Two Christmas Seasons

“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

You can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day by hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus talks about two Christmas seasons in one of the most familiar verses of the Bible: “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).

This verse falls in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a religious ruler named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus thinks the way to heaven is by living a good life. But Jesus confronts him with the truth that he must be born again by believing in Christ alone for eternal life. It is not what you do that gets you to heaven, it is what Christ has already done for you on the cross, and simply believing in Him.

The first Christmas season is seen in the first part of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” No one has ever loved to the degree that God has loved. He loved the world. He did not limit His love to one country, culture, or color. God loved everyone.

Because God loves everyone, His love cannot be earned. God loves us now, not when we get better. He loves us regardless of what we have done or not done. Do you realize that nothing you do can make God love you any less? God has designed us to be loved by Him. Only His love can meet our deepest needs. Sadly, we often look in the wrong places for God’s love, don’t we? We look for love in – a cell phone, a job, money, sports, alcohol, a computer, drugs, or a brief romantic relationship. God’s love isn’t found in these things. His love is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How did God express His love for us? “He gave His only begotten Son.” The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents. The word translated “only begotten” (monogenḗs) literally means “one of a kind.” Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind because only He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14).

Over two thousand years ago, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger on the earth even though He pre-existed as God. He loved you and me so much He was willing to become a helpless baby. Here He was, the Creator of the universe, lying in the arms of a woman that He created! God sent Jesus so you could know what He is like (John 1:18). If God wanted to communicate to birds, He would have become a bird. If God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. But God wanted to relate to you and to me, so He became a human being without ceasing to be God.

You may be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, or an atheist. It does not matter what your religious background is because Christ did not come to give us religion, He came to give us a relationship. Christmas is God saying, “I want to relate to you. I want you to know Me as much as I know you.”

Because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:23), we deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But Jesus came that first Christmas season to die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Christ paid for the gift of eternal life.

When you receive a gift, do you have to pay for it? No, of course not. Why? Because it is already paid for. Eternal life is free to you and me (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9) because Jesus already paid for it when He died on the cross (John 19:30) and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today! So, the first Christmas season was when Christ came to us.

The second Christmas season is now when Christ invites us to come to Him. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). Does the word “whoever” include everyone? Yes. It includes the best and worst of people and everyone in between.

Christ invites everyone to believe in Him for His free gift. He did not say “whoever behaves…” Jesus simply says, “whoever believes…” Receiving Christ’s gift of eternal life is apart from any good works we might do.

Jesus is not asking you, “Do you do good in the community?” because He never said, “Whoever does good in the community should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking you, “Did you live an obedient life?” because He never said, “Whoever lives an obedient life should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking, “Do you have religion?” because He never said, “whoever has religion should not perish but have everlasting.”

Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does it mean to believe? To believe simply means to trust or depend upon. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says you “believe” and “have.” You have what you take, correct?

What do you like the most about Christmas? Most people will say, receiving gifts, right?! To enjoy a gift, what must you do? You must receive it.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger and died on a cross so we could receive eternal life as a free gift. We cannot trust our obedience to God’s commands, our good life, our religion, or our prayers to receive eternal life. Instead, we must believe or trust in Christ alone to receive His gift of eternal life and live with Him forever in heaven. The moment you trust Christ, Christmas will never end for you. What makes Christmas lasting is knowing you will live forever in God’s presence. Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

Christ promises that when you believe in Him you “should not perish” in hell. When you believe in Christ, He promises you will be rescued from eternal punishment. When Jesus speaks of perishing, He is not talking about physical death, He is talking about suffering forever and ever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; 20:15). Many people don’t believe in hell today, but they better be sure about it because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. Everyone needs to be rescued because “all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).

The word “but” contrasts eternal death and torment (“perish”) with “eternal life” and enjoyment. Jesus is acknowledging that there is a place of eternal ruin where people will be in agony forever. “But,” He says, “You can have the opposite of death, agony and torment – you can have eternal life.” All people exist forever, the question is where will you live when you die – heaven or hell?

When you believe in Jesus, He promises that you can be sure that you “have everlasting life.” Jesus did not say, “might have” or “hope to have.” He simply says, “have,” which expresses absolute certainty. You can be one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life because Jesus promises it to all who believe in Him. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

Eternal life is described in John 17:3 as knowing God the Father and God the Son personally forever. Eternal life begins when you believe in Jesus, not when you die or after you die. What could possibly be greater than that? If you have not believed or trusted in Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life, why not do so right now? This is how you can tell God in prayer what you are doing:

“Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. Nothing I am or do makes me deserving of heaven. I now understand that Jesus Christ, the One born in a manger, died for me on a cross and rose again. I place my trust in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I have just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, He came to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). You can get to know Jesus better by talking to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and by listening to Him as you learn to read and apply the Bible to your life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Find a church where you can worship God with other like-minded Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Tell others about Jesus and what He can do for them (Matthew 4:19).

To learn more about how you can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day of your life, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about.

Why all the fuss about Christmas?

In response to our video, “A Cosmic Christmas” on our Facebook page (“See You in Heaven”), we are receiving many questions or should I say “attacks” about the time of Jesus’ birth which was not even mentioned in the video. Some think December 25th was originally a pagan holiday and therefore, should not be observed by Christians. I could make an argument for a December birth of Christ, and you might be able to make an argument for a different time of the year. But that is not what matters.

In response to this, I would quote the apostle Paul, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5). Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were Jews and Gentiles. Some of them were observing special holidays and some treated every day alike based on their personal preferences or opinions.

God’s Word tells us that each of us is to “be fully convinced in his own mind” that he is honoring God regarding a matter on which Scripture isn’t clear. We are to let our brothers and sisters exercise their liberty in Christ. My family and I celebrate Christmas in December. You may choose not to do that. The Bible is saying I would be wrong to condemn you for not observing Christmas in December just as you would be wrong to condemn us for doing that.

It is uncomfortable for people at different levels of faith and maturity to coexist without judging each other on matters of preference or opinion. Paul gives us both a reason to respect one another’s freedom and motivation: you and I are not each other’s Lord or Master. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:6-9). The phrase “to the Lord” shows up six times in these verses. This phrase means the person is seeking to please the Lord. If a brother eats, let him eat to please the Lord (14:6). If he doesn’t, let him not eat to please the Lord. If he celebrates a day, such as Christmas, he does it to please the Lord; if he doesn’t observe Christmas, he is still doing it to please the Lord. If he lives or dies, he is doing it to please the Lord—not to please you (14:7-8).

Many churches are drowning in legalism, and we are placing a leash around the necks of other Christians with our manmade preferences and opinions. Moreover, we are keeping rules for this brother or that sister in Christ. We have got to stop trying to please each other and focus on pleasing the One who came to earth that first Christmas season to eventually die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead that “He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (14:9).

Christians are not to judge one another based on our own personal preferences or opinions because there is only one person who is qualified to do that: the Lord Jesus Christ. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12). The more we try to control the behavior of others, the more dangerous our own position becomes. Jesus said that it is foolishness to point out a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye if you have a log in your own (Matthew 7:3). Paul is getting at the same idea here: Why do you judge your brother or sister (14:10), when you know that each of us will give an account of himself to God (14:12)? God won’t be asking you about the opinions and preferences of your brother or sister in Christ. He will be looking into your account. So don’t worry about your neighbor so much; keep a better, closer eye on yourself. Get out of God’s business and tend to your own.

Just because our focus is on pleasing God doesn’t mean we are not thinking of others at all. “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13).  Instead of judging one another, we decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in their way. We think of others all the time, but our first question is not, “What faults can I find in their lives?” Instead, it is, “How will my actions affect them?” Yes, you are free to enjoy what God gives you the freedom to enjoy including observing Christmas or not observing Christmas. But don’t use that freedom to hurt others.

Our video focuses on the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective recorded in Revelation 12:1-5. It answers the “Why?” question, not the “When?” question. In my opinion, the focus on the “When?” of Jesus birth is another attempt by the Dragon (Revelation 12:3-4, 9) to mislead people away from the true meaning of Christmas.  

Answering the “Why?“ of Jesus birth is far more important than answering the “When?” Why did God the Son (John 20:31; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), the Creator of the universe (John 1:1-3), come to earth as a Baby (Revelation 12:4-5; cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20), instead of appearing in power and majesty? Why make Himself a true man and live among us without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), when He knew full well how horribly He would be treated?

It was God’s love that brought Him to earth in this way. 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). The phrase, “God … gave His only begotten Son,” includes Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Jesus became a baby without ceasing to be God so we could relate to Him and eventually believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:14-18; 3:15-16).

Have you believed or trusted in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life? Do you know you have eternal life right now by believing in the name of the Son of God (I John 5:13)? Answering these questions is far more important than any question about the time of Jesus’ birth.

Living Life Today in Light of Tomorrow (Video)

This video looks at Bible prophecy in the book of Revelation to bring stability and hope to our lives when so many things seem out of control in the world today.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. 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. Other digital images are used with permission from Digital Globe / www.FreeBibleimages.org, GoodSalt / www.goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses. The video scenes in this video are used with permission from the producers of the video entitled “The Free Gift.”

Receiving Life Freely – Part 9 (Video)

WHAT MUST I DO TO GET TO HEAVEN?

This is the ninth and final 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 answers the most important question anyone could ask, “What must I do to get to heaven?” (John 20:31).

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. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. 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/. Other gospel of John pictures are used with permission from www.GoodSalt.com, or they are creative common licenses. 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.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” Jesus 21:12

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. So far we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

– The power of the risen Lord Jesus is capable of catching multitudes of people in His gospel-net (John 20:11).

Today we are ready for our final lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. Following their miraculous catch of fish, the seven disciples were now on the shore with Jesus having brought their net full of fish with them (John 21:6-11). “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” (John 21:12).

All of us have had special moments in life that are held forever in our memory. What a wonderful memory Jesus made for John and the six other disciples as He invited them to breakfast on the beach. The aroma of hot bread and and sizzling fish must have stirred the appetites of the disciples. John notes that none of the disciples, knowing it was the risen Lord, ventured to ask Jesus, “Who are You?” We usually don’t ask those we know well who they are. 1

The fact that both Mary Magdalene (John 20:14) and the Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-35) did not immediately identify the Lord may indicate some difference in the Lord’s resurrection appearance here. “Yet the identification was so certain that all the disciples knew it was Jesus. Their meal together stamped an indelible impression on their minds. Years later in his preaching Peter spoke of himself as a reliable witness who ate and drank with Jesus after His resurrection (Acts 10:41).” 2

The fact that John mentions the disciples dared not ask the Lord His identity may suggest “these disciples longed to ask Jesus if the Person standing with them was truly He, but they did not dare do so. This tension within them helps us understand that Jesus’ resurrection was a challenge to the faith of even those who knew Him best. Had the beatings and His crucifixion so marred His form that He scarcely resembled the Jesus they had known, or was His resurrection body so different that He looked like a stranger? Probably we shall have to wait to see Him for ourselves to get answers to these questions. In spite of everything, the disciples, ‘knowing that it was the Lord’ from the undeniable evidence, could only conclude that the One who stood among them really was Jesus.” 3

Constable writes, “Jesus, as the host, invited the disciples to dine with Him. Perhaps He was reminding them of their last meal together in the upper room, just before His arrest. In the ancient Near East, a host who extended hospitality to others and provided food for them, was implying that He would defend them from then on. Consequently, Jesus’ invitation may have been a promise of commitment to them like the kind offered at the oriental covenant meal. Such a meal involved acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual commitment. By accepting His invitation, the disciples were implying that they were committing themselves to Jesus afresh.” 4

Wiersbe insightfully writes, “Three ‘invitations’ stand out in John’s Gospel: ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39); ‘Come and drink’ (John 7:37); and ‘Come and dine’ (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly, the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize ‘the soul’ that He neglects the body.” 5

John then informs us, “Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:14). As often happens with guests, the disciples may have appeared hesitant to begin serving themselves the meal, so Christ went over, took the bread, and gave it to the disciples. In the same way, He also served the roasted fish. The definite article used with “the bread” (ton arton) and “the fish” (to opsarion) indicates that Jesus distributed the bread and fish that were cooking over the fire of coals when the disciples arrived on the shore (John 21:9). The disciples’ fish could be cooked later (cf. John 21:10), but this was Christ’s provision for them. 6

When Jesus gave them “the bread” and “the fish” to His disciples, this must have reminded them of when He miraculously fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). The breaking of the bread and distributing it to them also had to remind these seven followers of what happened just a few days before when Jesus had broken the bread in the upper room during the Last Supper.

The fact of this meal substantiated Jesus’ promise to meet all their needs. The disciples may have thought that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eventual ascension would end His care for them; but now they had a demonstration of His continuing care. They may have feared His death and eventual ascension would end their fellowship with Him, but now this meal which He had provided assured them they would still enjoy sweet fellowship with their risen Lord. And His eating some of the food (cf. Luke 24:40-43), gives additional proof of His bodily resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither a fairytale nor a hallucination. He ‘presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs… over a period of forty days’ (Acts 1:3). As Jesus himself told them, ‘It is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see, I have’” (Luke 24:39). 8

John notes, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John 21:14). John attests that this is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples in his gospel account (cf. John 20:19-20, 24-29). While a comparison of all four Gospels shows that this is the seventh appearance (counting His appearances to Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus), this was indeed only his third appearance specifically to” a gathering of more than two of His disciples.

From these verses we learn that WE NEED TIMES WITH JESUS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS OUTSIDE TO REFRESH OUR SOULS (John 21:12-14). Jesus’ appearance on the beach seems to be a more casual occasion than His appearances in Jerusalem. This gave more of an extended opportunity to renew their fellowship after the separation that came from their fleeing at His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56).

Do you ever feel like you are on an uninhabited island in your Christian life? You are all alone? No one to share your fears, joys, and sorrows with? Several coals burn brightly together but put one aside and its fire goes out. So, it is with other Christians. We will not last long in the Christian life if we do not have fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus and other believers.

While reading John Eldredge’s book, Get Your Life Back, I was impressed with the chapter entitled, “GET OUTSIDE.” He writes, “The average person now spends 93 percent of their life indoors (this includes your transportation time in car, bus, or metro).” 10  

Eldredge continues, “Ninety-three percent – such a staggering piece of information. We should pause for a moment and let the tragedy sink in.

“That means if you live to be 100, you will have spent 93 of those years in a little compartment and only 7 outside in the dazzling, living world. If we live to the more usual 75, we will spend 69 and three-fourths of our years indoors, and only 5 and one-fourth outside. This includes our childhood; how does a child be a child when they only venture outside a few months of their entire childhood?

“This is a catastrophe, the final nail in the coffin for the human soul. You live nearly all your life in a fake world: artificial lighting instead of the warmth of sunlight or the cool of moonlight or the darkness of night itself. Artificial climate rather than the wild beauty of real weather; your world is always 68 degrees. All the surfaces you touch are like plastic, nylon, and faux leather instead of meadow, wood, and stream. Fake fireplaces; wax fruit. The atmosphere you inhabit is now asphyxiating with artificial smells – mostly chemicals and ‘air fresheners’ – instead of cut grass, wood smoke, and salt air (is anyone weeping yet?). In place of the cry of the hawk, the thunder of a waterfall, and the comfort of crickets, your world spews out artificial sounds – all the clicks and beeps and whir of technology, the hum of the HVAC. Dear God, even the plants in your little bubble are fake. They give no oxygen; instead, the plastic off-gases toxins, and if that isn’t a signal fire I don’t know what is.

“This is a life for people in a science fiction novel. This would be understandable, acceptable, if we’d colonized Mars and by necessity you lived in a bubble. But this is not the life God ordained for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, whose habitat is this sumptuous earth. It’s like putting wild roses in a Styrofoam box for the rest of their lives.

“You live a bodily existence. The physical life, with all the glories of senses, appetites, and passions – this is the life God meant for us. It’s through our senses we learn most every important lesson. Even in spiritual acts of worship and prayer we are standing or kneeling, engaging bodily. God put your soul in this amazing body and then put you in a world perfectly designed for that experience.

“Which is why the rescue of the soul takes place through our engagement with the real world…

“…Living in an artificial world is like spending your life wrapped in plastic wrap. You wonder why you feel tired, numb, a little depressed, when the simple answer is you have a vitamin D deficiency; there’s no sunlight in your life, literally and figuratively.

“Our body, soul, and spirit atrophy because we were made to inhabit a real world, drawing life, joy, and strength from it. To be shaped by it, to relish in it. Living your days in an artificial world is like living your whole life with gloves on, a filtered experience, never really feeling anything. Then you wonder why your soul feels numb.” 11 

God really got my attention when Eldredge writes, “We are looking for more of God. You’re far more likely to find him in a walk through an orchard or a sit by a pond than you are in a subway terminal. Of course, God is with us and for us wherever we are, but in terms of refreshment, renewal, restoration, in terms of finding God in ways we can drink deeply of his wonderful being, you’d do better to look for him in the cry of the gull than the scream of the siren. God inhabits the world he made: his vibrance permeates all creation:

“The whole earth is filled with his glory! (Isaiah 6:3 NLT)

“Christ… ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10 NLT)

“In the most beloved of Psalms, perhaps the most beloved of all Scripture, David wrote a poem to celebrate the restoration of his soul. Notice that God took him into nature to accomplish that:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3).

“Be careful you don’t dismiss this as something belonging to an agrarian age. God could have taken David into the palace to renew him; he could have taken him into the home of a friend or family member; he could have chosen the bustling markets of Jerusalem. In other words, there were plenty of indoor options for God to employ. But his choice for David’s resuscitation was nature, his greenhouse, filled with his own life, pulsing with his glory, unique in its ability to restore and renew his children…”

“…There’s nothing better for a fried soul than to get in the woods or walk in the park. Lie on your back in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Sit on the beach and watch the breakers.

“…Nature heals; nature restores. Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging in front of Narcos or Fear the Walking Dead. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour of HALO. Video games offer relief, nature offers restoration.

“This is why David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, ‘He renews my strength’ (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David spoke of.” 12

My most refreshing times with our risen Lord Jesus, our Creator of the universe, has been outside amongst His creation. Going for a walk in the woods and listening to the birds of the air which our heavenly Father feeds has often refreshed and restored my spiritual union with the Lord.

Jesus understands this. He provided a delicious breakfast for His disciples outside on a beach along the Sea of Galilee. Remember, Jesus was the Creator of this beach and this Sea. The waves rolling into the shore at sunrise that day could be seen and heard by the disciples. The smell of salt water filled the air. There was probably a cool breeze blowing in from the sea. The disciples may have heard seagulls crying out above them. They could smell the smoke rising from the fire of coals along with the aroma of the cooking fish and bread. All these outdoor experiences would have been healing and restoring to the disciples’ bodies and souls.

As Eldredge writes, “Nature heals, teaches, strengthens, soothes; it brings us the presence of God, for ‘the whole earth is filled with his glory’ (Isaiah 6:3 NLT). Go let it restore your soul – daily, whenever possible.” 13

More importantly, it is the risen Lord Jesus Who heals, teaches, strengthens, and soothes. What better environment for this to take place than outdoors in the physical world which He created for the sons and daughters of God to enjoy!

In his book, The Golden Milestone, Frank W. Boreham talks about a tombstone in a small English churchyard that marked the final resting place of two sisters. It bore the words from John 21:4, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore.”

Although this referred to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His disciples, it reminded Boreham of the Christian’s prospect of seeing Christ waiting on heaven’s shore. Envisioning his own impending death when he would be welcomed by the risen Lord Jesus, Boreham wrote, One of these days I shall set out on my own great voyage of exploration. I shall see my last sun sinking and shall set out for the land that is mantled with the flush of morning. I shall leave behind me all the old familiar things, and shall sail out into the unknown, the unseen, the unexplored. I shall be surrounded on every hand by the wonders that here were beyond me, by the mysteries that here baffled my comprehension. I shall see strange sights and hear unwonted sounds. But it will be all right.” 14

Yes, “it will be all right” because the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us will be on heaven’s shore. With the assurance that the risen Lord Jesus will be standing “on the shore” to welcome him home, Boreham concluded, But there is no tinge of gold in the scudding clouds now; it is too dark for writing; they are lighting the gas behind me; I must draw the blinds and go.” 15

Boreham died with confidence he would see Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Can you? If not, you can simply come to Jesus now as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). But Christ Jesus loved you so much He took your place on a cross and died for all your sins and three days later rose from the dead (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today, and He has the power to forgive all your sins and give you everlasting life so that when you die, you will be greeted by Him on heaven’s shores (John 3:16; 14:2-3; Colossians 2:13-14). All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness or everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you believe what Jesus just said, you can die with the assurance that you will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Christ cannot lie. He always remains faithful to His promises, even if we become faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). That is why we can confidently say after a person believes in Christ, “See you in heaven!”

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us the assurance through Your meal with Your disciples on the beach, that You will continue to meet all our needs even while You are in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. As our Good Shepherd, You not only laid down Your life for us and rose from the dead so we could have everlasting life the moment we believe in You for it, but also so we can be assured of seeing You on heaven’s shores after we die. And as our Good Shepherd, you can refresh and restore our souls as we connect with You and other Christians outdoors. Thanks so much for reminding us that You designed our physical bodies and souls to be refreshed through the things You have made, much like Adam and Eve’s experience in the garden of Eden prior to their disobedience when they would walk with You in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Please help us to make it a daily habit to align ourselves with You in the context of Your creation so we can unwrinkle or disentangle our souls from the artificial world we expose ourselves to much of the time. Thank You our Lord and our Creator God. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 377-378.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 703.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 393.

4. Ibid., pp. 392-393.  

5. Ibid., pg. 393 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 397.

6. Laney, pg. 378.

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. 568.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

9. Robert Wilkin, pg. 568.

10. John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020) pg. 76 cites Neil E. Klepeis et al., “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants,” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 11, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 231-52.

11. Eldredge, pp. 76-79.

12. Ibid., pp. 79-86.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Frank W. Boreham, The Golden Milestone (Publication arranged by Pioneer Library, printed byKindle Direct Publishing, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 1825-1828.This compilation of Boreham’s essays was first published in 1915.

15. Ibid., Kindle Locations 1831-1832.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 7

“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” John 21:11

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

Now we will look at the seventh lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. After Jesus supernaturally enabled His seven disciples to catch a net full of fish, six of the disciples drug the net to shore behind their boat while Peter swam over to Jesus on the shore (John 21:6-8). When they all arrived on the shore, they saw that Jesus had prepared breakfast for them consisting of fish and bread (John 21:9). In response to Jesus’ request to “bring some of the fish” they “just caught” (John 21:10), John writes, “Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” (John 21:11).

When John notes that “Peter went up,” it suggests that Peter climbed into the boat to help the other disciples with the fish. Since the net “full of large fish” would be pulled behind the boat, Peter most likely got into the boat and stood in the stern to help retrieve the net. Then he would have jumped into the water again to help haul the net to shore. 2

Why does John mention “one hundred and fifty-three” large fish were caught? There have been many symbolic interpretations made about this number. This “number has been used to teach about the Trinity, the perfection of the church, Christian conduct, and the church’s missionary task.” 3

It is better to take the number literally without any symbolical interpretation. John was both an eyewitness and a fisherman who experienced an incredible catch of large fish thanks to the risen Lord Jesus. Most likely John mentioned the number as a matter of historical detail. With a group of men fishing, the common procedure would be for them to count the fish they caught and then divide them equally among the fishermen.” 4  

Mentioning such a detail would “lend authenticity to his testimony (cf. 2:6). He was, after all, a fisherman himself. Most fishermen know exactly how many fish they have caught whenever they catch some, and this was a very unusual catch.” 5

The Holy Spirit drew me to a significant detail in the last part of this verse which reads, “although there were so many, the net was not broken.” The fact that the net is full of so many “large fish” and does not break, is a second miracle in this appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when the disciples had caught nothing all night, Jesus instructed them to launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4). When they obeyed Jesus, “they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” (Luke 5:6). Jesus then told them, “From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10b). Notice that Jesus uses a metaphor to describe the disciples’ gospel-preaching ministry. They would use their “gospel-nets” to catch people.

This post-resurrection repetition of the miracle in Luke 5 would have refreshed the disciples’ “memories of that first catch of fish and reminded them that people, not fish, was now to be their focus. In that first miraculous catch, Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, picturing His presence with them when He came into this world. Now, He is on the shore, picturing Him in heaven as He directs and provides as they fish for people. But on both occasions, the abundant catch came when they obeyed the simple command of Jesus.” 6

In contrast to that earlier catch of fish, the unbroken net in John’s account may symbolize that there is room in God’s family for all people (I Timothy 2:4). God does not desire for any people to perish in hell (2 Peter 3:9), but for all to come to faith in Jesus for His gift of salvation. After all, God “desires all” people “to be saved” and Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all” people (I Timothy 2:4-6). The fact that the net was not torn illustrates that the gospel can catch many people without failing. 8

Hence, our seventh lesson is THE POWER OF THE RISEN LORD JESUS IS CAPABLE OF CATCHING MULTITUDES OF PEOPLE IN HIS GOSPEL-NET (John 20:11). Our effectiveness in evangelism is not based upon our giftedness, methodologies, personalities, presentations, or training. The power in evangelism is in the life-changing message of the gospel and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is no need for us to be ashamed or afraid when we share the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).  

In January of 2011, I went on my first short-term missionary trip to the Philippines with the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. During our first two days preaching the gospel in public schools on the island of Catanduanes, I saw more people indicate they were believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life than I had witnessed in nearly twenty years of pastoral ministry in America. What I learned from that trip was the power in evangelism did not rest upon me or my abilities, but in the clear message of the gospel. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Are we sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who do not have Jesus Christ in their lives? The gospel-net of Jesus Christ is large enough and strong enough for all people, no matter what their condition, color, culture, or country. Jesus wants us to cast His gospel-nets wherever unsaved people gather. It may be in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at a marketplace, in a school, at a basketball court, in government offices, or on the internet. Jesus Christ died for all people, and He desires to save all people. Will you avail yourself to Him to use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of others? Christ wants to use you to be a channel of blessing to a lost world.

Prayer: Hallelujah Lord Jesus! Thank You for the eternal difference You are making in our needy world. Thank You for entrusting us with Your gospel-nets so we may catch men and women, and boys and girls for Your glory. Please enable us to obey Your command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15), no matter what their economic status, education, morality, or nationality. Show us where to cast Your gospel-nets. We ask that You grant us the boldness to overcome our fears and declare the good news of Your death and resurrection to those You have prepared to hear and believe it. Use us we pray, to be a channel of blessing to those You have placed in our lives. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The the Greek word translated “went up” is anabainō and it means “to go up, ascend.” (See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 58).

2.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 377.

3. Laney, pg. 377 cites J. M. Ross, “One Hundred and Fifty-Three Fishes,” The Expository Times 100 (July 1989): 375.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 702-703.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 392.

6. Steve Cole’s September 27, 2015 sermon at www.bible.org entitled, “Lesson 105: Serving Christ Effectively (John 21:1-14).”

7. See 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. 568.

8. Constable, pg. 392.

What must I do to get to heaven?

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:30-31

“What must I do to get to heaven?” This is the most important question you will ever ask. It is far more important than asking:

– “Who will I vote for in the next presidential election?”

“How much money do I make?”

“What do other people think of me?”

“How many educational degrees do I have next to my name?”

“What kind of job do I have?”

“Where do I live?”

“Am I married?”

“How many children do I have?”

“Am I successful at what I do?”

“Am I happy?”

By far the most important question you will ever ask is, “What must I do to get to heaven?” To put it another way, “What must I do to have eternal life?” If you have these questions, the most important book of the Bible for you to know and understand is the book of John. It is the fourth book of the New Testament. This book was written to non-Christians. While the rest of the Bible speaks primarily to those who know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, John’s gospel has in mind those who do not know Christ as their personal Savior.

In the gospel of John, we are told over and over again what we must do to get to heaven. Hopefully, before you finish reading this article you will at the very least know what God says you must do to get to heaven.  

Please understand that what I am going to share with you is from the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word. We are told, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word “inspiration” (theopneustos) literally means “God-breathed.” 1

“All Scripture” includes both Old and New Testaments. Every word in the Bible is God-breathed or from the mouth of God. There are no errors in the Bible. Not on theology. Not on science. Not on history. Not on any detail. The Bible is inerrant since it is God’s Word and God does not err.” 2

So when we read the Bible we are reading the very words of God. The Scriptures did not originate from humans beings. The Bible tells us, 20 No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). God the Holy Spirit directed these different human authors to write each word down without error.

Since all Scripture is inspired by God, then all Scripture is profitable for teaching (instructing you in the truths that you need to know), for rebuking (reproving you for what you’ve done wrong), for correcting (showing you what is right), and for training in righteousness (guiding you to approach life as God intended it to be lived)” 3 (2 Timothy 3:16). So as we look at what God says about how to receive eternal life, we need to be open to God’s Word giving us “doctrine” or truths  we need to know about how to get to heaven. His Word may give us “reproof” and show us what beliefs about salvation we have that are wrong. The Bible may also give us “correction” and show us the right way to believe. And finally, the Bible may give us “instruction in righteousness” so we may approach the way to heaven God’s way.

In John 20:30-31, the apostle John summarizes the purpose of his book. 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31). John reports that he was selective in recording miraculous “signs” that appeared in his gospel. Many “other signs” were performed by Jesus which are not recorded in this book. The word “signs” (sēmeia) refers to Jesus’ miracles and is intended to signify something about Jesus. 4  They are intended to tell us something about His Person and His character. John selected some of the most convincing words and works of Jesus which point to Who He is. Each of these miraculous signs is a picture of salvation:

1. Turning the water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11). This miracle pictures new birth. Christ can transform the old life into a new life.

2. Healing of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum (John 4:46-54). This sign illustrates that the life-giving word of Jesus can give spiritual life no matter what the circumstance or condition of the recipient.

3. Healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). We learn from this miracle that Jesus has the power to cure spiritual paralysis so we can walk spiritually.

4. Feeding the five thousand near Bethsaida (John 6:1-14). This sign shows that as the Bread of Life, Jesus can permanently satisfy our spiritual hunger for eternal life.

5. Walking on the water (John 6:15-21). This miracle demonstrates that Jesus can give peace to the person devastated by life’s storms and take us where we could never go on our own.

6. Healing of the man born blind at Jerusalem (John 9:1-41). This miraculous sign demonstrates that as the Light of the world, Jesus can give spiritual sight to the spiritually blind so they can believe in Him.

7. Raising Lazarus from the dead at Bethany (John 11:1-44). This miracle shows that as the Resurrection and the Life, Jesus guarantees a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him even though they were once spiritually dead.

8. Raising Jesus from the dead outside Jerusalem (John 20:1-29). This last and greatest miraculous sign shows that Jesus is God and He has the ability to give us life that never ends the moment we believe in Him.  

The reasons John records these eight miraculous signs are given in John 20:31. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John recorded these miracles to arouse faith in those who have never believedthat Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

Through these miracles John has revealed that Jesus is the long-awaited “Christ,” the promised Messiah-God of Israel (John 1:41; 4:25-26, 29, 42; 6:69; 7:26-27, 31, 41-42; 9:22; 10:24-25; 11:27; 12:34). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. Isaiah 53:5-10). He is “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:45). Jesus is not just a messenger or prophet. The Old Testament says of this coming Messiah, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). This Messiah is none other than the “Mighty God.” Jesus did miracles that only God could do. No other religious leader or founder predicted they would raise themselves from the dead. But Jesus did on several occasions before His crucifixion (John 2:19-21; 10:17-18; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; 14:27-28). And no other religious leader or founder actually rose from the dead, but Jesus Christ did, proving that He was God (Romans 1:3-4).

John also showed through these miracles “that Jesus is the … Son of God.” Not only did Jesus claim to be the Son of God or God Himself (John 5:21-23; 8:58-59; 9:35-37; 10:25-36; 17:3, 5),but His followers also claimed that Jesus was the Son of God or God Himself (John 1:34, 49; 6:69; 11:27; 19:7; 20:28, 31). His miracles confirmed He had the same divine nature as God. To be “the Son of God,” does not mean Jesus was the result of God having sexual relations with the virgin Mary as some mistakenly conclude. 5  It means that Jesus has the same divine nature as God the Father. For example, when I say, “I am the son of …,” I am saying I have the same human nature as my earthly father.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus claimed to be God by using “I AM” statements. Jehovah or Yahweh (YHWH) is the special name given by God for Himself in the Old Testament. It is the name God gave to Moses when He said, “I AM WHO I AM… Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you…’ Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord [Jehovah] God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’” (Exodus 3:14-15). “While other titles for God may be used of men (Adonai [Lord] in Gen. 18:12) or false gods (elohim [gods] in Deut. 6:14), Jehovah is only used to refer to the one true God. No other person or thing was to be worshiped or served (Exod. 20:5), and his name and glory were not to be given to another.” 6  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “I am the Lord [Jehovah], that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.” (Isaiah 42:8).

Yet Jesus claimed to be Jehovah several times in the gospel of John. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:58; cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). But Jehovah of the Old Testament referred to Himself as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14-15). Jesus referred to Himself as Jehovah when He said this. Jesus also prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). But Jehovah of the Old Testament said, “My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), but the Old Testament says, “The Lord [Jehovah] is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1).  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), but the Old Testament says, “The Lord [Jehovah] is my light” (Psalm 27:1). 7

Jesus also claimed to be equal with God in the gospel of John by claiming to have the same prerogatives as God. Jesus claimed to have the power to give life, raise the dead and judge them. Jesus said,21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will… 2Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His [the Son’s] voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:28-30). Yet the Jehovah of the Old Testament also claimed to be the Giver of life, raise the dead and judge them: “The Lord [Jehovah] kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up” (I Samuel 2:6), and, “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I [Jehovah – Joel 2:19, 27, 32] will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.” (Joel 3:12). Jesus also claimed that He is to be honored as God when He said,22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23).  Jesus boldly assumed for Himself powers and honor that only belong to God. 8 The apostle Thomas announced that Jesus was God near the end of John’s gospel when he said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Why does John want his readers to understand and “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”? That “believing” they “may have life in His name” (John 20:31b). Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in his gospel. 9 It is interesting that God never uses the words “repent” or “repentance” in a book that was written to tell people how to obtain eternal life and get to heaven. Why?

One reason is because when one changes from unbelief to belief, he has changed his mind or repented in order to possess eternal life. Dr. Tom Constable states: “Repentance and faith are not two steps in salvation but one step looked at from two perspectives. Appeals to repent do not contradict the numerous promises that faith is all that is necessary for salvation (e.g., John 1:12; 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 20:30-31; Rom. 4; et al.). The faith that saves includes repentance (a change of mind). One changes from unbelief to belief (Acts 11:17-18). Sometimes the New Testament writers used the two terms, repent and believe, together (e.g., Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Sometimes they used repentance alone as the sole requirement for salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20; 2 Pet. 3:9). Nonetheless whether one term or both occur, they are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin.” 10

A second reason repentance is not mentioned in the gospel of John is because the words “repent” and “repentance” are easily misunderstood to mean something like “turning from sins” or “penance” which involve works. If a non-Christian is told to turn from his sins, he is going to ask, “How often must I do this and from what sins must I turn?” The word “believe,” however, communicates such simplicity that it is less likely to be misconstrued to include a works-oriented response. Believe means to believe or trust. 11

When the verb “repent” (metanoeō) and its noun form “repentance” (metanoia) are used in evangelistic contexts, they refer to changing one’s mind about whatever is keeping you from believing in Christ, and then believing in Him for eternal life. For example, in Mark 1:15, Jesus said, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Jesus was speaking to Jews who believed that eternal life could be earned through good works. Christ commands them to change their minds or “repent.” In other words, Christ commands them to change their minds about doing good works and come to God on the bases of faith alone in Christ alone.  

God could have used any word He wished. He could have said it in any language. But He chose the word “believe” (pisteuō), and He used it emphatically in the gospel of John. Almost every chapter contains an invitation to believe and a reason to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. But what does it mean to “believe”? The word “believe” means to be persuaded that something is true, and then trust or depend upon. 12  Often the New Testament emphasizes this idea of trust or depend upon by adding a preposition after the word “believe”:

“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)

“Whoever believes in Him…” (John 3:16).

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 16:31

What are we to believe or trust in Christ for? John tells us that the reason we are to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” isthat believing you may have life in His name.” We are to believe or trust Christ alone to possess eternal life. John defines this “life” as “eternal” throughout his gospel (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Notice that “eternal life” is a present possession for those who believe in the name of Jesus. A name in the Bible represents a person. To believe in the name of Jesus is to believe in His Person.

Jesus defines eternal life in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” So eternal life is knowing God the Father and God the Son forever in a personal relationship. Getting to heaven does not mean trusting Christ to get you through the day or through your problems. Getting to heaven means trusting Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life.

Not all facts about God are saving facts. For example, believing there is one God does not get you to heaven. Demons believe God is one but you will not see them in heaven (James 2:19). Many world religions believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven. God is telling us in the gospel of John that to get to heaven, we must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing we may have life in His name. These are the saving facts we must believe to get to heaven.

You may ask, “What if a person stops believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Will he or she lose eternal life?” The answer is “NO.” The results of believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life are permanent. If eternal life could be lost, it would not be eternal.

Saving faith is like a single drink of living water which never needs to be repeated. Jesus said, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst” (John 4:14a), and, “he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35b). Saving faith is like a single look at Jesus, the Savior, much like the Israelites who looked at the bronze serpent in the desert and lived, 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Saving faith is a decisive moment of spiritual hearing in which the voice of God’s Son effects an irreversible spiritual resurrection, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25).

People are not saved by drinking and drinking and drinking Jesus’ living water. They are saved by taking one drink of His living water (John 4:14; 6:35). People are not saved by staring at Christ. They are saved by taking one simple look at Him in faith (John 3:14-15)! People are not saved by hearing Jesus’ voice over and over and over again. They are saved by hearing His voice once (John 5:24-25). People are not saved by eating and eating and eating the bread of life. They are saved simply by eating the bread of life once (John 6:35, 51).  

What if you only had five minutes to live, what does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. What if you only had five years to live, what does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. What if you only had fifty years to live, what does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. What if you are an abortionist, an adulterer, a blasphemer, a false teacher, a homosexual, a murderer, a rapist, or a thief? What does the gospel of John say you must do to get to heaven? Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing you may have life in His name. The issue is believing or trusting in Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life.

Years ago I remember reading an article on the front page of the Pratt Tribune when we lived in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. It was about a seventh grade boy named, Sam Abrams, who packed his bags and took off on an adventure that took him halfway around the world to Australia. Some people from Pratt were afraid to travel to Wichita by themselves, let alone across the state. But Sam Abrams is no ordinary thirteen year old from Pratt. He raised money for his airfare by delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, and working at Dillons. And finally on December 27, 1992, with his tickets, passport, and visa in his hands, his parents took him to the Wichita airport. From there, Sam flew to Los Angeles, then to Sydney, and on to Brisbane, Australia where he was reunited with an old friend, Dylan Cross, who used to live in Pratt.

Getting to heaven is like getting to Brisbane, Australia, from Wichita, Kansas. You cannot make it on your own. You must depend on a person, a pilot to fly your jet airplane to your destination. You cannot get there depending on your own ability. You must depend on your pilot. In the same way, you must trust or depend upon a Person, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven. Unlike Sam, who had to work to earn the money to pay for his travel expenses, your trip to heaven is free because Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, has already paid for your trip in full by dying in your place on the cross and rising from the dead. All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life.

One morning at the breakfast table, a worried husband said to his wife, “We must think of the future. We ought to economize more. If I were to die, where would you be?” His wife replied, “Why, I would be right here. The question is, where would you be?”

If you were to die, where would you be? Are you certain you would go to heaven? If not you can be certain by hearing and believing Jesus’ promise when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). This is so simple that children often believe it long before adults.   

When it comes to getting to heaven, Jesus is not asking you if you keep God’s commandments, because He never said, “he who keeps God’s commandments has everlasting life.” He is not asking you if you pray every day because He never said, “he who prays every day has everlasting life.” Jesus is not asking you if you go to a place of worship every week because He never said, “he who goes to a place of worship every week has everlasting life.” Nor is Jesus asking you if you have lived a good, moral life because He never said, “he who lives a good, moral life has everlasting life.” Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.”

If you have never understood and believed this before, but now you do, you can tell God this through prayer. Keep in mind that praying this prayer is not what gets you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone gets you to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, all my life I thought I had to work to get to heaven. Thank You for showing me today that You have already done all the work. All I must do is believe or trust in You alone for Your gift of eternal life. As best I know how, I come to You now as a sinner who is unable to save himself. I believe You died in my place on a cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. In Your precious name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our Pressing On digital discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. Thank You and may Jesus Christ give You His abundant life as you learn to follow Him as His disciple.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 1121. 

2. Ibid.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2217.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 370 cites Merrill C. Tenney, “Topics from the Gospel of John: The Meaning of the Signs,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (April 1975): 145-146.

5. This is the common misunderstanding of Muslims. See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), pg. 249 where they write, “There are two Arabic words for ‘son’ that must be distinguished. The word walad denotes a son born of sexual relations. Jesus is definitely not a son in this sense. However, there is another Arabic word for son, ibn, that can be used in a wider figurative or metaphorical sense. A traveler, for example is spoken of as a ‘son of the road’ (ibnussabil). It is in this wider sense that it make sense to speak of Jesus as the ‘Son (ibn) of God.’”  

6. Ibid., pp. 249-250.

7. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 250.

8. Ibid., pp. 251-252.

9. In the Greek Majority Text John uses the word for “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times: John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36; 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47,  64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 40, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

10. Tom Constable, Expository Notes On Acts (Garland, TX.: Sonic Light, 2010), pg. 67.

11. These ideas were shared with me by Dr. Earl Radmacher during a phone conversation on June 11, 2011.

12. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 816-817.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 3

“The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I WILL NOT BELIEVE.’ ” John 20:25 (Emphasis added)

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Let’s remember that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus for everlasting life (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5) when he struggled with doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. Likewise, as believers in Jesus, we will all have doubts in our lives. There are many different kinds of doubts that we will face. 1

One kind of a doubt is what is called the sudden kind of doubt. You are driving down the highway and all of a sudden this thought jumps into your mind that says, “None of these things about Jesus are real.” Or, “No one is really going to heaven. What if this is all a lie?”  Have you ever had those kind of thoughts? Where do those thoughts come from?  They come from Satan, the evil one. These kind of thoughts will just pop into your mind. You can just throw them out like trash as quickly as possible. Don’t be concerned about these. 

But another kind of doubt is called circumstantial doubts. These doubts come into our lives because of certain circumstances that we face. Doubts that come because of certain relationships or disappointments. These are longer lasting doubts. They come into our lives when circumstances do not turn out like we expected God was going to do.

When these circumstantial doubts take place, we have to decide how we are going to deal with them. How are we going to trust God in this? The way to do this is the same way Thomas needed to do it.

Thomas was not among the disciples the first time Jesus appeared to the ten disciples the day He rose from the dead (John 20:19-23). After Jesus’ appearance to them, the disciples came to Thomas, saying, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas then said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). The disciples are encouraging Thomas to have faith that Jesus is alive. But Thomas says, “I will not believe.”

Thomas is telling us, “I am choosing not to believe.” He is making a choice not to believe Jesus is alive. It is a matter of his will. Those who deny that faith is a choice are ignoring the truth of the Scriptures. God makes it very clear that faith is a matter of the will.

Jesus amplifies this when He comes to His disciples eight days after His resurrection. 26 Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ 27 Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ ” (John 20:26-27). Although the doors were locked, Jesus materialized in front of the disciples and said, “Peace to you.” Then Christ turned directly to Thomas, as if He had come for his sole benefit. Knowing full well the struggles going on in Thomas’ heart, Jesus invites him to explore with his hands (“Reach your finger here”) and his eyes (“look at My hands”) the reality of His resurrection body.

When Jesus said, “reach your hand here, and put it into My side,” he was referring to a literal hole in His side that was left by the spear. It had healed over but it left an obvious impression. Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his unbelief. He didn’t say, “You should not ask questions like that Thomas!” Christ gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He rose from the dead to answer his objection and then invites him to believe.

Christ began with Thomas’ objection and then gave him evidence. Peter taught the same thing in principle when he wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (I Peter 3:15).

When sharing the gospel with an intellectual skeptic, they may say to you, “Where did Cain get his wife?” The answer is he married his sister. But we can go beyond that and show the reasonableness of that answer. Granted, there are some problems with that answer. The first problem is we know that Adam had sons – Cain, Abe, and Seth (Genesis 4:1-2, 25), but we cannot name any of his daughters. Now if Adam did not have any daughters, how could Cain marry his sister? The answer to that difficulty is that Adam did have daughters. Genesis 5:4 says, “After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters.”

But this brings up a second problem. Today we cannot marry a sister because if a brother marries his sister the mathematical possibilities of the weakness of their genes coming up in their children is great. That is why this is called incest and is forbidden today.

The only way to solve that problem is to have genetically perfect parents. That is exactly the case with Cain and his sister. Adam and Eve were created directly by God so Cain and his sister had perfect heredity. Their children would have had few harmful mutations. When sin entered the world at the fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12), it brought with it mutations in the DNA resulting in disease, death, and destruction. The gene pool would gradually become corrupt. At first no harm would result from marrying a brother or sister, but as generations passed harmful genetic mutations along, those harmful mutations and defective genes would increase and accumulate. Eventually, it became too dangerous to marry a close relative because of the increased likelihood of inherited disease. This is why God forbid marrying a close relative in the time of Moses, about 2,500 years after the creation of Adam and Eve (Leviticus 18:6-8).

But there was no prohibition against marrying a close relative in the beginning because there was no need for it. So the point is that there is a reasonable answer to the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?”

Some of us may conclude that we could never witness because we will not be able to come up with all those intellectual answers. But often times, non-Christians do not ask the questions Christians ask. Those of us who are believers in Jesus hear the Bible discussed and explained and we expect non-Christians to ask the same questions we do. But more and more non-Christians in the world are biblical illiterates. They usually don’t ask the questions we do.

Most non-Christians ask very basic questions: What about those who have never heard? Is Christ the only way to God? How can you be sure Jesus is God? Why do the innocent suffer? How can miracles be possible? Isn’t the Bible full of errors? Isn’t the Christian experience psychological? Won’t a good moral life get me to heaven?

Rather than worry about non-Christians asking difficult questions, simply share the gospel with those who will listen. If you do not know the answer to their questions, be honest and tell them you do not know. I find it helps to say to them, “Thanks so much for a great question. I do not have an answer to that right now, but I will do some research and get back to you with an answer.” The internet has many helpful Christian websites that can help you answer tough questions. 2 Ask your pastor for some help if you don’t find any on the internet.

When an intellectual objection is given to you by someone, start out by giving a reasonable answer to the stated objection. Some people do have honest intellectual questions. They want answers. They will usually accept reasonable answers, or at least the reasonableness of an answer.

But when a person objects to Christianity and does not accept the reasonableness of an answer, his or her problem is moral, not intellectual. These people tend to argue rather than listen to the reasonableness of your answers. So pursue the moral issue.

Perhaps they are struggling with guilt. For example, an evangelist was having a rap session with high school teenagers. One girl who sat in the back had been quiet. Near the end of the session, she said, “The Bible says God loves everyone. Then it says God sends people to hell. How can a loving God do that?” The evangelist gave reasonable answers but she kept coming back with arguments. He didn’t convince her nor did she convince him. Soon the session was dismissed.

Afterward, the evangelist approached the girl and said, “I owe you an apology. I really should not have allowed our discussion to become so argumentative.” Then he said, “May I share something with you?” “Yes,” she said. So he began to present the gospel to her. When he got to Romans 3:23, he said, “We are all sinners.” Then she began to cry. She then admitted to having an affair with a married man. The one thing she needed was forgiveness. After the gospel presentation, she trusted Christ alone for the forgiveness of all her sin and received the gift of eternal life. The reason she had not believed in hell was because she was going there. Rather than face her guilt, she denied there was any future hell.

Others we may witness to may struggle with bitterness. Many non-Christians have been turned off by Christians or Christianity. They have had Christianity crammed down their throats or they have been stabbed in the back by a Christian. Their response was bitterness. They have been wounded and they are hurting. They need to hear and see the grace of Jesus Christ.

Another moral issue that can hinder a non-Christian from hearing reasonable answers to their questions is a sinful self-will. After hearing the gospel presentation, one student said, “I can’t answer your presentation, but it is reasonable. It is just that I refuse to accept it.”

This is what kept many religious leaders from believing in Jesus when Christ walked the earth. Christ said to those who refused to believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God, 39You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40). These religious leaders devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures “which testify of” Jesus, but they never found Him. Why? Because they were “not willing to come to” Him that they “may have life.” They were unwilling to believe in Jesus even though the Bible testifies of Him from cover to cover.

When witnessing to intellectuals, we must avoid two extremes:

1) Anti-intellectualism which says, “Don’t bother me with intellectual questions. Just let me present the simple gospel.” The result is the thinking non-Christian will conclude that his honest questions have no answers and he won’t listen to the gospel.

2) Intellectualism that says answers will win the person to Christ. So we rely on intellectual answers and not on God. Keep in mind that it was not the disciples who convinced Thomas (John 20:25a), it was Jesus Himself who convinced this skeptic. Giving people the gospel will often do what all the intellectual arguments fail to do – break down the barriers. There is only one way to God – the gospel or good news of Jesus and His death and resurrection. But there are many ways to the gospel. The road may be straight, or it may contain curves. You have to travel the road the person is on when you find him or her. No matter where you find him or how many roads he takes, or how many rest stops he insists on, guide him gently toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rely on the Holy Spirit instead of reasonable answers to persuade the person to believe in Christ alone as his or her only hope of heaven.

After Jesus gave Thomas the evidence to answer to his objection, Christ commands him, Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 3  It is a matter of the will. It is a choice to stop doubting and to believe.

When Thomas said, “I will not believe” (John 20:25b), in the Greek language he used a double negative. 4  Literally, he is saying, “I will no not believe.” We might translate it, “I will positively not believe.” At least Thomas is being honest. He is making it clear that the reason he will not believe Jesus is alive is because he has made the choice not to believe it. He is choosing not to believe.

Some people think that having faith is a matter of the intellect or logic. Others view faith as being based on emotions. So which is it? Logic or feelings? Neither is true. Faith is volitional. It is not based upon the intellect or feelings. It is based upon the will.

There are people who are waiting for their mind to inform them or their emotions to lead them into the kind of faith in God that they see other people having. It is not going to happen. Yes, information or emotions can influence our decisions. But simply having enough information in our minds or enough emotions in our hearts is not going to automatically give us faith in God. Faith is a matter of the will.

When I choose to believe, then my emotions will follow and my mind will start to understand more and more of Who God truly is. It is a matter of the will.

When Jesus told Thomas, Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27b), He was telling him to choose to stop moving in the direction of unbelief and to decide to start moving in the direction of belief. So the third way to overcome doubts is to REDIRECT OUR WILLS TOWARD BELIEVING (John 20:25b-27). We are either moving in the direction of belief or we are moving in the direction of unbelief. We either decide to accept God’s Word is true or we decide to reject His Word is true. We either decide that God is a Promise-Keeper or God is a Promise-Breaker. We decide that God is either a Truth-Teller or a Liar.

Please understand that Thomas still had eternal life even though he had doubts. When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you can never lose eternal life. That is why Jesus says you “shall never perish” after you believe in Him (John 10:28a). The word “never” means forever. If you could “perish” in hell after believing in Jesus, then Christ told a lie in John 10:28a. But Christ will not break His promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him because He is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and is “the truth” (John 14:6). He always keeps His promises.

But you may ask, “If I doubt my salvation, does that mean I am not saved?” It is possible. Those who doubt their salvation fall into one of three categories: 5

– You may be a doubter at heart. In other words, some people doubt everything. They doubt whether their mates love them or whether their children respect them. They doubt they will reach the age of retirement, or that their plane will reach its destination. Such people have issues they must deal with that are far different than eternal salvation.

– You may not understand the gospel and are not saved. Perhaps you are trusting in Christ plus your works or just your works alone, instead of trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross (John 3:15-16; 19:30). Therefore, you don’t have any certainty of going to heaven. Or you may have been taught that if you cannot remember the date you became a Christian, then you are not saved. So you wonder, “Could that mean I’m not saved?” Let me ask you, did Jesus say, “Whoever believes in Him and knows the date they were saved has everlasting life?” No. The real question is, “Whom am I trusting right now to give me eternal life?” Our salvation is established by Whom we place our trust in, not when we trusted Him.

– You have trusted Christ and are saved, but you have confused entering the Christian life (John 3:16; 5:24) with living it (I John 1:4-10; 2:3-6; 3:6-15; 4:20:21). When a believer takes his or her focus off of Christ and His promise of eternal life, he or she may begin to doubt their salvation. When you listen to teaching that confuses entering the Christian life with living it, you are going to have doubts that you are saved.

For example, a few years ago I listened to a famous preacher on the radio in America say that the book of I John was written to provide tests to see if you are saved. He said to ask yourself, “do I have fellowship with the Father?… am I abiding in Him?… do I keep God’s commandments?… do I love other Christians?…  am I overcoming sin?” If you couldn’t answer “yes” to all these questions, then he said you cannot be certain you are saved.

But this preacher failed to observe the purpose of I John is not to tell you how to become a Christian or how to know you are a Christian. First John was written to tell us how to have fellowship (closeness) with Christ or how to know you have fellowship with Christ. The author of I John, the same author of the gospel of John, writes, 3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”  (I John 1:3-4).

The gospel of John tells you how to receive the gift of eternal life, mentioning the word “believe” ninety-nine times. 6  The book of I John tells us how to get close to the One you have believed in, using the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times. 7

Therefore, closeness to Christ is discussed in I John, not salvation. People who don’t act like a Christian or a disciple may not be a believer. But to use characteristics of a disciple to determine if you are a Christian is not helpful. Some people might live a good moral life without being a Christian. It could be that those people are trusting in their works instead of Christ’s finished work on the cross to get them to heaven.

Losing your assurance of salvation is not the same as losing your salvation. As we have seen in the gospel of John, when you believe in Christ for eternal life, you are eternally secure at the moment of faith because of Christ’s performance and promise (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; 19:30), not your performance or feelings.

However, being certain of your salvation can waver if you start looking to someone or something else other that Christ and His promise of eternal life. If you doubt your salvation, ask yourself: 8

Do I understand the simplicity of the Gospel? Since Christ paid the full penalty for my sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6), God can now forgive me based on what He has done for me, not what I do for Him (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14).

– Have I trusted Christ alone for my salvation? We appropriate Christ’s death on the cross by coming to Him as sinners, recognizing that He made the full payment for sin on our behalf, and “believing.” Jesus promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). The word “believe” means to place our trust in Christ alone as our only basis for living eternally with God. If you are trusting Christ alone to get to heaven, you are forever God’s child regardless of when or where that occurred.

Am I taking God at His Word? Once you trust in Christ, you must trust His Word. That means accepting God’s promise that, having trusted Christ, we are forever His. Jesus assures us: “And I give them  eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28).

If I were to ask you whose child you are, you would say, “I am the child of …” You have proof that would stand up in a court of law – a birth certificate. A piece of paper assures you that you are their child. God has given us a piece of paper – the inspired Word of  God, the Bible. It assures us that once we have believed in Christ, we have everlasting life. We are His forever. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16 when He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

In closing, Jesus looked at Thomas and said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27b). This meant it was a matter of Thomas’ will. This was something he could choose. And Thomas did. His decision teaches us our next way to overcome doubt. But that is for our next time together.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for showing me that it is my decision to move toward doubting or believing. I cannot blame my doubts on my circumstances, my past, my parents, my personality, or my peers. I am responsible for whether or not I choose to doubt or believe. Simply having more information in my mind or more emotion in my heart is not going to automatically give me faith in You. It is a matter of my will. This day I am deciding to move in the direction of believing, not doubting. Whether I feel like believing or not, I will choose to move toward believing. Whether I have more or less information, I will decide to move toward believing. When I doubt my salvation, I will refocus upon You and Your unchanging promises. Please help those who doubt Your resurrection to realize it is their choice to do this. Just as You gave Thomas evidence to answer his objection, please give others what they need to come to faith in You. They can choose to believe or not believe. The choice is theirs. But that choice has eternal consequences. In Your name I pray, my Lord and my God. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. See www.answersingenesis.org ; www.josh.org ; www.probe.org ; www.carm.org ; www.christiananswers.net .

3. The verb (ginou) in the phrase, “do not be unbelieving” (mē ginou apistos) is a present imperative.

4. Ou mē pisteusō.

5. Adapted from R. Larry Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said: Correcting Our Misconceptions About Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004) pp. 79-81.

6. In the Greek Majority Text John uses the word for “believe” (pisteuō) ninety-nine times: John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36; 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47,  64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 40, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

7. In the Greek Majority Text, John uses the word for “abide” (menō) twenty-three times: I John 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 24(3), 27(2), 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 24(2); 4:12, 13, 15, 16 (3).

8. Moyer, 21 Things God Never Said, pp. 81-83.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 9

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ ” John 19:28

During one of my missions trips to the northern Philippines in 2015, I had to walk with my translator all day to share the gospel at three remote schools in the mountains of Kalinga province. The day began with swimming across a raging river and then traversing over a mudslide on a steep mountainside. Before we arrived at our first school four hours later, my clothes were already drenched with sweat from the extreme exertion in the high humidity and altitude in this tropical climate.

When we finished preaching the gospel at the first school, we then had to cross several streams and go up and down several slippery and muddy slopes to arrive at our second school where we shared the gospel with forty-nine students and two teachers. We then ate our own snacks and I drank some of my water in a shelter on the school grounds. I was getting low on water at this point because of the strenuous hikes so I tried to conserve what little I had left. I had underestimated the amount of water I would need during the day because I assumed there would be purified water at the schools. But I was wrong.

To get to our last school, we had to walk down the mountainside to a swinging bridge and then follow the river for a while before climbing a steep trail. At this point my legs were starting to cramp severely due to the loss of fluids and electrolytes. I had to stop occasionally to try to stretch my cramping muscles. As we started climbing up the rice terrace walls I became concerned about having muscle cramps and falling off the terrace wall on the steep mountain slopes. A few months earlier on a similar hike in Kalinga, I had fallen off a slippery rice terrace wall in the rain and cracked two ribs and sprained my knee. But during this trip, the biggest challenge was dealing with my ravaging thirst. With each step up the mountain, I kept thinking about how refreshing it would be to drink a cold glass of water.

About forty-five minutes later we arrived at our last school and shared the gospel with forty-five students, all of whom said they were now believing in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. The teachers were very thankful we would work so hard to come all the way to their school. The male teacher invited us to his home to have coffee and snacks. While resting there, he had his wife pour the remainder of their coffee in a water bottle for me to drink because I drank the last of my water and there was no purified water between our current location and the next village. I was so parched that drinking coffee for my thirst sounded better than going without any liquid at this point, even though caffeine is a diuretic. I learned later that even caffeinated beverages such as coffee have a net hydrating effect.

On our return to civilization, we had to hike up a steep mountainside covered with rice terrace walls to a dirt road with many switch backs going up the mountainside to the main road. As we continued to hike up the mountainside, I longed for several liters of gatorade. My mouth and throat were parched. An hour and a half later, we finally arrived at a village where we thoroughly enjoyed purified water, juice, and a delicious meal. Never before or since had I experienced such a ravaging thirst.

But the thirst I experienced in Kalinga is pale compared to the thirst of crucifixion because “crucifixion is a long slow process of dehydration.” Think about how much bodily fluid Jesus has lost since His last drink of wine at the Lord’s Supper. In Gethsemane Jesus sweat as it were great drops of blood; He sweat as He endured His arrest and His trials before Annas and Caiaphas; He sweat as He spent the night in a dungeon, with a new series of trials in the morning; His flogging and being forced to carry His crossbeam would have drained the fluids from His body. And now for six hours He had hung on the cross without consuming any liquids. 2

We then read, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ ” (John 19:28). We learn several things from this verse. First, we see that the word teleioō is used twice in this verse. “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished [tetelestai], that the Scripture might be fulfilled [teleiōthe], said, ‘I thirst!’ ” This is the same word translated “It is finished” [tetelestai]in John 19:30. We might paraphrase in this way: Since Jesus knew that all things were finished, in order that the OT Scripture might be finished… He said, ‘It is finished!’ Clearly John is emphasizing that Jesus successfully completed all that He had been sent to do.” 3

Secondly, we see that when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” He was consciously fulfilling the Old Testament Scripture in Psalm 69:21, “And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Jesus had not been given any vinegar yet, so He called out that He was thirsty so He could fulfill this prophecy. John informs us that this verse was fulfilled when, “A vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.” (John 19:29). 

Hyssop was the very plant used to brush lamb’s blood on the doorposts during the Passover (see Exod 12:21-23). As the apostle Paul says, ‘Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed’ (1 Cor 5:7).” 4  Jesus, the innocent Passover Lamb of God, had become thirsty to save us from an eternal thirst.

I find this to be amazing. Here is Jesus just minutes away from death, and He remembers that a Messianic prophecy needs to be fulfilled. Why is Jesus so determined to fulfill prophecy? One reason is because He knows we are prone to doubt. When we see Him suffering to this extent, we may question if He is truly the Messiah-God. We may conclude that God is not in control.

Do we realize that Jesus fulfilled over three hundred distinct prophecies in the Old Testament at His First Coming to earth? The mathematical probability of all these prophecies being fulfilled in the life of one man is 1/840,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (That’s ninety-seven zeroes!) A partial list of those prophecies include:

– The betrayal by a familiar friend (Psalm 41:9; cf. John 13:18, 26).

– The forsaking of the disciples through being offended at Him (Psalm 31:11; cf. Matthew 26:56b).

– The false accusations (Psalm 35:11; cf. Mark 14:56-58).

– The silence before His judges (Isaiah 53:7; cf. Mark 14:51; 15:3, 5 ).

– Being proven innocent (Isaiah 53:9 cf. John 18:38; 19:4, 6).

– Being included with sinners (Isaiah 53:12; cf. Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27-28).

– The piercing of His hands and feet when crucified (Psalm 22:16; John 19:37; 20:25-27).

– The mockery of onlookers (Psalm 109:25; Luke 23:35).

– The taunt of being unable to deliver Himself (Psalm 22:7-8; Matthew 27:39-44).

– The casting of lots for His garments (Psalm 22:18; cf. Matthew 27:35; John 19:23-24).

– The prayer for His enemies (Isaiah 53:12; cf. Luke 23:34).

– The yielding of His spirit into the hands of His Father (Psalm 31:5; cf. Luke 23:46).

– His bones are not broken (Psalm 34:20; cf. John 19:32-36).

– The burial in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9; cf. Matthew 27:57-60). 7

Jesus did not say, “I am thirsty,” just so He could quench His physical thirst. He did this because He knew this prophecy had to be fulfilled. And it was.

A third thing we learn when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” is that Jesus was fully human. As God He could say, ‘I tell you the truth … before Abraham was born, I am!’ (John 8:58). As man He could say, ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:28). God the Father does not thirst; angels do not thirst. This was the thirst of a dying man.” 8

Christ’s humanity was also seen when He was weary in Samaria (John 4:6), disturbed in Nazareth (Mark 6:6), angry in the temple (John 2:15), sleepy in the boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:38), sad at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), and hungry in the wilderness (Matthew 4:20).

Why did Jesus endure all these experiences? Because He knew we would be thirsty, weary, disturbed, angry, sleepy, sad, and hungry. What this teaches us is that Christ understands how we feel. 9

The Bible tells us, 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16). We can be confident that whatever we are experiencing, Jesus has also experienced it and more.

Are you in physical pain? Remember Christ’s burning thirst. Have you been rejected? Jesus was rejected by the world and His own Jewish people (John 1:10-11). Have you been put to shame? Christ was crucified while almost naked. Have you been abandoned? Christ was forsaken by His own disciples and worse – by His heavenly Father (Matthew 26:56b; 27:46). 10  Why? So He could understand us when we face similar things. And because He understands us, we can come to Him with confidence.

The most important lesson we learn from these verses is that JESUS BECAME THIRSTY TO SAVE US FROM AN ETERNAL THIRST (JOHN 19:28-29). This is the most amazing thing of all – that the Water of Life would become thirsty. And we are not talking about physical thirst. We areE talking about spiritual thirst.

All people are born with a spiritual thirst for God. The Bible tells us, “He has put eternity in their hearts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He has placed a thirst in our hearts for something eternal. And only God can quench this thirst. But people often try to quench this spiritual thirst through some other means such as achievements, alcohol, money, possessions, power, and sex. Others may exist on medication because they cannot bear the pain of their own emptiness. Some people pursue pleasure, trying to medicate the brokenness in their lives.

The Bible refers to these practices in Jeremiah 2:13: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Instead of turning to GodWho is like a “fountain of living waters” that provides for our deepest needs and longings (Jeremiah 2:13a; cf. Psalm 36:9; John 4:10-14; Revelation 21:6), we turn away from Him and dig broken cisterns that can hold no water – much less provide it (Jeremiah 2:13b).

The issue is not whether we thirst – for we all do – the real issue is how long will we thirst? Jesus answers that question in a story He told about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. When both men died, Lazarus was escorted by angels to a place of blessing called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) and the rich man went to a place of torment in Hades (Luke 16:23). The rich man “cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’” (Luke 16:24).

What do people in hades (which will eventually be thrown into hell) say? Tormented in the fire they cry out, ‘I am thirsty!’” 11  As Matthew Henry put it, “The torments of hell are represented by a violent thirst, in the complaint of the rich man who begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue. To that everlasting thirst we had all been condemned, if Christ had not suffered on the cross.” 12

Lutzer says, Hell is remembering the Living Water we could have enjoyed on earth that would have taken us to heaven. Hell is a lake of fire, a place of endless, unquenchable thirst.” 13

Thank God that Jesus endured the agonizing thirst of His soul when the sins of the world were placed upon Him as He hung on that cross so we could drink His living water that quenches our thirst for eternal life forever. This Jesus, Who is now thirsty on the cross, said to a Samaritan woman at a well earlier in His ministry, 10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water… 14 whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10, 14).

Christ became thirsty on the cross so you could quench your eternal thirst. The word “drink” means to “believe.” Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). “To drink” means “to believe” – because both drinking and believing permanently quench our spiritual thirst. One drink of Jesus’ living water, one act of faith in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life will quench your spiritual thirst forever. Why? Because when we believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of eternal life, He digs a well in our soul that gushes “up into everlasting life” and never runs dry (John 4:14). Have you taken that drink? Have you believed in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life? If so, you will “never thirst” for eternal life again.  

The Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus will be taken to heaven one day where they shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17).

It is no surprise that in the last chapter of the Bible we read, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17). 

“Those who come to the One who was once thirsty need never thirst again.” 14  If you have never come to Christ in faith for His gift of everlasting life, you can do so now. Simply take Jesus at His Word when He says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you now believe in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell Him this through prayer.

Prayer: Loving Lord Jesus, thank You for crying out on the cross, “I am thirsty,” so You could fulfill the remaining Bible prophecy concerning Your death and prove You were the promised Messiah-God. I now realize that You became thirsty on the cross so I could be saved forever from an eternal thirst in hell. As best I know how, I now believe in You, Jesus, to give me everlasting life which can never be lost. Thank You that I will never thirst for eternal life again. Thank You for digging a well in the depths of my soul that bubbles up into a fountain of everlasting life which never runs dry. Please show me how to know You more and enjoy Your living waters. In Your precious name, I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross: A Journey Into the Heart of Jesus (Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition, 2002), pg. 105 cites Philip Graham Ryken, “Human After All,” in The Heart of the Cross, James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1999), pg. 37.

2. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pp. 105-106.

3. 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. 559.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1825; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 692.

5. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 95.

6. Ibid., pg. 96, 154 cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, of New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953), pg. 431.

7. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pp. 95-96.

8. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 107.

9. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pp. 92-93.

10. Adapted from Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pp. 112-113.

11. Ibid., pg. 115.

12. Ibid cites Matthew Henry quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, “Human After All,” in The Heart of the Cross, pg. 42.

13. Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries from the Cross, pg. 115.

14. Ibid., pg. 118.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 4

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

The fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).

This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”  (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.

When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1  So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).

The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.

It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26). 

The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5

John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6

The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began. 

Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.

The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as. 

The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.

So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.

When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.

The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.

The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.

They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome. 

Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross.  Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime. 

As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.

John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….

“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?

“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?

“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partially true. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.8

The Bible tells us, 13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).

Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…

“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9

Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11  Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.” 12

The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.” You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.

What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).

Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.

3. Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.

5. 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. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.

6. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s discussion in his July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

7. Ibid.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.

9. Ibid., pg. 34.

10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.  

11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.

12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.