17; Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3) and in the Church Age, songs changed as the Lord revealed Himself and His workings in new and different ways. Singing a new song to the Lord enables us to experience and express the new manifestations of His grace in our lives in more meaningful ways. 

As I look back at my Christian life the last forty years, some of the most intimate times of worship with the Lord were when I learned a new song which expressed the new things He was doing in my life. I especially enjoyed it when the worship leader in our local church would write and/or lead us in a new song that reflected the new manifestations of God’s grace in and through our local church. Praise Jesus for those who capture the new things He is doing in the songs they write and/or sing! 

When is the last time you sang a new song to the Lord? Take time today to draw near to Him by singing a new song to Him that expresses something new that He is doing in your life. To find a new song, you can use google and search for “New Christian Songs.” Since God continues to create new and refreshing songs for His Church, you should have no trouble finding one to enhance your worship of Him. One of my favorites right now is “Raise a Hallelujah.”