Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 5

“…Where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.” John 19:18

Currently, I am reading a great book by Max Lucado entitled “He Chose the Nails: What God did to win your heart.” In one of the chapters, Lucado asks, “Ever wonder why there were two crosses next to Christ? Why not six or ten? Ever wonder why Jesus was in the center? Why not on the far right or far left? Could it be that the two crosses on the hill symbolize one of God’s greatest gifts? The gift of choice.

“The two criminals have so much in common. Convicted by the same system. Condemned to the same death. Surrounded by the same crowd. Equally close to the same Jesus. In fact, they begin with the same sarcasm: ‘The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus’ (Matt. 27:44 CEV).

“But one changed.” 1

This leads us to the fifth lasting lesson that we learn from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. So far in our study, we have discovered the following lessons:

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 cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 17-18a).

Today we discover that THE TWO CROSSES TEACH THAT GOD GIVES EACH OF US THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE (JOHN 19:18b). This has been the case throughout human history. When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He gave them the freedom to obey or disobey (Genesis 2:8-25), and they chose to disobey (Genesis 3:1-24). And God permitted them.

Abel and Cain were both sons of Adam, but Abel chose to worship God His way with an animal sacrifice and Cain chose his own way (Genesis 4:1-5; cf. Hebrews 11:4). God allowed them to do this.

Abraham and Lot were both travelers in Canaan (Genesis 13). Abraham chose God and Lot chose Sodom. God let them make their own choices.

David and Saul were both kings of Israel (I Samuel 9:1-I Kings 2:11). David chose to follow God and Saul chose to go his own way. And God lets them.

Peter and Judas both deny Jesus. But Peter seeks restoration (John 20:15-17) and Judas seeks death (Matthew 27:5). God permits them to make these choices. 2

Jesus also gave people choices. He gives us the choice of belief or unbelief when He says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).

Christ gives us the choice of eternal life or eternal punishment when He says, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46). The choice is ours.

One of the two thieves hanging on a cross next to Jesus chose eternal life, but the other thief did not. Luke tells us about this in his account: 39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ 43 And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ ” Luke 23:39-43

Both these thieves next to Jesus heard and saw the same things, but they reached different conclusions about the Man in the middle of them. The unbelieving criminal hurled insults at Jesus, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (23:39b). But the believing criminal recognizes that he and the other thief are guilty of wrongdoing (“Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds”), but he acknowledges that Jesus “has done nothing wrong” and is about to enter His “kingdom” (23:40-42).

Both these men also differ on what they think they need to be saved from. The unbelieving criminal wants to be saved from his present earthly circumstances (“If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (23:39b). But the other criminal understood there was something far more significant to be delivered from than their present circumstances. Perhaps when he heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34), he had a change of heart and placed his saving faith in Christ alone.  So he says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (23:42). Jesus responds to this man’s faith by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (23:43).

“And later that day, though his physical body died, his spirit and soul went to paradise with King Jesus, awaiting his future bodily resurrection from the dead. This affirms that believers go immediately into God’s presence at death.” 3

Does Jesus try to persuade the unbelieving thief to change his mind? Wouldn’t a personal invitation be timely for this other criminal? We might think so, but Jesus remains silent. He honors those who have the freedom to choose where they spend eternity.

Granted there are some choices we do not have the freedom to make: where we were born, who our parents are, our own DNA, etc. But where we spend eternity is a choice God has given us to make. Aren’t you glad for that?

Although we know little about the thief who came to faith in Christ on the cross, what we do know is he was deserving of condemnation. He chose the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, and the wrong behavior. But is he spending eternity reaping the fruit of his rebellious life? No, the exact opposite. He is reaping the fruit of one good choice he made hanging on a cross next to Jesus Christ.

You and I have made some terrible choices in life, haven’t we? Perhaps we have chosen the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, and the wrong behavior. We may look back over our lives and conclude, “If only I could take back those awful decisions.” You can’t take them back, but you can offset them. 4

Notice that this believing criminal did not have the opportunity to get baptized, or live a life of obedience to Christ as His disciple when he got saved on that cross. But he did do what is required of any person to be saved from eternal punishment: he believed in Jesus to save him (John 3:16; Acts 16:31). And one believing choice for eternity offsets a million bad ones on earth. The choice is yours.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the two crosses next to You on Golgotha that remind us that You have given us the freedom to choose. Why people choose differently about eternity, I do not know. But what I do know, is that You love those who believe in You enough to give them everlasting life. And when others do not believe in You, You love them enough to permit them. Please enable us by Your Spirit and Your truth to make God-honoring decisions that bring You more glory. In Your precious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 53-54.

2. Ibid., pp. 52-53.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1737.

4. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pp. 55-56.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 4

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32

All human beings are born with a sin nature that wants its own way (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Like the child when being disciplined said to his father, “I’m not bad. I just want my own way.” All of us are self-centered creatures. We demand our own way. Life revolves around self. “It’s all about me!”

This is very evident as we approach our presidential elections in the USA. Our country is extremely polarized right now because individuals and political parties are demanding their own way. There is a lack of unity and cooperation with one another because of this sinful nature that insists on “my way or no way.”

We are learning how to overcome self-centeredness in our study of John 12:20-33. So far we have discovered that the way to overcome our self-centeredness is through…

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

– Surrendering to God’s control in prayer (John 12:27-30).

Today we will look at the fourth and final way to overcome self-centeredness in this passage. It is STAYING FOCUSED ON THE ONE WHO DEFEATED THE DEVIL AND DRAWS ALL PEOPLE TO HIMSELF (John 12:31-33). After God the Father spoke from heaven to affirm that He would glorify His name through His Son’s death, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31). While the death of Christ makes all people savable (Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2), it also means those who reject Christ will be judged or condemned.

Jesus had said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). Constable states, “The Jews thought they were judging Jesus when they decided to believe or disbelieve on Him. In reality, their decisions brought divine judgment on themselves. By crucifying Jesus, they were condemning themselves. Jesus was not saying that this would be the last judgment on the world. He meant that because of humankind’s rejection of Him, God was about to pass ‘judgment’ on the world for rejecting His Son (cf. Acts 17:30-31).” 1

Satan, “the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31b; cf. 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4), because the cross will deprive him of power and influence. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to rule the world on God’s behalf (cf. Genesis 1:26-28). Instead, they chose to sin against God (Genesis 3:1-6) and thereby granted rule of the world to Satan (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). So the Son of God, Jesus Christ, became a Man without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), to defeat the devil. The cross guarantees the enemy’s defeat because Satan achieves victory through accusing sinners. But through the cross, Jesus Christ would deal with sin once and for all (see Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:12; 10:10) so Satan can no longer successfully accuse or oppose those who believe in Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).2

Look in Hebrews 2:14-15: “14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Satan’s power was destroyed, not Satan himself. He had the power of death and used peoples’ fear of death to enslave them to his will. But through the cross, Jesus defeated death and now His children can live for Him and face death with confidence! Satan opposes Jesus so much because he knows what Jesus’ death means. When Jesus said Satan would “be cast out” (John 12:31b), He is referring to His ultimate victory over Satan which, though still future, was initiated at the cross. This victory will be finalized when the devil is cast into his permanent home in the lake of fire where he “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10).

Satan often appeals to our self-centeredness to lead us away from God to serve his deceitful schemes which are opposed to the Lord. He did this in the Garden of Eden when he said to Eve,4bYou will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4b-5). God had told Adam, who told Eve, that they could eat from any tree in the garden except one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17a). God promised that if they ate from that tree they “shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17b).

So what does Satan do? He tells Eve that she will not die. The devil says there is no penalty to sin. And all of us have believed that lie ever since. Satan tells Eve (and us) that God just told her that because He is selfish. He does not want anyone to be like Him and take His place. Satan explains, God “knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan is saying, “God doesn’t want anyone to become like Him by knowing good and evil… He doesn’t want you to reach your full potential. If you obey God, you will be limited and unfulfilled.” But Satan knew no one could be like God. How did he know? Because he tried it himself and got kicked out of heaven (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15)!

Jesus then says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The words “lifted up”refer to Christ’s crucifixion (cf. John 3:14; 8:28; 12:33). Why? Because He must be lifted up on the cross to draw “all”(the word “peoples” is not in the Greek) to Himself. This refers to “all”people, not just Jews, but all people including the Greeks or Gentiles. Jesus’ love is not exclusive. This drawing or pulling is universal regardless of one’s past, nationality, political party, or skin color.

Because of the cross, God does the drawing work that impacts every individual in some way. No one can come to Christ in faith apart from God’s drawing (cf. John 6:44). Jesus does not tell us how long God will draw people to Himself. He may draw them for a brief time or thirty years (cf. Acts 13:46; Romans 1:18-32). That this drawing can be resisted is seen in the life of Judas.3 Judas said “no” to God’s intense drawing for over three years but Judas rejected that drawing and never believed in Christ (cf. 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12). 

John 12:32 does not mean all people will be saved, but that all people will be impacted by the cross in some way and have an opportunity to believe in Christ. But it is still each person’s choice to believe in Christ. John informs us, “This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:33). Crucifixion was the kind of death Jesus was destined to die.

The January 10, 2006 Daily Bread reads, “Towering above New York Harbor is the Statue of Liberty. That stately lady, with freedom’s torch held high, has beckoned millions of people who were choking from the stifling air of tyranny or oppression. They’ve been drawn to what that monument symbolizes – freedom. Inscribed on Lady Liberty’s pedestal are these words by Emma Lazarus from her poem ‘The New Colossus’:

            “Give me your tired, your poor,

            Your huddled masses

            yearning to breathe free,

            The wretched refuse

            of your teeming shore;

            Send these, the homeless,

            tempest-tossed, to me:

            I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

“A different monument towers over history, offering spiritual freedom to enslaved peoples everywhere. It’s the cross where Jesus hung 2,000 years ago. At first the scene repels us. Then we see the sinless Son of God dying in our place for our sins. From the cross we hear the words ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34) and ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30). As we trust in Christ as our Savior, the heavy burden of guilt rolls from our sin-weary souls. We are free for all eternity.” 4

Remember Mrs. Lot’s philosophy – “There’s no need to take God seriously”? That could have been etched on her salt-block tombstone. When you have a chance, lick some salt today and ask yourself, “What are some things in my life that God has asked me to leave behind? Things that keep me from following Christ?” 5 After receiving Christ by believing in Him alone for His eternal freedom (John 1:12), you can begin to experience freedom from sin’s bondage in your Christian life by purposing in your heart not to be like Mrs. Lot. You can daily overcome self-centeredness through …

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

– Surrendering to God’s control in prayer (John 12:27-30).

– Staying focused on the One who defeated the devil and draws all people to Himself (John 12:31-33).

When you do, you can experience the quality of Christ’s life now (John 12:24-25b; cf. John 8:31-36; 10:10) and be honored by the Father in the future (John 12:25b-26; cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19). Only Jesus can unite all people everywhere because only He can transform our selfish, sinful hearts into selfless, loving hearts. Let’s stay focused on Him – the Prince of Peace.

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful to live in America which was birthed to provide freedom for those who were oppressed. But because of human self-centeredness, that freedom is often limited and redefined to serve one’s selfish interests. There is a much greater freedom that is offered to the world today through Jesus Christ. This freedom that Jesus offers is spiritual,  eternal, and absolutely free to anyone who receives it by faith in Christ alone because His sacrifice on the cross paid for it in full (John John 3:16; 19:30). No politician or government can grant this spiritual freedom. Only Jesus can. Please use me to share this good news of Jesus with the entire world so they can be set free from the penalty of sin (eternal death) and Satan’s counterfeit kingdom of darkness! And Lord, please grant me the desire and the power to abide in Your Word daily so Your truth can set me free from the bondage of self-centeredness that can so easily cripple my walk with You. In the liberating name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 223.

2. Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.), pg. 1796.

3. Dr. Robert Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pp. 396, 434,435.

4. https://odb.org/2006/01/10/drawn-by-the-cross/

5. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Portland: Multanomah Press, 1983), pp. 438-439.

How can I be sure that I have truly believed in Christ for everlasting life?

Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish true faith from false faith. All faith is faith. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees it, “he who believes in Me has everlasting life,” (John 6:47). To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. I either believe Christ’s promise or I don’t. If I do, I am saved. If I don’t, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

The Gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one “really believes” or “truly believes.” Neither does he speak of “genuine faith,” “real faith,” or “heart faith.” All faith is the conviction of the truth of some proposition. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but whom your faith is in, and what your faith believes. Saving faith believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life by Jesus Christ to every believer (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; et al). Therefore, those who speak of “false faith” or “head faith,” are reading into faith as the Scripture neither does, nor provides basis for doing.

The Bible gives us several examples of people who knew they believed in Christ apart from good works:

(Peter) “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:69

“Jesus heard that they had cast him [former blind man] out; and when He had found him, He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:35, 38

“Jesus said to her [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” John 11:25-27

“Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he [Ethiopian eunuch] answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ” Acts 8:37

(Paul) “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” 2 Tim. 1:12