Living life with a clear purpose

“28 The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, 29 ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” John 4:28-29

While spending more time at home during COVID-19 restrictions, I have had more time to reflect on what is most important in life. In John 4:27-30, the Lord showed me something this morning that I need to take to heart – LIVE LIFE WITH A CLEAR PURPOSE.

Jesus just finished a conversation with a Samaritan woman while His disciples had gone to the village of Sychar for food. “And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why are You talking with her?’” (John 4:27). Notice that when the disciples return, they focused on the fact that Jesus is speaking to a woman with whom He shouldn’t be speaking. The disciples paid no attention to the spiritual needs of the woman that Jesus was addressing. But Jesus knew His purpose in life and He had gone to this woman to share with her about the gift of eternal life. He told her that if she knew the gift of God and the Giver, she would ask Him and He would give her eternal life. And she responded in faith. She now knew the gift and the Giver.

If our lives are directed by a clear purpose – to share the gospel with all people – we will not let the prejudices of people prevent us from reaching out to others. God wants all churches to be a haven of salvation for ALL people in the community no matter who they are or where they live. If you know a lost person, they are someone that God has put in your life to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.

What did the Samaritan woman do after she received the gift of salvation?  “The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men,‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” (John 4:28-29). She wasted no time telling others what Christ had done for her. Jesus knew all about the shameful things she had done, yet He still loved her. No one ever treated her with such dignity! He accepted her as she was, but also showed her need for God’s free gift of eternal life. He showed her the only way to quench her spiritual thirst. When she asks the villagers, “Could this be the Christ?” she was trying to raise their curiosity. In the original Greek language, her question is even more cautious, “This couldn’t be the Christ, could it?” After all, she had such a poor reputation, they would not believe her if she claimed to have found the Messiah. So, she asks a question to motivate them to investigate Christ for themselves. Did it work? “Then they went out of the city and came to Him.” (John 4:30). Perhaps those she spoke to had been partners with her and they would have wondered, “Could this Man know about us, too?”

God wants us to live life with a clear purpose. Like the Samaritan woman, we are to tell others what Christ has done for us. That’s what this new believer did after Jesus gave her the gift of eternal life. This is why it’s so important for churches to have new believers because those new believers are excited about telling others about Christ. They will get others excited about it, too. Also, new believers have many non-Christian family and friends. The tendency of Christians as they grow older in the Lord is to have fewer contacts with unbelievers unless they are intentional about cultivating relationships with the unsaved. Having new Christians in a church can also open the door for more exposure to their unsaved family and friends.

Over the years I have observed some churches who think it is best not to let new believers share the gospel until they have matured in their faith for a few years. But this is not supported by Scriptures. New Christians are some of the most effective evangelists on the planet. They are excited about their new relationship with Jesus, so they are highly motivated to talk to others about Christ. And they also have many non-Christian family and friends. These two factors alone make them very effective in sharing the gospel with the unsaved.

Are you living life with a clear purpose? Are you telling others what Jesus Christ has done for you? Are you learning to see lost people the way Jesus sees them – as someone He loves and wants to save? The more we see the unsaved as Jesus does, the more willing we will be to cross over the barriers of culture and prejudice to talk to them about the gift of God and it’s Giver.

Prayer: Lord of the Harvest, forgive me for losing sight of Your purpose for my life. You saved me from my sins so I may live for You now and not myself. You do not want me to keep the gospel message to myself, but to share it with everyone who will listen. I remember the day I met You, Lord Jesus. You knew all the shameful things I had ever thought, said, and done, and You still loved me and wanted a relationship with me. I felt so loved and accepted by You. No one had ever treated me with such dignity. And my life has never been the same. Thank You, for Your gift of everlasting life. Please open the doors for Your gospel message to spread around the world so others who are enslaved to fear and shame may discover the freedom that only You can give them through Your grace and truth. Truth that tells them of their need for You and Grace that cleanses them of all their sin and shame the moment they believe in You. Thank You my Lord and my God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Look into the Future – Part 3 (Video)

This is the third in a series of videos about the future as recorded in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. This video focuses on the last half of the seven year Tribulation period after the removal of the Church from the earth. Please share this video with those you want to see in heaven.

The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site, http://www.revelationillustrated.com. The music in this video is used with permission from the producers of the video entitled “The Free Gift.”

How can a loving God send anyone to hell?

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18

As I have shared the gospel with others one of the disturbing questions among non-Christians is how can a loving God send anyone to hell? To many people this seems like a major contradiction. One minute, preachers will talk about God’s love and forgiveness. Then they turn around and talk about hell – a terrible place of torment and unending fire where people want to die but they are unable to. How can God claim to be loving and forgiving and then turn around and send someone to such a terrible place of agony and suffering?

How do you respond to this question? Let’s look in our Bibles at John 3:16-21 where Jesus is having a conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus. We have been doing a verse-by-verse study of the gospel of John. This book helps us see the major emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. While Christ was on earth, He was not scaring people out of going to hell with bad news; instead, He was inviting people to heaven with good news. Jesus spoke more about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, but that was not the major emphasis of His ministry. He did not earn His reputation as a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19) by being harsh. He earned it by being loving and kind and extending His love and forgiveness to people like all of us. Jesus’ message and ministry were not trying to scare people out of hell; but inviting them to receive the gift of eternal life so they could live with Him forever in heaven.

God’s love wants all people to live with Him in heaven. Jesus said to Nicodemus (and us), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). God loves the entire world – over 7.8 billion people at the time of writing this article. How do we know this? Because He gave His only Son to die on a cross (I Corinthians 15:1-8). Why did Jesus have to die? Because God is holy and perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-5; Matthew 5:48; Romans 3:23; I Peter 1:16). The fact that God is holy and perfect demands that He must punish sin (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15; 21:8). A “slap on the wrist” is not enough. Due to its awful nature, sin is punishable by death (Romans 6:23a). Not physical death – but eternal death or separation from God (Matthew 25:41, 46b; Revelation 20:15; 21:8).

Fortunately for us, God let His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who never knew any sin – no wrong thoughts, bad words, unkind attitudes, or evil actions – die on a cross where you and I should have been punished (2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18). Christ took our place on a cross. The nails that should have been driven through our hands and feet, were, instead, driven through His. Keep in mind, Christ didn’t have to suffer for your sin – He loved you enough to do it. When God brought His Son up from the grave on the third day, He was providing proof that He could now extend forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus. There is no sin that Christ cannot forgive and no person that He will not accept if he or she comes to Him on His terms.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). This is the heart of God. Some people confuse Christianity with religion. They think God sent Jesus to earth to make us miserable. They think Christianity is a bunch of dos and don’ts. “Don’t drink… don’t cuss… don’t smoke… don’t chew…  and don’t run around with girls who do.” They perceive God to be sitting up in heaven just waiting to hit them with His holy hammer when they mess up. But this verse tells us the very opposite. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn us, but to cleanse us. He did not come to rub our sin in, He came to rub it out.

Imagine for a moment… one of your children when they were small, playing in the road. You see a fast-moving car approaching. You know you can’t reach him in time. Running toward him you yell, “Get out of the road and come here!” It is important at that moment that your child trusts you and responds. Are you trying to ruin his fun? No, you are trying to save his life! God knows that we are all in danger. We are in danger of spending eternity separated from Him. The Bible calls it the second death and it is racing towards all of humanity (Revelation 20:6, 11-15). For that reason, God sent His Son to die on a cross, as a sacrifice for our sins. He’s paid our penalty. All He asks in return is that we believe or trust in Christ for eternal life (John 3:16).

God doesn’t want any human being to spend eternity in hell. In fact, Jesus tells us that hell was intended for the devil and his angels: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41).  Since God did not want us to spend eternity in hell, He sent His Son to die in our place so that whoever believes in Him should not perish in hell but have everlasting life.

Since God loves us so much, then why would He send anyone to such a horrible place as hell? Please hear this – GOD DOESN’T SEND ANYONE TO HELL. PEOPLE SEND THEMSELVES THERE.

God’s love allows people to choose between heaven and hell. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). When a person refuses to believe in Jesus Christ they are rejecting God’s offer. They are condemning themselves. When a person refuses to trust Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let us pay for our own sin, through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell. Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.

Suppose God blessed you and your spouse with a little boy. You love that little boy so much that you would do anything for him. Forbid the thought, but suppose that when your little boy is twenty-one, he begins a wayward life and eventually murders someone. Your state sentences him to die by lethal injection. Suppose that you could walk into his cell the morning he is to be executed and offer to take his place. That’s how great your love is for him. In so doing, you explain that he can be a free and forgiven man. Much to your surprise, he pushes you aside, walks to the table, and receives the punishment for his horrible crime himself. Did you not love him enough? Would you accept the accusation, “If you really loved your son, you wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”? Not at all! You did not reject him; he rejected you.

This is why the Bible puts the responsibility where it belongs when it says, “but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18b). Why would someone reject Christ’s free offer of everlasting life? Why would someone choose hell instead of heaven? The answer is in the following verses.

People love their sin more than the Savior. Jesus says to Nicodemus (and to us), “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). The presence of God’s light – His truth- forces people to make a choice – to either believe in Christ or reject Him. The reason people reject Christ’s offer of a free gift is because they love their sin more, and they want to stay in the darkness because it hides their sinfulness.

Let’s be honest, sin is fun. Sin feels good. Sin initially appears attractive. But sin is like a black widow spider. The bite of the female black widow spider can be deadly to humans. But the black widow gets its name because after the male has mated with the female, she kills and eats him. Sin has somewhat of the same effect on us. It is initially attractive and pleasurable, but in the end, it can devour us forever.

For example, suppose a person is unwilling to come to Christ because he is afraid of what God might do with the sins he enjoys? If that man so enjoys his immorality or drug abuse or overeating and, in fear of what God might do, is unwilling to come to Christ, he needs to examine Matthew 5:29-30: 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (cf. Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-45). What does Jesus mean here?

Let me explain where I’m at in my understanding of this passage. Alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and sexual addiction are examples of sins which dominate the lives and thinking of millions upon millions today. People turn to such things to medicate their inner pain. The sinful addiction provides a temporary distraction or relief. However, it does not eliminate the pain. In fact, it takes more and more of the addictive behavior to keep masking the pain.

People can also turn to things like sports, work, home decorating, shopping, recreational activities, and hobbies to distract them from inner pain. These things, morally neutral in moderation, can so dominate a person’s time and attention as to become idolatrous and sinful. Evangelist Larry Moyer writes: “Have you ever met a man whose hand was so involved in business that there was no time to think about spiritual things? Or a woman whose eyes were so focused on a neat or new home that she neglected spiritual matters? Christ’s warning to a person in that position was: None of those are worth eternal separation from God [bold letters mine]. Such a person would be wise to cut off the hand with which he works or to pluck out the eye with which she focuses on a new home.” (from Larry Moyer, The Toolbox, Aug-Oct 1989).

No one can come to faith in Christ unless they see their need for Him. People with sinful addictions often cannot see that need unless they hit bottom and give up the addiction. Turning from sins is not a condition of salvation. However, for some it may be a practical necessity – not to clean up their lives, but to be able to see their need and come to faith in Christ. Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5:29-30, that nothing is worth going to hell over. What our hands touch and what our eyes see – does it keep us from trusting in Christ for eternal life? We would be wise to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye. It is better to be here with one hand or eye than separated from God in hell with two hands or eyes.

Some people won’t let God love them because they will be exposed for what they really are – sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness. This is especially true with church people. They live their lives being basically good, but if an invitation to trust Christ for salvation is given, they won’t respond because they are afraid their image will be shattered. They will be exposed and that is just too much to risk. But friends, love is risky. We take a risk receiving God’s love through Jesus Christ and we take a risk expressing our love back to Him.

Jesus said, “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20). I believe this verse can apply to Christians and non-Christians (“everyone”). We all dislike being shown that we are wrong. I feel that way myself. I don’t like to admit I am wrong. This verse is saying that this normal human reaction is part of our sinful nature. That’s why nobody wants to change. Nobody wants to admit he or she is wrong. When the Republicans are in power they try to convince the Democrats they have been wrong, but they won’t admit it. When the Democrats are in power they try to convince the Republicans they have made the wrong choices, but they won’t admit it either. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong. That is why it is so hard to change.

If you are a Christian and you have drifted away from God, you don’t like to be around believers who are walking with the Lord because it exposes your sinfulness and you start to feel uncomfortable. That is the Holy Spirit convicting you. It is not the committed Christian doing that. It is God inside of you nudging you to come back into the light. So, what do we do? We withdraw from committed believers and hang out with those who have no commitment to Christ. One of the ways we can tell that we are walking in darkness is by our lack of time with committed Christians. At first, we miss a Sunday. And then another and another. We don’t want to be exposed to the light of God’s Word because then we will have to face our sinfulness and shame.

“But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:21). The phrase “comes to the light” refers to the person “who does the truth.” He comes to the light “that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God,” meaning that they have “been produced by God.” This verse is referring to Christians. Verse 20 referred to both Christians and non-Christians. But this verse refers specifically to believers. And it is saying that if we will do (not just say the right words but start doing) the right things, despite our dislike of being shown to be wrong – if we are willing, in other words, to begin to obey the truth even though it means we have to admit we have been wrong – then we will find ourselves being drawn to Jesus, for He is the Light. And if we are doers of the truth of God’s Word, then we will openly identify with the light of Jesus Christ so that our works can be seen as being produced by God’s grace working in our lives.

When we are living the way God wants us to live, we will have more boldness to openly confess Jesus Christ before others whether they know the Lord or not; whether they are receptive to Christ or not. But when we are not living in a way that pleases the Lord we are less likely to openly identify with Him because we are feeling guilty and ashamed.

John the Baptist is a believer who “does the truth and comes to the light” by boldly expressing his convictions about the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:15-18, 29-34; 3:22-36). Jesus is warning Nicodemus who came “by night” (3:2) to come to Him “by day” now by boldly confessing Christ which would be contrary to many of the other believing Pharisees (John 12:42-43).

To summarize: How can a loving God send anyone to hell? He doesn’t. People send themselves to hell by rejecting God’s free offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they love their sin more than the Savior.

You may be afraid to come to Jesus Christ because of mistakes in your past that still haunt you. You are afraid He will condemn you instead of cleanse you. There is no wrong too great for Jesus Christ to forgive. When I came to Christ as a filthy sinner back in 1979, I was met with compassion, not condemnation. Christ forgave me and accepted me as His own when I trusted in Him alone. And He helped me to put all my wrongdoings behind me. For the last forty-one years, I’ve been living in forgiveness. If He forgave me, He will forgive you, too. One of the most exciting things about the Christian life is not simply knowing I have been forgiven and I am going to heaven, although that is enough. But since I’ve come to Christ, I know He is with me all day every day. Disappointments do not seem nearly as big, and bad days do not seem nearly as bad with Him in my life.

Jesus Christ came to earth to remove the condemnation all of us deserve and made it possible to come freely and openly to Him. If you have never come to Christ in faith, will you come to Him now just as you are? God does not want any human being to spend eternity in hell. He loves us too much to send us there. But we send ourselves to hell by refusing to believe in Christ to get us to heaven. We can run every stop sign, ignore all the warnings, discount all the pleas to change our minds about whatever is keeping us from trusting Christ and we can choose the path toward destruction. Sunday School teachers can tell us, TV evangelists can preach to us, pastors can warn us, but it is our choice to ignore every warning or we can take them to heart. My friend, it is still not too late. You can settle this issue right now. Simply take God at His Word when He says, “He who believes in the Son is not condemned.” (John 3:18).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I know I deserve to be separated from You forever in the Lake of Fire because I have sinned against You with my thoughts, words, and actions. You detest and hate sin, but amazingly You still love me and came to earth to cleanse me of my sins, not condemn me. You took my place on the cross to die for all of my sins. Three days later You rose from the dead and You are alive today offering eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in You. Right now, Lord Jesus, I am trusting You alone for Your everlasting life so I may live with You forever in heaven. Thank You, Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. Please use me to share this good news with others so they may receive Your everlasting life and escape the eternal fires of hell which You intended for the devil and his angels. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Releasing my problems to Jesus

“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” John 2:3

There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. There are always going to be problems – some of them small and some of them large. In John 2:1-11, Jesus and His disciples were attending “a wedding in Cana of Galilee” where Jesus’ mother, Mary, seemed to be the wedding coordinator (John 2:2). A big problem took place at this wedding celebration. “They ran out of wine.” (John 2:3a).

To the Jewish people, wine symbolized joy. Running out of wine at a wedding banquet in the first century was so serious that lawsuits could be brought against you by the offended guests. The presence of wine stated that this was a special day and that all the guests were special guests.

I can imagine that the bride was getting pretty anxious about this time! I can hear her saying to her mother, “My wedding day is not supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be filled with joy. But instead, I’m worried about what everyone is going to say or do when they discover that we have run out of wine.”

Maybe you have had similar thoughts. “My marriage is not supposed to be the mess that it is. Parenting isn’t supposed to be filled with so much stress. Christianity is not supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to be overflowing with joy – or so I’ve heard – but nothing seems to be going right. My joy is gone.” You may not know where your joy went. You just woke up one morning, and the supply had been completely drained. Some things have come along that you didn’t anticipate that have stolen your joy. Maybe some people have come into your life, and by their attitudes or actions, they have depleted your joy. Perhaps you have overbooked your schedule and lost your joy as a result. Sometimes we can lose our joy because of sin in our lives.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have been the one responsible for coordinating this wedding feast. It would have been embarrassing for her to admit that she had not planned on enough wine. Embarrassing or not, she was willing to admit that there was a need. She said to Jesus, “They have no wine” (John 2:3b). That’s what we have to do too. We have to admit that there is a need – that we are running out of joy. It may be because of our own choices or the choices of others, it does not matter. What matters is that we admit that there is a problem because then we can do something about it.

That’s what Mary did. When she realized that there was a problem, she took the problem to Jesus. She said to Him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3b). She didn’t try to solve it in her own strength. The fact that Mary came to Jesus indicates she believed He could resolve the problem. This tells us that Jesus is concerned with the everyday things in life that we face. This family may not have exhibited a lot of wisdom in how they planned for the wedding celebration, but the wisest thing that they could have ever done was to invite Jesus. The very presence of Jesus at this wedding opened the possibility to a miracle.

And you know something? Jesus is also here with us today. The Bible tells us that He died for our sins…was buried… and on the third day He rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). He is alive today and His power is available to everyone who believes in Him. With Jesus’ presence in our lives, there is enough power to resolve whatever problem you may be facing and build a life that is filled with joy.

When Mary came to Jesus and communicated the problem to Him, His response toward her may seem a little cold and harsh to us in the twenty-first century. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’ ” (John 2:4). Literally, Jesus says, “What to Me and to you, woman?” This may seem disrespectful to our modern ears to address one’s mother as “woman,” but this was an acceptable term in that day (cf. John 19:26; 20:15).

There may be times when we bring our requests to God for what we think would bring joy into our lives – but God’s response seems cold and harsh. It seems like the windows of heaven are closed. But the response that Jesus gave to Mary was to let her know that she was no longer in control. He was no longer under obligation to do what she wanted when she wanted it. He was now obligated to fully obey His heavenly Father not His earthly mother.

When it comes to asking God to do certain things in our lives, God is under no obligation to do things our way or in our time. He commands us; we do not command Him. God knows better than we ever could what will bring us the most joy and when is the most beneficial time for Him to answer our requests. God does miracles and He answers prayers, but He does it in His time and in His way.

There is one prayer that Jesus will always answer with a “yes” as soon as that prayer is offered up to Him. That is the prayer for forgiveness. After King David had sinned against God, he prayed to Him, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2). Notice that David did not ask God to forgive him according to David’s goodness or righteousness, but according to God’s “lovingkindness” and “the multitude of” His “tender mercies.” That is called grace – receiving what we do not deserve.

As believers in Jesus, we still sin after we are saved from hell (I John 1:8, 10), but all God asks us to do when we do sin is “confess our sins” to Him “and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). Confessing our sins restores our fellowship or closeness with God after we have sinned against Him.

If you do not have Jesus in your life, the Bible invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His unlimited forgiveness of all your sins – past, present, and future. “All the prophets say it is true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins through Jesus’ name.” (Acts 10:43; cf. Colossians 2:13-14). He will then come to live inside of you and fill you with His joy (Romans 8:11; 15:13; Galatians 2:20).

If your joy is gone, or if you have never found joy because you are living a life that is contrary to what God says, then come to Jesus as you are. He will work the miracle of forgiveness. He will fill you with His joy.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to You now as a broken cistern that is deplete of any joy. I have stubbornly insisted on living my life my way instead of Yours. Instead of turning to You to restore my joy, I have continued down a path that dishonors and hurts You. Most of my problems I have brought on myself through my foolish and selfish decisions. I am deeply sorry for all the pain I have caused to You and to those close to me. Please forgive me my Lord and my God. Thank You for washing away my sin and restoring Your joy in my life. I release my problems to You. I give everyone one and everything to You, my Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How to be greatly used by God – Part 1

19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” John 1:19-20

Pastor Ray Stedman wrote, “A remarkable religious phenomenon broke out in the United States in the year 1948. It started in a tent near the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, under the preaching of a young evangelist by the name of Billy Graham. The crowds were a little sparse in that tent at first, but as the preaching went on they began to grow. Finally, certain rather prominent Hollywood celebrities came to the meetings and were converted. At first, as often happens with gatherings of that sort, the press totally ignored them. But when some of the well-known names of Hollywood became involved, the media began to take an interest in what was happening. Eventually reporters were sent to investigate and to interview this rather strange young preacher, who dressed in pistachio-colored suits, wore flaming red ties, spoke with a pronounced Southern accent, and yet had incredible appeal to the masses. It was evident that God was doing something there. That was the beginning of Billy Graham’s career. As news of those meetings spread across the country, other cities invited him to come and preach. He went on to Boston, where all of New England seemed to turn out to hear him. Thus began the great Crusades that swept across America in the latter part of the ’40’s and ’50’s under Billy Graham’s ministry.”

“As it was with Billy the Baptist in 1948, so it was with John the Baptist in the late ’20’s of the first century. He, too, was a young man, in his early ’30’s, six months older than Jesus. He, too, dressed rather strangely, even for that day. He did not wear green suits; he wore animal skins, and ate a strange diet of grasshoppers and wild honey. This young man had a very powerful message, which seemed to have great attraction to people. At first, they came out by dozens, then by scores. and finally, hundreds and thousands forsook the cities of Judah and Galilee to hear this remarkable preacher out in desert places. Finally, the response was so tremendous. and this man became so popular, that even the religious establishment of Jerusalem had to take note. They sent a delegation to investigate this remarkable preacher.” (https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/john/call-the-first-witness).

The apostle John records the event for us in his gospel. From this event, we will discover how we too, like John the Baptist, can be used greatly by God.

Drawing such a large following, John the Baptist naturally attracted the attention of the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who sent a delegation to question this desert preacher. They could not ignore someone who attracted such a large gathering. John was an enigma. He did not conform, so they wanted to know more about him. Whenever God begins to use someone greatly for Him, it gets the attention of the religious establishment. They are suspicious and want to control what is going on. They are also threatened.

“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (John 1:19). John responds by vigorously telling him who he is not. He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” (John 1:20). In John’s day, everyone was looking for the promised Messiah-God, so naturally John’s actions and message created a lot of speculation as to who he was. “Might he be the promised Messiah-God?” John denounces any speculation regarding these messianic expectations. “I am not the Christ,” he asserts. Whatever John was, he was certainly not the Christ. There was a Christ, but he was not him.

The religious delegation then asked John the Baptist, “What then? Are you Elijah?” (John 1:21a). These men may have thought, Perhaps John is the reincarnated Elijah. After all, his appearance is similar. His message is similar. Elijah did not die. Was this the great Elijah?” People who believe in reincarnation say here is an example of it. They hold that here is a man who once lived on the earth appearing again as another man — Elijah reincarnated. But if you look closely at this text you will see there is no substance to that claim. John says very plainly, “I am not” (John 1:21b). His was not a reincarnate appearance. The Bible tells us that people die once and then they face God. “As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). This is the only chance you have on earth to get right with God. While John did fulfill the preliminary ministry of which the prophets spoke (in the form of Elijah, he was not the actual prophet himself).

Not wanting to give up, the religious delegation ask, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21c). In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 18:15-19 speaks of a great prophet like Moses who would come and restore Israel. This promise was taken to refer to a special end-times figure who would fulfill the role of the great Prophet. “Surely John is the great prophet” these men thought. Again, with an emphatic, “No!” (John 1:21d), John denounces this title. As a proper witness, John recognized who he was not. His three-fold denial makes his witness clear. The increasing shortness of John’s successive answers cannot be missed here:

“I am not the Christ.”

“I am not.”

“No.”

John the Baptist seems to have a dislike for answering questions about himself. He had come to bear witness about another. He recognized who he was not. He was not the Messiah. He was not Elijah. He was not the great Prophet.

If we are going to be greatly used by God, we must recognize who we are not. We are not the Messiah-God. We are not the great prophet. We are not Elijah. We cannot think of ourselves as more than what we are. It is not our glory, but His, we are to seek. We need to remember that we are not Jesus. We are not God. Nor can we meet needs that only God can meet. We are only witnesses. God did not call us to be someone else. He called us to be the person He made us to be. Hence, to be greatly used by God we must recognize who we are not. John knew who he was not. Do we?

Like John the Baptist we will discover that the closer we grow to Jesus Christ, the more we will want to talk about Him with others and the less we will want to talk about ourselves. Remember what we learned about Jesus’ relationship to God the Father in John 1:18? Christ had a very intimate relationship with the Father. This is why He was so qualified to explain to us what God the Father is like. Likewise, the more we get to know the Lord Jesus Christ, the more effective we will be at bearing witness to Him in a lost world. Intimacy with Christ leads to making Him known to others. Instead of keeping the gospel to ourselves, we will want to make Jesus known to others who are perishing without Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my pride often overestimates my own abilities and importance to compensate for my deep feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. So often I am obsessed with myself instead of with You. I find myself talking more about me when visiting with others instead of talking about my relationship with You. Thank You for being so gracious and patient with me when I am this way. I can hear You saying, “Jeff, I love you and I am so proud of you for being you.” Yet, in my heart I do not believe what You are saying. So much of my life I have believed the lie that says, “I am what I do.” By Your grace, Lord Jesus, please replace that lie with the truth that says, “I am what God says.” I am Your forever child, my Lord (John 1:12; I John 3:1-2). Your love and tender mercies assure me that I am loved and cared for apart from any merit of my own, which makes it easier for me to trust You (Psalm 40:11). I am also Your ambassador or representative here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Please help me to see myself as You do so I am freed up to think less of myself and focus more on You. You are worthy of my very best. I want to give you everything I have right now. It is all Yours. Use me, I pray, for Your glory and purposes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.   

Who is Jesus Christ? Part 2

“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” John 1:3

Not only was the Word present at creation (John 1:1), He was also the Agent of creation. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). Does this verse say that all things were made through evolution? No! All things were made through Christ (cf. Colossians 1:16)! Everything that exists owes its existence to the Word. He is the Creator God. Apart from Him, there is no existence. Jesus Christ created this universe. The Word is our CREATOR GOD.

I believe in the Big Bang alright. God spoke (BOOM) and the universe came into being (Genesis 1). Through Him all things “were made (1:3),” but He always “was” (1:1). The Creator knows our inner workings better than anyone; He knows our needs and what it will take to bring us to Himself.

A doctor had hired a new secretary. She was pretty and thin. Part of her responsibilities was mailing out the bills to all the doctor’s patients. The doctor began to notice that it was taking more time than should be necessary for her to fulfill this task, and so he observed her one day. He discovered that rather than using the wet sponge to seal the envelopes, she was licking each one. This took a long time. The doctor asked her to use the sponge instead of licking each one, but the new secretary said that she would rather do it the other way. The doctor tried all kinds of motivations to try and convince her to do things his way. He tried telling her how much quicker it would be, he told her that her mouth wouldn’t get so dry. He even tried switching the type of envelopes that he used to one of those kind that had nasty-tasting glue. Nothing worked.

One day, a patient came to her window to pay her bill and noticed that the secretary was licking the envelopes. She said to her, “Did you know that each envelope has about 1 ½ calories?” The secretary immediately stopped and began using a wet sponge. Sometimes it takes a woman to communicate in a woman’s language.

Likewise, it takes the Creator to communicate in His creation’s language. The Creator of the Universe loved you and me so much that He became a Man without ceasing to be fully God (John 1:14) so we could approach Him. Jesus came to us to speak our language so we could understand Him. Christ spoke to us with love when He took our place and punishment on the cross for our sins (cf. Romans 5:8) and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:4-6).

Think of how our Creator God, Jesus Christ, must have felt when He came to earth? The Bible tells us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). The Creator of the world came into the world and the world did not even know He was here. The world He made ignored Him.

Imagine how He felt as He inhaled the air He created and walked by the Sea of Galilee that He had made. As He ate the fish He spoke into existence and spent time with the people He had created, how must He have felt when no one thanked Him for the air they breathed and the Sea that provided their food and livelihood? It must have hurt for Him to go unrecognized. But it gets worse.

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Not only was the Creator ignored by the world in general, He was rejected by His own Jewish people. Unlike the world, the nation of Israel knew He was here, but like the world they didn’t care. They turned away from their Creator and Messiah. No doubt this deeply hurt the Lord Jesus. But did He give up on the world and the nation of Israel? Does He give up on us when we ignore Him or turn away from Him?

Even though the world did not know Jesus as its Creator (1:10) and His own Jewish people rejected Him as their Messiah-God (1:11), Christ did not stop loving them. He still offers salvation to individual Gentiles and Jews who would receive Him by believing in His name. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Notice that the way to receive Christ is to “believe in His name.” In New Testament times, a name represented a person. Jesus Christ is the One who died for our sins and rose again. The moment you believe or trust in Jesus alone to make you God’s child, you are born into God’s family forever.

Please understand that when the Bible says you must receive and believe in Christ, that does not mean you must simply accept Him as a Person like you would accept me as a person. Accepting me as a person will not get you to heaven. Accepting as history that Jesus existed, died and rose again will not get you to heaven. Some people accept Christ’s death and resurrection as an historical fact but are still trusting in their own works to get them to heaven.

Picture a large boat filled with refugees from Cambodia coming across the Pacific Ocean. It begins taking on water and lifeboats become a necessity. Three passengers find themselves in different situations. The first passenger has no knowledge that lifeboats save and, therefore, never steps into one. The second passenger understands that lifeboats save, but for some reason refuses to step into one. The third passenger not only understands the ability of a lifeboat to save, but actually steps into the lifeboat and in so doing relies upon it to keep him from drowning.

Which of the three is saved? Yes, the last passenger. He not only had the knowledge, but he uses it. A person is saved when he or she understands the ability Jesus Christ has to save and acts on that knowledge by trusting Christ alone. You are not saved simply by understanding Christ died and arose or even accepting His death and resurrection as a fact of history while relying on your own good life to get you to heaven. You become a member of God’s family when as a sinner deserving of hell, you trust Christ alone to get you to heaven.    

Maybe you have ignored God all of your life like the world did. Perhaps you have turned away from His loving attempts to draw you to Himself much like the nation of Israel did when He walked on the earth. Please understand that Jesus still loves you and offers you a personal relationship with Him forever. All He asks is that you “believe in His name” – His Person – and He will place you in God’s family forever!

Just as Jesus never stopped loving the world or the nation of Israel for rejecting Him, so when non-Christians initially reject the message of the gospel from us, we must not stop loving them or exposing them to the gospel. Christ never stopped loving me the first time I heard and rejected the gospel and I am eternally indebted to Him for that! The least I can do is show the same kind of patient love toward unbelievers who need to hear the gospel more than once before they believe it.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, I bow before You as my Creator God. You know me so intimately and thoroughly because You created me in my mother’s womb. You know me better than anyone, and yet You still love me unconditionally. Thank You for making me, me! Thank You for everything about me. Thank You for never ceasing to love me even though I used to ignore You or even reject any of Your attempts to love me. Because You are my Creator God, You have the power not only to take me to heaven when I die, You also have the power to take care of all of my needs. You have the ability to change me from the inside out as I learn to trust and obey You. Just as You never stopped loving me even though I rejected Your initial attempts to share Your gospel message with me, help me not to give up on those who initially reject my attempts to share Your gospel message with them. Help me to show the same kind of patient love toward others who need to hear the gospel as You have shown to me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Christ’s resurrection provides a relationship for our souls

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

There is a third 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 relationship for our souls (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. “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). Her tears and her focus lead her to conclude Christ is the gardener. 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.  In John 10:3 Jesus said that the true shepherd “calls His own sheep by name.” 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, 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. Other gods are not speaking our names because they are still dead in their graves. But Jesus is not dead. He is alive and He comes to us speaking our name.

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.” Even after His death and resurrection, Jesus is still our Teacher who passes on the truths of His Father.

“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,” He is telling her that it will be a while before He ascends to His Father (cf. Acts 1:4-11). But Christ has an important job for her 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).

“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. What she 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 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 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, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Christ is alive today and He has the power to give you everlasting life. All He asks is that you believe in Him alone for His free gift.

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 Jesus’ name. Amen.